This post was made possible by free McDonald’s WiFi
Holy shit, I LOVE McDONALD’s! This is cool, right? I am free to declare my love for an international fast-food chain that has served billions and sustained many living on minimum wage while remaining complicit in their exploitation? But oh man, pancakes, guys. I want cheap pancakes and a caramel sundae on the side, because butter is for losers. I’m talking to you, Paula Deen.
Anyway, it’s been TEN MONTHS since I let go of the guardrail (aka mom’s house) and struck out on my own by moving down the block. Just kidding, I’ll never be able to afford living in my mom’s neighborhood. They used to dump bodies in the open sewer before the sidewalks were built. I was an undergrad then, and on the way to the corner to catch the jeep, I’d pass the candles left by mourners. Then sidewalks, because that’s how you move up in the world! And now I can’t afford to live in the neighborhood I grew up in.
Speaking of moving up in the world, I found a place that literally has a window for a wall in the middle of Celadon Manila. That’s what they’re calling the strip between Sampaloc and Quezon City now, and it’s kind of hilarious, the way extreme wealth rubs up so closely against extreme poverty in these parts, and how neatly I fit in the middle. After rent, I kind of scrape by, happy with every small purchase, but this place is awesome. I had a few months to find a place, and this was the only one that was a walk-up (because who wants to have to ride an elevator just to get home?) which allowed pets. I am writing this from an armchair made entirely of soft, soft kittens.
Before turning in tonight, I’m gonna crack open this beer to celebrate updating this little space I’ve carved out, not in “Celadon Manila”, but online. WordPress tells me that it’s this blog’s anniversary, so hooray! 9 years, blog! We made it! Why aren’t we famous? Where are my sponsored posts where I get to talk about car wax and how big a fan I am of Arm and Hammer products (no shit though, I love Arm and Hammer. Hands down. The only brand I will, in good conscience, name drop the shit out of Arm and Hammer Arm & Hammer Armie Hammer Hammer Time Hammer Museum WHAT Armand Hammer)?
Whatever, that’s okay. Let’s talk about BOOKS! I’d pose with a bunch of books I’m holding, but I’d rather talk about shit I read, because that’s how I kind of distract myself from the loneliness of living alone in a neighborhood where I can go through a whole day without hearing a single word of English. YAY! BOOKS!
- Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
Isn’t it great that Dave Eggers’ by-line is “Dave” and not “David”? It’s like we could be friends, and I shouldn’t hesitate to shoot the shit with him through email. But I also should, because since YSKOV, and bits and pieces of How We Are Hungry, Eggers has made a mission of being more relevant to humanity after torturing his readers with that chapter in AHWofSG about his audition for The Real World. Also, acronyms.
Anyway, why did I pick up Zeitoun? I’ve been wanting my own copy for a while, but I didn’t get one ’til my friend Karlo came along and was like, “Happy borthday!” (I stand by borthday). And like all birthday gifts, this came with the additional pressure of being something I have to slog through, rather than just letting it decorate my shelf, showing people about how cultured I am. Zeitoun felt like a logical choice when it came to, a) grief, and b) shitty weather; which is what we’ve/I’ve been having, especially in these parts where we/I get rained in pretty regularly. The worst that has happened though was being waist-deep (well, my car’s waist…if cars could have waists) in floodwater that nearly ripped my plates off (again, the car’s plates).
So that’s what Zeitoun is, or was, to me: an extended account of recovery after some form of exclusion or betrayal, in the wake of a natural disaster.
- Before She Met Me, Julian Barnes
If you make stuff, my conditions for liking you are hinged on whether or not your sadness surfaces in your work. My formative years were spent listening to fucking Mad Season and Nirvana, so when it comes to writers, I tend to gravitate towards dudes like Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Hanif Kureishi (who’s basically British Richard Ford). I don’t know why theirs are the kinds of relationship stories I fall for so easily because they reflect very weakly in my own relationships, so it’s not as if I can actually relate to anything that these men are saying. But they say things so beautifully, and I’d quote directly from the Barnes book, but my copy’s with THE ARTIST, Rob Cham, so we’ll have to make do with this bit from Kureishi’s Intimacy, which I’m currently in the middle of:
I have been trying to convince myself that leaving someone isn’t the worst thing you can do to them. Sombre it may be, but it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. If you never leave anything or anyone there would be no room for the new. Naturally, to move on is an infidelity – to others, to the past, to old notions of oneself. Perhaps every day should contain at least one essential infidelity or necessary betrayal. It would be an optimistic, hopeful act, guaranteeing belief in the future – a declaration that things can be not only different but better.
I’m not saying it’s the same book, but there’s something about the opening lines from Before She Met Me in which Graham and Anne, a professor and a fashion merchandiser, turn his wife, Whatserface (because every wife in these stories is reduced to “Whatserface”), into a casualty of the small victory that comes with their having met and hit it off. It’s both specific and familiar and I like writers who can make the boredom of everyday life seem compelling. This felt more like an extension of another work, “Complicity” (from Pulse), than his other stuff that you can find here, like Arthur and George (a fictionalized account of the the relationship that develops between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji) and The Sense of an Ending. While the former deals with mutilation and the latter has a suicide at its center, the characters in Before She Met Me stammer through their conversations and exit scenes with dick and fart jokes, before Barnes just kind of blows everything up, making him the Michael Bay of sad British contemporary fiction.
- Lost Cat, Caroline Paul
This one holds a special place in my heart because a friend sent it around the same time my cat, Sandwich, went missing and I had to go door-to-door, flyering my mom’s neighborhood, and yelling “Sandwich! Sandwich!” through tears. Anyway, Sandwich was found, Lost Cat arrived in the mail, and all is well because I now have a better understanding of love through obsessive pursuit of small animals who are unable to express themselves verbally. Lost Cat opens with the words, “Once I was in a plane crash…”, and if you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, you know exactly what that means.
- The Everyday: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Stephen Johnstone
Sometimes I just wish I had a TV.
- Mourning Diary, Roland Barthes
Beautiful, earnest, heartfelt, delivers everything it promised, and unlike Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, or the first part of Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work… it actually gives you time to catch your breath by letting the grief retreat to your head.
Filed under: “Why do you do this to yourself?”
- Barefoot Gen: A Cartoon History of Hiroshima Book 1, Keiji Nakazawa and Hiroshima Notes, Kenzaburo Oe
I read somewhere about a book which compiled sketches done by those who survived the blast. I can’t remember where or who talked about it, so I’ve kind of been chasing it by picking up anything that has Hiroshima as its subject. This began with Little Boy which traced the origins of the Super Flat movement to Japan’s 1945 surrender and the ensuing infantilization of its military capacity–which thus resulted in the country arming itself by developing nuclear power for “private consumption”. There are many ways to build a bomb, but I’m more interested in how this reflects in a society’s cultural expressions, and the legacy it leaves on aesthetics.
Barefoot Gen was a really stressful read though; unlike Oe’s account, it literally leaves nothing to the imagination, even with the images relegated to manga, it still hits pretty hard. Rick Poynor has an essay up on Design Observer about whether or not we should look at corrosive images, I think it was an offshoot of another article about the falling man (from 9/11), but all the same, there is something equally corrosive about images that allow your mind to fill in the blanks. I don’t think I’ll actually be seeking out the rest of the series, at least not for now.
- Rick Poynor, Obey the Giant
Maybe this shouldn’t be here, because it’s one of those leisurely pantsless reads that constantly crosses over into un-fun academic territory. But I used to bookmark Poynor’s work, and I ordered this and waited for my mom to go to my sister’s place in Asscrack, Texas to pick it up for me, because I’m too cheap to pay for international shipping. And once it got here I read it and then I read it again. Which is something you do with books, but this is the kind of glossy, picture heavy shit that you’d be happy to just allow to sit on your shelf. Kind of like Infinite Jest which is basically a bunch of pictures made of words, lots of words, but does great work for any #shelfie…Wait, this is not a review…ANYWAY, Obey the Giant! As an undergraduate, I followed Wooster Collective, copying and pasting a lot of the stuff there into my Multiply blog (still the most underrated blogging platform, in my opinion. Fucking Multiply had to get overrun with…ANYWAY!) and that nurtured the beginnings of my fascination with Museum 2.0 and questions of bypassing traditional tastemakers and gatekeepers, especially when it came to contemporary art. Poynor very eloquently articulates the commercial aspects of this, of how consumer culture provides an outpost for counter-appropriating elements of the contemporary art world. The discussion shifts around a lot, so it’s not always easy to tell which side he’s on, but that doesn’t make it any less engaging; which brings us to…
- Vermeer in Bosnia and Everything That Rises, Lawrence Weschler
I don’t even remember how I first came across Weschler, but I remember wanting to be him the minute I read his work. It was an excerpt from something about Robert Irwin. I think it may have been an article I jumped to after reading an article on Walter de Maria’s Lightning Field. When I was a freshman in the Ateneo FA program, Fr. Rene Javellana showed us a picture of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s Surrounded Islands and I remember thinking, well what the fuck, right? Because who does that? But if no one asks, who does that, then no one’s going to do anything new, and we’ll be stuck here being boring and instagramming our breakfasts like boring people. But even instagramming breakfast is done in the grand tradition of “Who the hell does that?” Thanks Christo, it all makes sense now.
So Weschler, like Poynor, is one of those hybrids who is both a leisurely and a bizness read. One of the most embarrassing things about me, which I will now openly admit, is that my CV used to have the words “To be Lawrence Weschler.” typed under “Career Objective”. What’s more embarrassing is I used a template that had my “career objective” (just one) in the header. The point is nothing that I’m doing now would make sense had I not come across his essays first.
Now I just want to be a roller derby star. But Lawrence Weschler, still; I’m not done until I learn to write in counterpoint. The problem is I can’t organize my thoughts that way, at least not yet.
- The Best American Nonrequired Reading (2005), ed. Dave Eggers
Date a girl who reads (just kidding, don’t click that link, it’s awful. Just stay here and be my friend). I rarely finish anthologies because I…ran…out of…Ritalin. That is a lie. I finish anthologies because I try to respect the choices of editors and the pain that comes with shortlisting and rejecting. Eggers is one of the names I stand by–like Arm and Hammer–even if he lied when he said that Daniel Clowes is in this book. Either I’m really stupid or I bought a misprint (like my copy of Manhood for Amateurs which I’d also talk about here, but my copy’s with Karlo the Cletoris Cleto [since I’ve mentioned him twice, I guess we’re best friends]) or the Clowes entry was a big dopey mistake. All the same: Clowes is not in this book.
But William T. Vollmann and Stephen Elliott are, and that is more than enough because along with Eggers, I will also hit anything written by these two. But it also kind of shows how overwhelmingly male and Caucasian the contents of my bookshelf are, which kind of makes it like the rest of the world, right? Haha? “Sorry, colonialism, I know,” This is actually a line I heard on a date because I go out with the BEST PEOPLE.
I wonder when Philippine literature will be lucrative enough to allow writers to dwell for extended periods on their own self-initiated research, but that’s another story altogether and has nothing to do with what writers like Vollmann have contributed to the craft. “They Came Out like Ants,” is a product of his obsession with La Chinesca, or the Chinatown of Mexicali (“Which I guess is not the same as Calexico?” – Alice–bad at geography–Sarmiento), upon hearing the urban legends of a subterranean metropolis carved beneath international borders, from which Chinese immigrants emerged “like ants” after a “great fire”.
I just got an email from one of my past editors that their publishing house was going to let go of all their titles, and one of the responses to this was a solemn electronic goodbye to “the oldest magazine in the country.” I’ve been keeping it a secret, but I used to write for MOD. The pay was shitty and the articles they made me write were equally shitty 450-worders, so it should come as no surprise, but wow. Even that, with the little effort that it’s worth, had to go. What’s worse is that it’s not really going to be replaced by anything, except maybe crappy McCrap done in the same vein as “Date a Girl Who Reads”. Stuff that harps on reading without actually talking about what’s on the page.
So what’s on the page, flipping to a random one we get:
We waited for the doors to open, then stepped inside the car. In her own at once vulnerable and sassy way, Ginger had been trying to seduce me for weeks, but I had resisted, mainly because I couldn’t understand her attraction to me and thought–admittedly in a paranoid way–that if our bodies ever coupled she would never have anything do with me again and I would lose my glimpse into the American aristocracy once and for all.
Those were just two sentences from Douglas Trevor’s “Girls I know” (from the Best American Nonrequired Reading) and when someone opens the first sentence with waiting for doors to open, and closes the second one with a bit about losing one’s glimpse into the way the other half lives, you know you’re looking at someone who has mastered the craft, but knows better than to take you out of the character’s meandering thoughts by actually punctuating them properly.
This is the kind of self-consciousness I’ve adopted by being too preoccupied with academic writing over the past few months (basically, since I started living here), and try to let go of from time to time by returning to this space. I used to blog on Livejournal, and it’s comforting to see that some of my friends are still there. I think I was happiest on Multiply, because it coincided with my lowest point in my professional (read: disgruntled employee) life.
Hug the internet because it’s pretty much the asscrack your brain farts out of. Thanks, WordPress, for the little dongle you placed in the corner of my browser, reminding me of just how long I’ve been stinking up this little space. I never had to delude myself into thinking my shit smelled like roses because there were always people who were better at the craft than I was, and that’s one of those little notes I’ve had to pin to the inside of my head, as a perpetually precarious freelance writer: that there is productivity in perpetual insecurity.