March 31, 2009 § Leave a comment
A MULTI-PURPOSE OPENING TO A MONSTER MOVIE OR A MOVIE ABOUT PERSONAL CRISIS
It’s a slow morning. Our protagonist, a twenty-something male, struggles out of bed. He’s obviously tired. He wipes his eyes out in front of the mirror and splashes water on his face, then he puts on shorts, a grey t-shirt, and running shoes. He wonders whether or not his body is capable of generating energy.
In a single shot our protagonist bounds out the front door of his basement apartment and up the concrete steps. He hits the street and starts running. Next shot, chest level. Houses pass us in the background. The day is warm and sunny, but it’s still early and the streets are deserted. A contemplative, eccentric, yet slightly upbeat song with French lyrics, sung by a male vocalist, plays in the background.
The runner stops. Something in the distance, away from the camera, worries him. He puts a single hand on his forehead to shield his eyes from the light. His uncertainty is jarring, especially in contrast to the music. What is he looking at? What’s wrong? In the background a child runs in the opposite direction up the street.
At Bloor Station on the Yonge line, early evening. The station is packed with commuters. The line is deep and wide at the lottery kiosk, which, in the cramped subway tunnel looks like a medieval butcher counter. Men and women wait in heavy, dark-coloured coats, each clutching their own ticket. No one scrambles or pushes, but the press from the crowd is overwhelming.
AN EXPERIMENTAL ENDING
The final shot of the funeral is framed from a distance. It’s mid-spring. Trees have all of their leaves and, from somewhere in their boughs, birds twitter. The black-clad funeral-goers, the priest, the white flowers arranged on the black coffin, all seem an extension of nature.
Fade out to a series of shots in a forest. The shots are long. The vegetation breathes, its sighs caught on the audio. We see and follow a bird as it chirps and flits from tree branch to tree branch. The bird is not a transcendental symbol of the dead person’s eternal soul, he is simply another character in the drama. Perhaps there is another bird or two about, a nest. We watch as the birds go about their business. Somewhere in the distance a woodpecker hammers at a dead log. We follow him as well. And so on.
The coffin is lowered into ground. Dirt splashes on it. Some kind of hymn or baroque, continental music plays in the background.
March 26, 2009 § Leave a comment
The three honeybees sat looking out into traffic from their spot behind the gigantic picture window. Golden hair was constantly in motion, flipping from one side to the other, revealing alternate sides of smooth, shining necks. Red lips placed, and removed, themselves delicately from the thin, fragile panes of drinking glasses. Eyelids fluttered in the heat of conversation. Inside, the honeybees were speaking in tongues. None of the three honeybees would remember the conversation. Words were meaningless. All was performance: each gesture a gracious bow or elegant curtsy.
“Hi honeybees, my wife and I saw you on Tuesday night, sitting at a table along the window at the Avenue Bar and Grill. We hoped to stay for the performance, but we were embarrassed, in our shabby clothes, and so we only continued to the pharmacy…”
By the time the two returned, frozen hands clenched tight in their respective pockets, the three honeybees were gone. The table was empty, a void, and the many diners behind it seemed ashamed to be so exposed, as if they were missing something vital.
March 21, 2009 § 1 Comment
As D.T. Max’s March 9th “New Yorker” profile on David Foster Wallace (and the excerpt from his upcoming posthumous novel “The Pale King”) demonstrate, the word “genius”–when naming a person and not a piece of them–always fails to do the subject justice. Following his suicide last year, Wallace’s name has been in the news frequently, and it’s rare to find it introduced without “genius” as qualifier. But is the word really so crucial to our understanding of Wallace as a man and his accomplishments?
The works of authors labeled geniuses are expelled to a dry and stiff land of books we will never read. It is only when one finally descends upon one of these books–out of necessity or a nagging curiosity–that one discovers those boring old Tolstoys, Melvilles, and Woolfs are actually alive and uncomprehendingly vital. Before the cape of “genius” is thrown off, it’s almost as if we expect to find ourselves reading the work of monuments.
Wallace doesn’t deserve to be called a genius, but one gets the sense there is more than a little genius in his work. He struggled through an at times paralysing depression which focused his attentions on finding and demonstrating a cure for modern living’s symptomatic depression and ennui, and he believed good writing should help readers “become less alone inside”. His prose evokes Pynchon: rich, manic, and dense (the first paragraph in the New Yorker excerpt runs over seven columns)–yet contrary to what one might expect from a writer whose work seems, at first glance, so deliberately difficult, Wallace always kept his audience in mind. As he put it, one must be “willing to sort of die in order to move the reader”, and “all of the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit, it’s got to be for hers.”
“The Pale King”, unfinished at the time of his suicide, is “about being in the moment and paying attention to the things that matter.” The main characters all work at the IRS. Their jobs involve tasks that are mind-numbingly tedious and boring, but require just enough mental work to keep them from shutting their minds off entirely. Their job is to push past this boredom, to embrace it until just beyond the breaking point, where the work, because of the endless repetition, becomes transcendent and meditative. One of the workers, reaching this state, levitates.
What strikes me most about the profile, and about Wallace himself, is his overwhelming sincerity. In him there is nothing of the pompous or pretentious, only the very real doubt of one struggling to come to terms with oneself as a writer and a person. He displays a child’s innocence and excitement once he is married and feels that his personal life is in order, even if his writing is going poorly.
He teased Green about what a good husband he was. She remembers him saying, “I took out the garbage. Did you see that?” and “I put tea on for you when you were driving home.”
The account is definitely at odds with the regularly understood conception of “genius as brute”, or “genius as single-minded automaton”. To be a genius in those terms means that one sacrifices everything else for the sake of some Platonic higher-calling, but one gets the sense that Wallace, throughout his life, was more concerned with being human. Perhaps it is more satisfying to think of Wallace’s suicide in terms of his failure to complete “The Pale King”, as if he was a modern-day Gogol driven insane by “Dead Souls”, but this interpretation ignores everything that Wallace stood for. “I only want adult sanity,” he once said, “which seems to me the only unalloyed form of heroism available today.”
Wallace’s death, ultimately, was one by “bad days” rather than fatal artistic nihilism. He had been taking Nardil, an antidepressant, for twenty-two years when his doctors convinced him to switch to something else for health reasons. But nothing stuck. Eventually Wallace decided to go without an antidepressant entirely. His wife, Karen Green, was worried. She believed it would take “a Jungian miracle” to get him functioning again. He wrote e-mails to Jonathan Franzen, constantly revising and pushing back his expected recovery time. “GQ” hired him to do a profile on Barrack Obama for the 2008 election, but he cancelled. In the summer he drove out to a motel, hired a room, and took an overdose of pills, though he called his wife in time to get him to a hospital. He told her he was glad to be alive. But Wallace’s life remained precipitous. Green believes she can pinpoint the exact moment Wallace decided to kill himself. “That Saturday was a really good day. Monday and Tuesday were not so good. He started lying to me that Wednesday.” Two days later, he was dead.
March 15, 2009 § 7 Comments
March 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
Fantastic! This entry now comes with a “plain english, less abstract bullshit” summary below!
Over time comfort becomes passiveness, passiveness becomes idleness, and sentences and thoughts lose all inertia. Impetus dissolves and every statement is misunderstanding. The body lives an unsatisfying half-life, scrambling from crumbling shelf to crumbling shelf in an effort to appease itself.
Thoughts twist, motivations and purpose wither. A man finds comfort in the presence of his family: his family is a balm and the problem is ignored. Neediness forms, and, once unleashed, grows. Family can be real, imagined, electronic, platonic, or sexual.
“A sentence worded directly or succinctly has less meaning than one made intentionally ambiguous.” Writing directly is a betrayal of reality: as if reality, because of its resistance to definition, is inactive. “The sentence doubts itself. Nothing is sure, don’t you understand that? My thoughts are nothing; I am nothing. Everything I do shakes and quivers like a dried leaf hanging in the wind.” Every thought uttered, typed, or imagined, doubts itself, doubles back and doubts again. Waking up, a recursive loop forms. Every atom in the man’s body is sick with doubt, trembling and doing dry heaves.
Lynda Barry describes creativity as action. Werner Herzog believes it is athletic; it inhabits the same teleological sphere as traveling on foot. On some level a dog is a necessary purchase because of the activity it demands. Your routines and the dog’s routines merge and become one. The dog is an action stimulus. The necessity of tending to fields and farm animals, or traveling long distances under one’s own power, reveals itself. Our bodies are active, not built to live in an abstract mind space. The only world where thought is equivalent to action is that of the conscious, disembodied, cloud.
“Plain English, Less Abstract Bullshit” Summary: At a low point in my life I became an indecisive ghost. I could not do anything for myself. Now, much later, I feel better– but my indecisiveness survived in my writing and, by extension, psyche. That might strike you as a weird order. It’s not. I’m by nature a reserved person. Some days I do most of my re-evaluation through written words and sentences. This post is an exploration of that.
March 6, 2009 § 4 Comments
It’s spring. Hats and coats are off or unbuttoned. It feels like everyone outside is naked.
March 6, 2009 § 1 Comment
I wasn’t going to post this but then I was like “Why not put something up that will pretty much bar me from ever going to Zimbabwe as long as Robert Mugabe is in power?” and “Hey, you know what, people could be offended, but I am used to alienating half my audience.” Thankfully the Prime Minister is okay, but unfortunately since the last time I clicked on that link his wife has died. That’s very, very sad.
Name Withheld: adshlssfa#
RM: no. we’ll stay in power, thanks
MT: but we won!
RM: well okay, you can have the second position
RM: …unless you get in an accident
RM: Prime ministers don’t walk, do you want the job or not?