Ruts

When you see relatives infrequently enough, each meeting isn't just catching up, but reacquainting. You don't remember exactly who this vaguely familiar person is, and you don't know how they've changed. They may not. Years put a fog around people, which oddly makes it possible to see them clearly. Getting a first impression anew. You don't necessarily know those you live with, work with, see every day, but you no longer try to. You do; they've calcified to you. The air is particularly clear in San Francisco when the fog clears, the light painfully bright. (Look, I'm romanticizing a place I felt dull towards.)

We were in a bit more of a sheltered place--Oakland. "You're a good cook, right?" Am I? "I get stuck in ruts." "We all do." Remembering she's fifteen years older, her sociable persona younger. Matured past what she can express breezily to an uncle, an uncle's girlfriend, her father, a cousin. That's the flattering way I'd like to think of my cooking, too: It's evolved away from everything I cooked, to the point of hardly cooking anything. My repertoire diminished to nothing. Nice way to save yourself, but it's not cooking. No growth can happen without trying anything. What's growth but destruction? There's nothing I even want to eventually be rid of. Every dish is gross to imagine. What I do cook just mitigating disgust.

I know there's more than what I can imagine (bake-fried potatoes, sautéed zucchini and tomatoes, roast chicken legs, pizza, eggs and various oiliness, salad, pancakes), but I want newness to appear from nowhere otherwise it's not new. Perusing glossy cookbooks involves gusto and an ability to discern what might tantalize the palette enough to bother making, a talent shrewd shoppers possess, not me. Only writing this gives me the impression I even want to cook anything other than what I do. Otherwise don't mind eating whatever's around, or whatever fumes left of imagination hit when I slump into the supermarket. What's cheap and not too depressing.

Was once one of those recipe-mongers, devoured the Internet of recipes, salivated, filled my head with an ever-shifting list of what I wanted to cook. Recipes are shit, lowest form of culinary communication, do not tell the dish, give no sense of what's involved or what's appealing. Wrote a recipe for a friend two weeks ago. Wish I could show instead, not because I don't trust her or because my roast chicken is so great, but because it's all in the neurotic details, the mothering of it, what makes me irritably shoo away others' hands--they don't understand my baby. I pretend nonchalance in the kitchen to most people, but I'm murderous.

What I want is for a friend to proselytize to me, to reveal their beloved to me. I'd understand if nobody wanted to though--what they love I may well hate. Or, slowly, to love. It took a relationship with an avocado-lover to get me to like them, and then only really after the relationship ended, after there was no interest (in the derogatory sense of paranoid political philosophy) in liking avocados, eventually finding that a good avocado is something to search for.

More often, though, what I cook is defined by what I no longer cook. Thin amnesiac practice of a few dishes supposedly embodying years of learning. It's not me, just some things I cook, honest. What I can't imagine my way out of now. In "Justified", the central character's defining thing is his hat. "Why the hat?" "Honestly? I tried it on and it fit." A lie. The rhetorical recourse to pure practicality or happenstance that's a blushing cop-out. Ego cutting its losses: No, I was not here. I am not here at all. I am somewhere else, expanding to the infinitude of the withheld.

26 June 2012

I D E A L

I like to remind everyone I meet that swallowing is not natural. A characteristically exasperating conversational habit, especially during meals, which is just when I bring it up. Like saying during coitus that biological imperatives have no intrinsic normative force. Mood breaks when necessity falls away (and with clunky academic diction). When small you can choose not to swallow. You would starve.

It's preferable to glide over such things. Pleasure in spinning the primal. The centrifical force of the everyday considerable; it's a wonder we aren't always dizzy. A restaurant on the beach in Santa Cruz endeavors to fling its customers into the breakers. With wide-set capitals it declares itself IDEAL. Its menu more specific, the cover a black and white photo of a shapely woman in a bathing suit, holding a tall salmon in each hand, her pose bent at one knee, her eyes smiling (as the photographed must be). My uncle, drawn by the $4.95 breakfast special, says "look at the size of those salmon." Inside the restaurant the gaze is deflected in the same way. Look at the size of those plates (carried by waitresses no older than eighteen in mandatory short shorts). One jump over two messes. Do greasy eggs, potatoes, and bacon go down easier when served by nubiles? That would be IDEAL, crossing its fingers.

22 June 2012

Disorganized Thoughts on the Consumption of Cinema

My brother and I recently purchased Civilization V. What is your moneys worth in such a game, in which there is no single player campaign to mark completion? It's absurd to measure the duration of gaming you get out of Civilzation, because the transaction works the other way around: Civilization is a vessel into which you pour time. It has an incredible capacity, even a kind of suction. Play for eight hours and force yourself to stop, wanting only to continue playing. There's something monstrous about being taken, held, and never released. Isn't the most optimistic point of games to renew our sense of freedom, to be drawn in enough that being ejected feels like a beginning? Nearing the end of a movie, I feel a great excitement for leaving the theater. What I pay for is that exit.

There's another reason I wanted to play Civilization V, a reason I haven't quite used up yet, even though my brother is understandably fed up with the incredible time commitment a game of Civ requires, and refuses to play any more. (The game is on his computer and won't run on any other in the house.) Still hungering for more Civ, I searched the internet for free alternatives that would run on my dated computer. One of the clones, c-evo, has an ambitious mission statement. They contend that the problem with computer games is that they're not designed to be crystaline like chess, but instead are designed as baubles to be consumed for their novelty value and then discarded out of boredom with an imperfect game. I think they're overestimating the genre's potential, but the observation that computer games are played for their novelty is one I find irrefutable. Why, for instance, play Diablo III? New weapons, new items, new characters, new graphics. The game itself is still as blindingly dull and addictive as before. In fact, I'm not sure games have changed that much since the release of Quake, but novelty has eternally sprung.

And novelty has another draw: Before the game is ever finished, press releases hint at everything that's new and in so doing give it a utopian glint on the horizon. You begin thinking "if I could play it..." Like many other products, you buy them to fix your life. It can almost be better not to buy them at all, to never be disappointed or face reality, and instead to let the wished-for products sprout whole imagined kingdoms of better life. Almost.

Movie hype is not new, but its intensity has been able to ramp enormously with the many mediums the Internet has availed. And as updates of older films are made closer and closer to the last iteration's release date, movies are starting to be consumed a lot like video games.

A new Spider Man movie is made not even a decade after the previous, and we itch for its revitalizing potential. "Prometheus" is essentially "Alien", but with more glitz (both pseudophilosophical and visual). "Avatar" is just a rehash of every James Cameron trope, but with a shiny technology called 3D (yes, I am one of those grumpy old people who think 3D is a lame fad to sell tickets at a higher price).

People pay for that moment of hope, the ticket in their hand, the film not yet begun, full of anticipation, and they pay for afterwards, when the film becomes a conversational token. Watching the film gets happily syncopated away, leaving only desire and signification. "The Avengers" is, I hear, a wildly successful film, but does it bubble up into your life? Do you dream of Captain America gripping a trash can lid?

I don't know about you, but I take a perverse pleasure in not being surprised by a film. Walking in with an asernal of reviews to agree and disagree with, steeled with several lines of analysis to keep the film at bay. I may as well; I can't not read about it before going.

It's funny, I want to see "Prometheus", but the thought of actually sitting through it is unpallatable. This huge gap between the fantasy it promises to deliver and my imagination of how it would actually be to watch.

Which is to say our relationship to the cinema is essentially lust. Aroused by hype, our desire has nothing to do with spending time with or having ourselves in any way complicated by a movie. We simply have found a fresh locus for hope. We gape and think "if only I could have that, everything would be good again." Its contours become the articulations of our future. And we don't have to give anything to get it, we just have to pay for it. Wow, I've been watching too much "Mad Men".

Who is us and why is lust bad, again? I'm bad at sustaining a polemic (or even merely a line of thought) because I hardly begin articulating passion before I no longer believe it. It all rings false. A good polemic is neither a liar nor faithful, but simply does not see things as either true or untrue. You can push belief because you've given up. Yup, there's a romanticization of advertising if I ever heard one.

11 June 2012

(Don't Pretend This Makes Sense)

Years ago, undoubtedly following a link from anthro girl extraordinaire, Ashley Olive, I watched a youtube video of advice on giving yourself (your female self) you-time. You were to go out with yourself (to a restaurant for instance) without your phone. Like in a notice in a movie theater, the girl reaching empowerment in the video turned off her phone. She then sat down with her journal, of course. It's good advice, but significant that (lame phrase to open a line of inquiry) the noblest dreams of those of us who are soaked in digital communication revolve around the absence of cell phones and computers. (Truism.) I fantasize about spaces in which I can focus, where reflection is possible, and time expands from its usual dull rush. That time is something I spend has become all too real of an idiom. We do indeed appear to be living in an economy of attention, and so the fantasy of escape has become not having to pay attention to anything. The desire is to get to the practice beneath the performance, the being underneath the sign, the experience under the appearance. (Which connects to not paying attention to anything how?) Great nostalgia there. Life "outside" grows large in the imagination; "living in the moment" becomes virtue itself.

My version of this fantasy would never be complete without gastronomic underpinnings. It is in precisely these predigital conditions that eating can be best appreciated. Solitude is not necessary, but the company must be perfect if there is to be any at all, otherwise the food goes untasted. It's difficult to savor food. Take chocolate. There are two ways of eating it. You can munch it hungrily, swallowing the shards before they fully melt, or you can let it sit in your mouth, releasing rich liquid. ("Releasing rich liquid" isn't even good erotic writing.) Usually I don't have the patience for the latter, and it's pointless to force myself, to mix virtue with pleasure.

Many of my fondest memories of eating take place on the back porch in summer. It's quiet and secluded by tall trees, but with enough of a vista for the mind to wander. Just taking a book or a notebook out there is not enough, though. There must be at the very least tea. It used to be my habit to take a cup of heavily spiced chai, to sweat triply from 90 degree heat, an excess of white pepper and ginger, and hot liquid. Last year it was bread and soft butter ("soft butter?" "yes, soft butter" could be dialog in a Fry & Laurie sketch), and grilled meat and vegetables. Grilled zucchini with balsamic vinegar and olive oil was a favorite, something I'm sure A.A. Gill would scoff at. Outside, eating takes on a sensuality that can't be found indoors. (In lieu of anything else to say, circularity works.)

There's nothing revelatory about it, but as long as we mythologize our time away from the information streams of digital gadgetry, let us admit that food is the perfect fetish, that the world blooms from taking apart a piece of cake, and that what I'm really talking about is reading M.F.K. Fisher on the back porch in the shade with slices of pork, a saucer of salted olive oil, and some chunks of bread. (The food doesn't actually sound at all good does it?)

It's tempting to believe in the utopian potential of removing oneself. Rarely do I think of it as a break--instead I'm always making a full-blown resolution of asceticism. One of Kate Millett's friend-lovers in Flying, Claire, does little else but read "like nobody has since the nineteenth century" in her cheap apartment. She doesn't just read. She reads in themed binges. One month it's the stars and science fiction, another, philosophy. She styles herself a mystic, and is capable of such flight of idealism. She is at once who I wish I could be (I have always idealized the kind of person whose life is reading) and a sober reflection of that idol (there's something neurotic about trying to remove herself so entirely). She is also, in particular circumstances, someone with whom I identify. She can only handle a crowd briefly and has to flee. She's the one in hiding behind reading material at a party. She toys with asceticism, swearing off "the pleasures of the flesh," probably for different reasons. It's in precisely this wistful spirit of brushing away, though, that my short-lived resolutions are.

It all falls apart rather easily. As soon as the self-congratulatory thoughts come--"isn't this wonderful? I don't need anything. I feel so relaxed and content, I could stay out here reading all day!"--I itch to check my email, for someone to call me or text me, for something to happen on the Internet.

7 June 2012

The Forest in the Garden

Ought to be a whole hierarchy of smaller chairs scattered throughout the bamboo garden, running the gamut from toddler-sized to ant-sized. I've ruined the illusion of scale of course, though I doubt it was very convincing. The chairs don't quite look like the kind you sit in. The irrigation gadget, if you can see it, might give it away, or the size of the lion statue, which may somehow look the size that it is. People worry about including scale references in photos in a technical or scientific context, but there are so many clues that to truly confuse the eye an extraordinary level of control over the scene is necessary. It works best when there's hardly a scene at all. The bamboo, conrete patio "stones," chairs, lion statue, soil, cement wall, fallen leaves, and irrigation lines provide a thicket of contextualizing scale data.

I rarely speak in that kind of "ought," don't generally look at something and imagine the way I wish it were. I'm not a visionary. One needs visionaries, but they can be exasperating company, never stopping to see or accept anything, always moving themselves into the scene to fix it. A visionary rejects knowledge. My silly little dream of what I want this cafe patio to be replaces what inspired it, the two undersized chairs. Of course, dreams of what could be are hardly the only things to swoop in to mediate experience. It's not that the visionary gives up the object (whatever that is) but gives up thinking, delays it. He is constantly dreaming up ways to improve the world and persuing those ways, so that he need never arrive. The thinker, on the other hand, is constantly keeping action at bay through contemplation, adjusting his understanding of the world to it. The world will happily never meet the visionary's expectations, and the thinker's understanding will happily never meet the world. Both are deeply entrenched. Neither ever reach anything because their criteria are broken, but then if they did reach something, then what? There would be nothing left to do or understand whatever the hell I'm going on about.

4 June 2012