Delayed thinking on Courtney Love

courtneyloveSeveral weeks ago, I read an interview with Courtney Love. For sure, she’s a little crazy (or finds it useful to appear to be a little crazy), but that’s a red herring. The woman’s work speaks for itself, and she is magnetic – a woman who is not afraid to look bad to subvert expectations, a woman who advertises her anger, a woman who could probably kick your ass.

I watched the Miss World video embedded in the article and it still feels really fresh to me (contrast it with Beyonce’s (Sia’s) thematically similar Pretty Hurts and tell me which one is more raw – I don’t question that the material resonates with Beyonce, but she is too much the Pygmalion of her own image to go all the way with it).

I’m so grateful that I came of age when Live Through This came out. That was an important album to me, not only that it was more viscerally raw and angry than the Tori Amoses of my rotation and more accessible to me than, say, Bikini Kill, but also that it was good, as good or better, than a lot of the Sub Pop catalog that the culture was holding aloft.

I just can’t think of any Courtney Love corollaries for the current generation. Are they there? The ones I think of are of her generation, e.g. PJ Harvey. Patti Smith was the blueprint, but I was too young for her. Probably there are women who feel that way about Courtney Love.

I’m not using my status as An Old to wax nostalgic. The culture has moved in a different direction, and there are a great many women whose musicianship represents a bigger project than breakup songs and Auto-tune (see: Swift, Taylor). While I find her music jarring at times, St. Vincent is really interesting. I’m more into Digital Witness than I have been her previous three, and I thought her SNL performance was the best kind of weird and electric. Seth suggested that although different stylistically, perhaps Lady GaGa had the potential to be a force similar to Courtney Love. She has unfortunately disappeared so far up her own ass that it’s possible to tell if there’s anything real there. It’s all artifice.

There may be some degree of artifice to Courtney Love’s hijinks, but they always looks pretty fucking real.

Delayed thinking on “Girls”

hbo-girls-lena-dunhamMonths ago, the third season of Girls ended. I don’t think ANYONE is talking about it right now, because no one talks about anything that is months old anymore. We only talk about new/newsy things, such as the Norwegian guy’s struggle and the passing of Nadine Gordimer.

It’s not as if those newer items aren’t worthy/worthier topics of discussion, but wtf. I never got around to talking about Girls here.

This season was a return to form over last year, but most compelling for me was Hannah’s foray into the working world as an advertorial copywriter for GQ, in which position she not only encountered the moonlighting Jenna Lyon, but a set of colleagues who were Writers turned writers.

As someone who works full-time in a creative field, I am basically one of her colleagues. Hannah views them as having given up and deferred their dreams: that to be real artists, they need to cast off their corporate shackles and pursue their real work with single-minded dedication. Which is of course what she ends up doing.

I both admire that and think that it speaks to the character’s youth. She can’t see room for the possibility that a creative life might also involve some kind of non-creative, or quasi-creative work. Or that non-creative or quasi-creative work could be meaningful (if it was, for example, virtually anything other than writing GQ advertorial). I think this worldview is tied to weird financial hang-ups people have about art and success, like living paycheck to paycheck grants one the moral high ground of, say, not working for The Man. I also think this fails to account for the possibility that inspiration might peter out in the life of a creative dilettante (though maybe not…Montaigne didn’t have a dearth of things to say).

Clearly I’m extrapolating quite a bit here, but cut me some slack. I’ve had MONTHS to ponder this shit.

But most compellingly for me, Hannah’s viewpoint fails to account for the self-awareness needed to project one’s possible place in the scope of the culture and be OK with off-Broadway, or off-off Broadway, regional theatre, or community theatre, for that matter; in other words, the belief that the art is enough of a north star that the person can sustain it in a vacuum. That not everyone needs to be “a voice of their generation.” That this particular (read: American) breed of exceptionalism can be kind of damaging and fucked up.

I’m not saying that one should strive for something less than one’s best. Just that one’s very best might not be the world’s idea of the very best. And that’s OK.

Not dead yet

Just mostly dead.

Just mostly dead.

This space is almost dead, it’s so little trafficked by me or others. On many occasions, I’ve been inspired to write something here, but then my little blocks of leisure time are consumed by, you know, leisure, but more often, writing-writing, and my thoughts wisp away, unprocessed and unrecorded.

In any case, I have doubts as to whether this form – the picture-lite, laborious thinky blog – is one that makes sense for me. Here’s a litmus test: I wouldn’t read it if it was someone else’s. So why would I want to write it? There are so many islets of internet life that I could explore should I choose to, each with their own protocol and vibe, and yet in online life, as in real life, I’m more of an observer than a participant. Posting blog content allows me to be passive, doesn’t push me in any way, and is psychologically safe. How is that a good thing? Shouldn’t I just put this content in my journal?

I don’t tend to, though. My journal is overrun with other content, boring stuff, in the main, like how the previous night’s writing went, or how to manage the baffling, post-partum conundrum of being fine with the number on the scale, fine with how I look in clothes, but not-fine with the physical reality of how my body has rearranged itself. (I don’t know how to manage this yet, but I think it’s a combination of strength training, eating fewer refined carbohydrates, and acceptance.) Basic, first-world shit.

So perhaps there is still some utility to this space to me personally, as a place to overthink various pop cultural things that Seth cannot bear to hear me repeat for the fourteenth time as I close in on whatever position has been eluding me. This girl will ride again, if only for the moment.

Have I abandoned this place altogether?

Oh, go on with your fabulous self. Ben Hassett for Harper's Bazaar UK Magazine, IMAXtree

Oh, go on with your fabulous self.
Ben Hassett for Harper’s Bazaar UK Magazine, IMAXtree

I don’t want to de-blog, but it is one of the few things I have going at this stage in my life that seems fine to let slide. And so slide it must.

Once in a while, I think of something that seems relevant to capture here, but putting together a post means forgoing work on the novel, and that’s just not something I’m keen to do right now. I am so ready to be finished with the novel and ready to be working on other projects. The next novel is lurking in the background, poised for me to give it shape. But I am determined to get this one wrapped up first.

Earlier this week I came upon this quote from Cate Blanchett, from Harper’s Bazaar UK:

“I was trying to explain to someone yesterday that the decisions you make as an actor have to be instinctual, it has to come alive between you and the other actors. Maybe because I am a goldfish, when a shoot ends I leave behind the reasons I’ve done what I have done. To come back six months later and dredge all that stuff up for publicity is difficult.”

So there’s no obvious or direct parallel between her response to publicity and my private writings, but this did feel like a familiar sensation to me – being fully immersed in a project as it unfolds and releasing it completely when it concludes. Then later – submitting it in a workshop, for example – feeling detached from the work. Once enough time elapses, my stories begin to feel slightly alien to me, like, that came from me? The incredulity is sometimes positive, as in a story seeming better than I thought.

Of course there are also stories so very bad that I am not sure anything could induce me to revisit them. And yet, I can’t bring myself to delete them. Why? Their continued presence on my hard drive seems optimistic, or perhaps delusional – one day, when I am gone, someone will find them and…

…what? They will say, my god, this person sure wrote a lot of crap. And if they hold me in any esteem, they’ll do me the favor of deleting it all, unread.

A dance interlude

I worked for our state opera company for several years, and while I have zero training or education in opera, one of the pieces of advice I got from our marketing director was to just trust your ear.

Is there an equivalent for dance? I think this is beautiful – it’s especially lovely how the wind makes a third partner – but doesn’t it strike a note of discord when the dancer’s feet are flexed when she’s in a backbend?

Maybe it’s just me.

To see a world in a purse or heaven in a handbag

Click for source. Xaviera Hollander's website is worth a visit.

Click for source. Xaviera Hollander’s website is worth a visit.

So last week, I was reading a magazine which contained an interview with designer Giambattista Valli. Quoth he, on the subject of handbags: “An architectural bag provides structure. One click and you open a woman’s private universe.”

I hardly know what to say. I mean, my handbag is no more my “private universe” than my desk chair. The idea that the contents of a woman’s bag – keys, a phone, ID, credit cards and/or cash, some lipstick or gloss – the archeological remains of being a functioning modern person – could constitute her universe is just so offensive. Not to mention that it lacks imagination about the way a woman constructs meaning in her life. It’s misogyny. A part of me says, eh, it’s cultural, but the rest of me says, that doesn’t make it right. Screw you, Valli.

The other thing his little observation brought to mind for me was The Happy Hooker, a 70s era tell-all about, you know, a hooker, Xaviera Hollander, who was happy about it. I picked up a copy in a thrift store when I was a teenager. There are two things that I remember about it. One, a scene with a dog that I think was supposed to shock? And two, the pivotal scene of the author/narrator’s job interview with the madam. The madam took her purse and examined it. Its sparse contents signaled to the madam that this was a girl of quality, worthy of admittance into the life of a high-class hooker. Valli gets this, no?

I don’t. I mean, I do. It’s a vestige of earlier generations’ social signals of class, a coded mechanism for detecting who is and who is not your economic equal. I say earlier generations, but this type of social marking obviously continues. The same magazine had an article about skin bleaching in Jamaica; one interview subject likened it to tanning in the U.S. I’m way late to the discussion about the weird spectacle that is Miley Cyrus, but her appropriation of the whole ratchet thing is another spin on this topic, which is way too big for me to do justice to here.

Anyhoo. This poor neglected blog. I want to give it some love, but it’s just one of those things that’s easy to let go of when other parts of life threaten to overwhelm. I spent all of July and part of August sick with vertigo. Work has been crazy-busy since May. I’ve gotten great traction on my novel revision. And of course, there is my sweet Otto, now almost fully mobile and no longer content to sit idly by when he could be running down the dogs with a push toy or attempting to scale furniture in his room. I’ll make room for this place when I can.

Literary power couple

Bobs-Burgers-The-Belchies-550x649I read this profile of James Wood and Claire Messud some time ago, and, especially after all the interesting coverage of The Woman Upstairs, finally broke down and decided I had better not damn the dame for all my ambivalence towards the man. So I’m finally reading The Emperor’s Children.

Perhaps inevitably, it contains some sidewise commentary on David Foster Wallace via a character’s overly earnest attempts to educate himself. It’s played for humor, I think, but it’s one of those referents that comes so loaded with Messud’s husband’s very public views that the whole thing lends itself to a post-modern meta-interpretation akin to that which Wallace himself described in E Unibus Pluram (though that was of course concerned with television).


(Aside: I have just now realized that my copies of How Fiction Works and Consider the Lobster sit only three books apart on my shelf. Perhaps I should remedy that.)

Re-reading part of E Unibus Pluram has made me appreciate anew how the discussion of these dynamics in television continues to dominate pop culture. See also Bob’s Burgers, a show that Seth and I have been really enjoying. A consistent thread of the show’s humor is metacommentary, see for example an episode called The Belchies (Goonies), the pleasurable genius of which is better experienced than explained, which brings me to Wood, who never met a pleasure that couldn’t be picked apart for a thorough analysis. Or maybe he could, I don’t know. I’m being hyperbolic here because I so thoroughly lack that sort of critical impulse.

I found my copy of the Irresponsible Self, which I intended to read in tandem with The Emperor’s Children, but I didn’t get past the introduction, in which Wood acknowledges the pitfalls of dissecting comedy, then proceeds to do just that with his maiden example. The dissection proceeds for several paragraphs, becoming more and more precise, until I just had to slam the book closed in a full-body paroxysm of critical theory aversion.

Where does this aversion come from? I’m not completely sure, but back in January, New York Magazine published a great article called Why You Never Truly Leave High School, which got me thinking. My sophomore English class was taught by this chipper creature who single-handedly destroyed my love for To Kill a Mockingbird with her over-explication of it. This is, again, a bit hyperbolic, and there are I think at least as many if not more inspiring and lovely teachers than those whose Cliff Notes-level insights into a book cheapen your affection for it…but maybe that experience was the point at which I closed myself off to critical theory.

Such is my distaste for that teacher that I kind of modeled a character after her in a short story I just revised. It’s really more of a parody than a model, actually, but in this latest revision, I was all, what the hell. And I gave her the actual teacher’s name. It wasn’t a very kind impulse on my part, and I’ll probably change it back, but it gave me a tiny thrill to do it.