Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Was this our 22nd wedding anniversary present to each other?


I really, REALLY wanted to give him his anniversary card in an envelope labeled "Clue Number One," but I restrained myself.

not about you

I kept remembering something Michael Fertik had said to me at the Village Pub in Woodside. 'The biggest lie,' he said, 'is "The Internet is about you." We like to think of ourselves as people who have choice and taste and personalized content. But the Internet isn't about us. It's about the companies that dominate the data flows of the Internet.'

- Jon Ronson, So You've Been Publicly Shamed

Monday, March 30, 2015

Aspiration is not the same as ambition. Ambition forgets mortality; old writers never do. Ambition wants a career; aspiration wants a room of one’s own. Ambition feeds on public attention; aspiration is impervious to crowds. 

....Old writers were spared (by the nonexistence of such things) the institutionalization of creative writing M.F.A. programs in the universities, taught by graduates of M.F.A. programs — a cycle of M.F.A. students becoming M.F.A. teachers teaching M.F.A. students who will in turn become M.F.A. teachers: a Möbius strip of job-­manufacture.

- Cynthia Ozick

Friday, March 27, 2015

There was, of course, even for Conrad's Lord Jim, no running away. The cloud of his special discomfiture followed him like a pup, no matter what ships he took or what wildernesses he entered. In the pathways between office and home and home and the houses of settled people there are always, ready to snap at you, the little perils of routine living, but there is no escape in the unplanned tangent, the sudden turn.

- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times
and NOW, I have the flu, a fever, a sinus infection AND an ear infection! IT'S LIKE SOME KIND OF BODY HORROR BINGO

//just waits for Sam to fly me into the sun

Thursday, March 26, 2015

John Edgar Wideman, Paris Review interview

There’s a phrase that comes up in a lot of your books: “All stories are true.” What do you mean by that, and how does it relate to your work?

The source of that phrase is Chinua Achebe, and Achebe’s source is Igbo culture, traditional West African philosophy, religion, et cetera. It’s an Old World idea and it’s very mysterious. Rather than say I understand it, let’s say I’ve been writing under the star or the question mark of that proverb for a long time and I think it’s something that challenges. You peel one skin and there’s another skin underneath it—“all stories are true.” It was a useful means to point out that you don’t have a majority and a minority culture, you don’t have a black and a white culture—with one having some sort of privileged sense of history and the other a latecomer and inarticulate—you have human beings who are all engaged in a kind of never-ending struggle to make sense of their world. “All stories are true” then suggests a kind of ultimate democracy. It also suggests a kind of chaos. If you say, Wideman’s an idiot, and someone else says, No, he’s a genius, and all stories are true, then who is Wideman? It’s a challenge. A paradox. For me it’s the democratic aspect of it that’s so demanding, and it’s been a kind of guide for me in this sense. I know if I can capture certain voices I heard in Homewood—even though those people are not generally remembered, even though they never made a particular mark on the world—at certain times and in certain places and in certain tones those voices could tell us everything we need to know about being a human being.

If you use your imagination a little bit and think of dance or music as story, then those too fall under the spell of that phrase.

movies seen in 2015

I used to do this on LJ (not very regularly) and I miss doing it, so here we go. Lots of these are rewatches, but I'm too lazy to separate those out.

Captain America
The Winter Soldier
Iron Man 2 (solely for Black Widow; it was GODAWFUL)
Jupiter Ascending (in the theatre, pretty rare for me)
Guardians of the Galaxy (sheer fucking genius)
Sunshine (2007)
A Scanner Darkly
Chameleon (2010)
Impostor (2012)
Contagion (2011)
Gone Girl (ROBBED for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Everything)
I have the flu, I have a fever, there's a cement mixer and a circular saw (? -- some kind of horrible whining droning saw-thing, I don't know what the fuck it is when it's at home) about thirty feet away from my bedroom window, and Terry Pratchett is still cracking me up with Weaver the thatcher and Carpenter the tailor.

Now that's the real magic.


*yes, I had a motherfucking goddamn flu shot

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Depression," Jim Hines

- Depression lurks in the corner.

- Depression waits for an opening.

- Depression is exhausting.

- Depression has little patience for others, and even less for you.

- Depression remembers every mistake, real and imagined.

- Depression is afraid of change.

- Depression is “fine.”

- Depression teaches you to lie.

- Depression is ashamed of you.

- Depression is forgetful.

- Depression doesn’t want you to go out tonight.

- Depression thinks you deserve it.

- Depression tells you not to talk about it.

- Depression is abusive.

- Depression is seductive.

- Depression disguises itself.

- Depression is always tired.

- Depression thinks you’re weak.

- Depression wants you to read the comments.

- Depression doesn’t care about the good things that happened yesterday.

- Depression expects you to fail.

- Depression doesn’t believe things will get better.

- Depression is overwhelmed.

- Depression wants you to think you’re the only one.

- Depression knows you more intimately than any lover.

- Depression is a glutton, and depression can’t stand the thought of food.

- Depression demands perfection.

- Depression undermines success, and magnifies failure.

- Depression is comfortable.

- Depression is a bully.

- Depression lies.


"Living," Jason Shinder

Just when it seemed my mother couldn’t bear
one more needle, one more insane orange pill,
my sister, in silence, stood at the end
of the bed and slowly rubbed her feet,
which were scratchy with hard, yellow skin,
and dirt cramped beneath the broken nails,
which changed nothing in time except
the way my mother was lost in it for a while
as if with a kind of relief that doesn’t relieve.
And then, with her eyes closed, my mother said
the one or two words the living have for gratefulness,
which is a kind of forgetting, with a sense
of what it means to be alive long enough
to love someone. Thank you, she said. As for me,
I didn’t care how her voice suddenly seemed low
and kind, or what failures and triumphs
of the body and spirit brought her to that point—
just that it sounded like hope, stupid hope.

líexte se léoma ofer landa fela

In these festivities tonight in your Blue Hall, we honor the vitality of this great tradition, not just the few of us fortunate to receive its bounty. For those whose exploits are being sung here, Grendel is a symbol for other dangers (as doubtless he has always been): for disease and ignorance, for human greed and brutality. As Mike Bishop and I listen to your praise and music, accept your art and gold, and enjoy your food, drink, and good company, we recognize that, unlike Beowulf at the hall of Hrothgar, we have not slain our enemy, the cancer cell, or figuratively torn the limbs from his body. In our adventures, we have only seen our monster more clearly and described his scales and fangs in new ways - ways that reveal a cancer cell to be, like Grendel, a distorted version of our normal selves. May this new vision and the spirit of tonight's festivities inspire our band of biological warriors to inflict much greater wounds tomorrow.

- Harold E. Varmus, Nobel banquet speech, 1989

a view from the front line

....Michael Lerner likens cancer to a parachute jump, without a map, behind enemy lines. There you are, the future patient, quietly progressing with other passengers towards a distant destination when, astonishingly, (Why me?) a large hole opens in the floor next to you. People in white coats appear, help you into a parachute and – no time to think – out you go. Aaaiiiieeeee!

If you’re lucky the parachute opens. You descend. You hit the ground. You crawl upright. You are surrounded by a thick fog through which a crowd of dimly discernable figures call and gesture ‘Here! This way!’. But where is the enemy? What is the enemy? What is it up to? Is it here, behind this bush? Over there? Near? Far? And which way is home? No road. No compass. No map. No training. Is there something you should know and don’t?

The white coats are far, far away, strapping others into their parachutes. Occasionally they wave but, even if you ask them, they don’t know the answers. They are up there in the Jumbo, involved with parachutes, not map-making.

It is true that recently some of the parachute-makers have been asking new questions which may revolutionise the process: monoclonal antibodies; oncogenes; vaccines; DNA – all this research may lead us someday to a cure or cures, or at least delays and surer remissions. But can you promise me the magic parachute in a year? In two? In five?

Meantime I am down here in the war zone, trying to figure out my map.

suddenly my inbox is filling up

....A chemotherapeutic poison was a poison was a poison, and one did not need to understand a cancer cell to poison it. So, just as a generation of radical surgeons had once shuttered the blinds around itself and pushed the discipline to its terrifying limits, so, too, did a generation of radical chemotherapists. If every dividing cell in the body needed to be obliterated to rid it of cancer, then so be it. It was a conviction that would draw oncology into its darkest hour.

- The Emperor of All Maladies


//reads on

"organ bouquets" Mary, mother of God

"In the early days, among the first doctors to encounter and treat AIDS patients were oncologists....the first clinic to be organized for AIDS patients was thus a sarcoma clinic"


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

two quotes from a Margaret Atwood interview

I tell people that I feel that Oryx and Crake is quite hopeful because people are still alive at the end of it compared with what we might end up doing. Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you're assuming that someone will be around to (read) it.


What other recent science fiction have you enjoyed? Have your tastes in science fiction changed at all over the years, particularly as you've written it?

I'm a big fan of Blade Runner. Mister [Ray] Bradbury, indeed, is an early read of mine, and very important...I'm a big fan of this book called Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban.
I'm not sure that I have any taste. I'm a ubiquitous reader. I am the person who will read the airline magazine on the plane if there is nothing else to read. I'm interested in it all.

the inevitable point in any anti-AA article

If I had a big glass of wine for every time I'd ever heard this, I....still wouldn't have as much wine as I washed my liver pancreas* with back when I was actively drinking, probably. ANYWAY. It's this moment:

The whole idea made Jean uncomfortable. How did people get better by recounting the worst moments of their lives to strangers? Still, she went. Each member’s story seemed worse than the last: One man had crashed his car into a telephone pole. Another described his abusive blackouts. One woman carried the guilt of having a child with fetal alcohol syndrome....She couldn’t relate.

And it always just makes me go //EYEROLL FOR FUCKING EVER, because that attitude is just I'm not like them, I'm not that bad, they're nothing like me. THAT'S THE WHOLE DAMN POINT OF AA. YES, YES YOU ARE LIKE THEM. We are all like each other. The point is empathy. The whole enormous creaking arguably messed-up enterprise started with two drunks talking to each other. That's it! That's all it really is. For wherever two or three are gathered together in Dr Bob's and Bill W's names, there AA is. All the rest is fucking window dressing, cafeteria choices, a la carte, however you choose to phrase it.

Is AA perfect? No. (Is anything? Sorry to break it to you, but no.) Is it surrounded by a shitload of myths and eternally brightsided and is there a lot of cargo cult nonsense all around it and do people have blind faith in it? Sure. Does the same thing happen with MEDICINE, both alternative and allopathic? Betyourass.

(Amy Lee Coy, the author of the memoir From Death Do I Part: How I Freed Myself From Addiction, told me about her eight trips to rehab, starting at age 13. “It’s like getting the same antibiotic for a resistant infection—eight times,” she told me. “Does that make sense?” -- Dude, you don't even want to fucking hear HOW MANY TIMES I was put on an antidepressant, it didn't work, I was put on MORE of it, then taken off it and put on something else, and then got "Well let's try the first one that didn't work, just in case it does now!" This approach is not limited to AA. FFS. And addiction is all ABOUT relapse. Yeah yeah I've heard stories from people in AA about how they went to a meeting and saw the light and were instantly free and whatever. They're nice stories. They're not everyone's experience. They're not even most peoples' experience. It would be nice if it was, just like it would be nice if the first antidepressant I ever took, back in 1994 or so, had fixed me. But it didn't. Because it couldn't.)

It's such an American article, too -- look, it's Science! There's a pill! All that humiliation and need for discipline and facing up to your inner demons can just be medicated away! WE ARE ALL BETTER, THERE IS A CURE. Praise Jesus Christ, M.D. Talk about signs and motherfucking wonders, indeed.

*All those years, I was terrified for my liver! I feared cirrhosis! Apparently my liver is made out of battlship iron. But on the other hand, at the age of forty-four, now my pancreas is so calcified it apparently resembles a giant tooth. I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, &c &c.

song of the day

Where are your friends tonight? 
Where are your friends tonight? 
Where are your friends tonight? 

 If I could see all my friends tonight 
If I could see all my friends tonight 
If I could see all my friends tonight 
If I could see all my friends tonight

reading about cults always makes me think of this*

When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.
Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.
The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die.

- John 4:47-49 KJV

*I also always think of a Latin phrase a friend of mine came up with which I used to tell the Jews for Jesus when they ambushed me at every street corner back when I worked downtown in the early 00s: "Nihil curo de ista tua stulta superstitione" (I'm not interested in your dopey religious cult).

Monday, March 23, 2015

from 'A Death on Diamond Mountain'

Each age had its own Buddhism, every ruler, scholar, emperor, and scribe adding their own perspective and twist on the ancient knowledge. The Buddhism of today is no different....The traditions that are taught (in the US) come from all across Asia and span millennia, and yet we absorb them as if they were a unified whole, mixing together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism, and any other seemingly distant "Eastern" faith. The way we reassemble the spiritual practices of the East says a lot more about contemporary America than about their point of origin.

- Scott Carney

Sunday, March 22, 2015


“...Remember, never take no cut-offs and hurry along as fast as you can.”

Virginia Reed, Donner Party survivor

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Q: Say, how's Emperor of Maladies going?

A: The subject matter is SO FUCKING GRIM I took a break halfway through and to lighten up I'm reading a book about a fucking crazy fake Buddhist cult instead. Just reading about people enduring chemo wards makes me feel like I'm getting punched in the ventricles. It's also bringing back bad, bad memories of hanging out in ERs and ICUs and recovery rooms. FUN.

(Also, yes, gripping topic and all that, but OY VEY, Siddhartha Mukherjee couldn't write his way out of a wet paper bag with the bottom ripped open. This won the Pulitzer? And it's not a biography of cancer, per se, but of cancer treatment. Yes, there's a pretty big difference.)

"Castalian Spring," Seamus Heaney

Thunderface. Not Zeus’s ire, but hers
Refusing entry, and mine mounting from it.
This one thing I had vowed: to drink the waters
Of the Castalian Spring, to arrogate
That much to myself and be the poet
Under the god Apollo’s giddy cliff—
But the inner water sanctum was roped off
When we arrived. Well then, to hell with that,
And to hell with all who’d stop me, thunderface!
So up the steps then, into the sandstone grottoes,
The seeps and dreeps, the shallow pools, the mosses,
Come from beyond, and come far, with this useless
Anger draining away, on terraces
Where I bowed and mouthed in sweetness and defiance.

Friday, March 20, 2015

the road runner must stay on the road

the PEN longlisted books


Steve's sketchbook

To name an illness is to describe a certain condition of suffering -- a literary act before it becomes a medical one. A patient, long before he (sic) becomes the subject of medical scrutiny, is, at first, simply a storyteller, a narrator of suffering -- a traveler who has visited the kingdom of the ill. To relieve an illness, one must begin, then, by unburdening its story.

- The Emperor of All Maladies

ETA Just a few pages on, a quote from a surgeon on eighteenth-century mastectomies: "To perform the operation, the surgeon should be steadfast and not allow himself to become discomforted by the cries of the patient."

Thursday, March 19, 2015


LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge (Live at Madison Square Garden)

The day this song does not just repeatedly crack my shit up until at the end I can barely breathe, I will truly be dead. (The Sonics! Fuck yes!)