Thursday, January 22, 2015

On David Foster Wallace, From Which I Am Removing Myself

I am currently reading "Consider the Lobster," a compilation of essays by David Foster Wallace.
Strike that.
I am currently trying to slog my way through "Consider the Lobster," an over-wrought, verbose, vastly confusing compilation of essays by David Foster Wallace.
Holy shit.
I've been looking forward to reading this for a long time, so there's a certain disappointment that's rising. The problem is, I can't figure out if I'm disappointed in me (for not being able to easily "get" DFW) or in him (for making it so damn difficult) or in the hype that led me to a.) want to read it and b.) expect to so thoroughly enjoy it.
This is not the type of book you enjoy after a long, hard day, where you get into your comfy pants (i.e. nothing that requires buttons, zippers, snaps, or eye & hook closures…basically anything that stretches) and plop down on your sofa to get lost in witty prose that makes you think, makes you laugh, makes you cry. No, this book definitely is not that. This book requires full concentration, a good night's sleep, a high-backed chair, sturdy desk, bright desk lamp, and complete silence. I don't have time for that shit.
I like the way he thinks. I just don't like how he expresses it. It's like going from my living room to my bathroom via Hong Kong: unnecessary, long, and costly - in this case, the currency is time. There's a much more direct route, buddy. One that doesn't involve enough footnotes to publish an entirely new book (and footnotes for the footnotes, I shit you not), the necessity of reaching for my iPhone to google an unknown word five or six times a page, or obscure Latin phrases (again with the googling…enough with the googling).
It's too consuming to read DFW, I think. I must be a lazy reader, like I'm a lazy eater. Ribs drive me crazy, as do crab legs. All that work for a tiny bit of meat. I pretty much want to just spear it and stick it in my piehole. The same goes, I guess, for the prose I consume.
I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, with a vocabulary larger than most. DFW, apparently, considers me about as intelligent as a spatula, with a vocabulary only slightly larger than my cat's. So that's part of the problem. I'm not so hot on being called stupid by what I'm reading.
The first essay in "Consider the Lobster" is on the porn industry. Not what I expected, but okay. I knew almost immediately that I was going to struggle. Not with the subject, but with the way DFW writes. When one starts thinking, "Will this sentence ever end?" halfway through said sentence, it's not going well. The footnotes started on page 3 and never stopped. There were three of them there, totaling 18 lines in 6 point type. Sheesh. About 40 pages in I started flipping through the book just to find out how much more I had to suffer. Ten more pages. TEN. I groaned and continued on, but only with the idea of, "I have to finish this damn thing just so I can move on." This is not a good thing for readers. I know that I don't like a book when I start flipping to find out how much longer I am to read in agony. The topic was interesting, and a lot of what he wrote was amusing...but there's a boatload that could've been cut, making the essay tighter and, dare I say, easier to read.
The second essay is on the novelist John Updike, which has no relevance for me as I've never read anything by Updike. Based on DFW's review, I never will. Okay, so I learned something there. As with the porn piece that preceded it, I was amused by the essay but struggled mightily just to get through it.
Next, we moved on to "Some Remarks on Kafka's Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed." See? Even his titles are too damn weighty. Again, and I'm exposing my own ignorance here, I'm not well-versed enough with Kafka to fully understand DFW's ruminations. My bad. Some day, when I have time, a high-backed chair, sturdy desk, ample desk light and complete silence, I will tackle Kafka. In other words, I will never tackle Kafka. But at least DFW's essay showed me that I'd like Kafka a helluva lot more than Updike. This was also reasonably short and so I got through it without flipping.
Now, I'm in the middle of "Authority and American Usage," which is basically about grammar snobs. Perfect! I loves me some grammar discussions. Well, it would be perfect if DFW wasn't flogging it to death. Holy. Mother. Of. God. Just stop writing, dude. STOP WRITING. Say what you need to say and put the pen down. I estimate I'm maybe halfway through it, and I'd be enjoying it a lot more if I weren't simultaneously wondering where our dull spoons are located so I can gouge out my own eyes. I gave up on the page that is 4/5 footnotes. This is one footnote, number 32 in this particular essay, which has its own subhead, four paragraphs, and a bulleted list. Seriously? It's a damn footnote.
So I think a break from "Consider the Lobster" is in order. I will tackle it again, some day. I am determined to find out why David Foster Wallace is revered, beyond the trainwreck fascination that naturally accompanies an artist who takes his own life at a young age. I am determined to "get" David Foster Wallace. Although part of me thinks there is a whole series of college courses I'd need just to get the background to read his prose easily. (Or is maybe that his thing? One is not supposed to read DFW easily…the struggle is part of his art? Oh, that just makes me groan. Verbosity for the sake of being verbose. I can use 12,500 words to say what someone else could say in 500, and so I shall!) 
The footnote thing bothers the crap out of me. I know I'm going against the millions that adore DFW when I say this, but to's a sign of bad writing. If you can't weave this information into your prose so that it makes sense and doesn't disrupt your arc, your story, your thread, well, then you've got some issues. DFW's footnotes serve as extremely rude speedbumps throughout his writing. He's installed those speedbumps that are particularly steep. The ones you can't just slow down as you approach and mosey, his speedbumps are the ones that force you to come to a complete stop and gently - oh so gently - ease both sets of tires over before you can continue along your path. They are painful speedbumps, and I am growing to hate them with a white-hot passion normally reserved for misogynists and child molesters. Do I stop reading in the middle of your dang sentence to go check out the footnote, or can I wait until the end, which in DFW's case could be five minutes later? There was one sentence that had three footnotes alone attached to it. That's like three speedbumps in a span of 20 feet. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Moving on. I have a stack of books here. Any of them is bound to be more enjoyable than what I've sweated through the last week. Hemingway, anyone?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Petit fours

Zoe loves to hear about the day she was born. I tell her about how we rose super-early to get ready to go to the hospital, about how I couldn't see my own feet as I took my last shower during pregnancy. She knows that I was nervous and scared, but more excited that I've ever been. She knows that Daddy drove us through the dark to the hospital, and that we checked in during the quiet, early hours when it feels like no one else is awake in the whole world. I tell her the highlight reel of her entry into this world, the very best parts that make that day so special.

She knows that we took a box of pink bubble gum cigars for Daddy to hand out after she was born, and a box of petit fours to share with visitors. To this day, the child loves petit fours. We had ours decorated with a baby theme: binkies and bottles and such in pink icing on white fondant.

The other day she asked me again to talk about the day she was born. I think she is mesmerized about a day where she was there, was center stage, yet which she doesn't remember at all. I went through my story, with her now filling in parts here and there that are her favorite. We talked about the petit fours and she asked again what designs they showed.

"Oh, baby things. A bottle, a binky, a rattle..."
"And a baby butt!" she grinned.
"What?" I asked.
"A baby butt. You said some of them had a baby butt on them."
"Um, no. We didn't have baby butts on them."
"But you said that some of them had a booty on them, Mom."
"Oh, child! Baby booties! Tiny baby shoes!"

It had never occurred to me that she might hear "booty" instead of "bootie" all those years ago when she first heard the story of her birth day, and it cracks me up that all this time she has thought we had little baby butts piped in pink icing on her white petit fours.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Writing, Photography, No (and other crap)

I haven't written because I've been busy shooting and editing, and editing, and editing. Hours in Photoshop. The new camera is absolutely incredible. A dream.

Because of the low-light capabilities I can now shoot Zoe's gym sports (volleyball and basketball).

I'm having fun experimenting.

I am pulling the camera out more instead of falling back and using the iPhone.

Seriously, folks...this one is straight out of the camera. The only edit I did was to straighten it up a bit.

I honestly don't know what makes me happier, writing or photography. I need to retire so I can pursue both full-time. (This is where M starts breathing in a paper bag.)

As I was editing image tonight something occurred to me: the more complex my camera, the more I fall back on shooting manually. It's a control issue, I think. Since I know what the camera is capable of, I can push the limits more than it will do on automatic or semi-auto. I can nudge the shutter speed up and push the ISO to get what I want. I'll lock in that f-stop that gives me the gorgeous bokeh and makes my subject pop out of the background.

All this is to say that I'm extremely happy right now. Even though today we went back to work/school. Even though M won't let me retire just yet. Even though I have to relegate writing and editing to the spaces in between. It's all good stuff. I just need to learn to do with less sleep is all. My commitment to no is helping. "Can you..." No. "Would you be able to..." No. "It won't take much time..." No. I am loving the word no. I mean, I soften it up a bit. No, thank you. Many apologies. I regretfully decline (although there's really no regret attached to the declination). I'm nice in my unyielding use of the word no. Or I try to be, anyway.

So, to sum up: the things that make me happy are writing, photography, and no. Along with M and Zoe, of course. (I tried to convince her that my full name is Amelia tonight. I almost had her and then I couldn't stop myself from laughing. Even M had a "WTF?" look on his face. It was awesome. Then I tried to convince her that her full name is Zomelia, but by that point she wasn't buying a damn thing I was selling.)

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Veruca Salt and bacon jam

I had two things on the calendar today, and as of this morning I didn't want to do either of them. Mainly because they involved a.) getting off the couch and b.) putting on a bra. I honestly don't now which I was dreading more.

The first item of business was taking Zoe to the American Girl store. This always sounds better when I offer it, and excrutiating when it comes time to go. Last year, we went on January 1 and the store was jammed to the gills with girls and the adults who love them. The brand releases its new "Girl of the Year" on January 1, which is pretty much just an excuse to sell more dolls. Thankfully, this year it wasn't nearly as packed. Plus, I was smart and left my coat in the car. Not overheating ten minutes in is key to survival. We wandered the store and Zoe got her fill. Once there, I get over myself and do enjoy watching her soak it all up. She's very pragmatic, and has a plan in mind before we cross the threshold. We checked out the new girl and her clothes, accessories, set, pet, etc. and then weaved through the store. Zoe had scoured the catalogs and knew exactly what she wanted. She shops like I do: with purpose and decisiveness. We made our selections and headed to the cashier, where I soon realized we were behind a real, live Veruca Salt. Holy cow. Zoe was, thankfully, oblivious. She was too busy checking out the stuff they have piled up at point-of-sale to encourage last-minute upsells. I was intrigued. Here was a child who ordered her mother, grandmother, and little brother around like they were servants. She had a doll in a carrier strapped to her back, and her arms (and the arms of her servants) were filled with boxes. Her snotty attitude and demands were met with placid acceptance by those in her party, and I was simultanously amused to watch and eternally grateful that my daughter couldn't have been more different. Zoe stood there quietly, clutching her boxes and gazing around wide-eyed, after having asked politely, "Please, Mommy, can we get this?" Veruca curled her lip and pointed her stubby child fingers around and showed not an ounce of appreciation for her circumstances. Amazing.

Tonight, we had a New Years Day party at friends of ours. It would have been so easy to blow it off, to stay on the couch. We determined that it was probably best that we go, so we did, and I'm so glad. Not only did we get to catch up with friends, we got to eat food like lamb meatballs, sausage stuffed mushroom caps, dill pickles wrapped in cream cheese and salami, and...wait for it...bacon jam. So much for eating healthy. We had such a good time that I'm crazy grateful I got over my lazy self, got cleaned up, and went. I need to remember to do that more often.

In an attempt to actually sleep tonight, I avoided all caffeine today and have consumed three Trazadone. I've been using one per night with good results, although I didn't take any last night due to getting to bed so late. I guess I should have anyway. Tonight: no chances. I will sleep.

So, to recap: my kid is awesome, bacon jam is awesome, and sleep is imminent. Not a bad way to start 2015.

Happy New Year

It’s 3:21 in the morning of the new year, and I can’t sleep. Must’ve been the beer(s). I’m not upset or worried about anything. I paid the taxes. I wrote thank you notes for gift bearers I couldn’t thank in person. The house is clean. (Relatively.) I just can’t sleep.

So I came out to write.

Being the only person awake in the house is something I do enjoy, although usually I enjoy it more when it’s a more reasonable hour, like 5:30 a.m. One of the cats knows I’m awake, though, because he woke up when I came out to the great room to fetch the iPad and right at this very moment he’s trying to sleep on my forearms, causing me to type blind. Thank goodness I learned how to touch type all those years ago. The other cat is asleep in her little cat house and is, for all intents and purposes, deaf. She’s not gonna wake up until she has to eat or pee. Which is how one should sleep.

I think the cat on my lap just passed gas. Gross. Maybe this middle of the night writing thing isn’t so romantic.

Okay, I shifted the cat to the couch next to me (where I’m still unfortunately within the sphere of influence should he decide to release any other odors) and discovered that I’m not nearly as good at touch typing as I thought. I had to go back and fix seven errors. Humbling, to be sure.

I suppose I should be writing

  1. A reflection on 2014
  2. Thoughts on a new year
  3. Bullshit resolutions that I won’t keep and will only disappoint myself after their – my – inevitable failure

I don’t feel like writing any of that. So instead I’m writing about my gaseous asshole of a cat. Riveting.

I do have ideas of things I’d like to work on this year. I just don’t want to call them “new year resolutions.” They are more of “I have to do these things or I will surely suffer goals.” I need to eat better. And less. Far less. I need to write more. I need to start photographing again (which I have incentive to do, given that I have a fancy new camera that, while beautiful, is also exceedingly frustrating in its newness and my inability to use the damn thing without thinking…also known as The Curse of New Gear).

It’s that simple, really. Eat less. Write more. Photograph.

And move. I need to start moving again. I’ve been largely sedentary for months now, despite being extraordinarily busy. It’s amazing how busy one can be without really moving at all. I feel rather like one of the villains in the James Bond movies we’ve been watching. “Look at how much I can control my empire from this awesome, foreboding, and extremely comfortable black leather chair. Mwah ha ha haaaaaaa.” I do not, however, have the power to eliminate those who displease me with the touch of a button. That would be cool. File that notion under “I wish I had a phaser that I promise I would wield benevolently…and/or the ability to smite.”

Anyway, I need to move more. This holiday break that M and I have been on has not been conducive to moving. It has, however, been conducive to reading. I’ve knocked out three books and will probably down a fourth before I have to return to work on Monday. Exercise for the brain. I have learned that I am no longer impressed by someone’s ability to write a book’s worth of words and then get themselves published, although that is impressive in and of itself. I have learned that what I read must also be written well, with just the right amount of description and an engaging plot that makes me want to miss sleep. I have learned that there are fewer writers who do this than I thought. I have also learned that sometimes I disagree with the New York Times Book Review and this little revolt makes me feel like I have high standards and can be snotty about it. File that under “I learned proper editing marks at The World’s Finest School of Journalism and I know grammar so suck it.” The grammar thing is a little tricky, though, because I know it by gut, by instinct. I know what a split infinitive is (and feel comfortable splitting, despite old-school Latin students screaming in agony whenever it happens) and I know that even though ending sentences in a prepositional phrase is becoming more accepted I will avoid doing so at all costs. But I can’t really tell you what is a gerund. So it’s not like I’m Queen of All Grammar. I guess I’m more of a Knight of Grammar, roaming the countryside and wielding a red pen to abolish extraneous apostrophes. Or maybe wielding it from my awesome, foreboding and extremely comfortable black leather chair. And by that I mean my old, perfectly broken-in couch that has enough cat hair on it to build another cat and that comes with a smelly cat. Maybe not so foreboding as much as furry. Furboding. Is that a thing?

Holy shit two people just walked by outside, shattering my illusion that the gaseous asshole cat and I are the only two awake in the world. Even that cat has fallen asleep on the couch next to me. So, okay, to recap, it’s just me and the two idiots out for a stroll at 3:46 in the morning of the new year. Fools. They could be sitting on a couch writing, for Pete’s sake. (Obviously when given the choice I shall pick writing over physical movement. This does not bode well for my fourth non-resolution goal-ish to move more.)

I thought that by getting up and writing I would eventually start to feel sleepy and would wrap this up, post it, and climb back into bed. I’m not feeling sleepy. I feel absolutely wide awake. This is not good.

So I shall tell a story.

We all stayed up tonight to count down to the new year and then we missed it. Or nearly missed it. We realized with two minutes to go that probably Sports Center was not going to show the ball dropping in Times Square. Every year we watch the ball drop in Times Square (taped, of course, because we’re all aware of time zones and how they work) and count down together and then toast and kiss and hug. So at t-minus two minutes someone said, “Hey…this isn’t the right station!” We quickly found Pitbull’s New Year’s Something or Other, which confused the shit out of me because I still can’t really comprehend that Pitbull is a thing. No one can tell me why he is suddenly so popular and everywhere, and now I have another question to add to the Pitbull list: who the hell gave him his own New Year’s Eve special? Ryan Seacrest broke onto the New Year’s scene but has to be content with his show being largely named after a dead guy and getting second billing: “The DICK CLARK ROCKIN’ NEW YEAR’S ROCKIN’ EVE ROCKIN’ SPECIAL…with Ryan Seacrest.” And now this flash-in-the-pan bald guy gets his own special right out of the gate. Are you kidding me? But I digress. So we found Pitbull and realized that it isn’t what we normally watch, we watch the dead guy’s special, so we flipped to that. Only that special, which for YEARS, as long as we can remember, has reverted to tape with less than two minutes to midnight so we can watch the ball drop in our time zone, refused to budge off live. We saw some performers on a stage (don’t ask me who they are…I’m old and can rant for a paragraph about Pitbull) and empty streets in Manhattan. The remote was passed and menus came up and people unhelpfully started helping by screaming suggestions about what to try while one of us used his cell phone to let us know that we were essentially missing it. Then I heard, “It’s midnight, we missed it” and I looked at the atomic clock on the high shelf and saw that it was 12:00 a.m. and that the ball hadn’t dropped and we hadn’t counted down and I was still thrown by the whole Pitbull-has-his-very-own-special thing and holy shit what the fuck is going on when M’s Aunt Margaret (hi Aunt Margaret!) suddenly launched into the countdown. It was a thing of beauty. She just screamed, “TEN! NINE! EIGHT!” and we all started screaming numbers with her and then we got to ONE and we toasted and kissed and hugged. She explained that she was worried the kids would be upset that we missed it, so she took action. The kids? Hell, I was getting upset that we missed it! But we didn’t miss it, thanks to Aunt Margaret. So I propose that in future years we say to hell with Pitbull, to hell with the dead guy, to hell with Ryan Seacrest, and to hell with the ball in Times Square. I’m just gonna start screaming numbers when Aunt Margaret starts screaming numbers. We don’t need no fancy television…we have Aunt Margaret.

And this, my friends, is how awesome family memories are made.

I am still not tired, but I should wrap this up and try to get some sleep. The smelly cat has moved away and the walkers are long gone and it’s now 4:21 in the morning of the new year. Happy 2015, ya’all.