Thursday, August 19, 2010

Think Tank for Human Beings in General - Jordan Castro/Richard Wehrenberg Jr

Can someone please tell me the difference between a "chapbook" and a "zine?"

Jordan Castro sent me this chapbook after I commented on his prize-winning entry into Tao Lin's contest. My entry is here His is here In it, he reviewed my essay and gave it high marks and I thanked him. I think it was the first time anyone ever reviewed anything I wrote on the internet. He sent me a chapbook for explaining that Dakota Fanning was not in The Sixth Sense.

That movie came out in 1999, and I think he was about 7 then, and perhaps its "twist" has been ruined by everyone in the intervening 11 years so now it is no longer quite the "best picture" event that it was then. Plus, M. Night Shyamalan's cultural cache drops with each new film he makes (though everyone seems to think he "may turn it around with this one..."), though I assume that NYU is still proud to have him as one of their more successful recent graduates.

This is the grand finale, the electrifying conclusion if you will. Please note that Bob Pollard broke up GBV on 12/31/04, and now, no more than 5 1/2 years later, they are already doing reunion shows. Flying Houses will be silent for a while, but this is not the end.

In my essay on Tao Lin, I began by stating how I embarrassed myself by a certain comment on his blog made perhaps 4 1/2 years ago about all of the zines I published at NYU while we were both there. I first became aware of zines my freshman year and I put out my first zine my sophomore year. It was entitled "Xenophobia," which was probably not as original as I thought. It was about 16 pages long. There was a poem in it about "almost" getting mugged. There was an essay about meeting 3 celebrities in New York City (Thurston Moore, Carson Daly, and Janeane Garafalo, though I did not technically meet her). I think there was a poem about smoking a cigarette on bleachers in an empty schoolyard near my parent's house during one of my holiday breaks. I don't remember what else was in this zine. I sold these zines for $1.00 out of a milk crate in Washington Square Park and gave out a complimentary kiss to anyone that wanted it. I gave a copy to my creative writing teacher from the summer session of 2002, Paul Gacioch, who was an instructor that I think was about 24 then and obtaining his MFA and trying to get his first novel published. I am going to Google him now and see if he accomplished that. Here is what I found: I left him a copy in his faculty mailbox and I ran into him in Bobst Library and I asked him if he got it and what he thought of it. He said it was "short."

My second zine was a collaborative effort between me and several of my friends entitled "Honey I'm a Prize and You're a Catch and We're a Perfect Match," which is a line from a song by Pavement and in honor of the date it was published, February 14, 2003. I don't remember anything in it (except for a poem called "horse shoe crabs" by my friend Emily, which I think she later published online) but more people read it due to the nature of the contribution process.

My third zine could probably be called a "chapbook." It was entitled "Autointoxication" and it was the best thing I had done up to that point. Arguably it is still the best thing I have done because it was published. I went to a printer in Greenwich Village and asked for 100 copies. I tried to sell them for $1.00 and probably sold about 3 or 4, which is about the total of "Xenophobia." Had I a blog at the time, who knows what might have come.

There were several others but none as important as those first three (except for "Uck Ar" but I played too minor a role in that for consideration). I include this autobiography because, this is a highly symbolic gesture. Jordan and Richard are young, and they probably know what they are doing way better than I did (or do, for that matter) but I am here to warn them about the dangers of literature. But a review first.

I have never reviewed poetry on Flying Houses before, which is another reason I wanted to do this as my last post. I wanted to do something audacious. Each writer contributes 9-10 poems of 1-2 pages in length. Jordan's are slightly more experimental and Richard's are slightly more typical of poems popular over the last 20 years. Both are talented, and while their chapbook may be "short," it deserves commendation.

My favorite poems of Jordan's are "a list of things I am going to do," which I didn't like that much until the last few lines; "weak," which is the first poem I have ever read about the dilemma of autofellatio, thus worthwhile; "haiku" which is certainly topical and formal; and "last poem," which is about achieving inner-peace. Four out of ten is not bad. The other ones have moments but overall seem too "cheeky" or "cute" or "silly" to fully praise.

My favorite poems of Richard's are "excuse me," which is a lament for internet culture, "dumpster dive alone," which I don't really understand but references Scottie Pippen, so I like it; "snow-people easily identify the sun as their enemy," which is pretty original and may be the single best poem in the chapbook; and the so-called title track, "think tanks for human beings in general," which, like most title tracks in music, I usually feel are better than the majority of other songs on the album--but is the best way to end the chapbook.

I like the idea of chapbooks and zines because they are not too time-consuming. They are like regular magazines except they are not filled with useless trash about celebrities and reality stars. They are filled with serious writing by mostly unknown people, reaching out and trying to establish themselves. There is something noble about them. For some reason I do not think self-publishing a novel is as noble as self-publishing a zine.

Do I really have anything else I want to add? When I was 17 I wrote a one-act play for my high school and after my classmates told me how much they liked it (though I was unsure of its quality), I made it my life's mission to write, until every MFA program I applied to rejected me in February of 2007. I did not stop writing after that, obviously, but my confidence was shot. Here is my advice to Jordan and Richard: if you are going to get your MFA eventually, apply to a safety school. I applied to U Chicago's MAPH program, UT-Austin's Michener Center for Writers, Iowa's Writer's Workshop, University of Oregon, Columbia University's esteemed program producing writers like Rick Moody and Wells Tower and James Franco and offering zero aid in general and a $50,000 price tag (and you thought law school was expensive, and didn't offer enough career security). Every single one rejected me. Apply to a safety school. Or don't. Maybe I just suck at writing, and at life.

Do I really want to be at law school, and quitting my blog, and quitting my creative endeavors? No. I intend to work on my 3rd novel whenever appropriate over these next three years. I am 28,000 words into it. It is the best thing I have done, no doubt, but still unpublishable. Too many "fatal flaws." Everybody in or associated with law school says you have no free time and if you have free time you should be studying. Well, now I am going to start doing that and stop blogging. And I have serious doubts about my career in general. I waited too long to do this.

More advice to Jordan and Richard: never move to a random city (like say Los Angeles) because it seems fun and you have enough savings in your account-----unless you have a job there waiting for you. Had I not done that, had I applied to law school 3 years ago, or now without that stint, I'd be having a blast, not pinching every penny, not failing to leave tips for take-out orders, not feeling guilty about an endless reliance upon my parents and not feeling that I have a dubious future in general. I would feel much more confident.

Finally, that is very far in the future for them. They will be at college soon and probably have the time of their lives. I would recommend NYU but I feel as if it is changing. It is expanding, somehow, despite already having been the largest private university in the country 9 years ago. John Sexton is really emphasizing how important it is to study abroad so they can get as many students as possible out of the Village and into their other, expensive international branches in Paris, Florence, Buenos Aires and other places of which I am unaware. They are putting up students in hotels, because the new dorms they have opened since I have graduated still don't provide enough space. Faculty members would complain about their salaries. Still, I wouldn't have rather been anywhere else. Except UT-Austin or maybe Oberlin if I had gotten in there. Liz Phair and I have the same birthday and she is exactly seventeen years older than me and she went there.

Thanks to Jordan for sending me this chapbook. I apologize for using this as an opportunity to explain why this blog will be slipping into a coma and writing so many other random things. I wish him and Richard the best of luck, and hope that their method of e-publishing will work out okay for them. They are on the first-wave of this stuff, and they should ride it out and see where it takes them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Richard Yates - Tao Lin

This will be one of the last posts on Flying Houses for a long time. A friend of mine recently told me that I should spend more time studying and less time blogging since studying involves the financial investment. But I requested this book and I am not going to be negligent when it comes to following through on promises.

Yes, perhaps a bit of personal narrative is in order before this official review begins, since it is such a serious occasion. I requested a copy of Richard Yates from Tao Lin's publicist on July 6, 2010, approximately 5 weeks before I would move to Brooklyn for law school. I knew I would receive the book in my new apartment in Brooklyn, and I knew there would be law school assignments, and I knew it would appear negligent if I blogged about underground literature instead of reading and briefing cases. But I did it anyway because I knew it was the last chance I would have to do an advance review of a relatively highly-anticipated new title.

I will not be interviewing Tao as I did for previous reviews of Eeeee Eee Eeee and Shoplifting from American Apparel. Not that I don't want to, but again, time, and negligence. I received Richard Yates in my apartment foyer on Monday, August 16. There were two packages from Melville House* and I was just out of my 2nd day of "preliminary" law school classes. I was very depressed. I was thinking that there was no way I could possibly survive the next three years. It would not be sustainable. In this depressed mood, I immediately began reading Richard Yates, which is usually the best time to read books by Tao Lin. I read for an hour and made it through roughly 1/4 of the book and then decided it was time to go get drunk and watch a movie on Netflix. It was Comedians of Comedy and I laughed very much. Sometimes I would go outside and smoke a cigarette. I would put my iPod boombox by my window and play music and go outside and sit outside my window on a stoop and listen to the music and smoke. It came time to go to bed and I began having a nervous breakdown. Sometime around three or four o'clock in the morning I fell asleep. Then I woke up around 6:30 am or so and resumed having a nervous breakdown, and I opened up my word processor and did a free-write about the inevitability of my decision to suicide. This put me in a weird manic mood, and I went to shower and then went to another set of preliminary classes around 8:15 am.

Several hours later, the nervous breakdown had been quelled, and I enjoyed a calm lunch in the school cafeteria while reading Richard Yates. Then later I smoked a cigarette in the school's gated entrance and read more of Richard Yates. I was enjoying it very much.

I did not read any more of it on Tuesday night. I watched two movies on Netflix after being at a bar for a school outing--The Trials of Henry Kissinger and The Cruise (the latter of which I had seen before and should be required viewing for anyone living in New York City), also while drinking more beer and continuing to smoke cigarettes in this manner.

This morning, Wednesday, I resolved not to smoke any cigarettes or drink anything alcoholic. I went to the bookstore and waited forty-five minutes to get my books and was very frustrated but then happy it was over. I went to a pizza place for lunch and read more of Richard Yates, but only a few pages. Then I went into the school library and read a few more pages of Richard Yates. Then I went to class, and then I came home, and I resolved to finish reading the rest of Richard Yates. I also received a chapbook from Jordan Castro today and think I will try to review it as the last true blog post for a long time.

And I finished reading Richard Yates around 7:05 PM and it is now 7:35 PM. So, I suppose we can begin then?

Richard Yates is a very narrow book. It is about one thing, and one thing only: a relationship between a 16-year-old named Dakota Fanning and a 22-year-old named Haley Joel Osment. It is perhaps worth noting that Tao Lin does not attempt to seriously recreate the lives of these celebrities. Haley Joel Osment (hereafter referred to as HJO) is a graduate of New York University who spends a lot of time in Bobst Library and lives on Wall St. Dakota Fanning (hereafter referred to as DF) is a high-school student living in Secaucus, New Jersey. They meet on the internet and quickly begin dating and take buses and trains to visit one another.

It is about that one thing only, but within that, it is about many other things: self-mutilation, bulimia, health food stores, sex, lying, G-chat, movies, emo bands, and writers like Lorrie Moore and Richard Yates--in short, par for the course for a Tao Lin novel. I don't begrudge Tao for writing about the same topics. I have written enough to know that certain themes become obsessive to certain writers, and there is no shame in repetition, so long as it offers something new.

And I have been looking forward to this book for a couple years now and I predicted that it would be Tao Lin's most mainstream effort yet, and in certain regards I am right and in certain regards I am wrong. Tao does branch out into a more detailed "consistent" "straightforward" narrative than he has in the past. It is much more focused on the characters and there are no tangents that make little sense, as in Eeeee Eee Eeee. And I think technically, the rough draft of this novel was finished before Shoplifting from American Apparel was written, and then this novel was edited heavily after that novella was finished.

And perhaps that holds the key to my feelings. In a sense, I appreciate what Tao is trying to do with this book. But in another sense, I could not get into it as much as his previous two long-form prose works. Perhaps it is because I was rushing through it because I was in law school.

Here is my problem with it, essentially: it does not need to be a novel. I do not want to say that but it is the way I feel. I think it would have made an excellent short story, or a very good novella, but as the longest book he has done yet (not sure on this, but it seems longer than Eeeee Eee Eeee) it tends to drag. HJO and DF are two of the most interesting characters he has portrayed yet, but their story is too narrowly-focused.

So I went through periods where I thought the book was great, and periods where I thought it was not so great. My opinion depended on my mood, and the book could not distract me from present circumstances. Some people have been giving it bad reviews and not even reading to the end. I read to the end but I think the strongest parts are in the first 120 pages. It is in the last 80 pages that most of the "climactic" scenes occur, but I found HJO and DF's conversations becoming too repetitive, and almost too pointless. I do like how HJO wants to help DF near the end despite his weakening feelings for her. And I like the scene where they make funnel cakes at the carnival, and I like the scene where they go to Epcot, and I like the scene where they dye DF's hair black and she "turns goth." I also enjoy the references to self-mutilation and bulimia and Ernest Hemingway biographies and Nicholas Sparks for personal reasons.

There are many little moments in this book that are nice, but on the whole, I did not find it as interesting as Lin's two previous novels. Something has been made about this book being autobiographical and if that is the case then I understand why Tao felt that it needed to be published. I do not think everything in this book really happened. Or maybe everything in this book did happen, but certain details about people are skewed. I can't tell, and it doesn't really matter either way. It is fiction. And while I would love to give Tao positive reviews from here until the end of days, I can only half-heartedly recommend this novel.

It is worth reading for its "experimental" aspect for Tao Lin personally. It is more straightforward, in a sense, but it is also just like his previous work in that description is totally eschewed in favor of maximum repetitive action with repetitious objects. The element I like most is its "realist bent."

This is a minutely-detailed (though not deeply descriptive) account of a relationship that rings true. You feel that you are reading about a "real relationship" that might prove educational in some way. But it is only educational if you are a 22-year-old going out with a 16-year-old and all of the weird things that come with it. Neither HJO or DF is very mature, but obviously HJO has a slightly more complete view of life. The tagline for this book is, "What constitutes illicit sex for a generation with no rules?" I am not sure I like it, and it does not seem like Tao wrote that tagline, but I may be wrong. Regardless of whether or not I like it, the implication is that this book is an exploration of that sort of "illicit sex" and one gets the impression that it will be "titillating." But it is not titillating at all, even with more than a few scenes of sexuality. There is lots of G-chat. I think maybe more than 50% of this book's content is in the form of G-chat. The rest is extremely dialogue-heavy, and most of the dialogue seems almost meaningless.

I haven't read any books by Richard Yates, but I did see the movie Revolutionary Road and that was a narrowly-focused narrative on one relationship. Perhaps his other books are like that, and this is Tao's homage to him. If so, that is fine, that is nice. Hemingway wrote The Torrents of Spring to make fun of Sherwood Anderson.

So maybe there is a deeper layer to this book that I can't quite see, but taken on its own terms, I feel that is lacking in something, or that there is too much of nothing in it. I do believe it would make a great short story, and if it were edited down to just a few essential scenes instead of an exhaustive diary of every conversation (most glaringly, the four-page paragraph where DF tells HJO every single time she has lied to him in a long e-mail, which is either the best or worst part of the book, depending on your view), I would have liked it much more. Such as it is, I am glad I read it, I am glad I reviewed it during this tumultuous time in my life, and I look forward to reading whatever else Tao Lin's next project will be. Shoplifting from American Apparel was "roughly" written after this, and it is my favorite thing by him so far, so whatever he has been working on for the last year, or whatever he will be working on for the next year, I think, will continue to improve. This does seem a bit like an object from a time-capsule despite its latter-day editing. I remember reading a blog post by Tao Lin a long time ago saying he was going to write a novel about Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment and thinking that it was a joke. Imagine my surprise when I read the plot descriptions for Richard Yates.

This novel isn't a joke though. It's a serious attempt at something different, and I respect that. One can learn something from it. Sometimes exhaustive recitation of events and conversations do not automatically make for compelling literature. I have been guilty of this (and am still guilty of this, at times) so I understand the motive behind it. But without any deeper significance, or any hints of deeper significance, the reader finds themselves lost, and wonders why this information was so important to communicate.

*I received two copies of Richard Yates because I requested one from the publicist and then entered Tao's contest, which gave a copy of the novel as an award to all legitimate participants. I have an extra copy so if anyone wants it, I will send it to them, but I would prefer for them to live in Brooklyn Heights so I don't have to mail it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Antichrist - Dir. Lars von Trier

While I had wanted to see this movie for over a year, it was very dificult to find. It is unrated. It did not play widely in theaters. But it was the most talked about film at Cannes in 2009. It is actually not out on DVD until November 2010, from the Criterion collection. Recently I signed up for Netflix again and watched it instantly. I found it last night and became ridiculously excited.

Why does it take so long to come out on DVD? Probably because it's such a difficult film. It is definitely in the top 5 "darkest" films I have ever seen, if not #1 itself. Many may know the basic plot but I will recount: Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe played a married couple. In the "prologue" they are having sex (which is a bit graphic) when their toddler son crawls out of his crib to play with some toys on his window ledge. This prologue is filmed in black & white and set to a beautiful score by Handel I believe. In short it is the best part of the movie. It is filmed in super-slow-motion, and the end of the scene is quite painful.

From here, the film switches to color and regular speed and contains dialogue. It is perhaps worth noting that the dialogue is quiet, and I was watching it on my laptop, which does not have the most powerful speakers, so I missed a bit. Charlotte collapses after the funeral of their baby boy and goes into the hospital. Willem is a therapist and seeks to cure his wife of her pain.

There are three chapters: Grief, Pain, and Despair. Charlotte is having a really hard time getting over the death of her baby, of course she feels responsible, she even knew that sometimes he would try to crawl out of his crib in the past. Willem decides to take her to their cabin in the woods for more alternative forms of therapy, like having her imagine lying in the grass and having it consume her.

"Grief" becomes a bit scary at times, and Antichrist is in the horror genre, I would say. It is not as scary as The Exorcist but it is very scary, for example, when a wolf talks to Willem at the end of "Pain." That is what is weird about it. "Grief" has a few scary moments, but then during "Pain," Charlotte even becomes happy and excited and claims that she is cured and there is a brief moment of bliss. But then the wolf talks to Willem at the end in a scary voice and "Despair" (Gynocide) begins.

"Gynocide" is the title of the study that Charlotte has been undertaking, about crimes committed against women in the 16th century. There are lots of weird illustrations and there is a constellation with Grief, Pain, and Despair appearing as a fox, a bird, and a deer. These animals show up in the movie having various bloody tumors or what appear to be severed appendages.

In "Despair," Charlotte drills a hole through Willem's leg, cuts off her labia with a scissors, and runs into the woods and masturbates. I have to say that I give enormous respect to both Gainsbourg and Dafoe for their performances in this film. No other actors of their station would take such risks.

I won't give away what happens at the end, but it is relatively predictable. It is a reasonable ending and I don't think most people will be horrified by it after everything that came before. However, there is still a super creepy ending, where there are like hundreds of women in white silhouette climbing through the woods as a closing shot. And then there is an "epilogue" which has the same score as the "prologue" and the same black & white and super-slow-motion, but it is much more sad because the film is over and there is nothing more to be done.

I don't think this film is meaningless, but I do think some of it may contain crackpot psychology. Gainsbourg's revelation, before going totally nuts, that women are subject to nature, is the major epiphany of the film, only to be derided by Dafoe a second later. Many say that Lars von Trier makes misogynistic films. This film may be misogynistic but I could not help but feel affection for Gainsbourg's character, up to a certain point at least.

This is the type of movie that should be shown in dive bars and indie rock clubs and put on mute. It's the type of movie that should be shown at screwed-up parties. I waited a long time to see it and I was so happy to finally have the chance last night. It's not one of the best movies I've ever seen at all, but it is an event. I actually liked The Girlfriend Experience better because it was more light-hearted.

But this is a horror film, and it's a very good horror film. It's not as good as The Shining but it's definitely similar. Even when you see the cabin in early shots, you know it's straight out of 80's slasher pics. But this isn't a "dumb horror film" (which they usually always are). Like, okay, I like both Hostel movies, but this is much more intellectual. It's intellectual and personal and psychological and horrific. I am sure few couples are going to have to go through what Gainsbourg and Dafoe do, and I am sure even if they did go through it, they wouldn't go to such extremes. That von Trier is able to make it believable and hallucinatory at the same time shows how talented he is. Now, I would like him to do something ridiculously mainstream. But I don't think that will happen anytime soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Girlfriend Experience - Dir. Steven Soderbergh

While I had wanted to see this movie for over a year, I had mixed feelings going into it. For one, I was unconvinced of Steven Soderbergh's talents as a director. I found Erin Brockovich to be overrated. I found Traffic to be overrated, but in time I began to understand some of its appeal. I consider the Oceans movies to be cashout opportunities, though not without their own (quite unique, I think) niche. I never saw The Good German but I have heard it is terrible. I have never seen Solaris or The Limey, but I have been meaning to. The Informant! was enjoyable, but no other comment on that now.

Second, Sasha Grey is (was?) a porn star. And she is younger than me, and way more fucking rich. And she manages to land her own film, basically, with Steven Soderbergh. So I was jealous, and suspicious of her talents as a "real actress."

Despite his more mainstream occupations, Soderbergh also directed Bubble and Che, (neither of which I've seen) which are not the most obvious choices for a director who can pretty much guarantee a $100 million blockbuster when he so chooses. Furthermore, he is responsible for sex, lies, and videotape, which might not be one of the best movies ever, but certainly helped to launch a genre which has been responsible for some of the best movies over the last three decades. And his cameo in Waking Life was cool. So I respect him, and I wanted to see this movie, but I was still skeptical.

Long story short, skepticism erased. This movie is hilarious, and supposedly sad, but I don't think the desperation it is seemingly meant to portray ever comes across. Here is the plot: Chelsea is an escort. She meets rich men and listens to them talk and goes out to dinner with them and sleeps with them. But she has a real boyfriend, Chris, who is a personal trainer. There is a weird time-zone for this movie where it keeps flipping back and forth to a plane trip Chris takes with one of his clients on a private jet party to Las Vegas. And there are random sub-plots where Chelsea might go to Dubai as part of a prostitution vacation, or sleep with internet messageboard administrators to get a good review and get more business.

In general, the movie is slow, quiet, talkative, and mundane. However, its greatest asset is its timing. It takes place near the November 2008 elections. There are references to the $700 billion bailout and the word "maverick" in debates and Man on Wire. Sometimes Chelsea writes journal entries about her "dates," and one of them is a dinner at Nobu, which I found funny for personal reasons.

The last shot in the movie kind of totally blew me away. And on the whole I found it surprisingly tasteful. I thought the script was good, the dialogue was very realistic, and I laughed out loud several times. Still, not for the faint of heart due to its subject matter. Also I don't think it's a very responsible film in the way I don't think "Mad Men" is a very responsible TV-show. I think they encourage bad behavior.

This film probably won't change your life, but it certainly made me think, and it certainly inspired me at moments. Otherwise I would not be blogging at 1:26 in the morning after drinking, oh, maybe 50 oz of beer. Perhaps there is more I could say about it, or more that I thought I wanted to say about it (i.e. my favorite part, the beginning of a misogynistic monologue at a bar, or alternately, a snippet of conversation about the insufficiencies of using a vaporizer) while I was watching it, but it doesn't matter. You'll either be aware of this film or not, and if you are aware of it, you should take a chance on it. Because while it may not be for everyone, it is exactly the type of film I appreciate, because it attempts to portray reality without Hollywoodization. I know that is not a word but you know what I mean.