Last month, I spent two days shadowing a local veterinarian for a story. I don’t have any pets of my own and when I was a kid my mom always took care of our dogs’ vet visits, so even though Going To The Vet is a totally normal thing most people do, it was all totally new and foreign to me. One thing I learned about veterinarians is that they spend a not inconsiderable amount of time with their fingers up various animals’ anuses. I had never seen a dog or cat’s glands expressed before but now I have seen many. Many many many. You have perhaps never lived until you have looked into the eyes of an unsuspecting beagle as it gets its funky butthole squoze. And I don’t know if this is standard operating procedure, but this particular veterinarian, after she has done her rubber-gloved thing, reaches for a squirt bottle of store-brand Listerine. It helps clean up The Area and, via inevitable licking, freshens the animal’s breath. Brilliant! It was only a few days later that I realized the potential complications in my own personal life. Joe and I were getting ready for work one morning—me in the bedroom, him in the bathroom—when I was hit with a distinctly astringent waft that nearly brought me to my knees. I steadied myself and peeped into the bathroom, where Joe was re-shelving his bottle of store-brand Listerine, grimacing and swishing away. How many times will my freshly mouthwashed husband have to kiss me before I no longer associate the smell of his gingivitis-free gums with sad doggy eyes and sad doggy butts? I’ll keep you posted.
When life gave Ephron lemons, in other words, she made a giant vat of really good vodka-spiked lemonade and invited all of her friends and her friends’ friends over to share it, and gossip, and play charades. Whereas when life gave Joan Didion lemons, she stared at them for several months, and then crafted a haunting bit of prose about the lemon and orange groves that were razed and paved over to make Hollywood, in all of its sooty wretchedness—which is precisely what this mixed-up world does to everything that’s fresh and young and full of promise. — Bookforum | Heather Havrilesky, “Slouching Toward Neck Trouble”
Hello! Here are some reading event things I would like to tell you about.
This Friday, December 6, my good buddy Austin L. Ray is appearing at True Story! at Kavarna in Decatur at 8 PM. Other folks are also appearing but I don’t know them so I can’t vouch but, duh, this night is always fun and you will have fun if you come to it.
And then next Wednesday, December 11, I’m battling at Write Club Atlanta at the Highland Ballroom at 9 PM. My topic is “REAL” (narwhals may be involved). I’ve picked The Wren’s Nest’s KIPP Scribes as my honoree, should I emerge victorious. Many other good folks will be duking it out as well. There is… well, I almost said “there is a gong” but I don’t know if that’s actually true anywhere outside my own brain, but hopefully!
If you find yourself in Atlanta on either or both nights, you’d do well to stop by. Better than this grumpy lil doc, for sure.
This anxious double consciousness—it’s not me/it will be me—may be part of the price we pay for living with, and around, machines. Whenever we enter a moving vehicle, for example, or a plane, haven’t we always, already, in our minds, crashed and become corpses? Even before receiving our salty pretzels we see ourselves screaming and praying, falling through the sky, incinerated. And if we’re in that Warholian moment, everything else is false advertising. That’s another ongoing attraction of Warhol: whenever it’s strongly implied that we are going to live forever (almost every ad, TV show, and magazine—in-flight or otherwise—does this) we can think of Andy (who used the commercial language of these mediums) and know, deep in our naked selves, that it isn’t true. — The New York Review of Books | Zadie Smith, “Man vs. Corpse”
I guess there are lots of ways to get married. Some people marry someone they hardly know – which can work out, too. When you marry your best friend of many years, there should be another name for it. But the thing that surprised me about getting married was the way it altered time. And also the way it added a tenderness that was somehow completely new. To paraphrase the great Willie Nelson: “Ninety percent of the people in the world end up with the wrong person. And that’s what makes the jukebox spin.” Lou’s jukebox spun for love and many other things, too – beauty, pain, history, courage, mystery. — Laurie Anderson’s Farewell to Lou Reed
The Verge | The psychedelic and grotesque proto-GIFs of the 19th century (via)
Shoe review! These arrived at my house yesterday in a giant DSW.com bubble mailer that declared “HIGHLY ADDICTIVE CONTENTS INSIDE” which disgruntled me because for some wacky reason I thought I could perform the simple act of purchasing a much-thought-about pair of boots without being implicated in some garish stereotype of late-capitalist femininity. Perhaps because of this I was uncertain about the shoes last night, but after this morning’s walk/train-commute to work the verdict is THUMBS UP. The soles are hard in a pleasing way, the inside bits are not rubby, the eyes make a distant plasticky rattling sound so when I am walking it sounds like there is a kitten playing with a jingle-bell toy just off in the next room somewhere. I remain appalled by the idea of wearing them in the manner suggested here, but I guess it’s nice to know that’s an option. Overall they are the ideal combination of Cool 1995 (Angela Chase) and My 1995 (Laura Ingalls Wilder). My Little So Called Life On The Prairie. I approve of these shoes.
The year I was a freshman cheerleader I was reading 1984. I was fourteen years old then and failing algebra and the fact that I was failing it worried me as I would worry now if the Mafia were after me, or if I had shot somebody and the police were coming to get me. But I did not have an awful lot of time to brood about this. It was basketball season then, and there was a game nearly every night. In Mississippi the schools are far apart, and sometimes we would have to drive two hundred miles to get to Panola Academy, Sharkey-Issaquena, funny how those old names come back to me; we’d leave sometimes before school was out, not get home till twelve or one in the morning. I was not an energetic teenager, and this was hard on me. Too much exposure to the high-decibel world of teen sports—shrieking buzzers, roaring stomping mob, thunderous feet of players charging up the court—kept me in a kind of perpetual stunned condition; the tin-roof echo of rural gymnasiums rang through all my silences, and frequently at night I woke in a panic because I thought a player was crashing through my bedroom window or a basketball was flying at me, about to knock my teeth out. — Donna Tartt, “Team Spirit” (via)
Elliott Smith died ten years ago Monday. This fact means a lot of different things to a lot of different people; for me, it means that it has also been just about ten years since the first time I published a piece of “music writing,” which is not something I used to put quotes around but now increasingly feel the need to do. I had been writing about music and pushing it out into the world through LiveJournal entries and self-made webpages for years and years before October 2003, but there was something about a byline, even just in a tiny liberal arts college’s tiny weekly student newspaper, that changed how I thought about myself—as a writer, as a person. It would not be entirely accurate to say that I was an Elliott Smith fan at the time of his death; I was more familiar with his general belovedness than any of his albums. That week I went to one of my first newspaper staff meetings and when the Arts & Entertainment editor asked if anyone had story ideas I chirped something about Elliott Smith having died and that possibly meriting some kind of tribute. The idea wasn’t to write the story myself, because I didn’t think I deserved to write it myself; it had more to do, probably, with seeming cool (and useful, and smart) to the rest of the staff, these people who I thought were so cool—they were all upperclassmen and knew their way around campus and had long-standing in-jokes and knew how to put together a newspaper, all of these things I was desperate to fathom and have as parts of my own self. I figured they already knew that Elliott Smith had died and that one or more of them had a wrenching, heartfelt ode set to run—but (not that I would have recognized or copped to this at the time) I just wanted them to know that I knew, too. Shockingly, they did not know, not one of them. And so I found myself in the position of having to explain not only that this person had died, but who he was to begin with. I left the meeting with the assignment. What I wound up writing was maybe an ode, at most half heartfelt and probably only wrenching because I had no idea what I was doing but was trying so hard to know. The newspaper was print-only then so it’s not online now, and even though it’s probably sitting in an accordion folder at my house or my parents’ house I haven’t yet felt brave or stupid enough to go dig it out. Having said that, now I guess I have to. Anyway, I am feeling pretty great about not lobbying harder to digitize the newspaper once I crawled my way up to editor a few years later.
It’s not entirely a coincidence that this week, ten years after all that, I sent some emails to a couple friends and a couple editors telling them that I think I am going to take a break from “music writing” for a while. This is not the result of some fit of pique; I’ve been thinking about it for months now. And with all the stuff coming up about the tenth anniversary of Elliott Smith’s death, I was thinking about him and where I was then, and that first “real” thing I wrote, which now seems to have happened on the far side of a vast gulf. Music writing hasn’t been the core of what I “do” for years—not since I was at Paste, really, and even then it was not all I did—but for some time it was the main thing and the thing that, if anyone knew of me, they probably knew me for that. I have been described as “a music writer” more than any other kind of writer, and for some time I thought of myself primarily as one, even when I was writing (as I still do) about many other sorts of things. In part I never felt like shrugging off the title even when it seemed misapplied because it was something I had wanted for so long and for so long never thought I would actually be able to claim.
I’m not saying that the writer’s voice is always the highest standard; only that a lot of writers who are fine stylists and whose work I love wouldn’t make it past a contemporary copy editor armed with the Chicago Manual, including some of the greatest writers and stylists of the 19th and 20th century. It’s not as if we’re the French, with the Academy, striving to keep the language pure—fine to correct honest mistakes, but quite apart from questions of punctuation and grammar—of using punctuation and grammar for cadence—English is such a powerful and widely spoken language precisely because it’s so flexible, and capacious: a catchall hybrid that absorbs and incorporates everything it comes into contact with. Lexical variety, eccentric constructions and punctuation, variant spellings, archaisms, the ability to pile clause on clause, the effortless incorporation of words from other languages: flexibility, and inclusiveness, is what makes English great; and diversity is what keeps it healthy and growing, exuberantly regenerating itself with rich new forms and usages. Shakespearean words, foreign words, slang and dialect and made-up phrases from kids on the street corner: English has room for them all. And writers—not just literary writers, but popular writers as well—breathe air into English and keep it lively by making it their own, not by adhering to some style manual that gets handed out to college Freshmen in a composition class. — Donna Tartt