Saturday, May 26, 2012

Love, Summer Camp and Billy Joel

"How thoughtlessly we dissipate our energies
perhaps we don't fulfill each other's fantasies"

Billy Joel, "Summer Highland Falls"

For as much as I rag on Billy Joel, "Summer Highland Falls" will always be one of my favorite songs ever.  It's still sad and tragic and beautiful (especially the live version on The Millennium Concert; I've always maintained that Billy Joel, like Tori Amos, is better in concert) untarnished by the realization that Billy Joel is a fat rich crybaby.

For me, this song is 17 and The New York State Writer's Institute Summer Writing Program, which was 25 of the top young writers in the state.  It still remains one of the highest honors I have ever received, and I've been in Pank.  But the night before I left, Aaron dumped me (because Aaron was, among many things, a first-class asshole) leaving me mourning among strangers.

But I acted out, as I am wont to do, and made some friends by being incessantly quirky.  And I met a boy, Andrew, who was cute and sweet and actually liked me, which was sort of a rare thing at the time. We went on a walk and found a cool tower.  And then he asked me to Billy Joel night at the commons.  I was at a crossroads--Billy Joel was kind of Aaron and I's thing (our song was, appropriately, "And So It Goes" because Aaron was, among many things, insane) but here was a boy who was asking me to go someplace with him.  Luckily, something inside my 17 year old mind, in between thinking about Pokemon and MST3K, said "fuck that guy, Andrew wants to hang out with you, and Andrew is rad."

Billy Joel night, by the way, was a guy with a Casio keyboard playing Billy Joel songs.   We sat at white picnic tables.  All our other fellow campers were there.  When he played "Summer Highland Falls," I looked over at Andrew and he looked at me and we smiled at each other.  It was then that I knew that I was going to be just fine.

What with "Summer Highland Falls" as our song, you're probably not surprised that things ended kind of badly with Andrew despite not having ever really begun.  It sucked, but it wasn't unexpected, because life isn't always fair and sometimes both choices have consequences that far outweigh any benefits.  I don't blame either of us, because that's just how things go.  He hurt me and he may not have known it, and I know I hurt him without meaning to, but, like Billy Joel suggested, we couldn't fulfill each other's fantasies.  Despite this, I still thought of him fondly--if not a little wistfully--and that smile on a night when I needed to reclaim part of myself, even if it was just a song or two.

I touched base with him a little while ago and was kind of annoyed that I hadn't looked him up sooner, because he lives in Austin and I was in Austin last summer.  We agreed that if either of us was ever in the other person's time zone, we'd get dinner and catch up on all the years between us.  And we left it at that.

Most grand romances are not meant to be.  But I've found that the most epic of romances exist only in the span of a few short moments, when you're raw and unaware that something wonderful is happening until it's all over.  We can't marry everyone we meet, but that doesn't mean we can't, even just for a few seconds or minutes or hours, be in love without picking out china patterns and combining our bank accounts.  Sometimes love just needs to be that flutter of the heart as the object of your desire turns the corner, never to be seen again.

All that being said, Billy Joel is still a fucking ponce.

Friday, May 25, 2012

More on Vertical

Now while Mike is a voracious reader; I am less so.  I get on kicks where I'll devour a book in two days, but I generally stick to short forms, like The Huffington Post or Regretsy.  TV is and always has been my favorite means of storytelling.

But I am reading Vertical, because Mike got it for me for my birthday and Mike is awesome.

First things first--I've forgotten how dark Pickett's work is.  The film plays Miles as a sort of sad, affable chump who occasionally drinks too much, but the Miles in Vertical, like the previous book, is a hardcore, dawn-til-dusk alcoholic who never draws a sober breath, even when he's driving cross-country.  Yes, driving.

A lot of the prose is very repetitive.  Yes, Miles, we know you're dropping your mom off in Wisconsin to live with her sister, you said that five pages ago, no need to repeat it for the hundredth time.  Yep, you're speaking at a wine festival.  Yep, you like Pinot Noir.  Got it.  Remembered it from the first book.

Pictured: NOT YOU
Male writers labor under the delusion that they are rock stars and sex gods.  Just because Clive Owen donned a bad mustache to play Hemingway does not make the average basement-dwelling Stonecoast graduate into a hot piece of British ass (sorry Piglander).  And sorry Pickett, but Miles is Paul Giamatti, and while I love him with all my heart and my soul, I do not want to have sex with him.  Yet, Miles goes around banging hot chicks simply because he is a writer and Pickett lives in a magical fantasy world where hot women want to spread their legs for a balding, pudgy, middle-aged alcoholic.  It would be funny and maybe kind of quirky if it wasn't happening every three pages.

Better Days
Side Rant: Men have always thought they deserved hotter wives than they do.  No matter how fat, greasy, jobless, sweaty or balding a guy is, he always thinks that Megan Fox's panties would melt right off if she saw him.  Women, of course, have the opposite problem, being told that we are ugly and fat and have muffin tops and smell weird in private areas.  However, a disturbing trend I've noticed is that women's magazines are toting tubster schlubs like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogan as hot.  We're supposed to look like Megan Fox, but guys get to look like Chris Farley right before he died.

No.  We deserve better.  And we also deserve to be treated with dignity as characters.  Stephanie, played by Sandra Oh in the film, is reduced to one line about becoming a crack addicted stripper after Jack breaks up with her in Sideways.  This is a woman who is clearly a higher-up a successful, award-winning winery, and because one douchebag breaks her heart, she falls to pieces and becomes a drug-addicted slut? (their emphasis, not mine).  I can buy the fact that Miles gets constant tail before I'll believe that bull.

Male authors do this because they think they're so awesome, and it's a way to get back at some cheerleader who hurt them back in high school.  Kevin Smith does this in Clerks, which is why I can never watch it again.  Clearly, making Caitlin Bree have sex with a dead guys is his way of getting back at a girl who hurt him.  Real mature.  It's a sign of weak writing, and it's all over Vertical.  I got news for you guys--I've been hurt by lots of douchebags, and I cried and I listened to the Smiths, but I never became a drug-addled skank.  I got over it.  We all do.  You are not that special.

Ultimately, Vertical drips with futility and self-indulgence.  It didn't need to be written.  I was not lying awake at night, wondering what became of Jack and Miles.  Clearly Rex Pickett wants us to think he's awesome and bangs hot chicks all the time just because he wrote a book, but he would have stayed more awesome, in my mind, if he'd left the whole thing alone.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Over the years, I've started viewing writing less as a pleasure and more of a job.  I have to.  One, because it is my job and two, because I hate writers who romanticize the craft without ever actually doing any actual writing (shout-out to my poet-bro John, who wrote 30 poems in 30 days during National Poetry Month in April).

But part of the job is submitting, and that part sucks.  It sucks because it's all mostly rejection letters, and for every cute "please send us something else!" written in pink pen at the bottom of an Oxford American rejection slip, there are five form emails calling you "Dear Author."  I once got a breakup rejection email ("it's not you, it's us") from a magazine trying too fucking hard to be all cute and twee and hip.  Like the Stonecoast MFA program didn't do enough damage to my self-esteem, now magazines are breaking up with me.  Thanks, stupid magazine.

I worked at two different FYE stores for about three years total in my early 20's.  I did not like it, but it was better than The Gap, where I previously worked and had to quit when a my idiot co-worker snorted "Ugh, do you see what that baby is wearing?" and I responded "You're beautiful" and things got pretty cold.

Yay Moxie!
Some of my FYE co-workers were fun, and I was a much better salesgirl than they were paying me to be, and learned to like Shiny Toy Guns and the Kaiser Chiefs and Judas Priest, but I was not going to advance beyond part time.  FYE would not be my career, although I made more money there than I did teaching three classes at SUNY Cobleskill.  No joke.

Submitting is like that. You do it because it's expected and it's part of the job, but you know that it's not going to get you anywhere.  And just like working at FYE during Christmas puts a little extra cash in your pocket, occasionally a submission comes through with a YES and you have a Moxie and things feel good for a few minutes.  But then lunch break is over, and you go back to work, and it sucks.

I'm back in the submission process.  I have three new stories ready to go, and I think they're pretty rad, but every time I click submit, I get disheartened.  The rejection letters don't bother me, I don't really even notice them anymore except to cross them out on my submission list.  It just feels so rote, so mundane, like there's no spark anymore.  No hope that maybe this one will get through.  If it comes back rejected, I shrug and send another one out.  No big deal . . . and I think that's what bothers me the most.  I want to feel that spark again.  I want that hope.  I don't want this to just be another job that I don't like, because I've had plenty of those . . . and if I did need that (like, for research) I could easily go back to work at FYE and get my fill of quiet desperation.

But I can't live like that.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pictured: Mike and I
Sideways was the first movie my nemesis Mike and I saw together.  He won a bet to find the Star Wars Holiday Special (remember, this is pre-youtube) and the prize was a date with me, and he was reviewing it for the paper, so we went and I think he paid, which only endears him to me more.  It was also the first of only a handful of movies we both agreed we loved (the only other one springing to mind is Sin City) and so I bought him the book as a graduation present and as a toast to a friendship I only wish I'd started earlier.

Sideways was, for my social group at the time (Mike, Dwight, Ian) a pivotal film.  I'm not quite sure why it resonated so deeply with us; we were all young, just on the cusp of graduating college, our whole lives stretched out in front of us like smooth highway pavement. Dwight just at the age where he could legally buy wine, which the two of us drank from mismatched NY Wine Trail tasting glasses while watching 80's movies on VHS tapes in my overheated basement apartment.  We drank cabs mostly, the occasional Pinot, no fucking Merlot, although I have developed a distaste for Merlot long before the movie came out.  And to this day, the Sideways poster Mike snagged for me from the movie theater he worked at still hangs framed in my house, as it has in every apartment since he gave it to me.

Maybe we gravitated towards the movie because all that sudden freedom came a certain sudden uncertainty.  Would we fail, the way Miles had?  We all quietly identified with his speech about the thin-skinned grapes. We all wanted to pretend we were Marv and Dwight and Gail, but deep down, we were fraught with anxiety about our work, our abilities, the expectations put on us as new college graduates facing a world that didn't look a whole lot like the one in the post-graduation brochure.  I was working at FYE, Mike was working at the movie theater, Dwight was waiting tables and Ian was doing flood cleanup and temp work.  It was a difficult time, but it was also one of the happiest.  We had something, a piece of art, that united us.  We quoted it endlessly, working it into our lexicon like code.  We took turns being Miles, being Jack, each of us in our time being obsessive, boisterous, melancholy, charming, hopeless romantics, hopeless dogs.

So this year, for my 29th birthday last Monday, he got me the sequel, Vertical, with the intent that we would read it together and discuss it.  I almost cried when I unwrapped it, I was so touched.  It was an acknowledgement of where we'd been, what we'd lost, what we still had--each other.  Seven years later, through moves and heartbreak and rejection and loss and anger and frustration, we still had this . . . and, like Miles and Jack, we still had each other.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Observations from Re-Watching The Shield

I re-watched a couple episodes of The Shield last night after a considerable hiatus (and a dream that Dutch and I were at nightclub dancing to Kei$ha, probably prompted by the Kei$ha record--yes, vinyl--that Eeon quite randomly and charmingly sent me) and I have a few observations:
Much Better

1) Shane looks great in a tight grey tee-shirt, but the button-down worn open over it makes him look sloppy.  I much prefer when he starts wearing the cowboy shirts tucked into those skin-tight jeans around season 3.  Also, his hair is too short, making his forehead too big and emphasizing the fact that he has very small eyes.  Still hot as an Oklahoma August, though.

2) Vic Mackey does not hold up in second viewings.  His character is based entirely on unpredictability, so when you know what his next move is, it gets boring and you just .  He doesn't have much of an arc and he's just kind of an asshole to everyone.  I mean, really, why did he have to steal Dutch's Ding-Dongs?

That is the face of
a man with wicked
3) Dutch is the character to pay attention to.  His law-and-order b-story tends to get lost in the first viewing (after all, a plain old procedural isn't as exciting as a car chase or a beat down) but he's masterful to watch the second time around. Pure detective bliss. The fact that Jay Karnes is 6'3" and terrifyingly sexy doesn't hurt either.  He's got a great voice; I want him to read me a bedtime story.  He makes me shiver.  I want to see him play Phillip Marlowe and wear a belted trench coat and a fedora in a non-Brooklyn way.