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Monday, July 28, 2008

That's some BULLSHIT

Last day up at the cottage. We head down to Toronto in a couple hours, then I'm in Toronto for a few days. Back in Minni-snaps on Thursday night.

I'm totally bummed to be leaving (see: title). My uncle and aunt keep congratulating me on having survived so much time up here on my own (there was a full two weeks they weren't here, and I've been here for a month, total), but honestly, I don't feel like I've been that solitary. I've enjoyed the time alone, I've read a lot, written a lot (not as much as I wanted, but then, one never does...), swum and biked and cooked a lot (pictures forthcoming) and Taken Stock a lot, and the solitude never felt weird or oppressive. And thanks to high-speed internet and the occasional phone conversation, I've been in touch with a lot of friends and it feels like due the to the distance or all the free time I've had up here, the conversations I've had with people have been meaningful: we've actually emailed and talked About Stuff, and I've caught up with some people I've haven't talked to in a while. Plus the lack of social time has made me appreciate my friends and look forward to spending time with them. I feel like the time here has deepened my connections to people, not severed them. I've spent a lot of time with my uncle and aunt and realized that I need to spend more time with my Canadian family. I like to complain/boast about being an only child with no cousins, but the truth is, I _do_ have family, and I should take more advantage of it.

Gosh, though, apparently being up here has made me maudlin.

It's time to go back to the flatland, though. I'm reading The Magic Mountain, which is about this dude, Hans, who goes up to visit his cousin at a retreat for people with TB, up in the mountains. He get so seduced by the orderly, reflective way of life that he sort of psychosomatically gets TB, too. He becomes addicted to leisure--a not particularly intellectual guy in the past, he's exposed to all these thinkers, all these different ideas about society, life, death, disease, the whole process of Taking Stock, in other words. He gets so wrapped up in it he becomes unfit for actual life, down below.

So I don't want to end up like old Hans. I do believe in the importance of quiet, of Taking Stock, of reading (reading, as DFW points out, is like the least lonely thing you can do, in a way -- it's a really intimate connection with another person's mind), of reflecting, of taking time to synthesize. But you need some action in your life, too. You can get too seduced by passivity, because the rewards of passivity can be great. After all, you need a lot of quiet and leisure, you need to spend a lot of time by yourself, if you want to write. I guess it's about having the discipline not to get too wrapped up in your own head; to make sure what you do has a connection to the world.

Or something. What do I know, anyway?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Writing: The Soundtrack

Had a good morning of writing so far today. 2 pages or so. Wrote four or so yesterday. So, instead of continuing on the productive streak, I thought I'd obsess briefly about music.

In a tribute to the power of displacement behavior, I've created what I believe to be the perfect writing soundtrack. I used to be a big needer of quiet: perfect silence had reign all around me for me to write. Now, I honestly crave some background noise. If the noise is created by me--i.e., music I have specifically chosen and associate with writing--this is much better than random noises that I can't control.

The current soundtrack is a little short, but otherwise I think awesome. The songs are all songs that a) have some thematic connection to writing or b) aren't so distracting that they can't fade beautifully and atmospherically into the back of my consciousness. As anyone who knows me knows, I like melancholy songs, damp with sonic atmosphere, bleating guitars, plincky-plonky piano solos and trembling voices. For writing, this is perfect. I don't have to feel apologetic for my sad mixes. I tend to make playlists entitled "Spring Happy Mix" only to put the songs on and have friends say, "What is this? The wrist-slitting soundtrack?" But for writing I can get as quiet as I like.

1) Cake, "Open Book." Pretty obvious choice, seeing as how it begins, "She's writing, she's writing, she's writing a novel..." But my first play was called Open Book and...whatever.
2) The Decemberists, "The Engine Driver." Another obvious choice, seeing as how the chorus runs "I am a writer, a writer of fictions..."
3) Devendra Banhart, "At the Hop." If you read gossip magazines, you'll have seen Natalie Portman with her new boyfriend, a bearded and scruffy hipster who looks chic-ly homeless. No one seems to get the relationship, but upon hearing that the boy in question was the author of this song, I got it. This song was on a mix Cybele gave me -- I don't know any of his other music, nor do I want to, because this song breaks my heart. And it fits on my writing mix, because the lyrics are all about the break between imagination and reality (my Great Theme) -- the singer keeps exhorting his love-person to imagine him in various impossible ways: "Pack me in your suitcase...cook me in your breakfast..." He admits that he won't "stop all of my pretending/that's you'll come home/you'll be coming home soon."
4) Neutral Milk Hotel, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea." Okay, I can't think how this has to do with writing. It's just moody and atmospheric.
5) Radiohead, "All I Need." I was never a big Radiohead fan, but "In Rainbows" is not only a great album, but it's the best album I've come across to write to. It's lovely without being over-the-top and I've done so much writing to this song in particular. It doesn't hurt that the song is also Dead Sexy.
6) Rufus Wainwright, "Imaginary Love." Forget "Poses" or the later stuff. I'm all about his debut, self-titled album. And this song fits in the writing mix because of the "Imaginary" theme...and it's also a dope song. And he doesn't mumble! As much.
7) Ryan Adams, "Sylvia Plath." On the writing playlist for the literary reference, obvs, and also for the Moody and Atmospheric qualities. It's from the "Gold" album and is quite different from his usual guitar-heavy-country-blues-influenced stuff (which I also love). There's just a piano and some strings. The song isn't about Sylvia Plath so much as Adam's evocation of "a Sylvia Plath" that he "wishes" he had: "busted tooth and a smile...with cigarette ashes in her drink/the kind that goes out/and then sleeps for a week." There's something incredibly charming about his imaginary lady: she's a mess, but she's awesome. The fantasy gets more elaborate: "Maybe she'd take me to France/Or maybe to Spain/She'd ask me to dance/In a mansion on the top of hill/She'd ash on the carpet/and slip me a pill/And she'd get me pretty loaded on gin." And maybe because I drink a lot of gin-and-tonics up at the cottage, and because I discovered this song up at the cottage, and maybe because I used to ash into my drinks when I smoked, and mostly because of this part: "And she and I/would sleep on a boat/and swim in the sea without clothes/with rain falling fast on the sea/as she was swimming away, she'd be winking at me/Telling me that it would be all be okay/On the horizon and fading away/And I'd swim to the boat and I'd laugh/Gotta get me a Sylvia Plath" this song really reminds me of being up at the cottage, going skinny dipping, going out in the boat. I'm pretty sure the swimming part is actually about death, but nevertheless, the song makes me feel happy and peaceful, not sad at all.
8) Modest Mouse, "Dance Hall." Name check!: "Woke up this morning/Seemed to me/That every night turns out to be/ A little bit more like Bukowski/And yeah I know he's a pretty good read/but God who'd want to be...such an asshole." Says it all.
9) New Order, "Age of Consent." Okay, I just like this song.
10) Radiohead, "Videotape." Also great for writing to. And it sort of fits! "When I'm at the pearly gates/This'll be on my videotape." Good song to end a mix to.

So obviously I'm procrastinating. I've also made several mixes for friends: Jake (belated birthday present -- also, guilt trip. Give me music!); Min (I made you a cheerful mix, I swear); and Dan. Anyone else want one?

Friday, July 25, 2008

I am so SMRT

Although on a discussion over at Jake's, I repudiated the idea that authors wrote "difficult" books so that some people could "feel smart" I have to say that the experience of reading Infinite Jest has made me feel smart. I toughed out the rough beginning of a long book, and got into it; I feel like the points I've gotten from the book--judging from the secondary materials I've looked at, interviews with DFW, etc.--seem pretty close to "right" (for whatever that's worth); and the questions I was left with, plot-wise and theme-wise, seem to be the questions that most readers are left with, questions that seem to be quasi-deliberately left up in the air. DFW designed the book so it would be "thinky" but entertaining, and that's just how I found it: it made me think, it challenged me, but it was fun. It made me feel smart.

No, before you're all like "Oh, Easy O, you think you're so much smarter and better than everyone else," let me just say that, come on, I need things like IJ to make me feel smart. Let me share the following stories:

So, making coffee. Making coffee is not that hard. But hear this tragi-comic Catch-22 of making coffee: You need to make it before you've had your coffee. And, honestly, without coffee, I'm dumb. So very, very, very dumb. And I know coffee is #1 on the List of Stuff White People Like, but who are we kidding? If I was any whiter I'd be off the visible spectrum.

Things I have done trying to make coffee, in blurry coffee-less morning state:
1) Place unground beans directly in filter.
2) Put lid of coffee pot directly on filter. Ponder for several minutes why filter would not fit in machine with mysterious lid on it.
3) My uncle and aunt's coffee pot has this springloaded thing that the coffee drips out of. I couldn't figure out how to open it, and was too embarrassed to ask, so when making coffee by myself, I would stand there and hold the springloaded clasp open by hand. The other day I put the coffee on and wandered away, knowing full well the coffee was going to build up inside the filter. I got distracted by something, I don't know, my own navel or whatever, and when I went back to check on the coffee pot, found coffee overspreading the entire kitchen counter. When attempting to clean this up, I knocked the filter out of the machine entirely. Stared at mess, making something between whimper and a sob.

So you see, I need stuff like books to make me feel smart. I need all the help I can get.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ms. Difficulty

So I finished Infinite Jest and honestly I loved it.

In the spirit of affectionate snark, however, I do think that the main narrative thrust of the book can be summed up by this:


The title of this post is a nod to the fact that I'm reading several "difficult" books right now: finished IJ and I'm still trucking through The Magic Mountain. Got Ulysses sitting on the bedside table. It's weird, cause I'm not usually a "difficult book" person. Not that I'm not a difficult book person...you know what I mean. Right?

Don't worry, I still watch bad TV on the internet.

Cooking people: tips on making green beans? I'm making some with garlic and rosemary, I think. Also, re: banana bread, do you think, a la scones, that if you coated the outside of banana bread in some butter, it would produce a yummy, shiny exterior? Or would that be weird? I feel like my banana bread is always so dry.

Pages written yesterday: 4.75
Pages written today: TBD!!!

I finally biked all the way into Port Carling, to return a library book for my aunt. Port Sanfield (one mile away) has food but no booze or library or anything else really and is freakin' expensive. So far our neighbor has driven me to the IGA out at Port Carling twice to go grocery shopping, but I wanted to actually bike out there myself. So I did: about seven or eight miles, so about fourteen miles total. Is that actually a long bike ride? Or as a newbie to biking am I thinking I'm all bad ass for nothing much? I feel kinda wiped. My bike is also really old and pathetic and rusty and there are lots of hills. As I strained up several of them, my bike complaining and creaking and close to falling apart, someone on a speedy sports bike dressed in spandex would inevitably speed by in the opposite direction, as if mocking me.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Found out I'm getting a story published here, which is "chuffing." They actually sent me galleys! (just a pdf, but still).

Wrote nine pages the other day, although two of them were re-appropriated old stuff.

It's been storming, off and on. My sleep cycle is all off and weird.

Thinking about the new story.

Just made some banana bread. I discovered the we don't have a loaf pan -- there's absolutely everything else. A bundt pan. Cookie sheets. Muffin tins. Etc. No loaf pan. So I divided up the batter into two pie tins. I honestly don't know how they turned out. It's weird to see bread in a circular, lumpy shape. Plus, the oven here is really hot. The two half-batter-full pie tins only seemed to need to bake about half as long as the recipe called for, which I guess makes sense. They smell delicious and I was happy with the batter but I'm still nervous. We'll see. I guess I could have put all the batter into one pie tin, but I was worried it would rise too high.

And this has been today's edition of "the nervous cook." Where L. fucks something up in a recipe, tries to fix it, futzes nervously, and it _usually_ works out okay.

I'm charmed by Morgan's request that I write about my May Term class, as I am charmed by most thing Miss M. does. However, Morgan was fortunate enough to be out of town while I was teaching, otherwise she would have realized that talking to me during that time period tended to go like this:

Friend: How's it going?

Me: Bitch about May Term class -- I'm so stressed -- class dynamics -- so much photo-copying -- four hours of teaching -- four days a week! -- some fabulous students, but a weird mix -- did I design the class correctly? -- I'm taking it so personally because this class was my design -- frustrates the fuck out me when students don't like the reading, for example -- bitch bitch bitch -- after class I tend to go to my desk and sit in a corner and moan softly -- was the class even a good idea? -- some students loved it -- others admitted to taking it for an easy A and some credits -- attitude problems -- why am I such a spazz in front of the class? -- bitch bitch bitch --made some mistakes on the first day, which got things off on the wrong foot -- some good discussions though -- bitch bitch bitch

Friend: So what else is going on with you, besides the class?

Me: Bitch about May Term class -- I'm so stressed -- class dynamics -- so much photo-copying -- four hours of teaching -- four days a week! -- some fabulous students, but a weird mix -- did I design the class correctly? -- I'm taking it so personally because this class was my design -- frustrates the fuck out me when students don't like the reading, for example -- bitch bitch bitch -- after class I tend to go to my desk and sit in a corner and moan softly -- was the class even a good idea? -- some students loved it -- others admitted to taking it for an easy A and some credits -- attitude problems -- why am I such a spazz in front of the class? -- bitch bitch bitch

Friend: What do you think of the presidential campaigns?

Me: Bitch about May Term class -- I'm so stressed -- class dynamics -- so much photo-copying -- four hours of teaching -- four days a week! -- some fabulous students, but a weird mix -- did I design the class correctly? -- I'm taking it so personally because this class was my design -- frustrates the fuck out me when students don't like the reading, for example -- bitch bitch bitch -- after class I tend to go to my desk and sit in a corner and moan softly -- was the class even a good idea? -- some students loved it -- others admitted to taking it for an easy A and some credits -- attitude problems -- why am I such a spazz in front of the class? -- bitch bitch bitch

Friend: Isn't the sky a pretty shade of blue?

Me: Bitch about May Term class -- I'm so stressed -- class dynamics -- so much photo-copying -- four hours of teaching -- four days a week! -- some fabulous students, but a weird mix -- did I design the class correctly? -- I'm taking it so personally because this class was my design -- frustrates the fuck out me when students don't like the reading, for example -- bitch bitch bitch -- after class I tend to go to my desk and sit in a corner and moan softly -- was the class even a good idea? -- some students loved it -- others admitted to taking it for an easy A and some credits -- attitude problems -- why am I such a spazz in front of the class? -- bitch bitch bitch


So, yeah, basically it took over my brain for the whole three weeks. I learned _so much_: about the subject matter, about teaching, about designing a class. But it was stressful, some things went very wrong (though some went very right) and it was an odd mix of students (though many were great).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I don't even want to think about what day it is

Pages written today: 0 (But! But! But! I did think long and seriously about the end of the book, and work out some end-of-the-book stuff. I did that thing -- doubtless this makes me sound crazy, but whatever, that ship may have sailed -- where I walked around and sort of wrote in my head for awhile and could see the end. See the end shimmering in front of me, an actual end point, like the finishing line glimmering at someone running a marathon -- not that I've ever run a marathon or ever will--no fucking way--and it's entirely possible the end I see glimmering and winking at me might be simply a mirage, but...you know. It was still a nice feeling).

Pages written yesterday: 7, although to be fair, two or so of those were imported in from elsewhere, something I had written earlier.

Pages written day before yesterday: 2.

I think I have an idea for a new story. It's inspired by the Malcolm's Lowry's crazy-town foreward to Under the Volcano, which, by the way, is such a great and such a fucking heartbreaking book. Really. How you can not love a book that has sentences like this:
He had not played one, and Hugh could play almost any kind of guitar, for four or five years, and his numerous instruments declined with his books in basements or attics in London or Paris, in Wardour Street night-clubs or behind the bar of the Marquis of Granby or the old Astoria in Greek Street, long since become a convent and his bill still unpaid there, in pawnshops in Tithebarn Street or the Tottenham Court Road, where he imagined them as waiting for a time with all their sounds and echoes for his heavy step, and then little by little, as they gathered dust, and each successive string broke, giving up hope, each string a hawser to the fading memory of their friend, snapping off, the highest pitched string always first, snapping with sharp gun-like reports, or curious agonized whines, or provocative nocturnal reports, like a nightmare in the soul of George Frederic Watts, till there was nothing but the blank untumultuous face of the songless lyre itself, soundless cave for spiders and steamflies, and delicate fretted neck, just as each breaking string had severed Hugh himself pang by pang from his youth, while the past remained, a tortured shape, dark and palpable and accusing.
That, my friends, is a motherfucking sentence.

Like all brilliant sentences, in my opinion, it teeters just thisclose to being the worst sentence every written and it comes out the other side, weird and unexpected and somehow perfect.

I'm also getting more and more into Infinite Jest. I'm on about page 458, so nearly halfway. Can't quite believe that, actually, but it's true. I feel almost embarrassed because everyone else is like "Gosh, I'm too busy to read the book, what with work and my life and all" and because I'm up in Canada with literally no one around (Uncle and Aunt back down in Toronto) I'm zipping through the motherfucker.

I like to say "motherfucker" today, apparently.

As promised, as the sections start getting longer, the book gets more and more compelling. The addiction stuff is can't-put-down-able. Gately, I love, love, love. Everything about him and addiction sections (including P.G.O.A.T's suicide attempt) feels very real, raw and real and earned. And there's the pleasure of figuring out how the bits fit together and learning about the imagined future (figuring out the acronyms and getting less off-put by them, figuring out the "historical" stuff, etc.).

Here's my "theory" on Infinite Jest if you can really call this a theory. More a thought. But here it is, take it or leave it:

The form of the book, the fractal inspired structure discussed over here and on The Dependent Clause, is off-putting and when you don't know the details about the alternative future DFW has imagined, that can be very confusing. But when you've got a handle on that, when you've figured out how to read the book, essentially, then well...it isn't, in my opinion, all that complicated.

If I had to bastardize and compress a lot of stuff, The Point is (as I see it, and keeping in mind that I'm only half-way through, so I could be wrong, or meant to think this, only to have all my notions turned on their head): American society is based on the idea that Freedom, which has come to mean, the right to pursue your own individual happiness, is the most important thing of all. This has become confused with the right to be entertained, to be able to whim-satisfy, basically. And this idea of the paramount importance of "freedom to choose to be entertained" is easily manipulated, by, say, advertisers who create needs that don't really exist, or lather people up to feel it's their "right" to have a "choice" of different kinds of entertainment and this "choice" of entertainments and products is all that matters. And this has engendered an in-ability of Americans in particular to say "no" -- and that desire to keep hitting the morphine button, so to speak, and feeling like you have a right to hit the button--is usefully mirrored and reflected by the phenomenon of addiction to various Substances. America has become vulnerable and addiction prone. So much so that we don't think through or don't want to think through the consequences of our we-want-what-we-want-when-we-want-it system, and prefer to literally export our waste and focus on the aesthetics of being "clean" rather than being actually clean and sustainable as a society.

And as I see it, DFW takes this basic idea (which is actually more complicated when I wrote it out; it was simpler in my head) and "iterates" it: through addicts, through the Tennis Academy (which, I think, in DFW's view, tennis has to do with moving beyond your personal desires, with facing failure -- but I haven't quite parsed all that yet), through the films that Hal's dad makes, through the misfortunes of the dystopian America (or O.N.A.N) that DFW has imagined.

Add a soupcon of family drama, inter-textual relationships to things like Hamlet (and way more I'm sure I've missed), reflections on the pressures that high-expectations and early talent put on people...and viola! Infinite Jest.

The pleasures of reading Infinite Jest, as I see it, so far: 1) The pleasures of figuring out the world he's created -- basically the pleasures of world-building. The tennis academy had to be pretty fun to think up -- it's sort of an athletics kid's Hogwarts, let's be real -- and there's great pleasure to be had in figuring out the history of the dystopian America. DFW smartly doesn't front-load the book with those details -- you have to keep reading to figure them out, and you do figure them out, in time. Meanwhile, you keep reading to figure out things like: okay, so why is every year named after a product? What the fuck is the Great Concavity? And the way he tells you things -- student papers, Mario's film -- are clever and funny ways of doing it. No awkward exposition. 2) The pleasures of figuring out the structure. Figuring out the chronology; figuring out how the different strands fit together. 3) The great pleasures of the writing, which is weird and in some places hilarious -- I was pretty blown away by the AA meeting section, when I was laughing out loud at these horrible stories, while still being horrified by them. The mixture of pathos and humor and weirdness is just right, in places. 4) The characters, which are varied and weird and flawed and likeable, in ways that intentionally reflect and speak to each other. 5) The America-society satire, which is pointed and right-on, though, maybe not ground-breaking. By that I mean, while I take DFW's points, I don't know if I've hit a point yet where I'm like, slapping my head and going "No! Surely not no!"

None of this is to be like "Psh! Infinite Jest -- how simply is it, really?" And let's restate again I'm only halfway through and expect to look back on this and scoff at myself. But...it's to revisit once again the thought that while the book is formally challenging, to be sure, the pleasures of reading it and the stuff that I've gotten out of it aren't necessarily any more complex than any other thoughtful book I've read. It's hard, but it's not completely opaque or impossible to understand. I really do feel that at its center, there's a pretty simple idea that's been "spun out" in all sorts of different directions (a la a fractal).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Emotional Loon Rescue

This was a headline in the local paper, The Muskokan.

B
ut I also want it to be the title of my first autobiography.

Pages written today (so far -- yes, touching optimism): 4.5

Pages written yesterday: 4.5

I've gotten over a rather bad "patch" in which I was...very stuck. Stuck as things that is stuck in sticky things. But I--knockity knock on wood!--seem to have gotten through it. I've written through a scene that was giving me some troubles (a dinner party scene -- ugh). I think what I've written may--gosh, what's the technical term?--suck, but right now I just want to get it down. Some of it is obvious placeholders that I plan to go back in and make less terrible at some point in time that is not now.

As a gift from Sara, check this out.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My Not So Deep Thoughts on Infinite Jest: Infinitly Di[jest]able?

So this is my first foray into posting thoughts on IJ (Ha! I typed IF by mistake), as part of a virtual book club type thingy (see Jake's blog for further details). Despite not being exactly hassled with Stuff To Do right now, I've sort of dragged my feet, so to speak, posting my first entry...perhaps because, although the links and notes Jake's provided so far have been infinitely (har) helpful, I'm still not quite sure, well, what I think, or where to begin talking about it.

I will say that I'm glad I'm attempting this with extensive electronic resources and a virtual support system. The book is hard, and intimidating, which isn't necessarily bad, just...hard. And intimidating. It's challenging, and I can feel it challenging me and forcing me to Learn Stuff and Think About Stuff. Even when I'm struggling with the book, I do find it interesting to think about, which helps. And I'm -- I think more slowly than many readers, but I'm getting there -- becoming affectionate towards the strange Incandenza family and the carefully built up world of ETA.

In the quote cited on Jake's blog, DFW describes the future world of the book as "glittery but cold"--a fairly apt description of how I'm finding the prose, I think. It reminds me of Thomas Pynchon, a pretty obvious comparison, but the closest reading experience I can think of is The Crying of Lot 49 (though in terms of length we're at opposite ends of the spectrum). The combination of paranoia, dystopia, beautiful, weird writing, and yet at the same time slapstick humor and pure delight in word and idea play, I've found only in Pynchon before.

Since I can apparently only do blog entries in lists, I'll start with a list of things that have really resonated with me:

(1) Chunks of the action -- perhaps it worthwhile to note that I'm on page 101, not even done with what's speculated to be the first "section" of the book -- takes place in Arizona, some of it Tucson. The first chapter is an admissions interview at the University of Arizona, in fact (though we're at some unspecified point in the future, as we pick up on fairy quickly -- or if you're me, take an embarrassingly long time to twig to). I haven't read many books set in Arizona, apart from some of Barbara Kingsolver's work, and those that are usually tend towards the Lo! Look Into The Beautiful and Mystical Heart of the Desert and Hear the Spiritual Lizards Singing! variety. The little bits of Tucson/Arizona description in IJ are nice because they are unsentimental and right on, my favorite so far being Chapter 1: "Not for nothing did Orin say that people outdoors down here just scuttle in vectors from air conditioning to air conditioning. The sun is a hammer." Totally true, and I made a similar observation in a recent story of mine.
My second favorite Arizona detail is the cockroaches that crawl out of Orin's shower a few chapters later. While this is obviously highlighted by Orin's intense disgust -- and while I feel the roach problem is exaggerated for comic effect/filtered through Orin's strange perception-- I have in fact had the experience of showering in my ancestral home in Tucson and screaming in horror as I looked down to identify the tickle on my foot, only to realize that a cockroach had crawled out of the shower onto my foot. There really is this feeling in Arizona of constant battle with the bugs; the presence of an exterminator being a vital and necessary -- nay, life saving, when you think of the poisonous bugs -- one.

(2) The addiction/depression sections; I guess I'm referring here to the first Erdedy chapter, highlighting his pot addiction/obsession, and the chapter in the psych ward. We also have Hal's secret pot habit, similar in many ways to Erdedy and the suicidal girl: the secrecy (blowing in vents), intense desire to "pass," etc. I'm going to ask a really bone-headed question, or pose a somewhat silly topic of debate: can you even be addicted to pot? Jake commends the Erdedy chapter for it's amazing depiction of addiction, and I can only agree. But I guess I've always been raised on the liberal line that pot is harmless, impossible to become addicted to, natural, far better for you than most prescription medication, etc. etc. etc. And it is true that pot is in no way physically addicting, no? But, of course, that doesn't mean that you can't become cripplingly psychologically addicted to it -- as you can become psychologically addicted to anything, I suppose. In fact, if the addiction aspects have reminded me of anything in myself, it's probably my relationship to food. And food is of course only physically addicting insofar as you need it to remain alive (the worst problem for those of us with food issues, really: you can't give up food; you have to come to some sort of relationship with it).

(3) The futuristic/dystopian aspects. It took my awhile to pick up on this, which is probably a tribute to how well it's done. As Jake points out, the red envelopes that "entertainment cartridges" arrive in kinda eerily evoke Netflix (we have in fact arrived at a world in which entertainment cartridges are delivered to your home, only they're DVDs); and in the Erdedy chapter, he talks about leaving "e-notes" which I floated right through the first time, only to realize later that, of course, when this book was written there was no gmail, no facebook, no myspace, few blogs -- I had this idea right away of what an "e-note" was, but of course that's from knowledge of now. Weird. What's successful about the way all of it's done is that it's almost-but-not-quite-the-world-we-live in: things are exaggerated, trends in our society taken to a natural extreme, the known fused seamlessly with the speculative. It's what George Saunders does, too, though for some reason, despite the obvious points of comparison, DFW emphatically does not remind me of George Saunders; I can't work out why, exactly, but I'll mull on it.

(4) The structure. I've been trying to chew on this idea that the structure of the book is inspired by a fractal, a Sierpinksi triangle. I've been interested in fractals ever since Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (anyone who hasn't read or seen this play -- please run don't walk to a bookstore and get a copy. You'll thank me, after you've stopped weeping, of course). Fractals -- though I can't claim to really understand them, like, at all, mathematically-- are amazing because it really does seem to be how the natural world works -- the way leaves and coastlines are actually put together -- random, but not really random, just self-similar repetition. It really is like you're mathematically describing the world.
Anyway, I'm trying to think of how this book's structure might be like a fractal and I think the best I can come up with so far is: instead of a conventional center, there are small sections; similar ideas are iterated -- run through different variations -- over and over? There's also always a hole in the Sierpinksi triangle, perhaps reflecting that the novel has an absent center. But then, as these guys point out, you can just as well say that about a donut or anything else with a hole in the center. I don't know if the fact that it's supposed to be a triangle (3 sides; repeated three times) matters -- after all, the S. triangle is just one example of a certain kind of a fractal; it doesn't have to be a triangle. I can think of groups of three in the book already (the three pot examples I just listed, for example); but I don't know if the "rule of three" is going to matter, or if I would have the patience to track it through the book.
I'm also reading The Black Swan -- or rather, I was, and I still need to finish it -- and it also has a section on fractals (I'll report back -- think that book might dovetail nicely with IJ).
One thing that just occurred to me as I was writing this: despite the highly unconventional structure, formatting, etc. etc. etc., the book still employs the most basic structural tool of fiction to keep you interested: the distribution of information. What's keeping me "hooked" on a very basic level (other than the Interesting Ideas and a few characters that I like) is wanting answers to my questions: what's on the cartridge that's killing people? Is it the father's movie*? What's this Canadian conspiracy? What happened to the father? What's wrong with Hal? And in that sense -- as it's producing that urge in me to keep reading to find out information that is being deliberately withheld -- IJ is working on me like a "traditional" narrative.

*(Loved the footnotes that described the movies, btw, my favorite being: "Fun With Teeth...a Kosinski/Updike/Peckinpah parody, a dentist performs sixteen unanesthetized root-canal procedures on an academic he suspects of involvement with his wife" -- of course, as I just realized, this becomes less funny when you realize later this film maker's wife was unfaithful to him).

Okay, that's enough for now kids. More to come?

Things I still wanted to talk about: the effect of re-reading (and perhaps the necessity of re-reading books like this); the acronyms; world-building.

It occurs to me, though, maybe I need to be reading less and writing more.

Damn. Anyway, g'night.

A Little Poem About How Lovely Dan Is

Once there was a little sausage named Dan
He lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Canada: Day Eight. Million.

Okay, so I'll say upfront that I haven't gotten any prose pages done. Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. Yes. I know.

However, I have finished the play. Yes. It is done. So that's 73 pages worth of play. And now that's done and out of my head and I think I can get back to work on the whole "BP" (big project) thing.

I'm also up here on my own now. Uncle and Aunt back in Toronto. They'll be back Friday. Honestly, it's weird. Weirder than I thought it would be. I'm really...all alone. In the woods. By a lake. For the first time ever, I'm freaking out about bears and psychotic killers. Isn't this how most horror movies start? A writer goes to a solitary retreat, but LITTLE DOES SHE KNOW...

I mean, okay, it's not that bad: the neighbors, whom we are friends with, are very close by and swim by pretty much every day and said I could call anytime if I wanted a ride into town. And I can bike into town really easily. And I have the internet. And the landline. But still...

I'm doing my darnedest to eat real meals and stick to a schedule and be active and not wallow in my own filth. But you all know I'm not good at those things at the best of times, let alone when the accountability is precisely zip.

Good things I have done:
(1) Made a delicious salad, dressing from scratch, with smoked trout (haven't axed trout from the list of Fishes I'm Not Eating, yet).
(2) Made portobello mushroom/tomato thing that was delicious.
(3) Went swimming twice on Sunday and biked into town. And did yoga on the boathouse.
(4) Remembered to put the sheets down on the porch furniture when it started raining.
(5) Finished play.
(6) Read Patrimony, by Phillip Roth.
(7) Started Under the Volcano. Has made me think about very useful things regarding novel structure.

Bad things I have done:
(1) Located and watched episodes of Secret Diary of Call Girl and Weeds.
(2) Tracked down all chocolate and ice cream in cottage yesterday and consumed it.
(3) Ditto for leftover rice pudding and macaroni pie.
(4) May also have eaten much breakfast cereal yesterday, not at breakfast times.
(5) Perhaps because I had slept in past social acceptable breakfast times.
(6) In part because rain had woken me up at 4:30 am, at which time I remembered I had not put sheets down on porch furniture. Sprinted over to cottage from cabin in the rain to do so, also to unplug all electronics. At which point I was so discombobulated that I
(7) Read Our Man in Havana (anyone seen this movie, by the way? So good) until morning. As sun rose, went back to sleep.
(8) See beginning of blog, re: no prose writing. Though lots of prose thinking? Thinking about prose?
(9) Reading books like Patrimony, Under the Volcano, and Our Man in Havana rather than Infinite Jest; also being dilatory in posting about Infinite Jest.

I think it's fair to say that the bad outweighs the good. But tomorrow is always another day to tip the balance.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Trinidad for Barack!

Not sure many people know this offhand about me, but my lovely aunt C. is from Trinidad. Here is a Tribute from the Calypso king himself, The Mighty Sparrow, for Barack Obama! My boy. It should be noted that C's mum, though Trinidadian currently a New Jersey resident, was a Hilary Girl, and that in terms of my readership I'm Preaching To The Choir, but nevertheless I think this needs sharing:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

Canada: Day 4

Didn't post yesterday -- sorry. Happy fourth of July, everyone! I've traditionally been out of the country on the Fourth and this year is no exception. My aunt Carrie did create a "Fourth of July" tree, though. A real little tree that we cut down. What should we decorate it with? Popcorn? Red, white, and blue?

Yesterday, Big Project progress came to a screetching halt. Big zero.

Pages written on Big Project: 0
However, pages written on play: Eleven!

So...that's good, right? Some progress? I also think I very much see the end of the play -- a few more scenes and it's done (a short two-acter). The thought of finishing something is intoxicating; maybe that's the advantage of writing a long-ass Big Project (BP): you get so crazed with frustration that you finish other things.

And I started the BP when I was trying not to write a philosophy paper on the metaphysical reality of fictional characters...so I'm all for procrastination.

Things I've done instead of write, yesterday and today:

1) Bike ride into Port Sanfield. A mile both ways. I know you real bikers are like "Man, I do two miles before breakfast," but for me it was a big deal.
2) Finish Philadelphia Fire.
3) Ditch all the books I've brought up here to read a ratty paperback edition of John Updike's Couples, about which I have complex thoughts, but I just vented them in an email to Matt, and am now bored with thinking about it.
4) Take the boat up to Windemere with family and have sushi (!) on the lake.
5) Swim to neighboring cabin and back.
6) Make scones.

No progress yet today. Bad Laura. No cookie. It's possible today might be salvaged, but I'm not sure. I really do have to start first thing, peeling myself away from my bed and going out onto the porch to write, before I talk to anyone. I have a coffee-maker in the cabin, so there's no excuse not to get up, make coffee, and get to work. If I don't, if I wander over the cottage and eat breakfast and chat to my uncle and aunt, I end up collapsing on the bed on the veranda and reading and then getting sucked into some scheme for the day. Doing delicious vacationy things like drinking gin and tonic far too early and napping in the sun or swimming or cooking or taking a bide ride or going on an expedition in the boat.

Read in the paper that eating chocolate in the morning combats your cravings for sweets later in the day. At night I dreamed I ordered pasta made out of chocolate. In the morning Carrie gave me a piece of chocolate with pepper in it. I ate it too fast and it burned my mouth and didn't reduce my chocolate cravings at all.

I miss all of you and talk to you my head a lot.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Canada: Day 2

Pages written today: 7.

Finished section 5.

Went swimming again. It was very cold. Didn't do yoga; bike ride tomorrow.

A more shameful objective of my trip here is to lose five pounds and get in a little better shape. Or, at least not to let the awesome food that my aunt and her mum make and all the lovely booze and lazing around in the sun opportunities make me swell out of control.

I feel like I have more exciting and interesting thoughts; then when I post them, I feel the most boring person ever.

BUT, the objective of this is to motivate me to write (the thought of posting that I'd written nothing was shaming today) and to keep it short and snappy. So, I will. Signing off. I'll be funny or interesting sometime, I promise.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

First blog: Canada, Day 1.

So. This blog. Created it. Purposes:
1) I'm going to try and and document how much I write every day I'm up here, at the family cottage in Canada. I'm up for a month and writing is the primary objective-o. Yes: objectivo. It's a word. Sort of. We've got high-speed ethernet internet up here now, so instead of frantic emailing, I thought I'd try and post up how much I've gotten done in a given day.
2) To try and write in a short, pithy fashion on various pertinent topics of interests a la conversations with Emily and Jake.
3) To post my Deep Thoughts on Infinite Jest for the Infinitive Jest virtual book club (TM!).
I've named this after my old MySpace blog, which I did very much enjoy for a while there. Yes, I had a MySpace blog. I am not ashamed. I'm not going to tell very many people about this at first...see how it goes.

Oh the rambling! I can feel it coming! I'll try and keep it short.

What I've written today: 4 pages (so far). I'm staying in the cabin (the tiny little cabin adjacent to the Big Cottage) and I actually got right out of bed, went to the tiny little screened in porch and wrote! Before doing anything else! It was the first thing I did! So weird, right? I've got a table, a little porch, an outlet, and a little coffee maker out there in the cabin. All I need, baby.

I also swam. And then I did some yoga on top of the boathouse.

This is all strangely productive and healthy.

Right now, my aunt, uncle, and my aunt's mom are up here, so I'm not hitting the writing too hard, although I'll still devote the mornings to it. I'm still leaving time for for cooking, talking, and watching Canada-Day specials on TV. When I'm alone I'm hoping to crank it up a notch.

Happy Canada day, by the way!
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