Archive for the ‘I Hate Writing’ Category

Someone Please Remember

April 14, 2017

Remember when I had an idea to make a TV show (equal parts Knick and Mad Men) about RD Laing’s Kingsley Hall?  No?  I know someone has a record of this somewhere.  Although I guess it doesn’t matter now, because screenwriter-director Robert Mullan has beaten me to the punch with his new movie Mad to Be Normal.  From The Guardian‘s (much maligned) Peter Bradshaw:

David Tennant is on pugnacious, mercurial and beady-eyed form in this very interesting and absorbing film. It’s one of his best performances. He plays the psychiatrist RD Laing, who became a 60s counterculture hero for challenging what he saw as the profession’s heartless prison-hospital ethos of tranquillisers and electroconvulsive shock treatment. Instead, Laing proposed a holistic treatment without drugs (although medically licensed LSD was acceptable), using group therapy and communal healing. He set up a refuge at Kingsley Hall in east London, that was regarded suspiciously as something like a Bedlam cult.

Hard-drinking, hard-smoking Laing laughs and cries along with his patients – who adore him – and angrily tells interviewers about the people “out to get” him. Elisabeth Moss plays Laing’s (composite-fictional) partner Angie, and Gabriel Byrne and Michael Gambon are excellent as his patients: old men who in a later era might be overlooked as care-in-the-community homeless. The screenplay by Robert Mullan and Tracy Moreton does not take a conventional biopic line but instead shows scenes from a life, with influences from Beckett, BS Johnson and perhaps David Cronenberg’s Spider in its images of broken things being put back together. Now I’d like see Mullan direct a biopic of Laing’s French counterpart, the philosopher and critic Michel Foucault. Perhaps Cédric Kahn could shave his head for the part.

Short Story

April 12, 2017

Someone base a short story on the moment they broke the news to Elmer, please!  I’d do it myself but I don’t have the time at the moment…

“In questions of administration, [McLean Hospital head] Stanton could simply get lost.  Longtime facilities manager Henry Langevin remembers presenting Stanton with three competing bids for resurfacing McLean’s central tennis court, where Stanton himself often played.  But the director was paralyzed by indecision because the switch from the clay to a hard surface would eliminate a cherished job––rolling and sweeping the ochre-colored clay––for one of the hospital’s elderly, chronic schizophrenics.  ‘What’s poor Elmer going to do?’ was Stanton’s plaint, as the trial court resurfacing decision hung fire for months.”

I know Stanton’s indecision is supposed to be annoying, but I find his concern for Elmer rather sweet, don’t you?


(From Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital by Alex Beam)

A Stunning Essay

March 20, 2017

Things have been––well, let’s say, harried around here recently, so I am half-assing this post by pointing you in the direction of an incredible piece of writing someone recently reminded me of.  It’s more than half-assed, in fact: it’s a selfish move, because I want to pretend that I have some affiliation with someone who can write so well, even though we’ve emailed twice and I’m resorting to cutting and pasting her words.  Ah well––extenuating circumstances!  Here’s a teaser of “What’s in a Necronym?” by Jeannie Vanasco:


I am named after the daughter my father lost.

I remember the day I first learned about her. I was eight. My father was in his chair, holding a small white box. As my mother explained that he had a dead daughter named Jeanne, pronounced the same as my name, “without an i,” he opened the box and looked away. Inside was a medal Jeanne had received from a church “for being a good person,” my mother said. My father said nothing. I said nothing. I stared at the medal.

Later that day, in the basement, my mother told me Jeanne died in a car accident in New York when she was sixteen, many years before I was born. Two other girls were in the car. Jeanne sat between the driver and the other passenger in the front seat. The driver tried to pass a car, hesitated, then tried to pull back into her lane. She lost control and Jeanne was thrown from the car and killed instantly.

“Your father blames himself,” my mother said. “He can’t talk about it.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He gave her permission to go out that night.”

After Jeanne died, my father bought two burial plots next to one another, one for Jeanne and one for himself. When he and his first wife divorced, she stipulated that he forfeit his plot, and he agreed. Soon after the divorce, he went to court again, this time for beating up a bum on the street. “Why should you be alive?” my father had asked him. “You’re not working and my daughter’s dead.” The judge remembered my father and let him go.

“Did you know his first wife?” I asked my mother.

“No, he was divorced long before I met him. All this happened in New York.”

I lived in Ohio, where my father and mother met. In my mind, New York was made of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and car accidents.

“What did Jeanne look like?”

My mother said she had never seen a photo.

That spring I painted portraits of Jeanne in watercolor. I titled them Jeanne. My art teacher told me she was disappointed that such a good student could misspell her own name. From then on, I included an i.

But Who Will Play the Rhino?

March 2, 2017

First of all, I know conservationists will fault me for this, but anyone else think we should abolish zoos?  They’re kind of loci of horror these days, more often than not.  I mean, at the very least, Sea World has to go.

On that note, though, someone please write a dramatic opera about this utter clusterfuck:

The founder of a zoo where almost 500 animals died bragged that his management style was better than “textbook” weeks before government inspectors condemned his practices.

Inspectors at South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Cumbria, found that 486 of its animals had died as a result of mistreatment between December 2013 and September 2016, a report said yesterday.

Shortly before the inspection David Gill, 55, the owner, said that the recent birth of a baby rhino was a “fitting tribute to my work and expertise in zoo animal management”.

He wrote on Facebook in December that he had enjoyed “huge success”, having “always pursued a different style of management to the norm”.

“I wish many other zoos would watch and learn from our example as it is not worth copying books and guidelines if they don’t actually work,” he added. “In my opinion you simply do not listen to people who have had far less success than you in any area of life.”

Inspectors have recommended that Mr Gill’s application for licence renewal be rejected and called on Barrow council to consider prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act.

In 1997 Mr Gill was found guilty of endangering the public after a white rhino escaped from its enclosure. The animal fell down a ravine and had to be shot. In the same year a Sunday newspaper reported that he was having an affair with a teenage zoo hand, Shelley Goodwin, who had left school at 16 and began looking after his kangaroos.

His wife left him, taking their two children, and Mr Gill and Ms Goodwin married. They have since separated. In 2001 a pregnant zoo keeper who incurred Mr Gill’s wrath when she expressed fears about feeding lions was awarded £30,000 in compensation.

Mr Gill’s personal life was given another public airing in 2008 during the trial of a jilted husband who slashed the zoo owner’s neck when he discovered him in bed with his wife.

Richard Creary, then 38, attacked Mr Gill, who fled in his Ferrari dressed only in his pyjamas. Creary was later jailed for five years. In 2014 Mr Gill was forced to apologise after saying that the legalisation of gay marriage signalled the end of the world, and that gay lifestyle was “abnormal” and “anti-natural”.

Last year his zoo was fined £297,500 after a keeper, Sarah McClay, 24, was mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger in 2013. Ms McClay’s boyfriend, David Shaw, 27, told The Times that she was considering setting up a trade union at the zoo because of a “cloud of fear” that existed for staff.

“Sarah and I spent some time looking to implement trade union,” he said. “We were looking towards suitable trade unions because the staff were mistreated at the time — the staff were managed by fear.”

Ms McClay’s brother, Stephen, 31, who lives in London, said: “It absolutely baffles me that anyone would still visit the zoo after my sister died there and now that this report about the conditions has emerged people must surely be put off visiting.

“Had he done the right thing four years ago and stepped down after an employee died on his watch, the animal mistreatment over the past four years at least could have been avoided.”

The zoo was awarded a six-year licence to operate in June 2010 and the council received an application for renewal from Mr Gill in January 2016.

The council rejected the application in July, agreeing with inspectors that he was “not a fit and suitable person” to manage the zoo.

However, the law dictates that if the licence holder reapplies for a new licence, the existing licence continues in force until the application has been processed or withdrawn.

Mr Gill, who remains the licence holder, handed over the responsibility of managing the zoo to Cumbria Zoo Company Limited.

Mr Gill’s lawyer said that his client believes it would be “inappropriate to comment” during the regulatory and legal process.

Barrow council will decide on the renewal of the zoo’s licence on Monday.

Good Conversations Yesterday

January 20, 2017

KM: I’m at [redacted], which is usually a good place to work.  But right now [name of famous writer, redacted] is standing three feet away from me, trying to take a selfie in front of the library.  It’s been going on for almost five minutes.  I’m like, “Can you stop being both annoying and incredibly successful RIGHT next to me???”

ID: Ugh!

ID: I think I would have a hard time [at said redacted location] just for being surrounded by people so successful.

ID: #3 on my list of “neuroses to shed in 2017”

KM: No joke.  She’s still doing it.  I think it must be for Snapchat or a video because she keeps saying “books are magic.”


KM: She is remarkably not embarrassed by this.  She’s said it easily 20 times.

KM: Just chipping away at this proposal while this bestseller Snapchats next to me.


ID: I straight up don’t believe in [redacted]

AL: Nope.  Fake news!


ID: From now on whenever anything I disapprove of comes up I’m just going to yell, “Fake news!”

AL: My friend said her 11-year-old now just yells that at her whenever he doesn’t want to do stuff.

Fact Checking the Internet

December 28, 2016

A few times in the last month or so, I’ve noticed some misinformation––some things big, some small––published on the Internet, and it occurs to me that these mistakes should not go unannounced.  So here I am to dispel them!  To no one!  And to no purpose!  Hurrah!

1. First, this is a small one, but as these initial two errors were both committed by the Guardian‘s film review department (or however they fuck you want to label it) I do think it’s time for them to tighten up the ship a little.  I mean, it’s not THAT difficult to get these details correct.  Here is a review of the latest offering by Rama Burshtein, haredi Israeli director of Fill the Void:

Israeli-American director Rama Burshtein follows her impressive debut, Fill the Void – a drama about marriage set in Jerusalem’s Haredi community – with another picture dealing with relationships set against an orthodox Jewish backdrop.

Fill the Void was set in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem.  I get the mistake (you hear “haredi,” you think Jerusalem) but it was well-reported that it was in Tel Aviv, so just Google it, will ya?

2. Ah, Peter Bradshaw.  How many loathe thee for thy spoilers!  Personally I don’t have a dog in that fight, although I do question how you made such a simple error in this review of Nocturnal Animals:

The clash between supercool LA and this couldn’t be more jarring. Because this is no feathery literary confection: it is a brutal west Texas crime thriller about a married man – Susan imagines Tony, that is, Jake Gyllenhaal in the role, who takes his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and his daughter Helen (Ellie Bamber) on a road trip on vacation across the remote desert, where they are terrorised by a wild gang of good ol’ boys led by the brutish Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Ellie Bamber’s character is named India, not Helen.  Not even a little close.

3. In a recent book titled Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital, writer David Oshinsky says that Sylvia Plath was one of the many celebrities hospitalized there after her breakdown.  He only mentions it once, in passing, in the introduction.  I have read Plath’s collected journals, as well as the many biographies of her that have been written over the preceding twenty years (side note: Levy Center fellow Heather Clark is obviously an expert, but what on earth do we not know about Sylvia Plath’s life by now?!) and I don’t recall any mention of Bellevue.  So I digitally searched for the word in five biographies of her, and again, found nothing.  I suspect that Mr. Oshinsky just read that piece of misinformation somewhere, thought it sounded plausible (which it does) and sexy, and added it in.  And for the record, I’m not the only one who questions Oshinsky’s sourcing, as New York Times critic Jennifer Senior calls it “inexplicably sloppy.”  So there.

I was also about to rail against those who claimed Simone Weil was a convert to Catholicism, although with further research it appears that in fact I was probably wrong about this, and I’ve decided to fess up to prove that even the best among us make mistakes!

I’m missing a few instances here, but it’s best not to get too caught up in petty things.

An Amazon Review Is My New Characterization

November 9, 2016

Re-reading bad Amazon reviews of a wildly successful memoir (that I have zero intention of buying/reading), I find one that basically sums up my experience with most things.  If I had a Twitter account, my sub-header would be, “I couldn’t get into it but everyone else I know loves it.”  Maybe that only applies to books though.

You’re welcome for the only thing you’ll read today that isn’t about the election.

Contract for Potential Correspondent

November 6, 2016

I, ____, heretofore referred to as CORRESPONDENT, have agreed to enter into a written correspondent with Itinerant Daughter, heretofore known as ID.  Upon signing this contract, CORRESPONDENT agrees to the following stipulations:

  1. CORRESPONDENT will feel emotionally invested in the quality of the prose
  2. CORRESPONDENT will feel at least a twinge of guilt when not responding to a note (email or letter) in a timely manner
  3. Despite point number two, CORRESPONDENT will not be under any obligation to respond to any piece of communication in a timely manner, provided that:

3A. CORRESPONDENT agrees not to communicate displeasure with ID via silence or     refusal to engage to written correspondence.  CORRESPONDENT can only opt out of relationship and written engagement via a clear message (medium is the choice of CORRESPONDENT) indicating such.

In turn, ID agrees:

  1. To never assume that CORRESPONDENT’s delay in response is indicative of anything other than CORRESPONDENT’s very busy life.
  2. To never guilt CORRESPONDENT into sending response
  3. To also only communicate termination of correspondence via clear written message (although knowing ID, this will not happen, as she has never met an epistolary relationship she couldn’t carry on.)

Signed and dated:

_______________                   _________________

CORRESPONDENT                        ID

The Joys of Dissent

October 5, 2016

Shit, it’s been a while.  Since I last posted, Elena Ferrante’s been unmasked, Kim Kardashian’s been robbed, and Brangelina has been pronounced dead on arrival (little airplane joke there).  When I came to look at the date of my last post just now, I felt so guilty that I decided I simply must put something up now.  But the problem is I don’t have a ton to say.  Well, here’s one thing: everyone knows I’m something of a contrarian, right?  Maybe this was a personality trait that excited me in the past, but in recent years, it’s proven more annoying than anything else.  If only I could get on board the zeitgeist train, I could write anodyne personal essays about ending the stigma (surrounding anything) and not worry that I’m harsh!

I don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon, though.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to find a little joy in reading negative reviews of books everyone else in the world adored.  Case in point: a review of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi in the London Review of Books.  WBBA was gushed over by basically every literary critic and human in the United States, but writer Thomas Laqueur was meh on the whole thing.

“It’s time to confess the obvious: I wasn’t deeply moved by this book.  But it isn’t easy to explain why.  the first thing that comes to mind is that I find the author pompous, and, whether a true or a faux naif, egomaniacally self-conscious in his search for meaning… A larger problem is that Kalanathi isn’t very good at writing.  Having done so little of it, why should he be?  As Julian Barnes wrote in his introduction to Daudet’s memoir, dying doesn’t make someone a better writer, or a worse one for that matter.”

This made a lot of sense to me because of my longstanding aversion to our immediate embrace of suffering narrators (because pain doesn’t make you smarter, necessarily, but it does mean people feel less justified in critiquing you, even when that criticism is deserved, which results in a lot of thoughtless applause).  But it also reminded me of the extended period of time I spent in my mid-twenties working with someone terminally ill (who is now deceased), I was always half-anticipating a big life epiphany, courtesy of the Sick Person, every day, but most of the time it was just the usual drudgery and the Sick Person remained their flawed, human self, right up to the very end.

Essays No One Would Publish

September 21, 2016

Again, only tried once, but it was enough of a burn that I didn’t take it further.  But I’m definitely amused at myself upon re-read.  One of our dining companions from then (this was written a few years ago) was worried it would be too snarky about the group––sorry, JW!

Reviews of Restaurants Run by Cults

We’re pleased to present our first episode in “Mouthwashed!,” a series of reviews of cult-run restaurants. This week, the Spiritually Adventurous Eater visits the Yellow Deli in Rutland, Vermont, run by a group known as the Twelve Tribes.

“Would you guys like a table?”
“Yes, for four.”
“That’s so nice!”

As the Spiritually Adventurous Eater, I am accustomed to establishments

with creepily friendly staff members, but the Yellow Deli in Rutland, Vermont, manages to exceed even my expectations. The host, a middle-aged bespectacled man with a ponytail, is so enthusiastic about our arrival I momentarily worry he might throw out his back. But instead he snaps up a couple of menus (“We serve the fruit of the spirit!”) and leads our party of four (future-Jew, Jew, recovering Catholic and atheist) through a maze of woven textiles and repurposed tree branches to our booth, shaded from the low light of the main room by a faux-roof like a hobbit hovel. As you’ll probably have noticed by now, the most bizarre and fascinating thing about this place is the décor. The only way I can think to sum it up is this: if the set designer of Willow had a love child with sixties activist group Another Mother for Peace, it would look like the inside of the Yellow Deli. No wait, another way: if Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre ate a plate of Margaret and Walter Keane paintings and then took a shit in a twee forest, it would look like the inside of the Yellow Deli. Wait, sorry, just one more: if David the Gnome was on acid at a Phil Lesh and Friends concert, his hallucinations would look like the inside of the Yellow Deli.

All this is somewhat unnerving to me, as a person with a natural threshold for kitsch, but I am comforted to see little unfamiliar about the menu. The Yellow Deli––one of eleven in the United States, Canada and Australia––features typical American cafe fare like sandwiches, salads, chili and a small selection of breakfast items. There are a few nods to hippie Vermont in the form of maté blends, “green drink,” and the fact that one sandwich is named the “Deli Rose,” but other than that, an unassuming patron would be hard-pressed to recognize how seriously the proprietors take their peace-and-love ethos. Hard-pressed, that is, unless they were to take a quick jaunt to the bathroom, wherein they could partake of a variety of free “literature” while they waited to use the facilities. The newspapers and pamphlets available outline––however vaguely––the beliefs of the Twelve Tribes, known in some areas as the “Yashuas,” who run the chain of Yellow Delis in addition to a handful of coffee shops, hostels, tanneries and organic food markets throughout the United States and the world. The Twelve Tribes began somewhat organically (no pun intended) in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the early seventies, one of a few individual attempts within the “Jesus Movement” to blend hippie culture with Protestant ideals. The group has a long history in the food industry; its original members gathered at a coffee shop called The Lighthouse, run out of the home of longtime church leaders Gene and Marsha Spriggs, before founding the first Yellow Deli. Though they have recently branched out into real estate development and construction, the Delis have all but financially sustained the Twelve Tribes, who consider all possessions and earnings communal, for almost forty years.

On my walk back to the table, I pass by the counter, and watch as uncharacteristically mean-looking women, dressed in palazzo pants and dowdy Amish-esque tops, slap together cold cuts and bread for sandwiches. Our happy waiter is at our table when I return, ready to take our order, a giant red flower on the end of his pen shaking as he hastens to write down our requests. No beer on tap, of course––Twelve Tribers don’t drink alcohol, and they follow certain Levitical dietary laws, like eschewing pork and shellfish––but you can get a frosty mug of root beer if you’ve a hankering. We order sandwiches and veggie burgers, which a young smiling woman brings over to us within fifteen minutes. The presentation is crunchy-snack-bar––sandwiches in woven baskets, accompanied by the requisite piles of Lays chips and a pickle.

“Oh yes, table ‘iron,’ this is yours,” she says. “Where are you guys from?”

“Brooklyn,” I respond.

“We have a farmer’s market there, in Brooklyn. We sell green drink.” She seems to think that I might know it, but I explain to her that Brooklyn is quite large, and there are many, many farmer’s markets there.

“But I’ll look out for you guys… ?” I offer, and at this she seems calmed. Only after she’s gone do I realize there are tomatoes on my sandwich even though the menu had said there weren’t, but when I meekly get the host’s attention and he answers, “With all my heart?” I decide to just dump the slabs on my boyfriend’s plate. One member of our party insists his sandwich is “succulent,” though mine has much more in common with a packaged lunch you’d buy at an airport terminal than a prime rib. When I order banana bread for dessert and realize it’s almost certainly microwaved, I realize the crux of my disappointment: I had expected these happy little cult members were waking up early to bake bread––recipe calls for a dash of cardamom, a handful of walnuts and a pinch of love––but in fact, most of their fare tastes like it comes right off the shelf at the nearby Shaw’s. A follow-up call to the Twelve Tribes’s toll-free hotline confirms that while they do cook with goods from their farm when possible, more often than not, they buy commercial. All in all, I feel duped, just as I had when, at eight or nine, I realized that in fact David Bowie was not, in fact, king of the goblins.

Our check comes out. It’s yellow, of course, and embellished with little smiley faces and a big thought bubble emblazoned with the words, “We are here for you!” But the fruit of the spirit? Ain’t that tasty.



Décor:                         8 out of 10
Cuisine                       4 out of 10

Service:                       6 out of 10
Proselytizing:             2 out of 10 (they didn’t try nearly hared enough to win us over, in my view)

Future columns will be the same form, reviewing the following:

The Merry Wives Café, in Hildale, Utah

The Scientology Celebrity Centre Sunday brunch, in Los Angeles, California

Golden Era in San Francisco, California

Der Dutchman Café in Holmes County, Ohio