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.


Woke up somehow hung over without having consumed any alcohol.

Cat barf on carpet.

First attempt to make coffee unsuccessful because I did not use water.

Opened cat food can in wrong direction so that minute particles of wet cat food went in my eye. Eye care advice: do not put cat food in your eye.

Inexplicable communication from government agency regarding money.

Rushed shower to meet friends for lunch. Therefore had not completely removed soap from hands before putting in contact lenses. Eye care advice: do not put soap on a contact lens and then place it in your eye.

Lunch with friends was good!

Santa Ana wind gusts to 60 mph. High tension lines flailing in traffic with arcing and explosions. Trash cans bouncing down the street like Rover from The Prisoner. Big-ass brush fire up off Santiago with at least one severe burn victim.

Inability to clean house; spiral of shame.

Kéan Coffee: Good coffee. Ibuprofen and ranitidine. LA Times food section full of inexcusably bad writing, particularly from S. Irene Virbila. I maintain that she is one of the Andy Kaufman clones or possibly a tulpa manifestation of the narrator of The Debt to Pleasure. Examples today:

A fresh spirit is blowing through the Paris dining scene… …A friend who loves wine told me about Le Villaret, a small bistro with stone and half-timbered walls in the the 11th arrondissement, Paris’ equivalent to Silver Lake.

Also, a recipe for Blanquette de Veaux (HOW MANY VEALS ARE TO BE USED?)

Another writer suggests fancying-up mac ‘n’ cheese: My personal cheese advisor Steven Jenkins, who wrote the definitive guide “Cheese Primer,” suggests bringing the dish up to 2006 cheese-aisle standards by using a fresh goat’s milk cheese, mascarpone, Gorgonzola dolce and a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain (manchego, Idiazábal, Roncal) or from France (Ossau-Iraty). The combination is almost other-worldly, much more nuanced than the predictable original.

Start the reactor.

Back to cleaning; spiral of shame deepens. Fortunately, maternal flight delayed from 7 until 10:30 pm. Then, flight delayed further. Uh oh, I know where this is going. Yep! The flight will now miss the curfew for SNA and be diverted to LAX.

Folks I’m going to drive into L.A. to meet a flight at LAX at 1 am now. I wonder what I’ll put in my eye first?

Windbag alert and attention conservation notice

I have developed a manifesto-sized idea and am about to blog it out. You have been warned. Long essays making a large cultural point can’t be sold and published conventionally unless the author is a respected and eminent intellectual or a rock ‘n’ roll star. Those who can, do; those who aren’t, blog.

This may fizzle or may be several essays; I’m not sure where I’m going to pinch off the blog yet. Because of TL;DR in this post-literate medium I present some bullet points below for those who aren’t going to plow through the thing.

  • Irony is worse than dead, it’s suicidal.
  • Stop celebrating bad art, bad food, and evil. There’s a place for enjoying things that are so bad they’re good. It isn’t the place called “the entire culture.” Giving up on quality of any kind has more serious consequences than we might think.
  • Phony postmodernism kills. Take the risk of being well-meaning and sincere. A couple of poorly understood Cultural Studies classes does not confer the privilege of detached Godhood.
  • Permanent adolescence is no improvement over permanent childhood. Living our lives fully and meaningfully is a duty to others and not just to ourselves.
  • Subcultures, fandoms, and gaming worlds are eating a generation of privileged and educated people alive when we could and should be doing well and doing good. Come out of the couch fort and live.
  • Cheap fatalism is a crime of privilege. Admitting defeat in advance hurts many, many people less fortunate than we are before it touches us.

I freely admit in advance that I will be didactic, pretentious, and annoyingly prescriptive. It’s likely that I’ll also be irrelevant and that I will make a fool of myself. I have no formal training in philosophy or sociology and will probably reinvent various wheels poorly.

But sometimes an idea just arrives and possesses me. This one has sat on me for years, and is at the root of a troublesome fiction project that won’t budge. Tormenting my small audience with an unsaleable vanity-press think piece is the best I can do with it right now.

Further material in this series will be tagged “ironyproject.”