SEAN_MICHAEL-1770_NB_FINALEwebWhat’s your name, where do you come from?

My name’s Sean. I was born in Scotland and raised in Ottawa, but I live in Montreal.

 

Why don’t you have a Scottish accent?

I did, but I lost it.

 (The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me[1])

 

1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)

You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.

Full disclosure: I read FATHERMUCKER (HarperCollins 2011) the first time around in installments. As Greg wrote, I would receive these amazing sections in my inbox — smart, compelling, raucous, heartbreaking and wholly original. I would tear through those pages, enthralled by Josh Lansky’s stream of consciousness, his riffs on parenting, popular culture, love, sex, his wife and children, all set to a playlist ranging in taste from Zeppelin to the Magnetic Fields. As soon as I finished I would send Greg e-mails that contained only one word: MORE. The voice felt entirely fresh and new, unlike anything I had experienced before in contemporary fiction, and definitely not from this perspective. Josh Lansky, while a devout husband and father, was still a guy, and he held nothing back in what would surely turn out to be one of the longest days in his life. Experiencing FATHERMUCKER will leave you breathless and wanting more of what goes on inside Greg Olear’s head; thankfully, he agreed to answer a few questions.

Mr. Leopold Bloom sat on the couch, legs akimbo, knees a bony promontory untried of clothing but the frayed bottoms of boxer shorts. Between such legs blared a rerun of Friends, Joey’s debauchery the teeth-pulverized pomegranate seed to Chandler’s sadsack oatmeal.

Sunlight slaked inward through smudged, unsmudged, resmudged glass and Mr. Bloom’s mind wandering between the television refractions. Two days’ unchallenged breakfast dishes stacked in unsteady layers between silverware and unread newspapers. Where is Molly? Where is Molly?

Away, Molly with the litheblack cat. The chipped floorboards a horizon, challenging. The wallplaster beyond, a cracked sky. A maiow opened tuna cans in Monday’s downward pinioned morning light. But this is Tuesday and where is Mr. Maiow, whose company in neutrality would be more and less a nuisance than that truthtelling? Four breakfasts and two tuna cans ago, and how strange an accusation of infidelity, being the veritas vos liberabit of his solitude. And cruel, cruel that she changed the Netflix password!

Time rising up from sleep’s cotton-smothered ululations, indiscriminate. An hour, a day. Friends played ad infinitum on that one cable channel. Starz? And the sunlight downward thrown from Phoebus’ crag admits no ticktock of rossrachelmonicachandlerjoeyphoebe.

Might as well start drinking, Bloom thought. Red Stripe, yes. But Budweiser is cheaper. An easy decision: Drink well til the cost means less the further in. Do we have any of those cheese crackers left? We.

He would ask easy questions to the sunlight.

The flap of bare feet on the living room floor startled him so a sneeze erupted the dust. Coffee table spaces between her magazines. Magazines unread. O but looking through the sunlight’s brief prism over that wasteland of clothes and blankets and pizza boxes. Molly’s mother’s afghan, where he slept. Onward!

The footflapped walk to the kitchen navigated by the sound of the television (Joey Tribianni, undone love remakes your liaisons!) through the dark sitting room, the bookshelves looming. Avoid the looking glass, her left underthings on the towel rack. Beers, as many as you can carry. Make true the minutes the sunlight would deny.

Bloom eschewed the bedroom light switch, also. The bed! And kicked an unidentified slipper. Whose, the slipper? The bedclothes strewn? Hers? Mine? Pussens walks on downy slippers, pads of animal skin, Bloom in crocodile moccasins.

The creak of the bedroom door spoke maiow, and Pussens. Sunlight through the hallway made a path of the world.

Suck, spoke the refrigerator like the sucking of a drain. The motor whirring. Don’t look at the dirty dishes, some hers. The armful of beer was unwieldy but for the shortness of the trip until her mother’s afghan enfolded him and milksopped the rossandrachel spillage, the sitcom catharsis.

Three things prompted me to read and review Infinite Jest. First, today marks the fifteenth anniversary of its publication, and that seems worth more than a mention. Second, David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel The Pale King is forthcoming in April, which begs a look back at his previous work. Third, the jealousy conjured in me at the time of the novel’s release has diminished, allowing for a fairer assessment. Combine this passage of time with Wallace’s suicide over a year ago and all jealously now seems, at the very least, misplaced.

What does it mean to be literate? That one’s pretty easy; it means you know how to read. What does it mean to be cultural? That one’s a little tougher; it means you know that in most situations, it’s unacceptable to put your cigarette out on a dachshund. And so what does it mean to be “culturally literate?” Many have posed this question (Harold Bloom, the Yale professor currently encased in acrylic and preserved for posterity does it a lot.), yet no one has truly come to terms with an accurate answer. My uncle Seamus once remarked that “cultural literacy is for homosexuals,” but he was urinating in a koi pond at the time, so who knows? I suggest we journey together to see if we can’t get to the core of this labyrinthine dilemma. Perhaps the most logical first step is learning how to read (I’ll wait for a few minutes)… Sweet. Our next step is to determine what exactly is “cultural.” Below are a few undeniably cultural items in the realm of architecture, literature and music. Let’s familiarize ourselves with these things, and then we can begin to get a handhold on what it means to be culturally literate.

The Eiffel Tower

Perhaps the most recognizable man-made structure in the world, The Eiffel Tower is a must-see for any culturally minded person. Completed in 1889 to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the French Revolution(1), the Eiffel Tower serves as a constant reminder that not everything in Paris is covered in dog feces.

The tower stands well over 1,000 feet high, something I discovered after dropping a crêpe from the observation deck while utilizing the equation Yf = -1/2gt^2 + Vot+Yo. Nestled along the Seine and overlooking the Champ de Mars, the Eiffel Tower strictly prohibits oral sex in the elevators (although there was no noticeable sign or warning). Also, be sure to say “bonjour” to the one-eyed dwarf who roller skates atop the structure’s antenna, drinking his own blood and reciting Ozymandias(2).  As an added frustration, Le Jules Verne restaurant on the second floor offers food you can’t afford. I recommend the filet de turnbot au sautoir, écrevisses et champignons à la Riche, then running away.


Ulysses

A mammoth tome, written by James Joyce and published by Sylvia Beach in its entirety in 1928, Ulysses catalogues a day in the life of one Leopold Bloom. Often cited as the cornerstone of modernist literature, Ulysses takes its name from Homer’s Odysseus, as in The Odyssey, that book you were supposed to read sophomore year but ended up huffing oven cleaner in the school parking lot most of the time.

Written in Joyce’s inimitable stream-of-consciousness style, Ulysses is an integral part of any literary aesthete’s library. In addition, the book reminds us that even though the sisters at Strake Jesuit put saltpeter in our Cheerios to keep us from masturbating, there’s really no stopping the process, even if the guilt stays with you to this day. While nobody has ever read this book, its inclusion in your book collection will ensure at least a cursory dry-hump from the intoxicated Yale co-ed you met at the “Vampire Weekend” concert last month. Be sure to look out for the last sentence in which Molly Bloom probably has an orgasm or is in the throes of Crohn’s disease. Joyce was also blind, so we can forgive him for not making a whole lot of sense (there has been speculation that Joyce wrote much of Ulysses on the back of his cat, accounting for much of the confusion within the text). The poet Ezra Pound perhaps put it best when he remarked, “Ulysses is a treat for anyone trapped under ice.”

Jazz

Often cited as the only “true American art form,” jazz music is what happens when heroin happens. First popularized in the early 20th century, jazz incorporates West African musical traditions and European stuffiness, resulting in a cacophonous mishmash that makes one feel as if his or her genitals are creeping up and slowly eating his/her belly button. A vital part of America’s long history of misguided art forms, jazz is sure to spark furious debate among people who can’t admit they sing along to Rihanna’s “Umbrella” in the car when nobody is looking.

Jazz is, at its core, an interpretive medium. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and other maestros of the genre are venerated within certain musical circles much the same way the idea of a space/time continuum is venerated by physicists, even though, after a while, ruminations on the subject lead one back to the inevitable conclusion that nothing is understandable in this crazy world, especially Ugg boots. If you feel you have the mettle, give jazz a chance. When you’ve discovered it’s over your head and you’d honestly just rather sit there listening to Shakira, don’t feel bad. You can always count on her and her hips don’t lie.

I hope our maiden voyage into the unforgiving sea of cultural literacy has proved helpful. Keep in mind; this is a long journey, but a journey well-worth taking. For how are we to navigate our desires, our fears, and ourselves if we cannot navigate the world around us?

GPS is a good answer, yes

[1] More on the French Revolution can be found in Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Although, it is a far better thing if you start reading at Part III, as I this is where the nudity really kicks into high gear.

[2] There is a place that sells absinthe next to the McDonald’s on the Rue Duban.