Strong enough to hold a ship, able to slip through fingers; Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes

There’s this Langston Hughes poem, “Brand New Clothes,” that we recited at Holy Savior Academy. I was in preschool, it was my first school and it was filled with girls and boys who looked like me. We were in an auditorium for a recital or performance of some sort. In unison, we recited the name of the poem and author, dragging out the vowels in each word of “by Langston Hughes” in that sing-songy voice particular to young children on stage. Our teacher, or the older children – I can’t really remember, my memory’s never been that good – recited the lines and we repeated them.

My mama told me – 

You better get off your knees with those

brand new clothes on

Last year at this time, I was having the best day and drove to downtown Lawrence to listen to some prose and poetry and eat cake. On that day, it only just crossed my mind how serendipitous it was that Langston Hughes’s birthday ushers us into February. The Singer of America, The Speaker of Rivers. Who else could do it so well?

In the children’s section of a used bookstore at the border of Berkeley and Oakland I saw a book of Langston Hughes’s poetry and I picked it up and scanned each page. I tried to find the words I know from back then, but I didn’t find them. I never do. It always makes me doubt my memory, what’s real and what really happened. Have I known rivers? Rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins? Has my soul grown deep like the rivers?

We said the next part of the poem in unison:

But mama, I’m already down

May I stay down?

She said no. And she had her way.

That’s why I’m so clean today.

The answer is yes, I have. The answer is of course. The answer is to emphasize the “too” in “I, Too, Sing America.” The answer is that this month and this history belong to all of us in the same way that America does. The answer is that I hope the girls and boys who read that book of Langston Hughes poetry will get something lodged into that space of memory between interpretation and understanding and sing of rivers, or America, too.

Aren’t birthdays the best?

Langston Hughes

All I Need (is the air that I breathe)

I like the air here.

It’s still, doesn’t impose in the morning with a fierce coldness or envelope with a sweat inducing heat at midday. It simply exists. At night, I leave my window open and it provides such a negligible temperature change in my room that I forget to shut it for days, only remembering when the fog rolls in on a random Tuesday morning and I wake up with a cold nose and cold toes. I’m writing about it in terms of what it is not because I still can’t believe what it is. I’ve only just gotten used to not feeling cold in 70 degree weather at the peak of summer.

When I first moved, I looked into apartments on the west side of the city. The west side was, allegedly, hip. It was growing, opening up to a younger, cooler population and the houses were getting nicer, or if they were shit, they were gritty, real—and really fucking cool.

But I need outdoor spaces more than I need cool and I kept finding myself on environmental websites that gave me facts on the port’s pollution and the shockingly high cases of asthma in the kids out there and so, because I had the option, I headed for the hills, or as close as I could get.

Yesterday, my entire county was covered with that red outline reserved for severe situations on The Weather Channel. And so was the county above me, the one where Richmond and the Chevron refinery are located. And their red was bolder. And their warnings only issued after the fact. These warnings were instructions, they said things like: “Don’t breathe the air,” and “keep your fireplaces closed.” And, to me, it sounded like a strange game of dissociation because what the fuck could one have to do with the other? And then I remembered that I live in a city with a port. And then I tracked that dirty air from my computer at my desk beside my open window. And then I shut my window.

What makes people want to protect and change their environment?

This was a question I wrote down on my first weekend in the city—the other one, the city by the bay. I was at a lecture on “Our Better Nature,” which is a concept as well as the title of a book written by an environmental history professor at SFSU. I was at the Golden Gate Library, a tiny, beautiful library so close to the marina and it’s perfectly blue water, that after the talk was done I took a walk down the hill to get a better view of it. It was so beautiful, so irresistible that I could have watched it for hours. That’s one of my favorite things about nature, how it can convince you that you’re not close enough to it, how it can make you forget that it’s all around you.

Environmental history is how a group rearranges nature in order to live in it. It’s the roads and buildings we’ve built as well as the trees and gardens we’ve curated in the middle of it. At its simplest, we all play a part in environmental change because we are constant rearrangers of nature. We rearrange nature by deciding the things we can’t live without: fresh fruit, grain, herbs, beef, milk, eggs, gasoline, automobiles or mass-produced clothes from Taiwan. Someone has to find the space to grow those things, care for those things, build and sustain them and then ship them. They all have their effects and because nature is not better in one form or another (for instance, a dry region is not better than a humid one is not better than a mild and temperate one, etc…), our better nature can only refer to what we the people are demanding and what we’re deciding we can’t live without.

And I can’t tell you what you can and cannot live without—and who the fuck am I to try to do that?—but, I choose air.

“Our Better Nature” is a book written by Phillip J. Dreyfus, Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University. My personal notes taken at his June 23rd lecture at the Golden Gate Branch San Francisco Public Library informed certain segments of this post (betcha can’t guess which ones!)

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Will I Make it Home Tomorrow?

In almost every writing course I’ve taken I’ve been reminded of the importance of beginning in media res—in the middle of things. Explication is superfluous; no one really needs to know what happened before the shoe dropped, before the letter arrived to the cupboard under the stairs, before she decided to cut his hair. The way I have been taught to regard time is that because it is linear, some parts are more important—or, at least, more interesting—than others.

Not everyone is taught that, but most people believe it—that life only really begins after some point, a specific age or event. Life can change in grand, sweeping ways that can knock you off your feet and point you in new directions but it’s not always tidal waves. Every day you make a decision to live your life a certain way and that’s you setting your course. We’re powerful in that way.

“We can never know what to want,

Because living only one life, we can neither

Compare it with our previous lives

Nor perfect it in our lives to come”

-Milan Kundera

The way I read that, is that the true unbearable lightness of being is deciding what to do with all your potential energy. The possibilities in every day of living, a new start every single day.

In “Goodbye to All That” Joan Didion writes: “It is easy to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends.” But I think both are impossible to grasp. I think we all exist in the gray area between the black and white beginnings and endings, never quite sure when the moment started but always in it. Telling our own stories just by moving along, in media res.

And maybe time isn’t linear; maybe it’s circular. Everything in our personal experience could support that idea: have you, on personal level, ever witnessed time ending? Yes, experiences end but how can you ever be sure that something is really over? Maybe nothing ends, maybe things just move to the periphery of our vision where we can never quite catch sight of it. I could believe that. I could believe that entire worlds are caught in motion just around the corner.

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oh, the weather outside is weather

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The only reaction to finishing a two-hour final writing exam over a segment of American literature ranging from Tuscaroran oral narratives to impassioned fire-and-brimstone sermons to the Gettysburg Address is to raise your arms in the air and mime yelling “Woo hoo!”

OR, doing that is the flagrant foul of test taking. Win some/lose some. More specifically, lose 2% of your final grade. Like Pee Wee said: “I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Two years ago, I took a survey class on Latin American society. The main text was titled “Born in Blood and Fire” and every Tuesday and Thursday I would sit and consume over an hour’s worth of media on the past and present atrocities in South and Central America, Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean. It didn’t always make me happy, but it made me more informed. Before this class, I had no idea a banana republic was more than a department store in mid-sized US cities. That’s important information! It also piqued my interest in nonfiction literature and, like Charles Darwin, it made me crave fictional media in a different way.

Scanning in his mind so many times and places,

he’d had enough of dying species,

the triumphs of the strong over the weak,

the endless struggles to survive,

all doomed sooner or later.

He’d earned the right to happy endings,

at least in fiction

with its diminutions.

Now, my consumption of media in all its forms is a little out of control—at least, that’s what I learned after filling out a 24-hour time sheet in my media and psychology class. I also learned of the third-person effect—the belief that media can and does affect the way other people think, but doesn’t affect you—and I learned that words and theories are only as good as the counter ideas and actions. That if you think Americans consume too much and give too little, you should consume less and give more. If you think your generation is narcissistic and lazy, then spend more time appreciating the world around you and less time looking at the worlds you create through social media.

Last week, Louis C.K. was on Fresh Air promoting his five dollar comedy show, “Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater”. Here’s what he had to say about actions and words:

I see soldiers fly all the time, because that’s how they get to the war. You think they get to go in a cool green plane with a red light – go, go, go. No, they just go to Delta, and they just wait in line to go to a war. And they always fly coach…every time that I see a soldier on a plane, I always think: You know what? I should give him my seat. It would be the right thing to do. It would be easy to do, and it would mean a lot to him…Because I’m in first class – why? For being a professional asshole. This guy is giving his life for the country… He’s told by everybody in his life system that that’s a great thing to do, and he’s doing it. And it’s scary, but he’s doing it, and he’s sitting in this shitty seat, and I should trade with him.

I never have, let me make that clear. I’ve never done it once. I’ve had so many opportunities. I never even really seriously came close.

And here’s the worst part: I still just enjoy the fantasy for myself to enjoy. I was actually proud of myself for having thought of it. I was proud. Oh, I am such a sweet man. That is so nice of me to think of doing that and then totally never do it.

It’s hilarious and he’s a hilarious, but it’s also a good reminder to just do it–give up your seat, stay offline more often–whatever, just do it. Because the world is already bad and mean and selfish, we all know that, but sometimes we can make it a little less so.

a sort of reasonable discussion on tablets

versus

TL; DR version: HP is having a fire sale, selling their tablets for $99! I recently decided to buy one and if you’re in the market for a tablet, here’s an argument for why you should try to snag one

Sometime at the beginning of fall, I was having a seriously awesome day so the universe intervened and when I went to close to my laptop, I touched the screen and the LCD lights got all dramatic and broke under my thumb. I’m stronger than I look apparently.

I took my laptop to Best Buy and they asked if I had bought my computer from them and if it was under warranty, which I understand as shorthand for: “We can’t help you.” They couldn’t help me even if it had been under warranty, because Best Buy is The Worst.

I bought the cheapest monitor I could find, which ended up being a pretty nice (and fairly large) HP monitor. I assumed I’d find some computer guy in Kansas City or Lawrence that would be able to fix my screen, but all this tomfoolery happened on a Wednesday night and I had a paper due the following Monday (and a test that next morning and two seconds between that test and work to find something/figure out a way to fix the screen — woo hoo!) Of course, I never found that computer guy and the return policy on the monitor expired months ago, so my laptop was accidentally, but successfully, converted into a desktop.

On school days, I would pull up PDFs on my iPod and various documents on my BlackBerry between classes (and sometimes in class) to review and/or read over important lessons. My strained eyesight and chronically dead phone battery were screaming at me to do better than this.

So, I found a repair guy. His company was based in Texas and guaranteed a good-as-new computer screen in three weeks or under. I’m not really the type of person to send a valuable electronic with years of school and personal work on it to the boondooks based on trust and cute colloquialisms scattered about a website. Especially not for the price he was asking for, which was reasonable, but not for me. To put $300 into my laptop now would be to invest in it and tie myself to it for another two years, at least. That just seems illogical to me–it’s working fine as a desktop and I’m kind of enjoying having a larger computer screen, although it does make Skype video conversations a little awkward, as it looks like I’m super engaged with something directly to the right of the webcam. Nevertheless, I’m not investing in this laptop. And thus began the search for the perfect tablet–preferably one that cost as much as, or less than, the cost of repairing my laptop screen.

The first thing I did was go to Amazon and compare the Kindle Fire with the iPad. Amazon makes a lot of great arguments for how they’re basically the same product, but the key distinction between the two–the deal breaker distinction–is that the Kindle has yet to come up with a way to edit documents on their OS. While I would never write a long form essay on a tablet, you bet your ass I’d be doing edits on it. The majority of this was written on my Blackberry. My love for writing on the go is river deep, mountain high (so much so that I’m hesitant to ever step away from RIM and into Apple, I could blaze through an entire Dickens novel with this keyboard and that is an acquired skill I never want to let go). This was only the beginning of my search, but I proudly proclaimed that if you were any type of writer there was no other tablet you could get but the iPad. It had a wide-screen, document editing capabilities and an app store full of entertainment options for especially boring classes or pompous professors (because let’s be real).

Awesome! Done!

Except, the iPad doesn’t exactly fit into my predetermined budget. Like, no-fucking-way-I-could-ever-justify-that-even-if-it’s-the-holiday-season-does-not-fit-into-my-budget.

The second part of this search became my LOTR: Two Towers (oh yes, this shit just got epic) and I began scanning the Internet for articles cross-checking the iPad and other tablets in the same way the Kindle Fire compares itself to the iPad. SPOILER ALERT: comprehensive lists like that don’t exist. My psychology professor made the argument that “my generation” doesn’t know how to think critically because we have Google and I was totally trying to prove her right, but the “Top ‘Generic #’ Tablet” lists didn’t actually list features or compare anything the way I needed them to (CNET does a really fantastic job with reviews though–I just need more “man on the street” input). Consequently, in my free time, I would search tablets, read the reviews (users and critics) and then scour the Internet for some hyper-specific comparison article on that tablet vs. the iPad because, remember? It was the only thing I needed!

Honestly, this is where the search got a little exhausting because I was prepared to do little to no grunt work and even the slightest bit of investigation made me want to turn all Frodo and abandon The Ring. But! Turns out finding the information I needed was pretty easy. Amazon’s tablet section lets you compare the tablets to others listed in the marketplace. Apple’s tablets are only sold by individuals not the certified marketplace, so when you type it in you’ll be redirected to a page full of individual listings of first generation iPads and a defiant link to the iPad vs. Kindle Fire comparison page.

In the tablet section, I selected my most basic requirements: a 7″ screen, 32 GB capacity (at least) and 4G capability (but will settle for 3G) (standards! who’s gotta stick to them?) and went from there. I loved RIM’s tablet, but if I’m going to have the Godzilla sized version of a cell phone without the “phone” part, I wouldn’t choose Blackberry. I know, doesn’t really make sense, right? But everything I like about my Blackberry has very little to do with Blackberry (and there was a month when I was regularly tweeting mean things and just generally trolling their Twitter account) (and I say I’m busy–HA). The tablets I was most interested in at first were the tablets powered by the Android network, which got me super excited because THAT is how you compete with an Apple tablet. I would love access to the Android app store! The best part was that almost all of these tablets were at or near $300.

There were little problems I found though, like “tinny speakers,” low battery life or the worst thing of all: no customer reviews.

Then I found the HP Touchpad, a model HP discontinued in August with a memorable fire sale wherein they were sold for $99 for the 16GB version and $149 for the 32GB. It’s specs rival the iPad– most notably, the identical 9.7″ display and 1.2GHz processor (which is .2GHz faster). It’s also backlit for outside reading and the speaker system was designed exclusively by Beats by Dr. Dre. It comes with wi-fi capability, but not 3G or 4G, which is probably for the best if you’re like me and don’t really need to be paying for the extras anyway.

Right now, the Touchpad retails for a little under $300 on Amazon. HP discontinued the model after deciding they didn’t want to take part in the tablet game. They originally sold it at the same price as an iPad and were met with little success, but a demand was created when customers went wild over August’s fire sale. The company hasn’t definitively decided if it will still develop the webOS system or continue to build it’s app store, but they do offer Touchpad support services and carry accessories for the device ($10 herringbone sleeve, stop tempting me). Also, it has an awesome wordpress app and 300 other apps that PC Magazine has boiled down to a convenient Top 20.

If the company’s position in limbo between developing new apps or keeping their apps “fresh! (for August 2011)” here’s some awesome information: the Android OS can be installed on HP tablets. Did the Hallelujah chorus ring in your ears when you read that? Because it did for me. Beware though: downloading the Android OS voids your warranty, so see if HP’s webOS fails to satisfy or if Instagram really is coming to the Android network before you do anything rash. Both operating systems can exist on your device though–it’s just a matter of which system you want to enable and how badly you need that warranty.

HP is having a second fire sale, starting at 6PM tonight on their official Ebay account, selling the tablets for $99 again. If you’re buying the HP Touchpad in this sale, you will only have a 90 day warranty anyway, so there’s no point voiding it before seeing if there are any real problems with the tablet. All of the tablets sold in this second sale will be refurbished.

I ordered my Touchpad a day before reading about this fire sale, because OF COURSE I did, and it should be here before Tuesday. I can’t wait to test out the speakers, tinker with webOS and cross my fingers that HP decides to continue developing apps for it.

Do you use a tablet? Would you consider buying one? What are your tablet “needs” and should we refine Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to fit today’s society and its growing technology? Do you feel a little guilty looking at the phrase “tablet needs” and reflexively and simultaneously imagine starving kids in Africa being fed cornmeal by UN aid workers, holding their hands out Oliver Twist style because they want some more? Or…is that just me?

They day I get over my constant guilt about everything is December 21, 2012.

no one would riot for less

Film is a reflective medium; it’s only successful when it finds ways to tap into the public’s subconscious and provide some sort of mirror or escape.

I once read an article from 2008 that addressed this from a political standpoint: the Bush years, the inhumanity of extreme capitalism and There Will be Blood; the Obama campaign, hope and cute films full of possibility like Away We Go.

In that context, what does it mean that we now have critically acclaimed films like Blue Valentine and Like Crazy? Films that document falling head over heels for an idea and then getting (1) exhausted by working at it and/or (2) disillusioned. Similarly, what do our blockbusters mean now?

Almost two months ago, I worked an advance screening of Hugh Jackman’s Real Steel. In case you don’t know, it’s about robot boxing. Robot boxing. Despite coming into the film expecting to hate it and actually hating the first twenty minutes (the phrase “robot boxing” was actually used and I felt so disappointed and embarrassed for this screenplay’s writer), I liked it.

Real Steel is set somewhere between now and the 2020s. There are no flying cars, no Jetson-style homes (ps, I’m so glad we’ve all collectively realized that shit is just not ever happening), nothing to scare us or indicate that we’re too far from where we’ve been. But there are robots and almost no human emotion.

In the first pivotal scene, the robot that the story will revolve around, Atom, is described as being second-generation, while the robots that they have in the present are third and fourth generation. Second generation robots were dismissed as being “too human-like,” they’re used as sparring robots and, consequently, are made to withstand hits.

This second generation robot saves the life of the main character, a little boy. In a sense of obligation to his hero, the boy cleans him up and connects with him. He decides to enter the robot into boxing matches, despite everyone telling him that the robot is old and a piece of junk. But he doesn’t listen, and Atom is thrown into matches in the only place that will take him: “The Zoo.” This is a bacchanal, junkyard of robots run by people who still exhibit human pleasures: girls and boys, boys and boys, and girls and girls hang off each other, drink beer and yell and make bets while Atom fights.

It’s a Disney movie, so of course the robot wins and keeps winning, and this is where you can see the world that these people are living in.

Robot boxing (oh, that phrase) is the new American basketball: it’s popular and profitable and the fighters are unreal—literally unreal, because they’re made out of steel. That’s where the title comes in—the “World Champion” robot, a robot described as “the champion of this universe, and any known and unknown” is named Zeus and is tons and tons of steel.

He was created by an international hipster and is owned by what looks like a Kardashian. They run around in an extravagant penthouse suite filled with even more Kardashians and indistinguishable blondes.

Everyone glorifies the seemingly indestructible and recoils at the human. In fact, the mortality of human beings makes them insignificant; everyone invests in their money-making robots, not people—which is why a robot made to reflect human emotions is discarded. Who wants to be any part of that?

When Atom faces his big-stakes-patented-Disney-challenge he gets three rounds with Zeus and three rounds to teach us a lesson. First he survives when he shouldn’t, he gets back up when no one thinks he can and finally, when he loses his ability to operate on his own, Hugh Jackman steps in to control him in a “shadow-mode” where the robot can only mimic the movements of somebody else. Whether the robot wins or loses, it’s only as good as the human operating it—and never better than that.

In watching the final scenes, I couldn’t help but think of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and feel hopeful. We are the ones that are indestructible and this is a nice reminder.

6/10. because the night

Patti Smith.

Patti Fucking Smith.

It’s so obvious it embarrasses me.

It’s like: she’s the coolest and the sun is hot. To say anything else seems redundant. Obvious.

But then again, that’s the whole point.

That is why this all started.

Because of the British.

Because I’d rather feel over saturated with news of women whose titles include a few conjunctions than with news of women who are lauded for their genetic makeup and silence.

Because of what Amy said and especially because of the last line of her quote.

Once it comes into the adult realm it’s like, ‘Great, go for it, do your own thing … Sit on cakes. Do whatever the fuck you want.’ It’s just that I get worried for young girls sometimes; I want them to feel that they can be sassy and full and weird and geeky and smart and independent, and not so withered and shriveled … More than it being the Pussycat Dolls thing? It’s just distracting from what is real power.

Did you know Patti Smith invented the mosh pit?

Patti Smith’s black hair inspired millions of girls and boys with Xs on their hands to dye their own hair inky black and stage dive into crowds.

Patti Smith wore ripped jeans sitting next to John Stamos on a plane once and the next day he bought ripped jeans.

Okay, Patti Smith may or may not have done any of the above, but in 1967 the 21-year-old future “Godmother of Punk” moved to Brooklyn to become an artist and then she did. THE END. It was really easy and simple and she didn’t understand why EVERYBODY wasn’t doing it because OMGEASY.

No.

She was 21 and seeking refuge and acceptance. She found Robert Mapplethorpe and, consequently, everything else she was looking for—or, at least, everything she needed.

She was a poet first, a rock star by accident and a punk by necessity. She and Robert lived through poverty and all the necessary growing pains of finding yourself. And she’s shared it all with us.

Just Kids, the 2010 National Book Award non-fiction winner, is a memoir of Smith and Mapplethorpe’s early lives in New York and you’ve either heard about it and already read it or plan to read it and water is wet and other shocking discoveries. But in case you don’t know, it was just announced that it’s being adapted into a screenplay.

Patti and Robert were friends until the day he died.

I can never decide what the most interesting part of a memoir is: the meandering path that people take to become who they’re supposed to be (always so much clearer in retrospect), the little secrets nestled into already known information or the freak encounters that change the entire direction and trajectory of someone’s life. Sometimes, just the act of writing it seems like the most interesting part.

David Sedaris once said that when he re-reads journals from years ago and wants to tear pages out, he resists the urge because he knows that if he feels that way it means he hasn’t learned anything from it yet.

So, here’s Patti, showing us the pages of her journals, pointing out the beautiful and ugly parts like a kindergarten teacher at story time.

“Here is the boy I met and fell in love with in New York City.”

“Here is where I found my confidence.”

“Here is where I lost my confidence. And money.”

“Here are my ambitions.”

Memoirs, and especially the memoirs of women like Patti, are good reminders to keep the pages in your journals. Because the stories worth telling don’t come without their share of bad and it’s a good idea to remember that.

RIP MPDG

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is doe-eyed, ethereal, physically and emotionally transparent, or if we’re going to get particular with that one: translucent (in terms of her skin). You’ve probably heard of her, or if not you’ve seen her. Nathan Rabin coined the term in 2008, thanks to Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and Kirsten Dunst’s supporting character in that film.

 

“The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.”

By proxy, the MPDG is the heroine of any story in which she’s featured just by existing and never leaving the side of the loser-creative-type male protagonist she serves. Oh, and she has the super-human ability to not ever need to express any emotions that don’t directly correlate with her protag’s own revelations and self-growth. Super cool!

“Like the Magical Negro, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She’s on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.”

Jezebel and many others have already written essays decrying the MPDG and even the “Amazing Girl” (ie, the muse – I find the fact that someone used this phrase as a negative absolutely annoying, MANY thumbs down) so there’s no need to go into that again, but I think the scourge of MPDGs is gone now–at least, kind of.

On Tuesday, I watched an advance screening (thank you, Fillmore!) of 50/50, a new film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays a cancer-ridden good guy who has been given a 50/50 chance of survival. Blah blah, it might make you cry, blah (ps, I liked it and it’s very sweet). Anna Kendrick costars as his 24-year-old therapist and, as stated by Fillmore, plays the same character she’s been playing for, oh, basically her entire career. It’s true. I’ve never really noticed, probably because I really like her, and definitely because there’s nothing wrong with the characters she plays.

She always plays sometimes nice, sometimes mean, always smart and successful girls who have the ability to (and I’m going to get soooooo cheesy here in a second) change the lives of the people around her by living her life first.

Remember when appeasing phrases like “love means never having to say you’re sorry” were uttered in films by women on their death beds? Or, when women opted to be single mothers in New York instead of blissfully unaware Stepfords in LA after dating men who tried to shirk their responsibilities by saying they “can’t get negative enough” and “can’t get positive enough”?

I think with more women like Anna Kendrick and more stories written with that type of girl in mind, the MPDG will no longer be able to sustain herself and we can get back to films full of  characters we can recognize as human beings. Wild concept, I know, but I like to dream big. Anjelica Huston, who also co-stars in 50/50, is the antithesis of the MPDG. Her roles on screen, as well as in real life attest to that, which is a fact made even more impressive when you consider that she’s been working consistently since the 70s.

While more stories need to be written with the AKs and AJs of the world in mind, there has to be a change in the way men are written, too–another easy and redundant idea. But, really, if writers keep sharing stories about man-boy stoner-heroes or overly sensitive men who try to find the solution to all their problems in the form of a girl or woman, they need to get the fuck out. Like, now. They can come back when they’ve watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind enough times to learn how to write a story that presents a man and a woman as equal participants in whatever type of relationship they want to portray.

 

If they still don’t get it after that, Dealbreaker composed an easy to read explanation on what the MPDG would actually be like in real life (hint: a walking advertisement for rehab and possibly therapy).

ps, real commentary from a self-professed MPDG, or “Amazing Girl” as The Petite Sophisticate annoyingly refers to it:

OMG. I never realized it… I finally get it. I am an AG! Here’s something to make you feel better – men have a habit of falling madly in love with me and then freaking. AGs intoxicate lovers, but we can’t seem to keep them. They seem to disbelieve our reality and clam up, preventively.

I have had FIVE MEN fall madly in love with me, head over heels giddy, in the last eight months… only to freak out and back away when they realized that they couldn’t maintain the connection. It takes a lot of energy (and balls) to dance on hilltops with AGs. You envy the burn rate, how fast we move from sexy, soulful artist to sexy, soulful artist, blah blah blah… I guess it’s because anyone who’s not an AG (are there AMs?) can’t keep the “gates of experience” open indefinitely and bear what comes in. We are constantly disappointed. We are always hoping. And we refuse to become jaded. So, sure, the jaded envy that – but they by definition aren’t ready to deal with the pain of each successive disappointment. Wah wah wah. Yeah. Anyway, it’s a philosophical choice, we all make them.

Thanks for painting the picture so clearly. Sorry we bum you out. We bum ourselves out, too, sometimes.

not as critics, but as participants

“For some reason—who knows why we do what we do?—JP started drinking again.”

The margins of nearly all my notebooks are lined with names of books, authors and quotes meant to remind me of specific conversations or to read certain essays. Usually, it works. The quote above is from Raymond Carver’s essay “Where I’m Calling From,” which was published in The New Yorker in 1982.

In attempting to write a story this summer that told “the whole truth” in a short amount of space, I was curious about Carver and where he was in fact calling from. It seemed like that aside in the above quotation held the whole truth of the story because it’s such an evergreen question. Why do any of us do anything that we do? And if we think about it too long will our heads float off into another dimension, or will we find the answer?

Last night Goodreads hosted an hour-long chat with Pulitzer Prize winning author Jennifer Egan. A majority of the questions were fan questions—people wondering what her favorite chapter was in her prize-winning book, A Visit from the Goon Squad, or people curious about what she would do next with the characters. She briefly mentioned the pilot that was being shot for HBO, emphasizing that it was in its early stages and could go anywhere, even absolutely nowhere, and talked about everything she knew about the characters. She said she had so much more to say on them but also mentioned that she wasn’t a fan of sequels or prequels, which was really wonderful to hear as a reader. If the story decided to come out in some way, or another (she is a fan of unconventional storytelling–one chapter in Goon Squad is told through PowerPoints and she just wrote a short story in the form of a to-do list), she would not fight it.

When the questions became more technical, she revealed that A Visit from the Goon Squad was written as individual chapters, which is easy to believe. Some of the chapters were released as essays long before the novel came out. I know of at least two: one in Granta and the other published in January 2010 in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker essay, “Safari“, was easily my favorite chapter in the book and was the reason why I wanted to tell a story that had everything in it from these characters’ points of view. Jennifer Egan has a knack for putting her reader in one very specific situation then giving them a sudden glimpse of the character’s entire world in a single sentence. This then colors the rest of the story. I wanted to do that—still want to do that. “Safari” is still available to read online if you want to get a glimpse of Egan’s style.

Because Raymond Carver’s essay is almost thirty years old, it is not supposed to be available online anymore. When you click on the link for it, it takes you to an abstract explanation of what the story is all about. But when you click it to read more, instead of asking you to supply login information or to buy a pass, it takes you to the complete text. Every time I flipped the virtual page I was sure that an error would pop up and it would leave me hanging, but it never happened and I was right about the aside: he’s telling it all in that moment.

Being able to interact and listen to Jennifer Egan last night was absolutely amazing and insightful, especially when she seemed to be reiterating what my professors have said. My favorite piece of advice came on the back-end of an answer she gave to the one question I submitted. In old interviews she’s mentioned how essential it was for her to be a part of writing communities, so I asked her about that and she directed me to The Paris Review’s slush-pile before saying the greatest thing ever, which (and I’m simplifying here) was that setting up a situation in which you can thrive is absolutely essential.

Really simple and obvious, I know, but having it stated was kind of an a-ha moment and will probably serve as a great reminder.

“It’s hard to pull off anything, take as long as you need”

In Goon Squad there is one chapter that I think tells the whole story of the novel and that’s the PowerPoint chapter. You see, everything ends – we all know that, but there parts where we think it’s all over, pauses.

“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.”

Saturday Night Live could solve all of our debt problems

There. Done. Let’s recess until September.

Okay, but really, let’s talk about this.

Don Pardo: And now the Not Incredible Adventures of the Down and Out Dollar.

American Dollar: Oh, boy oh boy. What a year, it sure does stink being a US dollar. Here it is, 2005, and I’m at an all-time low. I used to be on top of the world, now look at me – good for nothing. Who wants a measly old dollar?

Euro: Dollar? Is that you?

American Dollar: Oh. Hey Euro.

Euro: Oh my goodness Dollar, you look awful!

American Dollar: Oh jeez, here we go again.

Euro: Look at me, look at all my wonderful colors, aren’t they supercool? You like my hologram? Look at it this way, now look how it changes!

American Dollar: Oh boy it sure is nice. I wish I had a hologram.

Euro: Hey Dollar, do you want to hear a joke? Knock, knock.

American Dollar: Oh, who’s there?

Euro: Germany. And France. And Greece. And Italy. And Denmark. And Luxembourg. And Belgium. They’re all stronger than you, hahaha ha! Is that not funny?

American Dollar: Oh come on Euro! That ain’t a joke. Gimme a break.

 

Who is our in-house accountant at the White House?

I guess when they get to that level they’re called economists and the budgets they balance stop being about numbers and start being about parties, but maybe we’re missing out on something because of that.

I mean, shouldn’t there be a group of people sitting at wooden desks in corner offices keeping track of our budget anyway? Imagine them hunched over complicated calculators, reams of paper shooting out one end, pencils behind their ears and glasses perched on the end of their noses while they finally come to the end of one fiscal year and press the equal sign. Now imagine them shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Oh, no, no. This does not add up.”

Unless it’s an actual crisis, I usually let political dramas roll right on by while I focus on more important things like Katy Perry’s smurf dress or Ryan Gosling’s abs. But what I thought was just the dramatic flair of contemporary American politics actually turned out to be the dramatic flair of  contemporary American politics that could potentially create a crisis.  This was made even more interesting to me because I’m in the midst of managing my own budget.

Me and the United States government: twinsies!

Earlier this week, I was cruising Videogum when one of the comments led me to a summary of the debt ceiling debacle by Howard Marks, whoever that is (he works at a capital management firm, as indicated by the letterhead). It was all told in layman’s terms and except for a few digressions into Personal Opinion Time, or P.O.T., at the top of page nine and the bottom of page 10, it’s factually based and stays away from bias—even in P.O.T. he stays away from bias.

“For the last several years as I’ve visited with clients around the world, I’ve described the typical American as follows (exaggerating for effect, of course): He has $1000 in the bank, owes $10,000 on his credit card, makes $20,000 a year, and spends $22, 000. And what do lenders do about this? They mail him additional credit cards.”

He uses this as a jump-off to explain how the typical American’s fiscal health compares to that of our country as well as countries around the world.

What I took away from this article was that we need to balance the budget (OBVIOUSLY) and that in order to get any real, effective and lasting change in America with our budget, we are going to have to hurt for a while.

Real talk. I have been wistfully staring at the large, neon metro tote on MZ Wallace’s summer pop-up shop and quietly sighing to myself because even though I loved it at the beginning of summer, I never actually saved any money so I could buy it without guilt at the end of summer.

“In addition to balancing the budget and growing the economy, I think we have to accept that the coming decades are likely to see US standards of living decline relative to the rest of the world. Unless our goods offer a better cost/benefit bargain, there’s no reason American workers should continue to enjoy the same lifestyle advantage over workers in other countries.”

If you want to read more on the debt ceiling debacle before the August 2nd solution deadline, Pro Publica is constantly updating a reading list here that I am constantly not reading because one really great article is enough for me but maybe you’re interested in more. Kudos, you, people who click on that link!