Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Pope's Penis
Sharon Olds

It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver sweaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat -- and at night
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.

meanwhile, back in DC

What the *(&*((*@#^)(*%. I wish even 20% of the coverage of electoral races was siphoned off to cover the crazy shit that's going down in Lame Duck Land. Scares more than anything. Having said that, though...sad about Edwards.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cold weather and the kitties are misbehavin (looks like this)

* Leftover Chinese takeout is only barely worth it, to my way of thinking. No way to ever recreate the warm steamy glory of what once was, and then only with so much effort you might as well make it from scratch. Rice is so miserable leftover, so is anything fried...neh.

* Urban ancillary I always find interesting: American fud that is unusually good at Chinese haunts. Like...fries.

* The difference in cooking show rhetoric from five years ago to now in three words: pasta cooking water.

* Completely convincing, 100% of the time: mascara commercials. I don't always succumb, but each time I think, Yeah! THAT's the one!

We are getting the winter this year in Chicago we've avoided for a while. Still sucks, tho. What do midwives say? You get the birth you need...

Monday, January 28, 2008

More questions from the dark corners

The question formed itself almost instantly. I felt like I knew what was being attempted and why, right away--it had only been a matter of time until I ran into it--so I was really curious to see if it would be successful.

Is it possible to use focused biographical efforts to go back and answer the questions that conventional biography doesn't answer? Do topical biographies answer the questions that are left after whole lives are raked over?

The spark was Judith Freeman' new book, The Long Embrace, which attempts just that. In her case, the subject is Raymond Chandler and the lingering mysteries of his marriage, about which very little is known but the facts are intriguing, the biggest being that Cissy Chandler was eighteen years older than her husband. He didn't know this at first.

There are lots of biographies and histories that examine thematic through-lines in multiple people's lives or look at powerful people from a particular POV. But it seems to me that books like The Long Embrace are a very specific thing unto themselves. It's the book that Goes Back, like Cold Case Files. Goes back to find out (looking at my own literary passions for examples) more about the questions that linger in crucial or just sexy ways... Who the father of MFK Fisher's second child was, the name she took to the grave. How much Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter really was involved in the writing of her mother's books. How Dorothy Sayers really felt about her illegitimate child. Why P.G. Wodehouse really did his war-time radio broadcasts for the Germans. The big unanswerables. Agatha Christie's eleven-day disappearance in 1926. All the life mysteries that linger despite (usually) multiple attempts at exhaustive biography, and the special mysteries that linger in the lives of writers, who alternately divulge and conceal so much.

Freeman in this case dug through every file (Chandler's papers are in both England and LA), visited every home in which the Chandlers lived (they generally moved a couple times a year--the list is endless), haunted every site of Chandler's letters and novels.

And did she Answer the Question? Is all revealed?

The answer's...neh. Not really. We still don't really know much about how their relationship reallly operated (Chandler burned all his wife's letters--Freeman didn't discover any new). She supplies new educated guesses about some facts of her life (an attachment to the Mensendieck Method for why she did her chores naked), documents the crumbling parts of LA that Chandler knew and lived in (his house in LaJolla, for instance), followed every footstep. We get a clearer sense of how Chandler eventually became complicit in hiding Cissy's age. Bits, pieces. But we never get the big payoff. In fact, in a late chapter in the book, Freeman documents all the evidence she really has about Cissy, and it amounts to 10 things, only, paper, photos and anecdotes. Her work has added to the list (e.g., she discovered the one photo that exists of both Chandler and Cissy together), but it's skimpy.

Don't get me wrong, Freeman fully inhabits what she's got. Some of the incidents she rounds out really do help us get a sense of what this woman might have been like, how Chandler was so attached to her, such as a meeting with George Cukor (somehow that just fits, given Cukor's talent with women). But in the end it still all feels vaporous, because it is. It's hard to get a sense of the power in the Chandlers' relationship, whether she was serving him, or he was serving her with their somewhat reclusive life. Cissy still....flits. The questions are still louder than the answers.

Is this because Lost Embrace is a focused book? Is it possible to not write about one aspect of somebody's life (Chandler's years in a boys school in England, e.g.) when attempting to understand another? In the other two Chandler bios, Cissy does seem even more of a mystery, but at the same time...the time spent describing his school years rings notes that get echoed later in Chandler's life and marriage. I'm not sure it works to tweeze out one part of someone's life. Although you could argue we don't need a third rehash either, though. Or do we?

So the question really becomes: is it worth writing a book to show process? A book about research? Is is worth publishing the (unanswered) questions? As expected (Freeman is a novelist) there is a lot of LA writing in the Lost Embrace, a lot of reaching for what it was that Chandler described so well, and so much before anybody else. We get to hear a lot about her driving around LA, hanging around the Bodleian, reading Chandler in LA's Union Station. There's a new go at the possibility of Chandler's homosexuality, his young life in LA, his relationship with his mother. She brings him to life again in some ways (the last Chandler bio was in 1997).

Freeman's a good writer, and I'm fully convinced you have to be a good writer to write a good biography, but I think the ruthless posture of a biography consumer is still the correct one. I am happy to have the few new revelations, new substantive speculation, but in the end...the goods are the goods. Without facts, the virtues of this book fell out of my grasp. Freeman's a good writer, but the reason I'm reading the book is Chandler's writing. Otherwise it's just a story about one really sad alcoholic.

So...close but no cigar. I'm a rabid fan; I won't kick this book out of bed for eating crackers. It's an easy read, and seeing the same questions I'm always asking on the page might create some new synergy at some point after some re-reading, some new relevation. It's going on the shelf with the other Chandler bios and his letters and maybe I'll find something I missed the first time around, something that makes me realize there's more in this book than I thought.

One last thought: even if Freeman had discovered piles of shaky 16mm film documenting every answer to the questions in Chandler's life, it still might not satisfy 100%. In fact it's sort of impossible, especially with biography, which succeeds not necessarily with the harshest glare of light--bright light and a punch in the kidneys, like a Chandler novel, which--note--never makes Marlowe talk. That's the other difficulty in all this.

I remember wondering once when I was a teenager looking at huge piles of remaindered autobiographies at Waldenbooks why we had any questions left. Why we as a culture are so avid for inside information, act like it's being withheld from us, when in fact the questions have all theoretically been answered. Everybody writes (auto)biography these days, we have everything from the horse's mouth. Everyone in the O.J. Simpson trial wrote a book, everyone in the Monica Lewinsky affair wrote a book. We do actually know everything. I mean...we should, right. We have all the information. But it feels like we don't. And sometimes...we really don't. Mysteries are strong, sometimes it's the pressure of knowledge itself that holds them in place. In the end it's all the same thing. The lesson of the 20th century in a nutshell: all this information...we know less.

That's drunk existential pillow talk, though. Somewhere...facts are still facts.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Another reason to love Marilyn Wann, one last reason to write off Katy St. Clair completely after her irresponsibly-published piece of no-context-having non-journalistic firstpersonage about her weight loss surgery in SF Weekly (see her response to Wann at end):

Katy St. Clair can do whatever she likes to her body. She can also bite my fat ass. No part of my body is "debris."

Most of the data about stomach amputation — let's call it what it is — follow only the people who report back to their surgeons; i.e., the lucky ones. A recent study in Pennsylvania followed up on all patients and found higher death rates among the newly gutless than among comparably fat people who stayed away from the scary man with the knife. It's not okay to use a surgical cure on a social ill.

Katy's story made me wonder just what surgery-thin women are supposed to dream about when they encounter creepy guys from the Internet. Then I remembered about all the other cosmetic mutilations. (Vaginoplasty ... eww.)

We're living in dark times. There's a witch hunt on fat people. It's called the "obesity" epidemic. Witches (and witch-lovers) can either live in fear, or we can line up the bucket brigade and start dousing.

Here's a question for SF Weekly readers who think Katy is a better person because she lost weight: Fifty years from now, when bariatric medicine is as reviled as eugenics or phrenology, are you going to tell the kiddies a heroic story about how you stood up to the weight bigots? Or are you going to have to explain your less-laudable choices?

Marilyn Wann
Author of Fat! So?
San Francisco

Katy St. Clair responds: I take it back: Not all fat people are jolly.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

From the files of truth and justice: ONE PERSON, ONE FARE. Canada is showin us the way: "Current airline pricing practices, said the report [of the Canadian Transportation Agency], 'represent an economic disadvantage which effectively limits travel opportunities in respect of employment, education, leisure, medical care and emergencies available to these persons.'" The kicker? "The agency estimates the new policy will cost Air Canada about $7 million a year, and WestJet about $1.5 million a year. That amounts to about 77 cents a ticket for Air Canada and 44 cents for WestJet." OH MY GOD HOW WILL THE AIRLINES, um, survive.

Suddenly sucked all the way back, wholesale, into the De La Soul obsession of my yoot. Yoot-ish. It was quite a trip, that suck. I wore out--snapped--my cassette tapes from overuse back in the day, and it is a weird feeling to listen to a song from then now. It's like I am suddenly given the gift of tongues or something; the rap comes tumbling out of my mouth from the back of my brainpan line after line and I'm not even remembering it first, it just comes. Spilling out. I listened to those first two (esp) albums so's not a surprise. I sure am enjoying gobbling em up again. HELLO AGAIN YOU. Did I mention I love them?

Also gobbling: the new Chandler bio. Nothing to say just yet
except 1) I'm just not sure this kinda bio-format works and 2) it's good to know somebody else out there orders gimlets Chandler-style too because they love him (1/2 Roses, 1/2 gin, nothing else).

This widdle hamster is killin me.

I got to see the episode (one of two?) where Geraldine gets the guy on Vicar of Dibley!! It was sooo fantastic. Funny, too, after not being that funny in recent special episodes, I though (more shrill and naughty). This was really pretty funny, including a book club meeting where nobody has anything to say about Z*die Smith, and a long gag built (bless them) around the great snorting noise Emma Thompson makes when Hung Grant announces his Luv in Sense and Sensibility. Dawn F. is just hilarious. Esp in the last biT when she doesn't realize she's been proposed to. So sweet! Yay.

"There's about five girls in the video...that's it." (Snoop to his wife.)

Nobody take this too seriously. Just needed to write a sad lil poem. (CAN'T STOP LIMERICKING. Holler if you need a poem about something, I will crank one out. Tuppence a stanza.).

Death of Newspaper

There once was a press that just sank
The ink dried, the newsprint went blank
The words that we wrote
Could not make it float
Said us as we walked down the plank

Monday, January 14, 2008

I have really weird pitch. I can absolutely recreate notes, hear the right pitch, make them come out of my mouth. When I hear a song in my head, I'm hearing the correct notes, even the correct octaves. But identifying them...terrible. Beyond terrible. Even identifying simple intervals. This, despite the fact that I can always find middle C. But I work forwards from it completely laboriously, like I'm 99 and recently had a stroke. Can't move from one note to another without so many supports and railings as to make the process pointless. Plus I'm never quite right when I get there. Like the day I was called on to spell the word "wire" in second grade and couldn't figure out how to spell it any other way except "wiereireire" wouldn't stop. Slythy toves gyring and gimblin in the wabe.

I mention this because I've only recently discovered "Shy" from Once Upon a Mattress. If ever there was a song built for an amateur belter who can build a house on two or three notes and do nothing else, like me, it's this one, but the problem is...the money note is just slightly too high. So sad. Which of course is making me wonder what it is, because what I should do is transpose, but because the pitch in my head is so tenacious all I can do is reach for the real note (probably not bad for my range, but that's not the point). I've been warbling it in the shower and trying to climb carefully up the ladder from C to find it and just having no luck. Best as I can tell I think it might be the C sharp above major C. I tried looking up scales/charts online and it would fit with the key on some of the sheet music (A major), although of course you can't look at actually sheet music online.

All I know is boy, I really want a piano. I'm tired of living without one. And yet I think I want the kind of life right now where that's the last thing I have to dust/tune/move/worry about/protect from cats/find a home for/think about the burdensome physics thereof. Ah, to be 41 and single in 2008. Confusing.

- - - -

Rich, but good: In a big pasta bowl put some leftover sour cream (1/3 c?), a handful of Parmesan, and a spoonful of grainy mustard. While water/then pasta (campanelle) boils, heat a skillet quite hot and add a layer of olive oil. Throw in two salmon fillets, salt and pepper them, let them brown in that careful way salmon does. When you flip them over, add: orange juice, balsamic, the last squeeze of teriyaki sauce, Worchestershire sauce, soy, grainy mustard. Flake the fillets up, cook liquid until a loose glaze, then add the entire contents of pan plus super al dente pasta to the pasta bowl and toss all together. This was crying out for herbs...chives? tarragon? Deep greeny ones, that I did not have, to snip on top. Good, though.

Friday, January 11, 2008

porringers and pablum

600 words on the infantilization of America?  The fact that every new restaurant is populated by HIGH BAR CHAIRS clustered around HIGH TABLES, instead of human-sized/-scaled, on the ground, comfortable seating with space around them. The bar stools are not even the diner stools of yore, lined up in an egalitarian fashion at the counter, onto which one can easily slide and off from any angle, spin a lil, twirl slightly back and forth, let your bum hang off the back. These are HIGH chairs. With backs. Add a little snap-on tray, and....I can see us all banging our plastic Winnie the Pooh spoons for more Cheerios.

They're supposed to suggest the opposite, of course -- drinking. I went with a friend to a new restaurant I've wanted to try the other day (coughEnglishcough), which had nothing but high bar seating on all three floors of the place. Not just the bar. We had to leave, and find another place, which thankfully had cozy banquette seating and the requisite good pub grub and shandies, comfy and cozy as heck, if as carefully stage-directed out of thin air (different restaurant issue).

Obviously there are reasons for high-top/raised/high-chair bar seating, a primary mercenary one being it saves restaurateurs space--also interior designers; bar stools/high chairs seem to be roaring back into kitchen design again these days. You probably need half the room to pack in the same number of people, not to mention you don't have to plan the space as carefully. You can just wing all the cheap-ass furniture out there willy-nilly or tuck them under a counter. And if you're goin for a gastropub/casual bar look, then bar chairs help. There is supposed to be something fun and cazsh about eating feet in the air.

All I know as a fat chick is that I loathe them. They are my bete noire. They do not accommodate me, I cannot use them. And even if they are open in back and I can balance on them, I end up wobbling, straining, my fat ass sliding around, feet casting about flailingly for other stability, the blood flow cut off in my thighs, joints aching, completely unable to relax, talk or even gain leverage to cut food--mostly just feeling demeaned into a circus act. It's not just that, though.

It's all so kind of... infantilizing. You feel youngified, temporary, wobbling on a bar chair with our waiter at eye-level, as if they're about to wipe your chin, even more sardined-in than usual. I know space is a luxury in restaurants, and you can't always have beautifully wide-spaced, intime yet cozy tables with good acoustics as at a Tru more than just a few times in your life (and it's not like that's always what you want anyhow), but OH, is inspired comfortable seating in restaurants good. It soothes, it restores. You can relax, expand, become generous and sweet, eat well, cut your food, hear your friend, snatch a little timelessness away from life. Shoot, I just want to be comfortable. Feel that if I dropped my purse I could pick it up again without a winch. Or my mommy picking it up for me.

A tavola si non invecchia. Time spent at the table does not age. That's true, but not on a bar chair.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I keep coming back in my head to this incredibly clear-headed take on the Ob*ma/Cl*nton race, over and over. From David Brooks (!) (!!!).

"Presidents are buffeted by sycophancy, criticism and betrayal. They must improvise amid a thousand fluid crises. They’re isolated and also exposed, puffed up on the outside and hollowed out within. With the presidency, character and self-knowledge matter more than even experience. There are reasons to think that, among Democrats, Obama is better prepared for this madness.

Many of the best presidents in U.S. history had their character forged before they entered politics and carried to it a degree of self-possession and tranquillity that was impervious to the Sturm und Drang of White House life.

Obama is an inner-directed man in a profession filled with insecure outer-directed ones. He was forged by the process of discovering his own identity from the scattered facts of his childhood. . . Once he completed that process, he has been astonishingly constant."

Look! Me friend Holly's new album of Mister Rogers songs. Holly talks as if she's not a designer, but she has a fierce aesthetic, which I think you can see has come through in this byooful album.

I really love #3 :) ("I Like to Be Told").

Here's her myspace page to check out!

Friday, January 04, 2008


* The goal for 2008? To have a good time, all the time.

* Pre-daiquiri. Post-daiquiri.

* God bless him, but I don't need Carson Fashionman to tell me it's okay to be naked. I applaud his show in principle--VERY MUCH SO, and maybe I don't even mean this but still--Liz...exasperated.

* Cooking a lot recently: tunafish salat a la Liz yum; mac & cheese, made with with broken-up bucatini rigat (no macaroni), chicken stock and rice milk with pepper, (too much) dry mustard and three cheeses from hopelessly different socio-economic strata (camembert, american, parmeggiano)--sounds awful, was really pretty good, if a little impatient; relentlessly carned-up chili con carne (bacon, ground bif, chicken stock); verry veggy black beans, cooked with onion and green pepper and tons of thyme, oregano, white balsamic vinegar then pureed; choccy chip oatmeal cookies (think I've finally found a good recipe); brownies; other things I'm forgetting at the mo.

* If anybody I used to work with reads this they will laugh at me, but I'm startin to really love, in a pet junk fud way, that quintessential Chicago fudstuf....the pizza puff. DON'T LAUGH AT ME.

* The new ads for the new Jamie Oliver show: "Teaches you cooking in a new hands-on way." Ah. Hands-on. Thanks for clearing that up. My dissertation on the meaningless of Food Network rhetoric is almost complete.

* It's worth watching Along Came Polly for bits of Philip Seymour H., who steals the movie with ease. In fact, in a few years that movie would have been about him (a la Superbad), not about the meaningless benstiller everyman/nebbisch (can we kill that off yet?).

* Giving props where it's due, no matter what: There is some bizarrely good metre in that dumbass Hootie song. I'm-such-a-baby-the-Dolphins-make-me-cry. Seriously masterful metre! Must be said!!! Makes it look easy.

* I really really resent and am frankly still quite shocked that my high-school German teacher had us learn "Deutschland Uber Alles" in class. What was the point? I hate that it's in my head, cause it's hooky and has a bad way of showing up in the front of my brain pan sometimes. I wish it could be gone.

* My new nickname: Foxy.

* The ATA staff in Manchester, NH: really really nice.

* Two great auto-bios/bios for Christmas: The Judith Jones autobiography, and the new Raymond Chandler issue-oriented (What About His Wife?) biography. Gobble gobble! So yum, and thank you, mum.