Wednesday, March 30, 2005

the lost entry recovered by magically delicious means

This morning I sat down at my office computer (foul fucker that it is) and booted it back to consciosness, but when I slapped Munkrosloth Word into a waking state it spat out the recovered text of my long entry! It did! Should I post if for you here? I may not. It was pretty silly, and the last paragraph goes on about poop a bit much. Ah whatever:

In order to break into the lucrative world of self-help literature, you first have to write a self-help book. Even with lots of graphics and charts and pictures of ladies you still need to write some helpful words in there. For a long time I knew that this was my major barrier to break through, my great obstacle to overcome, my stumbling block to use as a stepping stone. Once over that hump, I would receive all the good fortune due to me, with book tours, lecture engagements, furtive trysts and the opportunity to use the honorific that my time in academia has granted me (“Mr.”). I’ve figured out how to write that block-busting self-help book, and I’ve figured out how to help you write one too and become as famous and wealthy as I soon will be. As soon as I’ve written the self-help book that I’m about to advise you on.

The first obstacle to overcome is the perception that people are beyond help, and that if they're browsing the self-help section, then they're dangling from the gallows and not just mounting the steps as they think. Above all, discard the notion that genuine literature performs the function that self-help books pretend to, that the sum of your empathy, joy and spiritual amplitude will be enhanced by Henry Miller or Toni Morrison. That is of absolutely no use to you. Honest pleasure derived from the leisurely activity of reading is not what we call hard work. And if it’s not hard work, or if it isn’t a collection of lazy platitudes that pretends to the status of hard work, it’s clearly no good.

The second obstacle lies in your innate respect for your fellow human being. Ditch it at once. If you respect your reader, then you will resist the urge to boss them around like a schiavonic child, and your reader will look helplessly at your grinning photo for a clue. Bully your readers along the path you want them to stumble down, but bully them gently, as if you wielded a down pillow spiced up with doorknobs. Mm. That’s a spicy doorknob.

Much work has been performed lately on the syllable. In the ecology of self-help lit, the syllable is the natural predator of sales. They're permissible when you need a few inflated meaning-free terms, but otherwise they are to be avoided. They will attach themselves to your wallet and suck the ink off the bills and the strip from your credit card. The problem is that you can't have words without syllables. Each word must contain at least one, so try to keep your words down to one syllable whenever possible. Words like “idea” are particularly nasty, packing three syllables into four letters. Such economy is your enemy. Also, remember that metaphor, which stretches across categories and stimulates creative thinking, deforms easily to analogy, so always try to make up fanciful analogies designed to make people feel better about themselves. I’ve provided a sample to help you out:

There are times when your friend, a friend that we will call Bob, will come up to you with a sharp stick – not a real stick but a stick of negativity and anger and bad feelings. It’s your job to point out to your friend that he’s got a sharp stick in front of him. And it’s not just any sharp stick - this stick is covered in poop, and Bob is waving it around in front of your face, and you have to duck and back up and try not to get scratched or get any poop on your face. Because who wants that? Not you, that's for sure. So why does it seem that Bob has always got that sharp poopy stick, and you're always scratched up with poop on your face? I'll tell you why: when Bob waves that stick, you say "Hey Bob! Stop with the sharp poop stick!" And then he scratches you up and you end up smelling bad.

Bob, bless his heart, feels bad about his sharp poop stick. He feels so bad that he pretends that his stick isn't there. It's true! So when you point it out, it makes Bob feel even worse. And you know what goes down when Bob feels bad. So next time, don't tell Bob to put away his stick - give him a napkin! Say: "Bob, I think you could use this napkin," and hold it out with a smile on your face. Don't be shocked when Bob smiles back at you, takes the napkin and wipes his stick clean! And then he may just throw that stick on the ground and go so far as to give you a hug. See? Bob's not a bad guy - he's just needs to feel that you're not pointing out his poop stick.

It's that easy. Two hundred pages of that and you're set for life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I lost a really long entry

I did. I lost it. It's late in the day. I have stuff to do. My post was on syllables. And self-help. And good books. And now it's gone. I'm pissed right off. No good blooger. No buy. No good. Bye, sly entry, my favourite posting, post of the century. I got served by internal servers serving errors, servants on errands screwing the gentry. Whose sql? Pyra. Php. That's what you get when your service is free. Fucked up blogger. From the heights on you I pee.

Monday, March 28, 2005

fight club fear

There's nothing like walking downtown and stopping to pick up bath bombs on the way to a Japanese restaurant right next to your favourite Irish pub after a long day of producing a television series to make you realize that you are a pathetic cultural stereotype. Tyler Durden is going to pop up at any moment and beat my ass into the ground. But not before I've finshed my agedashi tofu, damnit.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


Saturday evening. The Palinode, The Lotus, and The Friend With A Car are driving out to a party on the godforsaken townhouse-ridden edge of town. They spend so much time driving past fields, warehouses, hockey arenas and quonsets that The Palinode begins to believe that they've actually left the city behind, but no, they're just driving to an annexed parcel of farmland full of condos and prefab houses so dull that they had to be picked up with pinched fingers and dropped fifteen miles away from everywhere else.

The Palinode: Is this it?

The FWAC: This is a long road.

The Palinode: I remember this from last year. We drove endlessly.

The Lotus: It probably loops around.

The Palinode: I remember lots of curves. And banks of townhouses.

They keep driving.

The Palinode: There is absolutely fucking nothing out here. There's even less out here than there was the last time we came out.

The Lotus: Last year you were nearly delirious with jet lag. You'd just flown in from Australia the day before.

The Palinode: I must have been hallucinating a whole urban landscape out here. I bet it was beautiful.

The Lotus: Hey look, there's the overpass [an old friend] Marie drove off of.

The Palinode: Really?

The Lotus: She went off it twice. The first time she landed on her wheels. So she drove around and did it again.

The FWAC: She spent the whole year afterwards with that metal frame on her head.

They keep driving. Behind and in front, nothingness keeps getting swallowed up by darkness.

The FWAC: Actually, I don't think it was this overpass. It's the next one.

The Lotus: They haven't built the next overpass yet.

The Palinode: That makes no sense at all. What you just said.

More of that driving thing. No other overpass appears.

The Lotus: Turn here. The party's in that townhouse complex.

The Palinode: Should I leave my bag in the car?

The Lotus: Take it in to the party. It's a little safer than out here.

The Palinode: What if it gets stolen in there?

The Lotus: I don't think there are any thieves at the party.

The Palinode: Suppose there were, how could you tell the thieves from the guests?

The Lotus: When they break the windows to get inside you'll know. Guests come in by the front door.

The Palinode: Today's criminal is much too sophisticated for that. I'll look for the guys with stripey shirts and the dollar sign bags.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

regarding schiavo

Last night The Lotus and her mother, over Scrabble, were talking about the Schiavo affair (l’affaire Schiavo), which was filling up every spare moment of the news program that I was watching. My mother-in-law put the situation in a light that had never occurred to me when she said that the video of Schiavo gurgling and balloon-tracking raised the fear in her own mind of being in that same situation, trapped inside her own body but conscious nonetheless, like a Poe character bricked up behind a wall or buried alive. What she saw was not Terry Schiavo but the spectre of her own imagined abjection. And damn, Schiavo’s face radiates a kind of angelic joy at the presence of her family. Who, witnessing the purity of her expression, could dismiss the possibilty of a mind swimming around in that bath of spinal fluid?

Last summer while travelling through the Schwarzwald we stopped in the town of Triberg to shoot a segment for a children’s show on the world’s largest cuckoo clock. The clock was housed in a combination Kukuchsuhr workshop/theme park in which animatronic peasants waved, giant clockworks spun and busloads of tourists from all over Europe dropped coins into slots. In the room that houses the works of the giant cuckoo clock (replete with giant bellows and six-foot bird) a mechanical Kukuchsuhrtrager - that iconic figure of the man with the cuckoo clock strapped to his back - explained in four different languages the history and construction of the world’s largest cuckoo clock. Every so often, as the clockwork inside the figure unspooled and his body swivelled back and forth, his large dark wooden eyes would meet mine.

Despite the artificiality of the figure, the whirring of articulated limbs and the crowd of dour Dutch tourists crowding me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that those eyes were somehow conveying some kind of information to me, as if the inanimate had selected this puppet as its ambassador. And the information, as Martin Amis says, was Nothing. The eyes of this imitation of life were imparting an intimation of non-life, of abjection. In that brief look I got an idea of what the living are up against, the dead dark indifferent spaces that we imagine when Schiavo’s face pops up on Fox. No wonder Freud calls it the Unheimlich. We have to perform that unpleasant maneuver in which consciousness attempts to imagine what lies outside consciousness. That is, when we’re dead and being slowly divided into tiny pieces.

After the discussion about Schiavo we watched 13 Going on 30. Mark Ruffalo spends the whole film with this look on his face like there’s a big pile of smelly garbage just off-camera. The other actors are all facing the other direction and can’t see it, but Ruffalo has to deliver his lines with this huge pile of garbage in his line of sight. They were probably the dailies from the night before.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

my living will

Recent non-newsworthy but nonetheless newsfilling events have impressed on me the importance of keeping a living will. All you need to keep and maintain a living will is:

1) a terrarium
2) mealworms in oatmeal
3) some lettuce
4) water
5) a heat lamp

Okay, let’s stop that joke now before it grows out of control. In the unlikely event that my heart pops like a stepped-on grape, or my liver flares with cirrhosis, or some brainsucker loose from a childhood joke alights on my scalp and scoops out my cortex, here is what I’d like done with my body.

Under no circumstances allow me to actually, finally, mercifully die. Install an artificial heart if you must. Wire me up with all manner of prostheses. Shove one tube down my throat and another in my lungs. In the event of brainsucker attack, carefully remove whatever is left of my brain and leave me with only a stem and a spinal cord, the better to respond to stimuli with random smiles and occasional eye tracking. Fill my skull with angel food cake and wheel me out for parties. If my faithless, abusive wife attempts to have me removed from the web of machinery that keeps my heart pumping and my lungs exchanging oxygen, know that she is a monster with a pretty nose and bright blue-green eyes that glitter with the obsessive wish to murder me once and for all (I mean, who let that brainsucker loose in the first place?). Please involve Congress if that happens.

Send me on an international tour. I mean it. Cart my corpse-with-a-pulse all over the world, from fabulous cities to negligible burgs, to demonstrate to the world’s people the sanctity of life. I promise to gurgle and smile like an infant. In the terrible event that our freedoms are threatened by unattractive men in foreign countries, or by “death culture” freaks on our home turf, let me be cast in titanium and swung like a living hammer on the heads of our enemies. And on that day when I finally, absolutely, irretrievably die and my soul takes its well-deserved vacation in heaven, strap me to a bunker buster and drop me, your Angel of Life's Sanctity, into the concrete caves of those bad men who plot bad things against us.

I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

in case you're curious

Even though I haven't posted much here over the last few days, I've been keeping up on my word-a-day weblog as faithfully as I can. Check out my ongoing series there about my demographically obvious dalliance with mental discomfort and SSRIs. And if you haven't visited my other site yet, there's a picture of a woman bottle-feeding a pig, so go go go.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Give Us Your Slick, Your Broken-Shouldered

The early evening. Supper is on its way. Karaoke looms in the future. The People are talking.

Palinode: (in the midst of lying outrageously about something) It’s true.

Lotus: (also lying) I believe you.

Palinode: I’m not shitting you.

Lotus: I don’t want you to be shitting me.

Palinode: Really? What, I’m not good enough?

Lotus: No, I’d be coming out your - you know -

Palinode: Oh no, I don’t know all of a sudden.

Lotus: (lowers voice even though NO ONE’S AROUND) - your anus. If you were shitting me.

Palinode: It might not be so bad.

Lotus: Yes it would! How could it not be bad?

Palinode: Maybe if we coated you in some kind of oil. Baby, olive, motor. You’d be slick. And let’s see... maybe if we broke your shoulders... those could be a problem...

Lotus: I don’t want to be slick and broken-shouldered!

Palinode: Well fine. If you’re not going to put forth the effort there’s no point.

Lotus: Fine then!

Palinode: I didn’t want to shit you in the first place anyway.

Lotus: Good!

Palinode: That’s a relief, really.

they think it's people

It’s not often that I wish for amnesia, but last week I sat in my chair and dreamed of getting smacked with a tire iron, or hit by a car grille or zapped by a buzzing transformer. I wanted an injury to wipe my brain, so that I might experience afresh the horrified joy that I first felt on hitting the halfway point of Errol Morris’ documentary Gates of Heaven, when the old lady being interviewed on the subject of pet cemeteries (ostensibly the movie’s subject) begins to unreel a tale of personal hardship, declaiming on her prodigal grandson (“He’s gone back to his old job now… hauling sand! No, he’s not hauling sand, he’s in the office now”) and his ex-wife (“She was nothing but a tramp in the first place. I told him that. He wouldn't listen to me”). She even ruminates on revenge a bit (“Now he's got the office job, I'm going after him. I'm going after him good, too - if I have to go in... in a different way. He's going to pay that money. He's got the office job now”).

Morris’ secret is to let people talk themselves into exhaustion until they accidentally let the truth slip. Instead of pet cemeteries we get the ramblings of a woman ending her life in a cloud of regrets, loose ends and thwarted devotion. Like so many of Morris’ subjects, she has the haunted air of someone who knows she has been cheated but cannot identify the cheater. Which is in part what Gates of Heaven is about: the gulf between success and failure, the people who sail up on clouds of resentment and the ones who live at the bottom, drowning in the indulgent contempt of those who’ve hoisted themselves to the top. But it’s also about the permeable boundaries of human compassion and the mysteries of death and eternal life. Not to mention the importance of getting your pet neutered. You'll even find out where circus animals go when they die.

I should explain. Who’s actually seen this film? Not too many people, that’s who. This post may only be for people interested in films that no one’s seen, films that you can’t just go and rent at Bluckboster Vedio, films that will bore you if you’re tired or in the mood for a Brice Wullis shoot-a-lot. Films that appear to require effort, which these days is the exact opposite of what films ask of you. Which is to make no effort at all. One day they’re going to perfect a system in which mechanical arms hold open your mouth and throw in popcorn kernels soaked in Branded Butter Experience, and when that day comes, Gates of Heaven will not be on the marquee.

But it should be.

In 1978, Erroll Morris read an article in the San Fransisco Examiner about a pet cemetery scheduled for exhumation and relocation to the nearby Bubbling Well Pet Memorial Park in the Napa Valley. So, armed with a cinematographer and a sense of curiosity, he interviewed Floyd McClure, the owner of the failed pet cemetery. Goitered, bald and wheelchair-bound, McClure talks about the joy of pets, the difficulty of running a pet cemetery and the traumatic effects of growing up next to a rendering plant. In a move that borders on the mean-spirited, Morris intercuts Floyd’s sorrow-choked memories of the rendering plants with a rendering plant manager who is baffled about the revulsion people feel towards his work.

From there he goes to the Bubbbling Well to interview the owners, who are possibly the most cringe-inducing family ever committed to film. Patriarch Calvin Harberts drawls on about the significance of the birth control pill to the boom in the pet burial business in a way that makes you want to scrub yourself raw – he uses the word “fondle” way too often, and his practiced cadences reveal an ageing blowhard who’s never been told to shut up. His funeral services reek of an awkward insincerity (although that may be the result of the camera’s presence).

Weirder by far are the interviews with his eldest son Phil, a former insurance salesman who suffered a nervous breakdown and now mows lawns and drives a van for his father’s business. A good-looking shell of a human being, he recites sales techniques and motivational philosophy in lieu of actual speech. He seems relaxed adn pleased with himself until he mentions that that even the simplest of tasks fills him with fear. At one point Morris films him behind a desk surrounded by trophies as Phil describes his attempts at working business-style motivational techniques into every aspect of his life.

Throughout, Morris throws in interviews with pet owners who have lost their pets and cannot reconcile themselves to the notion that their animals are gone forever. One of them earnestly lays it out: “There’s your dog. Your dog’s dead. But where’s the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn’t it?” Sheila Harberts offers the following by way of a balm – “Surely at the gates of heaven an all-compassionate God is not going to say, ‘Well, you’re walking in on two legs, you can go in. You’re walking in on four legs, we can’t take you’”. There's something of a cargo cult mentality at work: maybe, if we treat these animals like people, even giving them the full burial rites, we'll have granted them a place in paradise.

It’s a strange quandary for people who are nominally Christian but have found themselves loving an animal far more than they could love another human being. Faced with the irreconcilable difference between the finite world and the infinite imagination, they place their bets on the infinite. As Floyd MacClure says, “Like I said before – death is for the living and not the dead”.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

swift diddle

The Night. The Palinode and The Lotus are falling asleep in The Bed.

Lotus: Mmph. Mm. Oh my.

Palinode: (not so awake) Wuzzah wah?

Lotus: (sleepy but articulate) I know I'm falling asleep because my brain is doing stupid things.

Palinode: Yuh?

Lotus: First I'm saying 'doughnuts' in my head and spelling it d-o-u-g-h, then I'm saying 'donuts' but spelling it d-o-n-u-t-s. Then I'm saying 'Doughnuts do nuts' in my head. It's porn for the food world.

Palinode: I'm picturing it in my head. Although I think the nuts would do the doughnuts.

Lotus: It's porn for the snack food world.

Palinode: Fast fucks for fast food?

Lotus: Exactly.

Palinode: (burst of energy)Swift Diddles!

Lotus: That sounds like a kind of snack food all on its own.

Palinode: They're like Skittles for the sexy snacker.

Okay. Now that you've absorbed that snippet of authentic married talk, let me tell you about the collaborative project I've embarked on. Every day The Lotus writes down a word on a sticky note and leaves it for me. I give myself half an hour to write whatever my brain likes to associate with it, and then I post it, no matter how badly it sucks. Today's word, which is actually two words, is metal detector.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

part of a colloquy


First thing: my rambling days are over and done. No more waking in hotel rooms and wondering where I am (although that stopped happening somewhere in the Philippines or Australia), no more waking in my own bed from nightmares of being stranded on a back road somewhere in the western Alps. No more discarded paperbacks and foreign languages. Goodbye tidy towns and cities of filth. Goodbye to all but my own, I mean. I’ve been booted up the career ladder to the job of producer.

What does this mean? Well. Money. And stillness. I’ve been given more money to sit still, under the operant premise that still people do more paperwork, and that paperwork requires signatures, and signatures – on timesheets, contracts, cost reports, purchase orders, review sheets – are bought with ever-increasing sums of money. It also means horrible stress and the unique aerosol poisons of office life.

It also means an office with a whiteboard of my very own, several walls to shield me from others, and a view of the VIA stockyards. Yeah, that’s premium office space, people.

Second thing: In keeping with the twisted ways in which modern couples communicate, my wife is telling me how she feels about having a baby by writing about it on her website. It’s as if hundreds of people per day are crawling into bed with us to listen to our pillowy talk. Don’t get me wrong – any way that she and I can keep our lives moving on track together is fine by me. After the last year of being constantly on the road, I’ve all but lost the skill of coming home to the same person, the same bed every evening. Now that I’ve traded in my field producing job for a producer job, I have to sharpen my space-sharing skills. And by that I mean I have to wash those dishes.


We spent last weekend doing absolutely nothing but watching movies. Wait – The Lotus designed some miniature banner ads for her friends’ weblogs. She also read some fine literature by noted contemporary authors. But I did nothing except watch movies. Solaris (again). The Third Man (again). Before Sunset (again). Napoleon Dynamite (twice). I also ate some grilled eel, which really does not speak well of me.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

my contribution

It's been a lot of work, if I don't mind saying so, but I finally italicized the entire New Revised Standard Bible, the one that the Devil prefers because it's not a mistranslated hash-up from the 17th century. Don't thank me, no no. I did the whole thing with gravity, toothpicks and sometimes just brute force. It takes guts, muscle and moral bravery to take every letter in Ephisians and tilt it thirty degrees to the right, but I perservered.

I also removed every third word to make the whole thing a titch more readable. Building suspense, confounding unbelievers, all that good stuff.

My sermons are the best now.

no image is currently available for this firepea

(Lunchtime. The Palinode and The Lotus are separated by their respective cross-town offices. One of them makes the foolish decision to phone the other.)

Lotus: There was a fire at my work today.

Palinode: Are you burned beyond recognition yet?

Lotus: No. (Pause) It was in one of the apartments in the upper floors. Someone was cooking mushy peas.

Palinode: Mushy peas! Why, those are highly flammable.

Lotus: They are.

Palinode: They're highly inflammable, actually.

Lotus: Also true!

Palinode: In-cen-di-ar-y. (Pause, and then with great vigor) IN-CEN-DI-

Lotus: Yes, I get it. They catch fire.

Palinode: Explosively. Mushy peas are dangerous. In fact, the primary reason for the shift from fish-and-chip restaurants to curry houses in Britain can be attributed to a string of mushy pea explosions across the UK.

Lotus: Really?

Palinode: When I ate mushy peas with my fish and chips in Hull, everyone wore protective suits with rebreather apparatuses and I had to sign a waiver. In it I promised not to take out my rage or burnt areas on the Queen in the event of an unstable mushy pea mass going off.

Lotus: You were so brave.

Palinode: I may have won a medal over there. Or an ass-kicking.

Lotus: You certainly deserved one of those.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

statue-snatching baby

spoilers and all that

Last Saturday, in obeisance to the Oscars, I went to see a matinee showing of Million Dollar Baby, which in my head always sounds like “Meeeeelion Dollar Baby”. I went not so much to see that film in particular as to raise my proportion of personally viewed Oscar-nominated films from two to three out of five. Although there is a certain glee in accurately predicting Oscar wins without the benefit of informed opinion (ie, having seen the nominated movies), I often feel like I’m missing out on some essential core, some vital element that would compel me to care about the race between the mediocre, the showy and the sentimental that is the Oscars.

I walked out of the film feeling heavy, as if I had eaten a dozen loaves of waterlogged Wonder Bread. No need to go see Ray or take the ludicrous step of tracking down Finding Neverland (as if); there was simply no escape from the totalitarian hold that MDB takes on the emotions. Who would have thought that a film about women beating the living shit out of each other could be so sentimental? Like the evil East German opponent that cracks Hilary Swank’s neck (Yes! At the moment of her triumph, Swank’s plucky white trash boxer is ambushed and injured, spending the rest of the movie paralyzed and lisping and slowly losing limbs in a hospital bed! Now you know the entire last act of the film, except for the ending, in which Eastwood’s character reverts to a primitive Gaelic-spewing peasant and kills her with a shillelagh!), MDB gallops out from the corner, hits you repeatedly when you're on your knees and elbows your carotid as soon as you pause for breath. It’s a bit like Love Story with frequent rubdowns and those mouthpieces that turn beautiful people into inbred apes.

It was also a cinch to win because the story of its production – feisty outsider fights its way into the ring with the champions and wins BIG BIG BIG – so closely resembles the plot of the first two acts of the movie, even though MDB’s plucky humility pales a bit next to the smaller-budgeted and lower-watted Sideways (and the whole affair pales to paste next to Before Sunset). In this case, though, there would be no tragic ending. Fans hoping to see Martin Scorcese roundhouse Eastwood on his way to the stage would, I knew, be seriously disappointed. Everyone wants to go for the sure-thing underdog, the king in rags. MDB, like its protagonist, is a million dollar baby. Or it would be, if the main characters weren't a collection of over-the-hill hillbillies and born-too-lates but a group of experienced Hollywood players.