New Blogoy-address

Yes that is supposed to be a pun on Rod Blagojevic. It didn't work, get over it.

Hey! I have a new blog, now that this land is no longer Thailand. You can read me and my new nose at -- hope to see you there! Yayayayay!!

I Am Writing A Book For You

If I may digress momentarily from the mainstream of this RSS Feed's symposium--

[which is to say, this note is free of jokes--and I know what you're thinking: "How is that different from your other notes?"

Har. Har. Har.]

Michael Cunningham, author of a terrific book turned into an even more terrific movie called The Hours, has written a very uneven but thought-provoking op-ed piece for the Times of New York newspaper. The piece is about translation, and, as befits the author's Page One idea about the impossibility of pinning down a singular meaning to any individual word that an author uses, the article ends up being not about translation, but "about" "translation" -- that is, most obviously, "concerning the translation of a work from one language to another," but also "concerning the translation of a work from the author's mind to the page," and, finally, most fittingly, given how deliciously scatter-brained Cunningham's work is, "in or around or in the vicinity of the topic of 'translation" in all of its meanings."

Ignoring the section of the piece that actually concerns book translation as we know it (yes, yes, Melville uses very nice vowels), I now invite you the reader to turn to Page 2, in which Cunningham discovers what he believes to be the proper meaning of the word "audience." As a young writer living in Laguna Beach (apparently an actual place and not just a giant, Truman Show-esque MTV-owned soundstage-dome), he befriends a voracious-reader-cum-working-class waitress named Helen, to whom he recommends Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Helen enjoys the book, deeming Dostoyevsky better than Ken Follett but not as good as Scott Turow. Cue Ivory Tower scoffing.

BUT WAIT. Michael Cunningham, Ivory Tower member, Pulitzer Prize winner, great American author--what did you learn from this encounter?:

Although I didn’t necessarily agree with her about Dostoyevsky versus Turow, I did like, very much, that Helen had no school-inspired sense of what she was supposed to enjoy more, and what less. She simply needed what any good reader needs: absorption, emotion, momentum and the sense of being transported from the world in which she lived and transplanted into another one.

I began to think of myself as trying to write a book that would matter to Helen. And, I have to tell you, it changed my writing. I’d seen, rather suddenly, that writing is not only an exercise in self-expression, it is also, more important, a gift we as writers are trying to give to readers. Writing a book for Helen, or for someone like Helen, is a manageable goal.
Michael Cunningham seems like a forgiving man, so I am sure that he will forgive me for the rather liberal misread; but scanning this at 4 in the morning yesterday, I began to wonder if there was anyone in my life for whom I could tailor a book, for whom each chapter, each sentence, each word (each joke, each character, each scenario, each outcome) would please and enthrall. I don't mean an archetypal Helen--I mean, a living, breathing girl named Helen (of whom I know one--hello, Ms. Pajcic). 

My thoughts immediately turned to my foremost FBook muse, my Spanish Helen, Elena Sheppard, for whom I I penned five lengthy, lengthy, just really long Facebook notes, including a parody of Marlowe's Helen monologue in Doctor Faustus. Though I believe I know Elena well (and though she knows me even better than I'm sure she would like to), I do not believe that I could write a book for her. What would it be about? Would she be a character? The heroine? A modern feminist hero?

And then my thoughts turned to the inspiration of my next blog post, the ever-forgiving B.o.B. nee Betsy Goodman; and I knew, for certain, that I could not write her a book, as we are not even true friends yet (though I assure you all that I am working day and night to ensure that this lofty goal becomes a reality). I could not make novelty does not last 200 pages (although, I suppose, in the case of a novel, "novel"ty lasts the length of the novel. I'll be here all week).

And then my thoughts turned to the inspiration for my final blog post, and that final inspiration was one Dr. Susan P. Gilbert (who I, as her son, simply call "Doctor"). And even with all that I know about my mother -- the authors she prefers (Jonathan Lethem, Jodi Piccoult, anyone writing about Brooklyn), her literary bugaboos (winding sentence structure, formal experimentalism, the Buendia family), and her, in general--likes, dislikes, history, aspirations, etc.--I do not think that I could satisfactorily write her book, even though I know that she would be satisfied with simply a finished book, as its completion would mean that I would quit this stupid stuff and go into finance (just kidding--my mom would never make me go into finance; advertising, on the other hand...). 

There is a reason, I think, that 9 out of 10 of Cunningham's students answered that the audience they wrote for was themselves, and, coincidentally, the reason comes back to Dostoyevsky. At Princeton I took several courses on Russian Literature, one of them specifically on 'The Great Russian Novel.' The lecturer in that was class very much convinced of the merits of biographical criticism, and her analyses of each novel would always begin with a lengthy recitation of the author's background and personal history, and each actual literary analysis would circle back to several key points about the author that she wished to connect to the text. 

The lecturer's motto or thesis concerning The Brothers Karamazov was that Dostoyevsky was a man with deep inner demons and that, for him, all writing was a way to deal with his inner strife, an effort to externalize his extreme self-doubt and worry. Dostoyevsky, in short, was not writing for Helen the waitress. He was writing for himself. And he's fucking Fyodor Dostoyevsky, let's remember.

Now, Lord knows if my lecturer was correct about that. It's always dangerous--wait, did I say dangerous? Because I meant stupid--to guess author's intent. Even old John Milton knew that, which is the reason why he wrote "Paradise Lost." I write "for" an audience--that is, I make what I write available and I tend to write, content-wise, what I believe to be palatable. But at the heart of my writing, at the heart of the content, the style, the tone, the message, the it, is my desire to communicate something that will make myself feel better in some way. Occasionally that means writing something that will please someone else. We're getting general here, which as Strunk and White will tell you, is boring to read. 

Maybe I have confused inspiration with content. Maybe I have conflated reason with target. Maybe I have concocted one too many cocktails this Monday evening.

But let me end with a whimper--I write for myself. I hope you enjoy my writing. I enjoy it when other people enjoy my writing. I don't enjoy it when other people don't enjoy my writing. We're getting general again. So I will end by saying this: "Call me Helen." I hope I can call you Helen, too. 

An Open Letter to the Shuffle Feature on my iPhone

Dear Shuffle Feature on my iPhone,

Your function, as I understand it, is to randomize the music played from my iPhone based on a 13GB section fo my songs on iTunes. The function exists to "shuffle" my songs around, like one might "shuffle" a deck of cards.

However, Shuffle Feature, when I picture you shuffling my songs like a Vegas card dealer, I can only imagine that the anthropomorphized version of you has two stubs where your hands would be, as though you were arrested for shoplifting twice in what I assume is all Arabian countries that have singing genies.

Because, here's the thing. I know that part of your algorithm is to take my preferences, based on Star Ratings, and Play Counts, and what have you, and weight those songs more heavily. That's fine. And I know that you must be able to "see" that I have four Radiohead albums on my iPhone, which is more albums for one singer or group than any other group in my library. And I know you can see that all of those albums have Five stars each. And that's fine, too--if I were really thinking about it, and actively constructing a set of preferences, I probably would like to hear Radiohead more often than any other band on my iPhone.

The thing is, though, Shuffle Feature: for the past three weeks or so, whenever I turn on "Shuffle All Songs," within the first seven songs, without fail, you play a song by Radiohead, and, much to my dismay, confusion, and displeasure, that song always happens to be "Fitter Happier." For those who don't know, this quote-unquouth Radiohead "song" appears on OK Computer, one of the greatest albums of all time, and is really little more than a text-to-voice robot saying a lot of very pessimistic things over some bleep-bloops for three minutes. It would be like turning on The White Album and hearing "Revolution #9" over and over again, or constantly getting "Love Is Like Jazz" from 69 Love Songs. There are much, much better options on OK Computer. Like, songs with a beat, for example; or songs with choruses, for another; songs that are actually songs, and not bleak, mechanical recitations of depressing facets of my daily life. Not tons what I want to listen to at the beach, is what I'm saying, Shuffle Feature.

And so, I plead you--I beg you--before I crash my car trying to skip past "Fitter Happier" for the humpteenth time on the Turnpike: can I get some Karma Police up in the top 10? Maybe No Surprises? There are three other albums for you to choose from...In Rainbows has some nice tracks, as does Amnesiac. Broaden your horizons, Shuffle Feature. I think you will grow to like the Radiohead selections that couldn't be constructed from and a random xylophone-note automaton.

Also, cool it with the "Squalor Victoria."



How Many Princeton University Facilities Does It Take to Screw In A Lightbulb?

Today, I got a message in my inactive "" email account from Princeton University Facilities, giving me an update on a job order I had requested. Call me high-maintenance, but I am not 100% satisfied with the length of time it took them to change one lightbulb.


This email is to confirm that your ticket has been marked as complete. The details of the request were:

Reported Date: Sat Sep 27 14:50:51 EDT 2008

Location: Patton Hall
Description: Light bulb out on 4th floor laundry room, entryway 4/5.

If this request has not been completed to your satisfaction, please reply to this message (leaving the subject line intact) or call the Facilities Service Center at 609-258-8000.

Thank you,
Princeton University Facilities


No, thank you Princeton University Facilities. Now I can FINALLY do my laundry after the sun goes down without having to blindly grope around a washing machine/dryer in a pitch-black windowless room for half an hour! Actually, I don't have to do that now, nor have I had to do that in about a year. Even the laundry rooms in Thailand have lightbulbs now. Or, wherever I soap-rinsed in my portable basin, I would make sure it was light.

Either way, I graduated like 15 months ago.

Every Day Is A New Chance

-On Tuesday, I made myself a roast beef sandwich for lunch. I had made myself a roast beef sandwich for lunch on Monday, and had made myself a roast beef sandwich for dessert on Monday night, so I was pretty familiar with what I had to do.

I had bought a package of pre-sliced cheddar cheese--ten square yellow slices, each slice separated by a thin layer of wax paper. The past two sandwiches I had made, I had torn the cheese trying to pull it out whole, ending up with several smaller, broken-up pieces of cheddar cheese on my sandwich, when all I wanted was that one big square.

So on Tuesday, I really focused on pulling out an entire slice of cheese, without ripping it or tearing it, so that I could enjoy my sandwich unperturbed. I pulled off the sheet of wax paper on top of the topmost cheese slice and threw it into the trash bin so that I wouldn't forget to throw it away later. Then, carefully, making sure not to move too quickly (as I suspect I was doing before), I slowly peeled the square of cheese from out of the bag...success! The cheese slice came out perfectly square and I placed it on top of the roast beef, added some lettuce, spread the mayo, placed it on a salad plate, and sat down to eat it, reflecting on how well I had removed the cheddar cheese this time.

Reflecting, that is, until I took my first bite. "That's strange," I thought, tasting something crunchy. "Did I forget to refrigerate the cheese yesterday? Has it gone bad and hard already?" I took another bite--again, hard, unpleasant. What's going on here?

I lift the top of the sandwich bun, brush aside some lettuce, look at the cheese, feel the top of it with my finger--it feels soft and normal! Then I lift up the cheese from the roast beef and look at the other side of the cheese--and would you believe that the wax paper wrapper from the other side of the cheese had stuck on? I chuckled to myself, peeled off that wrapper, threw it into the trash bin, reassembled my sandwich, and finished my lunch, shaking my head at the humorous situation.

This was the most interesting thing that happened to me all week.

I Can Change My Mind, And So Can Elena Kagan

Today must be Wear Your Sandals to Work Day, because a whole bunch of famous people are flip-flopping!!

Now, there was a time, when George W. was running against John Kerry, when flip-flopping was the worst thing in the world that you could do, because it showed mental weakness, a lack of mental toughness, and the non-possession of mental non-weakness. To say that John Kerry "flip-flopped" was to call him a big ol' Waffle House waffler, and, thanks to the catchiness of chanting "FLIP FLOP" and also the idea that anyone looks good in windsurfing spandex, Kerry lost the race.

Fast forward to today, using your Adam Sandler Presents Click remote controls: "flip flopping" is now more or less known as it has always been known i.e. as a process of rational critical thought, a cornerstone of intellectualism. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do not believe this was brought up during the 04 Campaign). And indeed, this has been another day of flip-flopping in what might just be the Week of Flip Flops, which sounds like an absolutely horrible Drew Barrymore sentimental girl-comedy but isn't:

First it was Elena "Look at That Haircut, She Must Be A Lesbian" Kagan, who, according to The New York Times-- which doesn't even have a retractions section because it NEVER flip-flops-- says that Kagan "backpedaled" in a previous statement about specific disclosures of constitutional views for SCOTUS nominees. Whoa, Kagan! I bet it's hard to backpedal wearing FLIP FLOPS! Careful not to trip over your flimsy foam heels when you're backpedaling, Lanie dear!

Second, in the sport that has American newsanchors flopping daily over whether it is called "football" or "soccer," Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, the sport organization that sounds most like the name of gay man's French poodle, announced that he was changing his mind, and that, due to the general incompetence of the umpiring in the World Cup thus far, he would consider using instant replay in future contests. While Blatter was widely seen to be wearing a black suit with a gray tie, there is no word what kind of footwear he had on, though I think we can all safely assume it was FLIP FLOPS.

It's been a Whale of a Waffle Week, hasn't it? Obama decided to fire McChrystal, and Senators decided not to tax big banks, because, hey, what have big banks done lately that they deserve to be taxed?

I just hope all of this flip-flopping stops by the time I have children; I will not let my kids grow up to be flip-floppers. When they form an opinion about something, they will never change their mind about that thing. This will apply to everything, and they will be adored by their friends and colleagues, respected by their professors, and generally will be pleasant to be around. They will not be allowed to wear flip-flops; they will have the palest, most shriveled toes in all of America, and news pundits will call them geniuses.

And you may think that all of I've written above about my future children will be untrue--that they won't have any friends or colleagues, that their professors will find them pig-headed and anti-intellectual, and that they will generally be impossible to be around--but you'll be wrong. And when you change your tune, and want to come to my 4th of July BBQ to chill and celebrate America with me and my cool kids, well, don't burn your eggs waiting for your red-white-and-blue invitation in the mail--my kids don't associate with flip-floppers.

Thinly Veiled Postwar Red Threat Metaphor Films Are Back, Baby!

...or at least, they could be.

Following the news that the FBI arrested 11 seemingly ordinary citizens who were in fact nefarious Russian spies is great news for fans of groaningly-obvious paper-thin postwar allegorical Communist threat films everywhere. That YOUR VERY NEIGHBORS could be plotting to blow up the world, perhaps with a shiny nuclear briefcase, perhaps by infecting you and your loved ones with some sort of disease that turns you into a pod-person, can only mean that Red Threat film is back in action, baby!

I am particularly excited about the rebirth of this genre (and this threat) because, as you may know, I am a 23-year-old single college graduate, clean-cut, seemingly American, athletic, friendly, waves at the neighbors, pets the neighbors' dogs kind of guy; but also, I live in a retirement community in decidedly-Caucasian Central New Jersey. I only hope that at least one of my new neighbors accuses me of being a Russian spy. God: it would make up for all hardships and diseases you have thrust upon me if I were to be called in front of the retirement community's Council of Elders and accused formally of being a Soviet infiltrator. This would be the happiest moment of my life, listening to the "evidence," having 50 year old Communist slurs hurled at me by paleo-McCarthyites, giving blood to prove that I did in fact have red human blood and not green alien blood, or, worse, no blood at all, a bloodless life form.

This will be me for the next two weeks or so, until this story dies down or until the security guard at the front gate of my community arrests me. It is up to you, Oceanaire Protection Services.

Oh, what wonderful news from the Times today. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go talk in hushed tones on my cell phone and dig a series of mysterious holes in my backyard under the cover of the moonlight.