To be or not to be

On one hand: some people might argue that posting only when I have something "important" or "thoughtful" to say would be the true path to righteousness, writing-wise.

On the other hand: write! every! day! say many other people. Writing begets writing and any way forward has to be marked with drafts and mistakes and general, plodding, quotidian dullness: the simple act of attending is all.

Aside: interesting semi-related theory:

My personal rule is that if you aren’t quite certain that a certain action will be good for you and the world, you shouldn’t do it. Do nothing, which is likely to be pleasant and unlikely to hurt anyone. Few atrocities have been committed by people lying in bed, whereas the urge to Do Something has led to serious catastrophe. Productivity is extremely dangerous.

On the other hand: here's Katrina Lenk performing "If I Were a Rich Man," which is your reward for showing up:

3 things for today

Like all writers, I don't get plot. I don't understand it, I don't like it, whenever I try to come up with it outside of a story, it makes me crazy. So one thing I've found is that if you spend a lot of time creating and then revising one of these voice-driven monologues, and really working with it as text, you know, trying to make it sing, what happens I think is that the lens gets very fine. And a very small tendency in the person as a character will sort of get heightened a little bit, and that's where plot comes from.

Linda Holmes wrote a beautiful piece on Anthony Bourdain yesterday, and in it she mentions that he had been one of her guides, along with Roger Ebert: someone who demonstrated for her how a life could be lived ("a guide to being, as to paraphrase John Muir, in the world rather than just on it"). George Saunders is this for me—a generous voice of calm and reason, as well as a gentle nudge, and a necessary reminder that there are many, many ways to be a writer.

2: I always walk out of a heist movie feeling taller and stronger and a little aggressive, like I'm tough enough to evade a police chase or punch a worthy perp in the chops and sail away with a cool million. Ocean's 8 is no great heist movie (nor a great movie period: objectively, it is not a very good movie), but it was great fun, and a heist movie, so I will let it pass. There's something about watching a group of confident, breezy hucksters perform utterly frivolous magic tricks on scandalously wealthy villains and/or corporate entities—and get away with it—that just really fires me up.

Serious query though: what's the difference between a heist and a caper? I feel it’s largely a matter of tone, or sensibility, but can't quite put my finger on the divide, only that capers feel more madcap, more screwball, more Cary Grant. More Muppet? That's my general theory, anyway; feel free to crowdsource this one amongst yourself.

3: I was reminded again this morning via SiriusXM's THE BRIDGE that sometimes the old joys are the best (as is SiriusXM's THE BRIDGE):

Words, recently

We haven't checked in on my list of favorite words lately, which is a shame. Everyone should keep a favorite list of something. What else do people love in the world, if not random words? Flowers, I suppose. Birds. Somebody has to love the birds. You may love superheroes or hoagies, I don't care. It doesn't matter—just love something stupid and frivolous with your whole great heart. 1980s soap operas! It can be something that means something to you and you alone, or something you only share with a blog. Just fave your life away.

p.s. I got a new phone last winter / surprise surprise / and had to re-download the Merriam-Webster app, which wiped the slate clean vis-à-vis my old list of favorite words. Life careth not, nor I: there are always new words to like. Thus is the magic of renewable resources! Somebody tell Scott Pruitt.

Also props to the adjectives, clearly. Every writing lesson I've ever sat through/read/thought about has been crystal fucking clear on the directive to KILL THE ADJECTIVES ("they encourage lazy writing," eschew surplusage, etc.) but alas. Adjectives (and exclams! & parentheses!) are the lifeblood in my vampire veins. I love them the way an artist loves paint, or clay, or light. Why would you cast away a tool, when sometimes it’s the only tool you need?

In order of "Newest," as of this a.m.:

redolent. adjective :: exuding fragrance; aromatic

sacrosanct. adjective :: most sacred or holy; inviolable

replete. adjective :: fully or abundantly provided or filled; complete [NOTE: I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral last weekend, and John Hannah describes Simon Callow as "replete" in his eulogy. M-D says the word also means "fat and stout," but I like to believe he means "complete" when he uses it. There is no better description for that character, who has relatively little screentime but is rich and fully drawn.]

fungible. adjective :: being something (such as money or a commodity) of such a nature that one part or quantity may be replaced by another equal part or quantity in paying a debt or settling an account [NOTE: this feels like a needlessly complicated definition]

axiomatic. adjective :: taken for granted; self-evident

redoubtable. adjective :: formidable; worthy of respect

shipwright. noun :: a carpenter skilled in ship construction and repair

stygian. adjective :: of or relating to the river Styx; extremely dark, gloomy, or forbidding

protean. adjective :: displaying great diversity or variety

catholic. adjective :: comprehensive, universal; broad in sympathies, tastes or interests [NOTE: see Sondheim, Stephen]

spiv. noun :: a man who lives by his wits without regular employment; slacker

riffraff. noun :: disreputable persons; rabble

flinty. adjective :: stern, unyielding [NOTE: see Something's Gotta Give]

revenant. noun :: one that returns after death or a long absence [NOTE: ick, like "The Monkey's Paw"]

elide. transitive verb :: to suppress or alter something by elision; to strike out; to leave out of consideration

rum: ??? [NOTE: I have zero memory of looking up this word]

Summer starts now


First: quasi-nautical dressing is my favorite kind of dressing, if you can carry it off. Please know who you are, or we all will pay the price.

Second: I don't care if Book Club is terrible. Mamma Mia! (mandatory exclam) is deeply terrible, yet I love it in any form and will be at the head of the line for Mamma Mia 2, 4evermore!! And here's Hunter Harris at NY Mag with a timely query: "Are you ready for the summer of Andy Garcia?":

Here are things I would like to do with Andy Garcia–as-Mitchell, in no particular order: Read a trashy YA romance on a lawn chair next to his pool (that’s not an innuendo for something — I don’t have access to a pool in New York, so that would be really cool and fun). Drink white wine on his pool’s inflatable swan. Speed walk through his (no doubt cavernous home’s) hallways, holding a Nokia 511, and flipping through leather folder full of “important papers,” like Andy Garcia-as–Terry Benedict did in the Ocean’s movies. This is not an exhaustive list.

Jesus christ, yes.

Most things in life are terrible. Most people are terrible, which you will know if you've ever met any, or stood in line behind them at a pharmacy on a Saturday afternoon. Which is why it's incumbent upon us, I feel, to gather ye rosebuds & Andy Garcias while we may. As Tim Carmody puts it in today's NOTICING newsletter, "The whole country is broken. Fun is harder to find all over. Yet somehow, we do what we can."

Harris again:

Andy Garcia gets at what’s best about Book Club, a movie about having fun and getting laid: He was hot back in the ’80s and then in the ’90s and then again in the 2000s, but he’s even hotter now in a more casual, “Yes, I actually can’t wait to turn 60 and drink wine with you” way.

Every movie should be about having fun and getting laid and drinking wine with 60-year-olds, as far as I'm concerned. Or dogs solving crimes. That's it. We need no other movies.

10 things for today

1. Sometimes when you start blogging you don't want to stop. I don't, that is. I'm guessing this has to do with the vast amount of time I spend alone these days, talking to myself.

2. At the end of every work day (4:30 pm CST) I walk down the stairs and tell myself "Take a nap, man," and then I do. It’s fucking glorious.

3. The worst song in the history of the world is "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones. Every time I hear it I want to rip my ears right off my head and FedEx them to Mick Jagger. Probably he'd think it was a compliment, though. Probably he'd think it was some crazy come-on. The last thing in the world I need is Mick Jagger showing up on my doorstep carrying my ears in a box. "Are these yours, mate?" Although how would I even know what he was saying. The second worst song is anything by that band that plays the flute. You know the one I mean.

4. One odd thing about my enormous apartment complex is that the buildings all have the same apartment numbers; only the building number is different. This means that frequently the Amazon person will leave a package for me outside the building next door, where I'll stumble across it three days later than expected, after calling the other Amazon people to ask repeatedly where is my package. Let's hope any shady characters I've crossed in the past who still have axes to grind make this same mistake.

5. In junior high and high school band, I played the flute. I was okay and all—1st chair!—but it's a deeply unpleasant instrument for anything other than carrying in a parade or easily stuffing into a backpack. I chose it because the pipes sat in front, orchestra-wise. My own particular patented brand of passive-aggressive narcissism runs bone deep.

6. The best instrument would be the violin or the cello or the oboe, imho, or anything that is the star of an Air Supply song. So what would that be? Piano? Fog horn? Balloons? Fax if you know the answer.

7. I've decided from this day forward I'm only going to read romance fiction. Everything else is garbage. (I kid, obviously, except for the part where I'm dedicating the remainder of my life to reading romance fiction.)

8. If someone wants to pay me to do nothing but describe the plots of old soap operas in blog form, I would be the happiest person alive. 

9. This post

10. These pictures

11. This twete

12. Nick Miller, Nick Miller. My secret pet theory is that Jake Johnson is the greatest actor who ever lived, based solely on the weird, specific, note-perfect character choices he made for the portrayal of this sweet, mad fool. One day I shall make my case to the public and we will all rejoice.

13. This new movie Book Club, I suspect, was made especially for me. Please, god, don't let Diane Keaton crap it up. Amen, Proust, Voltaire!

"The importance of you"

Nobody has the friends you have. Very few people live on your particular street or go to your particular coffee shop or bike along the same path as you. Nobody has your dog, your backyard, your weird toys or odd books. As it turns out, the most enduring form of originality is happening at the extremely local level. And this truth is changing the landscape of originality in photography. So, while drone images, travel photography, urban photography and celebrity portraits all feel cliché at this point, the individuality of one’s own private world of thoughts, values and passions are as fresh as ever.

Put this in your pipe & smoke it

This isn't a podcast blog or anything, but my (real yet imaginary) friends at Pop Culture Happy Hour paid tribute to Carl Kasell at the end of last week's episode, and somewhere in the course of things, Stephen Thompson said this:

Steve Inskeep on twitter had a great comment where he looked at Carl's Wikipedia page and it was broken down into two categories: "early career" and "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." And he was marveling at how "early career" summarized everything leading up to his spot on this game show. And first of all, you know, this is a towering career, and second of all, that our lives aren't automatically over because we've reached a certain age. We talk about this all the time, this idea that we peak in our teens or our twenties or our thirties or whatever. We can peak whenever life sorts itself out that way.

This isn't a self-help blog, either, it's just nice to remind yourself of certain things sometimes.

+ see also: be a kind person. People notice, and remember.

“You notice more and more”

I roll my eyes every time I start an "On Being" podcast, even though I'm grateful for it and am inevitably glad I listened. Some podcasts & hosts are almost too podcast-y, you know? The production values are slightly too polished, the voices a little too smooth. It's like a schtick sometimes, like a schmoozy Rat Pack Vegas number: they hit every single beat you expect them to and leave no room for chance. But my biases against “professionalism” are my own cross to bear, so I barrel through.

This week Krista Tippett interviewed another Irish poet (she loves Irish poets), Michael Longley, and near the end they had this conversation about revisiting familiar places:

KT: I want to ask you also about the mystery of place. And so, Carrigskeewaun is a cottage in County Mayo that you and your wife and family have gone back to it, I believe, for over many years. And you said something wonderful about the beauty of going back to the same place over and over again, that you notice more and more. It’s not that you exhaust a place; that you go more deeply into it.

MR. LONGLEY: Yes, it’s inexhaustible. Mind you, it is very beautiful, and it’s very remote. And we’ve been going there since 1970. And we carried our children through the river and through the channel, and now they come back over — such a compliment to my wife and me that the children want to spend time with us. And they come back, and they now bring their children, our grandchildren on their shoulders through this really quite tough terrain. Every time I leave, I think, “Well, there can be no more Carrigskeewaun poems. I’ve exhausted it.” But there always are poems, and the place is inexhaustible.

I mean, you know this — the phrase, “Travel broadens the mind.” We do quite a bit of traveling. But I think it also shallows the mind. But going back to the same place in a devoted way and in a curious way is a huge part of my life. And I’ll be going there even when they have to push me in a wheelchair.

Always interview Irish poets, is the point of this story. Also: a place is inexhaustible. I just like that frame of mind, the idea that love is the groove you wear into a thing.

Article of note

There's a new book out about my favorite religion:

One fine chapter covers swearing and gender. Research shows we are much more judgmental of women who swear than we are of men. “Sometime around the early eighteenth century there was a significant change in culture” — that is, in Western Europe and the Americas. The shift in language was power for men and purity for women. Women were expected to adopt a “clean” language, while men retained the right to swear and its power of expression: “Those insisting that women’s language should be pure managed to rip the most powerful linguistic tool out of the hands (and mouths and minds) of women for centuries.”


Happy to be stuck with you

This song was playing in our elevator lobby today when I left for lunch. It's a nice song, you should take 4:29 out of your harried schedule and listen to it. I mean really l-i-s-t-e-n to it, and then ask yourself: does anyone have a friendlier voice than Huey Lewis? Could there be a sweeter, more sensible, more grounded-in-reality sentiment on which to base both a relationship and a catchy mass-market mid-80s pop tune; i.e., sometimes success in love and life comes down to laziness? No. There couldn't. People should learn from Huey Lewis and his non-"news" News. Thanks.