Saturday, February 28, 2004

Dour is the new joie de vivre! --Simon Doonan

Barney's WindowQueen and author Simon Doonan is one of my heroes. He combines just the right amount of fluff with a dash of sass. This week: bras made out of yarmulkes.

Thursday, February 26, 2004


This is a new phase of middle age: when I get some kind of a flu, it begins in my head. I take two Advil, and the flu simply laughs at my medication. My head continues to pound. I don't always believe in the psychic bond between woman and dog, but Faith did seem to sense I was under the weather, and behaved spectacularly. She's become quite the schmoozy dog; yesterday, when she was at the vet, she made what looked like flirty eyes at a boy cat in a carrier. Today, she trotted over to the smokers who stand in front of the John Wiley building and wagged her tail. We'll never know exactly what the first two years of our dog's life looked like, but one hunch I have is somebody who smoked was VERY nice to her.

Sunday, February 22, 2004


Reading Lolita in Tehran is one of those "read it slowly, because you don't want it to end, for at least a couple of reasons." One of them being that it's a beautifully written book. And another of them being that the world it brings us is a terrifying one. More later.

In the mean time, happy birthday, Gerald Stern.

Friday, February 20, 2004


I have learned that I have a gentle reader, and she asked me: hey, what happened to that online novel thing you were writing? The one that you link to on the side of this little blog?

So I wrote (a little) more, and I thank my gentle reader for asking. I am a sort of writing exhibitionist. I need a deadline, or a reader, or a threat of eternal damnation, or some combination thereof. This is why blogging can be this wondrous thing when it isn't avoiding unloading the dishwasher or going to the gym: 1) it is so instantaneous, so on its feet; and 2) there is the promise of some kind of an audience.

Before Blogger, though, we had doting grandparents. When I was a preteen and even a teen, I think I sent about a half a billion bad e.e. cummingsesque poems to my beloved grandfather, Pop, and he NEVER said a word except, "Keep 'em coming." Meanwhile, he would casually mention in his beautifully typed letters back to me, the very good literature he was reading. He was a big fan of Brian Moore, and he was teaching himself a little Yiddish just to stay limber. He was a kind of Perfect Reader for me, because basically, when you're first learning to write, and even later on, and even when you're almost dead, it really does come down to keeping the hand moving. And you know who understands that?


Back in the 80s, I taught an intro English course at NYU in the Tisch School of the Arts, 90 percent made up of dance students. And when I told them to write five days a week in their journals...they actually did it. Because for them, it was just another set of barre exercises, done at a notebook. It was another way to move the body. They were splendid, and I miss them very much.

I've been reading Carolyn See's "Making A Literary Life," which I got out of the library, having put myself in Writing Book Purchase Rehab. No more writing books, at least not this month! No more believing the secret is in the next page. But See's book has already brought me a couple of things. She's turned me on to Rose Tremain's "Where I Found Her," which has been pretty damned dazzling 30 pages in. It's narrated by a 13-year-old English boy who's been dragged by his translator mother to Paris so that she can translate the awful medieval romance novels of a wildly popular Russian exotic who's become her own brand. Plus, there's a VERY well-described dog in it, an anxious retriever.

And how do you Make a Literary Life? Ah, it's not so hard. See has to be one of the most cheerfully decadent writing teachers I've read, a generous soul who believes in writing five days out of the seven, writing scads of thank you notes, letting stuff go, and admitting how utterly famous you want to be.


Lance Arthur is definitely one of them. Witty SF gay male quipster, elegant essayist, and...well, he used to live in New Jersey, too!

Thursday, February 19, 2004


Who once said:

"The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love?"

Wednesday, February 18, 2004


There are the miracles of the Web. And then there are things like this: Dogster. Which is like Friendster, only for dogs. Post your dog's picture, tell your dog's story. I was going to say that it isn't as neuroses-provoking as Friendster, but, well: that's not true. There's a "corral" function which allows you, the one with the opposable thumbs, to other dogs' pictures to your dog's Web page. So if I put your dog's picture on my dog's Web page, she has been corralled once. there, the one with the opposable thumbs and the primate brain that should definitely know better? What do you do? You turn it into a popularity contest.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004


From my regularly scheduled dudgeon re: Sex and the City. I'm in one of my only say something nice moods, so I'll say this: I adore Tony Shalhoub in "Monk," and the writing gets better and better. Plus: Sarah Silverman one week, Rachel Dratch, the next! Woohoo!

More curious delight: caught the tail end of Courtney Love's video, where she appears to be leading a small mob of little girls, all long-haired, all dressed in tutus, rampaging over various machismo-drenched settings--a cookout, a rappers' video shoot. Wild and captivating.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Now, with this episode of "Sex and the City," I must reverse myself. And spoilers abound.

There were some great moments in this episode, sadly overwhelmed by some awful clinkers. Most especially, the Demonization of the 80s Party Girl, who, after snorting coke, and lighting a cigarette, fell out a window to her death. Played by the Amazonian and seemingly unkillable Kristen Johnston, who used to be an alien on Third Rock from the Sun, and currently is playing the most terrifying and amazing character in contemporary American theatre, Wallace Shawn's Aunt Dan.

Not to mention, the Patheticification (I know, not a word, but I lost the spelling bee, okay?) of the 50something Career Woman, played by the glorious Candice Bergen (where have you gone, Murphy Brown?), who, as Carrie's former employer at Vogue, got to plead with Carrie to please please please bring her a date to her party because, you know, she's a dried up old hag who's watching younger women like Carrie poach from her age group's shallow dating pool. Carrie, with Aleks' help, scares up...Wallace Shawn. Who talks about raw cheese, clearly a libido-dasher.

Okay. Forget that I've had a brain crush on Wallace Shawn since I read "Marie and Bruce." Forget that in real life, Wallace Shawn just sort of...glows. Forget that I once heard the playwright Tina Howe, all six feet of her, say, "Oh, Wally's so cute, you just want to scoop him in your pocket and take him home."

But remember this rule: Real Life is Often Much More Interesting Than Television. For instance: in real life, Candice Bergen was married to director Louis Malle and was so European classy, she apparently invited Malle's mistress (past or present, I don't know) to Malle's funeral. And now Bergen, 58, is remarried to some classy rich guy with a New York apartment with a gorgeous view. That's some shallow romantic wading pool she's got there.

I know, I know. The dead party girl, the dried up Vogue editor---they aren't really characters, they're just part of what I call "the anxiety catalyst" to force Carrie to Make Her Big Decision: should she abandon New York and her column for Aleks and Paris? And I say to you, my sisters and brothers, life is just not that damn binary.


I didn't exactly miss the documentary SPELLBOUND, a movie that focuses on eight kids competing in the 1999 Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee, so much as I avoided it for fear of awakening some slumbering teenage trauma. I was a spelling bee competitor once myself, and though I joke about it now, I went down to defeat when I was in eighth grade because I believed that writers were good spellers. The night before the local competition, I read Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America," and Brautigan, in his hippie whimsical way, decided to spell mayonnaise with a single 'n'. The word stuck in my head, and the next day...well, what was my defense? Too many bellbottoms on the brain? I think I retreated into Shakespeare for a while after that. But I bet he wasn't a good speller originally, either.

So, a year after its feature release, I rented SPELLBOUND (get the DVD! excellent extras, and a wonderful menu) and couldn't stop watching. The short version is: it's a terrific movie, both for the obvious reasons--it's a competition, and yet, as several of the kids point out, there is an element of randomness in it--and two slightly unexpected ones: the kids are a wild mosaic of incomes and cultures, and they're all at least a little eccentric. There's Neil, whose father has completely cracked the spelling bee code AND hired his son several spelling and language coaches. They live in San Clemente, California, land of Nixon, and they are part of the boom in striving and relatively affluent Indian spellers. At the very other end of the spectrum is Ashley, an African American girl who lives in a very tough part of D.C., and delivers a brief, but blistering critique, of the playground--boys are always playing ball, and the girls "just stand around." Ashley describes herself a "prayer warrior," and while I am a wild and proud unbeliever, I was fascinated by how often prayer came up in this documentary. The movie also manages to talk about how spelling bees have, from their inception, been a rite of passage for immigrants to prove that they belonged, that they had mastered the language--of English, of competition. I bawled several times.

And yes, one of the words is "mayonnaise."

Monday, February 02, 2004


I do adore Baryshnikov for about a half dozen reasons, not the least of which is: he keeps moving. He makes art, or else. He founds new groups, he sets up an arts center, he walks the talk. He uses his powers for good. He does not fade away. There is no question that he will be old and great. The only time I saw him dance "live" was with Mark Morris' group, probably eightish years ago. He dazzled darkly.

But when he was introduced to the "Sex and the City" blend, I was none too happy. He and Sarah Jessica couldn't seem, in the first few episodes, to strike a pleasant conversational rhythm, and, though it seemed unintentional, there always seemed to be a moment where he came out from behind the role--jumping gloriously over garbage cans, or, more recently, beaning a rat with a frying pan--with the most poetic flair.

But somehow the writers and producers caught on to the atonality of Carrie and Alex's courtship, and now, it is quite movingly, about how they often fail to understand each other. There are odd pockets of silence and sadness in the waning days of this peppy, pink-hued show, and I am well pleased.

Sunday, February 01, 2004


I keep trying to calm myself about the overpraising and overawarding of Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation," but it doesn't seem to be working. I'd like to say it's a lovely little bonbon, and leave it at that, except that I found the movie so mean-spirited to all but the two central character, Holden and Holdenette--I mean, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson, that I kept finding new puffs of pink-colored steam coming out of my ears. Jeff keeps telling me I ought to write an essay, and I will, but answer me this: why exactly are we supposed to feel sorry for a Yale graduate who owes no money on her college education, has a distracted but nice husband who's put her up in a swanky Japanese hotel , and who's had the time, money and resources to dabble since she got out of college? If this is suffering, to quote John Kerry, bring it on.

And exactly how charming can we really find Bill Murray's character after he's shtupped the mediocre lounge singer, mostly because his wife back home has sent him some carpet samples? These are what I once heard referred to as "luxury problems," or, as another guy I know put it, this is the sound of two people, each of them complaining that he can't get his pool blue enough.

Ah, I feel better already.