I discovered this series of live recordings called Gems on VHS. It’s put together by a Nashville-based human named Anthony Simpkins. I watched today this video featuring Sabine McCalla singing a song called “Tall Lonesome Cowboy.”
The name of this song reminds me of that famous last shot from The Searchers in which John Wayne walks off in a sad sort of way. Here is a GIF of that scene in case you only understand things these days if they come in GIF format (and also if you don’t mind being spoiled or reminiscing about a thing already seen):
The other thing I have discovered recently is that if you watch a Wong Kar Wai film every night for six nights in a row then you will be visited by memories of your first sensual experiences. I do not have any GIFs of these memories, I’m afraid, and so they will remain inexplicable to a modern day audience.
Here, though, from Days of Being Wild is Leslie Cheung performing something of a re-enactment of one of those memories.
Finally, the other day I thought about this scene from The Incredible Shrinking Man in which the man gets exposed to a mysterious gas. I thought about this scene not because I have been mysteriously shrinking, but because it turned out that from mid-February until mid-May, I was being exposed to a not all that mysterious gas called Carbon Monoxide and its effects can linger on up to 3 months after one’s period of active poisonment has ended. So. You know. Two things.
If my posts these last months seemed to portend one kind of doom or another, don’t worry! You were right. But it’s getting better.
And by mid-to-late August I might be back to my old self. Not that I believe so much exactly in the linear nature of time or a fixed identity. Still. Fingers crossed.
It is Wednesday in Margate. It is possible that it might be Wednesday where you are, as well. It depends, really, I suppose. On space and time and whether or not you believe in the naming of days.
Sometimes I fall in love / Sometimes I fall out / Sometimes I’m in love with love / Sometimes I am filled with doubt
Sometimes I think about Kim Boekbinder. Sometimes I think about their album, The Impossible Girl, and sometimes I think about their song, “Anyone At All.” It is an amazing album and a wonderful song and I first heard of this album and this song once upon a time in San Diego. This was a time of stories called Clarion. Many humans of a speculative bent gathered. On beaches. In tilted houses. Festooned across furniture. They talked talk of sea monsters, coffee, and British superheroes. Also, on occasion, of music. The Magnetic Fields. Brandi Carlisle. The Muppets. On the last night, we danced and we drank whiskey and rye.
I once thought that we’d get married / I thought of you as home / Then you said I was your savior / And I wanted to be alone
I like this. Sometimes I think of myself as enchanted. It seems a good identity so far as identities go. A bit vague, perhaps. No more than Wednesday, though.
It is true, of course, that I also think about you as enchanted.
What makes me run? / What makes me fall? / What makes me so sure, / I don’t want anyone at all? / Anyone at all.
Sometimes it has not been the easiest transition to Margate. It is possible that my flat is haunted. Or, at least, that it is not entirely happy that I am here. Maybe that’s just me, though. Still. It has been here a saga of clogged pipes, gas leaks, shower leaks, and, perhaps, a bit of spiritual leakage, as well. That feeling, do you know it, readers. That feeling when you look at a place in your home and you feel sad because you remember a day, months ago, when you sat in the place and were happy. It is a strange feeling. Not entirely unfamiliar.
The other day I heard someone say that creativity is a process of making as many mistakes as possible. Art, they continued, is the process of deciding which mistakes to keep.
I could write a thousand pop songs / And I could live a thousand years / I could live a thousand times / and still not have all the answers
Sometimes everything is wonderful.
Parts of this everything include this exhibition at The Carl Freedman Gallery in which there are fantastic works of art curated by Russell Tovey. You might remember Russell Tovey from such things as Being Human and that one episode of Doctor Who.
One of my favorite pieces in this exhibition was the very first painting of two men lounging with a dog at their feet, all monsoon orange and electric ease. The two men, their bodies pressed tight.
One of these men reminded me a lot of my father and I thought of his ability to play music by ear and also how, long ago in Britain, people sometimes named queer men with the euphemism, “musical.”
The other day I saw In the Heights, the film adaptation of the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. When I walked out, whatever I said, seemed to be said in the rhythm of the film. It was a feeling not entirely unfamiliar. It is fun, speaking in rhythm, because you almost always surprise yourself when making sense is less important than making music.
Sometimes I think enchanted is just another word for musical. Enchanted is, after all, just another way of saying something is filled with song.
If it’s true that we never really know what we think we know, then it’s probably also true that we never really don’t know what we think we don’t know. Somehow everything finds us where it needs to be found.
I hope that your everything is finding you, readers, wherever it is that it needs to be found.
It is the end of this particular month of May. We won’t ever see it’s like again.
It’s also a bank holiday. This is what British people call certain days during which banks go on a holiday. Sometimes I wonder what banks do on holiday. After spending all that time housing, or at least pretending to house money, do they enjoy a relaxing afternoon in a hammock? Is there a hammock large enough to support financial situations deemed too large to fail? Or must those banks deemed too large to fail holiday in special YOU ARE SO VERY IMPORTANT TO CAPITALISM resorts for which their size, and significance, are especially accommodated?
Here is a video about a past bank holiday weekend in England, and in particular Margate, which is the name of the place where I currently find myself living. It is an exciting video full of old time announcer voice and that sense of impending doom one feels when hearing an old time announcer voice announce that millions of people haven’t a care in the world.
It is also the sort of video in which people are named UNDESIRABLE and occasional violence is scored by a surprisingly jaunty soundtrack.
Today, on my bank holiday walk along the Margate sands, there were, in fact, many motorcycles and also there were many people. Some of these people arrived by motorcycle. Some did not. You could more or less tell who was who by their habits of leather. I did not see anyone particularly undesirable. I did see many people eating ice cream and one jovial threesome discussing the gravity of speed.
In other news, I read a round-up of Barry Jenkins interviews in which there is much discussion of his 10-episode adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s pulitzer prize winning novel, The Underground Railroad. One interviewer compared Jenkins to Wong Kar-Wai and I love that connection. Both are directors that adventure in, and encourage, sustained attention. I’m excited to see what Jenkins brand of attention brings to Whitehead’s novel. And, as part of that excitement, and in honor of sustained attention, I’ll be taking my time, watching the series one episode per week as God, and broadcast television supported by advertising, intended.
I started taking a contemporary dance class a couple weeks ago. It is in a small church with brightly colored walls. There are eleven or so of us. We stand an appropriate distance apart. And we move and we move and we imagine that we are hugged by a mattress and we imagine that we are very angry and trapped in a tiny greenhouse.
It is wonderful.
Also. This means that people sometimes now talk to me of throwing shapes.
In other news. I hope to be able to travel to Nashville in August and see Wilco and Sleater Kinney. Here is a video about that which made me smile.
I haven’t watched the Friends reunion. I have many feelings about this reunion. I remember watching the show with my mom and dad and sister. I remember being so invested in Ross and Rachel. I remember standing in the rain with Ross outside the coffee shop. I remember seeing, or perhaps modeling, something of my personality on Chandler. I remember the games that Ross and Rachel and Joey and Chandler and Monica and Phoebe played, on the couch in Monica’s room and at Thanksgiving. I remember craving that casual intimacy with a group of people. I remember being uncomfortable with the boy/girlness of it. I remember being baffled by the wall that seemed to separate them. I didn’t have any language at the time for this feeling. I only recognized that the shows I deeply loved were more full of geekery and less reliant on gender-based slapstick.
I remember thinking one day I would meet a girl and she would see that I was not like a guy on tv.
I remember visiting the coffee shop set of Friends during a tour of the WB lot. Plush sofa. Chairs. Coffee bar. All packed tight. There was hardly room for any sort of human to move.
Unless you’re reading this on another day. Or you’re a ghost. In either case, I think we’ve proven that things are rarely as obvious as they seem.
Still. I love the phrase, Let’s get the obvious out of the way. It seems wise. We have to get what is easily seen out of the way so that we can see more than we imagined possible.
Second. I enjoyed the dread of Saint Maud.
Also it’s possible during the film that I very nearly had a panic attack. I’m not really sure how these things work. Words. Panic. I focused on my breathing and gravity and these things helped.
I love this article about the actress who played Maud, Morfydd Clark.
Here is one of my favorite bits:
To prepare for the role, Clark studied Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. She also kept coming back to Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, which both Glass and Eternal Beauty director Craig Roberts had suggested she watch. She was inspired by the ways those films deal with terror. “When the fear is so real you could easily be dominated by it,” Clark explains. Glass and Roberts were both drawn to the actress’s ability to use her porcelain veneer to hide a fraying mind. “Those are the kind of parts a lot of actors want to have: the characters that seem calm on the surface but are Travis Bickle inside,” Roberts says. “She’s able to get moments in the silence with her reactions. It’s a gift that she has.”
I enjoyed this whole thing. I don’t remember how I found it. Here are some bits.
Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything.
Everybody rationalizes. We all want the world to be a particular way, and we all make mistakes, and we all want to be successful, and we all want to feel good about ourselves.
We all make decisions for emotional or intuitive reasons instead of rational ones. Some of us admit that. Some of us think using our emotions is better than being rational all the time. Some of us don’t.
Smart people, computer types anyway, tend to come down on the side of people who don’t like emotions. Programmers, who do logic for a living.
Here’s the problem. Logic is a pretty powerful tool, but it only works if you give it good input. As the famous computer science maxim says, "garbage in, garbage out." If you know all the constraints and weights – with perfect precision – then you can use logic to find the perfect answer. But when you don’t, which is always, there’s a pretty good chance your logic will lead you very, very far astray.
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.