Archive for May, 2016

Grieving in Paris

May 27, 2016

Yesterday, an old friend of mine died.  Katie Anne was not chronologically old––in fact, she was only 28––but she was a friend I hadn’t seen in years.  We knew each other during a stay at a medical hospital in Long Island, fourteen years ago.  We were both in for anorexia, and while I got better a few years down the line, she never did.  I harbor a little guilt over my relationship with her, because at one point, back in the days when AIM was a thing, she used to message me out of the blue to tell me how bad off she was, and it sparked a lot of negative feelings in me (typical eating disordered combo of jealousy and threat and hopelessness, for herself and for me and for everyone I knew from the hospital) so I told her I couldn’t talk to her until she was doing better.  One second later, I unceremoniously blocked her.  And that was that for a few years.

And then after my book came out, she emailed me to ask if I remembered her and to say she had read and liked it, particularly because she recognized so many of the people in it.  We emailed often, after that.  She was totally adorable, peppering her emails with a million emojis, which was an endearing habit coming from her.  She was so quick to prop me up if I wrote something even the smallest bit self-deprecating, which I took to come from an acute sensitivity to another person’s suffering, honed after years of suffering herself, and being surrounded by young women quick to point out their many perceived flaws.  I knew she had struggled a lot and gone through many rounds of treatment in many different institutions––she even had a stint in a Christian facility that she said attempted to exorcise girls of their issues/demons––but she was always trying to be optimistic about it.  “It’s been rough but I’m finally on the right path!”  I guess I had convinced myself that though she wasn’t totally well, she was probably just on the edge of fine, at least health-wise.  We were supposed to meet up for lunch once, but scheduling got in the way: she was moving to Florida, where things would be better, she was sure.  She had fond memories of Florida, having spent some productive time in treatment there.  And the weather!  That was enough to make anyone want to move, she thought.

And then yesterday, my friend texted to tell me Katie Anne was dead.

I was just sitting down to get my eyebrows waxed, and I started to cry slightly and the aesthetician thought it was because of the pain, so I told her no, someone had passed away, and she hugged me.  It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so depressing.  When I got back to my house (er, flat), I just sat there screaming inside my head for a while.  What bullshit.  What absolute fucking bullshit that kind of death is.  I made the mistake of mentioning it to a professional acquaintance I was emailing with, and she wrote back that she had her own battle with anorexia too and so she “understood” and could help if I needed it.  Perhaps unfairly, I found it patronizing.  I don’t need anyone to explain this to me.  I know all about this.

I’ve written and thought a lot about the strange, inevitable machinations of grief, and how sometimes the things we say and do in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy can look weird and self-serving.  I probably spent a good fifteen minutes staring through blurry eyes at the funeral home guestbook yesterday, trying to decide what I could write there that wouldn’t sound like I was thinking about this in terms of me, rather than in terms of her.  It was a regressive instinct, actually, because I used to think the only appropriate way to grieve, unless it was for a close family member or a best friend, was to be silent, but now I know better.  Now I know that if you are human, and you have lost someone, even if it wasn’t your spouse or your kid or your parent, doing nothing is really not an option.  And so saying something, even if it sounds awkward, even if it is about your pain more than the person who is gone––that’s okay.  Because we’re all hurting, and it has to get out, somehow.

Last night before I went to sleep I scrolled through some old emails Katie Anne and I exchanged, and I came across one in which she talked about all the things she wanted to do once she was really and truly better: have a family (that hurt like hell to read), finish school, and travel. I told her a few of the places I’d been, and she responded:

“I want to go to all those places! And more!!!! I actually have cousins in the south of Spain (costa del sol?) so I figure that would be a great excuse to visit and not have to worry about hotel expenses! You wanna come?!😉
I also want to go to San Fran, San Diego, Napa valley, Big Sur……and Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Florida….I love the Carolina’s!  I’ve never been out of the county yet though:( except for Bahamas. I know it sounds so cliche but I want to travel all over Europe! Swiss alps, Italy, Ireland. And South Africa looks amazing as well!
Better start saving huh?!  Adventure and traveling are the two things that keep me going when I’m having a rough time…”

This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and flew to Paris with my husband for the long weekend.  We took the train into the city from the airport, and I stopped off at a cafe near Notre Dame to have a coffee and eat some baguette.  Morning was breaking––the air was warming up, commuters were rushing to catch the Metro, and those discordant European ambulance sirens could be heard over the low drone of traffic.  I finished my coffee and looked out across the Seine toward the Right Bank.  Seems pretty unfair that I am here and not her, but if it has to be that way, then: Katie Anne, this adventure is for you.

 

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May 26, 2016

There’s some weird noise––probably associated with construction––that goes off outside my window every 2-3 hours during the day, and it sounds like the alarm triggered whenever an idealistic young upstart escapes from a dystopian commune in the future.  I should be annoyed when my concentration is broken but instead I just think, “Run, XTC-619!  Run toward the Technicolor wheat fields of freedom!”

Theresa Duncan, Again

May 19, 2016

I’ve written about Theresa Duncan before, in a mini-obit that strikes me now as pretty adolescent (although I’ve resisted editing it.)  And today, while writing something real (aka something not to be published here), I remembered an old essay of Duncan’s, perhaps the only piece of her writing I’ve ever really enjoyed or understood, the latter more a comment on her penchant for vagueness masquerading as intellectualism rather than my own powers of comprehension.  In fact, I was writing my own essay about the Hotel Chelsea at the time, and about the inability of my own generation to create or connect to anything meaningful (it was a tough time in my life, I guess), but because of this essay I just stopped in my tracks, declaring myself scooped.  It’s not quite as impressive as I remember it being last time I read it, but there are some bits that I still really enjoy (“smell like someone else’s teen spirit,” par example, and that line about the ancients drinking at El Q.  I used to drink there often; I know those people.)

I left her typos intact.  As a parting note: I wonder what’s happening with that Van Sant biopic?

Generation Xorcism: Baby Boomer Ghostbusting at the Chelsea Hotel

“I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.”

–Leonard Cohen, Chelsea Hotel #2

The Chelsea Hotel, with its dead poets and rock star revenants, is one of the most counterculturally significant locations in New York City, perhaps the most hipster-haunted location in the U. S. of A. The glamour of the Chelsea, with its curlicue iron balconies, resolute dumpiness and ghostly auditory echoes of a thousand fantastic lays–Edie Sedgwick and Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin (musical homage to said encounter above), unspeakably sexy Vogue model Verushcka and Peter Fonda–is still utterly evident. Even the ugly abstract art in the lobby speaks to the place’s authentic Bohemian status, unlike the gorgeous, expertly crafted products of the boutique-art doppelganger Chelsea four or five blocks West. When I’m in town I like to go to the El Quijote bar downstairs from the hotel and drink next to people who have been perched for hours–perhaps days, even decades, a century?–on the black vinyl barstools. These are drinkers who make my thirstiest night seem like I’m sitting in a high chair in my mama’s kitchen. This is, after all, where Dylan Thomas uttered the last words, “I’ve had eighteen whiskies, I think that’s a record,” before retiring to sleep off his hangover for all eternity.

In 1992, critic Anthony Vidler published a book entitled The Architectural Uncanny, which posited that architectural space is psychically charged [editor’s note: need this book immediately], which echoes an earlier theory of Walter Benjamin’s that fetishism explores a confused overlap between the mental and the physical, the organic and the inorganic, as in the great poster for Andy Warhol’s film about the Chelsea Hotel, above. Having a paella dinner at El Quijote in the October rain this year, I had a chance to mull these theories over vis-a-vis the Chelsea. On the sidewalk outside the hotel, the red brick facade was suddenly a tombstone, its historical-monument plaques epitaphs, the still vibrant swarm of life inside a danse macabre to the tune of somebody else’s youth. The mirror over the bar didn’t reflect back my own face, but someone inhabiting someone else’s possibly better era, like the 19th century photo-double that grins back at Jack Nicholson’s 1980s hotel caretaker in Kubrick’s The Shining.

The uncanny version of the El Quijote mirror gives us a funhouse look down the decades into the irrational possibilities of the bewitched architectural space. Suddenly my generation’s much remarked (and thereby constantly reinforced) “ironic” embrace of other peoples’ clothes and music and styles is not a choice, but a masochistic assignment to worhip and enact scenes from the previous generation’s bygone but admittedly intoxicating youth. The crimson awning over the lobby entrance in this light is the famished cat in the animated cartoon who deceptively rolls out his tongue as a red carpet leading into the flashing entrance marquee of his fanged mouth. Sitting in the Chelsea drunk on the musty but still potent perfumes of Jack Smith and Joey Ramone, I’m actually volunteering to surrender my subjectivity and enage in a seance where I am not a citizen of the 21st century but an empty portal for some East Village other. If you doubt the Chelsea’s status as the Haunted Indian Burial Ground of Baby Boomer hipster culture, consider that no significant counterculture has been produced by Western white middle class youth since Sid Vicious murdered his girlfriend on this very spot and died of a heroin overdose in Rikers prison in the middle of the East River shortly afterward.

Like the Chelsea Hotel, our present culture is so haunted by the long-over and yet uncannily indestructible “youth” of the Baby Boomers, so crammed with grey ghosts that room to inhabit the present is nearly nonexistent. That cultural undertow you’ve been feeling lately is them, invisibly buttonholing young strangers for just one more shared joint or pint, just one more amazingly funny anecdote about what happened back when. Our samizdat, our stray revolutionary pamphleteering, takes place in the invisible world inside the computer. Like peering into a private diorama inside an Easter egg, Generation X and younger generations have to look to the digital to find our stories anywhere. It’s not the already dying years of my own prime that I remember well in the Chelsea Hotel, it’s a mnemonic rock and roll rosary on which I worry the beads of memories that aren’t really mine. There is a vision haunting contemporary culture this Halloween, it looks like a spookhouse and smells like somebody else’s teen spirit. Like that famous adage about a nice place to visit, there’s nothing wrong with a trip to the Chelsea, as long as you leave the getaway limousine idling in the street. Request a 2005 model, and if you overhear a voice saying “Well Andy says…” grab your iPod and run like hell.

To the Is-Land

May 18, 2016

The New York Times is running a little series on islands this week, and I’m thrilled, but a little sad they didn’t call and ask me to contribute. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by islands: their miniature sustainability, the way they all seem haunted, even the jolly Caribbean ones. I was obsessed with drawing road maps as a kid, and, perhaps because islands were manageably small, I chose to plan out a million different islands, the towns or counties (depending on how big I decided to make it), the cul-de-sacs and stretch of stores. Then I’d decide where my friends would live and where I would live (always the nicest part of town, as I was a bit of a snob then.) I was also enchanted by addresses, for reasons I’ve never quite understood. Even now, when I visit a new place, I pick out the houses I like best, and imagine a card being sent to me at that address. 90 Church Street, Charleston, South Carolina. 36 Quai de Bethune, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris. Ballamona Estate, Oak Hill, Isle of Man, United Kingdom.

I’m so beguiled by islands, in fact, that I paid $500 to be a “fellow” in an artists’ commune on Governor’s Island last summer, even though I could have paid $0 to continue writing from my couch. I even wrote the above paragraph (talk about a pause in rumination) from an empty bedroom (I’m guessing) of a crumbling, plumbing-free house on Governor’s, which is full of decrepit and vacant old buildings (another obsession.) One day a friend came to visit and we wandered around the place, sneaking into buildings with the doors slightly ajar, fantasizing about writing a YA book in which all the tri-state area teens are relocated to an ominous boarding-school-type facility on the island after a nearby nuclear disaster––OR WAS IT?

The issue with loving islands is that eventually, you’ll start to want them to be smaller, more sparsely populated, more island-like. It’s like a drug, except instead of more, more, more, it’s smaller, smaller, smaller. A fondness for Ireland becomes an obsession with the Aran Isles; affection for Venice morphs into a burning desire to set foot on Poveglia Plague Island. Best of all, the Thimble Islands, the improbably adorable little specks in Long Island Sound, so close to where I lived for so long and yet I never even thought to go. With names like Frisbie Island, Little Pumpkin Island, Potato Island, Cut in Two Island, and so on. The coast of Maine? A dream for an islet junkie.

My fantasy of the ideal island home has changed a great deal over the years. It used to be Saint Croix, in the US Virgin Islands, or Aruba––the Caribbean was my jam, before I deemed it too touristy to sustain real life. More recently, it was Governor’s (they say you can’t sleep overnight, but ferry employees do, which might be something to look into.) Now, I’m kind of into islands in this neck of the woods: Isles of Scilly, Blasket Islands (only bunnies live there now), Faroes (which are Scandinavian, if you wish.)  Or maybe I’ll just make like Andrea Zittel and construct my own little island and float off on it.

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Robert Smithson’s “Island Project”

 

Let’s Get What We Really Need

May 17, 2016

It seems that all-female remakes of classic dude flicks are in vogue.  First, Ghostbusters, and now, Ocean’s 11, starring, maybe, Jennifer Lawrence?  From some website called Movie News Guide:

Jennifer Lawrence has been making headlines for her every real or reel life move. Rumors of the “X-Men Apocalypse” star joining the female-led “Ocean’s Eleven” spin-off had been making rounds for quite sometime, but the representative of Lawrence has recently lashed out at it terming untrue and baseless.

(Quick aside: how hilariously UPSET is the tone in this?  Her representative “lashed out” that the rumor was “baseless.”  It’s like she’s been accused of having kiddie porn or something.)

Anyway, I guess this is a fine idea, but what I decided really needs to happen is an all-female remake of Reservoir Dogs.  My husband thinks this idea is meh, but I’m pretty sure it’s gold, Jerry!  I call the role of Mr. Pink.  I’ve always agreed with him on the tipping front.

 

Henry VIII’s Second Course

May 12, 2016

“Could” include: jelly, cream of almonds, pheasant, partridges, quails, cocks, gulls, kid, lamb or pigeon, larks or rabbits, chickens, venison in paste, tarts, fritters, fruit, butter and eggs.

 

What Fresh Hell

May 11, 2016

Yesterday, many news outlets over here featured a story like this, about a simulated terror attack at a big shopping center in Manchester.  Here’s the gist: the Home Office and the Manchester Police arranged for a fake suicide bomber to attack the shopping mall, “injuring” fake victims in the process.  (They got called out on Twitter for having the bomber scream, “Allahu Akbar!”)  It’s during moments like these that I begin to believe we’re truly living in a postmodern dystopia, a la White Noise.

“That’s quite an armband you’ve got there.  What does SIMUVAC mean?  Sounds important.”

“Short for simulated evacuation.  Anew state program they’re still battling over funds for.”

“But this evacuation isn’t simulated.  It’s real.”

“We know that.  But we thought we could use it as a model.”

“A form of practice?  Are you saying you saw a chance to use the real event in order to rehearse the simulation?”

“We took it right into the streets.”

“How is it going?” I said.

“The insection curve isn’t as smooth as we would like.  There’s a probability excess.  Plus which we don’t have our victims laid out where we’d want them if this was an actual simulation.  In other words we’re forced to take our victims as we find them.  We didn’t get a jump on computer traffic.  Suddenly it just spilled out, three-dimensionally, all over the landscape.  You have to make allowances for the fact that everything we see tonight is real.  There’s a lot of polishing we still have to do.  But that’s what this exercise is all about.”

“What about the computers?  Is that real data you’re running through the system or is it just practice stuff?”
“You watch,” he said.

He spent a fair amount of time tapping on the keys and then studying coded responses on the data screen––a considerably longer time, it seemed to me, than he’d devoted to the people who preceded me in line.  In fact I began to feel that others were watching me.  I stood with my arms folded, trying to create a picture of an impassive man, someone in line at a hardware store waiting for the girl at the register to ring up his heavy-duty rope.  It seemed the only way to neutralize events, to counteract that passage of computerized dots that registered my life and death.  Look at no one, reveal nothing, remain still.  The genius of the primitive mind is that it can render human helplessness in noble and beautiful ways.

“You’re generating big numbers,” he said, peering at the screen.

***

I would love to do a long form piece all about these simulated terror attacks.  I’m particularly interested in how they cast them.

 

 

Embarrassing

May 5, 2016

My husband pointed out to me that probably what I was thinking of (re: two posts down) was the song “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones.  Um, yeah.  That was it.  Very hard to remember.  But also he suggested it was reminiscent of a shitty late nineties horror flick called Fallen, starring Denzel Washington and John Goodman.  Let’s say it was that.

Concept Tumblr

May 4, 2016

Last week, when my husband and I were in Rome, I saw a nun driving a car across the Isola Tiberina, and then she honked at someone!  I was tickled.  My husband said, “Nuns doing stuff is the best.”  And lo, a concept Tumblr was born!  I won’t start it because I would inevitably run out of steam, and you know how much it pains me to see abandoned blogs, but here is a blueprint of what it might look like:

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Playing croquet…

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Baking bread…

nun-afp

Voting…

Nuns In The Surf

Playing in the ocean…

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Chilling at the bar…

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Smoking herb…

Nuns Having Fun (2)

Rollerskating…

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Eating cake…

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Working at a spa…

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Playing basketball…

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Enjoying a lager!

If you know that this Tumblr happens to exist already, just don’t tell me.  I’d rather live blissfully ignorant of my generally derivative life than look the blinding sad truth in the face.  I do, however, note the existence of a calendar called NUNS HAVING FUN or something to that effect, which I would like to own.  If you could mail it to me c/o the Guggenheim Museum, that would be much appreciated.  Consider it a belated birthday present.

 

I Did Everything

May 1, 2016

Sorry for the big gap between posts, my five devoted readers!  I’ve been on vacation.  I know what you’re thinking: ID, isn’t your whole life kind of a vacation?  Uh, no, I have a full-time job being a garden variety neurotic, and that’s not an easy gig!

Anyway, last week in Jerusalem, I went to a gallery called the Museum on the Seam (so named because it is right on the Green Line.)  Wasn’t overwhelmed by the art there, but I did like one piece called “It Was Me.  Diary 1990-1999” by Italian artist Daniela Comani.  It’s a text piece that imagines the major events of the 20th century as if they all happened to one individual.  Here is the whole thing, and here (colon) is an excerpt:

February 20th. London. I took my life tonight. First I tried with an overdose of pills (150 antidepressants and 50 sleeping pills) but was saved in King s College hospital, where I hung myself 2 days later in the toilets in the middle of the night. February 21st. New York. I murdered Malcolm X during a speech in Harlem. February 22nd. I executed the siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl. February 23rd. Edinburgh. I cloned a sheep at the Roslin Institute: Dolly. February 24th. I presented ‘the 25 point program’ to the German Workers Party. February 25th. Unbloody putsch in the Philippines: I overthrew the president Ferdinando E. Marcos.”

My traveling companion (in life) didn’t like the piece, but I enjoyed it because I felt like no matter how obvious the conceit, it did make you think about each event as if it had happened to you for a millisecond.  Also, it reminded me of some horror movie I’ve seen––but forget the name of––in which the Devil (or some evil force named otherwise) reveals him/itself to have been behind all the tragedies of history.  A whiff of The Invisible Man, too.