Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 25

Tried new fish recipe last night involving what seemed like 30 pounds of butter and now feel as if I'd done nothing last night but drink butter.  The fish was supposed to be blackened but using the skillet on the outdoor grill does not lend itself to consistent temperature control.  I'm going to have to go back to just grilling the fish directly on the...uh...grill.  But I want to eat more fish, and cooking them outside helps with odor control.

Ominous Bink noises from den.  Must go check....

Funny how when my wife is one room over I can't hear anything she says and need it repeated but when I'm three rooms away barely paying attention I can hear the slight rustles and scrapes that indicate Bink is doing something he's not supposed to.  Most of the day, his activities produce all sorts of approved and regular sounds.  Once in a while, though, I hear something like what I just heard.  A kind of muffled pulling noise that indicates that somewhere in the house mayhem is afoot.  Sure enough, I just found him up on two legs, trying to pull my wife's jacket off of a cabint in her study.  He's learned that sometimes she keeps her purse up there, and sometimes her purse contains candy.  So anytime he finds anything up there, he tries to pull it off.  We're getting better at thwarting him, but when it started he had some pretty nice scores.  Once we walked in to find him surrounded by remnants of a plastic bag, the contents of her purse all over the floor, and biscotti crumbs all up in his hair.  He'd found it in a bag in her purse and undeterred by the fact that he couldn't open the bag, eaten it along with the biscotti.  He looked immensely pleased with himself.

Both the JG Ballard and Gene Wolfe short story collections I've bought frighten me a little.  The Wolfe story I read yesterday ("The Island of Dr Death and Other Stories", the collection's title) was pretty upsetting.  Now I want to go read Jane Austen, something about propriety where the biggest worries are being cut at the town ball.

When did being 'cut' stop being a thing?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 24

Didn't watch Solaris after all, but worked instead.  The ground was hard when I jogged (the rain has stopped) and my knees feel okay today.  Maybe that's the thing?  Read more JG Ballard stories.  Still a bit bewildered.  We'll see.  I plan to watch a film by M. Carne called Port of Shadows this afternoon.  Avec Jean Gabin, comme on dit.  Alors.

In the audio lectures I'm listening to on the history and development of the Western Canon, the lecturer recently called More's Utopia an example of "intellectual goofiness."  He compared it to Monty Python and then to Plato's Republic.  Along with that I read, in the critical essays on Crime and Punishment, some comment to the effect that Plato's Symposium is, and is intended to be, a frequently funny book.  "Intellectual goofiness" is (I hope) at the heart of what I do--how I write, think.  Breathe.  Scuba.  So now of course I want to reread Utopia (and maybe the Symposium).  That's one thing that always irked me about Dostoevksy (and a whole host of other writers, obviously): they're not funny.  They don't even try to be funny.  I guess I'm just too British.

Saw a tremendously affecting piece on PBS last night (Frontline?) about Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.  I won't try to do justice to it here, but it's hugely rewarding if any of you all get a chance to watch it.  I'd never heard of Weiwei till last fall, when my wife and I saw a work of his at London's Tate Modern.  The work consisted of thousands and thousands of sunflower seeds spread out flat in a rectangle on the floor of the museum, taking up most of the floor space in one part of the lobby.  The 'seeds', upon closer inspection, revealed themselves to be man made.  An accompanying documentary described the process by which Weiwei employed local chinese women (mostly) to handcraft the seeds (they were made of clay, then fired into porcelain, if I recall).  It may not sound like much, but it was actually pretty affecting.  A vast carpet of human-made objects that resembled natural objects.... It stayed with you.  (For images, go here.)

Anyway, it turns out that "Seeds" is maybe the least impressive and moving of his works.  Because he's been critical of the Chinese government, he's constantly being harassed.  He's videotaped everywhere he goes; his web site is constantly being shut down, and in 2009 a beating he received from Chinese police caused him to have to be hospitalized for internal cranial bleeding.  The image I loved from the documentary was of Weiwei and friends eating dinner outside at a restaurant.  As police officials start to videotape him as he eats, he sends one of his entourage, who himself has a video camera, to videotape the police...videotaping him.  It was very funny and somewhat surreal; the Chinese police were obviously discomfited by the man standing right next to them with a camera, but they let it go on, probably because the whole situation is too surreal for them to fully process.  Which I guess is part of Weiwei's point.  Not that the act was to have a point so much as just to rankle them.  As of one Weiwei's friends remarked in the piece: Weiwei has a bit of a hooligan in him, and this is useful if you're going to oppose the Chinese state, since what they are, in their essence, is hooligans.

Anyway: Ai Weiwei.  Look out for him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Day 23

Well, Act I issue is solved.  I don't love what I've come up with, but some times you have to go with what you have.  The great is the enemy of the good, and all that.  I have having to settle, but I have confidence (usually) that enough of the rest of the play is better than good to justify having part of it be only good to mediocre.  Now I'm onto the last huge unresolved issue in it, which occurs in Act III.  Have a feeling this will take considerable effort and time.  Let's hope not.

All my new books have arrived.  JG Ballard, Gene Wolf, Herodotus, Eco, and Marriane Moore.  Before moving on to one or more of them, I spent last night reading some of the critical essays at the back of Crime and Punishment (love me the Norton editions).  Interested to learn that Chekhov and Nabokov both spoke slightingly of Dostoevsky, though I guess it's not surprising given their respective temperaments.   I think I'll read some JG Ballard stories next, though the first one I've looked at ("The Watchtowers") does give me pause.  I'm not sure I understand it.  I mean, I understood what happened in it, but I don't think I understand what the ending is supposed to signify.  I don't suppose any of you all have read it?

I think I might rewatch Solaris today, or at least the first hour.  And jog.  I've stopped jogging everyday because of how my much it hurts my knees, but when I don't jog I'm more susceptible to lightheadedness, in the evenings.

Man I am old.

Yesterday I saw last season's winner of So You Think You Can Dance (Lauren) next to me coming out of Whole Foods.  She was tiny but muscular.  Wearing long men's basketball shorts.  Other celebrities I've seen at close contact in LA: Carol Burnett, Barbara Streisand and James Brolin (we sat at the table next to them at dinner one night), Warren Beatty, Toby from the Office, and David Caruso.

The David Caruso thing was somewhat funny.  About two years ago, when we'd just moved to the valley, the wife and I went to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant called Stanley's.  The place was recommended to my wife for its turkey burgers (I think?).  Inside, it was not at all impressive (I thought).  Kind of cheap looking, with plastic-y tables and fake ferns and an overaggressive lighting scheme.  Just an overall feel of...I don't know...something attached to a LaQuinta.  We sit down and order, and while we're waiting, I notice a man, eating with a much younger...Hispanic woman, at the table next to us.  He looks familiar, so I keep staring at him, trying to figure out who he looks like.  Then I realize: he has the exact same haircut and color as David Caruso.  But I know it's not David Caruso because this guy is much chubbier, and, up close, has a face like that of a long-term cigarette/cocaine addict.  (It's ravaged and broken).  So I tell my wife, whispering, "he looks just like David Caruso."  To which she says: that IS David Caruso.  Turns out he's a regular there.   It was embarrassing.  I'd been staring at him, on and off, all night.  I guess he thought I was awed to be near him (or I hope he thought that).  Really, I was kind of freaked out by how terrible he looked.

Well that seems a little mean.  But he did look bad.  I'm sorry, David.  But it's true.

Is this the most mundane and least interesting blog post ever?  I don't mean just on my blog: I mean on all blogs that exist in the universe.  It may be.  Well, maybe tomorrow I'll write something about Islamic Art.  Or ballet.  Or the Japanese Tea Service.  I know nothing about any of those subjects, as it happens.  But I can't let that stop me.  To educate and serve; that's my motto.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Random Addendum Link

Couldn't help it.  I love this--it's the ONLY bracket in the entire a-billion-people-enter-it ESPN Final Four contest to have correctly predicted ALL of the final four teams.

Here's an article about the guy who made the picks in the Times.

Kind of a miracle, I think.  Fascinating to look at.

Day 22

Finished Crime and Punishment last night.  Ending did not fully live up to promise of beginning (too much Svidrigaylov--why so much space dedicated to his suicide?)  Mostly worked all weekend, with breaks at night for dinner.  Have gotten sucked in to "America's Next Great Restaurant" which thankfully eliminated its most unlikable contestant last night.  Weather has finally turned; the sun is out and the Bink is full of restlessness.  His third birthday was yesterday, which means he's in technically in his twenties.  Maybe wisdom will come to him fairly soon.  Seems unlikely.

Among the books I ordered recently were Eco's On Beauty.  Should be interesting to see how that relates to some of the recent thoughts on craft/art.

Ok, got to get to it.  Here's a poem that's been in my head of late--the last line especially.

Eye and Tooth

My whole eye was sunset red,
the old cut cornea throbbed,
I saw things darkly,
as through an unwashed goldfish globe.

I lay all day on my bed.
I chain-smoked through the night,
learning to flinch
at the flash of the matchlight.

Outside, the summer rain,
a simmer of rot and renewal,
fell in pinpricks.
Even new life is fuel.

My eyes throb.
Nothing can dislodge
the house with my first tooth
noosed in a knot to the doorknob.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

No ease from the eye
of the sharp-shinned hawk in the birdbook there,
with reddish-brown buffalo hair
on its shanks, one asectic talon

clasping the abstract imperial sky.
It says:
an eye for an eye,
a tooth for a tooth.

No ease for the boy at the keyhole,
his telescope,
when the women's white bodies flashed
in the bathroom. Young, my eyes began to fail.

Nothing! No oil
for the eye, nothing to pour
on those waters or flames.
I am tired. Everyone's tired of my turmoil.

by Robert Lowell

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Day 21

Two more attempts at fixing Act I played out yesterday.  Then around ten pm I realized that it might be possible to entirely remove Act I from the script.  Immediately after I saw how I could NOT remove it, but change the entire narrative arc in a way that kept it in.  Question then becomes: better to remove or keep in?  In general I think if a thing can be removed it should be, but that 'can' is a tricky word.  The story can still exist without Act I but it will require several more expository moments in Act II.  Also (and this shouldn't matter but it does) I've done months of work on Act I, and I feel sad to lose all of it.  So, late last night I started the process of entirely revamping Act I.  It's continued this morning, and I feel cautiously optimistic.  Of course, I always feel cautiously optimistic, unless I'm surrendering to crippling and overwhelming despair.  I try not to do that more than once or twice a day.

Black Narcissus turned out to be outstanding, one of the best I've seen in months.  A young idealistic nun accepts the responsibility of running a new building for her order, high in the mountains of India.  The location, "the air where you can see too far" in, the strangeness of the place, causes her fellow nuns to surrender, gradually, to repressed desires (sensual and otherwise).  A nun assigned to make a garden filled with potatoes, onions, and other practical foods instead grows tulips and honeysuckle.  Ruth, the most unstable of the nuns, renounces the order, becoming ever more hysterical and crazed as the movie progresses.  It's good stuff, and the colors of the place, the use of technicolor, only heighten its intensity.  Some of the reviews describe it as erotic; I think sensual is a better term.

For a more thorough, i- depth review and discussion of Black Narcissus, including some top notch screen shots, I recommend you go here, where Matthew Dessem discusses it on his excellent blog, The Criterion Contraption.

Idea for a skit (come up with in part via my talk with Johannes): "Anti-Intervention."  A bunch of friends of a so-called alcoholic gather together to convince somebody that he's actually NOT an alcoholic, and would be fine drinking a few beers with dinner every night.  Family and friends stand up to talk about how boring he's become since he decided to stop drinking.  Attempt to distinguish between real hard core alcoholism, and less intense varieties.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 20

Well yesterday's solution to my Act I issue (its ending) turned out, after several hours of work, to be a dead end.  I have to try again, I guess.  Though at this point I wonder if I should work on Act III for a while and let Act I simmer.  Write without hope or despair, advised Flannery O'Connor.  It's great advice, but far easier to say than do.

Like everyone in the world (including students at Florida State) I rooted for VCU to defeat FSU last night.  It was only intermittently an enjoyable game to watch, but the ending was entertaining.  Still, if VCU plays like that tomorrow (many turnovers, missing all their free throws) Kansas is going to beat them into the ground.  At least, that's my prediction.

It's Saturday but the wife is at work, so it feels like a weekday.  I stayed up last night talking to a friend in New York (Johannes) on phone.  I should talk to friends more often (than never); it always lifts my spirits.  In response to my telling him that owning chickens for pets has become a trend among a certain set of suburban housewifes, Johannes suggested I try and pioneer the trend of owning FOXES.  It's an idea that offers much promise.  We also are talking seriously about going to see a music festival in May, in Palm Springs.  "Acting like we're still in our early 30s" as I told him.  Maybe we'll wear do-rags!

This afternoon I think I'll watch Black Narcissus.  It's a Powell/Pressburger "joint," as they say, and them's my people.  All my new books from Amazon are starting to roll in; I should try and finish Crime and Punishment today as well.  The last fifty pages are starting to lag a bit.  Maybe too much Svidrigaylov?  Jarrell's great definition of a novel springs to mind: "a long piece of prose with something wrong with it."  There's always something wrong, but imperfection is life.  The only thing that's perfect is Death, Dean Young writes (or something similar) in his book about how to write poetry (The Art Of Recklessness).  An intriguing idea, if somewhat mystifying.

At least twenty of the words in this post are underlined in red.  My spelling's not great, it seems.  Well, mostly it's the proper nouns.  But, look, people: I type this stuff fast.  And usually I'm high on eight or nine drugs. And battery acid.  So take what you can get!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Day 19

Solved a vexing issue (to do with Act I development) last night, at least in part.  Today I have to see if the theoretical solution can be made to work in actual dialogue.

Watched some basketball on DVR, but missed the game that looked the best (BYU/Florida).  Am I the only one who can't stand Bill Raftery?  I think he's one of the worst college basketball announcers out there.  Not sure what it is--his grab bag of vapid cliches, his constant need to prove to you how much he knows about the plays being run, or his overall personality, which is one of overfamiliar bonhomie.  Or something.  He's like the drunk in the bar you try to get away from.

Don't know why I wrote about that.  Sweet Lord, my life is uneventful.

Nice to see some new comments and responses to some of the earlier posts about art.  I'd encourage anyone interested to go back and take a look.

Tutoring today.  Wife starts service tomorrow, which means I'm more or less on my own for the next week.    Time to work!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Day 18

Well, Red O turned out to be about as expected--a good restaurant with moments of greatness.  The 'scene' of the place was at least half the attraction, but the food wasn't bad.  Two dishes stood out--a pork mole sopes which had a depth and complexity of flavor I've never experienced before eating mole, and a roast pork shoulder in ancho sauce.  The other dishes ranged from average (duck taquitos) to very good (beef salad with beets).

Every month or so the list of new books I want to read builds to a breaking point, and I get on amazon and go a little crazy.  That happened yesterday.  Now I've got eight or nine books en route, which means I need to finish Crime and Punishment (and, ideally, The Winter's Tale, which I've been slowly slowly rereading over the past month) in the next few days.

Luzhin, Dunya's vain, pompous and conniving suitor is for sure one of C& P's best characters.  His attempt to frame Sonya for the theft of a hundred rubles in order to awaken doubt in Dunya about her brother's friends is a masterstroke, plot-wise.  [What a terrible sentence structure.  X is a Y, something-wise.  Nothing should ever be "something-wise."]

Where was I?

Oh, an unrelated thought.  Maybe the reason I disliked The Idiot so much when I read it (in 2003?) was because it had more women in it.  Dostoevsky seems to me not all that great at writing female characters.  They all skew towards a couple of predictable types, none of which are as interesting as his men.  Well, that's only a thesis.  I don't have enough familiarity with his work to feel confident in that claim.  But, it seems possible.  And it would explain one of the reasons why Crime is so successful; it's so much about men, the gender D knew how to write.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Day 17

Crime and Punishment going well, revealing its greatness to me finally.

If there is one word that could be used in almost any scene in any novel by Dostoevsky to describe the characters, it is 'irritable.'  People are either irritable or irritated ALL the time.

Ended up watching the first thirty minutes of Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" last night.  Movie became a minor cause celebre at the time it was released because of Soderbergh's decision to use a porn star (Sasha Gray) for leading role of a high end Manhattan escort.  I had low expectations for movie, having seen Gray in the last season of Entourage (where she was fairly horrible).  However, the movie (at least its beginning) seemed highly promising.  I was disappointed to have to go to bed; hopefully I'll finish it soon.

Wife's birthday is today (Happy Birthday, Sweetie!)  To celebrate, we're going to Red O, a much ballyhooed new Mexican restaurant recently opened by star chef Rick Bayless.  To get a reservation I had to call in February.  Should be interesting; if the food doesn't live up to its near-ecstatic reviews, at least the experience should be intriguing.  I'll try to write about it tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Day 16

Yesterday's rambling jeremiad having occasioned no response, I leave off the subject of art and craft for the mundane subjects which define our day to day lives.

I woke up in the middle of the night riven by anxiety.  About what?  About everything.  Tried to solve problems in play in head, but that didn't help.  Four hours later, I fell into a weird sleep.  Dreamed I was invited to help do rewrite on schlock sci-fi screenplay for low budget movie being produced by my boss at tutoring company and Matthew Broderick.  Dream consisted of me sitting silently through long meeting with members of movie team.  Meeting took place at a building somewhere on the campus of Harvard.   Woke up at 10 to loud howling.  The cat had crossed onto our porch, I assume, an offense Bink cannot and will not forgive (despite its happening eight times a day).

I haven't been reading enough for the last few days.  I left off doing a page a day of the Paradisio (as Dante gets higher in the heavens, it gets both more difficult and less entertaining.  And it wasn't that entertaining from the start) for Crime and Punishment, a book I disliked immensely the last time I read it, in college.  This time around I'm finding much in it to appreciate.  I've never cared much for Dostoevsky, but this experience is making me reconsider.  Should I try and reread The Brothers Karamazov?  That would be a project.  We'll see.

Review of new Geoff Dyer book (a collection of short pieces and reviews) in New York Times piqued my interest.  Among the pieces described was one about touring with the 50 year-old members of Def Leppard.  That sounds pretty great.  Maybe I'll read it.

Okay, muffins in the oven (I now make low fat blueberry muffins twice a week, since they're a great, non hypoglycemia inducing snack).  Have to go attend to them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Day 15

It seems as if my attempts at a daily journal of my life (which is admittedly mundane) is being transformed into a daily journal of aesthetic theory.  Which is fine with me....

Subjectivity Vs Objectivity in Art

This has come up in recent posts, and it's something I want to talk about.

I ran into this issue a lot teaching creative writing--often after a student poem was critiqued.  The class would offer its feedback and the author would respond with something along the lines of "well, that's great, but that's just your opinion.  I like this, and that's really all that matters."  The assumption was: art is subjective, and therefore our comments about how to 'improve' the poem were of slight use, at best.  Some people like chocolate, some people like vanilla and that's all there is to it.  De gustibus non dispantdum.

But this attitude reveals a fundamental mistake.  Just because art is not purely objective doesn't mean it's purely subjective.  To put it another way, it's one thing to compare chocolate ice cream to vanilla; it's another thing to compare chocolate ice cream to burnt plastic.  No, I can't prove that Auden's "In Memoriam of W.B. Yeats" is 'better' than "Random Poem" by John Q Smith.  But that doesn't mean the two poems truly really do possess the same artistic power.  I.e. just because one is not objectively better than the other doesn't mean it isn't better.  And if a reader comes along and insists they truly prefer John Q Smith's "Random Poem", it's reasonable to assume they haven't spend much time reading poetry or didn't read either poem very closely (or, maybe, are being willfully perverse).  We might all have our private canons, and I appreciate that within those canon it's hard to say if Emily Dickinson is 'better' than Walt Whitman.  (THAT is a chocolate vs. vanilla type distinction).  More than that it's probably not meaningful, since our ideas of 'better' are going to dovetail with what we think poetry SHOULD do, and probably we all have slightly different of what poetry is and should be.  (Obviously for 'poetry' here we could insert 'movies' or 'novels' or whatever). However, just because we all have slightly different ideas of what poetry should be doesn't mean we have to descend into a realm of pure subjectivity. If you go out and interview 5000 people who read poetry with any frequency and ask them to compare "The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock" with "Random Poem" by John Smith, I'd guess that close to all of them will tell you "Lovesong" is a better poem.  We all of us share certain assumptions about what a poem or a novel should be, and certain works fulfill those assumptions more perfectly than others.  Yes, assumptions change (as do canons of artistic taste), and are challenged and occasionally temporarily collapsed (as by Dada, Art Brut, etc).  But  again, just because a thing can't be known with complete objectivity doesn't mean it can't be known at all.

So what if I come along and say I LOVE Random Poem, you ask?  Surely you're not saying that means I'm WRONG.  Well, yes, I am.  Insofar as taste can be wrong, you are.  Taste has to be developed, it has to be worked at.  (This is why, at least in theory, some people are qualified to be critics.  They have developed their taste to a higher acuity than most others).  This is perhaps not a fashionable thing to say, but I think it's true.  This is why most serious readers go back to books even if they didn't like them on first reading.  If ten people who I respect as readers all assure me that The Idiot is a great book, my assumption on finishing The Idiot and hating it is NOT: those people were all wrong.  It's that I missed it.  And nine times out of ten, when I wait a year or two and go back to it, I find that the artwork that I didn't like at first has now begun to let me into its pleasures.   There's a whole list of writers and visual artists that I still haven't been able to bring myself to like very much or deeply, to which I keep returning, every few years, in the hope that I will eventually 'get them.'  (This list includes, among others, Cezanne, Cervantes, Montaigne, Raphael, and Faulkner.) In their essence, this is what English classes are (or should) be about; trying to teach students to develop an appreciation for artists that they might not otherwise, trying to give them a way in to pleasures they might not otherwise be able to access.

Now of course it could be said: well what's the point?  I genuinely LIKE "Random Poem" even though you tell me that "Prufrock" is much better.  What's wrong with that?  And more to the point, why in the world should I spend hours rereading and studying "Prufrock" just so I can obtain from it the pleasure that I already find in "Random Poem", which I didn't have to work at at all?

The short answer is: pleasure.  All art at its core is about pleasure.  It's a high form of pleasure, but it's pleasure nonetheless (although, since I would argue the highest pleasure comes from learning, and since the best art can teach, it's not a negligible thing, that pleasure.)

Where was I?

Oh: pleasure.  The long and short of it....  the reason it's worth fighting to appreciate Dante or Proust or whatever is because the pleasure available within those works is greater, deeper, richer, more profound, than any pleasure you can obtain elsewhere (within the world of art).  THIS is why "Random Poem" is not as 'great' as "Prufrock" and THIS is why it's worth spending the time to 'learn to appreciate'--to access the pleasures contained within--art which might at first resist us.

And there are all sorts of ways to do this, and that's a subject for another post.  Although, randomly, I just thought of the critical exposition featured as 'extras' on the DVD of La Regle De Jeu (Rules of the Game) which made me appreciate that movie about 100 times more than I did previously and helped to convince me that it is, in fact, the greatest (or one of) movie ever made.

* * *

And I will write about this later, because now the housekeeper is here and the Binks has gone INSANE. A situation to manage....

* * *

Ok, Binks at Doggy DayCare.  I have to work on my play; this is a subject I could write about for another hour.  I  know the stuff above is somewhat scattered; I'm not working on a coherent essay so much as trying to sketch out some of my thoughts.  I'll keep posting on this, I guess, since it seems to have excited some interest.

Oh, and to make a clarification: I never intended, at any point, to suggest that "Craft" is something insignificant.  Well-crafted work is absolutely worth our time, and since I think art generally tends to exhaust one emotionally, while craft does not, I spend a lot more time experiencing craft than I do art.  I've seen 80% of the Coen's movies, and I absolutely admire their work.  I think they're something's missing though, something that keeps them from greatness.  There's a cruelty throughout their movies, a lack of empathy, a tendency to view human beings as if we were specimens being manipulated by super intelligent aliens.  But all that's not to say I don't make it a point to see their movies: I do.  They're inevitably better than 95% of what's out there.

* * *

That Engineers album I mentioned a few posts ago, by the way: Keeps getting better.  Absolutely worth buying.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 14

Today was like the apocalypse.  Well, for LA.  It doesn't rain here for a month but when it does, it RAINS.  Driving on Sepulveda today involved guttering in huge windblown pools, and when I got back I found a twenty foot tree from our neighbor's yard lying in the middle of the street.  It's like some bad disaster movie.

I want to say more about my recent post about art and craft but I'm exhausted right now, so I won't launch into anything too extensive.  One thing, though, to put out by way of prelude, is that I assume, as a matter of course, that it is meaningful to speak of an audience failing a piece of art.  I didn't like Anna Karenina when I read it in college; that says nothing about the book.  I was 19, I didn't read it very well, and, more to the point, I wasn't able to relate to or care about its characters.  I hadn't had enough experience of life, maybe.  My not 'liking' it at that point really meant only that I needed more time with it.  (Which of course leads to the ultimate question: How do you know when you've failed the art and how do you know when the art's failed you?  Which is another subject.  And also, why should you care?  But the answer to that is simple: pleasure.)  And then most art I know reveals itself only upon multiple viewings.  Andrei Tarkovsky's Mirror is without question one of the four or five greatest movies ever made, maybe the apotheosis of what a movie can be.  But, it makes demands.  It requires suspense of skepticism, a willingness to be seduced, intense attention--and probably all that means you have to see two or three times before its pleasure makes itself available.  And then it makes you feel.  In fact, I wonder if this is another useful distinguishing feature in the art/craft dichotomy.  Art ultimately demands a level of emotional engagement which is always in some way unpleasant.  To feel is unpleasant, or at least it runs the risk of being.  Because to feel pleasure requires one also suffer.  Craft does not require we feel.  It requires mental engagement but mental engagement is not so hard.

I'll think more about this later.  I must sleep.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 13

Tonight we're having guests over for dinner, for the first time in more than a year.  (We still know no one here.)  I've done the shopping (making a stir fried chicken basil thing, with fried basil leaves) and now prepare to settle in to my study for an afternoon's work.  Basketball calls to me, but not very loudly.  Very dizzy when I woke up, but it seems to have abated.  Wife is home, her typical weekend grouchiness exacerbated by the worries about having people coming over later.  After waking I was told to reclean the muffin pan.  Muffin pan now (I hope) meets high standards of cleanliness held by wife.  Cannot go forward in life without spotless, unused-looking muffin pan. This lesson I have learned once more.

Rewatched the second half of Big Lebowski last night, motivated in part by recent DVD viewing of a documentary The Little Lebowski Achievers (or some such).  Film is about the birth and growth of the Lebowski cult, people who travel around the US every year to go to Lebowski festivals, dress in elaborate costumes, memorize Lebowski trivia, etc.  Current thesis about Coen brothers (and my ongoing reservations about their cool, chilly, technically briliant work): they are the triumph of craft over art.  They are ALL craft, no art.  The distinction, I know, is not clear cut.  (And Eliot, I think, argues persuasively at some point that at a certain point, extreme craft IS art.)  Like Kubrick, they excel at everything except...I don't know.  "Connect", in the words of my play.  Mojo.  Inspiration.  Soul?  Maybe this is why their best films are adaptations (True Grit, Miller's Crossing)....  This is not the most fully fleshed-out idea, I know.  Art vs. craft an ongoing obesssion of mine.  Is there a distinction (yes, I think).  If so, what is it?  To me it is the difference between, say, the Beetles and Boston, between Bowie and David Sylvian, between the Coens and Tarkovsky (or Linklater, to pick someone more recent).  

But then I consider someone like Updike or Nabokov, writers both vulnerable to similar criticisms.  My feeling is that, at least in their best works, both men absolutely prove themselves to be artists, but I can see how each, in their writing, can seem similarly skewed.   Maybe if my ability to appreciate techincal accomplishment in film were greater, I'd rate the Coens or Kubrick as highly as I do Updike, in literature?

Be interesting to hear the thoughts of my many millions of readers.  (Except yours, Gullett.  No one wants to hear those).

Ok, have to work.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Day 12

I worked till about 9:30 last night, coming up with material that is somewhere on the border between inspired and insane.  I created a fake tv show about an alien planet where two organizations compete to sell people reproduction-enabling spores, and a cult formed in the 50s by a housewife which in the present is spawning two rival sects, each interpreting a different one of her writings in a different way.  Watched Le Trou, a two hour prison break film set in a French jail.  Lots of shots of people chipping at concrete with iron bars.

I'm creatively drained but I have to work till two today.  Then I go to tutor my 13 year old, who's taking the SAT as part of a gifted and talented program.

NBC's new show, Perfect Couples, is growing on me.  And Parks and Rec has become my favorite show on TV.  I hope neither is cancelled.  The latter is one of the best written, most creative shows on TV.

Ok, time to go get a sausage/egg sandwhich, watch ten minutes of NCAA, and go to work.

Morehead State!  What a good game that must have been.  Wish I'd seen it... (For some reason I foolishly taped the St. John's game, which turned out to be over by the first half).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Day 11

I need a haircut.  My neck and ear area itches. However, getting a haircut involves taking a shower, driving somewhere, enduring twenty minutes of forced conversation with someone I don't know and then coming home.  It's like...almost an hour, that it takes.  The whole process. AN HOUR.  Too much time.  So I put it off until I almost can't bear the itching, then I go.  But I can't go on Saturday or Sunday, because there's too great a chance I'll have to wait.  Except, Saturday and/or Sunday is the one day of the week I take off from writing, so, technically it's the one day I SHOULD go to get a haircut.

The whole things makes me want to shave my head.  I could do it in a bathtub once a month and be done with it.  I wouldn't look very good but I don't look that good anyway.  And it'd be over.

Huge parts of my life are spent avoiding things that seem to me to be hassles, things that I know seem like hassles to no other person on earth.  My wife, for example, is constantly shocked by the lengths I will go to avoid doing certain things, especially things that force me to leave the house, especially things that force me to leave the house on a weekday.  If somewhere in my study for example, was a large toxic spore that, once per day released fumes into the air that caused me to pass out for a few minutes, I would absolutely let the spore alone if the only way to get rid of it was to go drive somewhere.  Think about it.  If you only pass out for a few minutes, you're saving time staying in the house.  (Well, I guess at some point those minutes would accumulate, and it would be more efficient to leave the house and hire the guy to come destroy the spore.  So say the spore has only a fifty percent chance of releasing its fumes.)

This is one reason why it's good to have other people in your life--they clue you in on things about you that  are slightly insane.

Wait--is that good?

I don't know.  But I'm not getting a fricking haircut today, I can tell you that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 10

Self imposed deadline for Act I has come and gone.  Act I is not done.  It's more done that it was, but it's not done.  Hopefully I'll have time to polish it as I move forward with Acts II and III, both of which are shorter.

Watched I Know Where I'm Going yesterday, a Powell/Pressburger film about a resolute and somewhat bossy Englishwoman who goes to the Western Isles of Scotland to be married to a wealthy industrialist.  Unable to find a boat to take her to the Isle where the soon-to-be husband resides, she's forced to remain on the mainland with the Isle's true Laird, who's on a leave from World War II.  They fall in love, of course.   I typically love all the Powell/Pressburger movies, and this one was no exception.  (Though I would put it below their masterpiece, A Matter Of Life And Death.)

Finished As I Lay Dying.  Impression of Faulkner in no way improved by the experience.  The characters and many of the story points work (especially moving was when Anse sells Jewel's horse, and the pharmacist who takes advantage of Dewey Dell) but the frequent shifts into a poetical philosophical register ("I am not I" and such) feels like something from a sophomore creative writing class.  Where others find him profound, I find him affected and not a small bit silly.  Now it's back to Crime and Punishment, a book I'm enjoying quite a bit more than I expected to.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day 9

Woke up light-headed and have stayed that way.  Feelings of anxiety over Act I of play woke me up in middle of night.  Well, feelings of anxiety over Act I of play plus excessive amounts of Scotch drunk the night before (to allay my feelings of anxiety over Act I of play) woke me up last night.  Scotch drinking probably responsible for morning's dizziness.  Fine.  DEFINITELY responsible for morning's dizziness.  Dizziness in no way improved by reading fifty pages of As I Lay Dying.  Dizziness, in fact, probably increased by reading said pages.

I have an unusually sharp interest in the NCAA Tournament this year.  Probably it's because whenever I want a break from writing I watch ESPN and the last month ESPN has shown nothing but college basketball.  As a result, I watched stretches of five or six games from the Big East and ACC Conference Tournaments.  I also just watched ESPN's fairly subpar doc on the Fab Five.  Wonder how different my life would have been if I had let myself be recruited by Steve Fisher, and gone on to play serious college basketball.  I guess I'll never know....

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 8

I'm rereading As I Lay Dying right now, in order to help a student write an essay.  Faulkner has never done much for me, despite recurring attempts to figure out what it is about his work that gets so many people excited.  [I've read Absalom Absalom, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and Intruder in the Dust (plus assorted stories); I've given him a fair chance, right?]  But maybe I've been wrong?  Maybe I've failed him, and not the reverse.  We'll see.  Though I have to say, I'm 90 pages in so far and I'm yet to feel much enthusiasm for the book.  In 100 years will Faulkner still be canonical?  I have my doubts.

* * *

I gave up on Big Love after getting halfway through the second season.  The wife still watches it, however, and a few nights ago she pulled me into the living room to have me listen to the song that replaces "Good Vibrations" in the opening credits after the third season.  Intrigued, I did a little research on Wikipedia, and learned that the song is called "Home" and was written by a British band called Engineers.   I'm old and out of touch I had never heard of Engineers (or The Beach Boys), but thanks to the miracle of the world wide internet web, I now have the CD on which "Home" appears.  It's pretty engaging.  Wikipedia describes them as a "dream pop" band, as if it that were a genre I'm supposed to be familiar with.  ("Ah yes, Dream Pop.  As differentiated from Fantasy Pop, Half Awake But Not Fully Asleep Pop, and, of course, the dreaded Nightmare Pop.")

The sort-of point of this sort-of story is to do with the way I ended up driving around yesterday with an Engineers CD in my car.  1) I heard a song on a tv show.  2) I looked up the song on the Web.  3) I read about the band on itunes and then 4) I paid to download the CD.  It all took ten minutes.  Five years ago, none of that would have happened.  I might have been curious about the song, but without any efficient mechanism to find out who wrote it, and not caring enough to sit through the end of an episode of Big Love and read the small print credits, I would have let the whole matter drop.  But now, thanks to the web, slight curiosity, slight interest, can be immediately acted on.  The point is not just to make everything easier, but to significantly lower the barrier of caring that it takes to get something done.  Twenty-five years ago, you might have to had write a letter to a record label to enable yourself to listen to an album by a semi-obscure English band.  Fifteen years ago, you would have had to care enough to drive to a CD store.  Ten years ago, you could have gotten it from Amazon, but not immediately.  Now you can satisfy what is at best a passing interest with only the slightest effort.  Ease of access is probably an overall good thing; if you're a band it's probably to your benefit that people who don't care all that much about your music can acquire it very easily.  The downside though is that fandom becomes a less commitment-requiring, and thus in some ways, fulfilling experience.  Nothing anymore is hard to find, nothing is obscure; it's all equally available.  That means it's impossible to be the only one in your class who's got the rare B-side of whatever band, or, on a larger scale, to be the whole one in middle school who's heard of, say, The Smiths.  It's all right there.  In an article I read recently, Brian Eno talks about how it's no longer possible, in some profound sense, to be 'cool.'  I think this is part of what he means.  In some way, being cool has to do with being in on stuff that others aren't.  It used to require effort and knowing the right people; how else were you going to get the 'cool' music or know about the 'cool' writer, artist, whatever?  But nothing's really hard to access anymore and that means coolness no longer means what it once did.

By the way, the CD on which "Home" appears is the Engineers' eponymous debut (which I recommend); the image above is of a different album.  It's all I could find on Google images.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 7

We went furniture shopping for some of the afternoon today, trying to find both a mirror and dining room table.  Since moving into the house in 2008 we've made only sporadic efforts to decorate.  Next weekend, however, two of the wife's friends from work are coming over to dinner.  Their visit has sparked in us a renewed enthusiasm for making the house look...if not good, then at least not terrible.

I would way rather go to one large furniture than seven small ones.  Driving up and down Ventura Blvd looking for tables makes me thirsty.  On Ventura itself: several larger furniture stores about to close up shop, the recent economic downturn too much to bear.  "Stephanie's Psychic Services", on the other hand, seems to be okay.  The window display for Stephanie's business consisted of a large plastic "Hello Kitty" looking cat standing in front of dingy white backdrop.  Who goes to these places?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Obligatory Day Whatever Post

How much trouble is it to be involved in a fantasy baseball league?  I was just invited to join one.  Though I've never once played any kind of fantasy sports league (am I the only male in America who can say that?), I've always secretly been curious.  (I Am Curious: Baseball--the third in the trilogy of groundbreaking Swedish films.) Still, of all sports, baseball seems like it would require the most day to day work on the part of an owner.  On the upside, it would make me, you know, care about baseball, which beside undoubtedly making me a better American, would probably make the summer sports season more bearable.

I welcome reader input.

* * *

Stomu Yamashta--a musician that Dez, among others, would enjoy.  A Japanese jazz fusion drummer who rose to prominence in the 70s, Yamashta has recorded albums that sound to me like a mix of post-Bitches Brew Miles Davis and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra.  I found out about him by researching the music I heard in the soundtrack to Nic Roeg's Man Who Fell To Earth.  His CDs aren't available on itunes, but can be found on Amazon.  Worth looking into, if for nothing else that to get to experience album covers like this one....

Friday, March 11, 2011

A LITTLE Bit Crazy?

Not much time to post today, so I offer you this link, to a great story in the Wall Street Journal by novelist Tom Perrotta about 80s tennis great, Mats Wilander.  Contains all sorts of interesting bits, including this:

In his heyday, Wilander seemed to glide along the court without expending any energy. His secret: He doesn't sweat....   Wilander can teach for nearly four hours, in bright sun and 80-degree heat, in one cotton shirt and finish with just a trace of sweat under his arms. He drinks very little water and eats small meals. "My genetic makeup is a little bit crazy," he said.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Best Of Best Ofs

At Criterion Collection they now feature "Best Of" movie lists compiled by notable figures in filmmaking ("Top Ten" it's called).  The movies selected come only from the the Criterion Collection so you won't see, for example, The Godfather on anyone's list.  Still it makes for fascinating reading, not only for the recommendations themselves but for what light they and the attending comments shed on the people making them.  Richard Linklater's list has only made me respect him more; James Franco, on the other, comes off as even more of an irritating, self-satisfied 'artiste' than I had already imagined him to be.

Anyway, well worth browsing, if for no other reason than get to some ideas for movies to add to the netflix queue. Wes Anderson, Jane Campion, Joe Mantagena, Nicolas Roeg--they're all up there.  Check it out.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Day Two

Tutoring last week I was asked to define the word "jejune."  When the student compared it with a definition in her book, there was a discrepancy.  Turns out, I've gone all these years thinking jejune meant immature/foolish, when it actually means something more along the lines of vapid, empty, lacking substance.  Never too old to learn, I guess.

Of course, I told the student her book was wrong.  (No, no).

* * *

Yesterday I jogged two miles for the first time in a year.  I've gotten pretty out of shape since I stopped playing tennis, but last fall I started running again.  I've been only running a mile and a half at a time; yesterday was the first time I got it up to two.  Then I came home and ate pasta and drank wine--just like the triathletes do!

* * *

Last night, watching Nature on PBS I decided that if I were forced to become some animal other than a human, I would be a snow leopard.  That's an animal I need to know more about.  You don't see many of them in California for some reason.  Maybe they don't like the political climate?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Day One

Well, really it's day two, but that's okay.

Today I'll write about my health.  It's been poor.  It turns out I don't have a thyroid condition, or at least, if I do, my medication isn't helping.  I tend to get lightheaded and "glassy headed" after meals, especially after drinking coffee so my current operating thesis is that I have some kind of hypoglycemia.  Hypoglycemia can't actually be treated; it's more a matter of watching what you eat, trying to have a number of small meals (instead three large ones) and generally worrying about your body's blood sugar.  Essentially,  I'm not getting enough glucose to my brain.  Paradoxically, however, ingesting large amounts of glucose tends to trigger an override mechanism which also denies glucose to my brain.  Without glucose, the brain works not very well.  It also leads to feelings of worthlessness and depression (interestingly some people with hypoglycemia are misdiagnosed as being bipolar and put on anti-depression medication), something I have had to deal with in the last few months.

Anyway, it's all tedious and sad, especially because drinking coffee, which used to be one of my sure-fire ways of forcing myself to write, is now a big no-no.  (Turns out that a lot of what gives caffeine its power to wake us up is that it releases large amounts of glucose in the brain).  Of course, I'm still drinking it (in small doses, once or twice a day).  At the right time of day, if all the levels are optimal, it still has some effect.

Well this post has turned out to be kind of self-pitying.  I apologize.  I'm actually feeling better today; I've gotten better at regulating what I eat; not drinking orange juice breakfast helps a lot as well.  So maybe I'm on way up, and out, from under the shadow of this red rock.

I should put up some illustration above, right?  Because illustrations supposedly make people want to read your posts.  But here's the thing about that: I don't want to go look for an illustration that ties in to hypoglycemia.  So I'm not going to!

For some reason, though, I just had an idea that I should try to find a puppet that is used to teach kids about hypoglycemia.  Hypoglycemia Elmo.  THAT would be a good illustration.  Did you all see the Top Chef recently where they cooked with Elmo and Cookie Monster?  How great was that?  How much does it suck that Dale was sent home?  I really respect that guy this season; it's amazing how much he's grown up.

Ok, I'm out...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

30 Days of Blogging

Starting today, I have resolved to write one entry in the blog every day for the next thirty days.  The entries will probably be short, and doubtlessly will many be trite(ish).  Nevertheless, the decision has been made.  The thirty days of blogs begin....