Monthly Archives: January 2011

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Fairy porn for neurotic geniuses

Tonight my sister-in-law JT sent me a link to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity, and when I got done cyber-stalking an author I’m jealous of and then messing around on Facebook, I gave it a listen. Gilbert proposes that instead of thinking of  ourselves as island artists who are solely responsible for our work, we should envision creative spirits who flit in and out, periodically inspiring us. Maybe true genius isn’t interior, but exterior. In ancient Greece, when a daemon visited a writer in the night, he took some of the heat off the writer’s sensitive ego. Whether the finished product turned out brilliant or embarrassing, the writer himself was only an accessory to the creative act. To quote Liz Gilbert, your original work is accomplished not by you alone, but also by “the divine cockeyed genius assigned to your case.”

Because I just finished Betsy Lerner’s book The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, the emotional fragility of the average artist has been on my mind. The more neurotic I feel and the more erratic my sense of self-worth, the more I want to rebel against these stereotypical character traits. In Lerner’s book (which I loved, by the way), authors are delicate creatures who frequently need to be coddled and reassured. But according to Gilbert, if we could just reconceptualize our creative bursts of energy as generous fairies who fly in and out of our windows to feed us clever lines and plot points, we wouldn’t be such unrelenting egomaniacs. Sounds good to me!

Although my fairies are stupider and have a weaker vocabulary than most peoples’, I am still hopeful that I can bribe them with the spare change I keep next to my computer. But where do my fairies get their ideas? Maybe there’s another whole tier of fairies, higher-up fairies, who hate my fairies because they’re ugly and dumb, and so the dominant fairies stopped talking to them in middle school and refuse to share any of the hot brainstorms going around. So with or without fairies, I am basically screwed. If the devil stopped whispering in my ear every five minutes, I’d be completely out of the writing game.

Originally I wanted to blog tonight about Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s pornography article in The Atlantic, and to congratulate my friend Lang Fisher on the success of The Onion’s new show, but now Jesus is telling me to get in bed with my husband. Sweet dreams.

I am a good old-fashioned humanoid

Last night I finished Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim and began reading Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. When you really think about it, these two books are not so different. Yes they are. This blog post is off to a bad start. QUIZ! Which dreadlocked computer pioneer wrote the following excerpt, Conrad or Lanier?

As long as you are not defined by software, you are helping to broaden the identity of the ideas that will get locked in for future generations. In most arenas of human expression, it’s fine for a person to love the medium they are given to work in. Love paint if you are a painter; love a clarinet if you are a musician. Love the English language (or hate it). Love of these things is a love of mystery.

But in the case of digital creative materials, like . . . the World Wide Web, it’s a good idea to be skeptical. These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a medium made of software, there’s a danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s recent careless thoughts. Struggle against that!

Lanier thinks that current technology is inadvertently circumscribing our humanity, limiting users to behaving more like machines than people. A few months ago Zadie Smith followed up on this idea in The New York Review of Books:

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. In a way it’s a transcendent experience: we lose our bodies, our messy feelings, our desires, our fears. It reminds me that those of us who turn in disgust from what we consider an overinflated liberal-bourgeois sense of self should be careful what we wish for: our denuded networked selves don’t look more free, they just look more owned.

You guys understand what I’m getting at here, right? That I have a personal WordPress blog so I’m doing okay, but you, on the other hand, might not be? Good, glad to see we’re on the same page. You should now leave a lot of eccentric comments below or I will consider you further enslaved to the hive mind. This post is so 2010.

Speaking of not being a gadget, my friend’s comedian kid brother (Gidget?) has been messing with people on Craigslist forever. Here is Dregslist, his new website, a compilation of greatest hits.

JOHN DEERE JS46 LAWNMOWER, RUNS LIKE NEW (possibly haunted) – $30

I also like this lady who makes visual art on her typewriter, and this guy who crochets traditionally masculine objects like urinals and handguns. We should all do more crocheting of bullets and less shooting of bullets. Whoa, sorry for that political rant. You know what a crocheted bullet would look like? A tampon for Jared Lee Loughner’s vagina. And I’m out!

I wonder how long it’s going to take my little brother to realize I’ve been blogging about him

Whenever he runs into me in our mom’s house, he’s like, “Oh hey, Wistar. Where’ve you been? Blogging?” All sardonic. And the more I deny it, the more he insists that I blog 24 hours a day, every day of my life, for nameless people in Brooklyn. I told him he could join me and my friend Leslie for dinner tomorrow night and he’s like, “Why? So we can all talk about blogging? No thanks.” And lately he’s been alternating his blog taunting with literary taunting, like, “What you doing today? Writing one of your novels?” He is such a bully. If he knew Stephen Hawking, he’d be going up to him all, “Wassup, Hawking? You doing your hipster physics? You got yourself some theories? By the way, I like your oversized, retro, prescription eyeglasses” [hehe, high fives]. Our situation is exactly like that. Meanwhile my brother is at the gym “getting his swell on” for the spring season, so I shall make fun of him from my secret hiding place on the internet.

Baby brother, you stink and your hair is too long. You’re probably not even the hugest guy on the lacrosse team. P.S. Hurry home I’m making quesadillas.

It’s weird to see a cemetery through a Starbucks window

I’m at a Starbucks in Charlottesville and from where I’m sitting by the window I can clearly see the cemetery across the highway. Which is pretty weird, right? From this angle it looks as though all the cars exiting the shopping center are driving straight into the graveyard, maybe because the passengers just bought some cool stuff at Target that they’re now looking to deposit on some tombstones.

Yesterday I read about Mary Ellis’ grave, which is in a New Jersey parking lot. I don’t know which is better: to be buried in a beautiful, remote place where people trek once a year to pay their respects, or to be buried in the midst of a profane hustle and bustle where your death is acknowledged every day in between shopping lists and rearview mirrors. My dad is buried on his parents’ working farm, so he gets a lot of traffic: dogs and tractors and little brothers and delivery people and my grandmother passing by with her walking stick. That seems all right, but the minute someone installs a coffee kiosk next to the graveyard and people start pacing across the sacred earth, talking on their cell phones and chugging Americanos, I will lose my shit.

Items that I will gratefully accept on my shopping center tombstone:

1) Anything from the dollar bins near the entrance of Target – that’s usually pretty good stuff.

2) Starbucks skinny lattes poured out homeboy style, but please don’t leave the empties.

3) Bed Bath & Beyond 20% off coupons.

4) The giant pastries that Panera Bread employees like to give away at closing time.

5) Magazine subscription gift packs from Barnes & Noble, specifically for Lucky or another shopping-oriented periodical.

6) Anything from ABC.

Items that I will absolutely not accept:

1) McDonald’s chicken nuggets.

2) Blu-ray discs from Best Buy.

3) Anything from Gamestop. Nerds be trying to change me when I’m dead.

This thing still works

Even without me, the internet goes on. In fact, several of my friends have been writing on it. I give you:

Casey Plett! Dai George! Herpreet Grewal! Mary South! Barry Hannah (not actually my friend, but he seems like a wonderful man and I wish I had known him. Plus he scores major points in this interview by defending John Grisham, also not my friend (yet))!

For all the times when I can’t directly endorse the web’s existence with my bloggings, at least you have these other fine people to read online. No one said anything about second best. No one said that. That was just something you were thinking to yourself, but that’s really uncool of you. When, one day, god willing, I mature enough to be able to balance work and play, you will have your blog back. In the meantime my work is going down the toilet. This holiday break I’ve become so paranoid that I will never write fiction again that when I was sick in bed yesterday I refused to think about my novel for fear that I’d start associating it with my nausea and then whenever I wrote in the future I’d throw up. So that’s work. Play, on the other hand, seems equally doomed. On New Year’s Eve, play amounted to drinking wine with my mom until I tried to tickle her feet while she did floor exercises and she promptly kicked me out of her room (at 10:30PM). Last night I lay in bed listening to my 21-year-old brother and his friends play Monopoly for hours and the game sounded incredibly pure and wholesome until I decided that the whole posse must be on drugs. But then one has to wonder which drugs could possibly make Monopoly so fun? Methamphetamines? Steroids? It could be that I have lost touch with what is fun, which, come to think of it, people have been telling me forever. But I’d like to challenge my little brother to live a day in my shoes, to sit alone in front of a window, thinking about bon mots, sipping iced coffee because it contains less stomach-upsetting acid than hot coffee, periodically checking the internet for emails that never arrive, with no access to dice or plastic hotels or meth. HE WOULD BE CRIPPLED BY BOREDOM. And then I would . . . win?

See, this was fun. I should do this more often. Unfortunately I now have to figure out how to make a living as a writer, i.e., how to collect my $200 without having written a good novel, which is going to require more hard-looking out this window, maybe some lunch, definitely some websites.