Archive for June, 2009


Monday, June 29th, 2009

And now there’s a post on CL in search of bloggeadores.

Bloggero. Bloggeador. Bloggista. Bloggorhea.


Monday, June 29th, 2009

John came home with a red, cone-shaped hat.

“What are you doing with a dunce cap?” I asked.

“It’s a gnome hat,” he said.


“Okay,” I said. “What are you doing with a gnome hat?”

“I’m trying to figure out who to give it to.”


“Let me try this one more time,” I said. “How did you come to be in possession of a gnome hat?”

“H. gave it to J., because J. is afraid of gnomes.” [J just left the office.]

After we had stopped laughing, I paused to reflect on the exchange.

“Were you intentionally taking me literally?” I asked John.

“No,” he said. “I was just answering your questions.”

“But don’t you realize that ‘What are you doing with X’ actually means, ‘How did you come into possession of X?'”

“But then,” he asked, “how do you say, ‘What are you doing with X?”



Friday, June 26th, 2009

I saw a job listing this morning: Wanted: Bloggero. Seemed like a playful way to request the services of a blogger, or even an outlaw blogger, someone who is perhaps slightly cleverer, and more sharpely attuned, than your average scribbling narcissist. Then I read the description, which indicated that the bloggero was required to write for a Latino audience, in both English and Spanish.

So, bloggero. Spanish for blogger? But wouldn’t that be bloguero?

Subtitles: The Meme

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

I hate the word “meme.” Or is it the concept? And simply due to overuse? Probably and probably.

Anyway. I’m not finished with mine, so here we go.

Occasionally John or I will say something, about ourselves or each other or someone else entirely, that forms a perfect subtitle. For a person. Or a people. As in:

  • Melissa Levine: I Need a New Book
  • Melissa Levine: Grumpy but Laughing
  • John Diller: What’s Under That? [Like me, John has a thing for digging into feelings and motivations.]
  • John Diller: Enabling Your Sugar Addiction Since 2001
  • The Jewish People: We Can’t Contain Ourselves
  • New England WASPS: No Comment

What’s your subtitle?

Your Native American Name

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Once, years ago, John and I were standing in the kitchen of my apartment. We were cooking, and I pulled a quart jar of walnuts from the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet and unscrewed the lid. They smelled funny.

“Are these good?” I asked, pointing the jar in his direction.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe not.”

“They smell bad,” I said. “Really bad.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Let me try one.”

He popped one into his mouth, chewed thoughtfully for a moment, and then went into a full-body cringe. “Ew,” he said, weaving around me toward the compost, pawing at his tongue. “This is not good.”

After recovering from a fit of laughter, I said, “You knew that before you tasted it, didn’t you?”

“Basically,” he said.

“But you had to taste it anyway.”

Sheepish grin. And the origin of John’s Native American name: He Who Has To Taste the Rancid Walnut.

We’ve come up with several Native American names for me over the years, none of them nearly so memorable or so perfect. She Who Needs a New Book. She Who Dwells in Future Tense. She Who Reclines with Literature. She Who Corrects Others. See what I mean? Not happening.

What’s your Native American name?

Are Imaginary Band Names Interchangable with Imaginary Video Game Names?

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Here are my imaginary video game names:

  • Chainsaw of Doom
  • Nuclear Pets
  • Cupcake Vigilante
  • Gears of Knitwear
  • Death by Mushroom
  • Arduous Nap

Here are my imaginary band names:

  • Moody Poodle
  • Heckamushy
  • Mallow Mallow
  • Forked Tongue

So, in some cases. And not others. And while I’m at it, don’t you think Pulchritude is an excellent name for a perfume?

Pixar, I Need a Female Protagonist

Friday, June 19th, 2009

It’s no secret that Pixar movies are generally great. True, I tend to be appalled by the extremity of the violence, and I wish that at least some of the plots would veer away from the picaresque. But there’s always a rich emotional payoff. The characters matter; they have important feelings; they suffer and grow and connect. By the end, everybody’s crying. Good deal.

But why, why, why has Pixar been allowed to go this long without a female protagonist? The closest they got was in Finding Nemo, with the blue tang played by Ellen Degeneres—a goofy, free-spirited and joyful character, but not the emotional center of the story. And in Up, there’s a fantastic young girl, later a woman, full of spunk and derring-do.

Her fate: dead within the first ten minutes. Why couldn’t she be the star of the film? I want to see a film about her.

Come on, Pixar. You’re driving me nutso over here.

I Hereby Request a Lionel Shriver Support Group

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Have you read this woman’s novels? If so, can we talk about them?

I have such mixed feelings about Lionel Shriver. On the one hand, woman can write. In particular, she does deep character work, deep and fierce, such that the people who populate her novels don’t leave me, not for weeks after finishing and maybe not ever. Her work is whip-smart, emotionally vivid, and very, very memorable. More memorable than I’d like, in fact.

As in: I need to talk about We Need To Talk about Kevin. I read this novel about six months ago, knowing that I was getting into something that would involve school violence, aware of Shriver’s ability to propel me through hundreds of pages without much of a blink, and at the same time utterly naïve about what I now feel is her defining characteristic as a writer: rage.

Before Kevin, I had read only The Post-Birthday World, which is a love story, more sweet than bitter (though the protagonist is punished more than makes sense). But Kevin is a long, bitter howl of a book. It almost shakes with rage. I couldn’t stop myself from finishing it, but had I known what was coming—the details of the violence—I might have tried a little harder. Because now I can’t forget it. The images are there, fixed in a tenacious neural network.

After Kevin I read A Perfectly Good Family, which is also soaking in anger, and it made me wonder whether Shriver is aware of her tone. The rage makes sense in Kevin, but in Family there’s no justification. So it feels like something coming from the writer and not the character. Even Shriver’s short bio, which appears in both books and is written in the first person, is full of snot.

She’s angry. Which I have nothing against. I just want her to own it. I don’t want to feel it hurled at me in everything she writes.

Bottom line: I want to read more of her books, and I’m already cringing.

The Humorous, Rambling Novel with a Bumbling Straight, White, Male Protagonist

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I’m sure I’m not the first to notice, but when did this subgenre emerge? With Kingsley Amis? John Updike? Richard Ford is later but a master of the form.

Lately I’ve been reading it all over the place—in Benjamin Kunkel’s Indecision, in Brock Clarke’s An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England, and in Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole, which I haven’t finished and therefore shouldn’t comment on, but the standands for blogging are low, and I’m running with that.

I have some questions.

1) How are we meant to sustain interest in and empathy for someone who is dunder-headed, unaware, and seemingly impervious both to others and to change? Sure, these characters are funny, and that goes a long way, but it doesn’t go all the way. And the arch tone often paints the writers into a corner from which they can’t carry off anything serious.

Example: Toward the end of An Arsonist’s Guide, there’s a scene of graphic violence. It’s horrifying. It should shake the narrator to his bones. But his consciousness is too blunted to fully react. And then it feels as though the novel is not reacting, as though the novel can’t be bothered to shake itself awake long enough to register that something mind-blowingly traumatic has happened. Which is where the novel stops caring for us as readers. Which, you know, sucks.

2) Are there any female bumblers out there? Is there a novel about the straight, white woman who can’t get her shit together? Would this be the Bridget Jones genre? I suppose it would be. Has anyone out there read those novels? Is it the same thing—i.e., you want to take the protagonist by the shoulders and shout what would seem to be some very obvious platitudes in the vicinity of her ears? And what, exactly, is the point of that?

3) Is this a straight, white thing? It can’t be, right?

My working thesis is that it’s a lot harder to write about people who are conscious and feeling and know what they’re doing but who get into trouble anyway. Anyway, that’s my thesis for June 17, 2009.

Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: the Horror

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

In linguistics and lexicography, there are two approaches: prescription and description. The prescriptivists try to shape the way language evolves, or to prevent it from evolving (a.k.a. strict enforcement of grammar, usage, and mechanics rules); the descriptivists document the evolution.

I feel pretty safe in saying that the descriptivists are operating from a place of tolerance, common sense, and intellectual curiosity, whereas the prescriptivists are grasping at what is essentially a liquid. Language, as is often said, is a living thing, and in the mouths of millions of speakers it is always changing and always will.

And yet. What about those of us who love order? What about the fact that grammar and punctuation contribute to meaning, enhance meaning, and often even make meaning?

Yeah. I’m something of a prescriptivist. And sometimes I can’t help but feel that the descriptivists are standly idly by, witnessing the carnage, without so much as lifting a finger. It’s like, it’s one thing if you’ve turned away from the atrocities. It’s another if you spend your day documeting them.

I like slang, though. And novel coinages. So I’m not all bad.