Annual Christmas Post

From E.B. White, 1952, in The New Yorker.

From this high midtown hall, undecked with boughs, unfortified with mistletoe, we send forth our tinselled greetings as of old, to friends, to readers, to strangers of many conditions in many places. Merry Christmas to uncertified accountants, to tellers who have made a mistake in addition, to girls who have made a mistake in judgment, to grounded airline passengers, and to all those who can’t eat clams! We greet with particular warmth people who wake and smell smoke. To captains of river boats on snowy mornings we send an answering toot at this holiday time. Merry Christmas to intellectuals and other despised minorities! Merry Christmas to the musicians of Muzak and men whose shoes don’t fit! Greetings of the season to unemployed actors and the blacklisted everywhere who suffer for sins uncommitted; a holly thorn in the thumb of compilers of lists! Greetings to wives who can’t find their glasses and to poets who can’t find their rhymes! Merry Christmas to the unloved, the misunderstood, the overweight. Joy to the authors of books whose titles begin with the word “How” (as though they knew!). Greetings to people with a ringing in their ears; greetings to growers of gourds, to shearers of sheep, and to makers of change in the lonely underground booths! Merry Christmas to old men asleep in libraries! Merry Christmas to people who can’t stay in the same room with a cat! We greet, too, the boarders in boarding houses on 25 December, the duennas in Central Park in fair weather and foul, and young lovers who got nothing in the mail. Merry Christmas to people who plant trees in city streets; merry Christmas to people who save prairie chickens from extinction! Greetings of a purely mechanical sort to machines that think–plus a sprig of artificial holly. Joyous Yule to Cadillac owners whose conduct is unworthy of their car! Merry Christmas to the defeated, the forgotten, the inept; joy to all dandiprats and bunglers! We send, most particularly and most hopefully, our greetings and our prayers to soldiers and guardsmen on land and sea and in the air–the young men doing the hardest things at the hardest time of life. To all such, Merry Christmas, blessings, and good luck! We greet the Secretaries-designate, the President-elect; Merry Christmas to our new leaders, peace on earth, good will, and good management! Merry Christmas to couples unhappy in doorways! Merry Christmas to all who think they are in love but aren’t sure! Greetings to people waiting for trains that will take them in the wrong direction, to people doing up a bundle and the string is too short, to children with sleds and no snow! We greet ministers who can’t think of a moral, gagmen who can’t think of a joke. Greetings, too, to the inhabitants of other planets; see you soon! And last, we greet all skaters on small natural ponds at the edge of woods toward the end of afternoon. Merry Christmas, skaters! Ring, steel! Grow red, sky! Die down, wind! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good morrow!

What’s the next article? You decide.

I’m covered in writer’s block like a wet sheepskin. Help me out. If I can pick one of the articles that have been bonking about in my head and stick to it, things will be easier. The poll below has a list of titles. Pick one!

I have no idea how many people read this, or how many of those are interested, but this will give my brain a shove. Thanks!.

If you can’t stand my writing, don’t want me to write, or are disappointed in the lack of “Surface to Air Missile” option, the comments are there for you.

Slavoj Žižek

I am fascinated by this guy, but a huge mass of shifting, pudding-like terminology defeats me.

Is there an introduction to his thought in baby talk for those of us who haven’t spent years reading Hegelian, Marxist, and especially Lacanian texts? I’ve always had a difficult relationship with philosophical and sociological jargon. The kind of writing where words like “motion” and “face” and “violence” turn out to mean “black walnut ice cream,” “Terry and the Pirates,” and “egg.” Until the next page, where they all mean something else.

If it’s worth it to nail down enough terminology in advance to read the Zizzer, what’s a good prep?

I’d really like to read more serious intellectual stuff. The jargon factor just stops me and leaves me flailing in the pudding.

Literature, it fails us now

Dale Peck body-slams cheap, decayed postmodernism:

…But as I puzzled my way through this and the rest of Moody’s books, I found myself looking not for the place in their execution or conception where they went wrong, but rather for something even prior and more primary: the wrong turn in our culture that led to Moody’s status as one of the anointed ones of his — okay, our — generation. In my view, the wrong turn starts around the time Stephen Dedalus goes to college in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and echoes all the way through Don DeLillo’s ponderously self-important rendering of Bobby Thompson’s shot heard round the world in the opening chapter of Underworld. Moody’s badness is a little less inexplicable if you look at him as the lowest common denominator of a generation of writers — and readers: they, too, bear some responsibility for the condition of fiction — who have long since forgotten what the modernist and postmodernist assaults on linearity were actually about, and as such have lost the ability to tell the difference between ambiguity and inscrutability, ambition and bombast; of writers who are taken at face value when they are being ironic and who are deemed ironic when they are telling it straight — assuming, of course, that they themselves know the difference. Assuming, I should add, that they actually have a subject.

He’s right even about writers I like.

Good Writing, #1 in a series: Virginia Woolf.

  1. From the essay “Professions for Women”:

    But to tell you my story—it is a simple one. You have only got to figure to yourselves a girl in a bedroom with a pen in her hand. She had only to move that pen from left to right—from ten o’clock to one. Then it occurred to her to do what is simple and cheap enough after all—to slip a few of those pages into an envelope, fix a penny stamp in the corner, and drop the envelope into the red box at the corner. It was thus that I became a journalist; and my effort was rewarded on the first day of the following month—a very glorious day it was for me—by a letter from an editor containing a cheque for one pound ten shillings and sixpence. But to show you how little I deserve to be called a professional woman, how little I know of the struggles and difficulties of such lives, I have to admit that instead of spending that sum upon bread and butter, rent, shoes and stockings, or butcher’s bills, I went out and bought a cat—a beautiful cat, a Persian cat, which very soon involved me in bitter disputes with my neighbours.

  2. From the essay “How it strikes a contemporary”:

    As for the critics whose task it is to pass judgement upon the books of the moment, whose work, let us admit, is difficult, dangerous, and often distasteful, let us ask them to be generous of encouragement, but sparing of those wreaths and coronets which are so apt to get awry, and fade, and make the wearers, in six months time, look a little ridiculous. Let them take a wider, a less personal view of modern literature, and look indeed upon the writers as if they were engaged upon some vast building, which being built by common effort, the separate workmen may well remain anonymous. Let them slam the door upon the cosy company where sugar is cheap and butter plentiful, give over, for a time at least, the discussion of that fascinating topic—whether Byron married his sister—and, withdrawing, perhaps, a handsbreadth from the table where we sit chattering, say something interesting about literature itself. Let us buttonhole them as they leave, and recall to their memory that gaunt aristocrat, Lady Hester Stanhope, who kept a milk-white horse in her stable in readiness for the Messiah and was for ever scanning the mountain tops, impatiently but with confidence, for signs of his approach, and ask them to follow her example; scan the horizon; see the past in relation to the future; and so prepare the way for masterpieces to come.

  3. From the essay “How should one read a book?”:

    Yet who reads to bring about an end, however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

writer’s bonk: Edward Hopper on the 560 to Lakeview Terrace

I’ve been trying to write about Los Angeles from the pedestrian-and-bus perspective from my decade there, and it’s not flowing. I just get some bits and snapshots:

The asphalt from this perspective is way more broken and sticks up higher, so that waiting for the bus is like looking out at a moonscape.

Way more businesses are closed that you think when you drive by. The flyers stuffed into their mail slots have soaked and rotted into papier-mâché.

Shitty parts of town are dark. The streetlights are weak and few. Even in the day time a place like East Hollywood or Hyde Park is dark somehow.

People are friendly when you’re on foot, and you can talk to them and hear their stories. It’s only when you’re en route to your car and back that the city is socially forbidding.

The emotional memory is harsh. It’s very lonesome and demeaning to wait so long for a bus, knowing that you’ll wait so much longer for the transfer, while watching the city zoom by you and the other lost souls on the bus bench.

The L.A. buses smell like a drunk guy. No matter how often they’re swept and cleaned, the cheap beer and sweat and smoke and just a bit of vomit never quite leave.

Only the poor, the old, the young, the disabled, the addicts, and the unsuccessful criminals ride the bus in that town. A decade in their company is humbling.

good morning. well, morning.

It’s 0432 and I haven’t slept. This is almost entirely my fault for the luxurious and gin-fueled nap I had too late in the day.

So of course I’ve been Wikipeding. I was looking at information about actors, because I remembered hyniof pointing out years ago that David Lynch cast the antagonists from West Side Story as antagonists in Twin Peaks, and sure enough it’s Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn.

This reminded me of Amber Tamblyn, and of a “literary magazine” I saw at the B&N recently. Don’t remember the name of the thing, but it was very glossy and hip. It billed itself as some kind of “community project” and the front matter was touchy-feely and sweet in a way that reminded me of eTarded ravers.

And among its writers was Ms. Tamblyn, who also considers herself a poet. She’s not.

Also, the magazine had a picture of an anonymous pretty girl on the cover, which isn’t typical for literary magazines. For a moment I thought about submitting a William Carlos Williams poem and seeing if they noticed, but snark is a lot of work sometimes so I just had a Fatburger and went home.

I also read a lot of pages about Tolkien stuff on the Wikipedia and was too tired to correct typos. This reminds me that back in the day when I was an L.A. music lizard, Exene of X had this husband post John who was a poet or something. He’d show up at clubs and I think I saw him read, not sure. He was sort of annoying but mildly, and he had an unforgettably Scandihoovian name. And then I forgot all about the guy until he popped up as Aragorn in the film version of The Lord of the Rings and suddenly that weird Viggo poet person from the club scene was the object of 15-year-old-girl lust and mountains of slashfic. Now that’s just plain strange.

Similarly it’s weird when I hear Gary Calamar on the radio because he managed this band who were friends of mine in my early 20s and kinda hung out with us and had been the manager of the Licorice Pizza record store where they’d all worked. So he was Gary, that nice guy who was always doing something or other musical, and now he’s some kind of media presence. I bet he’d write better poetry than Amber or Viggo, too.

Maybe I should try sleeping again! Let’s see how that works.