The End of the World

He's cute, but keeps his distance. He's careful never to propose anything that could be agreed with. Her hand on his is wrong, but necessary. "Are you hurt?" He looks hurt by the notion that he's hurt. "Frustrated?" He takes incommensurability to be evidence of his genius. A little singularity, words spinning off, not meant to be understood.

You can't blame her for disagreeing with his inwardness turned outward, but she does. At least outwardly. Apologies and laughter twitch. She's sorry for telling him "you have this line, that we're all doomed." Sorry because correct.

If you met either one of them on the street you wouldn't know it. Their faces are obscure, even from three feet away--peripheral, even straight-on.

Just their voices, and clouds with no brakes. Easy to tell in the rustlings of leaves the difference between a nice breeze and a storm. They argue about population control and resource shortage.

Admittedly, vision can fail. An eyelid can flutter involuntarily. What does disrupted vision look like? Anything?

He's hungry for himself, but after so long wandering with the pressure of emptiness in his belly, hunger has become nausea. If he got a chance to dig in, he'd have to take little bites. The meal would be too rich. It wouldn't make him more solid, but less. Eating himself ought to leave him about the same, but some would be lost in digestion. By the time he ate all of himself there'd be a lot of waste, and someone would have to clean it up. Probably that dogooder of a girlfriend. Isn't it her fault he gets white in the face whenever he has thoughts of self-actualization?

Though she seems unconcerned by what he says (more amused by what he says and concerned for him), privately she's somewhat of a megalomaniac. There's no bloodflow to show for it, but her retrospective shame makes her shout. All the wrong things she says to him! She can never remember what he says. She remembers attending closely to what he says, but his words are lost. Perhaps, she sometimes reflects, the shame of her selective memory accounts for her enthusiasm for listening.

For all their verbal discord, they're well-coordinated. In silence they slip into the back room. They prepare to leave, circling and brushing past each other in nearly identical backpacks. They're ostentatiously sly. The darker clouds are overtaking, maybe speeding away. Everyone is wondering will it rain? Trying to ignore these two pivoting on the linolium. They leave the door to the back room ajar.

31 May 2013


The baby is crying. "I know, honey," her mother coos, and rolls the stroller gently back and forth. Seeing her across the cafe, the deaf man is troubled by the privacy of her pain. "You can't walk around, honey, it's too dangerous," she tells the baby, though she appears to address the sky.

"What took you so long?" she asks her husband as he sits down. He says the baby wants to get out of the stroller. He lifts her out, and when he sets her down she begins crying again. "You just got out, and now you're angry again?"

Behind him, a girl is saying to a boy "no, you really can't understand." They're wearing identical black jackets. She leaves (in a huff, he thinks) to get their drinks, and when she returns there's a whining dog in her way. "It's okay, it can't reach you," he says, and she slips past.

"That poor dog," says the husband, "he's been waiting for his owner for so long." "He's a she," says the wife, "and her owner's just inside. She's just a whiny dog."

The baby starts toddling over to the dog, and hits her head on a chair. The deaf man reflects how poorly the world is made for babies. The baby's parents are amazed how often the baby runs into things. The baby reaches the dog. Still whinng, the dog doesn't see her. Her mother picks her up.

The owner comes out to the dog and holds her head in place. "Sit," he says, "stay." As soon as he goes back inside, the dog strains her leash towards him.

Another man comes in with another dog. "My dog is ridiculously well-trained," he tells his friend. "His training cost as much as a new car. He's an expensive puppy. Sometimes I think he's smarter than I am." He tells his dog to sit. The dog stays standing. "Don't be a punk."

26 May 2013

Meep Meep

The first thing I did when I got back to the city was take a walk in the park. Inevitably, it wasn't much of one. Some people are prone to this stupidity. When I got to the trail, this gaggle of mountainbikers was rolling about like there was nobody in the world but them. Two of them were at the edge of the trail, actually considering going down the cliff. "That's just one of those things, you know, you've just got to go for it." I found myself preoccupied with crashing through the ferns and brush, a stick going between the spokes, and ending up Wile E. Coyoted in the creek.

In Ashland I discovered I missed the small-town, middle-class projection of calm. Walking down residential streets in the sunshine I feel so wonderfully obscure. It's a hipsterdom of neighborhoods. I flatter myself that I don't belong in Ashland's seemingly monolithic community. A far more comforting feeling of outsiderness than skirting the city's plethora of imminent scenes, cliques, and classes.

The next day I told my friends "I think a spider bit me!" I didn't think a spider bit me. But who knows? My cheek felt red, or white--stung, or numb. Did they notice anything, driving off in their minivan? The kids kicking their skateboards up the hill would've made an effort not to notice.

The trail--not quite a trail, going up a small stream overhung with bushes--was a last ditch obscurity. When did I start asking myself what are you doing? At the beginning?

I felt my cheek. There wasn't anything on it, but my fingers came away perfumed. Maybe it was just the raspberries doing what they do.

This is stupid. This is the stupidest thing you've ever done. Well, not the stupidest.

In the mirror there was nothing. Disappointing.

It's getting dark. Oh my god, You're going to be stuck out here in the mud in the dark!

Just because I couldn't (you should really) turn around.

Just because I wanted to get over the ridge and look at the sunset. Something I didn't believe was feasible even when I began, an hour before dark. That must be why I went.

Obviously it didn't turn dark, either. In Ashland I went up to the dam that stores the town's water. It looked fragile. It occured to me that if the dam broke, it would be a tsunami in a canyon. It would destroy downtown. I felt a shiver, but titilation doesn't make things happen any more than willpower.

16 May 2013

Good Interests

Last year, when he wasn't trying to emote from underneath several inches of wrinkley latex, Guy Pearce gave the biggest TED talk ever. It was a dytopian future of TED: on a tiny stage in a stadium, an entrepreneur peddled his "idea worth spreading" with grave tones and allusions to Greek mythology.

Now he pitches the idea that human DNA "is destined for an upgrade," shows off a room-sized hologram of his brain, and says things like "the next iteration." He drops "mimesis" and preens, as if this word alone just solved the universe.

These touches are of course intended to set him apart in sliminess. Robert Downey Jr.'s problem is that he came from the same slime. Back when he was a part of the "party scene," he said "you've basically hacked DNA!"

He has anxiety attacks because "nothing's been the same since New York," apparently not alluding to 2001. He confides to Gwyneth Paltrow, "I experience things, and then they're over." Yet he's not relieved when the fake terrorist interrupts a TV broadcast (again) to tell the world "don't worry, the final lesson is coming"?

Doomsday didn't deliver, but the DNA-hack he was so excited about offers a kind of solution for his malaise. He can't sleep, and all of his activity is side-stepping "tinkering."

Him being a man, confessing these problems to his mother-accountant-wife, Paltrow, is a Big Gesture. Not only does his small admission of vulnerability nullify their disagreements, it earns him a big cookie, like a baby who finally pooed in the right place.

In any case, for him, time doesn't really pass. "Extremis" punctuates by exploding people.

While it was him who ended up in the spotlight, it was the slimy idea-slinger around whom a network organized. But the whole thing gets a bit too hot.

This is how Downey Jr. describes Extremis: "You know when a girl's straddling you and she glows from the inside, kind of orange?" The troubling substance is emphatically tied up with an interrupted sexual encounter. His innuendo-y puns leading up to the inventor's bedroom and his insistence on her bedroom are relentless. When the stuff blows up in the next room, an even more blatant visual joke lands on top of him in the form of his concerned body guard.

For being immortal, the Extremis-ists are awfully precarious. Extremis doesn't always "take", and explodes you instead. Pearce insists on a rhetoric of purification, and the film insists that the Extremis makes one more oneself, contrasting bare bodies with metal suits. For all their bare drive, they're oddly decentered, their rengerative and destructive power emanating from Extremis.

The hero and the villain compete at first for Petter Pots' interest. Hence Pearce's schmoozey holopowerpoint in her office.

While Pearce was busy getting connected, Downey Jr. isolated himself.

Rebecca Hall describes the process of becoming interested: "first you're all wide-eyed, then...[you get compromised]". Being a scientist is for her an accumulation of compromises. Yet the thing her compromises unleashed, Extremis, is a reversal of wonder cooling into scientific interest. Rather than being in between anything, you are the thing. Your body generates enough heat to melt things. Extremis is a nightmare of overconnectedness. A destructive rather than productive network.

Morality in this movie is a matter of how to manage your interests. The hero is preoccupied with how his hobby is more like an addiction, taking him away from his relationship.

When he says he's renouncing his "cocoon" of hobbies, he's towing the burnt remnants of his workshop. Is it possible to read his self-reinvention as anything other than the very fantasy that draws him back to the workshop? His whole life was organized around the energy-producing contraption which made time stand still near his heart, to keep a piece of shrapnel from penetrating it. He's repaired his damaged heart, and renounced his distracting shell. Can anyone survive on only what they ought to be?

11 May 2013



We uh filled it in with uh some uh fill.


Oh no, I like popcorn. I don't like what it does.


Is she a spy?


Water goes out the inlet and in the outlet.


Under 50 or over 50, everyone loves it here.


Really all faiths have so much in common.


What an imagination he has.


I see what comes out of people's bodies.


Wind. You can't see it, but it's a force. It acts on the world.

3 May 2013

The Men In My Mind (In Theirs, Too)

Innovation is a gross word. It probably gives Evegeny Morozov hives and/or an erection (a critic's diptich of conditions). The same cake is on the stove as four months ago, on another stove. I persist writing mood pieces about cakes.

Has Mad Men ever changed the way it does what it does? I doubt it. It's just intensified. These days it's a series of Mad Men Moments and setups for Mad Men Moments. Is it slapstick? Arrange things so that characters stumble into saying something unwittingly wise or prophetic. Last episode, the poetic phrase (and image) was "Why are you being punished?" "Because the wallpaper doesn't line up."

It sounds like a Don line, but this MMM belongs to his son, and suddenly he loves him. He says so to Megan, and she hugs him because oh my god, a man is having an Emotional Experience. (Much like the show's spectacle of whites spectacularly emoting over MLK's death. I'll give you one guess what two colors the wallpaper was.)

Don is more interested in his son's emergent familiarity than how he might be different. The show couldn't care less about its subject, only that it's poetic. Don is in love with himself, and the show is in love with itself.

Why do I care if I make new cakes? This one's delicious. Are there fruit other than apples?

Once, MMMs were delicious. They sustained interest. (A much messier word.) I'm always trying to decipher what made one meal delicious and another unremarkable. Odd--delight in eating is a terrible index of delight in anything else. My latest theory is to eat well is to take interest. A meal of variety is exemplary (there's always one), but even a lone bowl of broth may hold interest.

Interest is as suspect to Rectify as thought is heroic. One of the first things Daniel says in public is that in prison he developed a routine intended to avoid thinking. When he wasn't trying to stamp out thinking with chants, he read books, and thoughtfully conversed with the man in the next cell.

His half-brother, Ted, is calculated to make us as uncomfortable as Daniel, suspected of rape and murder, makes everyone on the show. Ted's problem is that he's as thoughtless as he is self-interested. He distrusts Daniel because he assumes Daniel will take his job. He thinks Daniel is guilty because Daniel tells him about being raped in prison. Presumably, he feels raped by Daniel's story. That's his epistemology.

"Never seen so many dumb Georgia crackers descended upon egg rolls and sweet and sour chicken in your life," Ted says. "That's interesting," Daniel says. "I guess." Ted has too much interest to find anything interesting. Daniel finds everything interesting and tries self-flagellatingly hard to not be interested in himself. This impersonality embues him and his thinking with an aura of goodness.

Verlyn Klinkenborg posits interest to be a way of bargaining with abudance. Being interested is the thing he urges us to recover from underneath our education. The bargain he proposes is: trust in the abundance of your interest, and receive the abundance of your interest. If I say I'm not sure about this, he can say that's why. I'm not sure whose circular logic it is, but still, I'm not sure. I'm the sort of person who can be engrossed by a novel for hundreds of pages and never read the last fifty. (Or reverse those numbers.) I routinely commit Klinkenborg's sin of being anxious I'll lose interest in a piece of writing. Not because the piece is a terrible idea, not ultimately worthy of interest, but because I'll make cake, watch television, worry about those things that impetuously solicit worry. Thinking that I'll think about something in the future is pretty much meaningless. My calendar and to-do list are records of futile promises. This is so apparent that, like Alison Bechdel repeats "I think" in her diary, I append question marks to half of my tasks.

Actually, they're all terrible ideas. Given enough time to mull over anything, I'll come to the conclusion it's stupid. (Which, yes, is a stupid conclusion, but what can I do?) We would have nothing if this logic reigned. Robert Creeley's introductions to his own collections of work are graceful for letting their contents be. But they would never have been written if he always took the long view. Creation is a process of outrunning understanding, for me at least, I think.

Which is stupid. What's wrong with making a cake I'm not infatuated with? Klinkenborg critiques the notion of writerly genius, in which all writing comes in flashes and unstoppable flows. Because his is a self-help book and everything has to be about doing better, the problem with needing to be infatuated with what you're doing is that it's deterimental to doing. It's also a reaction to the danger of fantasy, to being in hot, precarious relation. Interest appears as an appealing alternative to infatuation because it's cooler, more reliable.

There are relations other than detached tepidness and compromising intimacy. I know that I placed those adjectives to show their misplacement, but the motive is dim.

What's that about cake?

1 May 2013