Thursday, July 31, 2014
I went on a trip back home to Texas last weekend with Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment and Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation in my backpack. I had no idea what either novel was about when I bought them; it surprised me to find that both were narrated by women whose husbands are having affairs.
We live in a world that is alarmingly full of options, which is why people have affairs and why I like plane rides in the company of books good enough to keep you off the expensive wifi: I read Offill’s book in one sitting and Ferrante’s in two. The authors’ styles are miles apart but both novels were tense and singular, their thoughts articulated with plain, needle-sharp beauty, like tiny leaves against the sky.
Book behavior can be just as callous as the behavior of love and sex. A quick look under the cover and if you’re not instantly electrified you’re out. Or else you—or else, I—buy books because someone told me to, or because I think they’re nice-looking. Why ever else go in? Because of my finicky tendencies I especially like a novel with a first-page lede, the wilder the better: what I admired most about Alyssa Nutting’s neon quickie Tampa was its first 500 words or so, all like, “I’m in the shower covering my tits in pink bubbles and fantasizing about fucking my 14-year-old students. It’s going to be tricky, you ready to watch me try?”
Like Tampa, Days of Abandonment gets right into it. The first sentence: “One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me.” The escalation, realistically, is jagged and halting, but within a few dozen pages the couple gets to the tone-setting conversation. The wife rockets in a few lines from civility to this: “What words should I use for what you’re doing with that woman! Let’s talk about it! Do you lick her cunt? Do you stick it in her ass? […] Because I see you! With these eyes I see everything you do together, I see it a hundred thousand times, I see it night and day, eyes open and eyes closed!”
Offill’s slim story, in contrast, starts wry and oblique. “I found a book called Thriving Not Surviving in a box on the street. I stood there, flipping through it, unable to commit.” Her protagonist takes more than half the novel to get to a revelation that happens entirely in white space, between an Ovid quote (Wear yourself out if you must and prove in your bed, that you could/ Not/ Possibly be that good, coming from some other girl) and this chilling snippet:
Easier, he says.
Could/ Not/ Possibly. The narrator, ghostwriting a book about space, follows this up: “In 2159 B.C., the royal astronomers Hi and Ho were executed because they failed to predict an eclipse.”
You are stunned, and so hurt for her. How could the astronomers back then have predicted an eclipse? And what would everyone have done even if they had been able to intuit the impossible? And it’s just going to get dark anyway, isn’t it, eclipse or not? READ MORE
We've been hearing much news of a migration crisis lately, as wave after wave of undocumented immigrants, especially children, come across the United States' southern border. Of course, immigration, both legal and illegal, is not new, and whatever the mode and motivation for entry, when people want or need to stay here permanently, it comes down to getting a green card. It will not surprise you to learn that this can be a difficult and costly process.
A green card, which may or may not actually be green, is a Permanent Resident Card. To have one is to be able to remain in the United States indefinitely and, most importantly, to be able to work here. Permanent Resident status is also the first step toward full citizenship, which is more advantageous than mere residency because it allows you to vote and run for office (but not President!), and protects you against deportation in the event that you are convicted of a felony. (It is a big, crucial first step. After you get to be a resident, citizenship is comparatively easy.)
It is probably too plain to mention that the reasons why people find themselves wanting or needing green cards are numerous and varied. We are all most likely aware of the so-called dreamers, people whose parents brought them here when they were quite young and who have grown up in the United States, speaking English and generally leading the lives of ordinary Americans, but without the benefit of legal status. There are also plenty of immigrants who came of their own volition and have simply built lives here that they don't want to abandon: jobs, houses, relationships, children, studies. Further along, I'll talk with J., who came here for college and graduate school and found herself wanting to keep studying and to stay with her American boyfriend. Her path was complicated but relatively smooth and low cost. That is not always the case. READ MORE
I love So You Think You Can Dance, but its hetero lockstep grows increasingly tiresome; the dancers always paired off boy-girl, going through styles whiplash-fast while the storyline stays static, with the girl nearly always playing the vamp or the ingenue, the boy her lovelorn or aggressive pursuer. The resulting hazy mush of turgid and overwrought negligee-in-the-moonlight couple dances is the major thing holding So You Think You Can Dance back from its True Self, which is legitimately artistic and even experimental, and surely apprised of human emotion outside the syrupy realm of "straight, lovelorn."
Thus do I find myself sitting in front of the show yelling "Now kiss" at these lithe young men: a dance show that totally elides gayness is not appropriate by me. Last season, I was glad when choreographer Travis Wall put out this very sensual dance, which is about "brothers," and on last night's episode, he choreographed the above incredible routine, which has the boys lifting each other, throwing each other around, and it's delicate and strong and suggestive of the vast reserves of narrative potential this show largely leaves untapped. (Also, the move at :35, my god.)
After the jump, another gorgeous routine from last night featuring more syntactical rearrangement: the boys lift each other and the girls even lift the boys! READ MORE
A couple of days ago I started trying out this thing, vaguely related to my yoga practice, wherein I am basically supposed to “speak softly or medium-soft” for 40 consecutive days. There are a lot of ways to interpret this directive, which I like to think was translated from Gurmukhi and originally said something like, “Try not to spend all your time just going off on shit.”
The night before the challenge was to start I went to dinner with my boyfriend at his friend Mark’s house. I get along fine with Mark, but Mark had a friend there, and right away, I could tell Mark’s friend probably didn’t know many women who have big mouths and if he did he probably hoped they would use them for eating fro-yo or maybe blowing him.
We were listening to Mark’s iPod, and Jimi Hendrix came on and Mark said how much he loved him, and I said something like, “There is nothing more boring to me than listening to a dude just play a guitar.” I felt like the key words here were “to me.” Also, Jimi Hendrix has plenty of fans. He doesn’t need me. But apparently what I said was quite shocking because my Mark’s friend started going off about how mean I was, and I ended up apologizing for saying I didn’t like a musician that everyone already likes, and then had to say all of that additional drivel, like of course I respect him. (Duh.) Then, later, Mark’s friend was like, “What music do you like?”—a question I actually stooped low enough as to answer, as if I needed to prove that I was not, in general, a hater of music.
I spent the rest of the night silently swearing to myself that I would never again be the only woman anywhere, ever, and also, thinking about how great everything was going to be after 40 days of mastering speaking softly. I would be so able to control speaking that I would be particularly adept at controlling it around those who didn’t want me to speak, more or less, and could just secretly have all my (mean) opinions and keep them to myself and never be forced to engage with anyone like Mark’s friend ever again.
In the car on the way home, I took up precious last moments of not having to speak medium-soft to explain to my boyfriend why it was so offensive to me that Mark’s friend had said I was mean, to my face. I talked for an hour straight about how I heard men say things I didn’t like all the time, and I'd learned to just sit there politely, whereas if I ever said anything that a man didn’t like, I had to hear about it. My whole life, I told my boyfriend, I’ve wondered: am I an asshole, or are people just really sexist? READ MORE
L.C. Cooke recorded this album in 1964 and it's finally out. Esquire's got the story, and some great backstory too:
"One day in 1961, Aretha called me. She said, 'L.C., I need you to do me a favor. I asked my father if we could use his new car to go on Sam's tour.' Her father [the legendary Reverend C.L. Franklin] had a 1961 Continental, you know, with the suicide doors. Aretha told me she could use it on one condition: only if I drove. So I called Sam. And he said, 'No, man. I'm trying to make you a star. I don't want you driving nobody. Not even me! You're nobody's chauffeur.'"
After some finagling, Sam relented. [...] But the Reverend had something else in mind.
"Later on, I figured out what Reverend Franklin's motives were," says Cooke, chuckling. "He wanted me to get with Aretha. He figured Sam would break her heart. I didn't find that out 'til 1970! That's when Aretha's road manager came over to me and said, 'L.C., Aretha can do a lot of things. But she do not know how to pick a man.'
Katie Couric talked to Ruth Bader Ginsburg about the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, the likelihood that she'll stick around past Obama's term (thus putting her spot up for potential Republican replacement), her judicial argument with Roe v. Wade ("not the result, not the judgment, but the opinion... [it] gave the right-to-life people a single target to move at"), and the question that shall not be named ("Who — man or woman — has it all, all at once?").
The absolute best part, though, is when Couric tells Ginsburg that her Hobby Lobby opinion made her "a bit of a rockstar online, are you aware of this?"
"I think it started before Hobby Lobby," replies Ginsburg. Couric then shows her a bunch of internet stuff about her, including the Notorious RBG Tumblr.
"She has created a wonderful thing with Notorious R.B.G.," Ginsburg said of the site. "I will admit I had to be told by my law clerks, what's this Notorious. And they — they explained that to me."
Ginsburg also showed her collection of lace collars — called "jabots" — to Couric. She has a special collar she wears for when she's dissenting, and another for when she is in the majority.
The whole interview is great: when the RBG Tumblr creator asks Ginsburg what past opinions she'd have liked to have written the dissent to, Ginsburg brings up (I think) Geduldig v. Aiello (1974), where, in her words, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was ruled different from discrimination on the basis of sex. "That's about as wrong as can be," says Ginsburg calmly.
Chance the Rapper's been doing this cover of the goddamn Arthur theme song live for a second, and the studio version is... um, I'm crying? Backup vocals come courtesy of Wyclef, Jessie Ware, Elle Varner, Francis and the Lights, and more.
I found the pheasants accidentally. I’d gone looking for the avenue of shoes on Brush Street, a new art installation in Detroit, and got a bit lost. When I stopped to orient myself, I saw a single pheasant through a thicket of tall grass in a vacant lot next to a sagging two-story. The house had an old Ford F150 parked in front. I saw an empty kiddie pool, a plastic circle in turquoise with green fish printed on the bottom. I heard soft crowing, and walked stealthily towards the sound
As I approached, I saw more pheasants through the tall grass. I wanted to make out details, but the brush blocked my view, and I saw only the shapes of bird bodies. I tried to take their picture. I snapped off a few shots, but all I got were brown blurs against the bright blue sky.
Months later, when I finally went to see pheasants specifically, it snowed six inches. I walked around near the corner of Gilbo and Leander as my boyfriend tried to get his Ford Focus out of middle of the road. His tires spun against the hard-packed snow, and I walked toward the tree line, because I heard a noise that sounded a bit like pheasant crowing. Male pheasants crow. They have long tails and iridescent feathers and, it seems, harems too. Pheasants practice polyamory. Males have two or three mates. John throws the car into reverse. The tires can't get purchase. I walk farther from the car, snapping pictures of marks in the snow I will later swear are bird tracks.
People love thinking of pheasants as mascots of urban decay, or the new apocalypse, or Detroit-as-frontier. They think of the city as desolate urban prairie, uninhabited, free of people. This idea has legs: I see it play out in books about Detroit's decline. But in practice, wherever I go in Detroit, I see signs of human habitation. I see houses and people. Even at Gilbo and Leader, despite the emptiness by the street sign, I'm not far from inhabited homes. I see a red two-story with a wide front porch, power lines and fire hydrants. John throws his car into reverse. It moves slightly backwards. I walk away from the car, following the street towards the red house.
In a field covered in tall grass, I see a chair upended, legs pointed skyward. Snow covers the seat. I hear a noise, like birds, or like wind in bare trees. I decide "pheasants" and walk towards the sound. I see more tracks, but can't find birds. I want to see them to prove to myself that I didn't imagine them this summer. I know hunters have flushed hundreds of pheasants in Detroit and I wonder where I might borrow a hunting dog.
I’d like to eat a pheasant, but the only restaurant in town that serves them is pricey, and John is broke. During my last trip up to see him, I cried in the hotel because he told me he couldn't afford a Christmas gift for me. He makes ten times my income, but has debts.
I know I'm ridiculous to care about gifts. I know I can't keep him. Polyamory may work for pheasants, but I know it’s failing me. John has a wife, and I want more than he ever offered me. READ MORE
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I'm trying to figure out how to get the gist of this across without writing a novel, but here goes. I am a 30-year-old woman who is really hitting her stride. I bought a home with my boyfriend who recently became my fiancé, I have a great job and live a great life in Southern California. It's a dream, and I can't wait to start a family blah blah blah.
Obviously these are the types of joys in life that you want to share with family, but I only have one family member left, my mother, and right now I have such anger toward her that I feel like it would be therapeutic for me to tell her she can't be in my wedding, or have anything to do with me for that matter.
Choices she made throughout her life basically made my childhood chaos and my life a living hell. She divorced my father, and remarried an asshole with three sons who pretty much tortured me for four years straight. She used to forget me at school until dark, and then she would send one of her employees, often a grizzled contractor in a smelly truck, to pick me up. I grew out of my clothes, and she didn't notice when I wore the same (too short) pants to school every day for weeks. Sometimes I wouldn't see her for days at a time, because I would take the bus to school, and she would work through my bedtime. When I tried to tell her about my unhappiness, she said things like, "Stop feeling sorry for yourself." or "Who ever told you that people are supposed to be happy? No one is happy. That's the way life is.” It’s sad, in hindsight, because that must be how she really felt.
As an adult, I can see that she had her own problems with her husband, and their failing business put her in a tough spot financially, so I know she was working to make ends meet during those times that I didn't see her. And I can't be mad about being poor, you know? I just tried to make things easier and not make waves. I was a perfect student in high school, got straight As and over thirty thousand dollars in scholarships. My mother looks back on these as the "glory days," unaware even today how often I crouched in the bathtub crying with a razor blade to my wrist, wondering if I had the guts.
At my freshman orientation for college, I was drugged, raped, and left in a field outside the dormitory where we were staying. (I didn't tell anyone for many years; I thought that's how college was and I was a silly amateur.) After that, I completely lost control. I drank heavily and started using a LOT of cocaine. I was extremely promiscuous. I was disrespectful to my mother, getting wasted at family gatherings and smoking cigarettes outside of church. My mother reacted by being completely disgusted. By now, she had a new husband and had recovered financially, so now she was in a position to criticize, apparently. She constantly made unkind jokes about my drinking and partying to other people. She seemed embarrassed of me and openly told me she was many times. She acted like I was a criminal, although I still graduated from the (pretty prestigious) university I attended in four years with a 3.0. I sometimes reminded her of how my step-brothers would lock me in a closets all day and yell taunts at me through the door, or held me down and shove dirt-filled socks in my mouth or snap me with rubber bands until I cried, and she would say, "What? They did NOT. No, you guys just played." Okay.
Finally, after about six years of self-destruction, I picked myself up, saved some money, left the small town we were in and moved to a big city. Four years later, here I am, a shiny new penny. Because my improvements were made here, and not in front of my mother's face, she can't stop rubbing those days in my face every time that I see her. I've told her I don't like it, but it seems like it's some kind of reflex for her. I'm in therapy now (when your mother tells you no one is supposed to be happy, it's hard to feel deserving when happiness finds you), and on one visit I asked if she might consider going herself. She said something like "If I open that door, I'll never close it again."
I want to repair things with her, because I have no one else, but when I am around her I am filled with so much anger that sometimes I have to leave the room. She has cried and told me she wants our relationship to be better, and I am surprised at how ice cold I feel toward her. I feel like she contributed to my decline and then mocked me for it. I don't want to have holidays with her, and since my fiancé has a lovely, large family who will soon be my in-laws, I feel like I shouldn't have to, at least until I'm ready. My question is, do I HAVE to forgive her? Can I just tell her that I don't want to see her until I've made more progress with my therapy? Or is that… evil? Should I push myself harder to be civil and put up with it because she's old and all I have that's left of my blood, and that's what people do? Because I genuinely don't know if I even can. How do I fix this?
Mad at Mom
You don't have to forgive your mother, and it's certainly not evil to make your own choices about this. I don't think anyone else can understand how fundamental her betrayal of you feels, so taking other people's advice in the matter is tough. There are people who will ALWAYS say, "You must honor your mother and be good to her, simply because she's your mother." There are also people who will ALWAYS say, "Seriously, fuck her. Do whatever you want. I cut my family off and it feels great." READ MORE