Monday, July 25, 2016

Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance Stories

I was walking around Chelsea last week, letting the students run feral around this gallery district, and it was such a lovely day and there were so many hours left until I was set to meet them that I popped into a book store and perused with a commitment to find a good book to read. The last few weeks, as this blog can attest, have been a bit crazed and I was aching for something that would set my brain back into some intelligible alignment.

As my eyes hopped along the spines I stopped and plucked Lydia Davis’ Varieties of Disturbance Stories, (2007, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and thought this is just the thing. It is a collection of short stories, aphorisms and at times just a line or so. Davis is a writer’s writer. Many regard her highly and nobly and she is a bit of hard nut to crack even with all her popularity. She is a distinguished translator, notably French authors including Proust, and she is a professor and MacArthur winner as one would expect of someone such as her. All that aside, she is a writer that everyone should read, even if they might not enjoy it all too much.

As I sat on a bench, in a park, with the sun ridiculously dappling me with sunlight I began to read and it was exactly as the bookseller remarked at checkout – the perfect day to read Lydia Davis.

Later that night I kept reading and then continued to do so for the next few days. As I kept reading I would have moments of real enjoyment but then there were times were I would roll by eyes and flip to see how many pages were left in the already very short story. Davis as I said is the most qualified type of writer. This can be to a fault though. Her exactness and complete dominance of the structure of words and sentences is at moments surgically impressive but at others it makes you feel scolded and chained to formality. I think Davis herself must feel this because so much of her writing speaks directly about the topic of writing and its forms. She also obviously wants to release the noose of it by writing such rebellious one-liners.

Another thing that was enjoyable but at times distracting was the amount of voices in these collections of stories. As one knows, when one reads a voice resounds in your head that matches with what is written. Davis employs this with great skill at times, making you transfixed on the narrator but at others it feels as if you are listening to someone mimic someone else. There is a strange performance of caricature that feels disingenuous. But that can’t be faulted too much on the author, as these stories were meant to stand-alone. Together, they have this crowded feeling, of being bumped up on top of one another, but alas, this is necessary, especially if you do not have the desire to hold single pages at a time.

I know that any criticism of this book is probably my fault. I read too fast and am a greedy reader. I swallow things in whole bites versus nibbles and that would better serve this form of writing. In the end though, I have to say I did enjoy spending the last few days reading her work and for those that haven’t this is a good collection to whet your appetite for her oeuvre.

Below are a few (very short) works that I especially liked. Summer is the time to read ravenously. Enjoy and read as much as you are in the sun.

Dog and Me

An ant can look up at you, too, and even threaten you with its arms. Of course, my dog does not know that I am human, he sees me as dog, though I do not leap up at a fence. I am a strong dog. But I do not leave my mouth hanging open when I walk along. Even on a hot day, I do not leave my tongue hanging out. But I bark at him: “No! No!”

Idea for a Short Documentary Film

Representatives of different food products manufacturers try to open their own packaging.

How It Is Done

There is a description in a child’s science book of the act of love that makes it all quite clear and helps when one begins to forget. It starts with affection between a man and a woman. The blood goes to their genitals as they kiss and caress each other, this swelling creates a desire in these parts to be touched further, the man’s penis becomes larger and quite stiff and the woman’s vagina moist and slippery. The penis can now be pushed into the woman’s vagina and the parts move “comfortably and pleasantly” together until the man and woman reach orgasm, “not necessarily at the same time.” The article ends, however, with a cautionary emendation of the opening statement about affection: nowadays many people make love, it says, who do not love each other, or even have any affection for each other, and whether or not this is a good thing we do not yet know.

Suddenly Afraid

because she couldn’t write the name of what she was: a wa wam owm owamn womn

Monday, July 18, 2016

Thoughts On Things And Other Stuff

Hello there. It’s Monday yet again and I am on a lunch break between lectures to teens and while I scarf down some pre-maid sushi and drink some kombucha I will write up a post because ya, it’s another Monday.

There is a whole lot going on in the world (obvi) and in personal life so I don’t even know where to begin but I will just spew a bit. I am sorry that these past few posts have been literally the stupidest things ever but I honestly don’t have enough hours in my day the past few weeks/months to even think cogent thoughts. So stop reading now if you really can’t endure the idiocy that has become the state of this blog…For those still with me here is a mélange of thoughts on various stuff.

New York – As I mentioned last week having visitors come to New York for the first time from another country is super cute. Their excitement about the clichés and the realities of this city make you realize how amazing and dense this place is. Last night we were talking about the idea of loneliness and what that means in this city. I was saying how New York is a great place for this state because even if you feel lonely or need to be alone you can be and that the city adjusts and supports this. It can also compound it but here you can be surrounded at all times and be as connected or as disconnected as you desire or need. I think that is a real gift and something that makes New York have its energy and variety.

To Cool For School – This is a silly phrase but it is something that I say a lot. I say it referring to a type of person or group of people that act like they are on some other cusp, above others, in the way that they create their coteries and social interactions. It is so stupid. It is like seeing vanity and insecurity all balled up and in performative display where the audience is just a feed back loop of narcissism. I see this all the time in the art world. It’s like some form of currency but ya, it’s all fake, made up and useless. Witnessing this used to make me really annoyed and at moments pissed off but now I just can’t help but grin and bare it because it is actually so fucking stupid and not even worth the effort of trying to pop bubbles.

Introvert/Extrovert – Ya ya people like to talk in terms of if one is an introvert or extrovert and what that means. Being an introvert is of the moment more desired as it seems to reflect some sensitivity and demure classiness but ya who cares about any of it. All I know is that I realize after being social 24/7 for days, weeks on end that it has made my outsides thin and all I want to do is turtle into a shell. Does that mean I’m an introvert? Whatever. All I know is that alone time is as essential as a good night’s sleep.

Teenagers – As mentioned I’m working with teenagers for a few weeks and it is my first time being around them in years and years. What I have discovered is that they are really sharp and smart and have a self awareness that seems confounding. Also, wow, they are really confident. I doubt I was ever that way but then I do have a strange memory of thinking I knew it all once upon a time while now I feel like I don’t know anything, but in a good way. These groups of kids aren’t Millennials, they don’t have a name for the generation that they are yet but wow, cycle of life and stuff like that. Keeps going going and it’s great to see that they are as complex as they are even with all this digital flattening.

Tinder – Someone take my phone and throw it into the East River. But ya, it’s funny but Tinder is a go to topic that I have been discussing with friends for a bit now. For those that have never used it, it is this curious novelty. Those that do it’s a shared, bleek, fml, gahhhh condolence and story sharing setting. It feels less embarrassing overall though which is a bit of a relief but ya… Literally went of a Tinder date last week that lasted a mere 15 mins before I made my exit. Harsh, yes, but hey just because it’s the new normal doesn’t mean it has to be nice.

Netflix – Someone take my computer and throw it in the East River. I have been escaping reality by watching a series on Netflix called Grand Hotel. It’s a drama period set in Spain in the early 1900s. There are like 40+ episodes and they are each an hour long. I’m on episode ~32. Yes that’s 32 hours of soap opera like drama. In subtitles. Have I lost my mind? Yes. I have a tendency to do this, to rabbit hole in some sort of mindless vat of escapism. I also read fantasy so yeah, it’s a deeply rooted behavior. While I am spiraling down I feel a blank stimulation but it also makes me feel dumb, dumb, dumb. I promise myself I will stop and to read a theory book or something but then I’m like, wow, will to live = zero so yeah back to finding out about the devious deceptions of the Alarcon’s. Maybe in the future there will be a drug that will make this drive less but until then I will subterfuge my own intellect with insipid dramas.

Killing Cops – This insane reality is the reality we have created.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I’m So Busy I Forgot To Blog

GAHHhhhhhhhahhhhhhhhahahhhhh! That is the sound that my brain is making. I have only twice in the last ~5 years forgotten to blog on Mondays and those times I have literally been in another state or country. No excuses for me this time. I was in New York but I feel like I am in outer space.

I have been insanely busy the last few weeks and I am at one of my three jobs and have to work work work work work and then take my cat to get emergency surgery later today so this post will literally be just me filling up a page or so until I have to go back to multi-task a gazillion things.

One would think that mid July would be a time of respite but no. Not me, I somehow have managed to make my life a cluster fuck of social, personal, work, life mess. On top of all that I’ve been super bad at the basic life stuff like eating and sleeping and regular body maintenance. I’ve made myself dinner maybe twice in the last two months. The concept of painting my nails or shaving my legs seems so extra and bleek. I have been socializing so much for work and personal life that I have literally had a least one drink (more like four) every day for the past three weeks. 

I am pickled and I’m at the point where I’m not sure if I know how to boil an egg anymore.

But it’s not all that bad. I have currently three house guests in my apartment which is actually fun. It’s lovely to have friends old and new to visit especially if it is their first time in New York. I feel like an ambassador of sorts and it makes me remember why I love this city in the first place.

Amidst all this I have been trying to construct some sort of a love life. It’s a bit of a disaster. It’s like nailing rotting planks of wood to create a leaking raft but hey, better that then drowning in a pool of self-pity. Starting things, ending things, or just bopping along is so tiring! I’m literally at the point where the next decent, funny, smart guy that comes in arm length I want to grab and suggest we go to City Hall and get married and call it a day. But alas, that won’t happen. My arms are too tired to even reach out.

Art. I feel eye ball deep in it but also so brain dead that I can’t even begin to think more then thoughts like, “pretty” “stupid” “why.”  But yes, it’s there and teaching 16-18 year olds how to think about art and aesthetics is literally the most bizarre thing to do. I’m not sure I even knew the word aesthetics at age 16. I was/am still a rube.

So this post is pretty much shit and I’m sorry that I am even writing this and I’m sorry that some of you are actually even reading this so I’ll say Bye-Bye now and get back to work.

Hopefully, if there is any mercy in this world, next week I’ll have some balance or even the ability to remember what day of the week it is and I’ll do a proper post with some actual thoughts.

Till then say a prayer for me and I hope you aren’t as spazzed out as I am.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Fourth of July

I am sitting here at 10:30pm on July fourth in the year two thousand and sixteen. I am drinking some Sol in a small tumbler cup and through my curtains the neighborhood rooftops (I live in Bushwick) are still igniting the sky with fireworks.

It is the fourth of July and in America that is our independence day. It is a funny sort of holiday. It is for everyone and it has customs that seems to stick even in the face of the cliché and in the disparities of those who celebrate it.

It is the type of day in which you feel both obligated and relieved that you can participate in forms of recreation and signifiers that make you feel “American” and somehow a part of the a part-ness which surrounds you. In that vain I went to the beach today with friends. It was a perfect New York beach day. No traffic, lots of sun, clean water (which is very rare) and a collection of young and old beautiful bodies wanting to do the very same thing.

Hours laying on the sand in the sun and treating your body to an ancient but cheap form of spa treatment of salt and sand exfoliation leaves one feeling restive but sleepy. You look at the people around you. You look at your friends. You look at the ocean and you think ‘yes’ but also that ‘yes’ feels familiar and distant all at the same time. Or perhaps that’s just me. To be in the middle of a form of story feels too trite and sharp at the edges.

This day feels like other days, especially for someone like me who has a privileged joie de vivre, but then you remember that it is a holiday. Most people do not have off on Mondays and most people don’t make it a point to lie about and wear so much red white and blue.

Then evening comes and there are the barbecues. Those attended and those longingly observed. You see families, neighbors, groups of friends, commencing at fenced in cement allotments where a grill, bags of buns, plastic everything and the smoky iridescence of charred flesh makes you both salivate and queasy.

Then the darkness comes and the fireworks are to begin. I felt weary from just returning from a weekend in the Midwest (Milwaukee and Wisconsin) and my insides felt bleached out and raw from all of the dairy; cheese curds, ranch dressing, and cheese smeared everything. Plus the dose of belting sun and sand (and also my own escapist voyeurism of Spanish murder mystery dramas) left me unable to even contemplate finding an ‘ideal’ place to watch the fireworks.

Instead I stayed near to home on a rooftop and tried to preen to the East River to see the big shebang. I could see it, but barely. But that was okay because all around me was the neighborhood flare. Rooftops and street intersections in 360-degree turns were a bedlam of provincial might. Each area and display matching, topping, and competing with the next block, the next roof, the next small enclave.

There was a feeling of owning not only the streets but the sky. The displays were modest to impressive. The nearness, the danger, the smell of gunfire and sulfur and the closeness of these displays reminded me why I love fireworks in the first place. That seconds away from calamity that happens so quickly that you forget your body for a few seconds.

Fireworks are fire flowers. They bloom. You try to name them. Remember them and the ones you like linger with you and stay in your retinas like a song you forgot you loved. They are obviously like bombs, gunshots, a type of violence that most of us in our lives have luckily not had to endure but it literally triggers our animal brain to a terrified but also seduced state of fear, recollection and desire.

There is a feeling of anarchy, or at least a hint of it. This was probably more palpable because Bushwick is still predominantly Hispanic and the traditions of homelands concentrated here are still lived daily. Young people, mostly male, lighting off fuse after fuse of obviously illegal fireworks in the middle of intersections, on blocked zoned rooftops and also cycling down on sparkling, flaming makeshift shrines of fire. All this without a cop in sight. For this evening the night, the streets and the roofs belong to not the state but the people who are brave enough to revel against the blind eye.

As I was walking home and a blast exploded less then ten feet from me and left my heart racing in animal fear and my ears dull and muted by the blast I was shocked out my romantic revelry. ‘That thing could have fucking killed me’ was all I was thinking. And that made me aware of the truth to the danger of it all. But then I walked further and my ears could hear again and my heart stopped thumping involuntarily through my chest and I looked up at the sky. You can’t see the sky very well in places like Bushwick, in New York in general. But what you can see sometimes is the beautiful insanity of it and the need, and demand for some sanctified madness and beauty.