Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sometime last fall I was sitting with my friend at a coffee shop. I had spent the day before in a haze of despair, having been tasked with calling Time Warner Cable for one or another client, an errand I have completed with little pomp and circumstance a thousand times in these five years I have worked as an assistant, but for some reason on that day, the day before the one I spent in the coffee shop, the chore became symbolic of a larger, existential problem:
What the flip am I doing with my life?
I couldn't call. I could only pace, stare at my phone, read about people's babies on Facebook and scour help wanted ads on craigslist. I needed a change. So the next day we started making a list, my friend and I, of possible life-altering actions I could take so that I might be assured of a future free of Time Warner Cable phone trees. "You could write the quick and dirty young adult novel," she suggested. "Or a screenplay. Or you could go back to school..."

Fast forward through two months of rapid-fire application preparation. There were recommendations to hustle, a standardized test to take, personal essays to write, plus I had to figure out what excerpt from my novel I should send to each school. I even had to write a literary essay. But come April I had heard from all seven institutions to which I had offered myself in judgment. I accepted a position in the MFA Fiction program at Columbia.

The School of Arts has a lecture series, and they offered the last of the year as a welcome event for admitted students. James Wood, a critic and sometime novelist, was the speaker at the packed event. He read from his latest book, How Fiction Works, and referenced one after another after another pinnacle of western literature, which I knew by name and author, but had never read. It was sad, actually, sitting there on the campus of my future alma mater, seeking to further my career as a writer of literature, finding that my incoming knowledge of anything before 1950 was sadly lacking.

And then, as if reading my mind, another new student with whom I'd struck up acquaintance in the post-lecture bad-wine-and-cheese-and-question portion of the event, the shindig element, found a way to make me feel even more sheepish and undereducated.

"Let's play a game," she offered. I noticed that no one other myself had helped themselves to more wine. "What you do is, you use your hands to reenact the death of a writer, then the other people have to guess what it is." So she flattened out one hand, palm up, which functioned as a kind of stage. Using the index and middle fingers of her other hand, she "walked" across the stage a few steps, then coughed violently, and tipped the hand over. Dead.

I swished my plastic cup of wine, noticing that I had poured red over a half-full cup of white. The result was a kind of murky orange color, which I took down in a single gulp.

"It's Keats!" she said mirthfully. "Get it?"

Yeah. No, I didn't. I don't know one single thing about Keats. Still don't. Not how he died, where he lived, what he wrote. I know that Cary Grant did acid enough to see the future; I know that Eric Clapton kept a jar of brandy and lemonade on his nightstand; that someone is doing a remake of "Fame", but Keats? Yeah, no.

And I tell this story now, because the humiliation I suffered at the admitted students event has sent me on a rampage of classical literature consumption. I read Magic Mountain, for chrissake. And Henry Miller. Now I am on Henry James.

And I don't like it one bit. I will say that for the record. He's like Jane Austen but with none of the fun. If he were a woman writing about marriage proposals and fortune seekers and villas in Tuscany, he would be considered un-serious. But he isn't. He's a humorless white man with a strong distaste for ending paragraphs. Joke's on you, Western Literature.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


I sat next to Betty in Business Class on my way back to New York from Los Angeles. This was a couple of months ago.

Betty takes the trip alot; the New York-Los Angeles-New York trip. She told me that she did, but she didn't have to tell me, it was easy to ascertain from her familiarity with the seat, the blankets, even the flight attendants. "She's got a teenaged kid," she told me about a pretty, blonde stewardess. "Can you believe that?"

Betty dressed impeccably. A Prada-Armani, black with diamonds kind of lady. She brought a New York Times and a sandwich. She refused all offers of food except the peach and cookie dough ice cream dessert, a woman blessed with a tiny figure, even in her late middle age. Her voice was deep and gravelly with a borough accent, cigarette-scented and tough. She was ballsy, I could tell that. Legions of men in her life have undoubtedly called her a ball-buster behind her back. Or maybe to her face, at the risk of getting punched in the nose.

Her father had died, then her mother. She lived alone in Gramercy Park, though she didn't seem the slightest bit lonely. She was a successful deal maker in the music business.

"I walk into the bathroom and there's a bag there, how much do you want to bet its from coach?" The leather company, I thought? But that's not what she meant. The pretty blonde stewardess returned with her answer. "It belonged to someone from coach," she affirmed. "I told you!" said Betty triumphantly, shaking her head at the audacity of someone from steerage using the Business Class bathroom. It sounds horrible, maybe, but on Betty it was kind of charming. I am coach, I wanted to say, and maybe I did.

I am not a great flyer. I can't seem to wrap my head around how the airlines know that a plane is working properly, so every sound, every sharp turn, is, to me, confirmation of my worst fear: that the plane is busted and we're going to free fall. My anxiety is at its highest during take-off and landing.

We'd sat on the tarmac for awhile, Betty and I, maybe an hour, getting to know one another. When we finally took off, I looked at her, thought I should let her know, in case I started singing quietly to myself, which I often do on planes to calm my nerves.

"You're not afraid of flying?" she said, seeming more than slightly disappointed in me. She shook her tiny head. "You have to be brave," she said. "You have to be brave in this life."

I think of that, almost daily. She was right, after all.


What does this mean?
Didn't Do it For Me | Reviewer: Darren | 5/8/09

I love this song, but neil diamond is such an esstatisical person that i almost feel akward hosting such inferbious music at a social gathering. Constiteritary to my prior knowings, this music was too "mozarty" for me. Thanks for posting the luyrics thanks a lot.

Monday, June 01, 2009


I went to see the Model as Muse show at the Met last weekend. It was a fun "fashion throughout the ages" sort of show, told using famous models as the protagonists of the story. Highlights were Linda Evangelista (see right), the feminist fashion of the seventies, and a movie where a model dons a huge metal dress. As is often the case with these kinds of exhibits, each era was summarized with a particular look, song, attitude. The nineties, for example, was all about Kate Moss, Marc Jacobs and grunge. Do I even need to say? "Smells like Teen Spirit" wailed tortured and pissed off through the speakers. Walking along the park with Gregory after the show I presented the question: What would the room for the current decade look like? In other words, looking back at this pop cultural moment, what will be remembered?

Gregory offered Will.I.Am's "Yes We Can" song/video. I suggested Judd Apatow and his cronies. Irony seemed to rule the day, especially in the first half of the decade, as if to say, "look, we're fucked. Nothing to be done about it." Gregory added Jon Stewart and Colbert. Books? Dave Eggers, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, what would you call them? The comic book writers? I'm not sure about art. Probably something on the web. Youtube. Facebook. The iPod. Fashion? Philip Lim, right? Stella McCartney. Zac Posen. Lots of pork. Locavores. The Sopranos.

But what about music? What would they pipe through the speakers in the Naught room? Flippin' Britney Spears? How depressing. Fall Out Boy?

Maybe this is the decade when music became more or less irrelevant. In a ten (nine) year period of major tragedy, war, governmental incompetence, torture, environmental crisis, economic meltdown, whose voice came through, our sentinel? Where was our Dylan, Cobain. Where was Marvin Gaye asking, "What's Going On?"

Finally, I had a Eureka moment. The song of the decade. The song for the Naught Room of the future: