Praise for Veils
Published on July 11, 2011 7:07 pm.

From NYTimes:

‘We could imagine a five-minute version of “Hamlet.”

Scene One: Hamlet moping at court, dressed in inky black, with a mixture of grief for his dead father and seething loathing of his bloated, boozing uncle, Claudius, who has married his seemingly virtuous mother, Gertrude.

Scene Two: Horatio, a rather close college chum on a surprise visit. The guards turn up and tell Hamlet they’ve seen his father’s perturbed spirit wandering the battlements of Elsinore Castle. Hamlet is amazed and decides to watch for the ghost that night.

Scene Three: The ghost of the father (who of course has the same name as his son) tells Hamlet that he was not bitten by some serpent, but murdered by his brother Claudius. The ghost asks for vengeance, “Let not the royal bed of Denmark be a couch for luxury and damned incest.”

Scene Four: Hamlet runs from the battlements into the chamber of his “parents” and slaughters Claudius with a rapier and dagger, but leaves his mother “to heaven,” i.e. she gets to live with the prick and sting of bad conscience over what she has done.

Scene Five: Hamlet becomes King of Denmark, defeats the invading armies of Fortinbras. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Ophelia; Laertes is the best man. Gertrude withdraws to a nunnery in England and Polonius meets a younger woman and they hatch the novel idea of founding a Danish colony in the new world.

Exeunt.’

Thought-action-fiction-diction.

The Eternal Night of Friends, Junk Food and Facebook Status Updates
Published on February 25, 2011 7:12 pm.

I find myself on Facebook frequently depressed, scanning a stack of status updates and indulging a sense of longing. Sometimes my longing is for the kind of free-wheeling and spurious socialization that Facebook is, I think, intended to fulfill. But at other times the longing is an indirect-yet-intentional side-effect, a sort of emotional nausea similar to that induced by spinning in place and staring at one point in the sky, trying to get at the pleasures of dizziness and finding instead that when the whole world becomes a blur, so does one’s guts.

Still, Facebook is nothing if not a great attempt at soul food, social gumbo, a way of pouring all your friends into a technological broth meant to be tasted slowly and continually, but never finally consumed. For me, though, there’s never a second-day savor — the second day never comes. There is only a string of successive first days, where the flavors are as distinct and expected and satisfying as ever they attain to being in their individual merits, spicy or flat, sweet or confusing, but never able to blend in a curry, or even a legitimate stew. Instead, all Facebook status updates, by virtue of their endlessly equal march regardless of content, jostle each other in a manner that’s neither congenial nor rude, but perfectly and somewhat strangely homogeneous in their exclusivity, as though we’re all suspended in the broth’s bubbles. As though it is a broth of bubbles.

Any given day, a friend — ‘friend’, as a reference on Facebook, is a smooth-turning knob with stops at ‘Total Stranger’ and ‘Actual Friend’, and where any setting to the left of maximum implies a degree of personal politics, making Facebook, at times, feel like a very performative space — one friend might post about her terrible day while another blurbs his involvement with an ongoing and controversial political movement. Someone else will add to her long list of positive thinking affirmations, which makes me believe that she’s struggling with a lot of negative thoughts, and then a long-silent acquaintance might pop up and scrawl some familiar quote, though newly meaningful to him — “We are all a lost generation” — but with no explanation as to how or why it’s meaningful. Sometimes there is an explanation and I wish there weren’t, because Facebook is insufficient to any touch but the lightest. So, after the quote, there might be, “This is so true!” and, if I’m inclined to ask why, it’s usually an error. The Facebook flowchart of responses allows for only a few pathways: 1) brevity that begs for a generous interpretation, 2) dry humor, 3) zany humor, 4) witty humor, or 5) inappropriate humor. It’s a jackpot when a response hits all five numbers at once.

I should say, too, that this is entirely a case of self-implication. I admit that I’m guiltier by far than any of my friends when it comes to putting on a Faceface. I’m always chasing after Facewit, Googling other people’s Facequotes, responding as if I’ve known the origin for time out of mind, and, generally, trying to sell others on my Facebrain, which bears only an incidental resemblance to the heavier, technologically unassisted gray mass.

So for me Facebook is frequently a depressing place, despite being a place for friends — “Friends” probably the apt gross reference to the collection of amicable relationships found there, but also as a reference to the TV show that mimics Facebook’s strange, planar desolation. Always content to zone out to a familiar melody, it was years before I realized just how weird “Friends” is as a story. Every season, the plots and characters are almost exactly the same. Ross wants Rachel, but can’t have her. Sometimes it’s the reverse, Rachel wanting Ross, and that’s a nice change. Chandler is always witty and fumbling. Sometimes he isn’t quite as fumbling — cool when that happens. Ross is fumbling and charmingly witless, but he has a Ph.D. in paleontology, which no one ever wants to hear about even though, you know, they’re close friends and this is his life’s work. Joey, too, fumbling, and with a sexual power that is never convincingly established, but the audience is meant to buy it, even when Matt LeBlanc is on the Doughnut Diet, so fine, I like dougnuts too, and sex — there’s a Category 5 joke there somewhere. Phoebe’s idiocy always resolves into spacey wisdom and Monica’s relentless anality is always mitigated by her further relentless anality. The show is perfectly flat. Nothing is really emphasized — other than the idea that, hey, friends matter! — or is allowed to gain much traction, but everyone’s so pretty and witty and gay. Nothing’s ever established, or asserted, or addressed, or even truly discussed. Frequently, though, there’s wordplay.

And, yes, I get it, it’s a comedy, so the joke’s on me if I take it too seriously, but that’s just the thing — I really do like Friends. I always will watch Friends if it’s on. I’ll even get excited if I catch the first show in its hour-long late-night two-season syndication. I’ve seen all the episodes, I know the jokes, I know the characters. But if it’s on, I’ll watch it, because these people are the ultimate others, with problems I don’t understand, but that, thankfully, I don’t have to understand in order to be entertained, like a meal of human potato chips, salty and tasty, but not, actually, food. Perfect, though, for convenient, just-short-of-satisfying, relentless consumption.

Which is, again, how I view Facebook — it’s the way to eat your friends in conveniently wrapped, bite-sized chunks. And I don’t pretend, at least for the purposes of this note, that Facebook seriously interrupts or interferes with the meaningful relationships of my life, because it doesn’t. But if you’re prone to ennui, Montaigne’s melancholy (by modifying it with “Montaigne” I believe I’m elevating it somewhat and my self-awareness in this move in no way invalidates it in my opinion), or any sort of spiritual malaise, Facebook can be a technological pharmakon, killing while it cures in a trade-off that’s very nearly equal, but not exactly quite. The argument might be made that Facebook does nothing, that it merely mirrors what’s happening within, but that ignores the significance of form. When I’m not on Facebook I don’t think about my friends in terms of a collection of brief, running notes, nor do I spend time trying to invent ways to present myself in that format. Meeting my friends is not, generally, a drive-by experience that necessarily emphasizes rapid-fire cleverness — though sometimes, I’ll admit, this is the case. For now, on Facebook, this is always the case.

Calle 10
Published on October 14, 2010 1:02 am.

In the late-90s I freelanced for a ‘cafe magazine’ in NYC. The thing was owned by a trust fund guy who was so cheap you literally had to put cold steel to his throat to get him to cut you a $50 check (meanwhile he was buying a duplex on Avenue A). But I digress into class warfare. As with magazine offices everywhere, pretty much every inch of space was crammed with review CDs and books, most forgettable or despicable. One day, I picked up a small novel with a cool cover called ‘Calle 10′  by Danny Romero, and eventually read it. And then read it again. And over the past fourteen years, have read it at least nine times that I can remember.

Three or four years ago I finally got around to looking up the novel and discovered that it hasn’t gotten any of the credit it deserves. Not one of the early reviewers seems to comprehend how hysterically funny it is ( a friend and I were reading it to each other and crying with laughter). And that’s only the beginning. Its unsentimental portrayal of ‘low-life’ in Oakland is pitch perfect and undistorted by pieties or agendas. The opening scene on a bus  is a small masterpiece, and there are Beckett-like absurdities throughout. In a better world, Calle 10 would be required reading. It makes me wonder, and not for the first time, about the life experience of those writing book reviews for major publications.  Maybe they have trust funds too?  I eventually tracked down Romero to find him teaching writing at a college in Sacramento, I believe.  I like everything he writes but Calle 10 is up in the stars. It would be a great screenplay. If they could add an extra day to the week – and an extra zero to my bank balance – I would buy the rights and write it.

Issue 1 …
Published on October 12, 2010 10:08 am.

… is closed out. We’re puttin’ this bad dog on a leash and gettin’ ready to take him out for a walk.

We’re tremendously proud of our first issue, which is only days away from online publication. Our theme, “things we’ve agreed to out of desperation,” or “things to which, out of desperation, we have agreed,” or “stupid shit we’ve done in a hurry for the wrong reasons,” is well represented within the issue, the editors’ contribution to that theme being the issue itself.

We’ll be scheduling a reading within the next few weeks, likely in Long Beach, California, the home of one long-assed beach. So if you’re around and in town and want to get down, get Long Beach-bound, hound. After the reading you can commiserate with the writers and grab some Thai cuisine over at Bai Plu. We’re nice people, even if some of us are a little desperate.

Is Irvine the New Compton?
Published on October 2, 2010 12:08 am.

I was sitting in my room enjoying the sound of  traffic when I heard the buzz and squawk of police megaphones. Since it went on for a while, I went outside to find Irvine cops treating a carload of kids like a cross between Al Qaeda and NWA. I mean, those kids had guns in their face, had to kiss blacktop and wear the steel bracelets.

It made me think about David Foster Wallace. Why? Because I always consider DFW as the avatar of a certain white, liberal, NPR listening, Volvo-driving, college town, extremely twee, middle-class. The kind of person who would never in his life had to belly down on the pavement for a cop, yet who would, at the same time, cluck his tongue at the treatment of those kids.

I’ve been writing an essay for a while about a particular DFW piece. In my mind, the DFW piece represents the failure of a certain branch of the American left. Because DFW was smarter and more sensitive than a lot of his colleagues, you can see his awareness of this problem, his struggle with it, his unhappiness with it. Which is why he makes a good target.

But I’m not sure: at what point does it become fair game to kick a dead man?

- RA

Cock-Fighting & The Ecology of Aquariums
Published on September 21, 2010 11:42 pm.

GM: I only wrote one piece for the VQR and my sense of Genoways tracks that of the writer who did the piece you linked. I have experience of monsters and can usually sense it when one is in the room. None of that with Genoways. His sending the magazine in a new direction seemed to be part of the problem. It made me think about the dearth of real long-form journalism in the media today. I want to read eight- or ten-thousand word pieces about interesting subjects, and the mainstream media no longer carries them. Leaving it to people like Ted Genoways, and, I hope, us. For Genoways, interesting meant deeper looks at hot spots, crises: Afghanistan, the ‘war on drugs’ (that calls for quotes), Iraq. Me, I tend to prefer subjects that aren’t in the spotlight. I’d rather read my ten thousand words about Balinese cock-fighting, or the ecology of aquariums. Which leads me to some of the reasons why I’m excited about the two prose pieces in this issue. I have nothing against MFAs in fiction, unlike this guy, but a lot of the work that attracts me comes from people who didn’t go that route. I read a draft of Cynthia Mitchell’s story thirteen years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. We’re lucky to have it. Cynthia hasn’t written a lot of fiction – she leans toward the visual arts – but everything I’ve ever read of hers is fantastic. Steve Geng is another outsider to the world of letters. As his sister was writing for the New Yorker in the 70s and 80s, Steve was a career criminal and junkie. Yet he managed to publish a memoir that lit me up when I read it. Having chops is one thing, a craft, but knowing what to do with them, that makes the artist. — RA

Welcome to Entasis
Published on May 23, 2010 9:43 pm.

Entasis is a new, online literary quarterly based out of Irvine, California. Our focus is primarily poetry, with fiction and literary non-fiction at our discretion. Each issue of Entasis will be organized around a different theme.  The theme of our inaugural issue is “things we’ve agreed to out of desperation.”

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