Monthly Archives: April 2010

sisyphus apologizes, tantalus drinks

4/28/10

I am lying on a foldout couch bed in my sister’s apartment in Santa Cruz, CA, having just driven from Los Angeles on the barren, post-apocalyptic surface of Mercury known as Interstate 5. The winds over the Grapevine (the tortuous path through the mountains that leads out of Southern California) had blasts of 70mph winds that asked, quite powerfully, if the car and I would like to be tossed 14,000 feet into the troposphere. I am feeling my age; there was a time when I would think nothing of 21-day jaunts across the country in a shitty car, and now my lower back wants revenge.

My family is all gathering here for Michelle and Jon’s wedding on Saturday, one of those rare occasions when all of us, both my parents, everyone who grew up together in the 1970s and 80s is together again. It makes for the occasional odd dynamic, to be sure, but mostly we have the kind of rapport reserved for those who served on the same ship back in the War of 1812.

We have our mythologies, the so-called defining aspects of our character, that still haunt us like an old injury, even if it hasn’t been true in decades. But what fun would it be if suddenly all of us were all completely self-actualized and utterly self-contented? BO-RING! Gimme old resentments and quick-fuse frustrations ANY DAY OF THE WEEK over pleasantries and demurring!

Do you have a mythology placed on you in your family, and what is it?

faust seduced by palms

4/27/10

When I was in college, I helped throw some of the greatest parties of our day; I had no trouble meeting anyone I wanted, and was positively fearless in love and lust. This was probably a grand correction from my childhood and early adolescence of forced introspection and monkhood, but it didn’t matter. I carried a sense of purpose, of survival, of fun and effortlessness all mixed together, even through my twenties, building a castle wall lined with arrow slits of sarcasm and disarming self-deprecation, depending on the situation. I was doing pretty well until I pulled my Volkswagen Fox up Beachwood Drive in 1997.

That began three years in LA that left me utterly confused on how the world functioned, where none of my survival mechanisms seemed to work, and contentment was replaced by calcified scales of deep cynicism. I was dipped in shit, and there was nothing I could do to cleanse myself of it.

Many of these people in LA had been some of my closest confidantes in a broad circle extending from North Carolina. I tried being gung ho; I was met with disdain. I tried being laissez-faire and cool; I was met with boredom. I tried removing myself from any potentially volatile situation, and was summarily forgotten about.

I couldn’t maintain any old friendships, get any gigs, make any money or get arrested. When I would go to a gathering, I’d have out-of-body experiences, suddenly seeing myself as “that guy”, whatever “that guy” was. It reached its apotheosis one night in late 1999, when the last of my old ego crumbled away.

I was at a party thrown by old friends who had become fairly successful, and through months of vague osmosis, I had gotten to know the names of the producers and agents that filled out their circle. A bunch of us – about 15 folks of varying genders – had ended up in this tiny room with no windows. A joint was being passed around, drinks were being filled, and there was the usual repartee of single people trying to be funny.

I joined in a few times, directing my comments at a guy named Peter, a successful producer I’d known from several readings over the preceding months. Everyone was getting a bit higher and a bit drunker, and I remember thinking I was finally having a little fun after a few years.

You never really knew what was going to be your ticket to the inside – a friend of mine ended up editing a huge movie because he happened to drive back from the desert with the right guy. Favors were passing left and right, little phone calls were placed for buddies, and scripts made their way to actors’ nightstands on suggestions and nudges. I had to participate; to do anything else would be insane, and leave you back at the bus station with the schlubs.

On the way home from the party, I had this creeping realization: the big producer, the guy my age who I had been joking with in front of so many people all night… I… I don’t think his name was Peter. In fact, I know it wasn’t Peter.

And I replayed the night in my head, all the times I said something, and the looks from others, trying not to be embarrassed for me, and the producer himself, giving a gentle laugh as I called him the wrong name, someone else in the room quickly saying something else so that the uncomfort wouldn’t linger… how did I not see it at the time? And I had even talked to his girlfriend, oh god, and none of the people I’d called friends ever pulled me aside…

And that’s when I said “fuck it, I give, I’m folding.” That was it. This place had an allergy to me. I was done. I didn’t go to any more parties, no more dates, no more going anywhere for six months. At the end of six months, I moved to New York without telling anybody, and started my life over.

I can’t believe, so many years later, with all I’ve managed to do, and coming back here and having a fair amount of success… I can’t believe how much pain that one night 11 years ago still causes me. I cannot let it go. It represents something bigger. Maybe I need it for navigation, so that I never go back.

venus de milo grew an arm

4/26/10

A few random facts:

1. We went to our preschool’s fundraising auction tonight, and our “donation” was a tasting of rare single-malts that I would give to the winning couple and four of their friends. I thought nobody would care. And then there was a bidding war and I think we raised over a thousand dollars for the school.

2. My sister is marrying one of my best friends in the world this weekend.

3. The new version of Scrabble allows proper nouns. I mean, come on. Why they just allow monosyllabic grunts, acronyms and fart noises while they’re at it?

4. While at a restaurant tonight, I heard that California has more people in prison than any country in the world. Because I’m a little daft, I wondered how California could have more people in prison than the United States. Then I noticed a car. And then I noticed a pretty song on the speakers.

5. I got Lucy a little box of Playmobil (“hard guys”) mermaids from the toy store, which she immediately loved. One of the hard guy mermaids is pulled along by a giant seahorse. Seahorses are primarily monogamous, and once the female develops an egg, she gives it to the male to fertilize and carry to term in his belly.

6. My brother Sean and sister-in-law Jordana are 7 months pregnant with a girl, and you can see her move around Jordi’s belly from across the room, which is totally awesome.

7. In February, we were visited by a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker outside Lucy’s window, which made me geekily happy:

YellowBelliedSapsucker4(bl).jpg

Your random facts may be expressed below!

i’ve kicked the habit, shed my skin

4/25/10

Do you know those eras in your life that seem to be effortlessly happy? Obviously the overwhelming majority of them happen between our early teens and our late twenties, given the natural vicissitudes of Growing Repsonsibility®, and my favorite occurred as I was 19, in 1986.

XTCPetShopBoysHouseM(bl).jpg

To me, the music, styles, movies and anything associated with that stretch of time automatically conjures a reptilian pleasure response – and yes, I’m talking bizarre bits of culture like “Something About You” by Level 42, “Real Genius”, the random songs on “Graceland”, Mary Stuart Masterson in “Some Kind of Wonderful”, and of course, the entire 2nd side of “The Queen is Dead” by the Smiths.

I was also drinking a lot of lime-flavored Crystal Light (yeah, yeah) and had peanut M&M’s in our dorm-room fridge in Grimes. And a favorite shirt, a teal short-sleeve polo that was perfectly ragged in that looks-good-but-I-didn’t-care-TOO-much sort of way. I have a visceral memory of that micro-era, and it has aged magnificently.

There is a 19-year-old kid having his Perfect Time right now, a group of albums, movies, YouTube videos, green skate shoes and iTunes mixes that will forever give him pleasure. He will think of 2010, and have a relaxing sense of contentment many years from now, when “Poker Face” comes on the oldies station and he tries to explain the zeitgeist to his own kid.

And then it struck me that these little eras are not created for us, we create them. Sure, there is the excitement of new girlfriends, boyfriends, school and life discovery that brings these things on, but is it possible to say to yourself: “okay, I have not been effortlessly happy in a long time. If this era can be someone else’s Awesome Year, why can’t I make it mine again as well?”

And then just decide, then and there, to imbue this time, right here, with the same general good feeling as the ones you used to have. “This period, this micro-epoch, this elongated season will be defined as fun, whether it has intrinsic perfectness or not,” you may say. The world does not change for you; you change for it, and since your feelings are mostly illusions painted on the plexiglass surrounding you, why not play its game? Barring a chemical imbalance, how long can you fake a good year before it becomes a good year?

relaxen und watschen der blinkenlights

4/21/10

I’ve been researching a fair amount of new technology lately, so today’s question – should you choose to answer it – is this: what recent (last 3-4 years) technology do you love, and what do you deplore?

The tech in question can be a device, a piece of software, a way of communicating, a website, or even a school of thinking. Enlighten or imdarken us, please!

episiotomy closure

4/20/10

In a math classroom, the teacher writes “1 + 2 = ?” on the chalkboard. She then asks the class of 25 kids what the answer is. She goes down the row, and one by one, each of the students says “three!” Until she gets to Student X, right in the middle of everybody.

“The answer is four,” he says loudly. Everyone in class turns to look at him. The teacher, trying to make sure everybody is treated fairly, says, “Student X, are you sure? Look at the problem: one plus two equals…”

“Four,” the student repeats, only this time it’s louder. Even kids who were barely paying attention in the back row look up from their doodles. But the teacher is still trying to be nice and take him seriously, so she explains, “Okay, we start with one, then we add two more. That should make three, don’t you think?”

He stands up, enraged. “I don’t have to take your word for this shit!” he yells. “Who are YOU to tell me how many ‘two’ is?”

“I’m the teacher,” she says, “and in mathematics, ‘two’ has always meant-”

“Shut your fucking pie hole, you elite cow! Don’t talk down to me!”

“I’m not talking down to you, Student X,” she says, trying to keep her cool, “I’m simply saying that the entire known world has adopted a number system that-”

“There you go again!” Student X screams, swiveling around to face the students behind him, “Can you believe this shit?”

Suddenly the boy behind him, Student Y, leaps to his feet. “I sure as hell can’t!” he bellows, “Fuck the teacher and her so-called experts!” Student X gives him a high-five. “Amen, brother! One plus two equals WHATEVER THE FUCK WE SAY IT IS!”

The class starts to murmur to each other, little arguments start up, some of the people who answered “three” look worried. The teacher, perplexed, tries to move on.

“Okay,” she says, “let’s just keep going down the row, people.” She points to the student behind Student Y. “How about you? What is one plus two?”

The student looks perplexed. “I mean, I don’t know,” he mumbles, “I’m just not sure who to believe anymore.”

“Yeah,” says the girl next to him, “There are so many conflicting sources! How are we supposed to make an educated guess?”

“There’s no guessing!” the teacher exclaims, clearly frustrated, “There are two numbers. Known quantities. Add them together, and the result is not a guess, it’s a fact!”

“Maybe in YOUR WORLD!” Student X quips. “In MINE, one plus two equals four!”

“We live in the same world!” the teacher yells. “Your arbitrary decision to be purposely obtuse only makes things miserable for everybody, and keeps your fellow students from learning anything!”

The bell rings, and all the students jump out of their seats. They all filter past the teacher, who is sitting on her desk, angrily staring into middle distance. The last student to leave, Student X, stops right in front of her.

“You’re a sad fuck, you know that?” he says with a smirk, then leaves the room. The teacher simmers in silence for a few minutes, then wanders over to the window for some fresh air. She catches sight of Student X and Student Y, walking together across the playground to the street.

A black limousine pulls up, and a man gets out of the back seat. He hands a wad of cash to both students, who gleefully accept the money, and run off. The man watches them go, then looks up to the school windows, where he spots the teacher. He chuckles derisively, shakes his head, and gets back into the limousine. With sudden horror, she sees the number stitched into the back of his suit: 4.

ShorpyClassroom(bl).jpg

it’s all in yer heed, son

4/19/10

EyjafjallajökullErupts.jpg

My brother Kent wrote to me on Sunday, bringing up the global warming debates that reached a boiling point on this blog in mid-2008. It’s been a while since I approached the topic, since I gave up all pretense or hope around the subject two years ago – so for all I know, my conservative friends on here are now buying compact fluorescents and driving electric cars.

Silence doesn’t quell rage, however, and the report on Koch Industries that Kent mentions below made me wish there was some sort of superhero that could bust into the Koch Bunker of Hatred® and beat the shit out of them. But since I’m a knee-jerk hot-headed fuckshirt and Kent’s a Quaker, I’ll let him do the talking today:

****

Kent here.

I want to revisit an argument that has long raged in the comment section of this blog: the debate between global warming ‘alarmists’ — like me, and the global warming skeptics, represented ably by longtime commenter Matt. I can summarize the argument thusly: My view is that Global Warming caused by human activity – the so-called “Anthropogenic Global Warming” or AGW – is real, that it is a real danger to the continued survival and quality of life, and that we should do whatever we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Matt’s view is that even if there is a global warming trend, there isn’t sufficient evidence that it is caused by human activity, or that the consequences of global warming will be as dire as is claimed by most climate scientists, liberals, et al (et Al Gore, as it were).

If you care to revisit the post, Matt cited links to articles supporting his side of the question. Then, the next day, I looked at the sources of the articles to which Matt linked. My conclusion after doing some Googling was that all the articles he cited had nothing to do with science, and everything to do with money being spent by polluting industries to raise doubts about AGW.

In my opinion (and the opinion of many others), these “raised doubts” are not peer-reviewed scientific critiques of the AGW literature, they’re opinion pieces, paid for by polluters. Sure, that’s free speech, but in the over-simplifying, sound-bite-spewing, attention deficit media world, it is harmful and dangerous. Media thrives on controversy, so they’re all to willing to accept a false equivalency between on the one side, conservative think tanks, and on the other, actual climate science.

This wasn’t an argument that was ever resolved. Matt is an AGW skeptic, and I’m a believer. I don’t dredge this up to stir more controversy, but instead, I have a more despicable motive: to say “I told you so.” And what I told you was that there was a deliberate effort by polluting industries to promote AGW skepticism. Furthermore I told you that often one skeptic “authority” would bolster their argument by citing other skeptic “authorities,” when in fact they all were paid hacks. Comes now this interesting report from Greenpeace, on the funding by Koch Industries of the AGW Skeptic echo chamber:

GreenpeaceKochArticle(bl).jpg

 

Now of course, it’s nothing that will convince Matt of anything, seeing as how Greenpeace is just another leftist organization that presumable benefits from climate change hysteria. But for anyone willing to look through the report, it’s pretty clear that Exxon, Koch Industries, the Petroleum Institute, et al (but not et Al Gore!), they have spent millions of dollars to try and create an AGW controversy, not with actual climatological research, but with an echo chamber of think tanks, TV pundits, and generalized attacks on the scientific establishment’s way of conducting research.

And just to show that Koch Industries AGW skepticism isn’t a monomaniacal obsession, consider this Talking Points Memo article:

TPMKochArticle(bl).jpg

 

In which Koch denies funding the astro-turf Tea Party Movement, even while acknowledging that they fund Americans for Prosperity, who funded the Tax Day Tea Party rallies around the country. Together with Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks (also a corporate-funded ‘astroturf’ organization), Americans for Prosperity has spent millions to inflame the passions of thousands of grammar-and-spelling-challenged “real americans.”

Given enough Fair Trade coffee, I can rant endlessly on this topic, but I think I’ll just point out another bubbling controversy of the moment, the concept of “Epistemic Closure.” Andrew Sullivan’s post is as good a place as any to start reading on this topic. But the crux of the discussion is this: conservatives in this country are willfully trapped inside an echo chamber of their own making: Conservative Blogs, Faux News, the Washington Times, the Weekly Standard, et al (but not et Al…).

The right wing refuses to admit facts that contradict their beliefs, and an entire industry has grown up with propping up their beliefs and discrediting any so-called ‘facts’ inconsistent with said beliefs. Stephen Colbert’s oft-repeated wisecrack that “Reality has a well-known Liberal bias,” comes to mind — anything outside the self-reinforcing circle of authority is dismissed as tainted by the opposing ideology.

I’m sure one can come up with examples from loony fringe of the left wing which can be construed to represent the same sort of epistemic closure, but we must resist the siren call of false equivalency here. I’m all for skepticism, but not the skepticism of knee-jerk dismissal; we need to examine everyone’s assertions in the light of the best information available, and be willing to change our minds when our beliefs run up against inconvenient facts. You are, as always, entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

insert guitar solo

4/15/10

Okay, I admit it. I’m hopelessly jetlagged and have to go to bed way before I usually write the blog, hence the shameful lameness of this week. I’ll be back in action after the weekend, but in the meantime, if one of you early risers (jesus, the responses from yesterday made me feel like most of you are up on the East Coast before I go to bed) want to ask something interesting about… oh, say, the value of friendship, please do.

rapid eire movements

4/14/10

Today was a big occasion at the Blake-Wms household (more on that tomorrow), but I have a burning question that needs answering, because, goddamit, I need to know where I stand. I just gotta figure out where I am relative to other people. And so, might I ask… in all honesty, what time do you average going to bed each night, and how long do you sleep?