Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts From Messrs. Huxley and Faulkner

I was recently forwarded a pair of interviews published by The Paris Review. One with Aldous Huxley in 1960, and one with William Faulkner in 1956. They both are brilliant, and I feel compelled to share some choice quotations from each herein.
All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist... Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. -WF

There are lots of excellent storytellers who are simply storytellers, and I think it’s a wonderful gift, after all… When you can find storytelling which carries at the same time a kind of parable-like meaning (such as you get, say, in Dostoyevsky or in the best of Tolstoy), this is something extraordinary, I feel. -AH
The trouble with Freudian psychology is that it is based exclusively on a study of the sick. Freud never met a healthy human being-- only patients and other psychoanalysts. -AH

Everybody talked about Freud when I lived in New Orleans, but I have never read him. Neither did Shakespeare. I doubt if Melville did either, and I'm sure Moby Dick didn't. -WF

I never got very much out of Ulysses. I think it's an extraordinary book, but so much of it consists of rather lengthy demonstrations of how a novel ought not to be written, doesn't it? He shows nearly every conceivable way it should not be written, and then goes on to show how it might be written. -AH

You should approach Joyce's Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith. -WF

I have a great difficulty in inventing plots. Some people are born with an amazing gift for storytelling; it's a gift which I've never had at all. -AH

Interviewer: Some people say they can't understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?
Faulkner: Read it four times.

If I had not existed, someone else would have written me, Hemingway, Dostoyevsky, all of us... The artist is of no importance. Only what he creates is important, since there is nothing new to be said. Shakespeare, Balzac, Homer have all written about the same things, and if they had lived one thousand or two thousand years longer, the publishers wouldn't have needed anyone since. -WF

I'm all for satire. We need it. People everywhere take things much too seriously, I think... I'm all for sticking pins into Episcopal behinds, and that sort of thing. It seems to me a most salutary proceeding. -AH

The writer's only obligation is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one... If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies. -WF

I think fiction, and biography and history, are the forms. I think one can say much more about general abstract ideas in terms of concrete characters and situations, whether fictional or real, than one can in abstract terms... My goodness, Dostoyevsky is six times as profound as Kierkegaard, because he writes fiction. -AH

The best job that was ever offered to me was to become a landlord in a brothel. In my opinion it's the perfect milieu for an artist to work in. It gives him perfect economic freedom; he's free of fear and hunger; he has a roof over his head and nothing whatever to do except a few simple accounts and to go once every month and pay off the local police. -WF

My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey... Between Scotch and nothing, I'll take Scotch. -WF

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oh! Hello, Irony! Welcome back.

A week ago I wrote about collar stays, and how they give me a secret feeling of satisfaction and superiority, because they make me look so good, while everyone else is walking around with curly collar points.

Today, my boss had me go buy him a package of collar stays.

I have no further comment at this time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yes We Can, Can

I recently discovered a really great song from 1973 recorded by the Pointer Sisters. It's called "Yes We Can, Can," I can't help but wonder if Barack Obama may have lifted his slogan from the Sisters. Listen below, and read the lyrics, which also dig on Barack's jive.

Now's the time for all good men
to get together with one another.
We got to iron out our problems
and iron out our quarrels
and try to live as brothers.
And try to find a piece of land
without stepping on one another.
And do respect the women of the world.
Remember you all have mothers.
We got to make this land a better land
than the world in which we live.
And we got to help each man be a better man
with the kindness that we give.
I know we can make it.
I know darn well we can work it out.
Oh yes we can, I know we can can
Yes we can can, why can't we?
If we wanna get together we can work it out.

And we gotta take care of all the children,
the little children of the world.
'cause they're our strongest hope for the future,
the little bitty boys and girls.

We got to make this land a better land
than the world in which we live.
And we got to help each man be a better man
with the kindness that we give.
I know we can make it.
I know darn well we can work it out.
Oh yes we can, I know we can can
yes we can can, why can't we?
If we wanna, yes we can can.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tearing Down the House that Ruth Built

Yankee fans have said their last goodbyes to their temple, and I feel I should do the same. I went to a couple games last week here in DC, watching the Nats play in their brand new ballpark. It's a nice place-- a terrific place to watch a game-- but it doesn't feel the same; doesn't have the same aura of majesty that Yankee Stadium has.

I wonder how the new stadium will feel. As replacements go, I couldn't ask for much more. I'm glad they're keeping it in the South Bronx, in the neighborhood, and I'm really glad they're designing it to mimic the old Yankee Stadium. But even moving across the street, it's going to be different. It will be strange not to have the Stadium's same imposing silhouette peering down on me next time I ride the train past it.

Having lived away from New York for seven years now, my commitment as a fan has waxed and waned-- but mostly waned. Still, I feel bad not to have paid a last visit to Yankee Stadium. It feels as though they just pulled the plug on an old friend's life support, and I didn't make it to say goodbye. Sure, he was a vegetable, and he might not have even known I was there, but it would have helped with a sense of closure. Bad analogy, sorry.

The Times has done a series of good pieces on the Stadium's last days, if you'd like to get more teary-eyed:

The trouble with early bedtimes

An incomplete list of the topics that occupy my mind as I try (and fail) to fall asleep at night:
  • The time I forgot my lines in a play
  • The competing benefits of renting a Zipcar and asking my roommate if I can borrow his car
  • Stumbling over the first hurdle in the 110m preliminaries at NEPSA interschols, 2004
  • Russian loose nukes
  • Losing the Geograbee after buzzing in and citing Sicily and Sicilia as the two largest islands in the Mediterranean. I meant Sicily and Sardinia, honest.
  • The proper alignment for the bed I don't yet have in the room I don't yet live in.
  • An interview of Aldous Huxley that I read one time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Car Free Fall

Happy first day of fall! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the best season of the year.

Washington, DC kicks off the fall with Car Free Day today. What better way to breathe in some of that crisp autumn air, while also saving the planet and reducing traffic fatalities, than by biking to and from work!

Unfortunately, Car Free Day didn't stop one homicidal maniac from trying to plow me down with his SUV this morning. I would guess that my average commute features one episode of me hurling oaths and expletives at a passing driver. Seriously, you wouldn't believe these morons.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Small Joys in Office Life

In my two weeks as a working professional (and I use both those terms loosely), I've quickly discovered that, to maintain shreds of individuality and bits of soul, one needs to find and embrace small joys that, however petty or absurd, keep one of your feet planted firmly somewhere other than the ground.

The Snap Crackle Pedometer might fall into this category.

To be sure, the swelling sense of chest-thumping pride that comes from writing a flawless memo, or the feeling of indomitability that grows out of scheduling a crucial meeting into an already jam-packed day, or the blind, delighted surprise of getting through another day without being fired-- all of these things bring joy to office life.

But sometimes one longs for something more.

This week, I discovered something new that helps make every day a winning day at the office. I discovered collar stays-- and I love them. Pausing while drafting an e-mail to a colleague sitting less than fifty feet away from me, putting my hand to the collar of my shirt, and feeling the starched stiff formality of a pointed collar, I'm momentarily relieved of the monotony of office life, and removed to a thrilling, secret world of self-satisfaction.

This, I suppose, is part of the larger office joy of, simply, looking good and dressing well. Being able to take business casual, and turn it into something that deserves the attention of the Sartorialist-- this is part of what makes my days worthwhile.

As Robert Pante told us: "If you look good and dress well, you don't need a purpose in life."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Count My Steps!

I opened up a fresh box of Frosted Mini Wheats yesterday morning, and what do you think I pulled out?

A Snap Crackle Pop Pedometer. Emblazoned with your three favorite onomatopoeically-named cereal cartoon people, the gadget is clipped to my belt, and is counting my steps.

So far today? 780 steps. Take that, childhood obesity.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Put it on ice

La Hacienda FC fought to a tie today: a good start to the season that holds great promise. Our team is led by a squadron of Andover cluster soccer all-stars, and we've brought in a crack bunch of ringers to round the team out. Once we get in our groove, we'll be unstoppable.

If you happen to live in the Columbia Heights area, and you don't read New Columbia Heights, you should. More importantly, though, you probably haven't heard about the sidewalk salesmen who will make you a shaved ice treat for only one dollar. Particularly on a day like today, when it's a hundred goddamn degrees outside, these creations are really refreshing. They'll give you a huge pile of shaved ice in a chinese food take-out container, and they don't skimp on the flavor syrup, either. Plus, it's for a good cause-- to benefit a local charter school. Go see them on the corner of 14th and Irving!

Post-consumption issue: colored tongues.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


Miraculously, the rain stopped, the skies cleared, and Hurricane Hanna moved on just as I arrived in Washington yesterday. Perhaps because of my good fortune, though I've been wary for the last day... You know the scene in Independence Day when Will Smith shoots down the alien in the desert, then goes and opens up his spaceship, punches him in the face, and says "Welcome to Earth"? For whatever reason, I've been expecting a "BAM. Welcome to Washington" moment. Hasn't really happened yet. I didn't get shot or mugged, I didn't get hit by a car, and I didn't meet any Senators. I will remain on my guard.

As promised, I offer below my thoughts on the current political race in the form of an aimless rant.

Sarah Palin is, of course, the story of the moment. Baby-mama-drama aside, we should be a seriously asking whether she's even a half-decent choice to be our next vice-president. She certainly presented very well at the RNC-- she looked good, she spoke well, and it became clear that, politically, she benefits the ticket in a few crucial ways. She’s mobilizing the socially conservative base, she brings a much more lively feel to the Republican ticket, considering McCain's lack of, shall we say, energy, and I'm sorry to say it, but this pit bull with lipstick may turn out to be a pretty effective attack dog. In her big speech, I found her snide, sarcastic tone to be totally off-putting, but it may fit the cynical humor of our time. We'll see if it remains palatable for the people.

But Palin darn near torpedoes the "experience" argument against Obama, and frankly, it just seems irresponsible to choose a VP with such a short, unremarkable political career. The gasbags on TV who are arguing that she's more experienced than Obama and Biden combined ought to be perforated and hung out to dry. If it isn't obvious enough that running Wasilla-- or even Alaska-- is a fair bit less responsibility than serving as a Senator, it should at least be obvious that that their metric suggests that she's also more experienced than McCain. Idiots. What it comes down to with Palin, I think, is the old competition of style vs. substance. She looks good, she talks good, and she seems to be a great political choice-- but a deeply, cynically political choice as well. Beyond her electoral benefits, I'm just not sure she's got much to offer.

McCain, as I think his speech made apparent, is running on a phony argument and the fumes of W's coalition. He flipped back and forth between dishing on the Bush administration-- talking about "change," and about moving above the morass of Washington politics-- and blowing the same old jingoistic smoke out of his ass. How is it that the right wing seems to have a monopoly on patriotism? Why does the American flag feel like a symbol of the Republican party? To me, the hyper-nationalism of the sort on display at the RNC—the random USA chants, the “my country, right or wrong” idea, the whole concept of “country first”— feels like the precursor to fascism.

He has a compelling personal story, there's no doubt about it, but is he starting to seem like an old man who tells the same stories over and over? At a certain point, one has to say: Ok John, I like you, I respect you, and I salute your service, but that was forty years ago; why should I vote for you now? Once again, I think it comes down to style vs. substance, bluster vs. ideas. Will people see past the posturing and recognize that McCain's stated policies make him frightfully similar to Bush? Will they get over the patriotic urge to vote for a vet, and realize that a McCain presidency would make things worse, not better for our military and their families?

A last note on the RNC: Far and away, I thought the most tasteless shtick at the convention was the bashing of Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Thompson did it, Giuliani did it, Palin did it twice. Since when is working to help underprivileged families a laughable pursuit? Especially if they’re then turning around to talk about the importance of service—why is one kind of service so much more honorable? I think that was a mistake that they can’t keep making. It may have been good for a laugh in St. Paul, but if they keep at it, I think it will backfire.

Someday soon, I’ll go beyond telling you why you shouldn’t vote for McCain, and tell you why you should vote for Obama. But that is a task for another day.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Of Hurricanes and New Beginnings

It is something less than auspicious to arrive in a new city in the midst of a hurricane, but I think Hanna may be an appropriate metaphor for the political squall I suspect awaits at the end of this bus ride.

(Aside: Have you ridden the Bolt Bus yet? Running the Boston-NY-DC corridor, the coaches feature extra legroom and free wireless. And if you're the first person to buy a ticket for a given trip, your ticket is $1! If, as I hope, they sponsor Usain Bolt, I'll never again patronize another bus company.)

In Washington, I'll be going to work for NDN, a progressive policy think tank and advocacy organization, as personal assistant to President Simon Rosenberg, and as a staff researcher. It feels like a good time to be working for Democrats-- even if not directly for a campaign. The race for the presidency is close, competetive and getting to be nasty. I'll offer a few thoughts in a forthcoming post.

I feel compelled to put in a plug for my mother's new book, even though, if you're reading this, you probably already own a copy. Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me A Story got a rave review from Daniel Pinkwater on Weekend Edition this morning, and has since shot up to #54 in books on If you've got a little cousin, or a baby shower to go to, or a 6 year-old's sense of humor (I include myself here), you'd be a sucker not to buy a copy.

The sky is clear-- I think I'm in the eye of the storm. Washington, DC-- here I come!

UPDATE: Me mum's book peaked at #30 on Amazon's best-seller list... but then Amazon ran out of copies! Now you can't get the book anywhere for two weeks... While it's nice to know it's so popular, the loss in sales is pretty irritating.