This Blog is Stolen Property

Saturday, October 07, 2006

How Tom Waits Got Himself Knocked Up

"Je est un autre" writes Rimbaud with ungrammatical wisdom. "I is another."

This is the experience of reading--the doubleness of reading: we enfold ourselves in another consciousness, blurring but not crossing the boundary between the two. I am still I, but I can no longer conjugate myself quite the same way. My predication is displaced.

Georges Poulet, in his terrific essay, "The Phenomenology of Reading" writes that the work "thinks itself" in the reader. But the process isn't quite that simple. When one first picks up a book, one is still intensely conscious of the room in which one is sitting, of the look of the page, of hunger pains or sounds or drafts or...

And the process is never total, however much the Romantic in us would like it to be so. Reading is always intersubjective--we still are there, engaging and questioning and saying "I"--even if we now say "I is" rather than "I am."

There is a famous poem by an otherwise unknown poet, Cleobulus, from pre-Athenian Greece. His poem goes something like this:
I am the bronze maiden who lies on the grave marker of Midas,
And as long as the waters shall flow and the trees grow tall,
I will remain here on this famous tomb,
Announcing to passersby that Midas is buried here.

Now this is a strange and wonderful poem--whether or not these words were actually inscribed on a funerary statue is a matter lost to the ages, but the delicate and peculiar irony of it persists either way. The bronze maiden will surely be lost to time, just as was Midas, and she invokes the very agents of her own destruction: the flowing of water which will erode her, the trees whose roots will disrupt her subterranean ward.

But the poem is even stranger considering that silent reading was unknown to the Greeks--they read only alound, even when they were alone. So that a passerby encountering this poem (if the grave were real) or any reader encountering it, would say these words out loud: "I am the bronzen maiden..."

The reader literally envoices, embodies, the words here--he is simultaneously a performer and the bronze maiden and the passerby to whom she speaks.

So as I ponder the the imponderables of reading and performance and whatnot, I'm listening to Tom Waits' "Blue Valentine" and I realize that he's got it worked out better than I ever could.

"Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis" is a pretty stunning bit of performance about the nature of performance (or something less stupid sounding than that--you know what I mean, though).

The song (you should totally download it, if you don't know it--it's awful good) starts out with Tom Waits' gravelly and unmistakable male voice singing "Charlie, I'm pregnant."

Throughout the song, Waits' voice wavers between his own whiskey rasp and the gentle breathiness of the woman he's ventriloquizing. He are another.

Waits' performance also points up the fact that the girl is herself performing. She's telling Charlie about how she's getting her life together--how she's got a new husband (he plays the trombone) but she still remembers Charlie fondly. She keeps a record album he gave her. Little Anthony and the Imperials.

The story isn't true. It's the brave front of a woman whose life has gone from bad to worse. And even as she spins these stories for Charlie, reality intrudes. She tells him that she can't listen to Little Anthony and the Imperials because her record player was stolen. Even as she's trying on this new persona, she is still herself. Or rather, Tom Waits is both of them.

And so are we, I guess, when we listen. And sing along.

One of the most touching bits of the song is also a pretty terrific metaphor for what happens when we read, when, as Poulet says the work "thinks itself" in us:
I wish I had all the money
that we used to spend on dope
I'd buy me a used car lot
and I wouldn't sell any of 'em
I'd just drive a different car
every day dependin' on how
I feel.

A library's kind of like a used car lot--objects inhabited by ghosts, waiting to be enlivened by another driver.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Actual Email from a Student

cldn't mk it 2day sorry did i send u email 2x my bad


Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Afternoon of Magical Thinking

It's another playoff season, which causes both sadness and philosophical musing in the Feemus household.

The Mariners, of course, are not playing in the playoffs.

This is as it should be, perhaps. It restores a kind of order to the world--there was 20 years of sucking, then a kind of fluke from '95 to '02 (I call it "The Seven Year Glitch"), and now they're back to sucking. So now I watch just for the agonism of it, without all that pesky competition intruding.

"Good hustle, boys!" I like to say when I watch the Mariners. "Just try your hardest!"

But this post isn't about the Mariners. It's about another team which sucked this season, a team whose losses I take even harder than those of the M's.

I mean, of course, the Wichita Linemen. My poor, ill-managed fantasy baseball team (just when you thought I couldn't get any geekier...). Although I gave them many rousing pep talks, they just couldn't seem to rally.

But this isn't really about my poor Linemen. It's about fandom and the magical thinking that's almost necessarily a part of it. I got to thinking about this one night a few months ago as I was working late and checking the games on's "gameday" feature, which allows you to see the games live and play by play. Omar Vizquel was up. Vizquel, in addition to being the best defensive shortstop in the the last twenty years, is also a Wichita Lineman. Whether he knows it or not.

I'm sure that somewhere in his tragic and lonesome soul he knows it.

At any rate, he was up against Joel Piniero, a Mariners' pitcher (must've been during interleague play--ugh). And I felt the bad faith that every fantasy baseball "manager" has felt: I wanted the Mariners to win, but I really wanted Vizquel to get a hit. Maybe an RBI double. Hell, maybe a home run.

And then I felt guilty.

Which is stupid, from any rational point of view. My wishing and willing and wanting doesn't have anything to do with the outcome of the game. Of course. But I still felt guilty, dishonest. And I realized that being a fan is to willingly engage in magical thinking. It is to willingly invest yourself in some event that is wholly unconnected to you and to ascribe to it a psychological value that is entirely irrational.

If we don't actually believe that we control the outcome of the game (although there are some who do, judging by how loud they yell at the tv), we do believe that our lives are enhanced by a positive outcome of the game.

I realize that this is a dry-as-dust way of saying that I like it when my team wins, but I was really quite surprised by my moment of bad faith and what it says about the almost necessarily anti-rationalism of fandom.

So I've started taking note of other types of magical thinking that have slipped under the radar. I'm moderately OCD, so I have a lot--but I'm not going to count these (well, I mean, I *will* count them, and then round them up until they're divisible by three and then I'll alphabetize them. Then I'll count them again. I'm just not going to list them here).

I think I've already mentioned on this blog that I keep certain books without really intending to read them just because I think that owning them will somehow make me more knowledgeable.

I have a friend who eats a grapefruit after indulging in too much rich food. She says she thinks on some level that the grapefruit will counteract the fettucine alfredo. Although, she is quite trim and in very good health, so maybe it is working...

If the bus is late, I close my eyes to make it come faster. It doesn't make sense to me either.

If I'm reading a novel during a period when I have a lot of unfinished work to do, I won't finish the novel, even though I only read novels late at night when I wouldn't be working anyway. I will, however, start another one. Right now, I have three novels by my bed--the last twenty pages of which I have not read.

I sure hope those Hardy boys can figure out all those mysteries.

Other examples of everyday magical thinking?

addendum: In France, the acronym for OCD is TOC (trouble obsessionnel compulsif). Their older, pre-medicalized word for it was, as in English I suppose, a "tic." I have a French friend who, whenever I do something obviously compulsive will say in an exaggerated French accent "tic toc, tic toc." I always thought this was pretty clever (even the self-parodying accent is kind of funny) if not terribly nice. Then I learned that this is a stock joke in France. But I'm not going to obsess about it...

Monday, October 02, 2006

I Admit That I Am Powerless Over Twinks

Following the scandal involving sexually suggestive emails to his adolescent pages, former Representative Mark Foley has checked himself into rehab, citing the well-known connection between alcoholism and homosexuality:
I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment. I apologize to all those hurt by my drunken chickenhawk behavior. I understand how damaging my actions have been and I would never have pursued those sweet, sweet young men, if I had not been in the grip of this terrible disease. I never would have sent those emails, if it hadn't been for all the scotch. Mmmm...scotch...aged just right...18 years old and so so smooth...just like those Congressional pages....God I need help.

After regaining composure, Foley reaffirmed the connection between alcoholism and being gay: "Of course they're related. If I could just have gotten that little Jimmy O'Neil drunk, for instance..." At this point, Foley's attorney called a halt to the press conference, citing his client's alcohol induced boner.