Saturday, October 16, 2010

Living with a Girl Will Change Your Life, Guys

I know you think you’re ready, but cohabitation is nothing to rush into. Trust me, I’ve been there. I didn’t really plan on it, but it seemed like the right thing to do, and now I have to live with the consequences. Take a long look at your single life and ask yourself whether or not you’re willing to give it all up, because once you and her are living together, everything is going to change.

Sundays in the fall are made for football, and when you lived with a bunch of dudes you probably spent the whole day in front of the TV, eating junk food and drinking beer. You could relax and have some fun before the start of another week. But once you live with your girlfriend, things will be a little tense. You’ll try to watch some football, but who can relax when your girlfriend is so angry with her fantasy football team that she yells at the TV like Marques Colston can hear her through it?

When you were single, you were free to go out with the boys any time you wanted. But once you’re living under the same roof it will seem like you should check in with her, like you need her permission. So you will ask if it’s OK to go out with the guys all night, and she’ll say, “Sure, of course.” And that will effectively call your bluff because mostly you’ll just want to stay at home and read until you get sleepy and then cuddle up in a warm bed.

Girls love shopping. Anything is an excuse to buy a new outfit. She used to do this on her own, but now you’re going to be there and you’ll get stuck buying a couple of new shirts that you need for your new office job. You’ll be too lazy to do it on your own but she will look up this store that has nice clothes at reasonable prices and find something in your size while you shuffle morosely through the racks of clothes.

You and your buddies used to drink beer all night long. Start at somebody’s apartment, pound a few cold ones, then hit up a bar and keep that train rolling, pint after pint. Her? She doesn’t even drink beer. Instead, the two of you will drink wine at lunch, and then when you propose filling an old, plastic ginger ale bottle with white wine and walking around the city drinking it, so that you save money on a bar tab, she’ll just say, “Oh, yeah, great idea!” Then the two of you will do that, and wonder why anybody wants to hole away in a dark bar when they could just keep strolling along.

And it doesn’t just change how you spend all your free time, it affects your work, too. Jobs and money are absolute minefields in any relationship, and it only gets worse when the two of you start splitting rent. Say the slightest thing about how you’re not sure you’re at the right job, or you think maybe you should switch careers, and she will just start in. Sometimes all you’ll have to do is let out a sigh and your girl will be like, “You have to do what you want to do, whatever makes you happy. You’re so talented, you should really go for it, even if it means getting a different job that doesn’t pay as well, going back to school, or taking some time off. Keep at it, even if it takes a while, we’re in this together.” I mean, am I right, fellas?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

It Is Illegal to Solicit Money on a New York City Subway

A guy came on the subway to sell the two books he’d written. His presentation lacked charisma. He boarded with two armfuls of new books, about the size and shape of a typical academic journal. He walked by me speaking softly about how he was selling the books he had written. Then he walked by me in the other direction and found a spot in the middle of the subway car where he could give his pitch, more loudly but much quieter than most subway-borne fundraising efforts. He had two books to sell that he had written. One was fiction and one was poetry. The poetry book was called Don’t Beat Your Children or They’ll Grow Up to Be Like Me. The title sounded familiar and possibly implied something about the author that wouldn’t make you want to buy his book directly from him on the subway.

Months earlier I had bought a DVD of an animation aimed at kids that someone was selling on the subway. That man’s voice had a teacherish sort of lilt and he sounded like Del the Funky Homosapien. (The author I saw today had a very unmemorable sort of voice.) When I bought the animation I thought about the story I could tell people about the idiosyncratic but charming animation I bought on the subway, but when I watched it the sound didn’t sync with the picture and I only lasted a few minutes.

I didn’t hear what the book of fiction was titled. I was reading my own book and was sure not to look up because I didn’t want to talk to the man. He said you could find him online and order his books through Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter but that sometimes readers wanted a signed copy of his books and that’s why he came on the subway. He explained that his book of poetry consisted of quotes, haikus, and Facebook status updates. He read a few of his Facebook status updates: “Poor people buy the most expensive clothes, rich people get them for free.” I forget the other examples but they had the same tone of a moralistic stand-up comedian. I don’t know what the books cost, and I didn’t give him any money. I felt silly covertly listening and tried to focus on my book.

I was reading David Lipsky’s book-length interview with David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. I was at a part when Wallace was talking about how he had reached a place of emotional stability at which he did things for the work and not for the money or associated fame. Earlier in the day I had read something on The Rumpus by Elissa Bassist about writing to get paid; to get paid didn’t require writing according to someone else’s dictates, it required writing so well that you produced something valuable enough that people would pay for it. I thought about my job and how it paid and the things I wrote for it and the things I bought with what it paid me. I thought about my job and how it might not pay me enough for the privilege of renting my brain for eight hours and owning all that it could produce in that time.

I thought about how I joined Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—not MySpace, though, unlike the author hawking his books on my car on the A train—when I decided to leave graduate school just in case the journalistic trend stories I read were true and I could get a job through Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. I thought about my efforts at writing and how I didn’t even have self-published books that I could try to sell on the subway and make people feel uncomfortable, and how instead I was reading a book that was a conversation between two writers talking mostly about writing.

I thought about the person on my car on the A train just a few minutes earlier who had asked for help to buy a pair of dress shoes for his first day at work as a secretary’s assistant the next day. If he didn’t get a pair of dress shoes, he said, he couldn’t keep the job. He said we could call his future boss if we didn't believe his story. He told us the phone number. He had $17 and he needed $35 to get the shoes at Payless. I had thought about giving him $20 and getting him to his goal, but I didn’t give him any money, either.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Of Torture, Tumblr, and Twitter

“Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right.”
- BBC News

Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, deprived of due process but not internet access.

Guantanamo, 2006
The dog was in the prisoner’s face, barking, so close he could feel the warmth of its breath. More than the noise, or the worry that the dog would be let loose and its teeth would be able to reach his face rather than snap closed just short of it, it was the heat and smell of the dog’s breath that tormented him. It would have made him wake up screaming if he had been allowed to sleep, which he wasn’t, because he was forced to stand for 12 hours at a time, even longer than Donald Rumsfeld on a typical work day. During those hours he took solace in the fact that for one hour each day he was provided with a laptop equipped with high-speed wi-fi connectivity, and he watched YouTube videos of pop stars in his native country and caught up on Andrew Sullivan’s blog.

Tehran, 2010
She walked around in a daze for weeks after they were executed. It seemed like an absurd overreach, killing someone for voicing political opposition—wouldn’t this spark an international backlash?—but then she noted how scared she was, and realized their tactics were working. Unable to sleep at night, she browsed Tumblr for humorous photo collage blogs and commented on Gawker.

New York City, 2010
Little Billy couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something was wrong. Little Billy was in the third grade and couldn’t read, but he did his best to watch the news on TV every night, at least until his mom changed the channel. When he watched the news he tried to remember every word so that when kids at school called him dumb he could tell them facts about protests in Iran or violence in Nigeria that they, for the most part, didn’t know. Little Billy got his turn at the classroom’s computer as part of the school’s new emphasis on “media literacy,” just like everybody else, but when he clicked on Wikipedia pages—bookmarked on the classroom computer—he did so mostly at random and scanned resulting pages for images.

A visually disappointing Wikipedia page on dinosaurs.

He always stayed for his full fifteen minutes, because he knew it was supposed to be the highlight of the whole week at school (he knew this was true because if you acted out your turn got revoked), but he only feigned interest for most of his quarter hour. He tried to explain his dissatisfaction with the internet to his mom and his teacher, but they each said it was an opportunity they wished that they had had, and that he needed to be good at using computers if he ever wanted a job. So he sat patiently for his fifteen minutes, but secretly was relieved when his turn was taken from him as a punishment.

Nigeria, 2010
A man with a machete kicked down her door and slashed her youngest son. He and another man subdued her with a fishing net and dragged her out the door. She knew the pattern such violence took and that she would end up in the same fire as the others, removed from her limbs the same way as the others, and wondered if that would be better than living with the memory. Before she joined the fire, though, the men took her to an internet cafe where she logged into Twitter—using TweetDeck so that URLs were auto-shortened to links—and tweeted "pls send help b4 it's 2 l8" and included a link to a CNN article that gave Westerners the relevant background on the massacre. Her tweet used far less than 140 characters to allow for easy retweeting (usernames take up space, after all) and for users to add additional comments, like “OMG I just gave $10, did you?”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Raise My Rent

“Raise my rent and take off all your clothes!”
- Tom Waits, “Pasties and a G-String”

No. What? No, don’t—look—look, please. Let’s just all slow down. OK? OK? Look, this isn’t the apartment in Spokane. You know? This isn’t the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment that you split with a roommate for a total of $450 a month because it happened to be a half-basement apartment, and was across the street from what was probably a meth lab because there was a small trailer in the backyard that you watched the people who panhandled outside the Safeway walk out of and had ladders going up to second-floor windows, and once a homeless guy kept knocking on your door asking you to open cans of food for him until finally you just gave him the can opener. This is a different apartment. That was a good one, though, right? With the college-boy fridge embedded in the cabinets in the living room, and the location was good, close to the campus and all the bars your friends still went to. That was nice, but you’ve moved. Different town, different idea of what “good” rent is. So yes, we have a good price for our place. But we pay enough. We’ll be quiet next time.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sylvia Plath Is So Cool

I hated being a teenager. In high school I would have either been classified as a “loser” or a “dork.” I darted through the school’s hallways with bad hair, a huge backpack, and my head pointed toward the ground. Mostly I remember being depressed; I hated the person I was and the person I thought I was turning into. I cried a lot, I contemplated suicide, I never slept, and I feared my violent father. Back then I felt everything and everyone so deeply. Sometimes I think that what I experienced was only normal teenage angst; other times I wonder if I use that as an excuse to comfort myself. Real comfort came somewhere in my twenties when I realized that I turned out relatively okay. But I still find looking back at my teenage years somewhat disconcerting, which is why I was pleasantly surprised that reading Sylvia Plath made me want to be seventeen again.

I am currently reading Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963, which is Sylvia Plath’s letters to her family. The book was edited by and included commentary from Aurelia Schober Plath (Sylvia’s mother). So far I think the book is wonderful. Sylvia’s childhood relationship with her mother is something I hope to mimic when I have a child. I am a fairly skeptical person and would think that her mother exaggerated about their connection if it wasn’t for the 696 letters that Sylvia wrote to her family over thirteen years.

I am not sure what I expected to find when I began this book, but I was taken aback by some of Sylvia’s early writings. When Sylvia was fourteen she wrote a poem, titled “I Thought That I Could Not Be Hurt.” Below are the first three stanzas.

I thought that I could not be hurt;
I thought that I must surely be
impervious to suffering—
immune to mental pain
or agony

My world was warm with April sun
my thoughts were spangled green and gold
my soul filled up with joy, yet felt
the sharp, sweet pain that only joy
could hold.

My spirit soared above the gulls
that, swooping breathlessly so high
o’erhead, now seem to brush their whir-
ring wings against the blue roof of
the sky. (Letters Home, 33)

Despite the poem’s foreboding title, its heartbreaking implications, and its sad conclusion about the frailty of the human heart, I was moved by how she wrote about how much joy she had experienced and how much joy she could experience. When I was fourteen I could not have written articulately about happiness and the subsequent disappointment that it could bring. I do not think I fully comprehended what happiness was, however fleeting the experience might have been. I can’t even look back at my childhood or adolescent years and pick out moments when I thought, “Yes that was it. At that moment I was happy.”

One of the more poignant pieces included in Letters Home is “Diary Supplement,” written when Plath was just seventeen. It was this small diary entry that made me yearn to be seventeen again.

An excerpt from “Diary Supplement” (November 13, 1949):

As of today I have decided to keep a diary again–just a place where I can write my thoughts and opinions when I have a moment. Somehow I have to keep and hold the rapture of being seventeen. Every day is so precious I feel infinitely sad at the thought of all this time melting farther and farther away from me as I grow older. Now, now is the perfect time of my life.
In reflecting back upon these last sixteen years, I can see tragedies and happiness, all relative–all unimportant now–fit only to smile upon a bit mistily.
I still do not know myself. Perhaps I never will. But I feel free – unbound by responsibility, I still can come up to my own private room, with my drawings hanging on the walls...and pictures pinned up over my bureau. It is a room suited to me – tailored, uncluttered and peaceful...I love the quiet lines of the furniture, the two bookcases filled with poetry books and fairy tales saved from childhood.
At the present moment I am very happy, sitting at my desk, looking out at the bare trees around the house across the street... Always want to be an observer. I want to be affected by life deeply, but never so blinded that I cannot see my share of existence in a wry, humorous light and mock myself as I mock others. (39-40)

I am amazed that at seventeen Sylvia new what it meant to have Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own.” And how self-aware she was of the beauty of youth. Sylvia’s diary entry also made me aware of something “romantic” about me when I was seventeen: I wrote a lot. I wrote poems, short stories, and plays. I outlined book ideas and dreamed of creating a zine with my childhood friend. I created lots of characters with pretentious name. I wasn’t afraid to write. I didn’t worry that someone would judge me based on my writing. Like Sylvia, I wrote because I had to.

I feel fortunate to realize that right now “is the perfect time of my life.” I am happy with who I am now, who I love, what I feel, and how I think. I am thirty, the age of Sylvia when she committed suicide.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"The Bomb"

Explosions tell the truth by eliminating layers of signifiers and exposing a creamy gooey filling that we wouldn’t normally see. Explosions reveal reality to be an ever changing smattering of disconnected fragments.

Explosions show us how things work, how things fall apart and how people respond to unexpected disruption of physical constants.

Explosions help us learn how dogs feel about fireworks. Explosions show us that all structures are temporary. Explosions show us how innovative insurgents can be. Explosions make us nervous. Explosions make movies more fun and make us feel excited. Explosions make us sad. Explosions teach us to be cautious when opening a new bottle of seltzer. Explosions make world supers powers feel really strong and really insecure.

Explosions revel who we are, where we live and what is important to us.
Explosions are the bomb.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

In a Band

A band. (via

I want to be in a band. People in bands meet girls, except now I have a girlfriend that I like so I’m not really interested in meeting girls but still I want to be in a band.

People in bands get to tell people they’re in bands and think about maybe quitting their job and just being in a band. “Just being in a band” is the goal of people in bands. Maybe television appearances, too, as long as it’s still “for the music.” So people in bands have goals, which is good.

A different band.

People in bands always have an activity to do, even on weekends, and get to turn down invitations because they want to work on their music. Or do they have to work on their music? It’s hard to say, but it seems like something that requires a lot of time and would also be difficult to schedule because they have to feel inspired. People in bands feel inspired periodically and when they’re inspired they can turn down invitations and not even hurt the feelings of the people whose invitations they turn down.

If I were in a band I would be one of the people who tries to do something else creative, too, so I wasn’t just a person in a band. I would tell you I was in a band and then you would think I was creative so maybe you would also look at my drawings or my poems. And even if they weren’t that good I would still be a person who was not only in a band but also drew or wrote poems. I would be an artist, and I want to be an artist because anytime artists do anything there is a party.

A party, for art. (via j-No)