Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Snow is General All Over Iowa

Well, here we are. In the dead of winter, recovering from a dead relationship, surrounded by the actual dead. They make good neighbors actually. Quiet.

Since moving into the second story of a pretty, sunny house off the graveyard, I’ve been having strange, not totally unpleasant dreams about people dying and ghosts coming to visit me at night. Of course, that could be the Chantix in me brain, but the romantic Goth maiden in me prefers to think of it as nightly visits from the welcoming committee. If only they would bring Rice Krispie treats instead.

Here is my most famous dead neighbor: The Black Angel, erected in 1912. The stories are many but supposedly she was commissioned by a distraught husband upon his wife’s death. The monument turned black because the wife had been unfaithful. Legend has it she will turn white again if a virgin is kissed below her wings. The punchline, of course, is that there hasn’t been a virgin in Iowa City for nearly a hundred years. It’s funny because it’s true.

(I took this photo off the Iowa Center for Paranormal Research website because a) it seemed appropriate and b) that photoshopped fog was the best approximation of the winter weather I could find. Just add 20 feet of snow to everything, and that’s basically the view from my drive.)

The best part of living in my new apartment is my landlord and downstairs neighbor, Duncan, aka My First Boyfriend, From When I Was 15 Years Old. It’s been negative eleventy million degrees outside lately so instead of warming up my car for ten minutes, struggling into my puffy winter clothes and scraping the layers and layers of accumulated ice, snow and salt off of my windows in order to drive somewhere, I’ve been hanging out downstairs with Dunk. We sit around eating cereal, watching movies and playing Super Puzzle Fighter on his gigantic homemade projection screen, which is basically exactly what we were doing 15 years ago, probably right this second. The more things change…

Oh and don’t worry about the new notch on my Belt of Spinsterhood. I’m okay. Brad’s okay. Even the bunnies are okay. I told them that being from a broken home will make them stronger, and they responded by eating a hole in my new shoe, which is exactly how I would have responded to my parents’ divorce if my teeth had been sharper.

Here’s something that happened to me in the blog world: my friend Kate Harding, who is a fantastic writer with a fantastic blog , tagged me with a “Roar for Powerful Words” meme. Unlike Kate, I’m a lazy, sloppy, inconstant blogger, so I don’t really know anything about these so-called “memes,” (including zilch about links or link-ups or link-backs or sausage links or nothin’), but I am very honored to be tapped by Kate (and honored by the lovely things she said about this blog, none of which I agree with or deserve). The “Roar For Powerful Words” project “aims to celebrate good and powerful writing in the blogosphere. The idea is for recipients of this award to also choose five blogsters they would like to honour.” In addition, winners should “list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing.” Also: you get this picture of a hot pink lion.

Just look how pink!

Okay, so even though it’s a month since Kate named me, I’d like to list my five bloggers and do something that I almost never do here, which is write about writing.

So first, I’m going to totally be a bastard and break the rules and name three bloggers I love because, um, I don’t really think I read five blogs consistently. Online, I basically read the NY Times, some Gawker media sites and Kate's blog, Shapely Prose, and then write a lot of emails and sort of do my job when necessary. I no longer even have the Internets at home anymore. Instead, I’ve been reading these weird kind of heavy things made out of wood pulp and glue. I think they’re called books?

So here goes:

ThatKidIntheCorner and Bounty Bowl

The man behind the That Kid in the Corner and Bounty Bowl blogs is a hilarious and astute writer who could post about laundry lint and I would read it. In fact, he’s the first person I knew who was posting legitimate writing online, way back in College. And with each new blog, he hits a new cultural bullseye. Dude, I didn’t give a shit about football, until I met you.

Blogging Like I’ve Never Blogged Before

Mike Toole is just some guy who used to live in New York and who now lives in Cleveland. I don’t know him and I’ve never met him. His blog has no focus, purpose or brand whatsoever. Yet he’s writing some of the funniest shit I have ever read in my life. The end.

Muddy Farm

My friend Dave is a farmer in New York state. Dave is a wonderful person and a wonderful poet and I love him dearly, but I really can’t imagine him doing things like tilling fields and driving tractors, even though he’s been a farmer for years. It’s hard to explain what I mean, so I’ll just give you an example of typical Dave behavior: Once Dave was driving the two of us somewhere and he overshot our destination by 60 miles. Dave’s mind works in mysterious, slightly hysterical ways, which is why I love his blog and reading about his life. It’s as if someone asked Baudelaire to run a Home Depot.

Writing About Writing

I’ve been reading some of the excellent ideas about writing that my fellow Pepto lions have shared and they’re great! They pretty much cover all the advisory ground I could ever think of (and much more). So instead I’ll just rant about some writing stuff I’ve been knocking around my noggin lately.

I seem to be getting fed up with the way so many stories to me feel so clever and contrived. Who wants to feel like an author is TRYING to knock your socks off? It doesn’t work if impressing or even entertaining the audience is the key goal of a piece of writing. Here’s an example. I just bought and read the book A Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’d been told by many upstanding sources for years that it’s a great book and I should read it, blah blah blah. Even the sales clerk at Prairie Lights told me how good it was, and that’s crazy because those Prairie Lights people read every book that is ever published in every language twice, I think.

Anyway, so I was prepared for this awesome read, and in some ways it was awesome. It was a fun and I finished it in a weekend. It was a suspenseful book. No sagging middle. Etc. But it was so so so contrived. The miasma of money and the Long Island lockjaw accents and mannerisms, along with the annoying, confusing, distracting attempts to keep the novel timeless yet contemporary almost ruined the experience for me. So often anymore I find myself having to “get over it” when I start a new book. Donna Tartt’s an honest-to-god good writer with interesting things to say, but, at least in A Secret History, her prose was so faux-prep I could barely stand to read the first few chapters. Then of course I became numbed to the voice. It fell away and I could concentrate on the really excellent plot.

I guess what I want to know is: Is it possible to read and write great fiction without all the fussy furniture in the way? I want Bauhaus but I’m getting Rococo. Or would that just be boring and terrible and the only people capable of doing that are imparting genius ideas anyway so they don’t need gold inlaid toilets (like Michel Houellebecq, for instance).

My friend Paul says that many authors use “cleverness as a surrogate for beauty,” which I think sums up the problem quite nicely. I think of the McSweeney’s crowd and I want to get “Cleverness Is a Surrogate For Beauty” printed on a bunch of t-shirts and send them to one of Dave Eggers’s 826 clubhouses.

Some of you may be choking on that word, “beauty” but I mean it (and so does Paul, I think) in the least purple way possible, in the classical Greek way. The starter of wars, the killer of gods. The sublime.

If I only indulged in literature that was beautiful, I would not have much to read, and I could kiss writing goodbye forever. But there is maybe something to be said for simplicity and honesty in writing. It was fun for awhile, but I’m getting sick of footnoted novels, and plays within plays within plays. I get it. Let’s move on.

As an homage to beauty in literature, I will leave you with what I consider to be one of the most beautiful (and appropriately themed!) passages in all of English literature: the last paragraph from "The Dead" by James Joyce. Enjoy.

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hating on Hil

I was trying to view this race as fair and square. I have been voting with my political mind, not my vagina or my heart. But Jesus Christ, if you ever had any question that misogyny was alive and well in today's "liberal media" (oh how I laugh and laugh and laugh myself silly at THAT particular misnomer), you need look no farther than TearGate. Hilary gets a little emotional frog in the throat talking about how important she thinks this race is for her country and all of a sudden it's a pile-on. The media has disrespected Hilary throughout this race and it's disrespected female voters by assuming we can't think for ourselves.

Why don't you, "liberal media," go back to ignoring the war and murdering Britney Spears, inch by inch, like the despicable bullies you are?

Yeah the press may be hysterical, but at least the voters aren't. Congrats to Hilary from an Obama supporter. This has just started to get interesting.

UPDATE: I've been reading the ladyblogs all day and there seems to be a rising tide of pro-Hilary sentiment that mirrors my own vague feelings, especially from women who had not previously identified her as their candidate. Rebecca Traister, Kate Harding, I feel you. I've been wondering lately, if perhaps the political war for my soul is not yet won. Have I been undermining my own interests as a woman by not supporting Hilary? Or have I, as I've contended (and thought I believed) been protecting the nomination from a woman who is ultimately unelectable because she's so polarizing (I think this might be another way of saying "because she's a woman")? A cynical yet practical maneuver? On the third hand, do I really want another Clinton in office?

These are things I'll be thinking about from now until Super Tuesday. Will update as my womanly waffling continues.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Do Not Heart Huckabee

That is not just a statement about myself, but also a plea from me to the universe. Because as tasty as Obama's victory was last night, Huckabee's was, in the same measure, terrifying. I mean, all the Republicans and fence sitters I know caucused for Obama last night. I'm hearing that was a statewide trend, which left the Republican win to the crazies. In some senses, it will be easier for Obama to win against a nutbag like Huckabee, in another sense: at least having John McCain as a president wouldn't make me want to jump in front of a speeding bus.

Anyway, I wrote this long thing about caucusing for the Boston Magazine blog. I am sort of overloaded on political impressions and reactions right now, so follow the link to BoMag and read about my evening over there. I do want to add one thing in re: the BoMag blog post, and that is that my skepticism for Obama's campaign is really more about his staffers and volunteers than the man himself. Obamania is not a joke. It is a real, dogmatic thing. Don't get me wrong--I am thrilled at Obama's victory and I am very proud to be an Iowan today. But that "too good to be true" feeling has snuck up on me. Or maybe it's just that the loss in 2004 was too painful and I've closed my heart to the possibility of true love. Maybe Obama is the man who will pry it open. We'll see.

(And yes, I am dreadfully hungover.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Iowa Olympics

Sorry the blog has been silent for so long. I have much to catch you up on and will do so soon, but first you've doubtless been beat over the head with the news that the Iowa caucuses are today. I'm popping my caucus cherry after work tonight and from what I've heard it will be just as bloody and drunken as my literal first time. Can't wait. Will update you all either later tonight or in the throes of my hangover tomorrow morning.