Monthly Archives: August 2010

Kovacs

“if the famous innovators of the early days of television were the French New Wave, Ernie Kovacs would be Godard. In that no one followed him. Milton Berle and Henny Youngman and Steve Allen all created television that we now watch. Ernie Kovacs created television that no one could ever follow. There was no successor. Channel Thirteen replayed his entire archive for one brief, beautiful moment in the seventies. My mother sat me down to watch, as though it were school.”

Jonathan Lethem

preview

—can’t eat those crepes. they’re for the cast.

—wasn’t eating your crepes. just looking out the window, waiting for my parents.

—How old are you?

—Thirty-four.

—This  is beautiful country.

—Yeah. I like this weather.

—And the light, right? What a summer.

—Yeah. Can I ask you something?

—Sure

—Where are we?

CSR

AG: …and have been published or are forthcoming in ROAPE, Mouthwagon, and Came-Tree.

AL: So you’re a freelance writer? Is that how you pay the bills?

AG: Periodicals publish my writing, yes, but I’m not a freelancer. I’m a writer.

AL: Fine, right. OK. But how do you make money?

AG: I don’t, really. I’ve been living off my savings. Raising my son.

AL: That sounds nice…

AG: It is. I started a pomegranate orchard in my yard.

AL: So money’s not a problem?

AG: Not right now, anyway. I might start volunteering with this political pain intellectual suffering charity thing soon

AL: But that’s volunteer, so they won’t be paying you?

AG: Right. I guess that won’t make any money. But it’ll take time, so the day won’t be quite so empty…

AL: Lots of people don’t have that luxury. They have these awesome sprawling narratives inside them, but they have to work to pay the

AG: Yeah, I know, I realize that it’s a luxury not to have to work and to get to write about fictional people all day. What’s your point?

AL: I guess… I just want you to know… that I wish some of those people… the writers who have to waste their days answering customer service emails, while you grow pomegranates and write stupid poems about pomegranates that are published in

AG: …periodicals including Roiphe’s Bones, College Radio Fiction, AGNI…

AL: … I wish those people who have no choice but to struggle and waste their time on unsatisfying labor could have even a few minutes with you in a  dark room with a whiffle-ball bat, making you feel extremely uncomfortable. It wouldn’t take much. That’d be justice, by my lights

AG: Damn your lights. I may not need to answer customer service emails all day but when I write my poems, some of which have explicitly taken up as their subject the suffering of the customer service representative, I am forced to experience the pain and the boredom and the angst and everything that the CSR feels. So being a writer isn’t any better than being a CSR, at least as long as you’re writing about the great struggles of modernity — the struggle of the Customer Service Representative — which I am. Which I hope I am. Maybe I should write about horny teens in paradise. It might be more fun…

AL: Can I have another one of those…

AG: They’re called “Flynt Martinis.” Help yourself.

2040

Southwestern Caveman Question Mark? or Trash Symbol?

Free Wi-Fi at the Phoenix airport. I’m one of those guys sitting on the floor near an outlet, working on my laptop. Except I don’t really look like one of those guys, because I’m unshaven and there’s underwear spilling out of my shoulder bag and I’m not wearing a purple short-sleeved polo shirt with a company logo on the breast. Two soldiers in desert camo just sauntered by, at ease but still walking in step with each other. I slept poorly last night so this “text” is going to be awful, not worth your time. Fortunately, it’s still worth my time, which is why I’m writing it. Unclear however why it still then needs to go on the internet, aside from the fact that the magnetic attraction that your potential attention asserts on the “language inside me” serves as a fine stimulus to draw it out. Of me. Otherwise I’m lazy and it’ll stay inside while I check my email again and again.

My friend met me at the airport in Albuquerque and told me he hadn’t eaten even though he’d had a layover in Phoenix because he was boycotting the entire state of Arizona. As I deplaned in Phoenix just now a douchey blonde guy looked through me, aggressively unsympathetic to my humanity, as far as I could tell, only because I wasn’t the brother in law he was waiting for. I felt like flipping twin birds at everyone within eyeshot and declaiming, clearly and loudly, “FUCK YOU, PHOENIX, AND EVERYTHING ELSE CONTAINED BY THE STATE OF ARIZONA, INCLUDING ME, AND ALL OF THIS PIZZA. BECAUSE OF YOUR IMMIGRATION POLICIES, I GUESS”

On the plane I read more of the New Yorker 20 under 40 issue. Yesterday, which seems like a long time ago, I wrote this about the Josh Ferris story:

(I’m on a sadness junket in Santa Fe.) I thought “Pilot,” Joshua Ferris’s story in the 20 under 40 issue of the New Yorker, was great. I haven’t read his first novel, which I know is written in first-person plural, but I was very impressed by the narrative control of this new story. It’s written in the “close third-person,” where the narrative voice is  contained entirely by one consciousness, except it’s communicated with a “he” or “she” instead of an “I.” Maybe a better term for “Pilot”‘s voice is “the clingy third person.”

Lawrence is a newly, shakily recovered alcoholic filmmaker who can’t believe he’s been invited to a fashionable Hollywood party, doesn’t want to go, but feels he must for the sake of the TV pilot he’s writing. He’s desperately insecure and spends most of the story neurotically trying to engage other people, to get the things he needs  without appearing so clingy. The story reads as if it were written in a more conventional third person — “He thought, ‘I should get out of here,'” e.g. — but then Lawrence’s voice, so strong and desperate and charming, has sort of crawled up inside the third person narrative and infected that voice with its self-obsession and neediness. The result is a pleasure to read. Ferris didn’t invent this technique, but he deploys it beautifully.

Who cares about my take on Joshua Ferris’s narrative control! I do(n’t)! Not sure if this is a journalistically responsible article. Phoenix Airport free Wi-Fi is barely functional. I’m entitled to one full meal for every delayed layover I have, regardless of the hour or Arizona’s immigration policy.

The Jonathan Safran Foer story irritated me even as I found parts of it familiar, smart, and…. “original.” I think it would be funny to write a novel that marketed itself as “vegetarian fiction.” I like the idea that Tao Lin writes “vegan fiction,” if if he doesn’t market it as such. Foer’s “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly” is a vegetarian story. Not a lot of meat in it, but  plenty of complex carbohydrates and vegetable proteins. That’s a joke, insofar as I don’t know what it means and I’m saying it only because I like to.

I can’t help reading all of these 20 under 40 stories imagining their authors writing them at the behest of the New Yorker’s fiction editors. “Hey, Dinaw, submit a story to the 20 under 40 thing. You have a shot.” All fiction everywhere is “by definition” contrived, but these stories are maybe more contrived than usual. For that reason. Which doesn’t nec. make them bad. Solicited = contrived, unless the fiction writer responds to the solicitation with a piece of fiction they’d already written but not published, submitting something they wrote uncontrivedly. Which is impossible, because nothing is written uncontrivedly. But there are degrees. The Ferris story is contrived and great. I’m not as crazy about the Foer story. It’s my fault that I read it as a second-person half-fictional sexy love note to his wife, novelist Nicole Krauss, and it’s my lightweight brain alone that makes me read the “house” he refers to in the last paragraph as their dope brownstone in [specific part of Brooklyn TK]. My bad my bad

The Rivka Galchen story is great. It’s narrated by a woman who, like Galchen, has just published a well-received novel. Like the Ferris story, it features an unproduced television pilot. It’s also the first instance of an fictional, ekphrastic blog I can think of, there must be more: icantstandmywife.blogspot.com. (As of this writing, no one has yet reserved this blog. Which is surprising. Full disclosure: Phoenix Airport Wi-Fi has officially crapped out so I can’t check. I’d be surprised if Galchen didn’t reserve it herself. Update: PHX Wi-Fi never resolved, so I’m posting this from California, and of course someone, probably Galchen, reserved the URL. Goodnight)

I skipped the story called “What You Do Out Here, When You’re Alone.” Rant about this sort of declarative second-person short-story title TK, ad naus. Let me know if you read this story, by Philipp Meyer, and if you think I could’ve learned something about myself by reading it. If you think the horizons of my limited worldview would’ve been pushed out a hectare or two. If so, I’ll read it.

Yeah right!!!

More misc. notes on this New Yorker, June 14 & 21, 2010: The spread of illos of the writers (p. 90-1) is pointless and unappetizing. There are Q&As online, huh? That sounds good, but then What is the point of printing these straightforward, moody, photo-based line illos??? At least list the names of their favorite newspapers or where they went to elementary school or how many siblings they have alongside their portraits. The Chris Ware cover, on the other hand, and like the Steve Powers illos with the Shteyngart, are wonderful. Something has been beeping off to my left for a few minutes. (I’m sitting at gate A2. Come say hi!! This is a rebroadcast of a previous episode) Reading through  these stories I was occasionally  like, “this is awesome, but when I finally man up and decide to write fiction myself, my fiction is going to be all gnarly and unexpected and different and rad, and a drug-addict teenager in upstate new york is going to read it and decide that [oh my god, sorry, redacted]” but then I read the Gary Shteyngart story, and that thought bubble immediately dissolved, and I realized Ah, shit, this is it, he did it, damn, etc, I am mollified.

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Check out this mountain

100% Fiction

The brain can’t have sex — you have to use a different organ. Take it from me: I’m a PhD in biology! But listen. “I’m done.” I know it isn’t Internet Season. The snow in California is qualitatively different — which is to say, “different” –than East Coast or even Mid-Western snow that sticks to your glasses and ignites a spark in the jug of coffee you’re hauling around in your gut. (Within a sweater, inside your jacket; college times.) But it’s never going to be Internet Season if I keep waiting for it.

There’s nothing cooler than being a security guard at the Whitney. Dream job, right? But maybe at a certain point it’s time to move on. The Rauchenbergs will only keep writhing in Psylocibic ecstacy for a decade or so before they finally flatten and hang dead, right? Of course there have been new acquisitions. The Neo Rauches look so fresh their reds seem painted in blood. And as a security guard I have unusual freedoms: I can tape postcards to the mirrors in the bathrooms. I’m allowed to edit the artworks’ wall text. I can design my own uniform. I’m more like a “security guard in residence.” But the thought recurs, with newly alarming frequency: Cheese wedges on a platter in the drowning ship’s cafeteria?

But it’s all cheese-colored parachutes, my friend, and they don’t stop moving. I know this. There’s no reason why teaching InDesign shortcuts to at-risk Shar Peis or pouring soy-milk foam into at-risk triple macchiatos is going to be better than being a security guard at the Whitney. Money is money, and so is time. But what about… I’m not sure what the intervening factor would be. Probably ego. Mine has more than a few Velcro pockets brimmin w/ the old, weird trinkets (: marijuana from 1995, a tiny perfect wooden sphere, the artist Tom Friedman‘s Hammacher-Schlemmer Best Nose-Hair Trimmer, an unread copy of John Fante’s Ask the Dust...)

I might try to rejigger my role within the museum — I could relinquish my guarding duties and just work on the wall-text and bathroom postcards full-time. But but but but. That’s more than likely the answer. The challenges would be recharged and I’d have time, probably, to really make that wall-text sing. But today it’s a lot more fun to imagine laying my billy-club and taser and oversized plastic cool-guy glasses on the Membership desk with firm, respectful authority, and stride stridently into the Upper East Side of my life, totally fearless and nude, zero prospects, zero confidence, the air between the buildings filled with absolute columns of pure windchimes. Right???

And then immediately regret it for the rest of my life. I’d return to the museum a month later and the security guards are all cool and new. They’re smoking some sort of health-food opiate that increases abdominal toning and sexual stamina. I stand there for ten minutes, watching them copulate hotly inside of a new Tim Hawkinson body-machine. I’m holding my supplies for the day in a plastic bag: greasy old New Yorker, mealy apple,  first-generation iPhone I bought off a cyber-hobo outside the subway. I am doomed.

Lemme know your thoughts when you have a sec.