I totally relate to this xkcd comic, because so far this week, I've looked for meaning in:
1) a bad line from the TV show Numbers
3) a friend's inscription to me in her new novel
4) the marketing description on a beauty product
5) a job posting
6) a web comic
7) a Kleenex commercial
8) a Mary Gordon short story
9) Oscar acceptance speeches
10) the drunken ramblings of a fratboy psychic
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I totally relate to this xkcd comic, because so far this week, I've looked for meaning in:
Twice now, since switching my Hotmail account over to the new "Live Mail" platform, I have made the foolish, foolish decision of trying to contact MSN Support via e-mail to get a bug fixed. (It's not that important what the bugs were, but I'll mention them just to demonstrate that they were fairly simple problems to understand. I could not consistently send active links that remained active when received, and I couldn't scroll down and select an item from a dropdown menu that was not immediately visible when the menu opened. Once I scrolled down, I lost the ability to select. This second problem has been fixed since I first reported it, but my communication certainly had nothing to do with it.)
The way "Live Mail" e-mail support "works" (and I use that word oh so very loosely) is that you submit your question and invariably you are contacted by someone who has misunderstood your issue (regardless of how clearly it may have been articulated). So you write back and say, "Oh, thank you, but I meant blah blah blah." Then you are contacted by someone else - they always introduce themselves as if they will be your own personal assistant from this point forward - and they have misunderstood your question even more absurdly. So you get a little cranky with them and you say, "Noooooo, I meant blah." Then a third person contacts you who either repeats what the first person said or further mangles your question. From what I can tell, this will continue indefinitely for the rest of your life if you don't decide to live with the original problem.
I can't believe I went back for more after the drop down menu fiasco, but I thought I had worked out all my frustration on this "customer service" survey they had sent me not long after the first encounter. I also felt that my issue - when I send active links, the recipient does not always receive them as active - was simple enough. Really. Is there a more explicit way to state that? Is my use of the language so rusty and archaic that I cannot make myself understood? So far, three MSN folks have written telling me some variation of how to change my junk mail settings so I can read hyperlinks when they are sent to me. I have asked to communicate with a supervisor. I want Franz himself; I'll settle for Gates in a pinch.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:27 AM
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Radar and Claire Zulkey look at "some less-than-proud moments from the world of publishing" - Ed Koch's Murder at City Hall anyone? - now with bonus excerpts from The Celebrity Poetry Reader!
There's a goat in my ass,
Living mainly on grass.
They say the creature was stolen,
Yet he feeds on my colon.
—From Peace of my Mind, Charlie Sheen, 1988
"You were the better at rolling reefer, I was the better with coke and rum; Remember that night on the beach at Ibiza? The Maori twins with the tattooed bum?"
—From A Glass Half Full, Felix Dennis, 2004
"I am open and vulnerable like a crack in cement"
—From Yesterday I Saw the Sun, Ally Sheedy, 1991
"And do I know exactly why it starts
Slow, and have I those things which live towards the bottom,
In the lower parts
Of my heart?"
—From Touch Me, by Suzanne Somers, 1980
But so are roses
On a birthday
Computers are exciting
But so is a sunset"
—From Warmed by Love, by Leonard Nimoy, 1983
Posted by escapegrace at 8:08 AM
Monday, February 26, 2007
Sunday, February 25, 2007
For Oscar Sunday, Walter Kirn on David Mamet on Hollywood:
Why most Hollywood movies stink is a big question, but why we go on eagerly inhaling them is a bigger one. David Mamet thinks he knows the answer. In “Bambi vs. Godzilla,” a collection of tough-minded essays about the film business, the award- winning playwright turned screenwriter and director posits a “repressive mechanism” to account for our appetite for dramas that have ceased to be dramatic and entertainments that barely entertain. “The very vacuousness of these films is reassuring,” he writes, comparing them to the expensive weapons systems whose presence makes us feel secure in other ways. These filmed extravaganzas send the message that “you are a member of a country, a part of a system capable of wasting $200 million on an hour and a half of garbage. You must be somebody.”
Posted by escapegrace at 9:55 AM
1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Beginning the year with this book bodes well. I don't know whether I happened to be feeling particularly emotional around the new year, but I was so invested in these characters that I would worry about them at work and then come home and be afraid to pick the book up because I was scared to see what was going to happen to them but then be unable to resist. To me, this novel had the haunting landscape and breathtaking prose of Blood Meridian with a heady dose of pure love.
2. The Best American Short Stories 2006, edited by Ann Patchett
I have never seen an editor's individual tastes so transparently revealed in a BASS collection. While the stories were enjoyable as always, I think I've met my quota of meaningful childhood epiphanies for 2007.
3. Death of a Writer by Michael Collins
I don't quite know how I came to read this fairly conventional mystery (besides the 'death of a writer' angle). I don't wish for the time back, but I find it troubling that I became most involved in the novel when I came across passages I would have really liked the opportunity to edit.
4. The View from Castle Rock: Stories by Alice Munro
Munro is always a champion storyteller, but I was not sure how I felt about seeing the woman behind the curtain so clearly after all this time. That, however, is my problem. Her facility with the past and the present is unrivaled.
5. And Never Stop Dancing by Gordon Livingston
I reluctantly admit enjoyment of this book's prequel, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, but I should have know by the awful title alone to stay away from this obvious grab for cash.
6. Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta
At first, this book felt too gimmicky, but by the end, I cared for the characters (except maybe the odd throwaway Henry) and enjoyed Spiotta's willingness to dwell within conversations, especially those on music.
Posted by escapegrace at 9:55 AM
Saturday, February 24, 2007
Friday, February 23, 2007
Rapture Wreaks Havoc on Local Book Club:
"It's a shame because I think Shirley had the most stimulating opinions, and I was really looking forward to hearing what she'd have to say about [Fannie Flagg's Standing In The Rainbow] right before her ascension," said club member Diane Valinsky Monday. "And we were supposed to meet at Lucas' house this week, but I guess that's out now, seeing as the armies of Satan are on the march."
Posted by escapegrace at 9:58 AM
Thursday, February 22, 2007
As I know all of you could barely put down your mouse to grab another glass of champagne during last year's Oscar Blog, I am sure you are thrilled to discover Ed Champion has done it again: collecting the finest group of Oscar observers* you'll find on the web. Stop by Oscar Blog 2007 on Sunday for some incisive hilarity!
*You should have seen me trying to explain to the Korean guy I tutor what exactly we were going to be doing, and he only understood when he was able to picture us as "netizen broadcasters" (his words).
Posted by escapegrace at 11:19 AM
Acclaimed in the Décade d’Augsbourg, a German “Who’s Who” produced between 1741 and 1755, as one of the outstanding erudites of her time, Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise Du Châtelet (1706–49), considered one of the first women scientists, was relegated after her death to the Enlightenment’s shadows, from which she has emerged only recently. Brilliant and passionate, as fun-loving as she was hard-working, “la divine Émilie” was both admired and loathed by her peers, stunned as they were by the nerve of an eighteenth-century female who was as capable of debating men on the laws of physics as she was of performing the role typically assigned to her gender. She left in her wake a series of lovers in the best tradition of intrigue among French royals—or rather among intellectuals, long before the Existentialists and the French avant-garde.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:26 AM
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Louis Menand examines how quotes are made quotable:
Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in “Casablanca” says “Play it again, Sam”; Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say “Give me liberty, or give me death!”; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.” Marie Antoinette did not say “Let them eat cake”; Hermann Göring did not say “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun”; and Muhammad Ali did not say “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in “Wall Street,” does not say “Greed is good”; James Cagney never says “You dirty rat” in any of his films; and no movie actor, including Charles Boyer, ever said “Come with me to the Casbah.” Many of the phrases for which Winston Churchill is famous he adapted from the phrases of other people, and when Yogi Berra said “I didn’t really say everything I said” he was correct.
Posted by escapegrace at 7:57 AM
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Jonathan Lethem on "The Ecstasy of Influence" (and so much more likely behind this decision):
Literature has been in a plundered, fragmentary state for a long time. When I was thirteen I purchased an anthology of Beat writing. Immediately, and to my very great excitement, I discovered one William S. Burroughs, author of something called Naked Lunch, excerpted there in all its coruscating brilliance. Burroughs was then as radical a literary man as the world had to offer. Nothing, in all my experience of literature since, has ever had as strong an effect on my sense of the sheer possibilities of writing. Later, attempting to understand this impact, I discovered that Burroughs had incorporated snippets of other writers' texts into his work, an action I knew my teachers would have called plagiarism. Some of these borrowings had been lifted from American science fiction of the Forties and Fifties, adding a secondary shock of recognition for me. By then I knew that this “cut-up method,” as Burroughs called it, was central to whatever he thought he was doing, and that he quite literally believed it to be akin to magic. When he wrote about his process, the hairs on my neck stood up, so palpable was the excitement. Burroughs was interrogating the universe with scissors and a paste pot, and the least imitative of authors was no plagiarist at all.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:29 AM
Monday, February 19, 2007
The Guardian Unlimited blog collects songs about California.
The Oscars are almost upon us, so I'm going to have two weeks of related themes. The first is songs about California. Most of them will cover Los Angeles, I'd imagine, but anywhere from San Jose to Modesto is fine, not to mention songs about the state as a whole. (According to Wikipedia, San Diego has almost twice the population of San Francisco. Who knew?) We've already had California Uber Alles, Screenwriter's Blues, Burn Hollywood Burn and Celluloid Heroes, but I think that's all.
Will the creator of Los Angeles, Mach I & II please get over there? (You know who you are.)
Posted by escapegrace at 11:36 AM
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Given the state of affairs around the planet (wars, oil dependency, global warming, instability in countless nations), I'd like to encourage people to celebrate this Valentine's Day in a way that lets your sweetie know that he or she makes you want to do something good for the place we all call home.
To make things easier, I've come up with five great alternative Valentine's Day gifts that show your main squeeze that your love abounds.
Posted by escapegrace at 7:19 AM
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The Washington Post has a new ZZ Packer story, "Pita Delicious" (registration required).
That one day, when everything went wrong, Gideon was working on his dissertation, which meant he was in cutoffs in bed with me, the fan whirring over us while he was getting political about something or other. He was always getting political, even though his PhD had nothing to do with politics and was called "Temporal Modes of Discourse and Ekphrasis in Elizabethan Poetry." Even he didn't like his dissertation. He was always opening some musty book, reading for a while, then closing it and saying, "You know what's wrong with these facist corporations?" No matter how you responded, you'd always be wrong because he'd say, "Exactly!" then go on to tell you his theory, which had nothing to do with anything you'd just said.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:23 AM
Monday, February 12, 2007
With Oscar season imminent, David Milofsky looks at the relationship between literature and Hollywood.
Historically, Hollywood has done best with schlock epics like "Ben Hur," "Gone With the Wind," "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and "Exodus." In cases like this, plot is all, and such literary tropes as characterization, description and tone hardly count at all. The films become screen vehicles for major stars and a cast of thousands is de rigueur.
More problematical are the occasional attempts to bring literary classics to the screen. Film versions of novels such as "Moby Dick," "Ulysses" and "War and Peace" are doomed from the start because of the filmmakers' excessive respect for the original text, which often gets in the way of producing an entertaining film.
It's worth pointing out that none of these adaptations won the Oscar the year they were produced. Part of the problem grows out of a reluctance to see fiction and film as disparate, if sometimes related, arts. Novels are all about characterization and language. What differentiates a good novel from a bad one often has virtually nothing to do with story. With film, however, an adage has it that, "if it's not in the dialogue, it's not in the play." Which means that what makes a novel great could very well make the film version of the same material tedious or, worse, pretentious. As a producer once commented in giving advice to a novelist who had turned screenwriter, "Whenever you start thinking film, Bube, think movie."
Posted by escapegrace at 8:56 AM
Sunday, February 11, 2007
- ArtScene Visual Radio is dedicated to visual art in Southern California.
- Will Oldham designed the upcoming spring issue of Zoetrope: All-Story.
- Unchain the women directors!
- Check out these cool products made from recycled chopsticks.
- America needs a hero to distract us from our woes. Thank you, brave/crazy astronaut lady.
- Create your own South Park character.
- Personal savings dropped to a 74-year low in 2006.
- I wholeheartedly support Tom Waits Tuesday.
- Genealogy of Influence is a "a visualization of the connections between the most influential writers, artists, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians of Western culture."
- "Achievements: I was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2006."
- LA Brain Terrain gives us the skinny on LA street names.
- Rake's Progress alerts us to the fact that Steve Erickson wrote the introduction to Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow and to the fact that Zak Smith does porn!
- But that's got nothin' on the sexy time that is Benicio del Toro as the Wolfman!
- More cats than you could ever need...
Posted by escapegrace at 1:25 PM
Friday, February 09, 2007
I don't know whether to love or hate Whitney Matheson of Pop Candy for turning me on to finetune. On an idea similar to Pandora, finetune lets you build playlists of 45 songs of your choice from a fairly impressive selection of albums. I think Pandora has a wider range and smarter suggestions, but finetune has play on demand and - of most interest to you - the option to embed your playlists. If you look to the right under the Music links, you'll find your choice of two playlists with many more to come: little girl blue (I can always think of heartbreak songs in a pinch - it's my gift) or old school girl groove. Just click on the little head in the upper left corner to switch back and forth in the user profile. If you register at finetune, you can search for 'escapegrace' and do whatever you're supposed to do when you find me.
Update: New playlists include americana the beautiful, I'm not indie, and ones & twos. Now I will stop and be productive. I swear.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:27 AM
Thursday, February 08, 2007
I’m a latecomer to the Esquire Napkin Project, but I love it nonetheless. Writers, writers, and more writers have scribbled a story on a napkin. Luckily, their handwriting is transcribed beneath photos of the napkins because not everyone had two elementary school teachers for parents. Andrew Sean Greer actually has very nice penmanship and can tell a good story to boot:
I only wish there were more women represented. I remember when I spent a lot of time in bars scribbling on napkins, there weren’t too many women around.
The cold pressure you feel under the table is a gun. A real gun. I am a desperate man. I am a novelist. Don't look at me, just keep on drinking. Now what I want you to do — slowly, no sudden moves — is tell me a story. A true story, make it good. Maybe you woke up last week to a black sky and thought the world was ending. Maybe you called your girlfriend and said, I'm sorry about everything, and she said, Why? And you said, The world is ending, and she said, You idiot it's 3 in the morning. But thanks. I'm sorry too. And you know what? Let's get in my car and get out of here, I mean drive off and not look back. What about our friends, you ask. Screw them. I can't, you say, the world's not really ending. Well I am, she says, and that is how you lost her. Maybe a story like that. And when you're done, I want you to walk away. No funny stuff. Just walk away like nothing ever happened. Sit back and think. Order us both another Manhattan.All right, begin....
Posted by escapegrace at 8:30 AM
Jay Black takes on English majors too snobby to watch TV:I was an English major in college. If you ever get the chance to be an English major, do it! It opens so many doors to your future: with your English degree you can teach English! Or, also, starve!
Being an English major, though, brought along with it one major annoyance: wannabe intellectual types who felt that since they read Keats or whatever, they were somehow better than the civilians who enjoyed Melrose Place or The X-Files.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:03 AM
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
My favorite Halloween costume ever was when I dressed up as Wrath in a group of the Seven Deadly Sins. I went the punk route – complete with dog collar and a ripped T-shirt that had F*ck Authority scrawled on it. Unfortunately, the way the T-shirt fell once it was on made it appear to say F*ck Authors. Either way…
This memory brought to you courtesy of the above calculation from Indexed.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:23 AM
People are way too concerned with what other people think about their choices in music. I registered my disgust sometime ago for iPod Wars and now – via we make money not art – we have the double-sided headphone. The inside plays whatever music you actually want to listen to, and the outside plays whatever music you think will make you appear cool. Tsk tsk, people.
(On the subject of vanity, I did not know that the Hammer was once called America's Vainest Museum.)
Posted by escapegrace at 8:07 AM
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The Petersen Automotive Museum gets into the conservation game.
"Los Angeles: The Living City," a damaged 16-by-94-foot mural outside H&K Supermarket on Western Avenue, can be seen as it was with the installation of a one-third-scale, digital photographic reproduction in the Petersen's May Family Discovery Center. The Petersen installed a copy of the mural, created by Sandra Drinning in 1997, to highlight L.A.'s relationship with cars, culture and history.
But taggers have taken a toll on Drinning's quirky vista of L.A. freeways and landmarks. And at some point, graffiti artists covered large sections with foliage, buildings and people in an approximation of Drinning's style.
Posted by escapegrace at 7:57 AM
Monday, February 05, 2007
Sunday, February 04, 2007
- Beware the time-sucking potential of this celebrity face recognition tool at MyHeritage. Who knew I looked like Jessica Alba? (via Bad Advice)
- Is song recognition more your thing? Try Midomi. (via Pop Candy)
- Or maybe visual word association? Try Visuwords. (via Neatorama)
- You've seen the Japanese version of the Hodgman/Long Mac ads - now see the British version.
- So let me confess: We do meet regularly, usually at Cameron’s place, because it has plenty of room now that Justin’s moved out.
- Study a map of the Land of Oz.
- Or if you prefer: a map of Los Angeles bookstores.
- Jonathan Lethem has made a promiscuous list of stories available to anyone for adaptation at the cost of an agreement signature and a dollar.
- Submit your sad and lonely stories to the Rejected Fiction contest. You must provide at least five rejection slips. (via Maud Newton)
- Dear Mr. Amis: Why are you such a snob? (via The Literary Saloon)
- Considered but Discarded Names for the Indie Band Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin
Posted by escapegrace at 1:19 PM
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Roe v. Wade v. David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker:
But neither did he ever open up and tell her straight out he did not love her. This might be his lie by omission. This might be the frozen resistance—were he to look right at her and tell her he didn’t, she would keep the appointment and go. He knew this. Something in him, though, some terrible weakness or lack of values, could not tell her. It felt like a muscle he did not have. He didn’t know why; he just could not do it, or even pray to do it. She believed he was good, serious in his values. Part of him seemed willing to more or less just about lie to someone with that kind of faith and trust, and what did that make him? How could such a type of individual even pray? What it really felt like was a taste of the reality of what might be meant by Hell.
Posted by escapegrace at 9:49 AM
Friday, February 02, 2007
In The Nation, Terry Eagleton reviews Barbara Ehrenreich's Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy:
Dionysus is really an early version of the Freudian unconscious, a place of both hideous trauma and bounteous creativity. He is both Eros and Thanatos, ecstasy and the death drive in a single body. He has the lethally seductive appeal of what Jacques Lacan called jouissance, a concept that the late psychoanalyst's representative on Earth, Slavoj Zizek, translates as "obscene enjoyment." It is the fearful pleasure that springs from the dissolution of the ego. Abolishing the divisions between isolated individuals, which is what the Dionysian cult seeks to achieve, involves liberating a blissful force of libido. Yet since this means relaxing the ego's control over the obstreperous id, it also releases a terrifying violence. Dionysus is not only rock star but terrorist. In seeking to suppress Dionysus, however, the pigheaded ruler Pentheus, portrayed in Euripides's play The Bacchae, turns into a monstrous mirror image of his enemy. It is a suitable allegory of Bush and bin Laden.
Dancing in the Streets is really a Fall narrative. Once upon a time there was public ecstasy; then capitalism and Calvinism conspired to rout it. Charisma gave way, as it generally does, to bureaucracy. Ecstasy and Enlightenment failed to hit it off. In the eyes of an emergent middle-class order, popular festivity was that most scandalous and opaque of all activities, that which is done purely for its own sake. All over Europe, revelry was stamped on. The Catholic bishops of Ireland, Ehrenreich may be intrigued to hear, refrained from banning Irish dancing, but only because (1) it was patriotic, (2) the dancers keep their arms rigidly by their sides and (3) it is so physically taxing that it leaves you little energy for erotic activity.
Like most Fall fables, this one cuts a few conceptual corners; but it is full of fascinating vignettes all the same. We learn, for example, of the dance mania that gripped parts of Europe in the Middle Ages. In Utrecht 200 people danced on a bridge and refused to stop until it collapsed, drowning all the dancers. Dancing manias in Italy were often blamed on the bite of the tarantula; hence tarantella. As street dancing was censored, a great wave of melancholia--what we would now call depression--swept over Europe from the seventeenth century onward.This is a perfect time to revisit Ehrenreich's 15 Steps to a Happier, Healthier American in 2007.
Posted by escapegrace at 9:05 AM
In a New York Review of Books review of Mailer's latest, J.M. Coetzee goes deep:
The class photograph test—What will be the destinies of these children? Which of them will go the furthest?— has a particular pointedness in the cases of Stalin and Hitler. Is it possible that some of us are evil from the moment we leave our mother's womb? If not, when does evil enter us, and how? Or, to put the question in a less metaphysical form, how is it that some of us never develop a restraining moral conscience? In regard to Stalin and Hitler, did the fault lie in the way they were reared? With educational practices in Georgia and Austria of the late nineteenth century? Or did the boys in fact develop a conscience, and then at some later time lose it: were Iosif and Adolf, at the time they were photographed, still normal, sweet lads, and did they turn into monsters later, as a consequence perhaps of the books they read, or the company they kept, or the pressures of their times? Or was there nothing special about them after all, early or late: did the script of history simply demand two butchers, a Butcher of Germany and a Butcher of Russia; and had Iosif Dzhugashvili and Adolf Hitler not been in the right place at the right time, would history have found another pair of actors, just as good (that is, just as bad), to play the roles?
Posted by escapegrace at 9:03 AM
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Ethan Coen's latest project is called Drive-Away Dykes, a "lesbian road-trip action sex comedy" written with his wife Tricia Cooke and directed by Allison Anders.
When Marion, a skirt-chasing party girl, gets kicked out after her cop girlfriend finds her in bed with another woman, she convinces her buttoned-down friend Jamie to let her come along on a get-away-for-a-few-days drive-away car assignment from Philadelphia to Miami. Packed along for the ride are Jamie's crush on Marion, Marion's unrelenting desire to cruise every lesbian bar on the eastern seaboard, and — since this is Coen territory — a severed head in a hatbox, a mystery briefcase full of plaster phalluses, a mélange of angry pursuers, an evil senator, a bitter ex-girlfriend and loads of hot boyless sex.
Posted by escapegrace at 8:46 AM