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Having “a type”

January 16, 2010

A few months ago I took someone for drinks at a tiki bar in Milwaukee. I think the bar was actually her suggestion, but we went together. I bought her a cocktail made with lavender. This was the first time we’d ever hung out together, and during our conversation she tried to convince me I had a “type.” I remember blinking–who did this girl think she was? trying to tell me I had a type and some bullshit.  She doesn’t know me! I remember countering her claim (while scowling, I’m sure) with something like, “welll…the person doesn’t really matter really matter, as long as there’s a good connection blah blah blah.” I also remember saying something cliché like, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea…just think of all the people out there you might connect with.” She disagreed with me. I checked out her legs.

Listen. I’m not saying she was right. All I’m saying is I think I have a type. And I don’t think there are plenty of fish in the sea.

A Single Man

January 15, 2010

One of my former professors e-mailed me a link to an article in The Chronicle about the mid-century U.S. teacher and novelist Christopher Isherwood. According to the article, Isherwood “wrote passionately and from a highly subjective point of view about the world around him.” I’ve never read his works, yet I am attracted to, according to the article at least, the attentiveness with which he attends everyday experiences. Slowing down and paying attention informs not only my reading practices, but the ways in which I interact with other people. It’s an ethical relationship, according to some, and I believe very much in the ethics of reading and listening to texts, music, students, and other people in my life closely. In Isherwood I hope to find a kindred spirit, not only because of his queerness (or, less asynchronously, his gayness), but because I find these kinds of close reading, writing, and listening practices are often taken up by self-identified queer scholars. I’m not saying queers are more ethical. I’ve met plenty who are not. But I am interested in scholarly conversations about reparative and paranoid reading practices taken up by queer scholars.

I’m not interested in rehearsing those debates here. I can’t say much more about Isherwood’s writing without having read his texts. I do expect reading lush writing about “the mundane.” I wonder if Ford’s adaptation will do the details justice, though my thinking here has already been tainted by the Chronicle article. If nothing else, I’m sure the costuming will be amazing.

The Divine Sarah

January 4, 2010

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

— George Bernard Shaw (thnx FYF)

Sarah Bernhardt in La Tosca

Madame Bernhardt has the charm of a jolly maturity, rather spoilt and petulant, perhaps, but always ready with a sunshine-through-the-clouds smile if only she is made much of. Her dresses and diamonds, if not exactly splendid, are at least splendacious; her figure, far too scantily upholstered in the old days, is at its best…[Madame Bernhardt] is beautiful with the beauty of her school, and entirely inhuman and incredible. But the incredibility is pardonable, because, thought it is all the greatest nonsense, nobody believing in it, the actress herself least of all, it is so artful, so clever, so well recognized a part of the business, and carried off with such a genial air, that it is impossible not to accept it with good-humor. One feels, when the heroine bursts on the scene, a dazzling vision of beauty, that instead of imposing on you, she adds to her own piquancy by looking you straight in the face, and saying, in effect: ‘Now who would ever suppose that I am a grandmother?’ That, of course, is irresistible…She does not enter into the leading character: she substitutes herself for it — George Bernard Shaw, from “Duse and Bernhardt” in Plays and Players-Essays on the Theatre

I am planning to see Tosca in Chicago on Friday the 22nd. I read the Shaw quote on Fuck Yeah Femmes the other day and was reminded of Sarah Bernhardt, who played the title role in Victorien Sardou’s La Tosca. You can read the review of her New York performance in the February 6, 1896 issue of the New York Times here. I’m hoping for something over-the-top–something as artful, controlled, and performative as a Sandra Bernhardt performance. Seems like the perfect break before another semester of teaching, etc.

The Old Fashioned

December 30, 2009

From Crosby Gaige’s Cocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion,

“It is only fitting that the subject of cocktails should be approached with levity slightly tinctured with contempt because, for every good compound, arrangement, or synthesis of liquors, wines, and their adjacent or opposite fruits and flavors chilled and served in a variety of glasses, there are approximately a million foul, terrifying, and horrendous similar excitements to stupefaction, cuspidor-hurling, and nausea…Folks who would disparage the Old Fashioned as a fruit-cup floating in a bath of warm whiskey should have the gag cocktails build by Ray Ahearn at Bleeck’s Artists and Writers in Fortieth Street, Manhattan, with four ounces of Bellows best and no fruit but a twist of lemon peel, and really cold.”

The Old Fashioned

Photograph: Jeff Gurwin

1 lump sugar

3 dashes Angostura Bitters

2 ice cubes

1 jigger Rye or Bourbon

Splash of Seltzer or 1 tbsp. water

Place the lump of sugar in an “Old Fashioned” glass and saturate it with Angostura Bitters. Add the seltzer or water and muddle. Add the ice, a maraschino cherry, and a twist of lemon peel. Then pour in the liquor, stir, and serve. Serious minded-persons omit fruit salad from “Old Fashioneds,” while the frivolous window-dress the brew with slices of orange, sticks of pineapple, and a couple of turnips. In the same manner is made the Scotch or the Rum or the Irish Whiskey “Old Fashioned.” Even Gin or Brandy (in Wisconsin, particularly) is occasionally used.

Wherever you are tomorrow night, whether you’re with the person you want to be with or not–whether you’re going out on the town or to a house party or staying in alone–please, please don’t drink bad cocktails. Or drink and drive. Happy New Year!

Nabokov, Synesthesia, and Bach’s Chaconne No. 5

December 29, 2009

I was reminded of synesthesia today when a good friend sent me a link to a wonderful reading of Nabokov’s “My Russian Education,” originally printed in the September 18, 1948 issue of The New Yorker. For some reason I associated this piece with Bach’s Chaconne No. 5, performed by Nathan Milstein.

Synesthesia is defined as the production of a sense impression to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. Nabokov is reported to have been a synesthete, which may have influenced his ability to use poetic language to link sensory experiences. I was particularly drawn to these lines in “My Russian Education”:  “The electric light in my bedroom had a sullen, harsh, jaundiced tinge that made my eyes smart. Invariably I was confronted by some chunk of unfinished homework. ” I love the displacement of jaundice’s invariably yellow tinge from “my eyes” to “the electric light,” and the double entendre of “made my eyes smart” in relation to the chunk of unfinished homework.

If you permit me a bit of free association (at best) and a terrible transition (at worst), I’d like to offer my synesthesic experience of Bach’s Chaconne No. 5. I’m interested in how this piece simultaneously connects multiple, embodied sensory experiences (e.g. goosebumps or hard nipples) and invokes out-of-body (ecstatic, self-transcendent) experiences. I listen to this piece and feel its effect on different parts of my body while at the same time am transported outside my self.

I don’t have a connection ready to articulate between Nabokov and Bach, though I was amazed at how under Milstein’s expert hand, Bach’s piece sounds, to my mind, like Perlman’s rendition of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise.

Being alone

December 28, 2009

Duck Lake State Park, Whitehall, Michigan

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” -Orson Welles

A good friend of mine recently asked me whether I could easily distinguish between being alone and being lonely. After thinking for a while I confessed that to my mind, the two were often conflated. Even the dictionary has a hard time distinguishing between being alone and being lonely; the tertiary definition for “alone,” is “lonely.”

At a party the other day several strangers asked me what I was doing for Christmas. I told them I had rented a cabin and was planning on hiking, writing, and being alone. Almost everyone was taken aback by my plans and with an odd mixture of awe and horror, admitted this was something they could never do. One older lady even furrowed her eyebrows and worried that I’d be lonely. I started feeling bold and original. My story started circulating and I heard people making sense of my plans in terms of, “he’s going on a meditation retreat,” and “he’s a writer and he’s going to the cabin to write something.” I was eschewing a holiday tradition of forced familial conviviality for some rugged wilderness retreat. Sounded better and better the more stories I heard about my plans.

But it really wasn’t that romantic. I went to force myself to think about my friend’s question. What are the felt differences between being alone and feeling lonely? When I was there, I didn’t once feel lonely though I was quite alone. I realized how alone I was when my car almost slid into a frozen lake and there was no one around for miles to help. I was alone when I ate Christmas dinner in a diner where everyone else eating had at least two or three others with them. I was alone when I went hiking through the woods and heard nothing but my heart beating. I didn’t feel lonely, that is, until I unlocked the door to my apartment back in Milwaukee and stepped inside.

Feeling lonely is boring; it’s frightening and it’s sad. For me, being alone on a day saturated with expectations of social bliss was the perfect way to spend the holiday. I appreciate my close friendships more than ever and feel a little better equipped to navigate the loneliness that sets in from time to time.

Becoming-Woman

December 26, 2009

reposted from Fuck Yeah Femmes

I think it’s important to destroy “big” notions like woman, homosexual…. Things are never that simple. When they’re reduced to black-white, male-female categories, there’s an ulterior motive, a binary-reductionist operation meant to subjugate them. For example, you cannot qualify a love univocally. Love in Proust is never specifically homosexual. It always has a schizoid, paranoid component, a becoming-plant, a becoming-woman, a becoming-music.
— “Becoming-Woman,” Félix Guattari

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