Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Live Blogging New Year's Rockin' Eve

10:50: Ryan Seacrest is interviewing the Jonas Bros.

Ryan: So, tell me, what's the wildest thing you've ever seen a fan do?

DH (cutting in to answer for the boys): Well, Ryan, it involved a cucumber and a cigarette...

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Winged Creature Perched on the Suspension Bridge

Got lucky today and fished this out.

Exit 98
Some people ask me where it is,
And I say, "You're there." Throw back a little fake koan.
Detachment provokes a slim selection of reactions:
Frustration, mostly; some are spurred
To try to get through it, breaking or slipping;
Last are the ones who smile and settle, satisfied.
But to you and you alone I'll tell the real story:
It's an easy road, well maintained, laid down
By some appropriation long ago paid off,
Metamorphosed into favors shaping a future
That will never quite balance out fairly.
Not the way that veers into the barrens,
Where the branches block the sun and the taproots
Suck at spilled blood, nor the one that crumbles
Into the shifting slate the surf becomes in midwinter
Churning over bones the fish nibble clean.
It's the turn for the ones who choose not to try
For the last chance. Penultimate.
The place for the ones who don't go there.

Photo: A construction of the Jersey Devil, an uncharacteristic image from some ad-ridden website full of bad jokes and old stories and photos of the kind that circulated on emails of years gone by. I would credit its creator, but that remains as mysterious as the rest of it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sweatshops and Cold Sweat and Sweaters

Time still dogging me. Spent too long with the paper as usual, but read a lead like this one, on the story of WaMu's downfall, and you can't put it down. Meth-sniffing loan officers, kickbacks to Realtors, creative documentation, inflated appraisals...

What gets me is that people who were used to normal, simple bank employment were pushed to sell home loans to anyone, anytime they could. If they didn't make their quota from their places behind the teller's cage, they were bused to a boiler room after working hours to pitch home equity loans. The workload, of course, came down on them as well: One office with 108 people and "several hundred" new loan files a day.

"I'd typically spend a maximum of 35 minutes per file," she said. "It was just disheartening. Just spit it out and get it done. That's what they wanted us to do. Garbage in, garbage out."

Now, of course, even the shareholders, who pushed this process with their own greed, are screwed. I wonder if the CEO fears bodily harm, she asks, purely abstractedly and with the kindest concern? I can't stand the thought of how the ad industry contributed to all this, as well.

Elsewhere in medialand, I check out the top songs and etc. of 2008 to see what I've missed. I really miss not seeing theater because of lacking babysitting and money. That I miss. But I do hear songs on the radio. OK, I love M.I.A.'s Paper Planes, in fact it's been on my mental rotation for more than a year (I don't have an iPod, not safe to run with one, can't deal with the tech, can't afford the toys, so I play songs in my brain to myself as I run through my days). But it didn't need to get tricked up with literally sh**ty lyrics from the sufferin' Kanye like "how it feel wake up be the sh*t AND the urine" and from poor Lil Wayne, who must have been overworked in the sweatshop of his own making to come up with lyrics like "swagger tighter than a yeast infection." (BTW, I don't agree with all her lyrical assessments in that link, but some are pretty funny.) With my diet and lifestyle and luck, that's not an experience I've dealt with for a good long time, but when I cast back in my memory, I seem to remember that swagger would have been the last word I'd apply to that situation.

Another pick is Beyonce's infectious "Single Ladies," whose message makes me a little sick. It sent me scurrying to the bookcase for Adrienne Rich's A Wild Patience to see if I could find something better that would possibly scan. Not quite, but follow the bouncing ball:

In a world where
property is everything
You belong to
your daddy then the man who chooses
If you fail to marry
You are without recourse
If you're married you are
leeee-gally de-eead

My used copy of this book has "no rights" written in a sweet, rounded cursive in the margins, a helpful message from the last student who owned it.

I have a bad memory. I can remember the precise moment a three-year depression lifted--on an airplane en route to Tampa, smoking a cigarette, wearing a mint-green pastel jersey suit, listening to Thomas Dolby (ironically, "Flying North") on a Walkman (!), but I can't remember the year without looking things up and counting backward and even then it's a challenge--it was sometime in the early 80s is all I know. I remember dancing on a chair at BA's house after the mushroom dip; I remember the exact way a lover described a costume worn by a comic book villianess that gave him a hardon, I remember what a stranger said to me sitting around a fire in October, I remember my daughter's first word.

But I cannot remember birthdays, ages, dates, names, phone numbers, addresses, whether I made that appointment, or the combination to the community garden shed. I am in grave danger of losing my plot, because all the family health problems meant I didn't do enough fall weeding and cleaning. So I was out there today, weeding and filling old shopping bags full of wood chips and compost and walking them back to my plot, two at a time, because I couldn't open the shed and get a wheelbarrow. I was the human wheelbarrow. And on a climate-changarama day like this, near 70, I was sweating.

I got two particularly warm Solstice presents: My sister-in-law filled an old 1800 Tequila bottle with malt vinegar, scotch bonnet peppers and spices to make me island hot sauce; my mother gave me a cashmere hoodie to replace the one that accidently got put in the dryer and now fits my daughter.

Right now, I have put my daughter to work, perhaps in violation of child labor laws. She is to sort an entire drawer of hair accessories. She's grown her hair long once, cut it off and donated it, and is going into second-growth stage now, about shoulder-length. In the process of her work, she has covered herself with hair clips. Her only pay is going out for Chinese chicken tonight. Can you spare ten cents a day for this child? You already are, if you're a DC taxpayer, cause that's about what the schools end up getting.

Love and Sweat to you as the countdown continues.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Deeper the Cushion, the Better the Pushin'.

Goodbye Harold Pinter. A link. And a link.

"It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. ..

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

He actually talked about Nicaragua in that speech. But I forget. That never happened, either.

PS: I know, poems, I'm gonna do it, just been holidayed to death. You know, if you show up with one more in the meantime, you could be the big winner...Anyhow, gotta do it before tomorrow. That's the new moon. Jesus, I'm totally getting my candles mixed up. A beeswax for Solstice, the littles in the menorah, then a big white jar candle for new moon, don't hardly know what to light up first some nights.

Photo: Mountain Weasel by Karunakar Rayker; Wiki Creative Commons.

PPS: No harm to any animal occurred or is implied by the juxtaposition of that headline and photo.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's All Going Down, So Grab a Big Honkin Toblerone

I am trying not to give in to bitterness and rage over the prospect of my friends and family either losing their jobs or being worked to death. (If that sounds like exaggeration, after the last newspaper layoffs I made it through, I ended up with 12-hour shifts, and no additional money, none, none, none. Someone I worked with crashed her car, probably because she hadn't slept in days. They laid off near 2/3 of the staff and added eight editions. I also once got laid off while I was still recovering from a c-section, but I was eventually hired back. So I have earned my trauma.)

I am trying not to punch the wall over the prospect that now that I finally have time to write, the publishing industry tanks. I am trying not to hear my father's voice in the continual communication that all I love to do is valueless.

I am trying not to waste my fury on the humans who traded my daughter's future for cocktails and handbags. It's not the first time that island has been the scene of such a monstrous mortgage.

I spent much of the Solstice face down in bed, with a candle lit, trying to see if there is a crack in the wall, and I saw it in, of all places, the Sunday newspapers. Which tell me that those "in charge," the "experts" are lost. "We have no playbook," they say. "We don't know what anything is worth anymore." "We don't know how to value anything." "We just have to wait to see how far it goes." "No one knows how far it will go." "No one knows what anything is worth."

Their ignorance widens the crack until it becomes a window into which I can wedge my will, like that slice of sun that comes through the stones on the darkest day. So, men, if you don't know what's worth anything, I'm happy to tell you. The only things worth a damn are art and beauty, love and magic, sex and pleasure, talk and spirit, health and laughter, the earth and her creatures. That's my ecomony, I am the expert, I set the interest rate, and I live a luxurious life within my means, and nothing else matters.

That's it. I'm over the edge. We're living on crazy old lady time. It's my world now.

So I'm going to start a poetry reading series, if the brave people who offer a venue stick with it; I won't be reading, I'll just be presenting others and doing open mike. And if they don't, I'll find a place. And I'll keep writing, because it's worth millions. Mr. Boog in Salon seems to think so, as long as I can repurpose my format to fit the times. But alas:

"There were hedge fund guys with no background in publishing buying up publishing houses," says André Schiffrin, founder of the New Press and author of "The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read." He explains that corporate owners of major publishing houses expected impossible 15 to 20 percent profit margins in an industry with traditional margins of 3 to 4 percent. "They were part of that whole feeling that you could make money by buying and selling companies, rather than by selling books. At some point it comes to a dead end."

Wow, that's the same exact thing that happened to newspapers! Gee.

Anyone want to serialize my detective novel for iPhone consumption? Come on, I've already proven my willingness to give away the good thing for far less than minimum wage many times over; give it a try.

Photo: Santa strawberries, from the UK Inspired by Chocolate and Cakes blog. She's a genius.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Marshmallow to Marshmallow"

My holiday present came yesterday, when The Batman (so called because he used to keep a baseball bat at his desk to scare reporters) sent the link to the annual Regret the Error Best of the Year, with corrections from media worldwide. Scroll down to find so many, many mistakes, including faked photos and big bad-word typos. I'm happy he didn't forget the New Media:

Best Blog Correction
Back in January, The Consumerist reported on a rather vulgar-yet-amusing post on Wil Wheaton’s blog. After seeing the Consumerist post, Wheaton contacted them to clarify things. From the resulting Consumerist post and correction:

Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek: The Next Generation) would like you to know that he does not and will not endorse AAA Insurance. UPDATE: We initially reported that Mr. Wheaton disliked all of AAA. Not so. He tells us:
“I’m happy with the rest of the AAA services I’ve used, and continue to use. The insurance, though, can eat a bag of dicks.”
We regret the error.

This is my personal favorite:

The Guardian:
Gore Vidal was once head-butted by Norman Mailer, not the other way round. Vidal described the altercation as “marshmallow to marshmallow” when asked about it at the Hay festival 2008 (Diary, page 9, G2, May 27).

There's also a link there to buy the whole book. In poking around the links sent, I also found a present everyone can use, a rundown on How to Spot a Plagiarist or Fabulist, written by the second-greatest living copy editor. Somebody cares!

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Wake the Ghost, Shake the Lie, Unchain Time"

Io Saturnalia, the original reason for the season, whose peak used to be reputedly (and disreputably) celebrated Dec. 17. Just by chance I'm listening over and over to "The Body" off the Gutter Twins' Saturnalia. Just because I can't go for more than a week without one of my Big Dark Brooders. Dulli said in an interview that they were "the Satanic Everly Brothers"; well, then, this is Pluto's Canon in D.

Feeling Pluto and Saturn not heavily but surely, paring, grinding, polishing away at me. "You'll learn," they mumble, "this time." A warm wind blew in today and I'm hoping it holds so I can run through it in the morning.

Saturnalia is the feast where the masters switch places with the servants. Don't tell the guys at the gate, but this one's not planning on going back to her old place when the festival's over.

Image: Callet, Louvre

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Slave to Love

I love Mickey Rourke, or maybe I used to love Mickey Rourke, or maybe I love to watch Mickey Rourke, that would be it. His recent interviews have been a spooky patchwork of artifice, dissembling, and resignation, much like his recent face. It would appear to be a case of what is on the outside reflecting what's within. I miss seeing his handsome face, but more I'll miss seeing that expression in his eyes that says he knows what you want better than you do, and that he feels the sadness and the beauty alike of that knowledge.

That's called acting, and he's doing a different kind now. They're talking Oscar for The Wrestler, which if babysitters are forthcoming, we might actually see, even though it's directed by the catastrophist Darren Aronofsky--"try heroin and you'll end up in the hands of a big (black, of course, come on, Darren! much more likely she'd be condemned to a short life as an independent operator) pimp with your arm rotting off in a southern jail and the refrigerator chasing you around!" Subtlety is not the boy's strong point, but, hell, subtlety isn't everything.

What's kind of funny is that I ran into this article on Amy Tuteur's The Skeptical OB blog about the nicely funded anti-meth ad campaign just not working up in Montana. I always like her take on skewering scientific and medical studies and statistics when warranted. And doing anti-drug and other social improvement ads is one of the most interesting challenges you can get in the business (and there's good money in it, too. The bright boys at Crispin Porter Bogusky partially made their name on the anti-tobacco Truth campaign, in part because they had the cash cushion to do kid focus groups and play the ideas out for a while). But unfortunately, the Montana anti-meth campaign's super-scary, alarmist tactics aren't doing the job of discouraging potential or present users. Who's one of the big-name directors brought in to execute the Montana ads? Darren Aronofsky.

I'm certain all involved had the best intentions. One of the commenters on Tuteur's blog, who says he used to work with Gay Men's Health Crisis, says the problem is that the people creating the ads are a million miles removed from the audiences they're trying to reach. Plus, the pitch to people in poverty, near-poverty and tribal cultures in Montana is going to be way different from a pitch to a gay man in NYC.

I'm reminded of a very long ago conversation with Jill Matrix, in which she said the most effective anti-drug ad she'd seen was the one with the tagline: If you smoke pot, nothing will happen.

So: "If you do meth, the Man wins," how's that sound? Trouble is, for too many, the Man wins no matter what, so why not rot yourself away? A problem that can't be solved through better advertising.

Back to love. The acoustic version of Hey Ya finally caught up with me. This song moves me anyhow, but add a big guy with an acoustic guitar and it tears me up.

Photo: Week 7 of 9 1/2, I believe.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Generation Jones and the Doom of the Fourth Estate

So the media meltdown continues as the Tribune chain has filed for bankruptcy. What this doesn't have in common with other businesses in crisis: No one is asking for more than the usual handout, I mean bailout. What it does have in common: Blame the workers, hurt the workers, screw the workers.

The rumor I got is that those who graciously took early retirement are having their payments and maybe health benefits held up since the whole deal's now hit the courts. Who do these workers and people trying to collect their pensions think they are? Everyone knows when a business fails, it's the fault of the ones out there doing the work. The ones flying around and collecting millions in salaries and commissioning ice sculptures are just trying, trying as hard as they can, but those workers keep bringing it all down. They ask for so much. They live like kings.

So now we'll be stuck with the Post, and that's floating around on a deck chair among the icebergs too. Gotta love a paper you pick up in the hangover haze and it tells you you're a member of the the dumbest generation of the past 200 years. OK, maybe dancing with that gangster-looking guy WAS dumb, but give me a break. The Outlook piece uses the Generation Jones tag on us--that undernourished slice of a generation born between the boomers and GenX--and claims we had the worst test scores, the worst education, etc. The Millennialists, he claims, are the really smart ones.

That Generation Jones tag's got trendy Gladwell-wannabe all over it, but I kind of like it anyway, with its shucks-shuffle rhythm and undertone of illicit, unrelieved longing.

We Jonesers were alternately neglected and demonized as children? Check. We were subject to weird educational experiments (at the hands of boomers, I might add) and classrooms depleted by inflation and municipal failure? Check. We were so terrified by our free-lovin', boozin', Ice Stormin' parents that we started dressing preppy and voted for Reagan? Ah, here's where we splinter. A faction of us became obsessive autodidact punks instead.

And we're so dumb? Here's a little test: Generation Jones gave us Henry Rollins. The Millennialists claim Britney Spears. Your witness.

Speaking of newspaper cutbacks, Die, Sunday Source, Die, with your hilarious stabs at fashion and absurd "product testing" crew who write like 7th-graders ("I don't usually use anything but Ivory soap, but this body lotion smelled kind of good, like Lemon Pledge? but it felt all goopy? and made me cold when I put it on, so I threw it away. But if you like body lotion maybe you might like it. It costs $75.")

Well, I won't have it to kick around anymore. The Post claims the staff will be sucked into the Style section. Better this than subject us to more pages full of interns trying to pretend they care about heels and mascara ("I'm just obsessed with mascara--I have a dozen different kinds," one lied recently) when we know all you little DC vixens really want to talk about is the dangers of protectionist trade policy to the international economy.

Oh, and Barack Obama? Jones.

Photo: Henry, a pub job.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cookies and Cognac

My Hot Friend E and I eventually made the scene for Santarchy Saturday night, but we actually ended up hanging out spending a lot of time talking about the future and the nature of love and happiness, including during a leisurely dinner at La Forchette (where I once was seated next to Christopher Hitchens, back when he was a physical wreck and I liked him better that way) in our Santa-ette costumes. Then we danced a lot at Heaven, where I really enjoyed a long, changing, strange mix of DJs. Mmmm. It’s been a long time since I’ve asked for a toy under the tree, but this year could be the exception.

We were cooling off in Hell when this lovely round man walked by, took a look at us, and burst out laughing—but not in a bad way. After some hugs, he ducked behind the bar (apparently he works there) and asked what we wanted to drink. E said “cognac,” which led to a long ritual involving trips to the back, two lighters and a pack of matches, but here’s how it went: He opened three miniatures, poured each into a snifter, then laid each snifter on its side, then ignited them one by one, doing a sort of swirly fire dance with each flaming snifter before presenting them to us. The whole time, he was giving a sort of diatribe on beauty, the importance of finding bliss during your daily work and life, and the ignorance of mixing cognac with Coca-cola. This was no Tom Cruise in Cocktail; it was voudoun god. Did I mention it was midnight? We drank, we ladies went to the ladies room, where we stood and looked in the mirror and laughed ourselves silly, and when we came back, he was gone.

Thank you, Santa.

Five reasons to watch the Elvis Costello talk show, based on the first one:
1. At least 20 minutes of props handed to Laura Nyro.
2. Tumbleweed Connection-era Elton John.
3. I’m thinking “who’s that guy on keyboards” and it turns out to be Alain Toussant.
4. There’s this songwriter I never heard of, David Ackles, who I now want to check out.
5. They just start and stop songs at random because they’re all really good musicians and they can.

It’s going to be sad when we’re all poor and depressed and starving and can’t do these kinds of things anymore. Santa, we need you.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Three Items, Of Which the Second Could Be Regarded as Cleavage

I'm really intrigued by this--haven't read any of the poems, but I want to. Grace Cavalieri (who does so much for so many poets) reads from her new book Anna Nicole 2 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday, at The Writer's Center, in Bethesda.

BAker sent me this tool that purports to psychoanalyze your blog,and I was afraid to look at it, but I tried it. It basically said I'm a Libra (an emotional performer). Which is accurate but not too scary.

And Santa (eBay) finally brought my husband the Miles Davis On the Corner sessions. The box art is amazing, featuring not least a sort of frieze of an old-school funky cartoon characters embossed on the box, bell-bottoms, hoop earrings, platform shoes, big hats, big hair. One lovely lady in a leotard actually has one forthright, raised nipple perfectly embossed.

Photo: Shamelessly ripped off from Time corporate. Those Guess adds were so startling in the world of emaciation and dirge--it was all, like, who IS that woman?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oh, My Darling

It is the song that must be sung this season in the Cougar household whenever one of the sweet little citrus fruits is opened: "You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorrrrrry, Clementine."

Which is fun for me and DD but leads to many questions from a 7-year-old: "Why is she lost and gone forever? Why is he sorry?" She assumes the singer is male. Interesting.

"Well, he just thinks she's gone forever. But really she just swam downstream a little bit and she'll pop back when she's had a little time. She can't call him because the song is from the old days and far away, so he's feeling bad, but he'll feel better in a little while."

She's buying it. "What's escalating for a mine?"

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Simulcra Victorious

One of the highlights of a trip to Cali to see the parents is the visit to the Jelly Belly candy factory. They're masters at creating an illusion of flavor (the factory, not my parents, well, actually, they are too). Think it up, and they can conjure it, from madeleine to mangosteen. I spent a migrainous night bombed on painkillers and plowing through my free factory tour-size bag and reading, just wondering what flavor was going to visit my mouth next.

It's much like Demeter Fragrance Library does with perfumes (they're the makers of Dirt and Gin and Tonic scents, ah, the boys of summer!). In fact, Demeter actually did a co-brand with Jelly Belly to make a couple scents, including Fruit Salad.

So it goes with my pseudonyms, my extra people. They have more concentrated, carefully formulated scent and flavor than I do, and more interesting lives as well. One of them recently joined Facebook, something I/me would never do. It's too complicated and you can't control what comes into your world as well as I can here. But she got the little "be my friend" thing from someone way back whom I like a great deal--let's call him the Celtic Tiger, and watch him cringe--and who's so busy I worried I might lose touch if I didn't keep the avenue open. So "she" said yes, and has begun to write of herself in the third person.

I write a lot of poems in the second person--it's so lonely in there, I'll just rope you in with me, accuse you as I do myself, project it all onto you, you, you, my reader, my double--but even for me, writing fiction in the second would be too affected. That famous experiment perished in the 80s, speaking of cringing.

On the plane home, I read in an overripe November issue of The Atlantic that splitting oneself into multiple selves is not only not pathological, but could be critical to survival and happiness. I could get all poetic and tell of how when the lightning struck a year and a half ago, I split into many parts, knowing one life would just not be enough for me anymore, and tell of the tree with three trunks I saw in Rock Creek Park, but I'll let the authorities speak instead:

"We used to think that the hard part of the question 'How can I be happy?' had to do with nailing down the definition of happy. But it may have more to do with the definition of I. Many researchers now believe, to varying degrees, that each of us is a community of competing selves, with the happiness of one often causing the misery of another. This theory might explain certain puzzles of everyday life, such as why addictions and compulsions are so hard to shake off, and why we insist on spending so much of our lives in worlds--like TV shows and novels and virtual-reality experiences--that don't actually exist."

BTW, I'm keeping the contest open a little more, but if you're not inclined to write a poem for charity, here's another place your dollar could go: Mumbai Orphans Fund. Nothing fake about it, and thanks to the Professor of Osculation for the tipoff.

Photo: The Young King in Jelly Bellies, from a UK candy site.