28 May 2009
Writing/reading is not a social art like, say, dance or music. It’s not even a publicly displayed art, like painting. Writers very rarely enjoy an audience in the flesh-and-blood assembly-of-people sense of the word. For us, feedback trickles in little by little, if at all, because editors are usually too busy to tell you what they think unless they plan to publish your work.
I was thinking about this problem tonight as I watched So You Think You Can Dance. The show is in its tryout episodes, where dancers audition for a spot on the real show. Even if you’ve never watched SYTYCD, you’ve probably seen a similar ghastly process take place on shows like American Idol. There are two types of contestants in this phase: super-talented showoffs who are awesome and dumpy deviants in ill-fitting clothes who are totally out of touch with reality. The deviants walk out on stage and dance their fucking hearts out, and then the judges crack wise and make them feel small. Some people think it’s mean, and some people think it’s entertaining; I guess I think it’s both but that it’s also generally for the best because clearly these people need to let the dream die.
The thing that always gets me when I’m watching the delusional contestants cry bitter tears after they are rejected is that they believed in their own talent so hard that they were willing to stand in a two-day-long line to show the world their stuff. I guess the lesson is that you can’t really know if you’re good at something until some stranger with no empathy or compassion judges your work. Maybe that’s why they say you should pursue your art out of love—then, when some meanie says, “So, you think you can dance? I’m afraid that is not in fact the case.” you can reply, “Oh well, at least I had fun.”
I think that anyone who works in the arts has moments when they worry they’ve misjudged their own level of competence. I was plagued by my own doubts just the other day when I was flipping through one of my Moleskine notebooks, which I carry around everywhere. I use them to record all sorts of thoughts (ideas, observations, shopping lists, etc.), and while doing so usually makes me feel a little bit douchey, the Moleskines have been a wonderful aid because I have an unreliable memory.
So anyway I was paging through one of these notebooks and generally admiring all my deep thoughts and perceptive observations until I came to the page where I had written “Why are pets so sleepy?” like it was the philosophic question of our age. It was like I was outside of my body, watching myself flail around a stage in leggings—nay, hot pants—thinking god, is that person (i.e., me) actually retarded or is she just a really terrible dancer? Because you and I (heartless bastards that we are) both know that sleepy pets aren’t exactly fodder for my opus, or even for my blog.
Now, all of that being said, I’m awfully fond of sleepy animals, as evidenced by my recent trip to the Philadelphia Zoo:
I love watching dangerous animals nap because they really do look like sweet pets that ate a little too much for dinner. The animals at this zoo were particularly awesome, from the Muppet-like orangutans that live like hobos in a room strewn with old blankets and cardboard boxes, to the winsome slow loris, a tiny beastie that loves nothing more than a good tickling. I also liked this shy elephant that hid behind a column to avoid the unwanted spray of the zookeeper’s hose:
and this weird and wonderful sloth bear, who might be my new favorite animal:
Unfortunately, this zoo also harbored one of my most feared foes, the peacock. At first, I thought they were housed with the prairie dogs, who just stand around being adorable in the midst of terror:
But a few minutes later, I came to realize the peacocks were roaming around that zoo willy-nilly. We’d be walking along the path when one would jump out in front of us like a flamboyant highwayman and let loose with a blood-curdling shriek. Sometimes we’d hear one in the distance and my sister would look at me with concern and say, “We’d better keep moving” like we were in Jurassic Park or a Cormac McCarthy novel or something.
As my regular readers surely know, the only thing I fear more than peacocks is wild turkeys, which I also saw while I was visiting my sister. This sighting was very exciting from the confines of my sister’s car, but it was also disturbing since I had just studied a turkey’s red drippy burn victim head up-close from outside its pen at the zoo. There were three of them—huge ones—eating something (corn? wheat? people?) in a field one rainy Tuesday afternoon. I made my sister drive by like ten times so I could take pictures but since I’m a numb-numb all I got was around a dozen pictures of blurry grass and a couple of streaky lumbering turkeys:
I sort of like these pictures, though, because blurry turkeys have a certain nightmarish symbolic quality that, to me, really captures their menace.
24 May 2009
Family arrives for sister’s graduation from seminary school.
Sister H pulls me aside for an emergency powwow. Topic: mom’s “dressed in the dark” ensemble, featuring a seersucker jacket over a black formal sparkle sweater.
Recognize the familiar pangs of suicidal ideation as I become aware of the yin-yang symbols on Uncle C’s tie.
H’s baccalaureate service begins. Begin to feel uneasy upon realizing, like, half the students are from Korea or Africa. Contemplate the fraught relationship between gruel and Jesus.
African student delivers some Bible verse in click-click dialect. Sneak a look at my (racist) dad to see if he’s blown a gasket.
Irony alert! The choir sings a charming song about how all gods are fake...except theirs. Then again, I can see how the gruel-bearing God might seem more real than, say, poop-sculpture gods.
Sneak another look at dad when it becomes clear that what we’re hearing is a gospel-style call-and-response sermon. Has he stroked out or is he taking a nap? Only time will tell.
Begin laughing inappropriately when someone in the audience launches into an Herbal Essences-style orgasmic series of oh-yes-yeses. Regret sitting in the front row.
Laugh harder when mom pinches my shoulder with her talon nails. Reread the cult song lyrics to regain composure.
Service concludes with Lion King-style worship song. Paul Simon look-alike behind me starts clapping and singing like it’s his job.
Scandal alert! Over dinner, dad tells me, apropos of nothing, that Uncle S was a convicted rapist.
H requests special morning time Bitter Strumpets as phase one of her new “drink away the family” initiative. Served with a coffee sidecar.
Pre-graduation family photo time! There are a few really nice ones where H says I look like Powder.
Dad pulls me aside for an emergency powwow before the ceremony begins. Topic: how much he hates Uncle C.
Uncle C sings choir-only hymn in full voice in an otherwise silent audience.
The graduates receive their hard-earned degrees!
Dad leans over mom to make a culturally insensitive comment when a “foreigner’s” one-word name is announced.
President reads a lengthy excerpt from the school’s mission statement. Is it more or less riveting than the hour-long list of names we just heard? Hard to say.
After the ceremony, we learn that we were sitting right in front of the foreigner’s 130-year-old adopted grandma, who told Uncle C all about his indigenous tribe. Uh-oh!
Back at the hotel, Uncle C makes a suspicious phone call to ask maintenance for a plunger. He explains he has stopped up the toilet with his “big b.m.” from earlier that afternoon. Excuse myself to take notes for blog entry.
Aunt C launches into an hour’s worth of champagne toasts.
Dad inadvertently pours glass of champagne in his salad; eats it anyway.
09 May 2009
I thought he was just talking crazy until I realized we were both wearing sunglasses even though we were on an underground train.
Hee, I thought, the junkie made a little joke. Usually they’re awfully serious.
Funny, too, he used that as a conversation starter, given the main reason I wear sunglasses on the train is so the deviants won’t talk to me. Reminded of this, I looked out the window, aloof.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” he said. “I’m from Nashville, where people actually talk to each other.”
“I’m from Tennessee, too,” I replied, turning to him. The South is one of my favorite topics of conversation.
“No way!” said the junkie. “Whereabouts?”
I told him.
“Is that northeast Tennessee? I know a guy there but I’m not going to say his name because if you know him, that would be way too weird.”
“Well, look at you, acting like you’ve always lived in Chicago,” he said. “And here we are, just a couple of Tennessee motherfuckers.”
“Oh no, I was like this in Tennessee, too,” I explained.
“What are you, a recluse? That’s good! You won’t ever get heartbroken or mugged or shot.”
“All the usual,” I said noncommittally. Recluse or not, I’ve been most of those things.
As we sat there chatting like Tennessee motherfuckers, I learned a lot about my new friend. He told me all about his band, which is comprised mostly of famous people, including some guy from Kings of Leon. He told me about how all the other guys in Kings of Leon are pot-smoking assholes. He also told me about his “band friends,” which include Of Montreal, Yo La Tengo, and Kevin Shields (which is, coincidentally, not unlike like the fantasy life I’d dream up for myself if I, too, smoked crack).
And then, in the middle of a story about leaving his jacket on the train (which, incidentally, had $300 cash in the left pocket), he mentioned the heart attack he had last week more casually than you might describe, say, what you had for lunch.
“You should never carry that much cash,” I advised—a little tip on how to make it here in the big city, one country bumpkin to another.
06 May 2009
H found herself rethinking her position, though, when a colleague told her about his Twitter account. She was charmed by the idea, but her longing to compose zippy tweets of her own was at odds with her deep reluctance to, you know, join the rest of us in the twenty-first century.
So now, as a compromise with herself, she has taken to following any witty or insightful comments she makes in conversation with her boyfriend with a little “tweet” for emphasis, as in:
Blah blah blah [insert pithy observation here]—tweet!
“It’s a way to show that you really stand behind what you’re saying,” she explained, “sort of like a postmodern holla…at yourself.”
I think my sister is an excellent (real) Twitter candidate because she leads such a colorful life. Just this week, she was mauled by one of her patients (“Violent Tendencies” Vivian) at the state bin where she works. (I have long begged her to write a guest column about binners for this blog, to no avail.) Also, the Princeton area is evidently teeming with wildlife threats, including my number one nemesis, the wild turkey, and a wide selection of birds of prey. Once, when she was watching a squirrel frolic on her back porch, a hawk swooped down out of nowhere, clutched the squirrel in its talons, and took off like a kidnapper—and if that’s not fodder for Twitter, I don’t know what is.
Quality Tweets, as you have no doubt observed, are incredibly rare. It’s an art form that combines the aphoristic verve of Oscar Wilde with the comedian’s eye for the mirthful mundane. And while it’s sort of hilarious to watch celebrity halfwits try to figure out what Twitter is all about, the truth is that the world would be a better place without one million-plus people receiving misspelled missives from the likes of Ashton Kutcher, e.g.,
based on your insightful replys it doesnt matter who U R where UR from what U do we all fight similar demons.good 2 know we r in this 2tgthr
In the words of my idol, Jacob Clifton, fucking gag me. The last thing society needs is a constant stream of half-formed platitudes. It’s like viral retardation.
That said, there are a few Twitter practitioners who are actually worth following. I myself have found exactly two, John Roderick and Evany Thomas, who delight me on a daily basis. Clever swine!