Halloween

Hello, readers.

Here is a picture of me dressed up as Doctor Who.

Doctor Me

Can’t seem to find a picture of me dressed as Captain Jack. If you would like, though, readers, do feel free to imagine me in a kitchen dressed as Captain Jack, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’re missing.

I never did quite manage to dress up as Rose. Perhaps, another day.

Once upon a time, my father told me that only people with no imagination possess no fear of the dark. This seemed wise to me at the time, especially as it was said by him as he rolled back into bed after having been sick as a result of chemo treatments and also cancer.

A lot of people describe horrible events as unimaginable, which is silly. What they mean, I think, is that very often the terrors we imagine have more to do with who we are and where we come from than the world we live in. By which I mean, my terrors tend to involve the dark and faces, which is a perfectly reasonable terror for a lonely boy who overheard his parents arguments and whose ancestors sat around a fire, afraid of loud noises and what might wait on the other side of the darkness, but in so many ways, the dark is a far less terrifying place than rolling back into your bed, sick from chemo, and pretty sure that soon you will be dead. But not a lot of people imagine the mundane moments of horror that intrude on our lives. It’s not that they’re unimaginable. It’s just that they don’t live as brightly in our imaginations as the devils and ghouls that more often haunt the darkness that haunts us, inside and out.

Sometimes, when I wake in the middle of the night, for just a moment, a shape, or a face, will peer in from the dark doorway, and a terror will grip my heart that I’m not alone. I know it isn’t real, but it feels real enough. In those moments, I think of what my dad said and the terror loosens and my heart beats a little easier. Something about how he shared his terror helps in those situations, as I hope, very much, that it helped him. Remembering his words means that he’s there in the dark with me, and I’m not alone. Some ghosts are worth not giving up.

Happy Hallowe’en, readers.

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what.

Hello, internet.

Last week, the name Bo Burnham graced these pages(1) because of what. and how it’s the future of comedy, what with its singing, dancing, miming, and deliciously meta and sometimes surprisingly heartfelt riffs on reality, consciousness, comedy, and, um, riffs.

One of the things I loved about his performance, though, is something very old fashioned. Story and theme.

Bo’s up there at the beginning, and he’s stalking about, roaring like Godzilla, and then he’s reading from a notebook that he shows you is blank and wonders, ‘Why am I lying to you?’, and then he’s playing a song and wondering how to make sense of the sadness and why is everyone laughing? Very soon, it’s very apparent, that this routine is less stand-up and more avant-garde one man show in which, for better or worse, you’re watching a comic and performer struggle through a David Foster Wallace level of noise-drunk, self-involement, searching for some sense of meaning in the cliche’s, in the weary punch lines, in the routines of comedy past. Bo Burnham loves burying jokes and casting aside one-liners in a style deliberately out of sync with expectation.

Every generation grows up believing they know everything. It’s never been true, but lately, it’s been closer to the truth. We are so far post-modern that I think most of us can agree we’re post-reality and looking back and in and out trying to find out when we passed reality by and how we can find it again. Something real. Something genuine. I watch Bo Burnham in what., and I see a comedian five-steps ahead, assuming his audience is at least three-steps ahead, and so left wondering, how the fuck do I tell a joke when I, and everyone, already knows how all of this works? And what’s the point anyway? We’ve had comics before. I’m just another guy on a stage doing the same thing everyone else has ever done and how can I be new and me and real when whatever I do feels like a copy of someone else?(2)

And Bo, like DFW, does the only thing you can, really, which is to dig in and reach out and try to create something, anything, out of the noise. There’s such joy in watching Bo mix live and pre-taped bits. For some, perhaps, watching a man mime playing keyboard, after, you know, already actually playing the keyboard earlier might seem silly. But, I think, while it is silly, it’s also brilliant, because all the mixing of live and pre-taped stuff begins to feel like a comment on the noise, tangible and intangible, real and unreal, that all mixes together until we get to that place post-reality where so many people don’t care when they go to see 2NE1, or Girl’s Generation, or watch reality TV, or a YouTube video, whether it’s really real, or kind of real, or so fake it’s hyper real.

There’s this bit, by the end of the show, when voices off-stage begin taunting Bo (calling him a fag, offering to make him rich if he’ll just focus more on his brand, wondering why he acts so arrogant on stage and then so shy off). It’s brutal, honest, and a little scary, watching him cower in the dark, all light dimmed to a spotlight on his body, and the voices calling from the darkness, name-calling, name-dropping, naming him whatever they see fit. Earlier, Bo does something similar in a routine of Gollum-like split between his left and right brains. Then, he figured how to unite his logic and emotion into comedy. Here, he does something different in that he’s not explicit in what he’s doing. He doesn’t explain or analyze or undercut the punchline of this joke because there’s no joke, there’s just this, Bo raising a hand, cutting the voices into a refrain, ‘We think we know you. We think we know you.’(3). It’s so eery and awesome and then, he turns, he moves his hands a different way, and he begins remixing the voices that taunt him into something like a dance-pop-revolution, into something beautiful and alive and not burdened by fear or shame or logic or anything of what he’s been talking about all night.

It’s brilliant.

That is not all that’s on my mind, readers, but it’s enough, and all that I’m writing about today.

Happy post-reality.

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(1)Webpage. Witness the linguistic skeumorphism! At some point, far off in the future–when apes or aliens or robots or [insert surprising but inevitable overlords of humanity] rule the earth–someone will ask someone else where the term webpage came from and that someone (probably a magical analog cyborg) will say, ‘Well, my little Farfanoog, a long time ago people used to worship trees, and the spiders that lived and wove webs between the leaves, and they used to strip the wood from the tree to make their own webs in which to write words and one day they learned how to weave their dream weavings into the clouds and they called these floating images that graced their glass, webpages.’

(2)Before the internet, before we had everything, it must have been easier to feel unique, mustn’t it? Or is that just generational exceptionalism?

(3)It’s a phrase that seems as much about how people think they know Bo, as it is a phrase of how, in the YouTube generation, perhaps more than any other celebritied generation, so much of the fame is based on the idea (real, unreal, magic) that fans and artists know each other, that there’s this intimate connection wherein your videos are you, and you are your videos.

The Great Perhaps

Hello, readers.

Recently, I began reading Looking for Alaska, John Green’s first book. More recently, I finished it.

Here are some thoughts about my thoughts.

Thought #1: That’s a lot of cigarettes.

Thoughts about thought #1: The characters in Looking for Alaska burn through more words and ideas and cigarettes in one scene than a great many characters sniff at for an entire novel. They smoke in the shower. On the soccer field. Under a bridge, by a lake, in a spot they call the “The Smoking Hole.” And while they smoke, they talk about writers, labyrinths, the last words of the famous dead, and, on occasion, a little bit about themselves and the mysteries of being themselves and wanting to be closer to the selves of others. They talk about themselves, and their ideas, the way they burn through cigarettes, as though their lives depended on burning through the very things (cigarettes, themselves, each other, their ideas) that might one day kill them.

The story of Looking for Alaska is, in so many ways, so terrifically small in scope–there’s a handful of teenagers attending boarding school. But, it’s so much bigger on the inside, so full of what Miles, the main character, calls, ‘The Great Perhaps.’

Thought #2: There was this girl.

Thoughts on thought #2: A very great many stories could begin with the words, “There was this girl…” And it’s a problem on the whole, because, on the whole, it tends to reinforce the idea, so very often idea-ed in stories, that women exist as something for people to stare and wonder at, and be transformed by rather than, you know, for them to exist as and for themselves. Stories of, “There was this girl…” include: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Leon, Scott Pilgrim vs. All the Things and Stuff , and Anna Karenina. And, of course, in some of these, the girl in question is absolutely a character unto herself rather than existing solely as a symbol for whatever thing about life the writer wants to write about, or a fulcrum around which another character’s life pivots. In the case of Anna Karenina, for example, we get it all, because Anna has her own story, her own arc, as well as, more or less, functioning as a symbol for, um, I don’t know, the existential horroradventure of being a woman in late 19th century Russia, both bursting with and being swallowed by love and convention. In the case of Looking for Alaska, Alaska is also, like Anna Karenina, both herself and a symbol, if in very many fewer pages, and with far more smoking and drinking of Strawberry Hill than probably Anna Karenina or Tolstoy would go in for. Alaska is a character unto herself, with a past, and concerns, and sorrows. But she’s also a symbol for the Great Perhaps, for those mysteries and sorrows of the larger world for which Miles, the ‘main’ character, has set out in search. Also, possibly, she doesn’t have terribly much of an arc. But, in this book, in this story, there’s something to that, because unlike Anna Karenina, our narrator here is not Leo Tolstoy, a.k.a. possibly god, but a sixteen-year-old boy, Miles Halter, who may not understand the arc of Alaska until later, until, looking back, he understands his story through the stories of others.

Corollary Thought to Thought #2: Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) gets thrown around a lot of late, possibly beginning with Eternal Sunshine, and continuing on into this day. It refers to a girl in a story who exists as a mess of wonder and terror (very often sexy, very often with a slight bent towards death and destruction, or endless joy, which is a kind of death, all situations of stasis–whether of joy or terror or anything in between–being a kind of death) that awakens the hero (generally a boy) to the mess of wonder and terror that is life. It’s very much a part of the larger canon of stories referred to in Thought #2 as “There was this girl…” I happen to have loved a great many stories of said type, and several MPDGs (Clementine/Eternal Sunshine, Ramona/Scott Pilgrim, Summer/500 Days Of, Anna Karenina/Anna Karenina, Penny Lane/Almost Famous), but I’m aware that the best stories, the best tropes, transcend themselves, and that the MPDG trope is part of a larger and always necessary trope of how sometimes, in your life, someone appears at just the right time and changes everything, of which movies like Almost Famous and Once are perfect examples in which there are so many manic pixie dream guitarists and girls and vaccuum repairmen that enter into each other’s lives and all of them are changed by it.

The characters exist to transform each other and themselves.

So, if at the end of your story in which “There was this [insert appropriate pronoun here],” the person referred to by the appropriate pronoun has not undergone any change, has not experienced a story of their own, you might want to look at that again and wonder over whether your story might not be bigger and better for having a MPDLGTBQETC. that is not simply magical and mysterious, but also mundane and unambiguously a person capable of growth in their own right.

Thought #3: Someone once said that every story is about sex and death.

Thoughts on thought #3: Yes. Sometimes there are lasers, too.

Thought #4: That’s probably enough thoughts, for now.

Thoughts on thought #4: But about the fox hat? Or the labyrinth? Or last words? Or all of those discussion questions John Green helpfully answered and posed at the end of the book?

Thoughts on thoughts on thought #4: I’m hungry and want to eat lunch now.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

Go seek your Great Perhaps, wherever and with whomever it might wait.

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Things

Hello, readers.

Here are things making me happy this week in no particular order except the one I wrote them in.

1) Bo Burnham. what. The stand-up of the YouTube-I don’t have time to finish this sentence because there’s a picture of a cat I need to write a poem about in which god doesn’t care about me or you and my emotions always get the better of me but I’m still gonna try because-generation. It’s fantabulism and surrealism and pop songs done with all the heart one could ask for in a performance that includes air guitar, air harpsichord, air cymbals, dis-embodied voices, masturbatory, orchestral, masturbations, and at least one murdered pentacorns (a unicorn with 5 horns). At some point, in some distant past, from somewhere, I saw the end of this performance on YouTube. And now, having seen the full show, I’m so excited it exists. Go watch it.

2) John Green. I know, I know, I’ve been talking about this all week, but Looking for Alaska is so damn committed to its characters and its emotions that it’s no wonder it spawned what has become the entity known as JOHN GREEN which now controls one-third of the interwebs. I do this thing sometimes when I read where I imagine criticisms of the thing I’m reading and then think of answers to those criticisms. Because I like arguing with myself, I guess, or maybe getting the jump on anyone who wants to argue with me. It leads to me sometimes talking in a way where people wonder if there presence is entirely necessary. The criticism I imagined people leveling at a book like Looking for Alaska is that it’s white kids at a boarding school and there’s a mysterious, crazy, magical girl and it reminds me of the stuff people said about Michael Chabon’s, A Model World and Mysteries of Pittsburgh. That the scope was too small, or the imagination not deep enough, or it was too romantic, too young, too naive. Well. I answered my inner critic by pointing out that all the best art comes from focusing on something, however big or small, until you can see the entire universe in it. Or. Well. The opposite. Douglas Adams focuses on the universe until you see yourself eating a sandwich. And, also, cricket. Also. Yeah. I like romance and death and finding the world inside curves of skin and falling leaves and it’s nice to pay attention to everything in all the things. Something like that. I like this book and the world is more awesome for it.

3) Tea. I received some gunpowder green tea from a lady and it is delicious.

That is all.

See you next week, readers.

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Famous Last Words

Hello, readers.

In John Green’s Looking for Alaska, there’s a character obsessed with the last lines of famous people. This led me to thinking about the last lines of not famous people and about my mom and dad and how I have no idea what their last lines were. I remember things they said that would be good as last lines, such as, in no particular order.

1) It’s your turn for adventures.

2) Is this heaven?

3) I can’t think of a third thing.*

But, these weren’t their last lines. They said other things after these things. Very many of them not terribly cogent. Also, I wasn’t taking notes. Or recording them.** Presumably this is why there are so many last lines from famous people. Because someone was taking notes. Also, because they’re famous people write books about them, and I guess you need to have a last line or two in there. Also, also, people probably sometimes make last lines up, or collect the last, best, cogent thing the person said because having your last line be recorded as, “Aaaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh” only really works if you’re a former member of Monty Python.

I presume that, in one manner or another, the whole remembering last lines thing will become a part of how Looking for Alaska wraps up. I don’t know how that will be, yet. I do know, though, that having a character obsessed with the literature of the very nearly dead is fun. It provides a context frame for scenes because, oh, yeah! Death! It’s always around us. John Green in video, and in words, presents such urgency. His stories have a will to bigness. They yearn.

Happy Wednesday, readers.

ttfn.***

*These might very possibly be my last words. Well, not the words I just wrote, but the asterisked ones, well, not those, because clearly many words followed them, but you get the idea. Whatever that means. How do people get ideas? Does our brain have an idea catching mechanism? Is it a mirror neurons thing?

**Well, except I did, after not recording conversations with Dad, ask Mom to let me record her as I asked her question about life, the universe, and everything, and that was a lovely thing to have done and to still have. If you’ve never interviewed your parents. Go for it. It’s fun. Maybe make some cookies, or cake, or tea, if that’s your thing, and sit down and share the eating and talking and make a record of who your parents are and were and who you were when you spoke to them.

***It’s unlikely my last words will be ttfn. I’ve told EG that what they should put on my tombstone is a quote from Kurt Vonnegut.

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Flash the Virgin

Hello, readers.

Two things.

1) Jane the Virgin reminds me of Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies and these are delightful things to be reminded of while watching television as very few moments while watching television do I think, oh, but THIS NARRATOR MAKES EVERYTHING SO MUCH BETTER. And so, when it happens, when I’m watching the travails of a curmudgeonly young woman surrounded by inanimate ephemera what give voice to her subconscious desires, or pie makers who kill and grant life with a touch, or, as with this new tv show, Jane the Virgin, I watch a young woman witness her life fall into a melodramatic orbit reminiscent of the telenovelas she loves, I take note, I smile, I think. Cool. I’ll give this a try.

2) After watching ten minutes of The Flash, the latest in the forever neverending run of our current superheroic culture, two things occurred to me.

a) Barry Allen’s father is the actor who played The Flash in that other TV adaptation of The Flash which feels like it was a dream I had once.

b) This, and Gotham, are both attempting to inject some silliness and fun and, while Gotham is hindered by the fact that ultimately it must, in order to succeed, be something of a tragedy such that Batman is required to exist, the Flash is not hindered by anything other than TV special effects. Point, Flash.

It’s blustery today. Blustery is an important word in Gary Shytengart’s Super Sad True Love Story. There’s apparently a hurricane landing in northwest England. In London, this has meant bursts of wind that bring to mind the fastest man in the world running past you and knocking you back with his wake.

Also, I have begun reading Looking for Alaska and am in love with the phrase, THE GREAT PERHAPS. It’s a good phrase.

Happy Tuesday, readers.

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Partly Blue, Looking for Alaska

Hello, readers.

Today is October the 20th, a Monday, partly blue with blusters of blustery wind and scattered, occasional, not really trying all that hard, rain. It’s also the first day I have worn a scarf. My pants are red.

Earlier, I thought about a Vietnamese cafe called Palpitation. I only ever visited the cafe once, but I think of it from time to time for many reasons. One, the woman who owned it, and would later move to Thailand, was the only person there, and it was kind of awkward, and we might never have spoken except, up above her counter, written in chalk, there was this quote.

I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.

It’s from John Green’s book Looking for Alaska. 

At the time of me standing in that cafe, in Vietnam, the only other person near me the owner of an otherwise empty cafe, I had read one John Green book in my life, The Fault in our Stars, which had been my brilliant choice to read around the time my mom died. It is a sad story full of happiness. Which, I suppose, could just as well be a way of saying that it was a happy story full of sadness. I’m not sure which is truer, of the book or of life, but I do know that I very much loved the book, and I mentioned this to the cafe owner and we briefly chatted, about John Green (she hadn’t read TFiOS), about words, about otherwise empty cafes, and we friended each other on Facebook. She very soon, as I said, left the country and we may very well never speak again, and her cafe is very likely something else now, the quote erased. But, the quote, the moment, the woman, the cafe, all remain, as certain words, moments, and people do, safely tucked away in my mind, ready to return at the strangest moments, such as today, after preparing a lunch of roasted vegetables and polenta, I sat down in my London flat, began to eat, and watched this video, which reminded me that Looking for Alaska was published 10 years ago, and that quote was seen by me one year ago, and I’ve still not read the book.

So, I will do that. Starting tomorrow.

Happy partly blue, readers.

Enjoy.

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p.s. The vlogbrothers are, in large part, why I ended up deciding to throw my hat in the ring of videographical logging of things and stuff. This video by Hank, for example, does a great job of explaining how the vlogbrothers achieve their vlogbrotheriness.

Evidence of Autumn

Hello, readers.

It’s Friday, the day of Fries, or, wait, I’m being told by my brain that the ‘fri’ in Friday doesn’t refer to fries, but, in fact, refers to Freya or, possibly, Frigga. Frigga being the Goddess of Clouds. Freya being the Goddess of Love. Possibly they were the same person. You can’t tell with gods.

Other things of note.

On Tuesday, at The Phoenix, the Liars’ League gathered and delivered 6 stories of slashing and burning in honor of Halloween. These included stories about abused children, armies of rats, and a great deal of horrors that lurk beneath the baseboards of various establishments. The last story delivered a delightful twist on the theme of the night, presenting a slash-fic full of a fiery tangle of passion between Kirk, Spock, Han, Harry, and many other corners of fandom.

Also, Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day, which celebrates the not terribly often recognized contributions of women to our current, possibly dystopian, world of technological wonderterror. NPR has a lovely write-up of such humans as Ada Lovelace, herself, as well as Jean Jennings Bartik (one of the first programmers on the ENIAC—perhaps my favorite of the old-school supervillian names for computers, see also Pegasus) and Grace Hopper, Queen of Software, who realized hey, what if we programmed with words instead of numbers?

Tomorrow, EG and I venture off towards Bristol for those terrifically tangible evidences of autumn, leaves of red and gold, falling, swishing about our ankles. We will walk and talk among them, EG and I, and several generations of her family, from those not terribly able to walk or talk, to those who perform conversation and ambulation quite well, thank you. I don’t know what happened to my language there, readers. Sometimes I surprise even myself.

Note: No videographical interfacing this week, because trip. But the video life talking will reappear next week. Possibly with ghosts and ghouls, among the other things and stuff that are included in my thoughts and their tumbling across the universe.

Happy love and clouds, readers.

See you in the future.

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Objects Happen As Much As Anything

Hello, readers.

Things are happening. As they do. For example, a motorcycle just drove down the street. The rider wore a helmet both yellow and fluorescent. A little further away, I can see the towers of St. Pancras. They are happening in the way that buildings happen, with all of that time and hopefully not too many dead bodies buried in their stones and also they are cool. Objects happen as much as anything.

EG and I just finished 30 Rock. It was glorious. Full of heart, strip clubs, blimpie sandwiches and a brief discourse on the etymology of love. We cried a small bit, which is a wonderful thing to do, from time to time, especially when watching comedies. I remember reading something somewhere sometime that said something like all the great comedies are built within the framework of sorrow. This makes me think about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and how beginning with the end of the world is solidly sorrowful.

After finishing 30 Rock, I asked EG what she thought about me doing an entire video blog in the voice of Jack Donaghy (president of NBC on 30 Rock who speaks with the sort of gravely voice one associates with giant rock creatures from Neverending Story). She said she thought it would be weird when her mom watched because reasons. I asked EG if she knew what it meant that we had watched, together, the entire 30 Rock series from beginning to end.She said no. I said it meant we were married now. She said, So, how many times did you marry your Mom?

A new review by me has appeared at Strange Horizons. I reviewed Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. I loved it. My review, though, includes many more words than that.

Here’s an excerpt:

In his first two novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, Nick Harkaway evinced a predilection, and skill, for the gleeful plunder and bashing together of, more or less, every genre ever invented. In The Gone-Away World, he rollicked through a post-apocalyptic-SF-horror-romance-fantasy-kung-fu epic, and in Angelmaker, he thoughtfully tromped through a steampunk adventure, with dashes of crime, romance, mechanical bee doom, and family drama. What Harkaway does well in all this bashing and smashing, is to combine his ecstatic world-building with an equally ecstatic empathy for his characters, whether they be larger-than-life superheroes, or middle-aged, somewhat stereotypically reserved British sergeants who, despite their best efforts, end up becoming something not unlike a superhero.

Also, here’s my new video blog in which I discuss irretrievable and unknowable things, and also thread and labyrinths.

 

Happy Saturday, readers. You’re a happening bunch of happening things.

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