The school of life

I used to always get sort of cagey when somebody asked me "What did you do this weekend?" or "What have you been up to?" or "What's new?" because usually the answer is "nothing." Not literally "nothing," because everything is something, but nothing I deem worthy of recounting for the edification of others' lackadaisical curiosity (outside of this riveting blogspace, yo). It's not news that from an external perspective my life is a total snore, and I used to feel guilty about that. Or not so much guilty as lame. Look at where I live and how exciting that should be 24 hours a day! Except it isn't. And I don't want it to be; 24-hour-a-day excitement is probably my worst nightmare. I would be dead within 14 hours. And it only recently occurred to me that this is fine (not the dead part); it's fine if my life is boring to others. "Is my life boring to others" is not a question I need to spend even a second of my own boring time pondering. Nobody has to like my life but me. Nobody gets to have an opinion on how it takes me three hours to read the paper because I'm also watching TV and typing on this laptop and dialing up Youtubes and have zero other ambitions for the day. I don't have to wait for anybody's say-so on my business. And maybe you've known about this trick for decades, but for me it was very freeing, that knowledge. I am now free.

On James Salter

When I asked him about his detached narrative style he responded, "I have never written a book in the first person that I can think of and I think that is a rich field of opportunity for writers. Philip Roth is an example; it is too late for me to start. It is not that I can't do it, I never felt impelled to do it. Speaking of it as a gauge of temperament, I suppose I tend towards the cool side and perhaps my writing tends to the cool side as well. I do not mean anything judgmental by that. I think the writing is tempered with not what I call a pitiless eye, but an eye that is not clouded with sentiment."

From Light Years:

There is no happiness like this happiness: quiet mornings, light from the river, the weekend ahead. They lived a Russian life, a rich life, interwoven, in which the misfortune of one, a failure, illness, would stagger them all. It was like a garment, this life. Its beauty was outside, its warmth within.

From Burning the Days:

I like men who have known the best and the worst, whose life has been anything but a smooth trip. Storms have battered them, they have lain, sometimes for months on end, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. It has not all been tinkling; there have been grand chords.

From The Paris Review:

To write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.

Cool, unsentimental, detached, removed, reserved: adore. I adored him. He was, and is, my favorite Voice of Men.

+ James Salter dies at 90


Recent moviegoing experiences

I'm four weeks into my cool new summer routine of seeing a movie in an actual movie theater every weekend instead of sitting in my apartment cursing about the weather. So far I've seen Pitch Perfect, Iris, Mad Max: Fury Road, and now SPY. Out of all of them Mad Max was my fav, because it's wildly inventive and expertly made and I had no clue what was happening most of the time yet that had zero impact on my enjoyment of the film. It felt like a pure experience, somehow, just adrenaline and noise and confusion and the magical combo of surly Tom Hardy and an even surlier Charlize Theron, who uses axle grease for makeup/war paint and made me feel when I left the theater that I could be anybody and do anything. I stopped short of setting anything aflame but strode home like a real cock o' the walk that day. The first female character who ever made me believe such a thing was Princess Leia, when I was seven years old and Star Wars was released. It's a powerful thing to give a kid (or adult), that sense of wide possibility and endless confidence that you can almost literally feel driving up through the ground into your feet, even if it lasts just the amount of time it takes to walk 20 blocks or approximately one city mile. In my case about 20 minutes, give or take, depending on how well or poorly pedestrian traffic is flowing and whether or not I check in at Gray's Papaya for a hot dog. There's some complicated math involved.

Anyway, SPY. Whilst I was waiting in the snack line (peanut M&Ms) I heard the guy behind the counter tell another customer that Paul Feig had been in earlier that day to check out a screening. Paul Feig!! I knew this was extra special, me and Paul Feig seeing his movie in the same theater on the same day. I patted myself on the back for being so proactive and for once in step with the zeitgeist, since that's not my usual style at all. I usually don't catch up with things until long after the circus has left town. The theater at 4:00 was packed with adults, a good mixture of ladies and gents, not seeming to fall too heavily one way or the other, but it's the first movie I can remember sitting through where I could hear women laughing as loudly as the men. Historically the only times women are louder than men in public is when they comprise the studio audience of some raucous daytime talk show or if the movie is a "women's picture"; i.e., weepie. I myself have contributed more than a fair share of extremely vocal sobbing in movie theaters over the years, since I'm such a deep and sensitive soul. But I strolled home after SPY with that sound still ringing in my ears and felt equally powerful just for the memory of all of these women yukking it up around me, like real proud motherfucking maniacs, and it made me think maybe things are on the right track for a change. No doubt somewhere trouble was brewing, but I was immune.

p.s. I wrote this whole post on a phone, another new thing I'm attempting this summer. Look at me, breaking all this ground.

Buckles @ Joe's Pub

There's a point during every Buckles performance where while she's singing a particularly emotionally heightened note she'll pull the microphone away from her face and let the full force of that voice come at you, no holds barred, and in a smallish, cabaret-type room with good acoustics it has the effect of making her sound even louder without amplification than she does with, and thus it's a little like being hit straight-on in the sternum with a ball-peen hammer. It's a bit of a showy move but not overly so, since she doesn't do it all that often and knows by instinct where it's needed and how much of it you (we) the audience can handle. Just a second or two of this raw steel sound and that thrilling *ping* *ping* *ping* right there and then before you know it it's over. Boy is it something.

Last night for the encore she did "I'm Still Here," which she dedicated to our pal Stritchie, and while we were all on our feet clapping our heads off SarahB said "What do you follow that with?" and I whispered "Mary Chapin Carpenter" hopefully, because Betty singing MCC is one of my favorite combos in the world. But then she did something possibly even better, which was "Both Sides Now," and it was both clear-eyed and rueful, the way Joni herself sings it on that circa 2000 recording, which I was first introduced to by Steve Dahl on WCKG—I still remember the exact bridge I was stuck on in traffic after work when he played it—and it was so many things coming at me at once that every little piece of my heart just broke apart and then stitched itself up again with joy.

And that in a nutshell is why I love Betty Buckley. The End.

“Here’s some whys and wherefores”

Say no to safety. Say yes to adventure. We’ll all be dead soon. It’ll be fine.
— The Concessionist @ The Awl

I’m into life advice from internet strangers that (a) is obviously not a deep thought but seems like a deep thought because someone on the internet stated it in a gently authoritative manner, and (b) reinforces a universal theme that ultimately boils down to, Chin up, buster. It reminds me of when I lived in Chicago and something would go wrong with my car and I would immediately get on the horn to my father, who lived 3+ hours away, and after listening to me cry for a minute he would always say, with the most immense patience, since I was his only daughter and patience was his job, “Well what do you expect me to do about it?”


Dream house: wee little glow shed

This itty bitty house

comes with its own moose

and glows in the dark.

From A Glow in the Desert @ the New York Times: the whole point of the enterprise is sustainable, off-the-grid living, but—non-news flash to my many fans/knife to the heart for my mother—I like this part best:

Mr. Wells, a sociable and cheerful host, is more than content to be living alone.

"I've been single for so long," he said. "I can't imagine not being single. The thought of compromising my day doesn't appeal to me; I don't care what the benefits are."

All photos by Tony Cenicola.


Of note this week

I learned the word bro/brah from my boss, who's up on trendy language markers. We were convening at a mid-workday bridal shower (crepe cake and sparkling cider were served) and she was describing the crowd at a concert the night before; I immediately pictured the mansiere but she followed up later with clarifying hyperlink references for the benefit of us squares. Turns out this is a subspecies of bros known previously to me as meatheads, and I do appreciate the categorical nuance; i.e., more coastal surfing, less Midwestern cow tipping. I get that labels are fluid and frequently misapplied but am inordinately fond of sorting by adopted group behaviors that aren't class or income based. See also: your are miss informed.

The phrase "carb bomb" is easy to mishear. I'm not saying don't use it—free speech, etc.—only proceed with caution re: diction as a courtesy for your listener. Anonymous tip.

If you dream of living/eating in Italy. Sadly I'm more the kind of person who wishes she dreamed of living/eating in Italy, but that's between me & my psyche.

I went with a friend to see this play about Christian spankers Thursday night and during dinner we were talking about childhood dreams and what we wanted to be when we grew up. I couldn't think of anything specific, which was a matter of personal concern until it occurred to me that I grew up dreaming of being actual people and not of career paths. Maybe that's weird but I remain the only person whose head I've lived inside of, so on this one I refuse to self-judge. Anyway, at various stages of personal evolution I wanted to be Chris Evert(-Lloyd), Mary Lou Retton, Dorothy Hamill, Mary Ingalls, Jo March, Laura Holt, Princess Leia, Sabrina Duncan, my second grade teacher Miss Nolan, or Natalie Wood. None of which came to pass, in case you were wondering, which is how I wound up living the dream of automotive marketing.

p.s. Christian spanking is a real thing. Obviously!

Speaking of religions, here's where I tell you to go read this new piece on Kris Jenner and this older piece on Kim Kardashian. I've only seen three episodes of their show but I think it's important to understand and not simply scoff at their whole cultural phenomena. This is a world we're all somehow complicit in forming, however passively and/or unwillingly, by virtue of occupying this time and place and partaking in certain social behaviors that are enabled by certain technological tools, and to reject or imagine yourself above it just seems lazy. BTW I don't know why I delivered this lecture on the K family, I'm not an investor or anything. Merely a curious bystander.

I tried really hard to get into this incredibly well-written and well-received book on raising a goshawk as a grief-coping mechanism but according to Kindle only made it to 33% at which point REMOVE FROM DEVICE. Still a bird-hater, that's what I learned from the hawk book.

Reading for company

From "Lorrie Moore is not inside your head" (a point on which I, like many, beg to differ; she and Nora Ephron are my Joan Didion[s]):

You have to be willing to have only a few friends, Lorrie Moore said. Writers, if they are honest with themselves, cannot worry about offending or how many allies they have acquired in this world. It's an obnoxious position, hard to defend. But they do not work for the Chamber of Commerce; they are not examples to the community. They are there for their story, and if it sounds harsh...

Well, maybe.

She said this nicely.

We got on the subject because I mentioned she is one of those writers from whom readers take cues on how to live, and how not to.

"I hope not," she said.

Then she considered the point a moment -- a point that John Cheever and Raymond Carver and Alice Munro and the other short story masters she is routinely lumped in with have all heard -- and she said, somewhat coyly, "I always thought people read for company."

— Christopher Borelli