gillian-anderson-the-fall

As a precocious pre-teen and teen, I was obsessed with adulthood; I couldn’t wait for the responsibility of rent checks and retirement plans. I watched serious drama as a way to prepare myself for this adult life I so wanted, and since we didn’t have cable I spent a lot of time watching PBS to figure out exactly how adults lived. I loved Masterpiece Theater, Mystery!, and particularly Prime Suspect, the dark and emotionally complex BBC crime series starring Helen Mirren as Jane Tennyson, a lone female detective in a boys’ club of often outright hostile fellow officers. I wanted to be like Jane Tennyson when I grew up. I dreamed of living a solitary but important existence, of having a job that was so central to me that I would forget meals and drink black coffee, a job that included meetings and orders and sleepless nights in which I would struggle to find the key to understanding a fragmented picture and solving the case. Jane Tennyson’s life always had an air of romance to it despite its gritty realism.

Cameron_Shot_02-110V1Please explain what just happened.

It’s not every day that 14 cats get stuck in a tree and I’m the only person around to rescue them.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Cutting my foot on a piece of glass while my mom was trying to get me to put shoes on. I was 3 .… moms usually know best.

 

If you weren’t an actor, what other profession would you choose?

Professional UFC fighter. 

CrystalLoweHRPlease explain what just happened.

I just finished steeping my AMAZING red velvet cake tea.

 

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is dressing up and acting out the stories that my mom would read to me.

 

If you weren’t an actress, what other profession would you choose?

I would produce film and TV.

Next Week: Romney lashes out against himself in orgy of thoughtless mouth-leaking.

1. Both Charlie’s Angels and the Manson girls were guided by mysterious older men named—you know.

2. Charles Townsend, a.k.a. Charlie of Charlie’s Angels, was a de-facto pimp with an apparent harem of young women other than his trio of gun-wielding detectives; Charlie Manson, a.k.a. Jesus Christ, was a convicted pimp with a documented harem of young women other than his trio of knife-wielding assassins.

3. Charlie’s Angels were observed communicating with Charles Townsend via the telephone; Charlie Manson was said to communicate with his girls via telepathy.

4. In the field, as it were, Charlie’s Angels worked alongside Charles Townsend’s male proxy, an ostensible eunuch named Bosley; the Manson girls, in the field, worked alongside Manson’s male proxy, Tex Watson, who, though not a eunuch, strikingly favored the eunuchlike Mr. Spock.

Somewhere between showings of the indie films Trojan Eddie and Teeth today on IFC you’ll find the premiere of Bunk, a series IFC describes as “a new breed of comedy game show,” created by Ethan T. Berlin, comedy writer, performer, and one-time TNB 21 Questions interviewee.  If you’ve seen Da’ Ali G Show, Crank Yankers, or Lopez Tonight, you’re already familiar with Berlin’s work.  And now you can tune in to watch Berlin and other comedians (tonight’s episode also features Ben Garant and Kumail Nanjiani) compete in challenges like live puppy shaming and adding arms to the Venus de Milo.  Mark my words – puppy shaming will be the new Plinko.  Berlin was kind enough to answer a few questions about Bunk ahead of tonight’s debut:               

NBC announced this week that Mads Mikkelsen has been cast as Hannibal Lecter in a television series set prior to Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the first in Harris’ Lecter novels. And with that casting news I’m suddenly interested in something I would otherwise dismiss as yet another mediocre attempt to coax magic from the empty hat Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs left behind. Why might Mikkelsen make a difference? Because, for one thing, if you squint he looks just like Viggo Mortensen. For another, he recently won Best Actor at Cannes for his role in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt. More importantly, he became Nicolas Winding Refn’s (Drive) original silent and stoic badass after the two got their start in movies together in Refn’s Pusher trilogy. Here’s Mikkelsen as a one-eyed Viking in Refn’s Valhalla Rising (gore warning):

Please explain what just happened.

I just read your question.  No, wait, I just answered your question.

 

 

What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is probably watching the film Gandhi in a movie theater and having no idea what was going on but knowing that I thought the whole idea of being at the movies was awesome.

Dear Dust

Huh. Sounds like you read a lot. You’re not one of those people who reads all the time and then acts all superior and says stuff like “I don’t even have a TV” are you? I hope not. Because I hate people like that. And I like you.

Anne R.

You’re So Hot I Want to Eat Your Underwear

Right when we got into the store I realized I forgot my phone in the car. On my way back to the car I noticed a good looking woman getting out of her car which was parked next to mine. She opened her trunk and started shuffling things around, her perfume moving through the parking lot. By the time you’ve reach my advanced age there’s no reason to gawk when you see something pleasant. You’ve seen thousands of good looking women in your day.

It’s not a big deal.

Not anymore.

I was walking behind her when I noticed this old feller sitting in his truck that had a faded NRA sticker on his back window. He saw the woman and his eyes bugged out of his head. He wasn’t discrete and ran his ancient eyes up and down her body. When she got to the side of his truck he used his side mirror to get some more. When she got to the other side of his truck he used the passenger side mirror to get even more. He still wasn’t satisfied and got out of his truck, lifted the hood, and acted like he was fiddle-faddling with the engine so he could watch her enter the store. The fucker shook his head in amazement and licked his lips.

No lie.

He licked his lips.

It was both sick and terribly sad.

I wanted to blow his dick off with a shotgun. I wanted to light an M-80 and tape it to his jerk-off hand. I found my friend who was looking at a painting with a pig jumping into a lake. I told her what I saw.

“Really?” she said, looking at me like if I lost my mind. “Poor old man. He probably has some bitchy wrinkled wife at home. If that’s the case you can’t blame him, right? Don’t get too disgusted, babe. That’s gonna be your ass in a few years.”

Nino’s Shit Pie

I like watching food shows. After spending too many years in the restaurant business I came to appreciate the art of cooking. At one point I even contemplated going to culinary school, but the thought of being around packs of bitchy whiny “chefs” for even ten minutes depressed me. So, I ditched the idea and got an English degree. Can’t say it was a better decision. I was still surrounded by bitchy whiny people. The only difference was I didn’t reek of poached eggs and sea bass when the day was done. I reeked of Kafka and Goblin Markets.

The last year I’ve watched a lot of TV. NATGEO. A&E. ESPN. The History Channel. The Food Network. The Travel Channel. I’m hooked on the Travel Channel. I’ve seen everything it dishes out at least twice.

I’ve watched hours of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. Zimmern spans the globe eating things most people won’t. Frog hearts. Lamb eyeballs. Balls. Brains. Bugs. Porcupine. Lizards. Tuna sperm. Spiders and snake dick just to name a few. If you can stomach watching Andrew pop disgusting or “exotic” food in his gaping mouth (he actually does “pop” the food in his mouth and smacks when he chews), and the sight of a fat bald American wearing pastel-colored shirts then this show’s for you.

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. He’s a lush, a jackass, and a pretty good writer. It seems to me that people either love or hate him. He doesn’t wear pastel-colored shirts, but sports equally ugly button shirts, wiry gray hair, scuffed boots, and a lone earring in his left ear. Really, Bourdain? One earring in your left ear? Are we still doing the left-ear-I’m-straight thing? Jesus Christ. Throw that shit away. Or give it to your niece.

I don’t care much for Rachel Ray. Too cheesy. When she hits the tube I tune into ESPN and watch the always bitter Skip Bayless defend white athletes and stir it up on First and Ten.

I like Samantha Brown, but I don’t watch her show much. I think it’s because she looks like a girl I once dated. The apparent differences are that Samantha has a pleasant disposition, smiles, travels the world, and doesn’t have a thing for wearing fuck me boots.

I’ve seen every episode of Man v. Food. Yeah, I know, the show is stupid. But I like stupid entertainment. The reasons why I like Mike Myers films are the same reasons why I can sit through hours watching Adam Richman eating giant burritos and burgers. I’ve seen him go from a husky dude from New York to a bloated dude from New York. According to Wikipedia he exercises twice a day while on the road. I doubt it. If you like cheap surface entertainment then check out Man v. Food. It’s awesome.

There are other shows.

Food Wars (hosted by a pretty girl named Camille Ford).

Carnivore Chronicles.

Hot Dog Paradise.

Bacon Paradise.

So on and so forth.

One day I saw a special on pizza. It was called Pizza Paradise. The show went across the country showcasing the best pizza in the land. Now, I don’t come from N.Y or Chicago so pizza is just pizza to me. Meat, cheese, and sauce slapped on some cardboard. Chuck on some veggies for some color and there you go: pizza.

So I was floored when some tacky jerk-off named Nino Selimaj of Nino’s Bellissima sold a 12-inch pizza that costs $1,000. Yes, you heard right: $1,000! But you won’t get greasy Italian meats and diced veggies on this pizza. Lord no. This silly asshole plops down caviar and thinly sliced lobster on his pizza. But wait! Not only do you have the luxury of shelling out $1,000 and sinking your choppers into what appears to be a really shitty-tasting pizza, but Nino himself (decked out in a suit, oily slicked back hair, and tanned wrists wrapped in mafia gold) will deliver his pizza to you in person!

Oh, joy.

Really, Nino? Will you do that for me?

Fuck.

“I’d take him even if he didn’t have $200 million” 

— Friend at Krystal’s bridal shower about Blake Carrington in Episode 1, “Oil”

Dynasty lasted just nine seasons, but it made an indelible impression on millions of us. It was the Reagan era and, like Dallas and its other rivals, the hit nighttime soap reflected our love for glitz, glamour and greed. I was a teenage Carrington addict, putting the theme song on my answering machine, writing about it for my high school paper and even racing to the news stand on Wednesdays to check the Nielsen ratings in USA Today. (Between this and the French Club, it’s surprising no one knew I was gay.) As the 30th anniversary of the first episode’s airing passes this month, we can see 10 lessons still true today for us — not to mention our new Congress:

I could have finished National Novel Writing Month. Seriously. I pounded out 43,492 words with four days left, leaving me a mere 6,508 words to go to hit the “winner” level of 50,000 words by midnight last night. That’s a spittle-soaked couple’s squabble, or a wild weekend road trip, or a dimly lit barstool meditation on the meaning of civilization.

‘Dear log, can it be true? Do all Simpsons go through a process of dumbening? Wait, that’s not how you spell ‘dumbening’. Wait, ‘dumbening’ isn’t even a word!’

– Lisa Simpson

 

It’s been a while since my last missive. Too long. It feels like a virtual slap in the virtual face of this fine website. I can hear the mutterings about ‘that lazy Australian’, and the knives, if not yet being sharpened, have certainly been taken from the drawer.

I can only offer that most generic and unconvincing of excuses – the same one employed by philandering sportsmen and murderous wives ever since mental illness was dragged into the twentieth century, became a subject of sympathy and thus exploitable – I have been depressed. And while the pop psychologist in me says putting my feelings on the page might be therapeutic, trying to write whilst depressed is like trying to tap-dance whilst drowning: monstrously difficult, and of questionable efficacy. In any event, do any of you really want to read the kind of drivel that results from ‘writing as therapy’? The considerate writer either sends that shit straight to their stalking victim, or incorporates it into the pain-shrine they are building in the disused closet.

Regardless, I have good reason to be low. Because my country is in an apathetic, political limbo. Because the two sides competing to become the Australian government were so spineless and uninspiring that they both lost the election. Because the fate of my nation now rests in the hands of three men, and one of these men – a country redneck called Bob Katter, who wears a ten-gallon hat with a suit  – this week labelled the internationally respected climate change experts Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut as ‘lightweights’.

This is the triumph of the ignorant and the stupid, the gormless, sweaty meat-sacks who resent being forced from their couches for one hour every three years in order to participate in the democratic system. And, sadly, I cannot simply hold my nose and tell myself that I’m not like them. Not any more.

 

About three weeks ago, I destroyed my 42 inch LCD TV. I had purchased it less than a year earlier for almost two thousand Australian dollars. It is now totally fucked.

If I had destroyed my TV with a gun, or by pushing it out the window of my first-story flat to the shock and dismay of my wife, or driving over it with a Prius in some kind of confusingly worthy performance art piece, it might make for a good story. I would say something about shrugging off the decaying tendrils of old media, saying no to its brain-rotting bullshit, and how I’m counting down the days to the baby boomers dying, man, so we finally can have gay marriage and legal pot. You would read it and think me crazy, or pretentious, or dangerously sexy. And I would be reassured by your praise and my swelling loins that I am better and smarter than ordinary people. Oh, so much better and smarter.

I wish it had been that way. Because instead, I learned the horrifying truth about myself.

I am one of them.

I am a Wiitard.


 

There are two key safety features to the Wii remote. The use of either might have allowed me to remain ignorant of my ignorance.

First of all, just in case a white pointy controller which you spasmodically waggle around isn’t quite penis-y enough for you, it comes encased in a thick, fleshy, condom-like sheath. In the event of the average suburban ape experiencing a herp a derp moment, this jacket theoretically offers protection to both the controller itself and whatever consumer item or fat child it is hurled at. I peeled these off mine as soon as I got them, partly because I thought them unnecessary, but mostly because they creeped me out and I didn’t want my undersexed fiancee getting any unsanitary ideas.

More sensibly, each wiimote also has a strap which is simply and easily affixed to one’s wrist. Had I taken the three seconds necessary to do this then I could be watching season five of The Wire, in big screen surround sound comfort, right now. (Alright, season two of Futurama. Alright, THAT WEIRD JAPANESE PORN I TORRENTED LAST NIGHT.)

But, of course, that kiddy-safe crap is for morons, and maybe girls. Certainly not switched-on, sophisticated guys like me. And I sure as hell wasn’t about to look like a dork in front of my friends by taking basic precautions while playing Wii Sports.

It was only about forty-five seconds after we began playing that the Dunning Kruger Effect ruined my evening, my television, and ultimately my life.

 

The Dunning Kruger Effect, simply put is this: stupid people are too dumb to realise that they’re stupid, and thus consistently overestimate their own abilities. Meanwhile, smart people tend to underestimate their own abilities (relative to others) because they assume that others are as self-aware as they are. This in turn leads to what I call the Inception Effect. An entertaining, spectacular but essentially absurd action flick is sprayed with a superficial layer of metaphysics, giving its plot the appearance of complexity. Because it’s actually pretty straightforward, the less intelligent viewer (i.e. average mainstream film-goer) is able to understand what happens in the movie. But, thanks to the Dunning Kruger effect, they believe that their superior intellect has guided them through an Escheresque masterpiece. They tell their friends that it ‘really makes you think’ and give it four stars on their blog. Conversely, the more intelligent but less self-confident viewer is disturbed when they find this supposedly mind-bending experience underwhelming. Was there a deeper meaning they failed to grasp? Was it all a sophisticated allegory? Did they miss a crucial detail during the couple of minutes they tuned out while imagining what they’d to Ellen Page in a dream? So, rather than risk looking stupid, they go with the flow. The movie gets near-universal acclaim as an intellectual thriller of the highest order (rather than the clever, sometimes striking popcorn piece it is). And consequently, the standard is lowered for everyone.

Being (as I now know) a stupid person, I overestimated my own ability. But, being previously aware of the Dunning Kruger effect, I believed that was actually an intelligent person who was modestly underestimating my own abilities. Which puts my actual level of ability many orders of magnitude below what I had previously assumed. In this case, my ability not to let go of a Wii controller when swinging it towards a widescreen TV.

 

There is a special kind of dissociative state that kicks in when one is struck with a sudden and shocking misfortune. Time slows. The mind imposes an immediate, self-protective state of denial, making everything seem unreal, almost laughable. Stunned, the brain whizzes uselessly in a search for an impossible solution – how can what has already happened be prevented?

But it is real. I have just killed my TV. The screen is a fractured rainbow (and not the ecstasy-inducing double kind). My friends are standing there in horrified embarrassment. This is not what they signed up for. My wife is pale and slack-jawed. She is not angry, or disappointed. Rather, she is experiencing something much worse – a glimpse of her future. Stuck with stupid. I try my best to make light of the situation and lessen my friends’ discomort, but there is no way to undo the revelation of my true nature.

I am one of them. The lost and the damned. The mindless and the selfish.

An ordinary, everyday idiot.

 

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Time to print this off and send it to Zooey Deschanel. I know she’ll write back this time, that bitch.


Most of your poems are metrical and rhymed. Why? Do you see 21st-century metrical verse as a rejection of Modernism?

No, I don’t see using meter and rhyme as a rejection of anything. The opposite, in fact. It’s an affirmation of what drew me to poetry as a reader when I was young—the love of poems that lend themselves to being memorized, for example. I started writing verses for pleasure when I was 12 or 13, and it seemed natural to use the verse techniques of the poets I loved to read—Dickinson, Frost, Yeats and Millay were poets I fell for early and hard. Hopkins and Auden a few years later. I wrote bad imitations of all of them, too. But that’s part of learning to write poems and finding what you have to say.

One of the biggest advantages of rhyme for a poet is the way it brings randomness (via the arbitrary similarity of sounds) into the writing process. I often surprise myself, looking for rhymes, by coming up with an image or metaphor I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise or having a poem take a turn I couldn’t have predicted. Creative constraints can be freeing. But the short answer is that I write in rhyme and meter because doing so gives me pleasure. It’s not part of any program of opposition—to modernism or postmodernism or feminism or any other ism.

But why would a woman poet in 2010 want to use old-fashioned, patriarchal forms like the sonnet? Why not make up your own?

Forms don’t belong to anybody. Why cede a long-lived, flexible form like the sonnet to men? Or to Caucasians, or Christians, or Europeans? Take them and make them your own, I say. And sometimes I do invent my own forms. “Experimental” verse isn’t necessarily free verse.

Do you ever write free verse?

A poet I know who uses meter and rhyme exclusively says that he tried to write free verse once, and it nearly gave him a nervous breakdown. (Maybe he should be featured here.) I’m not quite as extreme as that, but to write free verse I seem to need a model or template of some kind. I’m paralyzed by total freedom, where every line can be broken anywhere. A few years ago I wrote a free verse poem that borrowed the basic structure and some of the rhetorical devices of “My Cat Geoffrey” by Christopher Smart. That poem, which is about Guinea Worm Disease of all things, originally was in an elaborate stanza form. It lay dead on the page until rereading Smart showed me what I needed to do—two or three years after I put the draft in a drawer.

Who are some of your poetic loves and influences?

Loves and influences aren’t necessarily the same thing. I love Whitman, but I don’t think his poems have influenced mine much. I love the Metaphysical poets, especially Herbert and Donne. I used to think that Dickinson wasn’t much of an influence, but as I’ve gotten more and more interested in verse riddles and in shorter meters than iambic pentameter, I think she’s there. Frost, Wilbur, and Larkin, definitely. Christina Rossetti, Elinor Wylie, and Louise Bogan, too, though I discovered them later than the others.

Among contemporary poets, I’ve been lucky to have generous mentors who encouraged and challenged me to do my best work, both directly and by example—among them Dick Davis, Carl Dennis, Rhina Espaillat, Dana Gioia, Sam (R.S.) Gwynn, and Timothy Steele. Among poets of my own generation, I feel an especially deep affinity with Joshua Mehigan, A.E. Stallings, and Greg Williamson, all of whom I admire and have influenced me.

It can be misleading to talk about poets as influences, though. More often it’s individual poems influencing other poems. And poets influence themselves, too, if only in the effort to avoid repeating themselves.

The main thing is to read deeply and widely and not worry too much about influences. In graduate school, I once invited a poet in the MFA program for coffee. I was thinking then of switching from the Ph.D. to the MFA program, mainly because reading literary theory was making me miserable. She seemed like (and was) a nice person, and I was eager to talk poetry, so I asked her which poets she read for pleasure. She named one contemporary American poet, and then said, “But I don’t like to read much poetry. I don’t want to be over-influenced.” I was stunned into silence. I doubt her attitude was typical—at least I hope it wasn’t. But I decided to finish my Ph.D.

Say a little about “Aubade.” What inspired it?

It came out of the experience of new motherhood. Those first weeks and months are so all-consuming, and you sleepwalk through them in a haze of sleep deprivation, a sort of timeless time. You’re up crazy hours, and the days and nights blur together. We were living in Brooklyn then, and I’d run into other mothers at the park with their toddlers or older kids, and often they’d say, “Oh, it seems like you’ll never forget the time when they’re tiny babies, but you do.” I remember vaguely thinking there might be a poem in that (everything I thought was vague at the time!). And of course my daughter wouldn’t remember any of what we did together in those early days—that struck me too. I scribbled one line from what became the poem in a notebook when she was a few months old—“You will remember none of this.” That’s where it stayed for… well, I didn’t get the poem on paper until the form finally revealed itself, about six years later.

Revealed itself?

That’s the way it feels—that the poem discovers its form. You have to be very patient sometimes, or you force it into being before it’s ready and ruin it. On the other hand, you can’t give up on the failed drafts and partial drafts if you think they have potential. You have to exhume the bodies now and then and check them for signs of life.

What’s the form of “Aubade”?

It’s in 8-line stanzas of iambic tetrameter, each stanza having two rhyme-endings, with the seventh and eighth lines identical to the first and third.

Never heard of that.

I made it up—at least I think I did. But the form was inspired by a Louis MacNeice poem called “Meeting Point,” about two people having a love affair who share the illusion that their love can make time stop. That poem, also tetrameter, uses five-line stanzas in which the last line repeats the first. It’s a wonderful poem. I’d come across it a long time before, in college maybe, and then a few years ago I encountered it again and was fascinated with the music it made. I memorized it and carried it around for awhile. And that one little line of my own germinated.

Why the generic title? Isn’t it like calling a villanelle “Villanelle”?

Not quite, I think. A bigger strike against it is that Larkin used it for one of his greatest poems. But titling it “Aubade” let me frame the poem as a conversation with the many other poets who have written aubades, in various cultures and over centuries. I could participate in that tradition in my own way. That early, all-consuming bond between a mother and an infant is like the early stages of a love affair, and even as you suffer sleeplessness and mood swings and feel completely overwhelmed, like someone in love you want that time to last forever. And you know that it can’t. I could say a lot with the title without having to say it outright.

Is it typical for you to take years to finish a poem?

Unfortunately, yes. It seems to take me ten years, more or less, to collect enough poems for a book.

So we can expect the next one in 2014?

Maybe. If I’m as lucky with finding a publisher as I was the last time, which is a big if.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing or working (or taking your daughter to play rehearsals and softball practice)?

My husband and I just finished watching an excellent Brit TV series called Foyle’s War, about a police detective (played by Michael Kitchen) investigating murders in Hastings during World War II. We felt bereft when we’d watched the last one. Another of our recent enthusiasms is Breaking Bad. Right now our recommendations on Netflix are divided into two categories: “Understated British Dramas” and “Critically-acclaimed, Violent TV Shows.”

I started studying piano a year and a half ago. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Getting your hands to do different things simultaneously is not an easy skill for a middle-aged person to pick up, so I have to be patient with myself. My favorite genre is blues, which sounds good even when arranged for a beginner. I take lessons every other week, and my piano teacher and I exchange “words of the day” at the end of each one. My word of the day last week was “opsimath”—somebody who learns something new later in life.

Why have you been putting off doing this interview for months? Why have you stood me up and screened my calls?

I don’t know. Sorry! I couldn’t sit down and do it until the deadline was bearing down on me. I guess I have a horror of coming off as self-centered and self-indulgent.

But you’re a poet!

Right. It comes with the territory! Might as well embrace it.

Anything else you’d like to say?

That I’m really jazzed about being featured on TNB, especially now that I’m done with this interview. Please tell Uche thanks!

So, David, you recently got back from a long book tour; what were you reading in your downtime on the road? Any book(s) really blowing you away right now?

Have you heard of this book called Shit My Dad Says?  I love it a lot.


What’s making you love this book so much right now?

What do I love about the book? I was talking to Laurie about it tonight, as we walked around Green Lake. I really love how compressed the book is. I love how there is no space between the articulation and the embodiment of the articulation. I love how there are vast reservoirs of feeling beneath Justin’s voice and beneath the father’s aphorisms. The father is legitimately smart, even wise; he’s trying to teach his son that life is only blood and bones. Nothing more and nothing less. The son is trying to express to his father his bottomless love and complex admiration.


I have been aware of Shit My Dad Says as a blog. So there is a book out now also? What are the things about the book that you like? I thought the blog was pretty funny. The blog says they are getting a show on CBS. I wonder if the dad will slowly become aware of his minor celebrity status and become more self-aware, thus spoiling the main source of humor? The massive unselfconsciousness might be polluted?

Yep, there’s a blog posting, and it’s already become a TV show (bad, apparently) and a best-selling book. It sounds too easy–this guy just collecting vulgar wisdoms that his father says, but the book is actually kind of lovely. I love how Justin Halpern writes, and I love the mix between his father’s crazy truth-telling and the son slowly getting it. That is, the title is what it is because the son finally learns to embrace the rude vitality of the father. Also, the book is, to me, hugely about Vietnam—the father was a medic in Vietnam–and to me, based on a single crucial scene, it’s not inconsiderably about the father endlessly processing that violence, that anger. It’s also hugely about being Jewish in America–again, very obliquely, mentioned just once; it’s about the father teaching the son how to be Jewish and male in America, which is a complicated thing.


The blog entries all look like about the length of a Twitter post. Is the book set up that way, too? From what I’ve seen of the blog, the whole thing comes off as a very vulgar, un-PC version of something like La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims or Pascal’s Pensées: raw aphorisms that all seem to have some sort of brutal truth at the core. Does the book layout look at all like the blog–a bunch of 200-character bursts?

Yep. I think each entry is meant to be 140 characters or less: the length of a tweet. I love how it just cuts to the chase. How short all of the sections are–how it tries to have as thin a membrane as possible between author and reader and writer, and I love how it’s essentially a tape recording of the father’s best lines, overdubbed with very brief monologues by the son. To me, it’s almost a model for what writing can be now. It’s not great or even good, probably, really, finally, but above all it’s not boring. Which is everything to me. I compare it to the excerpt in the NYer recently of Franzen’s new novel. I couldn’t read past the first paragraph’s high-church sonorities, which have zero to do with life now lived.


The analogy of the tape recording of the father with color commentary by the son is a good one. I like that sort of double-layered narrative. It almost sounds like what I love about a really well-done sports broadcast. You have the main voice calling out all the detail as it happens, and then you have the color-commentator adding a less specific, wider view on events.

That’s a great analogy, but I’d change it more to the father is the action on the field, then the son is the announcer trying to explain it, analyze it, get it.


So are you seeing Halpern’s book as a pretty much flawless work?

The only mistake in the book is the last ten pages, and it’s a serious one. The mask comes off, and everything goes badly sentimental.

Till then I love the book.


That is interesting about the last 10 pages. I wonder why Halpern makes the sudden change at the end? Is it because he felt that a book needs a “book-ish” ending? Or maybe it was editorial advice?

It’s a terrible move. Almost certainly derived from editorial advice.  In many ways it ruins the book, as does the sit-com.


Do you think Shit My Dad Says could be a glimpse of a new form of book born out of the Myspace/Facebook/Twitter realm? Halpern’s instinct was to make a blog first. The book seems to be a secondary recasting of the blog. Before this conversation I didn’t know it was a book. To me it was a blog people kept telling me about.

I do think it suggests that you can be living as an unemployed screenwriter in San Diego and six months later you’re a best-selling writer. I love that.


Do you think Halpern put the book together by harvesting and editing down the blog posts that had built up over a stretch of time? Or was the blog part of a more deliberate plan, and the book was always the end goal? For some reason I find the latter scenario more artistically appealing, maybe because it starts to feel more like organic folk art. Also, do you think a book like this shows that the social networking, web-log impulse can lead to good literature?

I definitely don’t see it as a deliberate plan. If it is, I’ll kill myself. Can social networking, blogging generate great books? On very rare occasions such as this, yes. Justin Halpern has said that he was collecting notes for a screenplay, then of course the notes became tweets, tweets became blog, website, book, etc. That’s crucial for me: the notes for the book are the book, are the better version of the book than any too-considered book.


As I mentioned above, I find it interesting that I was told about Shit My Dad Says by a handful of people, but always in terms of it being a blog I should check out. It might be because the book has been out only a few weeks. But it makes me think about the fact that in the course of everyday discourse at work and in conversations with friends, I’m almost always being urged to check out blogs, YouTube videos, the odd TV show episode or movie now and then, and sometimes podcasts. Books are probably the furthest down on that list. Books don’t seem to occupy the “fun zone” (for lack of a better term). The word-of-mouth recommendations I get from friends are usually some sort of oral endorsement about how great something is and how I really need to have a look because I am missing out on the fun. That is how I found out about Shit My Dad Says. Someone said, “Have you ever read [the blog] Shit My Dad Says? It’s hilarious. This kid just records all the crazy stuff his dad says, and his dad says some real messed-up stuff.”  I’ll wager a million dollars that I’ll never have one of these folks come up to me and say, “Hey, have you heard of this book Shit My Dad Says? It’s great.” Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems far less likely to happen.

I think that’s crucial. The book as object is, as you say, not part of the “fun zone.” Book culture is dead. Books, if they want to survive, need to figure out how to coexist with contemporary culture and catalyze the same energies for literary purposes. That’s what I try to do. Those are the books I love, read, teach, and try to write. Eg, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Amy Fusselman’s The Pharmacist’s Mate, Simon Gray’s Smoking Diaries, David Markson’s This is Not a Novel, Leonard Michaels’s “Journal.” They’re all more literary versions of Shit My Day Says, but they all have that cut-to-the-bone, cut-to-the-chase quality. “This is how we write now.” At least it’s how I write and read now.


It just seems that 20-something and 30-something people I am in contact with are much more open to a new reading experience when it is a blog. I know there have got to be a hundred complex reasons as to why that is, but none of them change the fact that these folks, these non-literature-heads are reading. They haven’t stopped reading; they just don’t get as excited about the book form. I wonder if this is because the blog form is so much easier, immediate, low-time-commitment, non-homework-ish, and of course free?

Crucial for me are the immediacy, the relative lack of scrim between writer and reader, the promised delivery of unmediated reality, the pseudo-artlessness, the nakedness, the comedy, the real feeling hidden 10 fathoms deep.


I think for the most part we can rule out cost as a factor, because these same people don’t hesitate to buy a CD even if they could download it, if the spirit moves them enough or if the artwork is cool enough or if the significance of the release is high enough. I think the reason for these media habits has more to do with low time commitment, and also the feeling that with a blog they are getting something “rawer,” more unfiltered, more direct from writer to reader.

That’s so much what I argue, of course, throughout Reality Hunger. For instance, this new book about David Foster Wallace, called Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. David Lipsky spent a couple of weeks with Wallace 14 years ago, then 13 years later he went back and excavated the notes. The book pretends to be just a compilation of notes, and maybe that’s all it is, but to me–this might be way too generous of a reading–it’s a meditation on two sensibilities: desperate art and pure commerce. Lipsky, I hope, knows what he’s doing: evoking himself as the very quintessence of everything Wallace despised.


I don’t think that these media-use habits that we’re talking about mean the book is obsolete. I think it means that we as writers are somehow missing a new element. It could be that a book is just less inherently immediate and raw because it has to go through the old-fashioned labyrinth of the publishing industry, and even when the book is printed and ready to go, you have to either go down to a store to get it, or have it shipped to you via Amazon. But I think this is a constraint that we writers can work around. I think it’s just a challenge for us–to give the book that “live” feel, that up-to-date, awake, aware, instant feel. There will always be a place for, say, the traditional novel that is read on the beach on vacation or chapter by chapter at bedtime for a month as a means of entertainment and escape. But there is this whole other, newer form of reading that most books being published today don’t have an answer for. Even achieving a happy medium between the new and old reading experience would be a great breakthrough. To me a book like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets has that sizzle on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. It’s boiled down to the bare elements, stripped down to just the basic notes (in both senses of the word).

That’s what I’m aiming for. The paragraph-by-paragraph sizzle is everything to me. Fusselman, Gray, Michaels, Nelson, to take just a few examples—-these books books have an extraordinarily artful “artlessness” that is to me crucial to contemporary art.


I have been taking notes and collecting quotes for nearly 2 years, all for this future book that I hope will materialize at some point. But every time I attempt to turn the notes into the book, I hate the results. It also doesn’t hurt that I love all these books, like The Pharmacist’s Mate, that are collections of scraps laid out in a pleasing manner. I think my love of this sort of structural style definitely nudges me towards the notes staying notes, or you could say “the book” staying notes. Really what I have built is a database of little meditations, riffs, metaphors, and quotations. I even find my notes on how the book should be structured to be full of energy, because it is an outline of my massive aspirations for the book, most of which I have no hope of actually pulling off. It almost feels like my book wants to be about the planning of a book. A hypothetical literature that can’t exist under earth’s current gravity. So, yes, I am with you all the way regarding your interest in these sorts of books.

The notes are the book, I promise you.