Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Builiding


This whole 3 day weekend business was exhausting in the worst possible way.

Future posts:
-NCAA Lacrosse Championship: A Sea of Douchebags!
-Why traveling to Connecticut will always suck.
-How the Virginia Quarterly Review managed to piss off a lot of idiots.
-Something about the ungodly amount of sports my family coaxed me into this weekend.
-Flavorpill
-Why Ratatat should probably stick to remixing.

The Hold Steady - Constructive Summer

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Speaking of That Class...


When does a lie become truth, or a fiction become fact? It’s something to consider while reading Jesse Ball’s first novel, Samedi the Deafness. After reading this book, some might argue that it’s a matter of authority – the way that Ball creates the world that his characters inhabit is so well-thought and imagined that it is hard for readers not to dive into it. The book itself is hard to categorize – a literary meta-mystery-thriller about a mnemonist trapped in a house of liars. A professed fan of Kafka, Ball said in an interview with Hobart of the deceased author “what he's doing is tremendous -- he takes into account the minutest details”. The same can be said of Ball, a poet with two books under his belt. As a poet turning to prose for the first time, the author makes every word count, with every sentence essential to building up the story and moving the plot forward. And despite comparisons to a variety of prominent artists such as Kafka and David Lynch, Ball has managed to create something that feels truly original while also feeling like an homage to his influences.

The story’s protagonist is James Sim, a mnemonist living a fairly ordinary life until a casual walk through the park puts him in grave danger. While on one of his usual strolls, he encounters Thomas McHale, a dying man with multiple stab wounds claiming to have been murdered by Samedi, an increasingly active conspiracy cult. Shortly after investigating both the cult and the murder of this mysterious stranger, Sim is kidnapped by several men that place him in an asylum for chronic liars, one of which the asylum’s director claims is the man he met in the park. What follows is an elaborate world in which Sim cannot tell truth from lie, where one person will contradict the next, all while Samedi and his cult continue to send the rest of the world into a state of panic. Sim is forced to race against time, left with only a few days to discover the truth behind the cult and its connection to his new residence before imminent disaster strikes. This is to say nothing of the small details that make Ball’s peculiar world come to life. The lying asylum is founded on an elaborate series of rules (one of which describes the many different complicated knocks that must precede entering a room) designed to eradicate the truth. If there’s no truth to contradict the lies, they say, then the lies will eventually become true in some sense. This leaves Sim in a very difficult position – his alliances are perpetually in jeopardy from not knowing who to trust – one that leaves him constantly second-guessing himself.

As the suspense builds toward the cult’s suspected doomsday, Sim still can’t seem to resolve anything, instead finding himself caught in a web that goes deeper and deeper the further he digs. While readers will find themselves alongside Sim in an effort to solve this mystery, they’ll also be forced to think about the nature of lying and whether the truth can ever be known in the fullest sense. Ball has done a commendable job of not only making an intriguing storyline, but also exploring in-depth psychological issues in a way that appears both effortless and well-balanced. The impact of lying is explored not only on the scale of global disaster, but also on a personal level – Sim has fallen in love with Grieve, the director’s daughter as well as the asylum’s most notorious liar. Will we believe anything in the name of love, or better yet, will we give in to a lie to save the world?

Unfortunately Ball can’t quite give us the answer. After managing to give a thoroughly satisfying explanation to just who is behind the cult, Ball gives readers an ambiguous, head-scratching conclusion, one that will leave readers wondering and obsessing, reminding them that we can only know so much in this world. Until the intentionally-confusing ending, Ball has created something timeless, a work of art that defies categorization, written without a single clue as to what year it could possibly take place in. Readers will quickly find themselves immersed in the world James Sim attempts to navigate through, and most will find it hard to tear themselves away from the book as soon as it’s opened. Whether they’ll feel complete satisfaction once the book is closed is a matter of debate, but they’ll find themselves questioning everything around them regardless, an appropriate reaction to a book that challenges the conventions of contemporary storytelling.


[Note: Since I wrote this, Ball won the Plimpton Prize...congratulations to him. I still hate the Paris Review, though.]


The Dodos - Red And Purple

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Published!

Hobart has published "A House of Words"! Check it out, and welcome to my blog if you discovered it through them. Be sure to read through the rest of their site...it's pretty great!

Cool Kids - Sup

I Like Money



So, this semester I took a course taught by Craig Morgan Teicher called "Writing for Money". Yes, that is the biggest oxymoron ever. Mostly we wrote book reviews (both of the long and short variety) and then ended by writing about something other than books that might make us money some day. Capsule reviews are a possible way to make money as a student - they usually pay somewhere between forty and eighty dollars depending on the publication, though more often than not you don't get paid at the start. I hope publish some myself in the future (let me know if you can help me out with that). The class also got me thinking...how does one make money as a writer? Last year I read an insanely depressing article by Keith Gessen, who said that the only ways that writers get by are the following ways: academia, journalism, odd jobs, and independent wealth. I also once heard George Saunders say that he only knew three people that made a living by writing [fiction] alone. For now, I fall into the category of odd jobs. Here is what I have done since last summer.

1. I spent last summer as an unpaid intern or A Public Space (hey, I never mention that!) and couldn't find a paying job to work with my schedule or utilize my skills (I don't have any). The only pay I got from APS was free books, free beer, and, when they forced me to barback at a Book Expo party, around fifty dollars in tips.
2. I took surveys and participated in focus groups. I used one service that does online surveys. I don't recommend it. Each survey takes like 20 minutes and pays you around $2.50. You can't cash out until you reach fifty dollars. I made fifty-seven. Then I did a focus group for a really poorly designed and poorly executed social networking site for "artists". They harassed for a while afterward until I deleted my account. They paid me fifty dollars.
3. In the fall, I started writing for Brijit. It's a website that pays you to aggregate newspaper and magazine articles, TV segments, and radio shows into 100 words or less. Then they display it on their website...if your writing is better than the two others aggregating the same article. If your article happens to get accepted, they'll pay you five dollars for a print media abstract or eight dollars for a radio/TV show abstract. About half of my articles were accepted. In three and a half months, I made an amount that sounds large, but given the amount of time it took, is not really all that much. It got tedious and wasn't really worthwhile.
4. Dog walking. My God, dog owners should be considered patrons of the arts in New York City. They mainly employ artists and writers, many of whom charge outrageous sums to walk the dogs of the upper class. I won't disclose how much I make, but I feel it's more than I deserve. Before I started I was nearly out of money, and now I'm doing fine. No worries. I love doing it. The dog I hang out with is also insanely cute:


Anyway, some day I will move beyond odd jobs. Maybe after I graduate next year (what?!?!?!), maybe not, given the job market.

Portishead - Machine Gun

Of Hockey Jesus and Sporting Salvation

[The awesome image above was stolen from Melt Your Face Off, the most entertaining hockey blog around]


I consider myself a hockey orphan. When I was nine years old, the Hartford Whalers played their final game. I cried in the stands as the players skated in circles on the ice and waved goodbye. It’s been twelve years, and a lot has happened. Namely, I got older, got bitter, and kept only a passing interest in hockey. There were a lot of reasons for this: another strike, a lack of exciting players, and most importantly, there was no home team to root for.

I started noticing a change in the last year. The NHL has found its new superstars in Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and, more notably, Hockey Jesus Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Towards the end of the season, a Capital-Penguins match up seemed likely, which would not only be exciting, but would also bring the NHL unheard of amounts of press. Sadly, it didn’t happen: the Capitals were knocked out in the first round, and the Penguins moved past the Ottawa Senators to face the New York Rangers. The Rangers are a team I should be rooting for, especially since I moved to Brooklyn and found myself a short subway ride from Madison Square Garden. This playoff series was the perfect time to choose a new team to root for.

Given my new home, the Rangers should be the obvious choice. A seasoned team that was a Cup favorite from the beginning of the season, the Rangers were on their way up after the pre-season acquisitions of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. In a lot of ways, the Rangers might be a better team – a team that plays near-flawless hockey, comprised of talented, seasoned players like Drury, Gomez, and former Penguin superstar Jaromir Jagr. Truth be told, there’s something boring about that. Their play is of the sort that most non-hockey fans use as an example of why they can’t get into a game. They threw everything they had at the Penguins, often out-shooting, maybe even outplaying them.

In reality, I found myself drawn to Crosby, Malkin, and their teammates on the Penguins, who most consider to be the thrilling future of a sport few care about. The Penguins are young, unpredictable, versatile, and eager to prove themselves. Crosby and Malkin are 20 and 21, respectively. Wayne Gretzky was leading the Edmonton Oilers to new heights around this age– can they live up to the hype? It’s a storyline even those uninterested in hockey can’t resist.

From the start of the series, the Penguins began to have an aura of inevitability Hillary Clinton could only dream of: they were going to the Stanley Cup finals whether the Rangers liked it or not. The first game found them down by three goals, only to end with a final score of 5-4, Crosby assisting a goal that bounced off of Malkin’s leg and into the net to clinch it. More great press for an entertaining team. Everyone’s happy…except the Rangers, of course.

The next two games went along these lines. The only bright spot that kept me rooting for the Rangers at all was Sean Avery, the team’s resident goon. A former flame of Elisha Cuthbert, he seems straight out of the movie Slap Shot, antagonizing and beating the poor souls that crossed his path. However, he’s a bit of an enigma, especially since a recent New Yorker profile outed him as a fashionista hoping to land a summer internship with Vogue (I swear to God, I’m not making this up). More importantly, aggression is kryptonite to the Penguins, too young and baby faced to use much physical contact, with Sidney Crosby accused of taking dives – this isn’t the NHL where the unwritten rule was to avoid hitting Gretzky at all costs. Avery was voted the most hated player in the NHL by his peers – after inspiring a new rule banning the petty roughhousing of goaltenders, that honor won’t change any time soon. While many dislike Avery, he’s a bright spot to me on the Rangers – unafraid to roughhouse and let his passion manifest in the most destructive way possible. At the end of the second straight Rangers loss, he again provoked a goalie, this time poking his stick at goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and starting a fight in the game’s closing seconds.

After the third game of the series (where the Penguins were out-shot but still dominant), Avery was rushed to the hospital with a lacerated spleen and declared finished for the season. As if Avery’s absence forced them to compensate, the Rangers woke up and dominated in game four, not only winning, but also roughing up the Penguins as much as possible, even frustrating Malkin and Crosby to the point that both ended up in the penalty box. After the game, a lot of hockey press claimed that the Penguins would have to overcome “adversity” after their first loss of the playoffs. More than anything, people were just looking for more reasons to make every Penguins game important, to put Crosby on TV screens and get people interested in hockey again.

Frankly, it’s working. During the fifth and final game of the series, the Penguins scored a series of flashy goals. The Rangers struck back and sent the game to overtime. As soon as the newly-acquired Marian Hossa scored the winning goal for the Penguins, I heard a neighbor in my apartment building scream like the Giants had just won the Super Bowl again. Everyone I talk to seems interested in what Sid the Kid and the newly popular Malkin will do next. While I’m betraying the city I call home, I’m excited to watch hockey again, unembarrassed to talk about games in front of people more interested in Project Runway. For now, I’m just going to ride the bandwagon and hope the Penguins don’t leave their city any time soon. Their next series, the conference finals, is against interstate rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. How perfect.


The Decemberists - The Sporting Life


Monday, May 5, 2008

Why

Is Baby Mama playing at BAM?




Quiet Village - Circus of Horror

Yawn, Yawn, Yawn



In every writing studio, a lot of exercises are assigned. There's usually some kind of restricting prompt, and the goal is to get at least a page or two of writing out of it. I don't know what to think of them. Sometimes, they're helpful, make me stretch, and give me a good idea for a longer story. Other times, they're just embarrassingly awful pieces of flash fiction that are only written for the sole purpose of getting school credit. "A House of Words" is an example of the former. Here is an example of the latter.

The Usual

“You’re late.”

“I know. I’m always late. Also, I’m hungry.”

“Where are you right now?”

“I’m driving down a road to somewhere. I don’t know where I am. I’d like to think I’m in Estonia. Doesn’t that sound nice? Not the place. The word, I mean.”

He is driving down a road somewhere. He has a bag of potato chips in the passenger seat and the speakerphone on so he can keep both hands on the wheel.

“But you’re always driving down a road somewhere. You’re never on the highway. Maybe you should get on the highway.”

She is closing her eyes; she can’t imagine him doing anything at all.

“It’s very dark out. I don’t know where I’m going. It is always dark out like this.”

“I’m having a glass of wine and warming up near a fire place. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

“It does. It sounds nice. I don’t even have orange juice.”

“Why don’t you want to join me near the fire place? We can watch the fire light up our faces. We can drink wine and roast marshmallows.”

“I still wish I had orange juice. I can’t drink wine because I am still on the road.”

“Why are you on the road? Why aren’t you here? I can fly to Estonia.”

“I’m looking for the end of the road. I just saw a squirrel climb up a tree. I could just barely make it out. It looked scared and jittery.”

“Do you need directions? Would you like me to give you directions? Are there any signs or Home Depots nearby?”

“You can’t give me directions. I don’t have a GPS. You can’t give me directions. I can’t even see what’s in front of me. Hold on a second.”

She hears him putting his hand in a bag of potato chips. She hears him munching. He doesn’t speak for a long time after that. She can hear him breathing and sighing. She stares at her glass of wine but does not drink it.

“You can’t turn around? You can find me if you turn around.”

“I’m staying on this road until it ends. I hope it ends soon. I really do.”

“Please turn around. I bought a new bed. I can move it near the fire place. Please sit next to me near the fire place. It makes things bright and warm.”
”I don’t feel cold and I can’t see anything.”

“Please turn around.”

“This road is straight and narrow and dark. It never seems to end.”

“I think I’m going to turn left.”

She grips her wine glass tight, with both hands, waiting all night, waiting still, still waiting.



I should also point out that for some strange reason, my studio teacher from the previous semester said that was her favorite thing I'd written. Go figure.


Thom Yorke - The Eraser (XXXChange Remix)


Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Little Wiser


After tomorrow, the school year is over. It's pretty much been over since Wednesday. I'll officially be a senior. That's fucking terrifying you guys! But not really. I'm going to spend the summer writing 500 words a day so that I'll already have something resembling a thesis ready to go. Also, I'll blog a lot. This blogging thing is going to be huge! I'll be posting more fiction this week, maybe even some things about sports!

What's been going on in my life:
-I turned 21! I didn't really celebrate it on my birthday. I got a growler of Sixpoint from Bierkraft. There was no carding involved, so what was the point? My first real experience legally was at Barcade in Williamsburg. Another summer goal: start kicking ass at Ghosts 'n Goblins.

-Internships! I'm still at A Public Space, still loving working for such a good magazine. However, things have been a little crazy since Tom left for greener pastures and a better job with Penguin. I guess there will be a new managing editor soon. Also, I'll be interning at Flavorpill as well this summer. I had an interview there this past Wednesday and they all seem like great people. Also, I look forward to getting into their crazy museum parties.

-Sports! I've been watching a surprising amount of hockey back then. Anyone reading this that knew me when I was younger is aware I followed the sport in a feverish fashion as a kid, but between the fact that games now air on Versus (whatever THAT is) and that there hasn't been much general excitement in the sport in general have made me less than a casual fan. More on that in the coming days. I've also been reading Deadspin more and more lately. More on that whole Bissinger vs Leitch thing in the coming days as well.


Things I'll write about soon:
-Penguins vs Rangers
-Keith Gessen
-Sarah Manguso
-Deadspin
-People, places, things.

The Penguins just scored...they're headed to the conference finals. I think I'm going to play some frisbee .

Jens Lekman - Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death (Scout Niblett Cover)