Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Eddie Rabbitt: multisensory experience

Why does rain smell good? (h/t)

From the maker of perfume that makes you smell like a library: perfume that makes you smell like it just rained. I highly recommend a visit to the storefront in New York, where they have the individual accords (single, unblended scents), many of which are startlingly precise (Rain Storm is different from Cloudburst and from Water).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Read it a couple of times, it'll make sense and you won't like it.

My Facebook feed has been full of cover shots of Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In. One woman was reading it on my bus this morning, intent on squeezing career tips into her commute. Any frequenter of used bookshops can trace the sedimentary layers of careerist advice tomes as they are slowly abandoned: What Color is Your Parachute? Who Moved My Cheese? The Sandberg fad puts one in mind of male 80s go-getters with copies of Iacocca tucked under their arms. I haven't read the book and don't plan to; after reading enough dueling reviews and discussions of its contents, the book itself seems superfluous. But as a connoisseur of dissections of Lean In as a phenomenon, I think this is perhaps definitive.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Elizabeth Wurtzel, Spendthrift Heart

Elizabeth Wurtzel. She's rambling. She's narcissistic. Is she the perfect troll? Her latest piece for New York mag begins by bemoaning the mental instability of her landlord, who lets herself into the subletted apartment at odd hours to scream obscenities and steal from Wurtzel,* and works itself into an impassioned condemnation of housewives, long-term relationships, finance guys, phonies, and the year 2012.

Wurtzel's chief lament, though, is that her principles, which consist mostly of a dedication to living in the now, have had a price. She has "nothing" (except an apartment in Manhattan, a Yale Law degree, a job working for one of the foremost constitutional litigators in the country, a kind and aristocratic younger man, and a dog). Tragedy! She lacks bourgeois trappings like husbands and savings accounts and spends much time declaring how much she doesn't want them, but her loneliness, isolation, and precariousness frighten her.

However, if she actually works for David Boies, even part time, there is no reason why she should have "no real estate, no stocks, no bonds, no investments, no 401(k), no CDs, no IRAs, no emergency fund"---except that her identity as someone who lives wholly in the moment would be undermined not just by the temporary sanity of calling an investment advisor or setting up automatic deposits, but by her constant consciousness that even those minor, background steps to some sort of responsibility were occurring.

She claims that being "wiser" in these ways would have meant she'd have been a lousy writer, but this is a lazy copout. She would be a lousy emblem of her philosophy of life, perhaps. But it's the intentional cabining of her talents to depiction of her present inner reality that makes her a lousy writer (although not one who necessarily produces lousy writing; this piece has several lovely passages, as Alyssa Rosenberg notes).**

Her essay does do an excellent job of evoking her peculiar and subtle variety of self-destructiveness. She rejects any situation, romantic or work-related, that might hem her in, favoring instead the freedom of instability. But to do so, she divorces the idea of not being trapped from the experience of being trapped, and then gestures vaguely and impotently at the self-created circumstances that fence her into a barren, depressing inner landscape. The most remarkable thing is how this is utterly at odds with her description of how depression manifested in her childhood, when she clung to the systematic and dogged pursuit of long-term goals as the only hope of salvation from daily misery. Why not set up an emergency fund "like it will save" you, if algebra once made sense to do so?

The present Wurtzel seems to conflate safety with security, and security with imprisonment. She divides her potential paths in two: the "padlock" that comes with family and adherence to convention or a freedom that puts one "in a constant existential crisis." That one might feel secure with one's place in the world while still living an unconventional life is not contemplated. She cannot imagine a relationship of caretaking*** and loving that does not pale into phoniness. Occasionally you have to kiss someone with coffee breath! Horrors. Better to hop to a new fellow before the bloom is off the rose.

So much of what is here is simple rejection of the safety of an adult life, of the contentment that can come with "enough," and an animal fear of losing new sensations. Eventually we become acclimated to what is around us. It no longer strikes us like "flat sheets of hard rain." We must instead perceive subtle currents of life and change. We are not immune to the power of random beauty; we just know that there is sublimity in the experience of a life together. It is more than the sum of its parts: forty years with one is not the same as forty years with forty.

But Wurtzel cannot be bothered to cultivate a palate for the flavors of love and life and day-to-day existence. She wants more, now, again. She wants to be overwhelmed by passion, and has pursued that goal with abandon over and over. Has she become covered in layers of scar tissue? Can she only feel things that batten her with violent sensation? Or is it merely laziness or fear that drives her reluctance to commit to the project of appreciating small variations on a theme of happiness? Calling her shallow chase loving with a pure heart does a disservice to purity and hearts.

According to Wurtzel, this refusal to yoke herself to anyone or anything makes her a free spirit. She is, but in more senses than one. She lacks the ability to connect on the physical plane. She haunts the present with a disregard for past and future that challenges the most single-minded revenants. She is so afraid of being a prostitute or a prisoner or an appliance that she cannot become fully and completely human. She can only be, and for her, being hurts. How, she will explain at great length.

Unfortunately, Wurtzel lacks all creativity and can only mirror herself (which raises a sort of chicken/egg question with respect to narcissism) and is running out of compelling reflections. Her decline is a sad thing to perceive, even if the writing here is sometimes amazing in terms of sheer elegance. Her words fall like water. But we can only watch her slide, like a turtleneck going over someone's head.

* As an initial point, I find her response to the crazy landlady incomprehensible. Wurtzel says she called to cops to no avail, even though "Crazy Maria" stole her Birkin bag. Those bags cost as much as a car. Did she fail to tell the police that Maria had stolen a $10-15,000 handbag? Alternatively, get your boss David Boies to help you file a civil suit. 

** Regardless of the audaciousness and construction of the sentence, I found Wurtzel's jab at David Foster Wallace almost offensive, for its gratuitousness and for the sense that she delights in cutting him down to size now that he can no longer cut back. 

 *** Non-earning spouses are prostitutes; children are proxies for your own self-esteem.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Naked Truth

That San Francisco banned most public nudity and Ross Douthat took to the pages of the New York Times to decry the decadence of modern Americans who don't breed, all without a peep from this blog, is a testament to the fact that I have fallen almost completely out of the habit of posting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A is A?

Phoebe asks, in light of my recent post,
[A]re we under a moral obligation to use Facebook thoroughly, to represent our full selves? Or, conversely, is it fair to judge people on the basis of omission?
Nobody is under a moral obligation to use Facebook at all. But your wall posts do not just appear; they are the product of choices. If you choose to represent yourself in a particular manner, you must accept the consequences of doing so. If you provide your "friends" with no knowledge of your life beyond parenting, it may not be fair to judge you and decide that you must be one-dimensional in real life. But it is fair to judge the decision you made to wall off everything else about you. It is fair to judge you for choosing to represent yourself in a particular way. Your choices themselves reflect who you are. To a certain degree, your total self is reflected even in the tiny pool of knowledge you elected to share.

You picked the role you play. You cannot have it both ways and claim that your circumscribed Facebook identity doesn't show who you really are and that you cannot be judged for the decision to include or omit. (I am not using "judge" in a necessarily opprobrious sense.)

Let us contemplate the words of Lil Wayne: 

I don't portray anything, I am who I am. An image is self described.
Note the significance of punctuating his last sentence here. Is an image "self-described" or "self, described"? Or both? Perhaps the difference of opinion in this debate lies in which we would select.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Relational Identities

This is why it annoys me when your Facebook profile pic is of your kid:
[T]here’s a danger in returning to an ideal where women's most important identity is relational rather than individual. If we want equality, women with children would be better served calling themselves people first, moms second.
[I]dentifying as a mom first in a culture that pays lip service to parenthood without actually supporting it has consequences. It means that women are expected to be everything - and give up anything - for their children. Whatever women do that seems to separate them from “true” motherhood is seen as misguided, or at worst, selfish. If we formula feed we’re not giving our babies the best start in life. If we work outside the home, we must do it with tremendous guilt and anxiety. Time away from our children in the form of an occasional movie or hobby is seen as a treat rather than an expected part of living a full life.

I'm not friends with your kid. I'm friends with you. Tell me about your career ups and downs, your favorite new movies, your hobbies, your hopes and dreams. You've got other hats to wear than "mom." Let's see them on parade!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Too much of my wish list is on pre-order.

I haven't read anything that's seriously impressed me lately. Blood Song was all right, especially if you like Rothfuss and other similar brick-authors, but not grand. Sharon Shinn is deeply meh.

I ought to be reading Shadow and Bone. What else?

Only marginally relatedly: The phenomenon of the uber-wealthy booking famous rock acts for their private parties is well established. How rich would you have to be to essentially buy your favorite writer? It could be a writer-in-residence type thing, especially useful for those who still have day jobs, or even just trouble paying the bills. Inspired by Catherine the Great and Diderot. S/he gets to live in your guest cottage, you get to read the new work first. Maybe you buy the author's immense collection of tabletop miniatures to subsidize the writing.

If we're going to have very rich people supporting charity or the arts, I want to see more wacky and idiosyncratic patronage schemes.