Saturday, April 30, 2011

Day 55

Some talk of spending the afternoon looking at furniture on the West Side.  We need a new dining table, so it's got to be done.  Still, looking at furniture is not among the tasks I look forward to.  Maybe the dining table will present itself within the first twenty minutes and we can spend the rest of the time dancing and singing.  Seems unlikely.

I of course ended up watching some of the Royal Wedding, despite making no effort to do so.  Much like the NFL Draft.  It's something I would never care about ordinarily, but which, through the mass efforts of a large portion of society, I've somehow come to care about.  ESPN's relentless plugging of their own coverage of the draft is done, I know, to help their ratings.  In three weeks--maybe three days--no one will care who picked who in the third round.  Still I found myself watching for almost an hour yesterday, enduring the loathsome Mel Kiper just so I could learn where various people I've never heard of and don't care about will end up playing football.  Very odd.  

Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 54

Last night I watched The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, a movie about hoods and crooks in South Boston in the 70s.  Robert Mitchum stars as a man about to go to prison who's trying to find out ways to avoid doing time.  He's "stood up" for his criminal buddies in the past, but now he's starting to wonder about the price of being so honorable.  A young young Peter Boyle (of Everybody Loves Raymond fame) is a bartender who makes extra money on the side by talking to the cops.  For me the best scenes were the ones of the bank robbery (at the beginning) and the various interactions between the gun broker and the people buying guns from him.  In mood, it felt a little to me like Dog Day Afternoon, though of course they were directed by different films and shot in different cities.  Interesting too, that in a movie about crime and criminals, only two people get shot (and one a very minor character) in the whole film.  The first death doesn't even happen till halfway in.  As I told my wife, if this had been made today, the body count would have hit twenty by the first hour mark.

Since I seem to like to try and read as many books at the same time as possible I've also started The Great Enigma, a collection of poems by Tomas Transtormer, and Fall Higher, Dean Young's newest book.  Last night I also read about half of Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet.  Worked from about 3-9 last night, which is always leads to my best ideas.  (The longer you sit and think about something, the better it goes.  Graph of working/ideas vs time is not linear but exponential.  Momentum is everything).

I wanted to make some predictions about the NFL Draft (a subject, I know, you're all eager to hear about).  I usually only make predictions about quarterbacks, and my record in the past has been, let's say, checkered.  Specifically I predicted the following:
-Matt Leinart would be a good to great player
-Jay Cutler would be a great player
-Vince Young would be a bust
-Colt McCoy would be a successful starter

So far it's too early to say for sure about Colt McCoy.  I was right about Vince Young (to my everlasting delight), wrong about Matt Leinart (REALLY wrong, too) and sort of wrong about Jay Cutler.  He's been okay, but not great, obviously.  So given that I have no track record or no expertise, why make more predictions?  I don't know.  But I'm going to:
-Cam Newton: major bust.  (I have a bias against 'athletic' quarterbacks who have character issues and/or are rumored to be fairly stupid.  I have to say, too, that I REALLY dislike the guy, and that probably enters in.  Still, I think in three years he'll be on the bench or out of the league altogether.  When your first weapon is your feet, you tend not to learn to read defenses until it's too late.)
-Jake Locker: I think he'll make it.  A solid starter for three or four years, that's my pick.
-Ryan Mallett: I want to predict that he will do better than a lot of people think.  I know he's got character issues, and has the mobility of a stoned turtle.  Still, I think he's got the arm and the attitude to be, if not a huge success, then at least more of a success than people think.  (As of this writing he still hasn't been drafted, however; it might depend on what system he ends up in).

Okay, make your bets about the next season accordingly.

Addendum: This article in Slate describes a company that tries to evaluate potential greatness in draft picks based on how they speak.  Worth a read.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 53

Dante has reached the circle of Saturn, home to the contemplatives (monks, founders of monastic orders).  He's asked about predestination, a favorite subject.  The question of how God can know everything and yet still give human beings free will is one that comes up several times in the Paradisio.  The answer gets complicated, especially for people who aren't versed in Scholastic Theology--or, I guess, any theology.  I am one of those people.  But, to summarize: we have free will.  So, be comforted!

Many new books arrived yesterday.  It's always a happy occasion.  I've started reading Howard's End, which I read last in 2002.  I hadn't remembered how great it was.  I'm 50 pages in and am already loving it.   There's a kindness, a gentleness, to Forster's tone that I find especially soothing.  His characters have flaws but he doesn't condemn them for them.

I took some pictures of our flowers yesterday but none of them really captured their splendor.  Still, I'll try to post them anyway.  Only seven more days till I've blogged for sixty straight days.  The mind reels...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 52

Work on Act I now involves turning sketches and drafts into polished scenes.  Polishing is taking much longer than I anticipated; all the micro problems I'd forgotten about in working out the large scale structure now reappear.  Writing a mix of engineering and physics.  In engineering you have a set problem--a chasm that needs a bridge, and a pile of material.  Your goal is to use the material to make a bridge, a nice-looking bridge ideally.  Sometimes, though, you're in pure science mode (physics).  You have a chasm and you have no material; before you can figure out how to make a bridge you have to figure out where to get the material to build it with.  Maybe you have to make it in a lab.  Maybe you have to carve it out of the rocks. But that will take other tools, and you have no tools.  Maybe you should just walk out onto the air above the chasm and hope you don't fall?

But you will fall.  You will.

New work on relationship: we've made a new rule that we must eat together at dinner table at least every other night.  Pattern of getting home and watching TV while we eat precludes conversation which is I guess the glue that holds it all together.  Sitting at table is helped by recent furniture purchases which make the dining room area less gloomy and underdeveloped.  Wife has found a great mirror which has an almost rococo frame, curving and ornate.  Helps to undercut the room's previous austerity.

Flowers are in bloom everywhere in yard.  Roses, carnations, even our cherry tree has come back to life. I should take some photos; our garden is probably the house's best feature.  We also have a beehive in the tree in the backyard.  At one point our gardener told us he could get us honey from it.  That promise seems to have fallen by the wayside.  That's fine.  We don't really eat all that much honey anyway.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 51

I just can't help feeling like you should all be listening to The Joy Formidable.  And the reason I can't help feeling that is because it's true.  True true true.  Welsh people sing better than the rest of us.  This is well, well documented.  Now, I'll concede that their album (The Big Roar) has only four GREAT songs.  That's fine.  I'm not saying it's Outside. I'm not saying it's Low.  I'm not saying it's McGarnigle and the Peasnips go to Jackson (Allman Bros Bootleg).  But it's better than Neon Bible.  It's better than the xxWhoever.  It's better than Pavement or Dinosaur Jr (and I like Pavement!  And it's not Jay M's fault he's not Neil Young).  I know: it isn't 1997.  L Barlow is no longer extant.  That's fine.  Everybody's fine.  But why aren't you listening?  (As Christopher Walken): "Why aren't you calling?"  Look at this woman--with her bleached white hair...surely she's got passion.  I need to find a video for "Abacus."  That's their best song.

Day 50

This is short and photo-heavy, but, hey, I've posted something for 50 straight days.  If I want to go to photos for one day, I'm entitled.

The purple jacket was worn over the holidays and was, I have to say, entirely necessary (lots of rain and cold in Houston).  I like that it makes him look like a Russian cadet.

The napping stuff ('action photos' as we call them around here) features Bink in a car seat.  The car seat had to be installed and was waiting around the house, so Binks nestled into it.  The 'long white sausage' shot in the middle was taken while he slept.  He woke up as I prepared to take the photo.  As he sleeps, he extends himself into poses that are pretty remarkable.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Day 49

Last night we went out and celebrated our anniversary so I woke late this morning, somewhat the worse for wear.  Right now I'm sitting around eating Carl's Jr hash browns and a sausage and egg sandwich.  The cure for most ailments, I think we'd all agree.

When we got home last night my wife took over the music playlist.  I was glad for that to happen; I don't want to impose my tastes and preferences on the house and I worry that I do that more than is right.  On the other hand, someone has to put on music and usually she doesn't want to.  Last night she did.  And it was something.

I believe the playlist went something like this: Air Supply (1 song), Styx (1 song), 50 Cent (4 or 5 songs), Kenny Rogers (1 song), Stevie Nicks (5 songs), George Strait (60 songs.  Well no, but it felt like it).  Oh, and there was some Juice Newton in there too.  ("Playing with the Queen of Hearts.")  Maybe, also, some Bread.  (She loves Bread.  Really.)  It was really something.  I harass my wife about her love for (bad) music of the late 70s and early 80s, and last night it was really in effect.  I think it all started because we were debating who originally wrote the song "Angel of the Morning."  That lead to a wikipedia moment (turns out it was actually WRITTEN by Angelina Jolie's uncle, a songwriter no one has heard of, in 1968, but it's been performed by a bunch of people, including the aforementioned Juice Newton) which lead to the wife deciding to see if she had Juice Newton on her computer, which, of course, she did.  It was a little like being in a roller rink in 1980, with the 50 Cent thrown in just as a break.

Of course the Stevie Nicks was outstanding.  ("Just like a white-wing dove...."  Yes!)  Her voice never ceases to astonish me.  She could stand up there and sing about getting a haircut and it'd be worth listening to.  (Especially if it were a really wild haircut.  Like, maybe, she got dreadlocks?).  I hadn't heard most of the George Strait, and though I generally liked the songs, they were pretty mournful.  (Gist of every George Strait song: I'm alone, I'm drinking, you're not here.  And, sometimes, I'm on the road.  Or you're on the road.  Someone's on the road, though, and I'm drinking.  Alone.  And, I'm old and lonely.  And alone.  And drinking.  It's not necessarily festive 'celebrate our years of love together' music.)

Anyway, a good time was had by all.  Tonight we're meeting some friends of hers from work at a Soul Food restaurant in North Hollywood.  Should be interesting.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day 48

After about two months off, I'm back to reading Dante again.  Every morning I read a page from the Paradisio.  I started last fall; right now I'm on Canto XXI, a little more than halfway through.  I'm reading it in a facing-page translation; otherwise I'd be working on it for another year.  I try and get to a point, going back and forth, where I can read the Italian straight through without having to go back and consult the English.

The section yesterday involved an explanation of why certain of the virtuous pagans can, in fact, be saved. In the Inferno Dante famously consigns everyone who lived before the time of Christ--no matter how virtuous they were--to hell.   Socrates, Plato, Aristotle--they're all found in an antechamber at the start of the Inferno.  Nothing too terrible happens there, but, still.  It is hell.  And so the idea, obviously, is that without knowing Christ and undergoing Christian rituals (baptism, etc) no one can come to heaven.

Except that now, in Canto XX of the Paradisio we find out that, in fact, there are a few people born before the time of Christ who got to heaven.  The Roman Emperor Trajan, for one.  And also, a minor character in Virgil's Aenied, named Ripenus.  Dante's explanation for how this is possible is to me less interesting than this unfinished, contradictory aspect of the poem.  Unlike the first two books, the Paradisio contains a number of sections that seem to differ theologically from the past two books.  The accepted explanation seems to be that he died before he had time to revise the Paradisio and perhaps resolve some of its apparent problems.

It is not by any stretch a page-turner.  In fact, I'd say it's up there with the most difficult things I've ever read.  Still, there are some rewards.  Dante's certainty that there is a vast angelic order overlying (and undergirding) all our acts and thoughts, the infinitely intricate apparatus that is Scholastic philosophy, though frequently confusing and occasionally incomprehensible, imparts, at its best, a profound calm.  They make belief seem possible.  If someone could dedicate fifteen years (or whatever) of his life to writing this immense celebration of the Christian faith, then maybe, you think (I think), there's something there.  No one builds cathedrals in honor of atheism, as the saying goes.  The Commedia is a cathedral.  Spending thirty minutes in it every day is generally worth one's time.

Tonight we're going out to celebrate the anniversary.  I have to tutor today--it's been light this month--and I guess I'll work the rest of the day.  I should read up on Japanese internment during WWII.  That's what my student this afternoon is writing about.  A subject I know nearly nothing about.

Friday, April 22, 2011

You Make Me Sleep So Badly, Invisible Friend

I'm getting more obsessed.  They're coming to New York on April 29th.  I'd go if I lived there.   Hell, if I lived on the East Coast.

This is music to get overwhelmed by.  Turn it up; make the video full-screen.  Have a shot of engine oil.  Let the joy build up....

Day 47

I've managed to teach the Bink a new trick ("high five") which always puts him in a good mood.  The effort of struggling to learn and being rewarded when he does it correctly imparts a structure to his life, I think, and we all like structure.  Also he gets a lot of treats.  Everytime he gets the trick right he gets a cheerio.  (Or two, if he does it exceptionally well). At this point he can do it more or less perfectly (although he still can't do without lunging forward with his entire body--still can't just bat my hand with his paw, the rest of him motionless).  He's a smart little bear.

I've been listening to a great new band, a video of whom I hope to find and post for your enjoyment.  They're called The Joy Formidable.  Sort of anthemic intense slightly dissonant version of...I don't know?...the Cranberries.  They're way less poppy than that.  The woman who sings sounds a little like Shirley Manson as well, I guess.  I'll see if I can hunt down some of their stuff.

Yesterday I watched the first half of a Swedish movie called Together.  Movie's about a collective/commune of young idealistic men and women living in a suburb somewhere in Sweden in the 70s.  Told from the vantage of two children who are forced to move in to the commune when their parents split up (their mother is the sister of a commune member).  Somewhat disturbing (though probably not intended to be) but it did feel very honest about what it'd be like to live a true communal life.  Lots of jealousy, bickering, tension, chaos.  One member has resolved to be a lesbian, in order to free herself from patriarchal control.  Another has dropped out of college to become a welder, in order to show solidarity with the working class.  Serious conversations about what will happen when 'the revolution comes' occur frequently.  Of course it's a terrible, and thoroughly frightening, environment to raise children.  Kind of reminded me of the two years I lived in Berkeley, though of course we all had our own homes.

Okay, off to work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 46

Many strange half dreams this morning, involving KT and others.  Why do most of my strongest memories of the past involve regret?  "Things done wrong or for others harm," as it were.  I'm fairly certain that the people I used to be close with, the ones I dream about, think about, regret my actions toward, must also have mistreated me in some ways, at some point.  But that's not what I remember.  I remember an ex-gf, in grad school, giving me a paper she had written, on fetishism in "The Metamorphosis", and me disdainfully exposing all the flaws in its argument.  Probably not good idea for me to have dated someone in English Literature field.

Had semi-idea this morning about Moby Dick (he's up, in my increasingly desultory lecture series on the Western Canon).  To do with the allegorizing nature of the book.  Everything in Moby Dick is made to stand for, to mean, something else.  Candles, coins, a sextant, whatever gets brought up is immediately made an exemplum of some act or virtue.  A bit like the old medieval bestiaries, in that way.  But the whale, in Ahab (and Melville's) description, cannot be made to fit into a simple allegory.  He is too large for metaphor.  They're applied, but they don't stick.  He resists them; he means too much.  And for this reason, he must be destroyed.

* * *

My 4th anniversary is today.  (The traditional gift if flowers--it's your flower anniversary, in other words.  That strikes me as odd.)  My wife and I had our first date in 2005; by the end of this year we will have been together in some form or other for six years.  A public blog, read by the hundreds of millions of people who come here every day, is not in my mind a suitable place to talk about your love for your wife.  And love itself is a complicated, varying, constantly reshaped and reshaping kind of thing.  There's a sense in society in which the romance of married people is less talked about, less understood, less celebrated than the romance of people who are just starting to fall in love.  (Many many movies about people getting together; hardly any about staying together).  It's a cliche, but no one writes about what comes after 'happily ever after.'  Because it's too large, and too messy, and too private.

Typing in a new quote in the space above the blog's name up above, I was reminded of a night we spent together.  It was the day of my brother's wedding, so my wife-to-be and I had been dating about nine months.  She got very sick at the wedding and went home immediately after it was over.  I stayed up and went to a bar with some people and got pretty...uhm...riled up.  I got back to my apartment at 2 am, where she was sound asleep, fired up with the need to watch David Bowie videos.  For some reason, I insisted on watching the videos right then, at 2 AM, with the music up loud.  Even though she was asleep.  In fact, I think I may have woken her up and insisted she get up and watch them with me.  To share in the joy.  Which joy I don't think she felt as deeply as I did, at that moment in time.

But she did get up and watch them, without complaint.  I think we actually had fun doing it, though to be honest the night is pretty hazy.  Now on one hand, that story reveals me to be sort of an inconsiderate jerk, I know.  On the other hand, it shows that we were well-suited for each other, since she was basically fine to get up and watch Bowie at 2 am.  [As she should be!!!! (And so should you all, out there....)]

Well this is going off into a rambling incoherent place, a place I must try and avoid.  Happy Anniversary, Honey!  I guess the gift this year will have to be just flowers, but next year (number five)--it's the wooden anniversary.  Wood!  So that's something to look forward to....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Addendum: Dance + Cello = The True Goodness

Day 45

Watched all six episodes of the first season of a Canadian show called Slings and Arrows last night.  The show is about a Canadian Shakespeare festival, the once-insane actor called on to direct its flagship production of Hamlet, and the various members of the cast and crew.  I tend to like "myth of the theater/show must go on" type stuff but Slings and Arrows was pretty mediocre.  I fast forwarded though a lot of it, stopping only to watch the scenes where the star of Hamlet, a young American who's come to gain  an acting pedigree after starring in big studio action films, receives from his director the coaching he needs to excel (which, of course, he does).  There's also a good scene early where the director coaches a class of marketing execs as part of some kind of "How Shakespeare Can Help You Be Better in Business" nonsense seminar put on by the theater.  That was enjoyable.  The rest of it was pretty average.

Returning to the dentist today to get some chips filled in.  Heavy overcast skies.  The Bink is yowling out the window at what seems to me an empty yard.  Who knows what he senses out there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 44

Well, I can't go on trying to read these uninspiring books.  I've wrangled with them long enough.  Yesterday while reading some poetry by Dean Young I was reminded what it was like to be excited and inspired by what you read.  I don't have anything around that's doing that right now.  Marianne Moore and I continue not to gel.  Her tone, her subject matter, her style--they all kind of keep me away.  JG Ballard's stories are too drably conceptual and the Gene Wolfe is too adolescent creepy.  The Eco book on the history of beauty is fine to dip into, but it's filled with typos, it's unfocussed, and much of the writing is garbled and opaque.  It's a disappointment.

So, new books.  Many new books.   I've already checked some stuff out from the library, and now I'm going to amazon.  And I am getting down tonight.  I'm going to get with it.  I'm going to give Santa Monica something it ain't never had....

Two elderly women on walkers just came to the door.  They were smartly dressed and I was sure they had been friends of our home's last owner.  Instead, they told me they were here to talk about the good news that is contained in God's Bible.  That surprised me.  I would have liked to have invite them in but right now my Zoroastrian sacrificial altar is still out in the middle of the living room.  So, that might have been awkward.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 43

"I hate to have to tell my wife I shot my boy."

That was a line uttered last night on Swamp People, the show about alligator-hunting that I described earlier.  Junior, the speaker, had taken over control of the rifle.  In the process of trying to kill an alligator, he had missed the kill spot.  Bits of the bullet had ricocheted off the alligator's skull and lodged in the face and arm of his son, Willie.  When they got home, Junior's wife cauterized a needle and pushed the lead bullet remain out from under the skin beneath Willie's eye.  Then they got a Bowie knife and cut at the flesh around the skin on Willie's arm.  At that point, however, Willie had had enough.  He decided he'd rather leave the bits of bullet in his arm than have someone saw at them with a knife.  It seemed like a reasonable decision.

Also watched an episode of This American Life called "John Smith."  It featured seven different men named John Smith.  They were unrelated, spread about the country, and ranged from 11 months old to 79 years old.  The idea was to examine a life in all its phases (childhood, early adulthood, etc).  It sounds maybe a bit gimmicky but in fact it was one of the most moving hours of television I've ever seen.  I don't know why but it totally wrecked me.  The nine-year old John Smith, at one point, shows the camera a halloween costume he's made, of the Empire State Building.  He's cut out all this cardboard and painted windows on it and then affixed it around him, so he looks like a giant walking building.  It was about the best thing I've ever seen.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 42

In some of my earlier comments about Art and Craft I think I may not have gotten my idea across all that well.  I didn't in any way intend to set the two ideas in opposition.  I don't think 'craft' is antithetical to art; I think that Art, as I'm defining it here, consists of those works that manifest a high degree of craftsmanship AS WELL AS a second quality, something harder to name.  Call it 'soul' maybe.  Or, mojo.  

All cultural productions that succeed to any degree can probably be understood in terms of these two qualities.  None are ALL soul, or ALL craft, but one may overwhelm the other to such a degree that the work seems, essentially, monolithic.  So, for example, if I were going to list cultural productions that seemed to me to be 'mostly soul' (and very little craft) I'd say.... punk rock.  Down By Law.  A lot of movies of the French New Wave.  Everything I've seen by John Cassavetes.  The paintings of le doanier Rousseau.  The Neil Young one-note solo in "Cinnamon Girl" would go here, too.  The point in all these productions, their core quality is...expressiveness, inspiration, intuition, 'mojo.'  The emotion is the key thing; and the emotion's so strong and intense that worrying about rules of order, or constructing a pleasurable edifice for the listener/viewer, is seen as insignificant, even oppressive.  Think of how the Sex Pistols conceived of the rock music that had gone before them.  Being unable to play their instruments beyond basic proficiency was a deliberate rebuke to what they perceived as its deadening ossification.  Anarchy, rule-breaking (or at least, rule-ignoring) is a key component of 'mojo.'

But mojo alone is not enough to make great art.  At its worst, it leads to self-indulgent adolescent junk.  The poetry that we most of us write in high school has this quality.  It's strongly felt, it's got soul, but it's still usually fairly painful to read.  ( Oscar Wilde: "All bad art is sincere.")   'Mojo' is narcissistic; it's not about the viewer or the listener.  It is about the artist.  It's about his (or her) desires, his or her emotions, his or her needs.  And though fulfilling those needs is not an insignificant part of the reason art gets made, it shouldn't be the whole reason.  The viewer has needs too.

Craft--the second circle in my Venn diagram--involves meeting the needs, or at least the expectations, of an audience.  It means creating coherent perceptible orders within the work.  It means establishing connections, obeying conventions of form.  If a gun is introduced in the first act, it will be shot by the end.  If the first act involves two women in a shack in East Texas arguing about what the town's new minister will look like, the second act should not feature the entrance of Batman and The Green Lantern.  (Or if it does, it should do so in a meaningful way).  We should feel a guiding intelligence behind our experience.  We should feel like our needs--for order, for connection, for sensual enjoyment--are being attended to.

Neither craft nor 'soul' submit to a clean definition.  It's like obscenity I guess: I can say when I see it, but that's it.  I can say that I think 2112 by Rush is finely crafted, but mostly devoid of soul.   And I can say that The Brothers Karamazov, while undoubtedly deeply soulful and inspired, feels to me to be too unfocused, too lacking in basic elements of craft, to qualify as high art.  (Though I should qualify that by saying that I haven't read it in years, and may well need to reexamine it.  So maybe substitute Karamazov for Notes From The Underground.)  But, still, the terms remain somewhat unsatisfactory.  They can't be clinically, objectively tied-down.  Still, they're what I have, and what I use.  They may help me to think about the art I care the most about, and they help give me ways to understand why certain artists or...makers of cultural productions ultimately seem, to me, to fall short.

Art, then, is the part of the Venn diagram where Craft and Mojo intersect.  At least, that's how I think about it, at this point in my life.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Day 41

Day off from writing.  I spent the morning doing errands; the afternoon I have to tutor.  Act I issues persist but no one wants to hear about that.  The deadline is reset for May 15th, which I feel okay about.

The Justice Department yesterday shut down the three major American online poker sites.  It's unclear how long the shutdown will last.  It may be permanent.  Online poker has been in a legal gray area for a while now, but since there's been no real effort to stop it by the DOJ, a lot of young guys (anda  few women) have developed an entire lifestyle based around playing online.  They 'grind' for a certain number of hours a week, playing (some of them) 30 or 40 tables at a time.  The best at it can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  If online poker is permanently banned, their way of making a living is over.  Yes, they can play in live casinos, but I doubt many of them will.  It's an interesting story to follow.  As someone with one foot still in that world, I'll keep up with it as it plays out.

I won't make NBA picks because I'm going to end up having the Laker and the Bulls in the Finals, and everyone already thinks that's going to happen anyway.  (Well, actually, no.  In Vegas the Heat seem to be the favorite to win the East.  But I think that's a betting thing--reflecting the ignorance of the masses, as it were.)  Philadelphia was up 15 on the Heat when I just flipped on the game.  Imagine if they get upset in the first series.  What sweet sweet justice.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 40

Watched Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law last night.  His most critically acclaimed film, Law is the story of two small-time nobodies (Tom Waits, and some other guy) who are both set up from crimes they don't commit and end up together in a cell.  They are joined by an Italian traveler (Roberto Benigni) who has accidentally killed a man in a fight over a card game.  The movie is the story of their time together in jail, and of their eventual escape.

The movie--especially in the beginning, as we follow Zack and Jack (the two 'nobodies') around the broken down back streets of New Orleans--feels a lot like a Tom Waits song set to images.  For me, this opening sequence was the most successful.  Once the men end up in jail there's a lot of squabbling and random outbursts.  Essentially, the viewer is watching people get gradually more irritated and annoyed.  It's not a very interesting experience.  Benigni's arrival in the jail lightens the mood considerably and when they finally escape, into the Louisiana swamps, the change of scenery goes a long way towards reinvigorating the viewing experience.

But, on the whole, I'd Down By Law was a bit too loose and meandering for my tastes.  There's an essential emptiness at the core of all the Jarmusch films I've seen.  To his admirers, it's a profound admission of our collective spiritual anomie.  To me, it feels like a failure of imagination.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 39

Taxes just mailed.  Airline ticket situation for flight to Houston/Puerto Rico soon to be resolved.  This morning is going to be about TCB.

In Herodotus last night I read a description of how the Egyptians catch and kill alligators.  It was similar enough to the way I described earlier in Swamp People that I want to find and excerpt the passage here.  According to Herodotus, the Egyptians, having pulled the alligator from the Nile, would smear mud on its eyes before they killed it.  Presumably that made it easier?  Except wouldn't getting the mud on the eyes be more difficult than just killing it outright?  Herodotus also relates that Egyptian prostitutes used to smear alligator dung on their faces to keep them looking young.  When it fell off, their faces collapsed into looking old again.  On the other hand, they no longer stank of dung.  So, it kind of evened out.

I watched Obama's budget speech yesterday afternoon; not intending to watch the whole thing, I found myself sucked in.  He was a little vague on some of the details (we're cutting Social Security and the Military, but I'm not sure how) but overall I found it impressive.  Maybe not the plan so much as him.  He seems like an adult, maybe.  That may not sound like much, but a fair number of his contemporaries often do not.  (On both sides of the aisle.)  I trust him, I guess.  I don't see how anyone will beat him in 2012.  There's talk now Trump will run.  First Palin, then Trump.  What has happened to the Republican Party?

Ah well.  California has its own problems.  I thought of them (well, some.  There are too many to think of briefly) while writing my check for my state tax payment.  After living in Texas so long, it always strikes me as an injustice to have to pay STATE income tax.  Especially when the state is as wasteful and incompetent as this one is.

The play deadline has been pushed back another month.  I will have done by then, however.  I will.  Act I--the real problem for the last few weeks--is finally starting to come into shape.  I've inserted a massive car chase right in the middle, and given all the characters lasers.  I think that's really helped pick things up.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Day 38

The wife is back, as of last night, which is a cause for celebration.  We did so by watching TV and playing with the dog.  We are white people in our late 30s, after all.  (Well, she's not in her late 30s, but I am).  We also drank a little bit of what turned out to be maybe the worst bottle of wine I have ever bought.  A South African Pinotage, acquired at Whole Foods for a price that should get you something decent.  It tasted a little like I imagine the chemical spray they put on leather furniture to keep it supple would taste if it were turned into a liquid.  Really really horrible.  I have to find the name of it, so I can caution people off buying it.

I had to eat a late dinner which is not good for my attempts to lose weight.  Any time I eat later than 7:30 I feel like I'm fatter the next day.  My body hasn't had time to burn it off.  And then the wine was in there too.  We're going to Puerto Rico in June so I'd like to trim down a little bit before then.

Next to my computer I keep a piece of paper where I jot down names of books I want to buy.  Whenever anyone recommends something to me, whenever I come across something on the web that sounds interesting, whenever I think of a book I once had but have no more and want to reacquire, I write it on that piece of paper.  I write large and fast and at various angles, so it fills up haphazardly but nevertheless at this moment it is nearly full.  And a few weeks ago I bought a new bookcase for my office.  That means I actually have spare room right now, which is a rare and exciting occurrence.  Of course I can't just fill the whole thing up immediately.  All those blank shelves have to last for the next few years.  So I parcel them out slowly.  Some of the books on the list don't get ordered, when it comes time to do so.  The whim that made me write it down in the first place has gone, and my interest has waned.  The Counterfeiters, a book by Graham Greene set in Haiti, for example--that will probably make it.  (I heard about the book watching Anthony Bourdain in Haiti).  Death Comes for The Archbishop, however, which I decided to buy after seeing it as one of the books chosen to appear in the Western Canon lecture series I'm listening to on CD right now--that might not.  Although, yes--it will.  I like Willa Cather.  And I need to read more American fiction.  But then I can always find a reason to buy any book.  ("I need to read more poetry."  "I need to read more books written by women."  "I need to read more books about a man who trains an army of mechanized penguins to lead a slave revolt on a moon of Neptune.")

Binks has come into the office to give me the look.  The look that says "my pee pad has been altered.  Go and see what I have done there.  And reward me.  Reward me!"  I must go.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dickens, Pt III

Like many novelists, Dickens does not submit all that well to being excerpted.  Much of his power is cumulative.  He paints in broad canvases, not small details.  As a result, the pleasure that he has to offer does require a certain amount of time.  However, I think this passage (especially in the context of the passage I put up earlier) does a decent job of showing off his virtues.

Mr Pickwick and his friends have checked into an inn where they happen upon Mr Pott, the editor of the "Blue" newspaper mentioned previously.  It's been several months since they've seen each other and Mr Pickwick, always the gentleman, makes a polite, somewhat pro forma, inquiry about the state of things in Pott's home town.  The contrast between the easy-going affability of Mr Pickwick and his friends, and the near-incoherent rage and smug, self-deluded egotism of Pott help to give the scene some of its humorous power.

'And how are matters going on in Eatanswill?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, when Pott had taken a seat near the fire, and the whole party had got their wet boots off, and dry slippers on. 'Is the INDEPENDENT still in being?'  
'The INDEPENDENT, sir,' replied Pott, 'is still dragging on a wretched and lingering career. Abhorred and despised by even the few who are cognisant of its miserable and disgraceful existence, stifled by the very filth it so profusely scatters, rendered deaf and blind by the exhalations of its own slime, the obscene journal, happily unconscious of its degraded state, is rapidly sinking beneath that treacherous mud which, while it seems to give it a firm standing with the low and debased classes of society, is nevertheless rising above its detested head, and will speedily engulf it for ever.'

Having delivered this manifesto (which formed a portion of his last week's leader) with vehement articulation, the editor paused to take breath, and looked majestically at Bob Sawyer. 
'You are a young man, sir,' said Pott. 
Mr. Bob Sawyer nodded. 
'So are you, sir,' said Pott, addressing Mr. Ben Allen. 
Ben admitted the soft impeachment. 
'And are both deeply imbued with those blue principles, which, so long as I live, I have pledged myself to the people of these kingdoms to support and to maintain?' suggested Pott. 
'Why, I don't exactly know about that,' replied Bob Sawyer. 'I am - ' 
'Not buff, Mr. Pickwick,' interrupted Pott, drawing back his chair, 'your friend is not buff, sir?' 
'No, no,' rejoined Bob, 'I'm a kind of plaid at present; a compound of all sorts of colours.' 
'A waverer,' said Pott solemnly, 'a waverer. I should like to show you a series of eight articles, Sir, that have appeared in the Eatanswill GAZETTE. I think I may venture to say that you would not be long in establishing your opinions on a firm and solid blue basis, sir.' 'I dare say I should turn very blue, long before I got to the end of them,' responded Bob. 
Mr. Pott looked dubiously at Bob Sawyer for some seconds, and, turning to Mr. Pickwick, said - 
'You have seen the literary articles which have appeared at intervals in the Eatanswill GAZETTE in the course of the last three months, and which have excited such general - I may say such universal - attention and admiration?' 
'Why,' replied Mr. Pickwick, slightly embarrassed by the question, 'the fact is, I have been so much engaged in other ways, that I really have not had an opportunity of perusing them.' 
'You should do so, Sir,' said Pott, with a severe countenance. 
'I will,' said Mr. Pickwick. 
'They appeared in the form of a copious review of a work on Chinese metaphysics, Sir,' said Pott. 
'Oh,' observed Mr. Pickwick; 'from your pen, I hope?' 
'From the pen of my critic, Sir,' rejoined Pott, with dignity. 
'An abstruse subject, I should conceive,' said Mr. Pickwick. 
'Very, Sir,' responded Pott, looking intensely sage. 'He CRAMMED for it, to use a technical but expressive term; he read up for the subject, at my desire, in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica." ' 
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick; 'I was not aware that that valuable work contained any information respecting Chinese metaphysics.' 
'He read, Sir,' rejoined Pott, laying his hand on Mr. Pickwick's knee, and looking round with a smile of intellectual superiority - 'he read for metaphysics under the letter M, and for China under the letter C, and combined his information, Sir!' 
Mr. Pott's features assumed so much additional grandeur at the recollection of the power and research displayed in the learned effusions in question, that some minutes elapsed before Mr. Pickwick felt emboldened to renew the conversation; at length, as the editor's countenance gradually relaxed into its customary expression of moral supremacy, he ventured to resume the discourse.... 

Day 37

I've settled on Herodotus as the book to read for the next while.  I'm not allowing myself to buy more books till I finish three things I have here.  I'm going to cheat and make one of those three a book of poetry (The Ghost Soldiers, by James Tate, which I bought because of a positive review by Tony Hoagland in Poetry, and am finding to be not all that impressive).  I won't finish Herodotus any time soon, but he's a good book to read at night.  The Histories has a boys', swords and sorcery book feel to it.  Oracles, kings visited by dreams, battles--it's actually something of a page turner.  Last night I read Herodotus' theories for why the Nile floods each year.  That was not a page turner, but it was fascinating.  He suggests the flooding is due to the motion of the sun, which sometimes moves over Libya, absorbing extra water from the land and then....well, actually I don't know.  The theory was incredibly confusing.  I might have skimmed there, a little.  It's 700 pages long; I'm allowed to skim a little.

Wife comes back home today.  Yay!  We'll celebrate by eating a leftover lentil and sausage soup that I made last Friday.  That was not the greatest recipe, but it wasn't bad.

I've reduced the number of major questions to answer in the play to two.  Rilke says to treat your problems, your questions, as your friends, to love them, to revel in them.  I need to read the entire passage to get the context (it's from Letters to A Young Poet) because I'm curious what, if anything, he means by that.

All right, have to go.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Day 36

I don't know why I like watching golf, but I do.  I always have.  Only the four majors, and usually only on the weekends, but still.  I tend to make an effort.  Now that I have DVR, it's much easier.  I can record the whole day's competition, and then parcel it out in thirty minute increments whenever I feel like I want to take a break.

I don't play golf (I have.  But not in a long time.  And not well) and I don't really have some predisposition towards liking it.  But it's a strangely enticing viewing experience.  It's a reflective game, obviously, and that brings entirely new levels of stress and pressure to the people playing it.  The collapse yesterday of the 54-hole leader, Rory McIlroy, illustrated perfectly how difficult the mental part of the game can be.  It was also one of the more heartbreaking things I've seen in sports.  McIlroy had a four-shot lead coming in to Sunday.  For those who don't follow golf, that's close to insurmountable--assuming, of course, that McIlroy could just not make mistakes (play par golf, in other words).  If he could play at one or two under (which he had been doing all week), he was assured of winning.

Instead he shot eight over par.  An 80.  That is not at all good.  It's a score an amateur would shoot.  It's the equivalent of a baseball pitcher giving up four home runs in the first inning.  Except when a pitcher starts out that bad, his manager will take him out of the game.  In golf, you have to keep playing.  McIlroy's only 21 years old; it was his first experience being in the lead of a major tournament and you got a sense that he fully expected to win it.  Instead, he fell apart--on national TV.  He shot a triple bogey on one hole, and a double on another.   He was tight, he was struggling, his shots were all going in places he didn't intend.  It was a total meltdown.  There was a moment--I think on the 12th?--when he'd shanked yet another drive.  He kneeled down for a moment and covering his head with his hat, rested it on the butt of his golf club.  He was about to start crying.  He had realized at that moment that it was too late; no matter how well he played for the rest of the round, he couldn't win.  The dream was over.  And we were watching him think those things.  The mask of cool imperturability that most pro athletes wear had slipped.  Not just slipped, it had burst into flames.  It was impossible not to feel sympathy for him.

I had to teach 20 year olds when I was a grad student, and one thing that surprised me (and lead to me making some teaching mistakes) was how emotionally fragile so many of them turned out to be.  One of the commentators yesterday, watching McIlroy, said something along the same lines; "we are all of more fragile than we like to admit."  And I thought: yes.  Great insight, Roger.  (Or whoever).

In the movies, McIlroy would come back in a few months having learned from the experience.  Newly toughened, he would have a similar chance at the US Open, but this time he would win.  And McIlroy might do that; he seemed very professional in the interviews afterward, all of which he handled with grace and class.  But pro sports are not the movies, and sometimes people don't recover (especially in golf).  There are dozens of stories of people who have a terrible meltdown in a key moment on national TV who never recover.  I don't think that'll happen to McIlroy, but you never know.

And then, at the end of it all, a South African won.  I don't know why, but that made me grouchy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Day 35

For the last few days I've felt an immense lassitude whenever I try to work.  It's like the month plus of constant relentless writing has drained my will of the desire to do anything more than sit on the couch and watch stupid television.  I have only a few more problems--none very large--to solve in order to be able to write the first totally 'correct' draft of the play ('correct' meaning everything works, all the storylines are in place, and all the structure is set.  The house is built, but not decorated).  And yet every day it's harder to motivate myself.  Maybe it's that I know I'm going to miss the April 15th deadline, and without that pressure it's a harder to work.  Or maybe I'm just tired.  I don't feel tired.  Maybe I need something new to read, something to inspire me.  Or maybe it's just the weather.  ("There's always a change in the weather.  I thought this time we might get it together....")

The wife left for Washington today.  We always have these fun nights the night before she leaves, and then her absence is even more sad than it would be usually.   The freeway was deserted.  I guess 7 AM on a Sunday is the one time in LA when driving doesn't get you into traffic.  Took twenty minutes to get to LAX from our house in the valley.  On the way we listened to a lecture on "Paradise Lost."  (Because what wakes you up better than that?)  I told my wife how the spring after I'd decided to go to grad school for poetry I'd made myself read "Paradise Lost", thinking that since I was going to study poetry I should have read one of the most famous poems ever written.  Naturally, in the two years I was there, "Paradise Lost" was mentioned exactly once.  Not that I regret having read it (mostly).  It just shows how little I knew what I was getting into.  I should have been reading Lyn Hejinian, or language poets, or Michael Palmer.  People I hadn't heard of, at the time.

A poem that turned out to have a much larger significance in grad school was Wordsworth's "Prelude."  That's really what I should have read.  I should reread that, actually.  It always inspires me.

In the lecture the professor talked about how "Paradise Lost" really marked the end of the Poem as a major vehicle for writers to work in.  It was almost like...poetry was used up.  There was nothing more to be done in the genre (at least as far as storytelling went.  The lyric poem obviously did fine.)  Instead, the novel slowly became the default form for writers wanting to reach a large audience.  So that by the time Joyce came along to write a new, modern epic, he didn't write a poem, he wrote a novel.

He also talked about the 'lyric novel' emerging as a genre at the beginning of the 20th century, citing Woolf's To The Lighthouse and The Waves as examples.  The point being that writers who wanted to write 'poetically' and yet still felt obliged to work in the form of a novel tried to have their wombats and eat them too, as it were, by filling their novels with lyrical, 'poetic' prose.  When I checked my blog today, my friend, the redoubtable Cartooniste, had posted on the exact same subject, noting how 'lyrical prose' has become a kind of coded way of saying that the books may be tedious to read, that the writers may not have cared much about the story or the characters, but, hey, at least the sentences are pretty.  (Well, that's not exactly what she said.  I'm extrapolating.)  Which strikes me as true, for the most part.  I've been burned too many times buying books that promised me lyrical prose.  I don't want lyrical prose, at least not at the expense of every thing else a novel can do.  Anyway, look at Middlemarch.  For me, one of the three best books ever written; no one would ever call that prose lyrical.

It strikes me that maybe my work on the play would go better if I spent less time writing these blog entries. Is creativity like gasoline: you only have a certain amount every day, and once you use it up it's gone?  Or is it like a muscle, that the more you exercise, the stronger it gets?

Or is it like an alligator hunter, who only goes out once a month and has to catch as many gators as he can, without getting eaten?

I've been having luck doing a kind of exercise in which I force myself to write first person accounts of the play's actions from the vantage of all the characters, to help me explore their mental states.  Mostly, it's to help me figure out why they do the things they do.  This is really the fundamental question that fiction and theater apply themselves to answering; why do people do the things they do?  It's a hard question to answer; even when we examine our own actions we often have no real idea what we've done most of the things we've done.  This is essentially the action at the heart of Crime and Punishment.  Raskalnikov kills the old woman for a complex of reasons that he himself can barely understand, and then spends the rest of the novel trying to make sense of what he's done.  Or rather, why he's done it.  And in the end, he really has no idea.

Okay, I really am now using this as an excuse not to work.  I need to figure out now why a character has started flipping coins to make key decisions in her life, where the practice comes from and why she wants it spread.  It has something to do with her mother, I think.  (Actually she doesn't flip coins, she opens a book randomly and uses the page number to tell her what to do, but it's the same thing).  Chaos and structure; they're the fundamental elements.  Art has to have enough chaos to give the illusion of versimilitude but enough structure to allay our fears that life is only chaos.  Its skeleton is a consoling lie, its flesh an unacceptable truth.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dickens, Pt II

Shocked by the disparaging comments heaped by some readers upon Mr Charles Dickens, I now resolve to attempt, if such a thing be possible, to persuade my loyal readership that Dickens is a writer whose reputation is well-deserved, that his books are worth the time and effort they take to read, that he has relevance to contemporary life, and, at a minimum, that he is funny.  The passage below is from The Pickwick Papers.  It will tie in to another passage, which I plan to post tomorrow, on a similar subject.

Some Account of Eatanswill; of the State of Parties therein; and of the Election of a Member to serve in Parliament for that ancient, loyal, and patriotic Borough
We will frankly acknowledge that, up to the period of our being first immersed in the voluminous papers of the Pickwick Club, we had never heard of Eatanswill; we will with equal candour admit that we have in vain searched for proof of the actual existence of such a place at the present day. Knowing the deep reliance to be placed on every note and statement of Mr. Pickwick’s, and not presuming to set up our recollection against the recorded declarations of that great man, we have consulted every authority, bearing upon the subject, to which we could possibly refer. We have traced every name in schedules A and B, without meeting with that of Eatanswill; we have minutely examined every corner of the pocket county maps issued for the benefit of society by our distinguished publishers, and the same result has attended our investigation. We are therefore led to believe that Mr. Pickwick, with that anxious desire to abstain from giving offence to any, and with those delicate feelings for which all who knew him well know he was so eminently remarkable, purposely substituted a fictitious designation, for the real name of the place in which his observations were made. We are confirmed in this belief by a little circumstance, apparently slight and trivial in itself, but when considered in this point of view, not undeserving of notice. In Mr. Pickwick’s note–book, we can just trace an entry of the fact, that the places of himself and followers were booked by the Norwich coach; but this entry was afterwards lined through, as if for the purpose of concealing even the direction in which the borough is situated. We will not, therefore, hazard a guess upon the subject, but will at once proceed with this history, content with the materials which its characters have provided for us.
It appears, then, that the Eatanswill people, like the people of many other small towns, considered themselves of the utmost and most mighty importance, and that every man in Eatanswill, conscious of the weight that attached to his example, felt himself bound to unite, heart and soul, with one of the two great parties that divided the town—the Blues and the Buffs. Now the Blues lost no opportunity of opposing the Buffs, and the Buffs lost no opportunity of opposing the Blues; and the consequence was, that whenever the Buffs and Blues met together at public meeting, town–hall, fair, or market, disputes and high words arose between them. With these dissensions it is almost superfluous to say that everything in Eatanswill was made a party question. If the Buffs proposed to new skylight the market–place, the Blues got up public meetings, and denounced the proceeding; if the Blues proposed the erection of an additional pump in the High Street, the Buffs rose as one man and stood aghast at the enormity. There were Blue shops and Buff shops, Blue inns and Buff inns—there was a Blue aisle and a Buff aisle in the very church itself.
Of course it was essentially and indispensably necessary that each of these powerful parties should have its chosen organ and representative: and, accordingly, there were two newspapers in the town—the Eatanswill Gazette and the Eatanswill Independent; the former advocating Blue principles, and the latter conducted on grounds decidedly Buff. Fine newspapers they were. Such leading articles, and such spirited attacks!—‘Our worthless contemporary, the Gazette’—‘That disgraceful and dastardly journal, the Independent’—‘That false and scurrilous print, theIndependent’—‘That vile and slanderous calumniator, the Gazette;’ these, and other spirit–stirring denunciations, were strewn plentifully over the columns of each, in every number, and excited feelings of the most intense delight and indignation in the bosoms of the townspeople.
Mr. Pickwick, with his usual foresight and sagacity, had chosen a peculiarly desirable moment for his visit to the borough. Never was such a contest known. The Honourable Samuel Slumkey, of Slumkey Hall, was the Blue candidate; and Horatio Fizkin, Esq., of Fizkin Lodge, near Eatanswill, had been prevailed upon by his friends to stand forward on the Buff interest. The Gazette warned the electors of Eatanswill that the eyes not only of England, but of the whole civilised world, were upon them; and the Independent imperatively demanded to know, whether the constituency of Eatanswill were the grand fellows they had always taken them for, or base and servile tools, undeserving alike of the name of Englishmen and the blessings of freedom. Never had such a commotion agitated the town before.

Day 34

I'll tell you one thing, my two friends doing this post-a-day thing are certainly posting more interesting stuff than I am.  John's just put up a really incisive mini-essay on Ayn Rand and Dez has some fascinating reflections upon animals in space.  Whereas I, this morning, plan to write about a TV show in which men hunt alligators.

It's called Swamp People.  My wife got into it last season.  I think it reminds her of certain folks she knows in Texas (even though it's set in Louisiana).  The show's heroes are professional alligator trappers. They're local boys from small towns who've spent most of their lives in and around the immense swamps that cover most of southern Louisiana.  Some of them have accents so strong it's hard to understand what they're saying.  Many of them are missing prominent teeth.  They have names like Willie and Junior.  And  one month a year (during the 'season') they spend every day out in the swamps looking for 'gators.

The job, as you would imagine, is not exactly safe.   Alligators are not especially happy animals, and they really aren't happy when they have a hook caught in their mouth.  The hunters' goal is to get close enough to the animal to put a bullet through a small, quarter-sized area in the head called the 'kill spot.'  If they miss the kill spot by a few inches, the bullet can ricochet off their skull.  If they miss it by more than a few inches, they can damage the alligator's hide, and lose out on the money they get from selling the animal to people who want it for its skin.  In its essence, the 'hunt' consists of tugging these angry animals high enough out of the water that someone in their boat can get a clean shot at its head.  All the while the alligator is trying to either attack the people in the boat, or pull the person holding the line into the water where, presumably, they will be eaten.

The whole thing is really something to see.  I'm still not totally sure how I feel about it, but it's definitely a spectacle.

And I haven't even talked about the alligator 'relocator' who catches them alive, WITH HIS BARE HANDS, and moves them from one part of the swamp to another.

I think it's on Animal Planet?  Or Nat Geo, I don't know.  Some cable channel.  Worth checking out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Addendum: Podsnappery

I don't know why, but the following passage just came into my mind.  When I looked it up I was happy to find it was even funnier than I remember it.  It's from Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.

Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap's opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.
Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There was a dignified conclusiveness--not to add a grand convenience--in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establishing Mr Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr Podsnap's satisfaction. 'I don't want to know about it; I don't choose to discuss it; I don't admit it!' Mr Podsnap had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him (and consequently sheer away) with those words and a flushed face. For they affronted him.
Mr Podsnap's world was not a very large world, morally; no, nor even geographically: seeing that although his business was sustained upon commerce with other countries, he considered other countries, with that important reservation, a mistake, and of their manners and customs would conclusively observe, 'Not English!' when, PRESTO! with a flourish of the arm, and a flush of the face, they were swept away. Elsewhere, the world got up at eight, shaved close at a quarter-past, breakfasted at nine, went to the City at ten, came home at half-past five, and dined at seven. Mr Podsnap's notions of the Arts in their integrity might have been stated thus. Literature; large print, respectfully descriptive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Painting and Sculpture; models and portraits representing Professors of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Music; a respectable performance (without variations) on stringed and wind instruments, sedately expressive of getting up at eight, shaving close at a quarter past, breakfasting at nine, going to the City at ten, coming home at half-past five, and dining at seven. Nothing else to be permitted to those same vagrants the Arts, on pain of excommunication. Nothing else To Be--anywhere!
As a so eminently respectable man, Mr Podsnap was sensible of its being required of him to take Providence under his protection. Consequently he always knew exactly what Providence meant. Inferior and less respectable men might fall short of that mark, but Mr Podsnap was always up to it. And it was very remarkable (and must have been very comfortable) that what Providence meant, was invariably what Mr Podsnap meant.
These may be said to have been the articles of a faith and school which the present chapter takes the liberty of calling, after its representative man, Podsnappery. They were confined within close bounds, as Mr Podsnap's own head was confined by his shirt- collar; and they were enunciated with a sounding pomp that smacked of the creaking of Mr Podsnap's own boots.

Day 33

Well of course last night I lost all my recent deposit to online poker.  Got dealt rolled up threes in stud hi/lo and jammed all the way.  A guy made a flush on 6th street, and I didn't improve.  But I also played badly, tilted, impatient, and deserved to go broke.  All day my mind was scattered by thoughts of poker and yet again I'm glad to be done with it.

Anyone even vaguely interested in fitness or health should read this article immediately.  Eye opening, intriguing, very well written.  I was in a gym for the first few years I was out here, and giving up in the fall hasn't seemed like such a bad decision.  I do push ups and sit ups still and I jog.  These are activities that are free, and so I like them.  This article though has made me consider maybe buying some weights.  And getting back into sports of some kind--something where you use all the muscles together.

Need to go back to reading.  I started Billy Budd yesterday or the day before, and that looks promising.  I have dozens of things to read lying around.  So why do I want to buy some new books?  Happiness is always just out of hand....

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Day 32

First of all, a shout out to my peeps.  Both ASOWBA, and GNBB (aka John and Dez, two old friends from the wars) have decided to also post in their blogs every day over the next thirty days.  I'm looking forward to reading their posts and, ultimately, to hearing what they have to say about the experience of posting every day.  For me, at this point, it's part of the routine.  I'm programmed to come in here after breakfast and write a few hundred words, and so I do.  It's time to make the doughnuts, as it were.

Rolling Stone has a list of their top ten bassists of all time up right now.  It's reader-determined, and for the most part I agree with their selections.  Number one (Entwistle) is a no-brainer, and none of the rest are very controversial.  Except...there's no Chris Squire.  That rankles me.  (Listen to the bassline on "Leave It".  Or anything he did in the 70s, really.  "Close to The Edge."  Come on!  The man's amazing.)  The blurb about Geddy Lee talks about his ability to play bass and keyboard at the same time, and how that alone qualifies him to be up there, but to me, that's again to confuse craft with art.  Yes, Lee is a virtuoso.  No question.  But is the music of Rush any good?  It is not.  Or, it's good in the way of craft.  Well made, technically impeccable, but emotionally and intellectually barren.   It's like arguing that Yngwie Malmsteen is a better guitarist than Eric Clapton.  Or, even Neil Young.  Who would you rather hear play guitar?  I'll choose Young every time.

By the way, that same Rolling Stone has excerpts from Sammy Hagar's upcoming autobiography that are well worth reading, especially if you're interested in Eddie Van Halen at all.  Kind of shocking what a raging alcoholic tool he was.

Back to work today.  The new recipe I tried last night (spicy grilled shrimp) turned out incredibly.  If more of the recipes from that site go as well I'll post a link.  April 15th looms.  At this point it's likely my wife will get her money, but it's not a done deal.  We'll see.

By the way, thanks to my friend Bryan for recommending I check out the show "Top Gear."  From the clips I'd seen, I'd thought the show was just wonky car stuff for people who care about high end Ferraris.  And it is that, sort of.  But what I didn't know is that it's incredibly funny.  It's British and it's witty, and it's smart, to the point where it actually has made me kind of interested in high-end sports cars--a subject I have never cared about at all.  Anyway, I highly recommend it, especially for fans of British humor.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Day 31

A late post today, what with the errands and radical change in schedule...

Dentist was fine; my old annoying guy has been replaced by a younger couple.  The woman was intense but in a good way; she obviously takes teeth very seriously.  First time I've ever been to a dentist where, after they XRay you, the XRays appear on a monitor right in front of you.  All new digital technology, she exclaimed, as proud as if she had invented it herself.  Discussing my slight bone loss (due to grinding, she believes) she said that none of it was "tragic."  Meaning, I guess, it was mostly all okay.  I have some chips which will require slight filling type work for which I go back in a week.

Then my tutoring didn't show, which leaves me the option to bill them or not.  It's a long time student who I like and who's never done this before, so I probably won't bill her.  But it's aggravating.  I left the dentist early to be there; if I hadn't, I could have gotten it all done in one day.  Grumble grumble.

My day off from writing I spent playing relaxed low stakes poker.  I didn't really care about winning, and so of course I won.  I've self excluded myself from the site to make sure I don't go back, and waste my life playing cards.  You don't want to waste your life, as Adam Duritz sings.  No, you're right, Adam.  I don't.

That was such a great album.

In the dentist's office, I got to hear the radio.  I never ever listen to the radio.  Result is that songs that most mortals are tired to death of now seem newish and available again.  "In Your Eyes," e.g.  There's a song no one ever wants to hear played again, even though we all loved it when it came out.  Well, today, it was almost like it had just come out again.  I luxuriated in Peter Gabriel's voice, as an angry weasel teeth cleaning device was jabbed in and out of my mouth.

I found a new recipe site online (Amanda Hesser's...I'll find a link another time) which has yielded some exciting new options.  Trying one out tonight.  It requires me first to find a live porcupine.  That may take some time.  Then I have to brine it (the only way to really extract the flavor from a porcupine, as all true gourmands know).  Then, the cumin.

Should be good!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 30

Last day of the first 30.  Yesterday I was as mentally burned out as I've been in a while.  Was lucky to be able to work for an hour.  Tomorrow I take the day off, for the dentist and then tutoring.  That should be thrilling.

The basketball game last night (UConn/Butler) was as unenjoyable to watch as any I can recall.  To be expected when one team shoots 18% for the game.  I cannot stand Jim Calhoun and would have loved to see him lose.  Oh well.  Watching and caring about college basketball at all is pretty much the moral equivalent of, say, going to an R Kelly concert.  You can tell yourself it's just about the music, but the fact is that you're putting money in the pocket of very sketchy person.  Even in the world of bigtime college sports, basketball stands out for its shadiness.  I tend to think Div I players should be paid, or at least allowed to keep some percentage of their school's revenues.  The face saving lie that they're there for an education is one no one believes any more.

Well that's a huge overstatement, but that's okay.  I'm grouchy this morning!

Read Herodotus for a while last night, who's pretty fun, in the end.  Then, totally mind dead, I re-entered the dark world of online poker, something I've sworn not to do until I finish the play.  I only played for two hours, (stud hi/lo) and won a couple of hundred dollars.  If I can just play once a week, as a means of relaxation, it should be okay.  (The first one is always free...)

All right, I'll try to regain some imaginative powers in the next day or two.  The blog entries are definitely getting worse....

Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 29

One more day till 30.  I've now committed to 60 days, however, since my friend John has offered to match me, for the next 30 days.  Dez?  Might you consider joining in?  I for one would be fascinated to learn what the day to day life of a high school history teacher is like.  Really.  Consider it.

* * *

Twice a month we have a woman come to clean our house.  When she does, I take the Bink to a kennel to be boarded.  (He does not do well with strangers in the house).  Usually the drive to the kennel (the Bink contained inside a quivering black duffel bag) is one of whimpering and self-pity.  Today, however, he was  quiet.  He doesn't seem to dread being boarded any more, which is a minor triumph.  Unfortunately, I also learned today that our kennel might have to close in May.  The landlord wants to raise the rent.  That would not be good.  It's taken us three years to accustom him to this place.  God only knows how arduous the process of finding a new place will be.  And, we're planning a 10 day vacation in June.  Argh.

Two new nicknames for the Bink: Wigwam and Oingo Boingo.

* * *

I usually take a break from writing one day out of every seven.  The last two weeks, though, I've gone straight through, without a single break, and right now my mind is tired.  I don't think what I'm reading right now helps.  I'm not putting anything good inside my brain, and so nothing good's coming out.  (Another art v. craft distinction: the former generates new ideas.  The latter does not.)  So, abandoning Ballard and Wolfe for a while, I'm going back over some old favorites.  This morning I read a few stories by Chekhov.  One that particularly stood out was "At Home."  It's about a lawyer who comes home to learn his seven-year old son has been caught smoking.  Nothing much happens; he tries to explain to him why smoking is 'wrong' and then, feeling that that's failed, tells him a strongly moralistic fairy tale about a king whose only son began smoking and consequently died of consumption.  The boy finally registers that he shouldn't smoke, and the father stays up, after the son goes to sleep, regretting that he's told such a sermonizing story, and pondering the nature of familial love.  It's quiet and unadorned and strangely powerful.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Day 28

Woke from dream in which a forceful and humorless blonde woman was testing something about my brain at a high school.  A series of questions followed by forcing me to hook up and then play a video game.  The game involved shooting large futuristic tanks.  Then a day later the woman came back and made me do it all again.  (Two of the questions were 1. what is the name for a group of cougars?  2. what is the name for a group of koi.  I now need to look and see if those animals even have group names).  Finally, during 2nd test, I snapped.  It was when she asked me to hook up the game console again.  There were dozens of grey wires and I was wearing some kind of goggles over my glasses that kept causing them to dig into my brow.  I told her I wouldn't take the test, I wanted to know where she was from, and why I hadn't I gotten the results from my first test.  Then I told her I was smarter than she was.  Then I asked to see her naked.

Then I woke up.  Conrad says there is nothing less interesting than hearing other people's dreams.  Well, everyone says that.  But they sort of infect your day, and since I just woke up that's what's in my head.

It's like smoke from some building that you stayed in at night; the rest of the day that smoke smell is in your hair and shirt and clothes.

She also defined a 'koi' for me when she asked me the koi question.  That made me very angry.  I told her that I wasn't a moron; I knew what a koi was.  Although in high school I wonder if I did.

I wonder if this relates to the large amount of spicy salsa I ate last night?

* * *

A new show on a new channel (Current is the channel): Hooked on Danger.  It's about tuna fisherman in Australia and is actually pretty entertaining.  My lecture series on the canon is making me increasingly grouchy.  But I did make a dentist appointment, despite my intense desire not to.  The poison spore and all that.  Going out to dinner tonight with wife.  We probably both need some time to decompress.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Day 27

Wife has had a long and brutal work week.  Now that it's over, and Saturday's here, she's going to unwind.  Right now she's sitting on the couch watching Law and Order SVU, a show centering around rape, murder, and abduction.  Where is the relaxation factor?   I guess it has to do in part with the characters of the detectives.  And then, on a larger level, justice is usually done.  Order is maintained.  That's profoundly comforting, to watch the bad guys repeatedly caught through the dogged and intelligent detective work of the police.  We all want to believe that that is the world we live in.

The end of the 30 days is approaching and I am considering whether to keep going or to stop.  Posting every day has a lot of rewards (for me, don't know about the readers).  What is hard about writing is writing badly.  (This is not my idea; I got it from Dean Young).  If every time we sat down we produced A-level prose, came up with wondrous ideas, understood our characters deeply, there'd be nothing unpleasant about it.  Most of the time this doesn't happen.  You produce dross.  It's junk, and you know it's junk as you write it, but you have to keep going because that's the only way to get beyond the junk, to hope to turn it into not-junk.  (THAT is the hardest part about writing.  Faith.  Faith that you'll get from junk to not-junk.)

The thing this journal project seems to have done is to given me more of a sense of permission to write junk.  I deliberately write these quickly; I don't edit and I don't revise.  I'm not working towards producing high level prose, or even interesting prose.  I'm just trying to get in the habit of giving myself permission to think in words.  The fact that this is a semi-public setting is relevant only in that it forces me to keep doing it; it holds me to my promise (writing in a private journal is something that's too easy to stop doing).  Because it is being read by others, I omit certain aspects of my life (my frequent sex trips to Thailand, the cocaine binges, the illicit llamass) but otherwise, it's just what it's in my head.

And I think that--though I can't be sure--overall it's been useful.  The last month of 'real' writing, on my play, seems to have been going slightly better than normal.  I can't be sure if that is because of this daily journal routine, but it might be.  (I also have a self-imposed deadline for a draft of the play, of April 15th.  If I don't get it done by then I have to give my wife a shopping spree of stuff I can't use.  Not that that's such an onerous punishment, but still.  That's money I could spend on llamas!)  And given that, I think it's something I should continue.

Though I am kind of running out of things to say.  Well, I guess I can just go back to talking about movies. (Dazed and Confused was on TV last night.  What a masterpiece!)

* * *

Something not as satisfying about reading a book of short stories, as opposed to a novel.  It's so abrupt; you start, you stop, that's it.  You don't sink into a world.  And the Wolfe and Ballard stories are even more abrupt than the usual naturalistic fiction you read in magazines.  Maybe I'll get some novels to go with them.  No, no.  Can't buy more books.  I have too much unfinished already.

Basketball today!  And takeout.  Semi-relaxation.  Though I'm working till 4, I vow.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Day 26

Marco work on large scale structural elements continued.  The bridge between the end and beginning is almost done, save one gap near the end of Act III.  How much to let the micro dictate the macro and how much to let the macro dictate the micro?  I don't know.

Watched Port Of Shadows last night, a french film by Marcel Carne.  Nowhere close to as good as Children of Paradise, of course, but the acting of Jean Gabin, as the shadowy, tormented deserter was a highlight.  Something interesting: both this movie and the last French film I watched (Le Trou) featured scenes in which somebody beat the living hell out of someone else.  By which I mean they administered a beating and afterwards, the person they'd beat acted mentally and physically broken.  (In Shadows, the character who's been beaten starts to cry as soon as it's over and is so upset he can't talk).   But in both films the 'beating' administered is nothing more than a few sharp slaps to the face!  (The slaps are the kind that go front of hand/back of hand/front of hand--like something you'd see in a cartoon.)  And what I wonder is if the actors at the time (and directors) knew how laughably unthreatening these supposed 'thrashings' appeared on screen?  Did they seem ferocious at the time or did they always seem ridiculous?  Because they definitely look ridiculous now.  And they're made even funnier when the people receiving them act (as they do in both films) like they're being worked on by professional torturers.

Muffin mix arrived in the mail (I can't find it around here) so I'm off to buy blueberries.

Wow that was an unmacho sentence.

Started struggling with Marianne Moore yesterday.  A poet I've never gotten much out of.  I've decided it's time to try again.  So far, one or two poems have gotten through to me.  We'll see.