Monday, September 26, 2005

Almost Famous

Today I was in the Writing Center perusing magazines as I waited for my class to start. I picked up Spin and saw Death Cab For Cutie on the cover. Immediately I heard in my head the lyrics for "Cover of the Rolling Stone." You know, it goes: Rolling Stone, gonna get my picture on the cover. Stone, gonna buy five copies for my mother.
This was prompted by the fact that a guy I used to work with, Nick Harmer, is in DCFC. He was the Music Director and I was a lowly DJ at Western Washington University's college radio station, KUGS. My friend Alison, co-host with me of "The Broadcast," always said Nick would be a rock star. He just looked like a rock star. He was cute, with a little boy/boy next door face. He seemed sweet. We went to their first show at a bar in Bellingham, The 3B, and after the show he practically ran out. He wasn't 21 yet and he was still shy. Now he's 30, a little chubby, and he's an indie rock star. The last time I saw him he was sitting outside a famous Bellingham eatery with Ben, the lead singer of DCFC. He told me he had just quit his job, managing a Blockbuster or something, and that they were "doing the band thing." I pretty much knew he was going to be a rock star. I should have gotten his autograph.
Seeing him on the cover of Spin made me muse on the trajectory of fame, and how our paths intersect with those of others. It also reminded me that I see a good friend of mine for the dorms at University of Oregon, Marc, on TV occasionally. I first saw him in Fred Meyer. He was on a Nike poster hanging from the ceiling. Then he was in one of those Valentine Hallmark ads with the magnetic bears. And then he was in a MGD commercial, the one where the woman tells her boyfriend (he's the boyfriend!) that her roommate is coming home and when he goes to the fridge to get a beer he sees the picture of the roommate and she's a hottie. He smiles and grabs three beers (implied threesome). Funny thing, though: he's gay. One of my best friends in college (a man) was in love with him. He was also in a Honda commercial and currently he's in a Taco Bell commercial. When we lived in the dorms together, I used to borrow his Benneton rugby shirts (green and white stripes). I still have a note he left on my door in the dorms. It's a cartoon he drew of himself, with severe cheek bones and hair made entirely of ninety-degree angles. He looks like Grace Jones.
Ahh! Those were the 80s!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

"To generalize is to be an idiot"

We can thank William Blake for today's title. I came across this gem in the reading for my Theory course. It seemed to intersect nicely with my complaint about the movie "We Don't Live Here Anymore." In another essay, Bernard Paris, in response to Wayne Booth's comment that Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur "does, indeed, lead us to experience intensely the sensations and emotions of a homicidal maniac. But is this really what we go to literature for?" answers "Yes." Paris's comment relates to a few of my complaints about the movie, and directly addresses Sleepy E's comment that characters do not need to be sympathetic in order to elicit our interest.
I agree both with Sleepy E and Bernard Paris. I do not need to like a character in order to be interested in his or her view of the world. In fact, sometimes I sympathize with a character more if he/she is NOT like me. I want to read a book that enlarges rather than diminishes my view of the world. I want my movies to do this too. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" did not enlarge my view of the world. Rather, it diminished it. To me the movie said "people are shitty. They do shitty things to each other. They pontificate on adultery and the nature of the conjugal contract." As Sleepy E points out, the Jason Patric character is not sympathetic. In fact, he is disgusting. But, he is morally and mentally complex. He's not simply "evil" or a placeholder for the "villian" function in the movie. Rather, he is evil, but in a complex way that is not easily grasped. He also, as we see in the end, seems to have some desirable quality that is also not easily named. He may be an asshole, but he's a decisive asshole, which seems preferable to the waffling banality of the other male characters.
My point is: the particular, the unique, the individual, the idiosyncratic makes great literature. The general is, as Blake so succintly notes, for idiots.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why Should I Care?

Over the weekend, MB and I watched "We Don't Live Here Anymore," a film that was featured at Sundance last year. Or sometime. Anyway, it is based on two short stories by Andre Dubus. I bought his selected short stories awhile ago, but I have to admit that it has been slow going. Reading a bunch of his stories in a row is like walking over cut glass in bare feet. I might have to do it in order to get across the street, but do I want to do it? Would I choose to do it? Why would I do it?
The movie was a depressing assortment of characters without motivations or qualms or guilt. Only Terry (Laura Dern) was at all sympathetic, because she didn't want to have an affair, she just wanted to have sex. I love Mark Ruffalo and Peter Krause, but by the end of the movie I just wanted them both to shut up. If I were married to one of them, I'd stick his jeans in the washer with all his underwear, and then I'd leave him. These men were pathetic. Did I mention they were both college professors?
In any case, it made me think again about Dubus's short stories. They contain characters who are so depressed and down trodden and without hope. What's the point? I found myself wanting there to be a big train wreck so the movie would be over. Then I went back and started reading "Adultery" one of the stories the movie was based on. It was totally different of course, but it had the same thematic concerns.
My question is: Why should I care? It's probaby sacrilege to say, but Dubus seems to fetishize the dark aspects of his characters. Unlike Carver, who I think is sympathetic to his characters and more often than not gave them some kind of hope, even if it was only the alcoholic kind, Dubus seems to be making a negative statement about the human condition.
It reminded me of a workshop I took. We had to read "Long Days Journey into Night." At some point I said, "What's the problem? They're all addicts." The teacher made the case that it was more complex than that, that the play was about the intertwining needs of the characters.
Sometimes, I think, it really is simple. The characters are alcoholics. So what? Why should I care? I think it's the job of the movie director or the short story writer to make me care. And if I don't care by the time it's over, has the artist done his job?

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Spiderman Pecuter

On Saturday, Middlebrow and Son attended the Avenues Street Fair and Son entered a drawing for a Spiderman Computer. When they got home, he told me all about it and asked when the lady was going to call about the "pecuter." He was sure, certain!, that he was going to win. In his view, all he had to do was fill out the paper and the prize was his.
About 8 o'clock that night, the phone rang. It was the woman from the Avenues street fair. Son had won the computer! She asked to talk to him, and after he got off the phone, he said, "See Mom? I told you I was going to win!" I informed him that it is not usual to win the first and only drawing you had ever entered. I, myself, have only ever won one drawing, for a sweatsuit, in 7th grade after I had participated in a Walkathon.
The nice couple brought the computer over, and after I freed it from its packaging, Son played with it. He now calls it his "Spiderman Laptop." It has letters in alphabetical order and different games, such as identifying rhymes and finding the missing letter in words. It took awhile, but I finally got him to close the laptop and put it away.
When I tucked him into bed, he said, "It's a new life. It's my fourth life, because I'm four. And when I'm five, I'll have a fifth life. If I get something new."
So begins Son's new life. He's learned an important lesson: milestones in life are marked by the acquistion of new consumer goods. Long Live the Spiderman Laptop!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Wherein I Jump on the Google Poetry Bandwagon

Donald Trump: Luddite Boy Scout

Dawns the new era when the Boy Scout
Motto "Be Prepared" is, for example,
a luddite described as having more than a color TV

Sad: An electrical accident at the Boy Scout
Jamboree in Virginia has killed four.
Call me old-fashioned, call me a Luddite, I don’t care.

Whether You are a technophile or neo-luddite or if you are (choose one):
1) Donald Trump
2) Richard Branson
3) Martha Stewart
4) Bill Gates
5) Oprah

It's a tough decision to make.
Or, if Trump was a boy scout
before he (never) went to Vietnam

Or if he was a cat or a hooker or a Girl Scout
Cookie. Donald Trump wants to fire you.
Donald Trump wants to. . .

Listen: Even Donald Trump is complaining. Is this Luddite
environmentalism? Is this positive thinking?
Or a gimmick? Like a new breakfast cereal or a press conference.

Donald Trump eats this way, chews this way,
Head in the sand, sad, a Luddite, oh—
He’s my boy, Scout, he’s a mogul.

Visit Google Poetry. Make your own poem!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Running: A Consideration

Running is a solitary act. Even when running beside my friend, I am alone in my pain, alone with my aching knees and my tingling feet. I run first and foremost in my head, perhaps in my solitary consciousness, alone with my thoughts and my doubts. But when running alone, with my friend, I run, somehow, through the doubts and the pain to the end, wherever that is, wherever I have decided beforehand to stop. Though I am tired and thirsty, though I swear in my mind at the lack of water, and rethink everything I ate or drank the day before, I finish.
I don't even like running. Really. But somehow, despite that, or perhaps because of it, I ran 13 miles.
Once, not too long ago, when I was watching TV and there was a guy in running shoes and shorts and a T-shirt, I felt a rev in my body, a physical reaction that said, "Run!"
Today, while doing my "recovery" workout, I wanted to get off the damn bike and onto the treadmill. For once, I considered my knees and did not run.
But I can see now, I can understand in my fundamental human condition, why people run, and why I know for certain that I will run again. Maybe not 13 miles, but I will run.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Results of Guilt and Shame

Signifying Nothing has shamed me into posting. I admit, my last two posts were about running, and it had been awhile since I posted (more than a week). The half-marathon is Sunday, and then I will have no more to say about running.
I have been silent as a result of the beginning of school. Between figuring out a series of "play-dates" (which is really just a mom-friendly term for "Will you take care of my son while I work?") for Son and figuring out how both Middlebrow and I are going to get to and from school with one car, one bike, the bus and Trax, I have not had much time for contemplating the meaning of life or the status of my imaginative life. Perhaps my imaginative life has no status at present.
I fear I am beginning to exist in Theory World, where words have only contingent meaning. "When you say 'author'" I say to my students, "do you mean 'author' or do you mean 'critic'?" They stare at me blankly. "Are you talking about the 'author function'?" I gave them the whole "Third Bed" speech, and I was happy that I could draw a little stick bed on the board and share with them my prodigious artistic talent. But then I realized I had probably confused them with my picture of the bed, so today I had to revise my speech and draw a bed to represent the bed, and then a bed inside a picture frame to represent representation. You can see why I am overusing quotation marks in my post. "Do you mean 'representation' or Representation?" Soon I will be unable to talk. I will be silent, like the Urn, but I will know everything about Truth and Beauty.