mariachi

When I met my wife’s friend B___ he was wearing a black Fred Perry track suit, an 80s-Italian-guy-on-the-Jersey-Shore-meets-Compton-dope-dealer amount of gold jewelry. His hair and sunglasses were very Liam Gallagher.

We’d learn later that he was just getting a nice dope habit going, but for this night he was put together and months away from crashing. He and I hit it off fairly well. He seemed distracted by a dried out contact lens and kept jamming his eye, trying to induce tears to relieve his ocular suffering.

He was stumbling about on the edge of a dance floor when a brutal fight broke out between two goth girls. It wasn’t just a few shoves, either. It was a hair pulling, you stole my man, beat down that still ranks as one of the most intense fights I’ve ever seen in person.

B____ didn’t even look up. He wasn’t even interested. He just punched something into his Nokia and walked towards the bar. I remember thinking at the time, “this dude must be used to seeing some crazy shit if this brawl doesn’t even register.” That thought was confirmed as I grew to know him.

 

metairie

Growing up in the suburbs of New Orleans makes you a strange person. Metairie and Kenner are basically the burbs from Poltergeist, haunted by their great graveyard sister city to the east.

Construction is newer, but nothing is modern. It was old when it was new. If you tried to be a skateboarder in the 80s it was rough going. All the streets and sidewalks are broken, especially in the older neighborhoods.

We all imagined hands coming out of those cracks, at least I did. Everyone said they knew a haunted house. I’ve been in a bunch, but I never saw anything supernatural. Maybe one day the paint will peel and some wild creature will try to kill us all.

girls

I really have to give it to Lena Dunham. Last week’s episode of GIRLS was very well done. There are spoilers to follow.

There are only two characters in the main scenes, Hannah and a famous writer named Chuck Palmer. Everything happens through dialog. It’s set in the writer’s beautiful and orderly apartment. The setting is unlike earlier seasons where all the action takes place in dumpy apartments and grimy cafes. As Hannah becomes a real writer, she is moving in nicer circles, even while she mines her past for stories.

This story centers around an alleged sexual impropriety from Palmer. A fan claims he abused their relationship to pressure her into sex. She was not the only person speaking out and Hannah wrote a piece about it for an obscure website. Palmer, impressed by her writing and incensed she would take the word of a stranger over his, invites Hannah over to talk about it.

Things start off defensively. Palmer tells his side of the story, explains his motives in a fairly open way; Hannah gives him a short but not too tinny breakdown of her reasons, historical, political, and personal, for her willingness to believe the victim.

Palmer seems manipulative from the opening. Or perhaps it’s that I’m used to things going sideways on this show. He explains the story from his point of view and makes a connection of sorts with Hannah. They bond over a first edition of a Philip Roth novel which he gives her. I think the acting in this scene is first rate. Hannah seems very happy and taken by complete surprise by Palmer’s generosity. There is a flash of corruption foreshadowing his real motivation, to offer her a payment she might not be able to pass up when he whips his dick out.

We’ve just heard Hannah’s repartee with Palmer over power dynamics and sexual abuse and this is a test for her. She goes in for his dick like season 1 Hannah would’ve, but with a look of confused horror.

Dunham, who I don’t always have the nicest things to say about, is very good at awkwardness and tension. The moment Palmer unfurls his dong is hilarious and embarrassing to watch. Palmer’s daughter comes home early, interrupting the dick handling, robbing Hannah of her moment to decide whether she wants to make a point of standing up for what she believes in, or kind of sell out for sex.

I love this end because it doesn’t let the viewer know if this is still the same old Hannah or if there’s actually been a change.

face

Quite a few writers I like seem to be characters in their own right. Alan Moore is a curmudgeonly wizard. Hunter S. Thompson was a wild, untamable mutant. Grant Morrison, another comic writer, is a bald psychedelic adventurer because he wrote about a bald psychedelic adventurer.

William S. Burroughs, Anais Nin, Anne Rice; it goes on and on and on. These writers are all eccentrics. Many got weirder after they got famous, but there exists in all these people I mentioned a spark of the bizarre.

Stephen King (and plenty of others) write about how all writers need a place of their own, assembled just so. Maybe you need a costume, too, assembled just so.

A few weeks ago in New Orleans, I was talking about changing up my look with a friend of mine who happens to have a good one. I have slipped into unkemptness, and considered just getting a haircut and a new wardrobe from J. Crew, something to blend in. He told me I’d always look like I was wearing a costume, no matter what I had on. This is probably true.

So what sort of costume? Can this be a magical act of intention? Will it spur creativity? I know that looking a certain way can open and shut doors, which can open and shut experiences. Maybe I’ll just start with white t-shirts instead of black. Kind of like a Gandalf costume change.

 

 

 

 

 


Last night I finished up The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. I powered through 200 pages in one sitting. It wasn’t a true page turner, though. 

Laing has a real talent for stitiching all the different examples of city induced loneliness together, but there’s something stiff about this book. When she’s writing about Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanis, and Henry Darger, the book is interesting. Their lives are interesting. She is also a character in the book, but you never really know her. 

Or at least you don’t know her as well as you get to know Cat Marnell in her first book. Marnell describes her outfits down to the label. You know what she smells like. You know what she probably tastes like (cigarettes and candy lip gloss). Laing describes herself headed to a party as anonymously as possible. Without the picture on the back cover I know nothing about her except that she writes academically, with proper citations and well considered paragraph transitions. That doesn’t seem enough to me. I’m an addict for more personal information. I want more sensory descriptions. I want more visceral hooks. 

Laing’s subjects all seem to have in common a tendency to hoard things and make creative nests. Their environments  become worlds of art. Not just works of art. 

Laing’s book seems related. It is loaded with biographical facts about her chosen loners, assembled with precision. She tells us about Darger’s packed apartment. Warhol’s time capsules are carefully considered. What does Laing’s house look like? She describes the decor of various sublets and uses those details to flow her story into descriptions of art installations. A cloak in her friend’s apartment becomes a meditation of Strange Fruit (for David), an instillation made out of rotting fruit skins sewn together. 

This stitiching seems to be what artists really do. They sew together realities. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman do this with borrowed myth. Maybe being a good writer is really just an axe of hoarding stories and assembling them just so. 

cat

I just slammed my way through Cat  Marnell’s memoir, How to Murder Your Life. It’s written in a party girl patois that I think is cracklingly well done. The book is probably getting an enormous amount of  hate from MFA debt riddled cat lady bloggers because it’s too much fun.

Her voice is a bunny rabbit Hunter S. Thompson possessed by the spirit of Clueless’s Cher Horowitz. If someone wrote this as fiction, people would study it for it’s post*media/post*punk feel and use dreary special character enhanced neologisms like the one I just cynically deployed to describe it. It would be rendered no fun. Fortunately this is a pop-bio of a highly visible social artist with little concern for academic finger wagging.

Marnell is real and by all accounts as manic as she make herself out to be. Her obsessive outfit and beauty product descriptions are beauty mag writing perfection, but there are veins of Bret Easton Ellis running through it, letting you know it’s going to all come down.

She makes repeated statements about how alone she feels, how isolated she became, and she has the hoarding tendencies of a loner, which is a thing. I learned about it recently in Olivia Lang’s book The Lonely City. While reading this latter book I realized I hadn’t connected with the writer nearly as quickly as I did reading How to Murder Your Life. Now, obviously I have a thing for beautiful wild girls who stay up till dawn (how do you think I met Mrs. Lott?), but there was something in the writing that compelled me.

I realized Marnell’s constant description of every detail of her body, her smells, her clothes, everything, makes her character come alive in the book. This seems like a clever and useful trick to get a reader to absorb you. You risk putting the reader off with your narcissism, but what Marnell does to overcome that is lay it all out immediately. From the earliest chapters you know she is selfish and self centered. She spends a day looking at herself in a mirror on her desk. She warns that her boarding school story is privileged in all the ways Gawker hates.

The reader knows what they’re getting into. You’re charmed by her easy, unexpected optimism. No matter how mistreated she is or no matter how she might’ve opened herself up to that mistreatment, she does not complain. She does not blame. She marches into it with her heels on.

Blogging at its best is essentially amateur memoir and I wonder how much self description could enhance reader connection to an unknown writer. If I told you I was wearing bald eagle Vans slip-ons, paint splattered no-name camo sweatpants, and a mistreated $200 wool hoodie from a boutique tactical mountain warfare company, would it matter?

How about  if I described my hair as having been last cut by a very expensive stylist two years ago, and it was long then? I can’t remember if I own a razor. My face is becoming wizardly thanks to a grey streaked beard and laugh lines around my eyes. I don’t wear deodorant, but have a mostly plant-oriented diet, so I don’t have much of a smell. I get a little sweaty riding my bike to work and that mixes in with a sandalwood oil I sometimes put in my hair. My teeth, however, are very well kept. I floss everyday and had braces.

The last time I bought any clothes was over a year ago when I needed dark jeans and a button down shirt for a wedding (which I wore my eagle Vans to). I don’t know where the shirt is and I left the jeans somewhere. I have a uniform: black American Apparel t-shirts Levi’s 511s, and converse/Vans. I’ve worn this same outfit since I was a teenager. Everything I have is worn out, except my books, which I’m careful with, though not careful enough to keep them collectible.

There was a time around when I met my wife I actually looked cool. I had a shaggy Beck haircut and some nice vintage suits and a lot of Fred Perry gear. I blasted around San Francisco on a beat up 1970s vespa. The bar I worked at had an Indie/Britpop night and that look put a lot of ladies in my bed.

A few years ago I began completely disintegrating sartorially. In my mind I was going to end up looking like a hot and muscly Southern version of Alan Moore. Now I look borderline homeless. This is something I think needs to change. A new look would probably be a solid investment right now. A costume change can be a magickal act.

Something else Marnell does effectively is write a love letter to the pre-social media, ubiquitous Blackeberry era,  New York. It’s a good thing for a writer to love a city. Even if it doesn’t love them back. I always felt like San Francisco hated me and wanted me to leave, so I did. My heart will always belong to the proximate cities Metairie and New Orleans, but I’ve got a thing going with a few blocks of Oakland and I should probably work more on that relationship.

So. Memoir reading. Solipsistic writing. Clothes shopping. City exploring. That’s all fertile material for some Artist’s Way Artist’s Dates.

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I believe we all have the same ailment: acute awareness of our impending death. No one gets out alive, no matter how rich or special they are. It doesn’t matter if you’re Ozymandias or Ozzy Osbourne. You are going to be dust.

There are only two things that carry us into eternity. The first, children, is something I’ve opted out of. The second, creative work, is something so unbelievably transient in a historical sense that it will drive you mad. Even if you make it for a time, chances are you’ll be forgotten. What a buzzkill, right?

There was a performer in Paris in the 1890s named Le Pétomane. He was a flautist. A professional farter. He would perform spectacular feats with his butt, like imitating thunderstorms and sounding out popular tunes. This was an act her worked on in the army and later to the delight of his customers while working in a bakery. He took the act to the stage shortly after and was the toast of the town for quite some time. Few people even know about him these days. Farts have pretty much always been funny. Even in ancient plays by Aristophanes you’ll find the occasional low-brow toot humor. Everyone remembers that scene in Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor.

What am I advocating here? It’s tough to tell. I don’t even know exactly. Maybe it’s that even if all you have is a strong fart and a sense of humor, it’s better than nothing.