I’ve never been much of an activity blogger. I mean, I participate in activities— I’m awake and breathing, all my parts operate—but “then we did blah blah blah" narratives aren’t really in my swim lane, since I have zero interest in plot and would rather cough up disconnected moments or “here are things I thought about while activities were going on around me" blog items instead. In blogland I function best as a passive observer, self-regarding, inward-facing, bellybutton-gazing. A plague on all your houses!
Here's what happened this week.
The song I listened to the most
I downloaded this Lori McKenna album a few moons ago but don't remember why, or who would have recommended it (Twitter, probably. NPR, the usual culprits.). Streaming services make it easy to cosign something without actually committing to anything, so I download all sorts of music I never actually get around to listening to. A real song hoarder, I am. But I gave this album some good attention this week and was rewarded, and then I went back to Apple Music and purchased it, which is the very least that musicians or artists or app makers or newsletter writers who reward us with their care and time and effort deserve. Support the people who make your days a little brighter or those who grease the gears even a little, that's all I'm saying. Over and over again.
In your chest there is a compass, in your blood there is a calling
And in your head there is a vision, you called that "the dream"
And leavin's part of it, if you didn't you might never know
Keep a Bible by your bed like headlights comin' up the road
Keeping a Bible by my bed seems like a good way to unintentionally invite unwanted specters or vengeance-seekers into the house, but the rest of it really rang true.
p.s. The woman who moved into my apartment in New York emailed earlier this summer to ask if I'd ever experienced any "ghostly encounters." Sadly I had to report that I'm not a person who operates on that frequency. Either that or my life was truly too boring to bother reaching through time and space and ectoplasm to interact with.
Some things I read
🔗 Another Joan Acocella piece! What a boon late summer has been, Acocella-wise. This one, a review of a new book on Louisa May Alcott and the enduring popularity of Little Women, ran in the New Yorker, and it contained many gems. Here are two:
Her father, Bronson Alcott (1795-1888), was an intellectual, or, in any case, a man who had thoughts, a member of New England’s Transcendental Club and a friend of its other members—Emerson, Thoreau.
There she is, my favorite master of asides, forever tucking sly burns inside a series of cheeky commas.
She ends with this:
Some people complain that university syllabuses don’t accord “Little Women” the status of “Huckleberry Finn,” which they see as its male counterpart. But no piece of literature is the counterpart of “Little Women.” The book is not so much a novel, in the Henry James sense of the term, as a sort of wad of themes and scenes and cultural wishes. It is more like the Mahabharata or the Old Testament than it is like a novel. And that makes it an extraordinary novel.
🔗 A John McCain tribute from Jon Lovett at Crooked Media:
He was complicated. He believed in America. He was big in a place filled with tiny tiny little fuckers.
So, again, to explain what you do on pause day: you lie around. You think, or you don’t think. It’s up to you. You take a moment. You sit in a chair and you know that at least, for the moment, nothing is happening. Everyone is pausing. It is not a day, technically, it is just a momentary shared presence. It’s a small pause. I think this would be good. Please donate to my pause day Kickstarter. Just kidding. But please sign my Change.org petition, just kidding. But please make Pause Day, if you are in a position to do so.
Something about soap operas
From Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera, which you can own in hardcover for 95 cents and enjoy for eternity:
Soap operas also share important connections between the distinctive ways they engage their audiences and the kinds of things they tend to be about. A complaint heard about soap operas wherever they are produced or watched in the world (made principally by those who do not watch them) is that we never see anything happen on soap operas, that all people do is talk and emote. That is, I would argue, in part a fundamental misunderstanding of the way soap operas, particularly open soap operas, work: what happens is not nearly so important as the effect of an action on relationships. But however widely this criticism misses the mark, it does point to a common feature among soap operas: soaps are about talk, and, as a consequence, much of what we see on soap operas around the world is people talking.
Of course theater—at least my favorite kind of theater, the wordy, shouty, smarty-pants Sondheim kind—tends to be much the same thing. Soaps are certainly "about" plot (Renata Adler, in the New Yorker, says they're "pure plot"), but plot only interests me to the degree that it reveals character. Otherwise I might as well be watching horses circling a track, or reading an Agatha Christie novel. Also worthy pastimes! Just not what I'm after with this project.
A clip from General Hospital
To wit: This clip includes a long interlude at 10:20 that's just Monica talking to her father-in-law Edward about how, five years into her marriage, she has become more of a Quartermaine than the Quartermaines (“cruel, avenging, wicked, truculent: ruthless”). The Quartermaines are all terrible people, it’s true.
Leading up to that, they are spying on her husband Alan through a telescope as he fights with his dumb mistress, Susan Moore, who Edward calls "Little Miss Muffet" because he knows she's not fit to be a Quartermaine. And she isn’t!
A blog post that's making me happy this weeK
I gather most of my entertainment news from Pop Culture Happy Hour, which ends every episode with a tally of "What's making us happy this week" from all its guests. Their answers usually involve music or movies or video games, while mine will be about blog posts.
My answer this week is this blog post from Martha Stewart where she had someone follow her cats around her Bedford, NY, home (aka the Winter House) and document their cat-like poses with a crappy camera. Where was Martha? you ask. In Maine with the dogs. It's summer, after all. The post is called "Summertime with My Cats," even though technically she is not with them.
In this post—which, like all of her posts, contains approximately 5,000 photos ("Martha Stewart knows how to embrace the mundanity of being alive and of blogging")—Martha offers commonsense tips like "I always cover the pets’ favorite resting spots with towels. Doing this keeps these areas extra clean, and extra cozy. This chair is in my smaller dining room." And then she ends it with an endearingly punctuated casual message to both her outdoor cat Blackie and her greater blog audience, encouraging further engagement. I have no doubts that Blackie and indeed all of Martha's cats are regular readers and frequent commenters on Martha's blog.
A dude on the train yesterday morning talked all the way from home base to Union Station. I choose to occupy the top deck of the train most days, since I like gazing down on America and her peoples from a position of withering scorn and dominance, and this fellow was seated across from me but in the corner, facing me, in one of those weird end seats that directly faces the seat in front of it, meaning he was uncomfortably (for my tastes) close to the person closest to him (this isn't going well, is it), who it seemed he was accompanying at any rate and who perhaps, therefore, didn't care.
I cared though. I cared enough for all of us, because this dude jabbered non-stop at his either willing or unwilling seatmate so loudly that I could hear him right through my headphones, which to me is an unforgivable sin at 7:46 in the morning. I kept hollering at him from inside my head, the same thing I always holler inside my head when people are loud in the wrong places, which is "Pipe down, chatty Cathy!" It'll lead to a brain aneurysm one day, I'm sure. But then it occurred to me that I shouldn't lay this at the feet of innocent Cathies so readily, that in my morning transit experience it is invariably the dudes who cannot keep their traps shut. "I'll bet this whole train will be interested in my opinions!" is how I imagine their self-talk goes. So I tried switching my own internal shouting monologue to "Pipe down, chatty Carl!" or "Zip it, stupid Steve!" neither of which proved satisfying. They're pretty lame actually, so I'm open to suggestions. Anything that will keep me out of prison.
Your weekly Bruce
Bruce salutes L-O-V-E, carnival-style, while wearing the protective armor of high-buttoned shirt, jacket/vest, and bolo tie that were hallmarks of this introspective and growth-oriented period in his life:
Btw here's a useful comment someone posted to this video four days ago: "Remember when he took up political causes in the 80s. The communist Chinese government murdered over 10,000 students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and he said nothing. Why didn't he sing for them. Silence is violence folks."
It's raining here again, obviously, the continual torrential downpours of a planet stripped of all its buffers. I plan to see a movie today, and pick up a few things at IKEA. Silence is violence, folks!