Category Archives: Notes

Last things

Decca Aitkenhead interviews Clive James:

If he could go back through his life and edit out the bits of which he was least proud, which chapters would go? “Oh, without number. Whenever I was cruel or insensitive.” Has that been a theme? “Yes. Casual, focusing only on my own needs and requirements, yes. Inability to know that other people are truly alive as I am.”

Barthes, quoting Wahl:

This is what death is, most of all: everything that has been seen, will have been seen for nothing. Mourning over what we have perceived.

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Elsewhere

Good Jobbbbbbbbbbbbbb(+/-):

—Writing is a simulated conversation. You’re still alone. It’s masturbation that sometimes later gets projected onto the wall and then couples couple and copule beneath it.

—People making love while a porno plays on the TV.

—Right.

—I don’t think you’re listening to me.

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A few things:

1: Confidence, wit, interest zapped mightily by a nasty headcold. I’ve been listening to a lot of shit-talking rappers in attempts of some kind of transference which is going fine but is not doing anything for the size of my lymph nodes. They’re enormous. Bragworthy.

2: Somehow I made it this far not knowing that Pale Fire is funny. 

Conchologists among them can be counted on the fingers of one maimed hand. 

3: Newest goal is to write something that spans at least two pages so I can be personally aware that keeping things short is out of preference and not laziness. Something to look for in 4-8 weeks.

4: Swagger and action missing from previous thing. 

5, regarding 2: No? This?

Virgins have written some resplendent books.
Lovemaking is not everything. 

Conchology would be the study of mollusks, though it isn’t important.

6: Here are some Literary Virgins

7: Once my father dreamt every problem in the world was caused by sex.

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Not to cause any alarm

but there is a contestant on Make Me a Supermodel named Salome although the way the host pronounces her name is something like sal-OH-may or sal-OH-me which veers slightly closer to salami than to the the bearer of John the Baptist’s head.

“Salome,” answers the young man,
“I wanted them to bring me your head.”
       He said this jokingly.
And the next day one of her servants comes running,

carrying the blonde head of his beloved
on a golden tray.

-Cavafy, Salome

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Revisited

Griel Marcus on Astral Weeks: “You can hear these moments of invention and gasping for air, and you reach your hand and you close your fist and when you open your fist there’s a butterfly in it,” Marcus says. “There really was something there, but you couldn’t have seen it. You couldn’t have known.”

(Bangs’s was perfect, but this is nice too) 

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Onwards

It’s raining here. It’s good. Today I talked to a landlady, not my landlady, someone else’s– I’m still managing to not live somewhere– and she said when she moved here in the 70s things had gotten real bad and they were setting up fines for using too much water. Whatever apocalyptic language you want to use for California I’m going to believe. It doesn’t make sense to live here except yesterday when it did because it was warm, and February. 

At the Columbarium two weeks ago someone had left that e.e. cummings poem, the i carry your heart one, and the pang of embarrassment I felt for them is one of the most ridiculous impulses I’ve had for a while. I remember in 10th grade defending e.e. cummings because it was that first discovery of things defamiliarized, and thinking that poem with the warmth and crisp littleness would be the one to share forever. At some point e.e. cummings stops being the clearest representation of the sexiest thing ever, and thank god, thank god for the discovery of other poets and probably more importantly for actual sex which isn’t anything like a lot of uncapitalized things would have you believe. 

In 10th grade too I’d written a report on Mrs. Bridge, the first book I’d read about the devastating banality of suburbia and fear and being trapped and quiet desperation at its finest. We gave oral reports on these term papers, and my teacher asked if I recognized any of my mother in Mrs. Bridge at all and I’d said no, truthfully, but then had to nod yes when he asked if I recognized any of myself in her which is up in the top few moments of really sad things I’ve confessed to people I didn’t know. 

So it’s raining which here means intensely dangerous driving conditions and that whatever resevoir of manufactured worry gets indulged with Astral Weeks on repeat which someday may go the way of e.e. cummings and not be the most heartfelt sincere thing it is now, impossible to imagine at this point but it was the same way in 10th grade.  

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Time & the Internet

Some questions I’m likely unqualified to ask

1) Four Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness (via waxy)

If by some chance you haven’t seen this or don’t want to click through, this is a game you can only win if you are the only person in the world playing. You don’t have to do anything but open it, and if it runs on your computer for 4’33” while no one else anywhere opens it to play you win. 80% of the comments are to complain that this isn’t really a game: 

“Some refining time and a V2 may be more productive than trying to be the internet’s John Cale. Would love to see more strange ideas but as you try to outwierd yourself and your peers, don’t forget that people actually want to participate in the games they play.”

I think this person probably meant “the internet’s John Cage”, not Cale, though maybe not, who knows. I’m not sure how one becomes the internet’s anything. In any case, my favorite response thus far is this one here:

“It makes me feel a little bit sad.”

Because why? Because it’s lonely? Because it’s boring? Because you don’t do anything?  Shouldn’t just the possibility of the game produce an actual experience of total joy that you can, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, do something that absolutely no one is doing right now? Isn’t that actually the best idea ever? Proof of a unique experience? Natalie Portman’s approval?

2) Layer Tennis

I suppose a lot of Layer Tennis is supposed to be about design, but for me the best part of the whole thing is the idea of experiencing some of my favorite writers on the internet in something like real time:

The commentator, on the other hand, must not only familiarize him/herself with both participants, but also reply to all ten volleys immediately as they’re posted. That’s ten 3-ish-minute bursts of creativity, 1 minute of spell checking, and 11 minutes of panic attacks, plus research, translating latin, and making stuff up.”

People write and read online for a million reasons, but one obviously is the immediacy of it. In that case, though, I still don’t have an exact idea of how immediate it is: anything posted on the internet could have taken either seconds or years to write. There’s a time stamp on this post but I’ve also eaten a bowl of oatmeal and five raviolis between the time I started it and the time I wrote this sentence. 

Live blogging is the obvious exception. It also, usually, sucks. Layer Tennis is different because most of the commentators are well-known, internet-established writers, writing about immediate artistic activity. It is all kinds of interactive: the designs, the forums, the ability for the commenting to influence the art, etc. A lot of it is extremely good.  Not that all of it is of vastly high quality literary merit, but there’s good stuff there– funny, clever things. Funny, clever things I know were written in the fifteen minutes prior to me reading them, which would never be possible without a computer.

I have no desire to turn this into a post about books vs. the Kindle et al because god knows we’ve heard that before, and really I’m embarrassingly unqualified to talk about electronic literature considering the opportunities I’ve been exposed to, but experientially this is unendingly interesting. To like reading a book is a physical experience, obviously– “the physical condition of a project always tells us something of its life experience as a material object.” It’s Distorte’s experience of reading Rabbit, Run

“The book was in tatters when I began and as I progressed it came even more to pieces. It was obvious that no one would ever read this copy again. I felt like I was consuming it utterly, in the same way as in computer games, when you open a chest and a tome emerges to impart something before dissolving into sparkling dust.

The emotional response to the physical act of reading is very particular, and there is no need to rehash this when you can just go turn a page. But what about temporally? What if I’m getting a similar kind of joy from reading something I know is taking place in a period of time I have access to? Not a decade/year reference, but an actual fifteen-minute interval that I, similarly, just experienced. 

I mean look at this!

“…I’m going to hit the head.

[time passes]

OK I think I just puked up something I’m going to need later…”

Everyone who read this in real time was just there in the time it took to write “[time passes]” and reading “[time passes]” means you aren’t allowed to forget the importance of time to this current reading/writing experience, which itself is a real experience, one of time passing, which isn’t really that different from turning a page maybe? Proof of the passage of time through the experience of reading? Not only that, but proof of a shared experience of time with not only other readers but with the author himself?

***

So there you have it, vaguely formed thoughts on two experiences of time on the web, unique and shared. In one year I will likely be able to win Four Minutes and 33 Seconds every time I play, and this post does not mean that I will be reading your Grammy live blog. 

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The San Francisco Columbarium

There are not a lot of ways to leave your remains intact in San Francisco, legally. If you are a veteran, or a pet, maybe, but if that isn’t the case you can’t stay here: burials have been prohibited within the city of San Francisco for the last 107 years. Cremations, too, actually– there is no way to have your body cremated within the city’s boundaries, a San Francisco ordinance since 1910. A city-wide death ban seems to have that particular kind of foggy San Francisco romanticism, but it is, of course, a real estate matter: dead people don’t pay taxes, cemeteries take space. If you die here, you’ll likely be buried in the nearby town of Colma, a place with 1500 above ground residents and 1.5 million underground— an actual necropolis. Their city motto is the best of the whole country: “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”

The San Francisco Columbarium, built in 1897, is the only non-denominational burial place in the city of San Francisco with space left. After passing through various ownerships, the building was taken over by the Neptune Society in 1980 and Emmitt Watson was hired to clean up the place. When you go he’s still there. He sat me down across from him in the chairs, told me that the place was disgusting when he got there– a green slime over everything, rats and birds living inside– but that it was the process of cleaning up that let him learn about the people who kept their ashes there. He gave me a tour of the place, showed me the man who had his ashes stored in a Johnny Walker Red bottle, the one in the Chinese take-out box, the inside of a baseball. He knows the place, and the people, and will tell you genuinely that the job became his life.

When you leave the Columbarium he’ll give you a parting gift– mardi gras beads that hang from the walls of his office, maybe a remnant of his Louisiana heritage. He left at thirteen, he says, because he wasn’t going to drink from a different water fountain.

picture-13

“If you collect the sweat I’ve dropped in this building, you could flood San Francisco.”

The last thing the place is is morbid. Morbid is a disease word, unwholesome, neither of which death necessarily is. Emmitt is intent on making the Columbarium a place where people will want to come and stay. Columbaria, before they were homes to urns, were buildings of compartments for doves and pigeons, which isn’t that hard to imagine when you’re there.

(photo)

picture-4

Since the only funeral I can remember attending I’ve known I could never be buried anywhere because it is too weird to have a place where someone could come to stand over my bones. Cremation is the likely choice: my mother says she wants her ashes buried with a tree we’ve planted, so instead of visiting a tombstone and a plot of land we get to watch a growing thing. That’s a nice idea. I think for myself, if I could, I’d try to arrange some kind of viking funeral though I worry a little about the implied narcissism. But I like boats. It’s impossible for me to feel sorry for myself when I’m on a boat. The best way to be dead would be to be dead and not feeling sorry for yourself.

On the outside of the Columbarium is a stone with the words “In loving memory” and a name, where underneath the word “and…” is carved– the entirety of the who-else-and-what-else-and-what’s-next-and-who-cares of death, succinctly.

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15 Items or Less

From Stephen Fry’s podcast on language, which I mean I know but this is how I feel channeled through Mssr. Fry’s British accent:

Words are your birthright. Unlike music, painting, dance and raffia work you don’t have to be taught any part of language or buy any equipment to use it. All the power of it was in you from the moment the head of daddy’s little wiggler fused with the wall of mummy’s little bubble. So use it. 

When a person finds out somehow that I read books, they “he or she”, perhaps, is what I am going for here suddenly begin to make comments on how it makes them nervous to write me emails, afraid that misspellings or misused commas will deter me entirely from finding them interesting. This could not be further from the truth. I hold no strong opinions on grammar except for this one idea that it is completely contextual: if the idea is to convince someone to pay you bimonthly, use language correctly; if we’re discussing opinions on narwhals or writing blog posts by all means use both a colon and a semi-colon in one sentence.

Once this comment is present, however, I will become abnormally nervous about my own spelling and grammar and will grow to resent said person for the reluctant development of correct-usage-hyperawareness. No good comes from this, and I will become emotionally stunted, resulting in a solid handful of occurrences of complete email paralysis. I will blame you.

I imagine the laxity of my opinions comes from attending a performing arts magnet school in the early 90s, a time ripe for experimenting with whole language just before its downswing in popularity. I learned to write by doing it incorrectly, or “incorrectly,” and believe I owe every ounce of understanding just how remarkable language can be to this kind of pedagogy. Learning patterns before learning rules ingrains things like the way real people speak into your mind and makes language above all an experience, not a particularly constructed thing. That comes later, when you learn to use spelling and grammar to make the experience better. 

As this goes I will never, ever correct someone’s grammar in person because it is both embarrassing and entirely uninteresting. Exactly as he says in the podcast, there is no “right” or “wrong” way of speaking just as there is no “right” or “wrong” way of dressing. I become jealous of speech patterns in the exact way I become jealous of a nice coat, so I have no reason to take that from anyone. If I find your coat ugly or you have an inclination to use the phrase “Where you at?” repeatedly, do not consider me an obstacle. Mostly I am just for the using of words, whatever that means to anyone. 

* * *

When it starts with Sanskrit in a German accent

It eez vierd, no?, zat our leetle feet carry all our body

All I ever seem to want to talk about is our bodies, which gets boring, maybe, because it’s not really sexy at all but just weird, weird that all of myself is upright on two feet and it’s childish, I know, a little banal to speak like this, because everything is a miracle! Everything! Every(god man we get it) And the only reason I want to talk about it here, in my body, is because this is where it’s at its most immediate, but I only seem to really think about it sitting here in front of a screen which is a little like the year you realized that happiness is like ninety nine point nine percent choice, introducing all new levels of shame or guilt along with whatever good there was to it, and sad too because one day it will stop being miraculous and just be a burden, this thing that hurts a lot and aches and doesn’t work the way you want it to anymore. But whatever it comes down to it is weird, all of it, and it will be weird forever and just keep being weirder. And it’s going to be best to not just let it be weird, but be glad it is.

Happy New Year. 2009, everyone. 

 

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