Monday, September 29, 2008

The Metrodome Waits

Okay. It's time to acknowledge other sports besides basketball.

Baseball: I'm just waiting for the White Sox to lose so the Twins can get into the playoffs. Should be any hour now. Oh wait. The Sox are up 1-0. Only the first inning. Go. Tigers.

College Football: Just because my employer's team lost doesn't mean it's time to panic. There's still time to get back to number 1. It's still early. Even the Golden Gophers have a chance. They just need to win their next seven games. Should be easy.

Pro Football: Not a major sport. Not until Los Angeles gets a team again.

Election: It keeps getting better.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Champion of the Sun

I've avoided linking to videos that I think are "fun." Not because of any aversion to the viral ubiquity of youtube. Just because what's funny to me is often not funny to others.

But the video clip of Charlie and eventually Dennis writing the song "Day Man" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is so funny to me that I can't not write about it and link to it here.

You may need to set up a hulu account to view it because it's for "mature audiences only" (likely because of the thing with the sock). It's not exactly new (it's from last season) but I've been watching it constantly over the last five days. If you're sad, it will make you happy. If you're bored, it will make you busy. If you're uninspired, it will make want to paint murals. Here are my favorite five things about the video:

1. Sock, spraypaint.
2. The way Dennis says "I like that" after only hearing one or two default beats from Charlie's keyboard.
3. The way Dennis first looks at Charlie and then looks at an imaginary audience as he discovers the perfection of his backup howls.
4. Dennis taking the spraypaint away from Charlie while they're singing (what friends are for).
5. Charlie taking off his blanket as the song reaches its peak.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fly Like Paper

I've made it through day 8 of my self-assigned vegetarianism. It's fun. I've had these bouts of meatlessness before, once for six months or so in 2001. Interestingly I've lost five pounds in the past week although I think that's more likely due to my swearing off breakfast pastries.

I've been to a lot of interesting meetings with highers-up in my professional and academic careers. These meetings have been at universities, government agencies, private businesses, and fast food restaurants. Never, until today, did I hear anyone - and the big boss at that - quote Dr. Dre lyrics. It was a lovely moment.

David Foster Wallace's spring 2005 Pomona College Literary Interpretation syllabus. Dude was tough. But fair. If your shit was "mind-blowingly good" he'd give you the A+. He also used the word "sexy." And "spiel." (full syllabus available via link. thanks to for original link)

Favorite old song of the weekend: Metal Firecracker - Lucinda Williams

Favorite not really new song: Paper Planes - M.I.A.

Favorite new video: Sir Ben Kingsley, Punk.

Which reminds me of a funny story. A few years back I was at a party in the home of someone who worked on the creative fringes of the entertainment industry. Without saying too much, I'll just mention that Ben Kingsley was one of her clients. On her office wall was a printed "thank you" email from Ben. Two things struck me about the email: 1) It wasn't grammatically perfect; and 2) His email address - which I really want to tell you but I'm cognizant of the fact that there are two roles in the screenplay I just (co-)wrote that would be perfect for Ben and I don't want to burn bridges - includes both a "2000" and a "sir_ben."

And speaking of Lucinda Williams - hottest 55-year old woman ever or what? (scroll down for each link) (Note: Isabella Rosellini wins the award for 56-year olds.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here's a story I wrote around the turn of the century.

Here's something funny about something sad.

Here's some good news.

Here's another DFW tribute. More here.

And Michael Silverblatt here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

David Foster Wallace part two

"I am seated in an office."

I was terribly saddened by David Foster Wallace's suicide over the weekend. As I've said too many times to too many people, Infinite Jest is my favorite book ever. As I've said to a few of you, Infinite Jest helped make me a better (fiction) writer. Besides the sheer experimental audacity of the book, there are the words - the sentences that made one's jaw drop or, on several occasions, made me reach for my laptop or notebook to write something myself. I never wrote at a more prolific level than the period of time from 1996 to 1998 when I was reading Infinite jest. Yes, it took me that long. Now, I should be able to read 1,079 pages in less than 28 months. But there would be weeks at a time when I wouldn't pick the book up. And other periods where I couldn't pull myself away from it. And then the norm - days where I'd read three or four pages and switch to something else. At the time I suspected that I was trying to stretch out the experience of Infinite Jest - to make it last way longer than its 1,079 pages. I feared that I would be disappointed when I was finished with it, that I'd never to get to read those words again for the first time. I was absolutely right. I remember exactly where I was when I finished the book (something I honestly can't say for most books I finish). It was a Saturday afternoon in November 1998. I was seated on the green couch in the Dunn Brothers coffee shop on 34th and Hennepin in Minneapolis. When I read the final page, I remember thinking "Shit. This is it." Not because of the book's not-really-an-ending ending. But because there were no more pages. I walked to my car resignedly with the big blue book in my backpack in a heavy rain. And that was that.

Wallace wrote a lot more after (and before) Infinite Jest - all of it clearly the work of a brilliant, difficult, and dead-on mind. I remember reading the title story of his first short story collection Girl With Curious Hair in a taxi from O'Hare to downtown Chicago and hoping I'd finish it before the ride was over. I read all of it - his two collections of essays, his second story collection Oblivion, his amazing article about Roger Federer (Wallace knew tennis.) Okay so I didn't actually read his first novel Broom of the System. I will. Soon.

I liked his essays but I loved his fiction. The world he observed and recorded and reflected upon came across brilliantly enough but when he threw his imagination into the swirl, well then it got god-like. Yeah I know I could be prone to post-death hype but no. As I wrote in this blog nearly two years ago "His essays are nice and his short stories are nicer but the man's vision, brain, and ambition demand something big, something huge, something infinite and 1000+ pages long."

He really did make me a better writer. I can't explain it now but there was something about the way he structured it all that got to me. It could be a cliche to say that he wrote the way I think, which helped me write the way I think. But yeah that's true. He wasn't a mannered writer. He wasn't a minimalist. He wasn't an easy writer. I'm sure his brain got tired. There's no way someone could write something like "I presume it's probably facilitate that the tennis coach mistook for accentuate, though accelerate, while clunkier than facilitate, is from a phonetic perspective more sensible, as a mistake." (p. 3, Jest) and not eventually feel exhausted.

If his personal pain matched at any level the relentless of his written words, then the fact that the ultimate exhaustion of his head and heart and body may have lead to his suicide seems not that surprising. But it's still so very sad. One page earlier in Infinite Jest, he also wrote
"My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it." 930 pages later, he wrote "...the sad kid holds something terrible up by the hair and makes the face of somebody shouting in panic: Too Late."

I saw Wallace in person three times in my life. The first was in the now-closed Hungry Mind bookstore in St. Paul. It was for a reading from
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. He shook my hand and signed three of his books for me. He was disheveled. The second time was in 2003 at the Barnes and Noble at the Grove in Los Angeles. He was on a panel discussing "the short story." (Jason - am I right about this or were they talking about something else?) He was less disheveled. I believe this was after he became a professor at Pomona College.

The final time I saw him was at a theater in the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles in 2004 or 2005. He was dressed sharply. He was part of a panel about the current state of fiction. There were other writers there but he was the star of the event - almost all of the Q&As were directed his way. He was an insightful and respectful panelist but he did become testy at one point. Discussing a story from Oblivion called Good Old Neon - a young man (presumably a UCLA student because the UCLA English Department was sponsoring the event) nervously asked Wallace a question - whether Wallace shared some of the same beliefs of the protagonist in the story (I don't recall the specific beliefs.) Wallace paused for a moment and in the most subdued yet sarcastic tone you could imagine said "You're talking about a work of fiction. Fiction. Derived from the Latin word fictus, which means to feign or to make stuff up." The room fell silent. No one asked Wallace any more personal questions. Of course the poor college student was humiliated, being fantastically dissed by a famous writer, probably his favorite writer. I couldn't see the student but I'm sure he was slinking in his seat. I'm sure he was scarred for months. But, considering that the subject of his question - the character in Good Old Neon - commits suicide in the story, maybe he was on to something. (but here's a good counterargument of that contention.)

So yeah David Foster Wallace could occasionally be something of an asshole. Well so could I. And from everything that's been said about him these past few days - read the McSweeney's tribute especially - he was a great guy and a treasured teacher. He leaves behind some amazing work.

The first sentence of this post is the first sentence of Infinite Jest. I'll close with the final sentence (I thought about making this explanation a footnote - you know, as sort of a joke but I can't figure out how to superscript in HTML):

"It was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out."

David Foster Wallace part one

(this should have appeared yesterday; posting error)

I'll write about his death in more detail later. But in the meantime no one has said it better than Dwight Garner in the New York Times writing today about Infinite Jest: "His best work handed American fiction its pampered ass."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stumptown Monk Manifesto

So as I stand at the precipice of major life decisions, changes in age, and lower back pain, it's time to reflect on something that I assume to be (and yeah I could be wrong) of great interest to all of you: my stubborn belief that the TV show Monk is the most important work of art in the 21st century.

I've said this before. To some of you, I've said it too many times. Still, I imagine that those who know of my Monk obsession and those who just learned of it today have some questions for me. Questions I will now answer:

Isn't Monk an overly wholesome crime drama, with comedic elements and laughable mysteries?

No. Monk is a seemingly wholesome crime comedy, with dramatic/tragic elements and cleverly constructed and essentially disposable mysteries.

Hey Ali, isn't the character of Monk - a man who copes despite suffering personal and professional loss, displaying odd obsessive behavior - a doppelganger for your own actual and feared losses and iconoclastic quirkiness?

Yes. Of course he is.

What about the character of Sharona being replaced by Natalie in Season 3? Didn't that hurt the show?

Hell no. Natalie is a brilliant character - an "assistant" who ostensibly treats Monk with deference and respect but really kicks him in the ass when necessary whereas Sharona reminded me of my sister.

What makes the character of Adrian Monk different from, say, any other private detective or mystery-solving cop on TV?

First of all, Monk is an astutely drawn counterpart to the sex-obsessed womanizing crime solvers in essentially every other crime film or TV show. His loyalty to hid dead wife is admirable but borders on the absurd. His few failed attempts at hooking up with other women reinforce this seemingly sexless hero. But look closer - his (admittedly over-the-top) love for and connection to his car-bombed late wife is presented in such a stubbornly true and decisive manner that you know he had every kind of possible connection with her, sexual and otherwise. In other words, it's what you don't see that defines the guy.

What's your favorite Monk episode?

The one where he can't sleep and walks around late at night in the streets of San Francisco, which, believe it or not, are actually the streets of Santa Clarita. The Andy Richter episode and the Sarah Silverman ones are great too.

Least favorite?

The one with Howie Mandel.

What draws you to the show?

All of the above stuff. Good writing. Amazing acting.

Anything else?

Yeah you know how the drama of The Sopranos was derailed by the excruciating overrated therapy scenes between Tony and Dr. Melfi (both characters are great by the way... just not together)? Well, Monk's scenes with his psychiatrist (mostly the recently deceased Dr. Kroger but also with the new guy) are some of the most compelling scenes of the series. Here, his neuroses are presented in an environment that is completely natural. What seems freakish to the outside world becomes fascinating and funny. What else? Oh yeah - Natalie is hot. And the other guys - Disher and Stottelmeyer - serve their purposes perfectly. And Harold Krenshaw is priceless.

How about ranking the seasons?

Sure. 3. 2. 4. 7. 6 1. 5.

But is it really the best?

I look at it this way. I watch it all the time. I watch the same episodes over and over again, similar to how I viewed Seinfeld in the '90s. Sometimes the show merely interests me. Other times, it transfixes. But I keep coming back to it. Over and over again.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Almost Famous: A Thinkpiece

Has there ever been a bigger jump in quality from one director/writer's film to the next than the jump from Cameron Crowe's Jerry McGuire to Almost Famous? Holy crap Almost Famous is great. And whatever happened to the kid who played the kid? Any why hasn't Philip Seymour Hoffman done a Lester Bangs biopic yet? And what happened to Kate Hudson's aura?

I'm watching the movie now. The Tiny Dancer bus scene is on now. Sure it's corny but wow - I wish I'd been on that bus singing that song (for real, not just in the movie).

And then there's the Ben Fong-Torres character. Someone needs to make a buddy film with him and Bangs. Hey - I can write that!

I saw Almost Famous four times in three weeks in the dollar theater in Hopkins, Minnesota. Even Jimmy Fallon shines. McDormand. Fugit. Crudup.

"I didn't invent the rainy day. I just own the best umbrella."

And Crowe went from this brilliance to Vanilla Sky? Unexplainable.

But if you're going to have a peak, it might as well be Almost Famous. The film that gave us Fever Dog by Stillwater.

Come to think of it, I peaked in 2000 too. As a writer. That's the year I wrote Lippa. And Satellites. And of course Little Big Junebug. The Jubilee Trilogy.

And of course I wrote Wingo then too.

Wingo. That needs a rewrite.

Does anyone know what I'm talking about? Am I writing to an audience of one?

"He sold you to Humble Pie for 50 bucks and a case of beer."

Time for sleep. Late night blog entries lack focus. The sun better shine tomorrow. Yes, it always does. And it better not be hot. And if I didn't know any better...

"It's all happening."

Monday, September 01, 2008

The New Days

I'm listening to The Old Days by Dr. Dog at the moment. Great song. BIG song.

(they're not a jam band... they're like Yo La Tengo with melody or Arcade Fire with(out) production)

I'm listening to it on my new Macbook, wearing my new Converse shirt, drinking my brand name soda at Starbucks in Hollywood, a few minutes away from Griffith Park where Alex and I walked today.

Everything is good and I'm tired. I could go home now but I'll wait a while. I like being in the world.

And now I discover that it will be Thai and sitcoms for dinner. Cool.