Why are we as humans so delighted hearing things we have known in ways we’ve never imagined? Perhaps this question answers itself. These are my favorite sorts of questions.
Yesterday I listened to the Baby Driver soundtrack and this led me to listening to some Sky Ferreira. I have also been listening a lot to Marina. It has been a very long time since there was a world in England where one could imagine going out and doing things. I think we’re all a bit rusty. I think it helps sometimes listening to people whose songs call on you to move.
I hope wherever you are, readers, that you have the right support beneath you. I think sometimes of a thing Lynda Barry said of those formless things that give things form. It reminds me of how being grounded helps the sparks fly.
This reminded me that mashups exist. Also that I have always been in love with things that existed in combinations both thrilling and perfectly strange.
Here are some of my favorite mashups:
Radio Soulwax Presents: As Heard on Radio Soulwax pt. 2 (link) A Stroke of Genie-Us (link) The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Here’s a New Yorker article from 2005 about mashups called “1 + 1 + 1 = 1.” (link)
Here is a quote from that article:
“Mashups find new uses for current digital technology, a new iteration of the cause-and-effect relationship behind almost every change in pop-music aesthetics: the gear changes, and then the music does.”
Once upon a time I wrote a paper about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, describing it as a sort of mashup of genres.
Today I am wondering if my fascination with mashup culture might be placed under the heading of AN INCREASING UNDERSTANDING OF MY EXPERIENCE OF LIFE AS NON-BINARY. Which is a funny thing to think, I think, considering that most mashups derive their power from the splicing together of two things which remain, in their union, recognizably distinct. Someone should probably invent a symbol that captures our binary experience of a universe that is at heart entirely non-binary. Oh, wait.
This is a thing I’ve been thinking about, of late, readers. I was already who I am before we arrived here. I was already Luke Skywalker and Marie Antoinette and an alien with two hearts and a boy in love with Penny Lane and a girl in love with longing to be part of the world. I didn’t think of this as strange. I thought of it as true.
As G’Kar says of his time on the space station Babylon 5:
“Let me pass onto you the one thing I’ve learned about this place. No one here is exactly what he appears…My warning is sincere. Ignore it at your own peril.”
In my life I tend to be seen as a man. Very often, though, I am seen as a woman and then upon closer inspection (or hearing my voice) said observer will apologize for their mistake.
However I see myself, and however difficult and somewhat vertiginous to accept, some part of that self that I am is a collection of all those moments of being seen by others.
And, so, in that part of my heart that is made of how I am seen I suppose you could say that there are two images:
Man and Mistake.
I do not doubt this experience of being seen as—
THE TOTALLY DEFAULT EVERYTHING IS FINE HERE THING
—has something to do with my fascination with stories like Beauty and the Beast.
Also my desire to DESTROY ALL BINARIES.
Also, also. With my tendency as a child, not seeing anyone really on screen that both LOOKED and FELT LIKE ME, to develop a habit of seeing myself in everyone and seeing everyone in myself. The world is much less lonely if you open yourself to imagining everything is, in part, a representation of you and you are, in part, a representation of everything.
But. Yes. Where were we? Oh, right. My heart.
In that part of my heart that imagines itself in terms of its own design, fashioned through an arrangement of symbols absorbed in books and films and THE REAL WORLD and also the natural world and also human conversation—i.e., crafting a sort of mental self-projection not exactly unlike how Neo projects an image in The Matrix—I look much more like what American society might describe as A GIRL. Possibly because those things I valued and felt to be ME included a great deal of things considered as GIRL THINGS. You know. Sensuality. Emotions. Intuitiveness. A deep capacity for surrender. A deep love and need for connection. An interest in jewelry and fashion. Etc.
And. Wait for it.
Here’s the thing.
I grew up not entirely trusting the conceptions of BOY and GIRL as generally encountered in the world of 1981 – I’LL LET YOU KNOW WHEN WE GET THERE.
I particularly did not trust the conception of GIRL in my society.
I particularly, particularly did not trust the conception of GIRL by MEN in my society. (p.s. Girl by Men sounds, I think, like an excellently weird name for patriarchal perfume)
And, well. By most accounts at the time. I was an American on his way to becoming a MAN, and therefore how could I trust any part of myself that imagined itself in anyway to be a GIRL!
Which most likely means that if one imagined my once and future heart as a triptych sort of summation one might imagine titling the panels as such:
MAN + MISTAKE + A GIRL WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE IN HERSELF
Two out of three of these things, you’ll notice, indicate a misunderstanding. And by you, in this case, I of course me.
I don’t really think of myself these days as a boy or a girl or a man or a woman. I am, as the New Yorker title suggests, a summation of more than two things which all add up to one thing. This is, more or less, the definition of non-binary.
It is a bit strange to think of myself in this way. It is also entirely natural. I like math. No one here is exactly what they appear.
Any time we bother conceiving of ourselves as more than we imagined, or deeper than we imagined, or in any way differently than we imagined, there is a chance we will wake up like Neo in The Matrix.
We will be more vulnerable than we can remember being.
We will freak out a bit.
We will need teachers.
If we are lucky to find those teachers, we can hopefully look forward to a period of rapid learning on such topics as kung fu, firearm handling, and the timey-wimey nature of reality.
This is where the world finds itself, I think, these days. The gears are changed. The music is new. We are all trying to make sense of how we got here and where it is we’re going. Apocalypse is, after all, just another word for revelation.
In other news.
The other day I sat with a stranger by the sea. We talked. We read poetry. We watched the sunset. We were by the time we parted transformed perhaps into humans slightly less strange.
I hope that, for all of you, there is a moment this week, or this month, or sometime soon where you can sit with someone and feel less strange.
Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a person. It could be a film or a poem or a mashup. You never know.
And, of course, in this case you means you know who you are.
I am reading Cabinet of Curiosities. It is a wander of a book through the wonders of Guillermo del Toro, co-written by Marc Scott Zicree. There are here, among other things, mentions of multiple skeletons, a distinctly delightful moral philosophy gleaned from Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, and a storm window in Guillermo del Toro’s office that, at the push of a button, flickers and sounds in such a way as to recreate the feel of being cocooned inside on a stormy night.
This is what del Toro says of Defending Your Life:
“When people talk about heaven and hell, I always think of Defending Your Life, the Albert Brooks movie. I think that you have a responsibility not to propagate the cancer of despair, resentment, and envy. You have the responsibility to make the right choices for the people around you and yourself. We are not going to be important, but I think the collective choices that we make are. We are going to be extinct or not by the accumulation of these choices.”
Here is what Guillermo del Toro says about love:
“In the end, perfection is just a concept—an impossibility we use to torture ourselves and that contradicts nature. We pursue it—God knows we have to, as artists—but ultimately, like Hundertwasser says: A straight line is pure tyranny. In art, as in life, the love of imperfection is the perfect love.”
I love these words.
And I love this book.
In some ways, I suppose, in all of my travels around the world–there is something in this blog of a portable cabinet of curiosities. The glass case in which shelf after shelf of obsessions, wonders, and, most likely, a skeleton or two. It is definitely haunted.
In news of other, stranger loves, here is a trailer for the film opening Cannes Film Festival:
There’s great stuff here about coffee and laptops and the discipline of desperation. My favorite thing is this thing that Bill quotes by Willy Vlautin.
“Always be a fan first.”
I love this. And I love Bill.
Speaking of fandom and love. I discovered today that Heath Ledger produced in his characterization of The Joker such an embodiment of terror that when Michael Caine first encountered him in a scene he was too scared to remember any of his lines.
I loved The Dark Knight a lot when it came out. I saw it five times in the theater. It’s coming back to theaters in London this summer. Perhaps I will visit it again. Time transforms love, I think, but it rarely erases it.
There’s this great line Michael Chabon wrote in his story, “Ocean Avenue” and it goes like this:
“If you can still see how you could have once loved a person, you are still in love; an extinct love is always wholly incredible.”
Here are some things of a nature perhaps commensurate with the human capacity for wonder.
Last week, I watched this one film called Dick. It made my heart sing. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are two of the best humans who sometimes pretend to be other humans. And, while the story reminded me a bit of Being There or Forrest Gump—in which there is cynicism and there is wonder and people stumble through history, changing its course somewhat haphazardly—this film is not exactly like that. These characters do not just bumble through history—they bumble and they learn and they make choices and take action against what they see as wrong.
I keep hearing this voice in my head. It sounds a lot like Bugs Bunny.
Perhaps, for many of us, this is the feeling of being alive in 2021. That feeling that we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe a grimey sort of self-doubt. Perhaps born out of a habit of hiding. Or being asked to hide.
Maybe it feels new. It feels a bit new to me.
I think, perhaps, this is how it always feels, though.
It is like love in that way. Or, at least. Like falling in love. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Something like this happens everyday.
Also. Always. I am suspicious of these visitations of feeling. Like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. This self-doubt could be a bit of undigested nutritional yeast.
And yet. I know, like Scrooge, these ghosts are here as omens. As guardians. As guides.
Everything that protects us is a monster.
Earlier this week, I read some of George Saunders’ A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. I thought. Oh. This is how it feels to wake up inside of trauma. I thought. Would you look at that.
I cried a lot. I’m not sure why. Also I know why. I am lonely. I am grieving for those things not entirely gone. I am filling my life with as much joy as I can stand. And sometimes it’s too much. And sometimes it’s not enough.
It has been a very long time. It has been a very long time for us all. Since we met. Since we held hands. Since we hugged. Since we kissed. Since we made love.
Separation isn’t easy.
Perhaps, for some of us, that grew up in the grips of one form of depression or another, that grew up queer in one form or another, it is easy to imagine things are worse than they are—not just because this is an aspect of depression or loneliness, but because one can remember becoming attached to these feelings of loneliness, of monstrosity. That feeling that no one wants to touch you. That feeling that no one wants to be touched by you. That feeling that there would in holding hands be something overwhelming and scary.
And so much of everything comes down to this.
The desire to hold hands. The fear to touch and be touched.
There’s this scene in It’s a Sin, the new Russell T. Davies show. In this scene there is a character and they scream, “Don’t touch me! You can’t touch me!”
They say, “You can’t touch me because I have AIDS.”
I cried a lot here, as well, and I knew why. I knew because of now. I knew because of growing up in the shadow of a disease that so many used as a confirmation of their culture’s collective nightmares about sex. About touch. About queerness. About pleasure.
There have been days and weeks during these past months that have been some of the clearest and best days and months. It is strange. And, also. I suppose. Really. It’s not strange. My partner and I separated a little while ago. It was maybe not the best time to do that. But, also.
Once, not all that long ago, I heard someone say something like, “Right now, every one of us needs more than anyone has left to give.”
And, so. Rather than sharing all this with any particular person, I have shared it with the internet.
I have written my doubt into the arms of the ether.
I hope it is not too much. I hope.
In other news.
It is Wednesday and, I am reading Neil Gaiman’s retellings of Norse Myths. There are here mostly stories of Thor and Loki. Gaiman, in his introduction, points out the lack of stories concerning other gods and goddesses. He points out that too many stories have been lost.
The other day I asked Em what they thought of Loki. They said that Loki represented the sort of energy I don’t want anymore in my life. They asked me what I thought. I said that Loki, like The Coyote or The Monkey King or Doctor Who, possibly represented something like the energy of the mind, racing, feckless, by turns delightful and infuriating. In the stories Loki seems to be the cause of everyone’s problems and also the source of so many of their blessings—Thor’s hammer, for example, came about from some of Loki’s mischief.
Things I didn’t say: I identify a lot with Loki. I identify a lot with all of these characters defined by their reckless race from one shape to the next.
Em asked who is Coyote. I told them about the trickster and my lamentable lack of knowledge about the specificity of Native American myth.
Wait, Em said. Like. Wile E. Coyote?
Well, I said. It’s right there in his name, isn’t it? The wily one, endlessly chasing that which is unattainable.
I’ll say this for Wile E. Coyote, though. He’s one focused son of a gun. Nothing stops him from going after what he wants, not rock or anvil or gravity. When Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, he acknowledges his mistake, and then he falls, and then he tries again.
I wonder if he’s enjoying himself, though?
Perhaps it’s a Sisyphus thing. Perhaps we must imagine him smiling?
I’d rather not.
I’d rather imagine that one day Wile E. Coyote reads adrienne maree brown’s book, Pleasure Activism and begins a journey of recalibration in which he reconnects with those aspects of life which turn him on. I like to imagine this. I like to imagine Wile E. Coyote sitting still, contemplating the beauty of a single flower, remembering what it means to grow.
Friday is the day, of course, on which we celebrate fried food and love*.
I will be making tonight a pan-fried chickpea bread called socca, and also I will be thinking about the episode of Euphoria I just watched called, “Trouble Don’t Last Always.”
In this episode, two characters sit in a diner and talk to each other for an hour. There’s a cigarette break at one point. And there’s sometimes music. Sometimes by Labrinth**. Mostly it is just these two people and their conversation and the space that conversation opens up between and around them and into which we, the viewer, are invited .
It is an episode about death and gods and forgiveness. It is an episode in which two humans share truth and tenderness and touch. It aired first on December 7th and it is, in its way, a Christmas miracle. Perhaps not in the reality of the show. But in our reality. In the reality of distancing—both social and societal. In the reality of demonization—personal and political.
It is an episode that is my favorite ever episode of television right now.
Possibly it is my favorite kind of episode.
It is like when Chandler got trapped in an ATM vestibule.
It is that thing where characters get trapped into intimate surrounds and intimacy abounds. It is that episode where the detective talks to everyone and this is how they solve the crime. It is conversation. It is connection.
It is bacon and eggs and pancakes and your grandfather talking to you about stocks and bonds and life and death.
Maybe this last bit is just me.
Here are other things I have loved this week.
The British Museum: Curator’s Corner.
It is not possible to go to The British Museum. But, I have discovered that it is possible to watch people who work at The British Museum geek out over their favorite bits of the museum.
During the last two years of his life, Joseph Campbell talked with Bill Moyers at Skywalker Ranch. This aired in the U.S. on PBS in 1988, and many years after. It was the thing PBS always showed during fundraiser time.
It is the thing that around the age of fourteen, I watched over the course of one long afternoon with my grandmother and during and after she and I talked about life and death and ghosts and gods.
I am rewatching it for the third or fourth time. Em is watching it for the first time.
She believes I am lucky to have been exposed to this conversation so early in my life.
I believe she is right.
It is also true that we find what we are ready to find and we learn what we are ready to learn.
And, it turned out, that my grandmother and I were ready that day to spend an afternoon in conversation with two men in conversation about the invisible foundations of reality.
And, right now, it turns out that I am ready to learn that this life-changing interview between Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer has the same structure as two characters in a diner talking about addiction or Chandler trapped in an ATM vestibule trying to get a date.
Happy Friday, readers.
I hope that you are having an okay week, readers. I hope if it is not okay that it is, somehow, still okay.
* Friday being the day of Freya, that lady of the forest known for her love of those things in life most delicious—love, sex, war, appetite, possibly pancakes.
** I love this video about Labrinth’s song All for Us.
The way I made hot chocolate is that I put some amount of cacao powder in a pan. And also I put into this pan some ground cardamom. Then I toasted these things in the pan before adding some milk and whisking it up and then adding some more milk and warming it to not quite boiling.
Then I tasted this and it was very yummy and I have made it on other days and some days I put inside this hot chocolate a tiny bit of salt and maple syrup and you should be careful with this amount of deliciousness because you should do things with your life other than making and consuming hot chocolate.
Not very many other things, perhaps. But some things.
I enjoyed this thing that is a song by Gia Margaret and also less of a song and more a bit of musical bedding for some spoken word by Alan Watts, a British human who is apparently known for popularizing certain mechanisms of thought in English-speaking countries. He published a book in 1957 called The Way of Zen.
Gia Margaret is a Chicago musician whose work you can read about here.
Speaking of bodies.
Em and I are in the midst of rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Also, Angel. Though for Em it is the first time of seeing Angel.
Tonight, we will watch "The Body." In this episode of Buffy someone is dead and their body is discovered on a sofa. It is an episode of much harrow and humor and there is no music and sometimes people talk about negative space. It is the first work of art, I think, that caused in me actual grief.
Sometimes watching Buffy this time around it has occurred to me that certain moments of this show live in my body the way trauma lives in bodies. It is fascinating to understand how much I identified with this show and how that identification lives still in my body and I get goosebumps sometimes, or my heart races, and it is all a memory of a memory and happening still. These characters. These actors. These moments. These bodies of art and the spaces inside myself into which I imagined them.
Once upon a time there was an episode of X-Files in which Mulder and Scully found themselves reunited in a courtroom. I do not remember why they had been so long apart. I do not remember why they met in a courtroom. I do remember the feeling of them being apart and the feeling of them coming back together.
Sometimes it is possible to feel these feelings in one’s own life.
Sometimes it is possible to feel these feelings not about other people but about various parts of yourself.
When Mulder showed up in that courtroom, Scully hugged him and she smiled and she asked, “Where’ve you been?”
This other time Taylor Swift sang about the grass in Centennial Park in Tennessee and I cried because I miss Nashville and traveling and, while I don’t miss grass, I do miss sitting in the grass with hundreds of people gathered together to hear someone sing about something as simply and beautifully as Taylor Swift sings about grass.
I have been watching Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass. It is a good class if you like listening to Neil Gaiman and do not mind not being in a class.
One of my favorite things I have taken from this Masterclass is to keep at the back of my notebook pages labelled ‘Compost Heap’ in which I might write down those memories and occurrences and phrases and slants of light which catch my attention.
Listening to Gaiman talk about things reminded me of listening to actors talk about things on Inside the Actor’s Studio. This was a show that aired for a long time on a tv channel called Bravo. It was hosted by James Lipton. It inspired the questionnaire that lives at the end of those interviews I did for that one podcast, Storyological.
Q: Hi, there. My question is regarding you being known as a somewhat private person in real life—whether that has ever affected your ability as an actor to extend to your character that intimate side of yourself that we all strive to give to each character we portray.
A: I’m a private person in my private life. In my working life, I expect to grant my audience complete and total access. Everybody’s got a backstage pass. You have to be willing to live in front of people. Let them see the good, the bad, the ugly, the weak, the strong, the conflicted, the terrible. One of the things about acting that gives me the greatest satisfaction is the opportunity for that emotional exercise. That investment to the point that it produces true emotion. It’s not about you. It’s about the continuity between you and the rest of your race. It’s about being human and it’s about sharing and knowing that humanity.
It is the true ambition. To give yourself to that moment.
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A costume drama, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite cuts a deliciously cruel and filthy figure. The characters here do not play coy with their ambitions or their pleasures. “No, I don’t think I will send her away,” one woman says to another. “I like her tongue in my cunt.”
We are at the turn of the eighteenth century, in the time of Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman). England is at war. The noblemen race ducks along the halls of power. Everywhere one encounters foppish manners and ridiculous wigs and bizarre dances that appear to have been improvised according to the direction: “Be weird! No! Weirder!” It is a time of madness. Much like most times, I suppose.
The film centers on three women. There is the aforementioned Queen, a half-mad, somewhat ineffectual human being. There is the queen’s closet advisor, and secret lover, the the cunning and ambitious Duchess of Marlborough, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz). And there is the pretty and capable young thing, Abigail (Emma Stone), a fallen aristocrat who shows up looking for work one day, a glint in her eye and a face full of shit.
“Have you come to play with our children?” Lady Sarah asks. “Have you come to be their little monster?”
Abigail does not need to think very long about this. She scrunches up her face. “I can be a monster,” she says. And then she raises her claws and growls. Grr.
In his earlier film, The Lobster, Lanthimos created a world in which single people were forced to find a partner lest they be transformed into a beast. The film starred Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, and it was a dark and funny take on the desperate nature of us humans. Particularly the desperation of our need to belong to someone, or something, else.
There’s something of a similar theme in The Favourite. We watch as Abigail endeavors to ingratiate herself up the rungs of power, using her naked wiles and bare shoulders to woo men and women to her cause. Lady Sarah admires this. And she is wary of it. There is a scene in which she takes Abigail out to shoot pigeons. Abigail takes aim and misses. “There is always a price to pay,” Lady Sarah says. “And I’m willing to pay it.” She then shoots down a pigeon. “Are you?”
It is Abigail’s turn next. The pigeon flies. Abigail raises her rifle without hesitation. She fires quick and sure. Blood spatters Lady Sarah’s face. Abigail is a fast learner. She does not miss twice.
Lanthimos shoots here sometimes with a fish eye lens. This has the effect of showing you more of the world, but it comes at the cost of warping everything out of all reality. Other times, he comes in close to study the set of Lady Sarah’s jaws or the shadows at play in Abigail’s eyes. In those moments, we see these individuals, and their souls, with startling clarity. But the world, oh the world. It is all lost.
Lady Sarah reveals, about halfway through the the film, the flaw she sees in Abigail’s character. She is the type of girl, Lady Sarah believes, who craves two things above all else, “safety and favor.” And, to be sure, as the stories barrels on towards its tragic and victorious conclusion, we realize the truth of that earlier scene in which Emma Stone’s Abigail transformed, at a whim, into a monster. She will do, we come to understand, anything in order to win, if for no other reason than the imagined safety she believes waits for her at the foot of power. As such, she indulges the Queen’s madness and, in the end, is overshadowed by an insanity of rabbits. Lady Sarah, as ambitious as she may be, will not pay that price. She will sacrifice everything but herself.