Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year.



I won't mince words, 2007 was an extremely difficult year for me. After major issues with my health and a "quarter-life crisis," or the twenty-two-year-old career blues, as I like to call them, I fell in love for the first time since the demise of my first major long-term relationship. Now I have two broken hearts to put on my shelf.

I had written a very lengthy personal entry to share with you all, but upon reading it I felt very vulnerable and depressed, so I decided against posting it. That said, I look forward to 2008. I hope it will be a year of change and of healing. In the future I hope to take better care of myself and to guard myself against those wolves in sheep's clothing who are capable of hate and manipulation I thought impossible by a person loved by so many.

I am determined to spend more time appreciating those who have continued to support and care for me, those who really know me and accept me for who I am and less time fretting about aimless people with no sense of self who get a rise out of controlling and ultimately destroying others.

I love my family and my friends more than I can say. May will mark my two year anniversary in New York. While we've had our spats, I realized, walking home from a bar a few weeks ago around 3AM, as it started to snow, that I love this city. Even if its crowded streets and lovely neighborhoods sometime become shades and ugly reminders of deceit and cowardice, there is nothing like New York, and there never will be. I feel honored and baptized by its strange, seductive melange of violence and romance.

With that said, all my best to you, dearest reader.
I hope you flourish in the new year.

Jessica

P.S. It's crazy how much I've changed. (My hair!) This photo is from the beginning of my sophomore year at college, 2005.



2006:


And December, 2007.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sophie's Choice, or The Best Novel I have Read in a Long, Looooooooong Time.



Sunday night I found myself in the sleet running up the steep slope to my apartment building. Usually, if you're wondering, my pace back home after a workout is more of an "amble," if anything, it's more of a crawl. But Sunday night there was work to be done. I had 100 pages left of William Styron's Sophie's Choice .

I can say, without a doubt, that this novel is the best work of "contemporary" fiction I have read since Ian McEwan's monolith, Atonement , which made its debut in 2001. Sophie was published in 1979.

There was a very famous, award-winning film adaptation made in 1982, (that catapulted Meryl Streep to stardom) so many of us already know what Sophie's "Choice" is (myself included, unfortunately, although I have yet to see the film). However, for those of us that don't, I won't spoil it for you. You may read with open eyes.

The novel's narrator, Stingo, has captured what it means to be an editorial assistant at a major publishing house in New York (see Chapter 1), and for this, I am in love with him. Never in my life have I laughed aloud on the subway while reading until I hit the readers reports listed in this chapter. Overall, I was surprised by the humor in this book, given that it's oftentimes labeled as a "holocaust novel." I want to write that Stingo is a brilliant invention on Styron's part to lighten-up the whole saga, but it's painfully obvious that Stingo's no invention at all. He's Styron himself. Note the similarity in their names. Styron also worked as an underpaid editorial assistant before his writerly success. Both Sytron and Stingo are from Virginia, both are obsessed with the story of Nat Turner. ( Confessions of Nat Turner and Lie Down in Darkness , Sytron's previous novels, are both chronicled as early ideas of Stingo's in Sophie's Choice .) As if that weren't confusing enough for you, basically what we have here is a writer writing about a writer who is writing his novels.

All of this fictionalized reality leads me to believe that the character of Sophie truly did exist (and perhaps her boyfriend, Nathan, as well) and that Styron really did meet them that summer of 1947. But, that's another story, I'm sure.

Sophie is a Polish, Catholic survivor of Auschwitz. She meets Nathan after collapsing in the New York Public Library from anemia, which she developed as a result of malnourishment in the concentration camp. As Stingo's story develops(mainly a tale of Southern pride mixed with Southern guilt, sexual rabidity and therefore, sexual frustration, and writer's bloc) so does Sophie's. With Nathan away, Sophie and Stingo become close friends, and Sophie's horrific tale begins to unfold.

As if her experience at Auschwitz wasn't enough, Sophie's relationship with Nathan is also volitile and violent. One minute Nathan's the sweetest, most romantic, most caring person God created—the next, he's a jealous, irrational brute out for blood. Stingo is astounded at the change—as if Nathan is literally capable of a Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation.

But there is something about Sophie that keeps her with Nathan. What is it? A sense of obligation? (Nathan's brother helped her recover, he's a doctor), a sense of helplessness? She screams over and over again throughout the book, "We need each other, Nathan!" There are bits of Sophie's story that are missing. Something just doesn't fit. Of course the puzzle pieces do eventually come together, but only in the end, just as you are ready to throw the book into the fireplace from anxiety.

I find it interesting that in a book that is supposed to be, presumably, an account of the Holocaust and its horrors (particularly its aftermath) that the person committing the violence in real time, in the present tense, Nathan, is a Jew.

Ultimately, for me, this is a book about surivivor's guilt. Nathan has it, Sophie has it, and even Stingo (when he goes into his family's history with slavery) has it. Nathan is an American Jew, Sophie's a Pole, and Stingo's a white boy from Virginia, living off money that was gained from the sale of a young slave boy named Artiste (which his great, great Grandmother buried in their basement). Styron obviously has a taste for the unforgiving nature of history: the book on Nat Turner is a celebration of his rebellion, but also a reflection on the heinous stain of slavery on the South, and his first book is a treatise on the suicide and depression of a young girl. His own memoir is about his struggle with serious depression ( Darkness Visible ). Styron lives in a world where guilt clings to us because we hold grudges—against ourselves.




I can't begin to describe what a heartbreaking and yet beautifully written book this is. I can only ask you to read it. It's long, but worth the ride. Believe me, you will read it in a few days. You won't be able to put it down. Many have said that the novel is too depressing but I think you owe it to yourself to read this book. There are the most incredible glimmers of what it means to be a human being—distilled in a fashion that very few writers are capable of. In particular, there is one scene where Sophie goes to buy an assortment of food (which, understandably she has become obsessed with since moving to America) and takes it to have a solitary picnic in Prospect Park. This brief moment of calm stands out amongst a novel that is full of testimony and strife. I cannot begin to describe it, so I will simply leave it to Styron himself.

But this made it all the more fun for her, a pleasant game, when at lunchtime she entered one of the glorious delicatessens of Flatbush and shopped for her Prospect Park spread. The priviledge of choice gave her a feeling achingly sensual. There was so much to eat, such variety and abundance, that each time her breath stopped, her eyes actually filmed over with emotion, and with slow and elaborate gravity she would choose from this sourly fragrant, opulent, heroic squander of food: a pickled egg here, there a slice of salami, half a loaf of pumpernickel, lusciously glazed and black. Bratwurst. Braunschweiger. Some sardines. Hot pastrami. Lox. A bagel, please. Clutching the brown paper bag, the warning like a litany in her mind—'Remember what Dr. Bergstrom said, don't gorge yourself'—she would make her methodical way into one of the farthest recesses of the park, or near a backwater of the huge lake, and there—munching with great restraint, taste buds entralled in rediscovery—would turn to page 350 of Studs Lonigan.

Happy Birthday, Liz

Many happy returns to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth.



As I write this sentence, Liz has officially surpassed Queen Victoria as the oldest monarch in the history of Great Britain.



Corgis for everybody!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hannah and Her Sisters at Film Forum

Woody Allen's obviously a big fat jerk. The man left his wife for his step-daughter. Fucked-up? Yeah, you can say that again.



Then there was the whole Scarlett Johansson business.



Oh, yeah, and the fact that in almost every single post-coital scene in his films, the female character always goes on effusively about how it was the best sex she's ever had, to Woody's meek, yet somehow still self-assured reply of "yeah, that was pretty great."



But as much as I want to hate him, I just can't hate the man responsible for this film.



I love Annie Hall , and Manhattan , but there is just a special something about Hannah that I can't quite put my finger on. While it may not be Woody's favorite of his films, Hannah seems to occupy a very special place in the hearts of its fans. I think the film as a whole is rougher and less-finished than the other two masterworks. Hannah's ending is obviously a rewrite, and the last scene is such a "happy" ending it seems like Woody should be standing behind the camera, shaking his head and mumbling "no, no, this is all wrong." And yet, somehow, it isn't.

Everyone's depressed and neurotic as hell, mom and dad are actors and mom's a raging alcoholic. Sister one (Hannah) takes care of everyone except herself, sister two (Lee) is stuck in the middle, and sister three (Holly) is an insecure coke-head with a keen sense of style. Mia Farrow's acting is superb. All three actresses have a way of registering the minute insult or rejections that open up those deep-seeded wounds of their characters--Barbara Hershey tends to cry, clench her jaw, and Dianne Wiest's disappointment when her best friend Wendy tells her she's going on a date with her beau is dead-on, but it is Mia Farrow, in her insistence as Hannah that she too has needs, that she is not this self-sufficent wonder woman, that performance is gut-wrenchingly human and, on a personal note, Hannah reminds me a lot of my mother: trying to deal with her own problems whilst surrounded by emotional wrecks with high demands (me, and my brother).

Woody manages to make a philosophical comment on the meaning of life through his Mickey character, who almost has a brain tumor. In the scene where Mickey is recounting his near suicide attempt, after which he goes to the movies to sort things out, he has the realization that it doesn't matter whether or not there's a God. Even if there isn't one, what's the point of killing yourself when you could just go along for the ride?

By the time Mickey and Holly meet back up in the record store I'm already in tears watching her giggle at Mickey's fliratious insults. "Hey, remember me? We once spent the worst night of my life together?" And her exuberance and pride over his praise on her script is pretty much one of the most endearing scenes in the history of American cinema.

In other words, I'm a goner by the time everyone's settled and the third Thanksgiving dinner rolls around.

I love Hannah because its tripod of neurosis reflects what is the worst and the best about having a family you can't live without.

And because of that, Woody, I will forgive you for that oil-massage scene in Match Point .




Hannah and her Sisters at Film Forum until December 24th.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The French Do It Better

Living in New York is almost like living in France in that I am constantly surrounded by people speaking French. I hear French more than any other language in New York. Apparently if you’re from Paris, New York is the place to relocate. I can’t walk anywhere without hearing la belle langue. About a week ago, there was a French lady on her cell phone behind me, chatting away. As I smiled to myself, I suddenly realized that the family walking in front of me was also French. I was surrounded. Don’t get me wrong; I love having the Frenchies around. Every once and a while, I get to attempt to say something in French, which is usually massively embarrassing, and ultimately it helps New York to feel more European, which, in my opinion, is always a good thing. But, really, as if it weren’t difficult enough to compete with the millions of gorgeous women that inhabit this city for the two straight, single guys on the island, now I have to deal with the French imports? I might as well shoot myself now. These women are fine, flawless, and foreign. And I’m fucked.

So, I salute you, French women, for being imperfectly perfect.

There's the first, and the last, that babe Joan.


The incomparable Fanny Ardant. Her performance as Mary de Guise in Elizabeth actually made me want gray hair.


And of course Catherine, who started it all.


One of my personal favorites, Isabelle Huppert, one of the best living actresses on the planet. I can only imagine what fucking brilliance 4.48 Psychose unleashed on New York. Also, any serious actress who can roll around in the mud with Jason Schwartzman in I Heart Huckabees is my hero.


And our Amelie.


Last, but certainly not least, the striking Ludivine Sagnier, star of Swimming Pool and the lust of teenage boys everywhere.


Bring on the men, as requested.

Olivier, you can throw me up against a wall and call me Diane Lane anytime you damn well please.


Still looking for my Nino Quincampoix.




And finally, one of my personal favorites, Gaspard Ulliel. Gaspard, I will forgive you for making the horrible Hannibal Rising movie, but only because your dimples could cut glass. God bless you.







Vive la France.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Has Sex and the City Ruined Us as Feminists?




With the movie in production in New York in full swing, I thought, what better time for a post on my beloved show, Sex and the City.

Full disclosure: I have to admit, out of everything I write about on this blog, I think I may be (guilty look of shame) the most qualified to write about Sex and the City. My ex-boyfriend gave me the entire series for our two-year anniversary, and, fittingly, it has served as my back-up friend during very difficult break-ups. Very full disclosure: I have probably seen every single episode at least six times.

I probably just lost half of my readership, which leaves me down to two people. Hi guys!

So, then, what is it about Sex and the City that pisses-off feminists, annoys men, and seduces (less politically aware) women all at the same time?

First of all, the show is funny. Whether you like it or not, admit it. The show is funny. Especially the third, fourth, and fifth seasons. Miranda has some one-liners that could give any professional sketch comedy group a run for their money.

Secondly, I think the show does make a good point—that occasionally, women (feminists or not) spend too much time worrying about men, and should instead treasure their friendships. (On the other hand: how many women are even lucky enough to have three best female friends that are over the age of twenty-one?)

Thirdly, on a more superficial note, the series has given women tidy little labels to describe their relationships. “He’s a Big,” or “He’s such an Aidan,” is commonly heard amongst those in the Sex and the City tribe. I found myself describing my recent break-up to a stranger by saying, “Have you seen Sex and the City? He was basically a Berger. I think. Without the post-it.”

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. SATC is one of the most unrealistic, full of shit television shows ever created. It is supposedly a show about four women but it was written by a room full of gay men. (Don't misunderstand me here. You know I love my gay men. I just wouldn't peg them to know what it is to be a single woman in New York). The magical realism really gets out of control when Carrie somehow lives in a rent-controlled apartment on 77th street for $750 a month (not possible), writes a column for “The New York Star” (insert “Post” here), probably makes $2 a word, and yet somehow still affords hundreds of pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes which go for somewhere around $468 a pop. Obviously we’re not talking about real New York here, people. You want reality? Watch The Wire .

SATC, though, I fear, plays on my worst fears. Yes, there is an episode about becoming an Old-Maid, and when people (usually women) say “you’re such a Miranda!” I think, yes, I am a Miranda. I am the smart, funny, unattractive one. People usually respond to this line of thinking with “Oh, you just have to find your Steve!” I am not reassured by such overtures.

I think, perhaps, the love/hate relationship I have with SATC is what keeps me coming back for more. The series is like a boyfriend. When you’re down, it can help you feel better. When you’re not down, you find yourself wondering, WHY DO I PUT UP WITH THIS?

What annoys me most about SATC is that all four women recover all too quickly from their respective break-ups, and also manage to rebound with far better partners, usually have great sex (or weirdly horrible sex) and all at the same time look and live fabulous in one of the toughest cities in the world. Does Carrie ever have anxiety attacks about the fact that she’ll trip on her Manolo and there won’t be anyone there to help her up? The closest we ever came to that was when Miranda had a panic attack on the street and almost got run over by a taxi because her next door neighbor died alone in her apartment and her cat ate half of her face.

Okay, Okay. So why do I watch SATC?

Sometimes it's nice to come home to a television show that is pure fantasy. Especially when you've been busting your ass at work all day, falling in subway grates because you're wearing really impractical (but fabulous shoes), meeting a beautiful boy who tells you he thinks you're the best only to break up with you a month later, and starving because you literally have two dollars in your bank account. So sue me. I like a little bit of lightness in my life every now and then. It reminds me of being home with my friends in Georgia, when I didn't have to stress-out constantly about what people thought of me. I could just simply be me--I didn't have to explain myself. Ultimately the best thing thematically about SATC is its representation of friendships between women. It isn't necessarily realisitc, but it's an ideal that when you come close to achieving it, you know you've found something real. To be able to call someone to come over and make you soup when you can't get out of bed, knowing that person will do it, without judging you . . . there are moments on SATC that really represent that kind of support.

And ultimately, when you're having a rough time, like I am, it's nice to be reminded that kind of support exists. And though you want to focus on the negative in your life, you have to admit you have your real-life Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda, or Carrie around, too, if you know how to look.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kara Walker at The Whitney



"I often compare my method of working to that of a well-meaning freed woman in a Northern state who is attempting to delineate the horrors of Southern slavery but with next to no resources, other than some paper and a pen-knife and some people she'd like to kill."



I first came across the work of Kara Walker on the cover of The New Yorker about two years ago. Last summer (of '06) I ran into her installations face to face at The Metropolitan Museum, in their very small space for contemporary art exhibits in the Modern art wing. While I was blown away by what I saw that day, Walker's retrospective at The Whitney is a far superior exhibit. The Whitney has finally given her work the attention and the space that it deserves.

Perhaps you've heard of Kara Walker. There was a piece about her in The New Yorker several weeks ago, by Hilton Als. Kara Walker was raised mostly in Atlanta and went to school there. She completed an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design, and was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant at the age of 28 (she was, at the time, one of the youngest people to receive the grant). Her art, in the simplest terms, deals with racism mostly through depictions of antebellum slave scenes in silhouette cuts. Her work has a demonic violence and sexuality to it. The images, while black and white, are anything but.

The show at the Whitney is called "My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," and it incorporates Walker's larger works, which are full scale (by full scale I mean full wall) slavery scenes and pages of what appear to be Walker's sketchbook/diary, and drawings and collage. The exhibit also features video art, with smaller silhouette cuts functioning as marionettes. All of these videos are set to music; some feature silent film plates.

I find Walker's art fascinating not only because of its commentary on racism and southern history in general, but because of its violent sexuality and its depiction of women. The slave girls are seen morphing into lizards. Women give birth to monsters, men have dangerously overgrown phalluses, boys are raped, people are missing limbs and a man who looks very similar to George Washington, the father of this country, is being fellated by a young female slave. There is a lot going on in the work of Kara Walker. Maybe even too much to talk about here.

As I watched a video installation of a young slave boy being raped presumably by his master or some other white man, the person who was standing next to me (who was a young black man) started to laugh. Standing in the exhibit was a difficult experience in itself. It was Friday night (pay what you will from 6-9 at the Whitney) and almost everyone in the exhibit was under fifty and white. I felt a strange pull between feelings of guilt (for being Southern and white) and other feelings of vindication (for being female, for being "wronged" by men)---Walker opens the exhibit with a virulent letter to an ex-lover, one who treated her like a "slave," when she gave him everything. My favorite line of the letter:

"Before, when there was a before, an upon a time I was a blank space defined in contrast to your POSITIVE, concrete avowal. now, a blank space in the void and I have to thank you for forgetting to stick your neck out for me after I craned my neck so often in your arms."

In the The New Yorker piece (I would link you to it but it's too new to be included on their website) Hilton Als discusses the fact that many black artists and critics have called Walker's art "racist." Many critics and writers make a similar comment about Sylvia Plath's work by calling it "misogynist." All I have to say to them is: just by using the methods and means of the system to create art does not mean that the artist herself gives credence to these systems as truth. Plath's (and Walker's) language is indeed violent, but it is a very specifically feminized violence. Plath takes her cues from the Greeks, featuring Medea and Clytemnestra as characters in her poems. For Walker it is the Slave Girl: the bottom of the totem pole: female and black. It is about rape. And, often, it is about revenge: in some of the murals, one girl is being tortured, while another wields an axe. The installations become works of beauty because they are rewriting history even as they recount it.

Walking down Madison Avenue, I concluded that, for Walker, history, whether it be that of this country, or the history of a relationship, reinforces the fact that intense connections are made through and by abuse. The aforementioned letter, whether it be "personal" or not, says to me, as the opener to the exhibit, that none of this work would be possible, none of this violent, disgusting, but true work would be possible without pain and rejection and despair. And that even if at the end we are alone, we are alone to create and make a criticism that can scream in its clearly cut and colored intentions. The South, and this country in general, can't be confronted enough with these images. In fact, instead of celebrating Lincoln's birthday with a beer, I think perhaps everyone should make a point to go see some Kara Walker.


The Whitney exhibit runs through February 3rd, New Yorkers.
I whole-heartedly encourage you to take a look.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Do you, dear reader, believe in second chances?

Friday, November 09, 2007

I Love Mormons, Part 2

"Under the Banner of Heaven" is a In Cold Blood type non-fiction book about the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter by her brothers-in-law, Dan and Ron. The Lafferty family belong to the church of Latter Day Saints. The cut and dry of it is Ron claimed he had received a revelation from God saying that Brenda, a young headstrong woman who persistently resisted her husband and her brothers-in-law in their growing conviction to a Fundamentalist belief system, needed to be "removed" as she was an impediment to God's work. Her daughter also needed to be "removed," because, in the words of Ron Lafferty, she would, "just like her mother, grow up to be bitch." Ron and Dan Lafferty arrived at Brenda's apartment one morning, beat her until she was unconscious, and tied a vaccum cord around her neck. Dan went upstairs where he killed the baby by slitting her throat, then returned downstairs to exact the same on Brenda. Both men are now in jail, Dan for life, Ron is on death row. Brenda was 24; her baby was 15 months old.

This disgusting and disturbing story is enough to make any reader turn against the Mormon church and its beliefs. And I don't deny that several of the tenets of Mormonism, especially the idea that any person can receive "divine revelations," is just asking for crazy people like the Laffertys to take their religion down a very dark path. Joseph Smith revealed that God intended to send "one mighty and strong," who would avenge all the persecution Mormons have endured since the genesis of their faith and lead the church, and several men have stepped up to the plate. The Laffertys consider themselves this person. Brigham Young, no doubt, considered himself this person, and more recently, Brian David Mitchell, the abductor of Elizabeth Smart, considered himself the "one mighty and strong." There's no doubt here that this is a very dangerous religion.


But, what religion isn't?

There are fundamentalist Christians and there are fundamentalist Muslims. We all know what scale of atrocities these religions are capable of. When life on earth is considered merely a stepping stone to heaven, people will do anything to secure a place next to the Almighty. What interests me about Jon Krakauer's book, ultimately, is that he's chosen to tell the history of Mormonism as a whole in juxtaposition with these horrible murders. I was skeptical, at first: not all Mormons are fundamentalists. And in fact, most Mormons (at least the ones I'm friendly with) are some of the gentlest, kindest, most reasonable people I know.

But, the subtitle of Krakauer's book is "A History of Violent Faith," and goodness me, it is indeed a violent one. Assassinations, Massacres, Paranoia, Sacrifices, you name it. Mormonism is the first American born religion, and it carries a very bloody trail behind it.

But again, what religion doesn't? Couple that thought with the fact that not only were Mormons trying to build a religion, they were also trying to build a home, in the very wild west, mind you, with hostile denziens (rightly so) in the desert, basically, completely exposed to the elements. After the leader of their church had been assassinated, they just assumed anyone coming through their territory was coming to kill them. Yes, it's rash, but it's not completely unreasonable.

In no way am I defending the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. They are responsible for some of the most heinous acts, in particular against women, namely through the systematic emotional and physical abuse of very young women that are forced to marry men old enough to be their fathers (and sometimes ARE their fathers) in what the FLDS calls "plural marriage."

However, while I found the Krakauer informative and enlightening, I had to ask myself if the Mormon history, while violent, was really that surprising. Or, if the Laffertys aren't just another example of how religious fanaticism isn't good no what which cake you're cutting from, Mormon or otherwise.

Which brings me back to Big Love . Big Love , for those of you who haven't seen it, is the new-ish HBO series about a Mormon family that practices "the principle," aka, "plural marriage." In other words, Bill Paxton's character, Bill Hendrickson, is married to three women, and has fathered children with all of them. I don't feel qualified to go into the series in a major way, since I've yet to see the whole first season, but I will say that in some ways Big Love is good for us in that it gets the Mormon discussion going, but it's also negative because it portrays Mormons as polygamists and obviously this is not the case in every Mormon household.

That said, Mormonism is quickly becoming one of the biggest religions in the world, with multitudes of converts every year. Whether us "gentiles" want to deal with it or not, we're going to have to realize that Mormons will continue to confront us in our every day lives (see: Mitt Romney), and yes, not all of them are murderers and rapists.

I'll close with this:

Aforementioned friend, L., invited me to Easter services at her "steak," our freshman year. I was flattered to be included and honestly, I was curious.

"Am I allowed?"
"Of course! You can come to steak stake all you like, you just can't go in the temple in Salt Lake."

Upon entering the church, which looked just like any other church, to be honest, and upon being greeted by several people quite warmly, "Oh we're so glad to have you, L.'s told us all about you, welcome," and the like, I thought, hey, I could get used to this. Next thing I knew L. was telling me, "Grab a score."

"A score? A score to what?"
"The Messiah."
"Oh, to follow along with the choir?"
"No, silly, we're going to sing it."
"THE WHOLE THING?"
"No, just selections."
"Wait, you're telling me this congregation is going to SIGHT-READ Handel's THE MESSIAH?"
"Yeah!"
"Do you guys do this every year?"
"No, we've never done it before."

And I'll tell ya. Those Mormons. Every man, woman and child picked up a score of The Messiah, and we sang one of the most beautiful Messiah's I have ever heard. We sight-read that thing. It was a lovely Easter.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Love Mormons

I swear on Joseph Smith's grave I must've seen at least twenty people reading "Under the Banner of Heaven," by Jon Krakauer last week on the subway. I was #21. I don't know what was in the air: either the premiere of Into the Wild suddenly had people interested in Krakauer's work in general, or perhaps something major had just happened on Big Love . Whatever it is, New Yorkers were very interested in Mormons last week.

I, however, have always been interested in Mormons. I met my first Mormon when I was about thirteen. I remember going to her house and seeing the picture of the Temple in Salt Lake and the strange pastel rendering of Jesus, thinking her Mom was too young for her dad, and wondering why she had so many siblings. She (her name was Jessica) told me the story of Joseph Smith and how he had found the gold plates, about the angel Moroni, and how everyone thinks Mormons have multiple wives but "real Mormons almost never do."

Which brings me, of course to Big Love .



I feel the same way about Mormons and Big Love as I do about Virginia Woolf and The Hours . But wait, let me backtrack.

My lovely friend L. happens to be a Mormon. She and I met when we found out we were both on our way to Indiana University back in the day, and lived in the same dorm once there. We were both Voice Majors. (L. stuck with her major, like a trooper, I gave-up and went the English major-route). One day, I cornered L. in her dorm room and asked the tough questions. I wanted to know about Mormonism.

"Is it true that you guys can't drink hot liquids?"
"What? Where did you hear that?"
"Well, you can't have coffee . . ."
"I can't drink caffeine. That doesn't mean I can't have hot liquid! You see me drink herbal tea all the time!"
"Oh, yeah, I guess that is true."

She went on to give me a short run down of the history, and the texts "the Quad," and marriage ceremonies. I have to admit, L., that the whole "fusion," "sealing" (Ah, MEA CULPA!) idea still seems pretty quirky to me. The idea is (and please, Mormons and Mormons experts, feel free to correct me on this) that not only are you "married," (think traditional christian marriage ceremony here, folks) but then you are "fused" "sealed" to your spouse in a ceremony. This is to make sure that when you die, you are able to find each other in the afterlife. (Mormons suppose heaven is pretty crowded, I guess). From what I understand, you can also fuse your children to you, as well, or other members of your family. I think that's a little strange. What if you don't want to be found in the afterlife? What if you just want to sit around and read and hang out with Oscar Wilde? I guess Oscar wouldn't make it to Mormon heaven, anyway.

But all this is really beside the point. Talking to L. made me realize I had no idea what Mormons believed. I felt fairly confident after speaking to her that I did.

Enter, "Under the Banner of Heaven."



Now, this is the book that everyone cites in a conversation where you reveal that you love Mormons. It goes something like this:

"I don't know what to think about that new HBO show."
"What, Big Love? It's great! I love Mormons!"
"WHAT. How can you love Mormons? They're a cult! It's a cult! They hate women and gay people! They force fourteen year olds to marry their fathers!"
"Wait, wait, wait. Are you talking about the FLDS?"
"No! I'm talking about MORMONISM. Haven't you read "Under the Banner of Heaven?"
"Well, no, but isn't that about the FLD--"
"YOU SHOULD READ IT."

So finally, last week, I read "Under the Banner of Heaven."

----------

TO BE CONTINUED

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Desperation Pencil

It's 11:30 PM and I've just returned home. I have to take the GRE subject test in English Literature tomorrow morning at 9AM. I have to be there by 8:30AM. Meaning I have to leave Brooklyn at 7:30AM. Meaning I have to get up at 6:45AM so I can wash my hair. If my hair is dirty, I will not be able to concentrate.

I pull my admission ticket out and take a cursory look to make sure I know the address of the testing center. I see a section labelled "Special Notes."

"Note: Only #2 pencils allowed. NO MECHANICAL PENCILS ALLOWED."

MOTHERFUCKER FUCK COCK SHIT FUCK MOTHERFUCK.

After a brief period of "I'll just buy them in the morning, wait but then I won't be able to sharpen them, then I'll have to wake up at 5:45AM and nothing will be open," and "I'll just wheedle myself a pencil using a knife, my teeth, and the holy spirit out of one of the legs of our dining room chairs, oh wait, those don't have LEAD in them," I went back out to buy PENCILS AT MIDNIGHT.

Bodega #1. No real pencils. Only mechanical.
Bodega #2. Real pencils, but totally not real #2, they say "CHINA" in big black letters. BLACK AS MY SOUL.
Bodega #3. Closed.
Bodega #4. Jackpot. Motherfucking #2 pencils.

"Hi there," I said to the man through the bulletproof window. "Do you have any pencils?"
"Condoms?"
"NO, PENCILS."
"Oh, pencils. Um, yes! Here's one (laughs)."
"Could I have, uh, four?"
"Sure. That will be three dollars."
"THREE DOLLARS FOR FOUR PENCILS?"
"Well, I can just put them back . . ."
"GIVE ME THE GODDAMN PENCILS, CHRIST ON THE CROSS."

I need a drink but I can't have one. I have to go to bed now so I can take a test which reviews my RECALL MEMORY OF ALL OF ENGLISH LITERATURE FROM BEOWULF TO THE PRESENT.

I will work the sweet love of GOD out of these pencils. I will channel fucking Virginia motherfucking Woolf and fucking James Joyce. I will speak in fucking tongues, god dammit, and I WILL ACE THIS EXAM WITH THESE MAGICAL PENCILS. I will be the goddamn HERMIONE GRANGER of ENGLISH GODDAMN LITERATURE tomorrow. I WILL SEND FUCKING HENRY JAMES AND ALEXANDER POPE SPINNING IN THEIR GRAVES.

Holy God, is it over yet?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Case of New York Magazine: Does Matthew Arnold Win? And My Love Affair with Sam Anderson

Matthew Arnold said that “Culture is to know the best that has been said and thought in the world,” and I couldn’t disagree more. Sometimes culture is to know the worst that has been said and thought in the world. My friend E. once told me that Auden had once devised a five-tiered system to describe the different levels of art, and that one cannot judge a work of art accurately unless one has determined the category to which it belongs. For instance, The Girls Next Door or The Da Vinci Code might be the lowest of the low, but within their category of “low art” they reign supreme. E. claimed this system appeared in a lecture Auden once gave, and I asked my friend J. (who is an Auden scholar) to confirm, but he claimed to have never heard of it. Perhaps it’s purely apocryphal.

Living in New York can create a sense of discomfort for those of us who don’t consider ourselves the promoters and protectors of “high art.” Some of these people write for Gawker. Some people of these people write for New York . Some of these people’s names are Sam Anderson.

I first stumbled upon the work of Sam Anderson when he very astutely reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows for New York .
http://nymag.com/arts/books/reviews/35534/

Upon reading the review I was linked to Sam’s previous Potter reading diary, which has to be one of the funniest things I’ve read in years.
http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2007/07/
sam_andersons_deathly_hallows.html

And as if all of this weren’t enough, Mr. Anderson recently reviewed Alice Sebold’s sophomore effort, The Almost Moon, with considerable aplomb.
http://nymag.com/arts/books/reviews/38924/

My favorite line from that review: “It’s as if Harper Lee had decided to follow up To Kill a Mockingbird with To Manhandle a Cardinal, the story of a Mississippi lawyer who defends a Hispanic migrant worker from racist accusations.”
This line alone is enough to make a snobber like me fall in love.

After a lengthy web search and e-mail chain here at my place of business, the mystery of Sam Anderson remains. Is he straight? If so, he is most likely married, probably with children. So unfortunately I think a romance between the two of us is unlikely. I think the story with him is that he used to write for New York in the more general sense, and then was promoted to book critic. Dear Sam, if you’re out there, I love you. You represent everything I love about criticism. Your reviews are wonderfully written, funny, AND smart. Is it possible? I sort of want to be you, Sam Anderson. I could maybe be your publicist? Personal assistant? Protégé? Surely we can work something out.

My colleagues here at work tend to roll their eyes at New York mag. Obviously it isn’t the golden standard of “good writing,” necessarily, like The New Yorker . (Personal note: I’m not sure I even agree with that assertion: see my previous entry, “The New York School of Elitism.”)

However, I think New York is great. It’s always an entertaining read. The celebs they profile in the magazine tend to be interesting and most of the time, even if they aren’t, New York interviews them for being somehow out of their element. (Example: the recent piece on Jennifer Garner performing on Broadway). Yes, yes, they write on the length of Agyness Deyn’s hair and Amy Fisher. So what? The article in last week’s magazine about Gawker, “Everybody Sucks,” by Vanessa Grigoriadis, was pretty stunning, and I felt like everyone in publishing was talking about it.
http://nymag.com/news/features/39319/

Hell, everyone in New York is effected by Gawker, whether they like to admit to it or not. I find New York’s journalism refreshing and fascinating.

That said, New York will never join the ranks of The New Yorker. But maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, where else can one read about N+1 and Gossip Girl , sometimes even on the same page? I have a dream, dilettantes, that one day we’ll realize the beauty of low art, and all the goodies in between its guilty pleasures and high art’s elitist snobbery. I have to say kudos, though, to New York . You’re almost there.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stress Kills, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love New York

I don’t have much of an excuse for the lack of updates on this blog, other than that the fact that I’ve been working more than full time, “studying” for the GRE, making connections with professors in Ph.D. departments, falling in love, and losing my mind, all at the same time. So, when my friend A. mentioned yesterday that I hadn’t updated this thing in quite some time, I figured, why not just write an entry about the perils of STRESS.

I have not been able to finish an entire meal (and believe me, I am as far from anorexic as they come—you could possibly even classify me as a “glutton” in some circles) in three weeks. I live for food. I love food. There is nothing better than a delicious steak with an arugula salad and baked potato on a chilly “it’s just beginning to turn autumn in New York where is my scarf” day. But every time I sit down to eat I am immediately confronted with the idea that I may not get into graduate school anywhere because my GRE scores are going to be so low that the admission committee will think I am mentally handicapped. I think about all those thin, regular sized envelopes appearing in my mailbox, and I just can’t do it.

Most of my conversations with my boyfriend (yeah, he’s new, dear reader, and wonderful) over the past two weeks have gone something like this:
“You’re so pretty.”
“Thanks!” (complete with schoolgirl blush)

*lapse of two minutes in conversation*

“WHAT’S WRONG?”
“What do you mean?”
“WHY ARE YOU SO QUIET, OMG?!”
“I wasn’t quiet, I was just thinking!”
“DO YOU HATE ME?”
“No! I love you!”
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
(I think this scene pretty much speaks for itself).

And then of course there’s the “it’s Saturday afternoon but I’m just going to take some time to work on my research proposal OH MY GOD I HAVE WRITERS BLOCK WHAT MAKES ME THINK I COULD EVER BE A SCHOLAR I CAN’T FEEL MY HANDS OH GOD” syndrome, which usually concludes with a phone called placed to my mom in which I weep inconsolably for several minutes before retiring to read the new US Weekly.

Then it dawned on me: I can’t teach myself math. My math score on the GRE is going to be foul. It’s going to stink from here to high heaven. There’s not much I can do about that. And hey, when I took my practice tests my verbal score was actually pretty good and I did worlds better on the practice literature exam than I thought I would. Yeah, so my proposal sucked. Well, I rewrote it! And you know, it’s actually kind of interesting now. How did this happen? How did I get from Point “I want to die, motherfuckers” to Point “Weird, everything might work out” ?

I started to appreciate what I’ve got. Which is a lot. I don’t think I could’ve come to the conclusion that I am doing my best in trying to get to a place in my life where I can feel like my work is something I believe in without the support of my friends, my man, and my family. And then there’s New York. In the past few weeks, I have been to more theater, seen more movies, met more people, and tried new things than I ever have before. I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. I saw the National Ballet Theater of Spain perform a piece about Castrati, I went to Dim Sum in Chinatown. I went to Roosevelt Island on that scary thing from “Dark Water” (yeah, you know what I’m talking about) and it was actually really beautiful. I put a piece of raw squid in my mouth (I promptly removed it), and for the first time, I realized that faith and trust in yourself goes a long way—it gives you the strength to put your trust in others and believe in yourself, which is a gift no one else can give to you, no matter how hard they try. And that, my friends, is a cure for stress. I’m still working on the unreasonable freak-outs and lack of appetite, but I’ll keep you updated. Hopefully soon I might even be well enough to write a real entry on this thing. God knows there’s a lot I want to discuss.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

THE GENIUS THAT IS TWIN PEAKS



As a consummate David Lynch fan, watching Twin Peaks for the first time is like watching the birth of genius. I’m about half way through the 2nd season, so if you’ve seen it all, don’t spoil it for me. That said, if you’ve never seen it, leave the computer immediately, subscribe to a Netflix account, and order it. Now. Do it. Why are you still reading this? I’m serious. Ok, read this. But then watch it! (No spoilers, I promise).

The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer is a cliff notes explanation of the basic narrative. Of course, it isn’t that simple. Immediately we’re aligned with Special Agent Detective Dale Cooper (played by a devastatingly young and attractive Kyle MacLachlan), who comes to Twin Peaks from the FBI to investigate Laura’s murder. Like Coop, we’re drawn into the maze of people and secrets that make Twin Peaks unique—at times, Laura’s murder seems inconsequential in comparison to the plethora of subplots on the series.

Laura arrives on the scene “dead, wrapped in plastic,” and soon we discover that the town’s little princess kept her dark side under wraps as well—a predilection for drugs and sex with dangerous men is revealed by the discovery of her diary (and a cache of cocaine). The bipolarity of Laura’s face haunts us constantly through the first season: her blue, frosty death mask is juxtaposed with her parents’ homecoming queen portrait. In Twin Peaks, the cheeriness of the superficial world is highlighted by its deathly, demented undercurrents.



If you’ve seen any of David Lynch’s other work, you know one of the many things that makes him so indescribably smart (and also so frustratingly indecipherable) is his dialogue. While Twin Peaks is certainly less abstract than say, Mulholland Drive, its writing is no less engaging. These characters get under our skin immediately through their language—especially Detective Cooper, who has his own little vernacular of sayings and quips that make us scrunch up our brow, crack a smile, and ask, “what?” His excitement over life’s little pleasures and attention to detail—“This is, excuse me, a DAMN fine cup of coffee”—endear him to us instantly.



The murder of a young girl in a very small town certainly calls for drama, and Twin Peaks , in deep contrast to other shows who have followed in its wake, is not afraid to key into the melodrama of Laura’s demise. The characters’ revelations are soliloquized with practical sincerity—almost as if we were watching a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy unfold. The character of Donna, played by a very young, swan-like Lara Flynn Boyle, is Lynch’s mouthpiece on the tragedy. Early in the series, she explains to her mother her conflicting feelings over her grief at the loss of Laura, her best friend, and the burgeoning romance with James, who was Laura’s boyfriend: “Mom, it's so strange. I know I should be sad, and I am, part of me is. But it's like . . . it's like I'm having the most beautiful dream . . . and the most terrible nightmare, all at once.” All of this melodramatic pining is of course fortified by Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch’s composer, and his synthesized music which is the perfect combination of both fear and sadness. Laura’s theme, which also happens to be the opening theme, has almost a Pavlovian effect on us, as if to cue the show’s most complex and intimate moments.

Lynch’s relationship in his work to women is, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of his auteur. Many feminist critics jump to the conclusion that Lynch is a misogynist—many of the female characters in his oeuvre are perhaps too decorative, and ultimately we’re surprised when they reveal themselves to be highly capable, intelligent beings. Of course the message here could be “appearances are deceiving.” However, many critics distrust Lynch’s emphasis on sex, and sexuality—Laura’s innocence is purely a façade, but also inextricable from her downfall. The lovely Audrey Horne (another of Laura’s high school classmates), played by the gorgeous Sherilyn Fenn, oozes sexuality from every pore, tempting even Agent Cooper from his focus on the case. Ultimately, Lynch’s women hark back to a very old-world idea of feminine sexuality: these women are still heavily reliant on their feminine wiles to get what they want. However, they remain just as complex and intelligent as their male counterparts (if not more so). The argument can also be made that Lynch gives power to women by mainly concerning himself with their struggles in his work. He has always been interested in the idea of “a woman in trouble,” as made evident by his films Mulholland Drive, and more recently, Inland Empire, and it is Laura (although we are compelled by Coop) who remains the tragic hero of the series.



But of course what Lynch is mainly concerned with in Twin Peaks is the battle of good and evil, the struggle between impulse and reason. BOB is the manifestation of the evil impulse. Lynch adds the element of magic and fantasy when he gives BOB an actual body and simultaneously paves the way for further series (i.e. The X-Files ) when our greatest fears, which usually swim somewhere beneath the surface of our subconscious, are fully realized, in the flesh, in our homes. BOB is frightening not only because of his evil, but because of his ordinary, simplistic demeanor. He’s the man in the gas station you don’t make eye contact with. He’s the man at the end of lane in the trailer home. He could just be strange—but you don’t stick around to find out. BOB is a different sort of criminal. He isn’t a sociopath. He’s a pure-blooded psychopath and there’s no explanation for his evil, other than its existence.



Twin Peaks is, I believe, the most elegant and complex television series in television history, even at its brief two seasons. Lynch went on to pursue the story in Fire Walk With Me , a prequel film which chronicles Laura’s bad behavior and last days on earth. I have yet to see it, but I hear conflicting reports on its merit. While it’s easy (and practical) to conclude that Twin Peaks’ success is largely based on its quirkiness and cult status, I hesitate fall back on such an oversimplification of the series. The denizens of Twin Peaks have much to say on who we really are, and how people function in a community—ultimately Twin Peaks is really about history, and the inherent hypocrisy of fate. While Laura’s murder and the subsequent murders thereafter, strike a dark chord, the buoyant optimism and goodness of Detective Cooper and his ilk, notably Sheriff Truman, Andy, Hawk, and Lucy, reminds us that while the existence of God may be questionable, the determination of humanity is undeniable.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rome Fell While Nero Read The Deathly Hollows




Since the subtitle of my blog is “Cultural Procrastination,” I figured I had better write something about the cultural phenom that is HARRY POTTER, rather than degrading myself and my readers by posting about my campy celebrity sightings and hot coworkers.

While waiting to see a doctor on Thursday I finished Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens and found myself with nothing to read. The office was disgustingly balmly, and I fanned myself briefly, pondering how the adorable gay man next to me managed to stay so cool in his gladiator sandals and white jeans. A torn, dilapidated copy of Business Week lie on the floor next to my chair. Luckily, there was an article about something I was interested in: Harry Potter.

Full disclosure: I have never read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen any of the movies all the way through. I have, however, seen enough of them to know that cute boys are Britain’s greatest untapped resource. Tom Riddle, you might be evil, but da-ham, slap my ass and call me Slytherin.

The article on Potter said that surprisingly enough, Harry Potter has actually done damage to the publishing world and readership in general. Although Harry is lauded by some intellectuals as a “great thing” because it gets kids reading, it actually doesn’t. The NYT ran a similar piece in which they polled children to see if they would keep reading after Potter. Most of them responded with a glib, “probably not.” Of course, as a reader, writer, editor’s assistant, and aspiring Ph.D. candidate this is troublesome to me. What is it about Harry Potter that gets kids reading but can’t keep them reading?

Since The Deathly Hollows made its debut Friday at midnight, everyone in New York is reading it. I’ve seen people walking down the street, into traffic, endangering their lives reading this behemoth of a book. Parties were thrown in HP’s honor, the streets were nearly deserted on Saturday—I walked into my favorite bookstore in Park Slope and it looked as if a tornado had blown through the store. “Is this the aftermath of Potter?” I asked the girl sweeping the floor nearby. “Oh, yeah,” she answered, as if she were licking her wounds.

J.K. Rowling is probably one of the richest women in the world. Three Cheers to her, I say. For someone to go from “struggling single mother,” (as it says in her author bio) to the Queen of Young Adult Fiction, and quite possibly, THE WORLD, in ten years, is not a simple feat. Three Cheers, Jo. You’ve come a long way.

So what is it about Harry that makes people totally insane? I have no idea. I have a feeling it might just simply be that fact that it’s a great story, and a great story will get people (of all ages) reading. There’s something about reading those books that can’t be found in the movies. I think that’s fantastic. Also, anything that gets people to queue up outside in the elements dressed in costumes is okay by me. In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s fucking awesome. Because goddammit, I really do think there should be more camp, performance, and fun in our lives. New Yorkers are so glum. I mean, fuck, we’re tired, but we’re also glum. I saw a girl on the subway this morning whose face was literally frozen into a frown. A full-on frown. The kind you have to make a serious muscular effort to achieve.

A coworker of mine just said she was in a coffee shop over the weekend, and a girl, about twenty, plopped down on the couch next to her and creaked open The Deathly Hollows .. “I don’t know why, but it made me really happy,” said my coworker. And you know, I understand. I think there’s a sense of community with these cultural zeitgeists that doesn’t really occur very often—even if you think the whole thing is ridiculous, you have to admit that it’s endlessly fascinating.

So there’s my two cents on the whole debacle; and friends, I have a confession to make: I am sixty-five pages into The Sorcerer’s Stone. So far, I feel like I’m reading a children’s book, and I am. But I have faith that my socks will be knocked off. When that happens, I really do hope that I’ll have to say, “Why have I waited so long?”

Monday, July 16, 2007

As I Fall Out of My Chair

John Waters is in the building. There was only a door separating me from John Waters. Did I mention John Waters was in the building? John Waters.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Dilettansia's Publishing Hotties of 2007

In response to Gawker's prejudiced "Publishing Hotties Contest," I have decided to post my favorite hotties from my place of employment, since they were shafted in Gawker's contest. I'd like to emphasize that this is not a competition, and that these men come from both the editorial and publicity departments of my house. I was stunned when I learned that my submissions to the contest would not be considered since they came from the publicity department. I believe the name of the contest was "Publishing Hotties," not "Editorial Only Publishing Hotties."

Although I do agree that Tim O'Connell (who was a runner-up in the Gawker contest, and taken by a hot lady of publishing) is one hot piece of publishing ass, those other boys don't even register on my radar. So, ladies (and gentleman) for your viewing pleasure, are some lovely boys from my neck of the woods. Aren't you jealous that I get to stare at these beauts all day? I know you are.



Charles works in editorial and has been called the heart-throb of straight men in publishing. Unfortuantely, he's taken. He's also from Georgia (represent), and I do declare, they just don't make men like this up here in Yankee town.



Jim, also editorial (but soon to be leaving publishing altogether) is a gorgeous Aussie with a heart of gold. But watch out, ladies, this man will turn on the charm and you're a goner.



Steve, who works in publicity, hails from Philly. If you're a lady with an unhealthy fascination for David Lynch and look vaguely like Audrey Horne, it's in the bag. Steve's the star of the softball team, and has also been known to catalog photo art for memoirs of a certain washed-up 90s rock star like no one else.



And finally, Brian, also in publicity, who refused to let me post a photo of him claiming he was unphotogenic. I wanted to take a picture of him reading Thomas Bernhard, smoking a cig and drinking an iced coffee at his desk, but alas, no. Brian did make it on to the comments section of the Gawker contest, so cheers to that (pink india ink!).

So, GAWKER, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

An Open Letter to the Girl who Works at Toastie's and Yelled at Me Monday Morning at 8:45 AM

Dear Married Polish Girl (the tall one),


I’ve worked next door to your place of employment for almost a year now, and I thought, until recently, that you and I had established a nice, mutually cynical repartee about our frequent business interactions. You know I like my coffee iced. It’s nearly 100 degrees now in this lovely city of ours, and while there are some freaks out there that still drink hot coffee in this weather, you must know by now that I am not one of them.

I suppose what I’m really upset about is the fact that obviously my faith in our friendship is stronger than yours. Based on the words we exchanged this past Monday, I see now that you perceive me as just another one of the spoiled, yuppie zombies that frequents your cash register simply because Toastie’s is the closest place where one can get an iced coffee for under three dollars. God forbid, you may even think I attend New York University and live in the dorms next door. I’m terrified, that somehow, through my behavior, I’ve misinformed you in this way, and I have to say, the last three nights have been sleepless ones.

I ordered an iced coffee and you handed me a hot one. I apologized profusely and restated my order. Icy knives sliced through the very depths of my heart when you dramatically rolled your eyes, only to return with the iced coffee, saying that next time, you would charge me for a cup of ice and have me make the beverage myself. When I restated that I had indeed ordered an iced coffee, you replied “You said nothing of the sort.”

Your words were like a turn of the century Frenchman’s glove striking me across the face.

Polish girl, well, Polish lady I should say since you’ve obviously married and who knows, you may even be a mother, I apologize. I apologize that Monday mornings exist and I apologize that I take it upon myself to buy an iced coffee every morning. Without the caffeine, I most certainly would have committed homicide several times over by now, and would most likely be in jail. Most of all, I’m sorry that both of us seem to be living lives and working jobs that make us sick. Believe me, there have been times when I have wanted to tell my boss, “You said nothing of the sort” when I messed up something or other. In fact, I admire you for taking a stand against all the bullshit in this world when you laid the smack-down on to my demure little iced coffee loving shoulders this Monday morning.

The problem is, I wish you’d do it to someone who deserved it. Someone who lives in the East Village on Mommy and Daddy’s dime, who shops at the Barney’s Co-Op and goes to NYU, and doesn’t have a job. If one of those bitches mistakenly orders a hot coffee when she really wants an iced coffee, as far as I’m concerned you’re immune from prosecution when the Feds come to carry you away as you’re standing over her mangled corpse. I will watch, from behind the caution tape, and secretly smile to myself as the sirens go flashing by.

Until then, I’ve decided to give us some space. I think we both need time to re-evaluate our relationship and take a breather. I’ve been going to Tisserie instead. Honestly, their iced coffee is better. Granted, it’s more expensive, and the store is probably owned by Republicans, but this is what you’ve forced me to do. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to return to Toastie’s with the same confidence in what I thought was my progressive understanding of the proletariat, but thank you, for the wake up call. God knows I need it.

In love and admiration,

Comrade Jessica

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How to Not Study for the GRE

1. Date assholes who tell you from the start that they are assholes. Don’t listen. Continue to hang out with them, convinced that there is inherent good in everyone. Waste time inviting said assholes to readings, going to movies, hanging out with said assholes asshole friends. Feel generally bad about oneself; write horrible poetry.

2. Curl hair with finger while staring at pores in the mirror. Do endless searches online for dermatologist.

3. Call home, cry to mother about lack of purpose in life.

4. Perfect Bob Dylan impersonation.

5. Have a full time job that seeps into every fiber of your being. Fiber with an –er, American style, not fibre with an –re, Virginia Woolf style. That would be the good kind of fibre, like, every fibre of your being that isn’t studying for the GRE.

6. Congratulate friends that have just been accepted into Ph.D. programs straight after graduating college; weep inconsolably.

7. Party on the Lower East Side. Wake up next morning, realize you aren’t even sure what GRE really stands for, realize you don’t care, watch Star Wars, wonder how Carrie Fisher got her hair so shiny.

8. Look at GRE testing locations in the city. Sigh. Eat a cookie.

9. Go to gym. Convince self that health is more important than higher education.

10. Buy incredibly expensive GRE Preparation book, complete with CD. Let said book age on your desk for several weeks. Read Nietzsche, throw GRE book out window.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The New York School of Elitism

Regional quirks have always interested me, being from the south. I’m accustomed to people asking, “You grew up in the South. Now what was that like?”

I have lived in New York now for over a year; it was my childhood dream to come here, live, star on Broadway, and frolic in Central Park. Looking back on those pipe dreams, I realize I wanted to live here because New York is anything but the real world. In fact, it is so much the real world that it has become a drag version of itself, a campy side-show freak of a city, where life is fast, fake, and the people are clichés upon clichés upon clichés.

One of my last afternoons at my internship that brought me to this city was spent discussing an article in The New Yorker, or, more generally, the politics of the magazine. I think it had something to do with Meghan O’Rourke marrying James Surowecki. A specific article was mentioned, that everyone in the room had read, except for me. One of the editors asked, “Do you read The New Yorker?” “Yes, sometimes,” I replied. “I had a subscription once. But I don’t, not regularly.” “Well, you should read it,” another responded, “simply to keep abreast of things if for no other reason.”

I should read it.

There it was. New York superiority. Well, you live in New York so you must read The New Yorker; you are part of the literary establishment now so you must read The New Yorker. You must.

A few days ago, my friend C. simply said, “I hate The New Yorker. Can I say that? Is that allowed? I hate The New Yorker.” Someone responded with, “I hate their poetry. They have the worst poetry. Wasn’t Sylvia Plath a New Yorker poet?” “Yes,” I was quick to respond, “but it took her seventeen submissions to be accepted.” As we spoke, we all looked up to the sky, as if expecting acid rain or imminent doom of some kind to befall us.

This little conversation coupled with the fact that I managed to mispronounce both the name of the artist Paul Klee, and the word “scythe” in less than one week in the company of Columbia graduates, got me thinking—who am I and where do I come from? I’m expected to be able to pronounce names that I’ve never heard spoken. Moreover, I’ve realized that I come from a place where Paul Klee is a name you just do not hear. I was reminded of the first time I ever saw the word “nausea” when I was young. I’d never heard of it, and I had no idea how to approach it. The worst, though, was my pronunciation of the word “nuclear.” Not until George W. Bush had so infamously mispronounced that word the way all Southerners pronounce it, had I felt ashamed that I wasn’t more fastidious in my mother tongue.

“Listen,” my friend J. said, “We’re educated here to impress people at cocktail parties. That’s what all those fancy words are for. If you think someone’s vocabulary is a reflection of his or her intelligence, you’re mistaken.” Is she right? I’d like to think so. I know I went to state school and public high school but I’m no slouch. I can quote Woolf from memory, of course, and I’m fairly well-schooled in the modernists, but this isn’t the place to brag. Quite the contrary, I started this post with no aim other than self-depreciation in mind.

My ex once said to me, “You’re too smart for me. I could never make you happy because I can’t talk about books and Virginia Woolf.” At the time, I thought, “how silly, how elitist he must think me—intelligence is all relative!” But is it? I find I turn my nose up at certain things—if someone’s never read Mrs. Dalloway, never seen Vertigo, if they mispronounce Yeats, well that really gets me going. But I tend to believe I value these superficial rules, these expectations of what people should know, because they are things that I hold dear to my heart. When I see VW’s last name misspelled it pains me; I literally wince at the page when someone confuses her for an ancestor of Thomas Wolfe. So perhaps it is all relative, all personal.

I’m going to continue my plight to become a human sponge and soak up as much information as I can whilst still breathing. Please don’t think that it shames me when people correct my grammar, my pronunciation, or my general understanding of les beaux arts—I simply blush a little blush, and move on. I appreciate those who’ve had that private, expensive education because they are furthering mine, whether they realize it, or not.

Until then, I'm off to mispronounce me some words and wrassl up some sweet iced tea.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Addendum to the Plath Complex

My previous post on Sylvia Plath got the most feedback I’ve ever received, both in comments (I know, 3! Wow! Thanks to those who commented) and in verbal communication. Shortly after I wrote the post, the intern who “didn’t like Sylvia Plath,” went out and bought the Pulitzer Prize winning Collected Poems , and now she’s a convert.

One of my friends mentioned in the post e-mailed me to say he felt I had characterized him as a “beer-swilling, unintelligent woman-hater.” I want to clarify that he did at one point express interest in giving Plath’s poems “a look.” Whether he has or not, I’ve yet to confirm. I’d also like to mention that on one of the first occasions where we spent time alone together, he was able to speak at length on the beauty of To the Lighthouse , and I’ve continued to be impressed with his literary prowess ever since.

One of the highlights of this past week was reading “Letter in November” and “Street Song” with the newly minted Plath fan over dinner. As we discussed these poems and others, I thought to myself, perhaps someplace other people, male or female, are doing the same. Just yesterday, I was re-reading The Bell Jar, when one of my colleagues stepped up and asked, “Are you a SP fan?” And I said “Yes, are you?” To which she replied, cheerfully, “Of course!” Perhaps, right now, there’s a thirteen year old girl picking up Ariel for the first time, or an eighteen year old recent high school graduate picking up Plath’s Unabridged Diaries at a Borders bookstore while visiting Northwestern University. One can only hope.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Plath Complex





In an empty bar in Williamsburg with my author friend, we were in the midst of a discussion about women's literature when I said, "I never used to think men were assholes until I tried to talk to them about Sylvia Plath." She repeated the sentiment, then said, "Now there's a great first line to an article about why feminism still matters."

A few weeks earlier, I had basically erupted in a hysterical bout of the “f” word when my two male friends proceeded to have a laugh over the work and life of Plath—I don’t remember exactly how they described The Bell Jar, but let’s just say it was far from complimentary. I responded by asking if they had ever read her poetry, to which one of them responded that he had not, the other that he had read “a few of them.” I pointed out that sometimes it’s best to read someone’s work before you condemn it. Both of them offered a defense amounting basically to the idea that “the sort of things she writes about,” were of no interest to them. “What sort of things?” “Oh, you know: motherhood, marriage, jealousy, etcetra.” Oh, I see.

Then I got really angry. In the crowded bar, I could feel like tears welling up in my eyes and my throat was doing that swelling thing where it makes it difficult for me to breathe. “So,” I said, trying to speak clearly through my semi-intoxication, “Could one of you explain it to me how it is that I am able to recognize the literary merits of someone, say, like Henry Miller, who writes about fucking whores’ cunts (his phraseology, not mine) but you two are unable to acknowledge a woman’s talents as a poet because she writes about motherhood?”

I relayed this story to my author friend, who quickly replied, “Why are you friends with these guys?”

But it isn’t just the boys, I’ve found. Several of the female interns where I work have expressed a marked dislike of Plath. One said, “I don’t like Sylvia Plath.” When I asked her why not, she said the The Bell Jar was “too morbid.” Prying further, I asked “Have you ever read her poetry?” to which she responded, vaguely embarrassed, “no.” Another boy responded that he thought Plath’s poetry was “overdone.” “What,” I asked, “do you mean by overdone?” “I mean, those emotions are so overdone.” “Well,” I said, “Do you think they were overdone in the 1960s, when Plath was writing?” “Oh,” he replied. “Probably not.”

I’ve realized after close to eight years defending her, I can’t force people to like Plath. Hell, I can’t even convince them to give her a chance. Most of all, I can’t convince people of how ignorant they sound when they presume to judge someone’s work when they haven’t even read it. How is it that Plath gets such a bad rap? Are the subjects of her poems and her novel still so taboo and upsetting that people are unable to look past the topics and into the art? Why is it that, even today, topics such as emotional hysteria, abandonment, marriage, love, childbearing, domesticity, parenthood, and sex still seem “uninteresting,” or “too personal?”

I just finished reading I Love Dick, a semi-fictional memoir by Chris Kraus, written as an epistolary novel. In her discussion of why some contemporary artists are taken seriously and why some are not, she draws the line in terms of gender. She mentions one artist, Hannah Wilke, who, in photographs and performance art, makes a comment about her longtime boyfriend abandoning her for another woman. She appears naked and vulnerable. Critics called her work “hysterical” or “overdone” or even “sloppy.” What bothers people more, I wondered, the fact that she was vulnerable, or a woman, or both? Other critics condemned her art, saying it was simply, “too personal.” She responded:

If women have failed to make 'universal' art because we're trapped within the 'personal,' why not universalize the 'personal' and make it the subject of our art?

I couldn’t agree more. But how? How do we get people (I wanted to type men here, but now unfortunately it’s more than just men who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the personal and the feminine) to be interested in this kind of art? Do we really have to fight the fight again? My professor at IU, Susan Gubar, and her teaching partner, Sandra Gilbert, founded the first graduate colloquium on Women’s Literature in the 1970’s. The first. How the fuck is it that I’m still defending writers like Plath thirty years later? Has anything really changed? Why is it that I’m expected to have read Ulysses but not Mrs. Dalloway, and how can women my age shrug off Plath like she’s some irrelevant poet? Are they afraid of what men will think of them if they profess to enjoying or relating to her work? Why do I almost wince as I write this?

I’d like to write some sort of over-arching, inspiring conclusion to this post, but I can’t. I can only offer that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, or rather, in the state of feminism today. It’s the same reason so many of my female friends are so unhappy if they aren’t in a relationship. It’s the same reason many of my female friends in relationships allow their boyfriends to insult them and under appreciate them. And it’s the same reason so many of my female friends apply huge double-standards to their sexuality in comparison to their male friends’ sexual behavior. This is not the Victorian era, ladies. Women don’t have to be a paradigm of virtue anymore. There is no one to impress but ourselves. If Sylvia Plath has taught me anything, it’s: There is no other person. You are the other person. And relying on someone to fulfill you or your life, only gets you into a whole bunch of trouble, and apparenty makes you author of poetry that no one wants to read.

I know one thing for sure: it’s never okay to judge someone or someone’s work simply because it’s outside of your comfort level. And to debase someone because of their sex or their experience only makes you look like a big fucking idiot.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Get A Hold Of Yourself

"I've never gotten used to it, I've just learned to turn it off."—Dylan


My friend J has become a pseudo older brother figure to me, recently. He’s always saying I’ve got to go easier on myself, not fret so much, not invest so much in other people. He’s right. Certainly my friends who aren’t so sensitive to the actions and emotions of others seem happier, well adjusted, and basically calm. How did they get this way? And why aren’t I like them?

Sometimes it helps to know I’m not the only one. My best friend D and I are basically the same person—I think we must’ve come from the same pod. D is the only other person I know whose emotional structure resembles mine. Just the other night, we were talking on the phone about how people seem to tread so carefully in friendships—only meeting once or twice a month for coffee, divulging as little as possible about their personal struggles. Maybe all the emotional stuff is just too dirty for some people to get into—or maybe they’re simply too self-involved to endear themselves to someone else on such an intimate level. D and I’s friendship began in the eighth grade and we’re still going strong. I think we’ve remained close because neither of us is afraid to be vulnerable in front of the other. We’re not afraid to say, “things are really bad and I feel like they may never get better.”


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Conor Oberst, thrashing my emotions around like a zombie in search of blood. I have Oberstian moments, but most of the time I’m more of Joni Mitchell—who once said she was a “bundle of exposed nerves, totally transparently vulnerable.” She said there was a moment in her life when she would just cry if someone showed her any affection: love, friendship, anything. She just broke down. And that’s when she wrote Blue, which is one of the most beautiful albums ever recorded. This brings me to my next question, which is, to be a successful artist doesn’t one have to be a bit exposed, a bit manic . . . a bit insane? I think so.

I thought I was in love once. Maybe I was. I was so desperate to get that level of intimacy into my life, with someone I could trust and be vulnerable with. I suppose it’s all about the struggle for “real” experiences—my real self is someone who’s incredibly sensitive and emotional. I wanted a friend and a lover, people who could accept that. I suppose I’m lucky to have found one of the two. Still, I don’t understand when and how everyone got so drained, so isolated, and so uncomfortable. Are we afraid we might actually let someone get under our skin? I have, and I survived (just barely).

Would it be so terrible?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Oscars 2007: Live

so far.

1. maggie's dress is my favorite so far, i love her love love love

2. OMG did Ryan and Rachel break up WHERE THE FUCK IS SHE???? he brought his mom and his sister, holy shit if they broke up i'm going to be soooooo pissed

3. helen mirren is the most fierce, amazing woman that ever lived

4. clive owen, baby, you don't need to lose weight, stop.

5. NAOMI WATTS IS SO PREGS

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Andy Syndrome

“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person.”
–Andy Warhol





I want to be the next Andy Warhol.

I’m not kidding; I’m dying to dip my fingers into every proverbial inkpot of the artistic world: photography, painting, acting, singing, dancing, you name it. I want to be at the head of it all, behind big sunglasses. I want to be surrounded by beautiful people--not beautiful in the average sense of the word, but beautiful by my definition.

Definition (from Jessica’s “this is how Jessica thinks” dictionary).
Beautiful, adj. An adjective used to describe people who possess an inside-out glow from the happiness they get from doing what they love—a smoldering beauty, really, usually concentrated in the eyes, mouth, or hands. Exacerbated by a smoking habit, carrying a dog-eared, underlined book or wearing a scarf.
Examples: Cate Blanchett, Ryan Gosling, Elizabeth Peyton, John Lennon, David Lynch, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hillary Clinton, Lee Miller, Ian McEwan

Over the past few weeks, I’ve come to the distinct realization that I am obsessed with beauty.

Exhibit A: In Williamsburg I walk down the street gawking at the rare species that is “Brooklyn indie white hotness,” manifested in both male and female form—some of the most stylish people you will EVER see, prancing around in their converse and ankle boots as if today were the last day on earth before the government imposes a strict dress code on all of us—-the last day of freedom! Everyone, wear jumpers! Cut your hair using only a bowl and scissors. Pierce your nose! This it it!

Exhibit B: I’m addicted to Vogue. I once had a subscription but cancelled it due to the fact that I couldn’t stand the Norwich notes (old school monied society is a layer on the cake of superficiality that I never really tapped into), but just Tuesday I realized—I’ve been going through Vogue withdraw. The checklist! The models! The Ads! The glossiness of their paper, laced with coke, seeping into my flesh and destroying all of my feminist beliefs! A $1000 plastic bangle from Chanel.

Exhibit C: myspace. There are some gorgeous people on myspace! The best thing about it is that if you find one, you have access to all of their friends, who are usually just as hot, if not hotter. I’ve recently been stalking this couple that appear to be friends of friends—she’s changed her status to “swinger” while he’s “still in a relationship.” What’s going on?! I’m dying to know. Their pictures together are like something out of a Sophia Coppola movie. They’re like two swans….I want to meet them, make friends with them, and spend all my time taking gorgeous photographs of them, writing songs about them, and throwing parties in their honor.

I work literally less than a block from the building that houses the famous loft that was once Andy Warhol’s “factory.” I walk past it on my way to Starbucks, thinking, why can’t I pull this off? I want a salon. I want people to come to my apartment and drink tea (or booze) and talk to me about their passions. I want to tell aspiring Hemingways that they “need work,” or that their writing is “too simple.” Maybe I could convince my roommate to be my Alice B. Tolklas. I want to see a beautiful girl in Williamsburg at some party and make her my muse, follow her around with a video camera and see what happens. I want her to have long skinny legs and wear liquid black eyeliner. I want to date a painter who insists on painting my portrait day and night, so by the end of a month our apartment is filled with canvases.

Most of all, I want fresh flowers for my room every day and a writing desk. I want a cup of coffee in the morning and I want to live in London. I want to walk past Westminster Abbey on my way to work. I want rain. And roses. And god dammit, I want that purple Burberry coat I saw in London in 2003 that cost 2000 pounds.

So I figure, all I have to do is turn my apartment into some sort of commune, provide music (somehow I’ve got to get Dylan to make an appearance), drugs, Campbell soup, and lots of cameras. Calling all artists—come live the beautiful life, avec moi. We’ll do it Andy style.

Just don’t expect me to dye my hair grey.