...looking back at an amazing 2005, and very much looking forward to a wonderful 2006. Wishing everyone lots of happiness, health, peace, and love.
And, most importantly, lots of truffles.
Thurs. Feb 17, 2011
Click for details and more dates »
Had to read Sam Lipsyte's Home Land, because everyone has been raving about it all year. And it's got a great premise -- a guy in his mid-thirties, writing in to his high school alumni newsletter to annouce that he's pretty much a failure at everything. Everything except writing brilliant, poignant paragraphs like this:
"Alas, my meager accomplishments appear pale, if not downright pasty, in comparison. I shudder at the notion of Doctor Stacy Ryson and State Senator Glen Menninger remarking on this update at some fund-raising soiree -- oh, the snickers, the chortles, the wine-flushed glances, and later, perhaps, the puppyish sucking of body parts at a nearby motor lodge. Shudder, in fact, is not quite the word for the feeling. Feeling is not quite the word for the feeling. How's bathing at knifepoint in the phlegm of the dead? Is that a feeling?"
Yes it is, and this book is very much like bathing in the bongwater of the terminally self-loathing, under threat of being swatted with a busted ping pong paddle. I guess you don't really need a plot when you've got a hook like this -- you can just take your loveable loser characters and wind them up and have them run around doing absurd things and talking like they're from a Wes Anderson movie -- and it works. The book really entertains. Narrator Lewis Miner recounts his days spent writing fake trivia for a cola company, hanging out with his stoner friend who may or may not have been ritually molested as a child, masturbating, smoking pot, and pining for his ex, with whom he nearly reconciles (the sex scene is my least favorite in the book, but I suppose everyone is entitled to their own revenge-fuck fantasy). He also negotiates a potentially violent love triangle between his ex-principal (an abject father/failure figure), an ex-classmate of his, and his friend's homicidal 12-step sponsor/dealer; deals with his relationship with his emotionally remote father; and sees the dark sides of his classmates' success at their twenty-year reunion, at which Wackiness definitely Ensues.
Overall, I found it to be funny and weird and smart. Is it the most emotionally cathartic, thrillingly-plotted book ever? Not, but it's still funny and weird and smart, and that equals three thumbs up from me.
...shitcanning the idea of the second book, for now.
I'm just having so much fucking trouble trying to write about a relationship that's become, by virtue of logistics, entirely one-sided, and completely shrouded in uncertainty. Nobody from Samantha's program will call me back, I haven't heard anything from her since she was admitted in October; I have no idea what the future of our friendship holds, and very little clue as to what the past really held.
This book, to me, is about a mystery: I meet this extraordinary girl at the shelter, I get very involved in her life, and then I discover that she may not be who I think she is.
AND THEN WHAT.
I DON'T KNOW.
It's a mystery, with no ending.
So how the fuck do I write it?
Goddamn it. It's such an interesting story, too. I want to know how it's going to turn out! It's all I talk about, still, for a year now -- Samantha, Samantha, Samantha. I'm actually a little sick of her. And I would like to go to work and not have to think about her; I would like to do anything and not have to think about her.
Su Doku, anyone?
But of course I'm not going to "shitcan" anything, of course I'm going to write a proposal and then a book -- a really honest, funny, bizarre, unbelievable, profound, loving book, about craziness and therapy and surrogate mother/daughterhood and emotional self-salvation -- about me and Sam.
Just...not, like, tonight or anything.
Tonight, I'm allowing myself to think about what I'd write next if it wasn't going to be the book about Sam. There was the revenge plot I was thinking about last spring, where two women swap ex-boyfriends, and pull a kind of In The Company Of Women thing on the men. Then I was thinking, I should go on Craig's list right now and post an ad, asking women if they have an ex they want revenge against and offering my services for swap. See if I got any takers, how many, what they were game for. I bet I'd get five insane, solid bids/offers overnight.
Theoretically, there could be a whole underground economy of revenge, where I...er, a hypothetical evil main character/narrator not at all based on me...would find myherself deluged with requests, then acting as sort of a filter/broker among all these disgruntled, humiliated women, deciding whose gripes are really actionable, and exactly how the dismantling of the ex-boyfriends' personal life should unfold, pairing women with their "evil twins," which is what switch partners would be called. I can see the relationship between two switch partners getting interesting, too. And of course the biggest switch of all would be the one the narrator was saving for her own ex, the one who inspired her to post on Craig's list from a public computer late one night, the man who was responsible for this whole POST-FEMINIST NIGHTMARE ORGY OF HELLFURY AND SCORN!
Or, I could do the other idea, where I eat a lot of candy and describe each piece lovingly. The experience for the reader is like she or he is eating candy. Who wouldn't want to reread that book again and again? I'm going to research it right now.
I've discovered online Su Doku.*
And OH MY GOD will someone please come chop my arm off at the shoulder so that I will stop playing this FUCKING GAME.
Unless you want my next month's worth of posts to read "194627583 972153684 263718945." WHICH THEY WILL. And then you'll all be exhorted to buy my new book, entitled WHERE DOES THE MOTHERFUCKING TWO GO.
The thing is, as with jigsaw puzzles, I am both soothed and incredibly agitated by the solving process. Probably because I only allow myself to spend time on them in order to stimulate and relax various parts of the brain; I tell myself it's freeing my subconscious and enhancing my creativity. So then I'm constantly checking in with myself to see if I've entered an alpha state or thought anything revolutionary or have achieved some new perspective. And I haven't.
I HAVE MERELY PLAYED AN HOUR AND 45 MINUTES OF SU DOKU.
That's it! No emotional revelations. No inspiration for poems. Nothing but a stiff neck and a jiggling leg, and a new score of 9 minutes and 11 seconds for an easy level puzzle. And the nagging suspicion that I should be smarter than I am.
Very fucking relaxing!
(* NOTE: Click here and you will be VERY VERY SORRY YOU DID.)
So, it's been a decent holiday season -- some happiness, some strife, some unbelievably great presents. I am also three pounds heavier than I was last week, and there's still a plate of cookies in the fridge, along with the brownies I made, which are technically supposed to be gifts for other people, but if those other people don't come over and get them soon, I will not be responsible for the fact that I ate them.
As we move towards the new year, I am thinking of resolving a few things:
Post less, write in notebook more
Restrict amount of time I spend online
Keep volunteering at the shelter; STOP volunteering for other time-consuming stuff
Make fewer lunch/after-work dates, even with people I honestly love
Perhaps seclude self on distant island for six months? But only with teleportation capabilities so I can see Bill and the cats every night.
Or, move to island with Bill and cats? With teleportation so I can see easily my folks?
Obviously, I haven't got it all worked out yet.
But writing this just reminded me to go dig in my archives for the list of resolutions I drew up for New Year's 1999 with a dear girlfriend. The list reads:
No defending or explaining myself when unnecessary.
No humoring people because it's easier than the truth, because it's not.
No sex unless I absolutely want it.
Be brave and keep breathing.
Don't ever feel trapped.
Huh. Or I guess I could just go with those again.
So I keep alluding to this very happy-making starred review, which happens to begin with the phrase:
"Post-feminist blogger and BUST columnist Janice Erlbaum..."
Which is funny, to me, because I never think of myself as "post-feminist;" I identify as "feminist." And I know that word smacks of racism and classism to some people, because of the history of the second-wave women's movement and everything, but I haven't found a better one to describe the theory that women are as important as men., so that's the term I use.
And...what the hell does "post-feminist" mean, anyway? That I'm "over" feminism, that I'm "past" it? That I'm not "that kind" of feminist, the stereotyped fusty kind of feminist, who pretty much never existed? That I'm "third-wave," because of when I was born, and everyone born after 1969 is automatically "post-feminist," because we were born into a time after the advent of feminism, and therefore don't remember life before it? Or does it, as Wikipedia suggests, connote "post-modern feminism," which is supposed to invove a whole new approach to gender?
I don't understand the term "post-feminist;" I don't think anybody does -- much like the term "feminist," it's unclear. It's been adopted by a lot of right wing anti-feminists; it's also been adopted by pro-porn feminists -- people who could not be further aside on the political debate, using the same term. I don't like it, because it implies that straight-up feminism is over, tired, denied to me by dint of birth, not good enough, irrelevant, and completely homogenous, so that anyone who doesn't toe some invisible "feminist party line" is somehow defining themselves in opposition to it.
But I don't think the reviewer was thinking any of that -- I think the reviewer probably meant "young feminist who curses a lot." Or, "person associated with BUST," which many people think of as "post-feminist" because of all the dildo talk. I am not in any way ungrateful for what the reviewer said; I think they were operating under an easy-to-make assumption that, because of my age and relative penchant for contrary bluntness, I am not one of those mythical crochet-vest-wearing, goddess-invoking, spelling-of-the-word-"woman"-changing, chamomile-and-cat-hair feminists who run Traditional Feminism from a lesbian separatist farm secretly operating underneath the Ms. offices.
And I'm not! Not yet, anyway, damn it. I keep waiting for them to process my application. But maybe I'll get to be one someday, if you all don't blow up my spot by calling me a post-feminist!
OKAY, so that's the first word of the review, now please note that THE SECOND WORD, the primary noun attached to my identity, is now "blogger."
I AM "A BLOGGER!"
I mean, what is the first thing you think of when you think of "a blogger"? Someone with one finger up their nose and the other down their pants, trolling the internets for nuggets of self-affirmation? I ONLY DO THAT PART OF THE TIME! I mean, I have a blog, but that doesn't make me...A BLOGGER, does it? An over-informed, emotionally desperate, socially useless meta commenter, bloating the infosphere with my redundant gases? One of "those people"? I think "bloggers" are up there with "Fabian Basabe" and "child molesters" in terms of public levels of contempt. And again, I know people who have blogs, but none of them introduces themself at a party by saying, "I'm a BLOGGER!"
IT JUST SOUNDS TOO MUCH LIKE "BOOGER" TO ME.
Third thing (and I know I'm coming off as a picky asshole, which I am am am, three times over): In this mostly accurate recap of the events of the book, the reviewer notes, "...Bored, insecure, sometimes simply nihilistic, the attractive redhead used her feminine wiles and generous endowment to become the school slut."
Ech-hem! "The school slut?" Well...okay! Kind of true! Though I think there were a few other girls doing pretty much exactly what I was doing -- I was probably in the running for the title! I might even have been a favorite. And still -- it sort of sucks to be called "a slut" as much as it ever did, I guess. Despite the recent "reclaiming" of that word by younger feminists, it's still widely used as an insult. It can count against you in court if you're raped. It makes people question your judgment and sanity. It makes them pity you a little bit, I think. Once, I used it in reference to myself, in a poem I performed at slams, "The Slut of Pascack Valley High," an outraged, hyperbolic rant about the rumors people spread about me during a brief stint at a New Jersey school. It was one of the angriest pieces I ever wrote, and I write a lot of angry pieces.
But as a feminist who curses a lot, and is blunt, and has used the term in reference to herself, aptly at times, I can't complain, and I don't want to. I wrote a whole book about drugs and promiscuity! Except...I wasn't trying to brag.
Anyway, I should reiterate again, for all kinds of reasons, that I totally understand the reviewer's choice of words, and am nothing less than thoroughly delighted and grateful for the very positive review, as well as for the opportunity to see myself through someone else's eyes. My new business card's going to say, "Janice Erlbaum: Post-feminist blogger slut!"
Tonight, after five months, I finally went back to the shelter.
It was like I'd never left, natural as oatmeal. Said hello to the counselors, who welcomed me back; sat down in the lounge and started unpacking the beads. Within five minutes, I had three girls sitting down with me, talking, shooting the shit. Within ten minutes, I had eight.
And I'm not going to write about the girls I met tonight, except to say that they remind me of other girls I've known in the past -- the Dominican girl prejudiced against "them Carribeans;" the wry, ballcapped butch with the gallant manners; the girl with the fresh tattoo on her neck: PROPERTY OF JOSEPH. Girls like that. And the new rap, homegrown at the shelter, which they performed to each other:
Sorry boys, I don't play that way...
It goes on and on, and I'm loving every line of it, trying to memorize the whole thing as it unspools. At the end, I applaud.
I tell them, "I'm going to write all that down and take credit for it."
It's strange -- I spent the past few months dreading my eventual return to volunteering, wishing I didn't feel narratively obliged to go back, wondering petulantly, Haven't I done enough? I mean, aren't I off the hook by now? I did the "giving" thing, the "volunteering" thing -- now I'm doing the "recharging" thing. The "resting" thing. I said to my shrink on Monday morning, "I don't want to go back. I feel overloaded as it is." And then Monday evening, I suddenly thought, I should go back this Wednesday.
It was my favorite kind of night, where the girls are really respectful and open and mellow. They're not all like this, I know, but this one was. I'm exhausted, but I'm happy. Tonight, at least, I'm glad I went back.
Folks, I am delighted to be a part of the next edition of Heeb Storytelling, brought to you by the good Jews over at Heeb Magazine.
Thursday, January 5, 7pm
Joe's Pub, 425 Lafayette Street
Tickets $15, available at the box office, through Telecharge, or here.
Heeb Magazine brings you another round of Storytelling: part cabaret, part Catskills, and guaranteed to be a fearlessly funny evening of 7-minute stories by Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm); Michael Showalter (Stella, Wet Hot American Summer); Adam Lowitt (Daily Show, Saturday Night Live); Janice Erlbaum (comedian, author of upcoming memoir Girlbomb); Shayna Ferm (comedian, musician); Emma Forest (novelist); hosted by stand-up extraordinaire Matt Goldich.
Come one, come all, Jew and goy alike, and we'll get a drink someplace not too annoying after the show!
I was walking down West Eleventh Street earlier today, thinking about new clothes and how much I want them, but how it doesn't matter what I wear anyway if I'm too lazy to get my hair cut or do anything cute with it, or at least wear something besides the same pair of sneakers seven days a week; and I was looking at the sidewalk in front of me when the man and woman coming towards me stopped, and the man said, in a very welcoming, sincere voice, "Hello."
I looked at him, and it was Isaac Mizrahi, who I've kind of loved ever since I saw Unzipped back in '95. He has lovely brown eyes, which made direct contact with mine, and a handsome, open face, and confident posture. "How are you?" he continued.
And for a minute, it seemed almost natural to me, that he and I would have occasion to speak. Of course! I just got a starred review in Kirkus Reviews, he probably wants me to come on his talk show! He probably wants me to be his short, dumpy muse! I want to talk to him, now that we're conversing; I like the way his head is tilted and the muscles around his eyes are relaxed, it feels like he's really ready to listen to me. Or maybe we could collaborate! I could tell him, it was right after seeing his movie ten years ago that I had that famous dream, that epic, wonderful dream where I was at a big fancy dinner with Sandra Bernhard and Roseanne, and Madonna was on her way, and I made a Marla Maples joke, and Roseanne and Sandra both barked with laughter. Then Roseanne looked me in the eye, and she said seriously in her flat, nasal voice, "You're really funny. You could be one of us some day."
But I am not Roseanne today, or Sandra Bernhard, or anybody else that Isaac Mizrahi knows.
"I'm not the person you're thinking," I say, smiling, and I start to walk on. "But I'm fine, thanks."
A teacher in Afghanistan is murdered at the school gates because he taught female students. I bet those girls never forget the lessons they learned from him.
Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth lost both her legs in combat; now she's running for Congress. Or not "running," per se -- as Duckworth says, "Amputees fall down a lot -- it's just the nature of being an amputee...I'm learning to tuck and roll really well."
New world's worst knock knock joke: "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Gynecologist rapist!"
The Violence Against Women Act is renewed, to the tune of about 800 million bucks a year. That's enough to buy everyone their own copy of The Gift of Fear!