Tuesday, July 29, 2014
This "aliens imitating top 40" deconstructive genre is tremendous: recycled pop, recycled until it's new.
Judith Frank teaches English at Amherst College and is the author of All I Love and Know, now out with Harper Collins. We talked recently.
So. I should disclose that I was a student of yours at Amherst–and, let’s be honest, your favorite. Moving on! Now. Did you sit down and say, "I'm going to write a book about a gay couple, who raise the children of one of the men's identical twin brothers in the Pioneer Valley, after that brother and his wife are killed in a terrorist bombing in Israel during the second Intifada?" and that's what happened? Or did it grow out of another idea?
I started with the twin brother and his wife being killed in a terrorist bombing (my twin sister in Israel loves this). Then I thought about how to challenge the gay brother and his partner to the max, and decided to bring two grieving children into the mix.
Once I had the premise, it didn't change–I just had to decide where to go from there. And I was aware that starting a novel with a terrorist attack was going to be challenging, because in terms of building a plot, where on earth do you go from there?
Your identical twin sister has been a good sport about your story?
She has been extremely good natured from the start about my killing off the twin. It helps that it's fiction, and it helps that these characters are men. But it’s super-generous on her part, and it's touching how much she loves this book.
So once I started reading this book it was difficult to put down. The writing is so good but it's also, and I mean this in the best way, it is also at its heart a kind of traditional romance, and a bit of a soap opera. Story-wise, how much it was mapped out and how much did you sort of let happen?
There is a lot of story. Kirkus called it "first-rate commercial fiction," which was a bit of a dagger in my literary heart. My agent, editor, and partner all had to give me lectures deconstructing the literary/commercial binary.
I write plot through the characters. I ask: given this challenge, how would the character respond or act out? I knew on which historical day I wanted the novel to end, but even then, I didn't know what was going to happen on that day.
Without giving a lot away, where were some points where you got stuck?
I feel like I always get stuck about two-thirds of the way through the first draft. I went back and read the journals I was writing when I was at that point in my first novel, Crybaby Butch, and they're full of despair. I think that's all I can say without giving plot away.
Was there an epiphany or just a slog? READ MORE
This is the first song from Jessie J that I've ever liked, and I like it quite a bit: let's get Katy B and Katy Perry on the remix and we'll call it 2014's version of "Lady Marmalade."
If someone moves to make room for you, take up more room.
If someone is looking over there, there's something to see.
If somebody sneezes, run.
If someone brings a bag into your home, look inside it.
If you don't want someone to leave, sit on his suitcase .
Clean between your toes.
Flaunt your full figure.
Hide loose change.
Even though you can take care of yourself, it's okay to let someone be nice to you.
It is perfectly fine to take a nap on the laundry. READ MORE
Tourists are freaks. (For context: I work in Times Square.) Tourists are unnatural to the environment into which they insert themselves; they walk funny; they talk wrong. David Foster Wallace wrote (in a footnote) that to be a tourist “is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you.” Something similar might also be said of journalists, who also insert themselves awkwardly on someone else’s turf. But the journalist, if we’re being high-minded about it, serves some civic or artistic purpose; the presence of the tourist is for the sheer sake of personal amusement. That is to say, the mission of a tourist is selfish, and with that comes a degree of indulgence—even a sense of entitlement, which maybe is necessary to function in a situation where, as a tourist, you know you don’t really belong.
I was a tourist in China for two weeks. I bopped from one landmark to another, squeezed into the subway, and did my best to avoid restaurants patronized by anyone who looked like me (i.e., non-Asian). Being an American tourist made me a burden as well as an object of fascination. I found myself, as a novelty, the unexpected beneficiary of attention and perks: somebody in Yunnan province asked where I was from, and then requested a picture; at a hot pot place in Xi’an, where there was an hour wait for a table, my group was told, through my Chinese-speaking college friend, that we could be seated right away because we were foreigners—we were “special.” Before we could protest, the waitress whisked us to our seats—past a row of disgruntled hungry people—and gave us small plastic bags to protect our phones and a cloth with which I could wipe steam from my eyeglasses. This sort of treatment was the opposite of what I would have expected from anyone forced to serve a tourist: not only was it encouraging of our trampling all over someone else’s night out to dinner, it was downright obsequious. Tip was included, so that wasn’t a motivating factor. Awkward as this should have been, it wasn’t—tasty, fun, kid-friendly, recommended!—because that is the essential contradictory nature of the tourist. READ MORE
Ask a Fancy Person: Occasionless Gifts, Chemo Baldness at the Office, The "Thanks For the Birthday Wishes" Anomie
I am a woman in my 30's undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, I'm bald. It hasn't been so bad (well, the chemo sucks, but fashion-wise, I mean), because my friends have lent me many colorful headscarves to wear. I'm also fortunate to have a nice wig to wear for special occasions, but I prefer not to wear the wig all the time.
Sometimes, though, I'd just like to be bald, especially in the summer when it's so hot outside. Do you think it would be unprofessional for me to go bald sometimes in the office if I still dress well and pay attention to my makeup? I've only done it a few times in public and I've liked it, but I'm worried about working in the office bald.
First, let me say on behalf of my real self, my alterego Fancy, and all the ‘Pinners, we’re rooting for you and are completely positive you’re going to deal cancer a humiliating loss, akin to the one the Mighty Ducks dealt Iceland in D2.
But you didn’t write me to give you Gordon Bombay-style pep talks via the internet, so onto your question. Feel completely and totally free to do whatever you want. It’s dandy if you want to wear colorful scarves and a wig, and it’s peachy to go without, too. Professionalism doesn’t even enter into that equation. Cancer aside, if you chose to buzz your hair, you’re still presentable in a business setting. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, that’s unacceptable and you can tell them I said that. There are some kinds of styles that aren’t appropriate in all settings, but this just ain’t one of them. Looking the part of the teacher/sandwich artist/graphic designer/nanny/lawyer you are is more about not distracting from your work with a Pikachu neck tat, not about the specifics of the length of your hair. Dress like you’re at work, put on a touch more makeup than you might otherwise to play up your best features, and wear some pretty earrings and people will forget that you aren’t choosing baldness as A Look.
What I’m going to say next is likely not going to be popular, but I’m not here to make friends. Much like people love to touch the bellies of pregnant ladies in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly, people love to talk to bald women about their lack of hair. If you choose not to wear your wig or scarves, you have to be prepared for thoughtless people both known and unknown to you to say galling things. You need to have a pat answer at the ready to keep it from wrecking your whole day and making you feel less confident. If you’re feeling glum, that might not be the occasion to go scalp out; having a lot of these interactions can wear you down.
So, I recommend against telling strangers you’re too busy roundhouse kicking cancer in the face to worry about dumb shit like their comfort level with your illness: it's the true response, but you’ll ultimately end up in an even longer, more galling conversation if you take that route. Tell them that you were tired of it drying weird after bikram yoga, pick up your dry cleaning, and exit stage left. There’s nothing to be ashamed of about losing your hair, but you probably don’t want to have a lengthy back and forth with anyone stupid enough to approach a woman they don’t know to ask about her prognosis.
For people you know but not well, don’t feel like you have to lie or divulge personal information or make an excuse. Say something like, "Well, Steve, I’m going through both August and chemo at the same time, and it was just too hot today to mess with my wig. Have you seen any Keurig pods? I’m not nuts about the Caribou ones and that’s all that’s left in that bin by the water cooler.” Don’t give them a point of entry into talking about your health because you don’t owe them that; be better than them by not making a scene when you easily could. Anyone who needles you about it is just being thoughtless, so surprise them by being thoughtful in return.
Yours in sickness and in health,
I’ve inherited a strange shopping habit from my mother and aunts, which is to buy things for my friends and family, regardless of occasion, if it’s cheap and I think they’ll like it. I do most of my clothes shopping at thrift and consignment stores, and I cannot control myself if I see something I think my roommate would look great in, or a good pair of shoes for my fashionably-challenged younger brother. Sometimes I get to the checkout and I’m buying more stuff for other people than I am for myself! Most of the recipients seem to enjoy my spontaneous “I-saw-this-and-thought-of-you” gifts, but sometimes I can’t tell if they genuinely like it or if they’re just humoring me. Is this a habit I should break, or am I doing my loved ones a favor by always keeping an eye out?
I’m Turning Into My Mother READ MORE
“Fireworks” is probably my favorite Animal Collective song and definitely the Animal Collective song I most wish would get a blown-out, fluid, sexual R&B cover by Miguel or Frank Ocean or someone else who could pull it off; until that blissful day, I’m happy to take this psychedelia-at-the-mall version by Montreal band Holobody, with that super-plastic texture that kicks in halfway through, like a bunch of balloons rubbing against each other. (Via Fader.)
I first caught wind of Saturday Chores, Grayson and Tina Haver-Currin’s ingeniously weird pro-choice protests, on Facebook. Of course I did a double-take at a photo of Grayson, the bearded, metal-loving music editor of my local alt weekly, holding a sign that said, “I Love Turtles” (full disclosure: I’ve written a couple of things for the Indy Week under Grayson’s purview). A week later, I saw Tina foisting a poster that said “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi.” I don’t think it gets more metal than standing on the side of the road surrounded by hateful right-wingers, standing up for both absurdity and common sense.
I emailed Tina, one half of Saturday Chores, to see what prompted this feat of humor, bravery, and Tumblr-worthiness.
Linnie Greene: Hi Tina! Thanks so much for chatting with me about Saturday Chores. Some of this info is on your Tumblr, but for those who aren’t familiar: what is this thing? What prompted you to start these counter-protests?
Tina Haver Currin: Our very first counter-protest happened on a bit of a whim. There’s no big box hardware store very close to where we live, so Grayson and I were driving toward a suburb of Raleigh called Cary, which runs over with strip malls. I had gotten a gift card to Home Depot for my birthday, and we decided to get supplies for a garden box. We passed the clinic on the way.
Grayson and I both grew up not too far away, and we’ve seen the clinic in question hundreds of times. But for some reason, on this morning in particular, the protestors got under our skin a little more than normal. Grayson suggested that we make a sign that said “Weird Hobby” and point at one of the protestors. We tried to buy poster board at Home Depot, but they don’t carry it. As we were leaving, I ripped a vinyl sale sign off of a display and took a Sharpie to it. We posted the results to Instagram and Facebook, and people flipped.
That happened on March 8, 2014, and we vowed to keep it going. Pretty much every weekend we’ve been in town, we’ve stopped in with a new sign.
Some of the signs are fairly pointed (“Women’s Rights Expert”) whereas a few others are surreal (“Bring Back Crystal Pepsi”). How do you pick? Why do you opt for less serious messages (no offense, of course, to Crystal Pepsi)?
Grayson and I usually brainstorm signs on the way to the clinic, which is about fifteen minutes from our home. We keep a Sharpie in our car and I write the sign on location (I have the better handwriting of two of us, but not by much). We flip-flop each week, with one of us holding the sign and the other taking the pictures.
I’m more in the absurdist camp (“I Like Turtles” and “Bring Back Crystal Pepsi”), but Grayson is comfortable being a little more direct (“Women’s Rights Expert”). I think the zany signs help lighten the self-serious nature of these kinds of protests. The topic isn’t funny, of course, but I find some comfort in fighting hate with humor. If we can change the perception of what a protest is supposed to look like—serious, stern, boring, judgmental—maybe we can convince more people to take another look, start a discussion, and hopefully (!) get involved.
Are reproductive rights an issue that either or both of you have protested for or worked with previously? Was there something about the current political climate that made this seem like the right time to take action?
Grayson and I live in North Carolina. In 2012, “we” elected a Republic governor, Pat McCrory, and Republicans were voted into majority in both state houses. It’s the first time since 1870 that Republicans have had control of both the legislative and executive branch. As you might expect, there’s been a substantial shift toward conservative governance, including cuts to social programs and education, a push for voter ID laws, and, of course, restriction to abortion access.
On June 24, 2013—the day Grayson and I returned from our honeymoon—I was intentionally arrested for civil disobedience through a grassroots movement called Moral Mondays. That has stalled out a bit (I’m still awaiting trial, more than a year later), and I wanted to take more direct action. Plus, holding signs is way more fun than going to jail. READ MORE
Via Fader, here's Working On My Novel, the latest project from artist Cory Arcangel: he says it documents "the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today," I say it documents the impossibility of coincident documentation and the brutality of having an outsize mismatch between your ambition and your chill. Either way everyone wins because they've been published by Penguin, and a live feed of all the dilettantes is available at Cory Arcangel's book site.
Many moons ago, Azealia Banks blessed us with "212"; three years later we don't yet have a debut album (and she dropped herself from her label), but we do have movement. Here's "Heavy Metal And Reflective," an extended, bouncy, guttural boast released by Azealia Banks Records. Elsewhere: "Video Girl," a new leak from FKA Twigs' forthcoming album, and Jenny Lewis' Newport Folk Festival set.