Making a Living off of ‘Living for the Moment.’

It seems to me that the phrase ‘live for the moment’ has gotten away from us in much the same way that this very phrase suggests that life has gotten away from us. It’s certainly an exciting phrase, a challenging phrase, a phrase pregnant with possibility, but does it have very much weight?

It appears in many forms. ‘Carpe Diem’ is a call to ‘seize the day’ as if the day is something moving away from us that we must grab tight and wrestle to the ground. ‘YOLO’ which stands for ‘You Only Live Once,’ is a passive acknowledgement of our anxiety around the whole death business—something that Hindus are inevitably going to have a problem with. ‘Living in the present,’ is a phrase that, while well-intended, suggests that in the subconscious blink of an eye and the malevolent capitalist-hypno-snap of a finger, we’ll somehow find ourselves distracted, lost in some other hall of our minds with no one to wake us from the dream but some enlightened one on the outside of the whole trick.

Where did all this present-moment-worship begin? It’s all good and fine if we can glean some motivation out of it, but who in the world are these people who keep telling us this stuff and why, having found some way to ‘live for the moment,’ did they decide that they were going to spend their ‘moment’ telling us to live in ours?

One risks being in the position of a contrarian, a paranoid, a naysayer or a conspiracy theorist if one spends too much time carping about the media or the government and its messages. Not wanting to be a pessimist concerning The West’s favorite motivating pop-philosophy mantra but also remaining weary of potentially stupid and harmful ideas, one regrets having to call attention to the fact that many retailers and corporations use this very phrase or something much like it in order to coax you into buying something. ‘Come on,’ they say, ‘Just do it.’ Just buy it, in other words. The word ‘just’ is just as key here in stopping you from thinking too much about an expensive purchase as the word ‘only’ in ‘YOLO’ is key in making you focus on the singularity of the moment without its consequences.

But we all know that Nike and name-brands only represent a small fraction of the people pumping this idea into common usage. A lot of people saying it are artists who live off of their art and enjoy doing it, whether that be actors, musicians, writers or comedians—in other words, all the people whose ‘living for the moment’ made them a living.

And how are the rest of us living while they’re all living off of ‘living for the moment?’ Well, we’re doing much the same. We’re making a living so that we can live for some kind of moment, if not ‘the’ moment, even though we don’t always enjoy the living we make to get to that ‘moment’ or the ‘moments’ that occur in between. Some of us live for ‘a’ moment, a hobby, a habit, and if we’re single we end up devoting a lot of time to arriving at that hobby or habit, which usually means that we live paycheck to paycheck. If we are married with children, we live for our wives and children and hope that the short hand on the clock at work where we make our living will spin like a top so we can get home to them and have a fighting chance to enjoy our moments together.

Of course, more people than just artists enjoy the living they make. With that said, ‘living for the moment’ is at its best a reminder of our cognitive responsibility to present tasks and a call to stop bitching about pains of the past while, at its worst, it is a complete negation of all responsibility to knowledge gained from the past and from intuitions about consequences in the future. The former is probably very Freudian, or at least, pop-psychological while the latter is very anti-establishment.

The most run down, complacent, boring, over-used aspects of ‘live for the moment’ probably reached their cultural height—thus creating a new breeding ground for it—in the 1960’s. It was then that youth culture began to distrust absolutely everything with utmost suspicion. Everything which had been done was constraining, manipulative, and if created, artificial. No organization, group, party or brand was worth following. The only wisdom needed was the wisdom of weed and the only music played was the music of the immediate. History itself was considered a simple fabrication of the academic world, an idea which pretty much ruled out any consideration of the past, which pretty much ruled out any need for education, which pretty much ruled out any responsibility to any piece of knowledge, which pretty much ruled out rules altogether.

Seeing any piece of knowledge that could only be gained over time as unfair to the most immediate drives and impulses, youth culture created some bad, irresponsible, pretentious art, a whole generation of fleeing fathers who just couldn’t hack having children, and a series of slogans and epithets which have become so cemented into language that they are taken as straight fact.

So we arrive at our today, believing that the key to enjoying life is to live ‘for’ today. We are all meant to be adventurers of the day-to-day, seducers of the commonplace and prophets of pure impulse. It seems to me that this ‘live for the moment’ thing only works if you do it sparingly, which then means that you ‘live for some moment at some point whenever everything that needs doing is done for the day.’ Perhaps a lucky few are able to achieve the most extreme subtext of the message as they either enjoy or quickly bounce back from unpleasant parts of the day. If we take this incredibly violent life philosophy with a grain of salt, we can forget its more extreme implications in favor of a shrug and a smile as we jump out of the airplane, twist and turn from the diving board or make a gleeful impulse purchase when shopping with the girls.

But who will be casualty to the more violent implications of this message? Who will take it so seriously that they, resentful of any suggestion of the consequences, go pee off the third balcony of a sports arena in the middle of a game, let a bull loose and paint the town red, set fire to a trashcan full of money or run through psych-wards dressed as Santa singing ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ at the top of their lungs?

At such a point, we’d have to figure that the implications of the phrase are embedded in this very word ‘for.’ When you live ‘for’ something, you are making yourself subordinate to it. I’m not sure exactly who decided that ‘the moment’ was the ultimate god to which we must lay subservient, our ultimate master, and that every jerky, adrenaline-fueled, dopamine-riddled itch and inclination should be ravished and robbed of even the slightest hint of hesitation. And anyway, who says that ‘the moment’ is some distinct, disembodied plane? Is a moment not an eventuation of another moment, and so on and so forth? The moment before makes this moment, and the only way to go about this moment is to take that into consideration.

Far more stupid than the phrase ‘live for the moment’ is the phrase, ‘live every day as though it’s your last.’ Is this thought-experiment supposed to compel me to have some kind of fun or make me do something ‘worth while?’ I’m afraid the only thing I would be doing with the knowledge that this was my last day on earth is saying goodbye to my family and loved ones, reminiscing about old times—that’s right, the past, the very thing that insecure ‘this moment’ worshippers are so afraid of and hate so much that they’d rather caress their egos and pretend that every thought they have and every thing they do is completely fresh, original and first born. I’m sorry but I don’t have time to keep saying goodbye to my friends and family everyday.

Though I would mistrust any commonplace too easily spoken and seldom practiced, why not try the opposite thought experiment out? Rather than treating every day as your last, why not treat everyday as your first?

How wonderful life would look if every day was your first. You’d have a thousand things to learn. A thousand people would have come before you. A thousand tools lay at your disposal for a thousand different projects. A thousand pastimes are yet to be explored and there are still a thousand people to meet and moments aplenty to know each of them.

Of course, we know that one day it’ll all end, but why in the world should we frighten and guilt ourselves into having a good time?

Live for the moment, you only live once, yolo, carpe diem, seize the day, live every moment like it’s your last, living every moment like it’s your last,

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Conversations with James Joyce — A Review

http://www.amazon.com/Conversations-James-Joyce-Arthur-Power/dp/1901866416

The foreword to this edition of the book is determined to, at once, paint its author as a genius worthy of Joyce’s friendship and to divulge to us the most sensational instances of their meeting before we even get a chance to read about it ourselves.

Forgiving the clumsy beginning, we’re then introduced to a token of this particular genre whose most remarkable predecessor—and, surely, a direct model was Conversations with Goethe. Like Eckermann’s Goethe book, Arthur Power’s book is autobiographical in structure but slight on the ‘auto’ at just the instant when the star-artist arrives on the scene of our narrator’s life. At this point, minimal narration segues into a lot of lit-talk.

Though the forward by David Norris suggests that Mr. Powers is humbly portraying a younger, bohemian, ‘romantically-inclined’ version of himself in the shadow of a great genius, one can’t help but think that perhaps Mr. Powers thought, in fact, that he was the one best equipped to match wits with the great Joyce. After all, we’re only warned in the beginning by Powers, ‘My point of view has changed and coincides more with his, but such was it then, and as such I have left it.’ As close to Joyce’s mind as Powers’ mind might have become later, Powers never gives the reader any direct indication that he later disavowed his hatred of Ulysses. He preferred Joyce’s previous works which he thought were more ‘romantic’: Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce’s frequent defenses give us some of the most personal insights into the heart of one of the most important books of the twentieth century. Of the work of his latter period, he says,

The important thing is not what we write, but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously: everything is inclined to flux and change nowadays and modern literature, to be valid, must express that flux. In Ulysses I tried to express the multiple variations which make up the social life of a city—its degradations and its exaltations. In other words, what we want to avoid is the classical, with its rigid structure and its emotional limitations. The mediaeval, in my opinion, had greater emotional fecundity than classicism, which is the art of the gentleman, and is now as out-of-date as gentlemen are, classicism in which the scents are only sweet, but I have preferred other smells.

And we get plenty of other smells. Not many other novels before or after Ulysses feature a prominent scene with its main character on the john.

Arthur’s experiences with Joyce are set almost entirely in his living room. Much of Joyce’s lifestyle is hardly surprising to read about. He hated all things bohemian. He didn’t like to go to parties and he didn’t feel comfortable around people.

His wit and black humor are reserved for one-on-one conversations (specifically with Powers in this case) as in one instant where Joyce tells the story of a late acquaintance. He was a fellow Irishman named Tuohy, who became jealous and antagonistic when Joyce became an international celebrity. He once annoyed Joyce by mock-clapping when he entered a room. When Joyce learned that Tuohy had committed suicide in America, Power’s tells us that Joyce ‘showed no emotion.’

—I am not surprised, he said. He nearly made me want to commit suicide too.

Unlike Conversations with Goethe, which is made up of warm, congenial insights into many subjects between friends, Conversations with James Joyce is made up almost entirely of literary arguments. It is impressive that Powers was able to honestly capture (to the best of his memory) the biting, sarcastic quips that Joyce reserved for the former’s favorite writers.

After pages of Joyce tearing apart the beloveds of western literature, it is refreshing to hear how much he appreciates Proust. In this book, however, Joyce’s appreciation of an artist is often traded for Power’s dislike of the same. ‘You should give him more patience,’ he tells Powers, ‘…certainly no one has taken modern psychology so far, or to such a fine point.’

When Powers asks if Joyce is interested in Dostoyevsky, he replies, ‘Of course.’ Dostoyevsky, in fact, earns a brief but high place of praise in this book, probably higher than most other names mentioned.

He is the man more than any other who has created modern prose, and intensified it to its present-day pitch. It was his explosive power which shattered the Victorian novel with its simpering maidens and ordered commonplaces; books which were without imagination or violence.

The book ends abruptly on an unfortunate and sad, yet totally puzzling note—a rift in their friendship. What’s puzzling about this rift is that it is not only vague—having grown in the soil of Joyce’s ‘ill humour’ which came about one night over a meal—but that seems to rest almost entirely on a gross misinterpretation of a statement that Joyce made to lighten the mood.

When Joyce tells Powers about the birth of his grandson, Powers, ‘not being a family man who dotes on children,’ and who was ‘feeling very bitter at that time about the world in general,’ replies to Joyce with a passive, inconsiderate, ‘Is that all?’ When Joyce replies, heatedly, with, ‘It is the most important thing there is,’ Powers, rather than taking it to mean that family is incredibly important to Joyce, speculates to himself,

‘the most important thing there is’ meant that another Joyce had been born into the world. Even to this day, I am still in doubt, for Joyce’s estimation of merit would on occasion suddenly flare up to a point of madness.

‘I cannot see what’s so important,’ Powers replies shamelessly. ‘It is something which happens to everyone, everywhere, all the time.’

The fact that Powers qualifies this callous statement by mentioning his not being a family man, by his irritation at Joyce’s alleged self-perception, and also by his unspoken agreement with Beckett of the world that ‘It had gone on long enough,’ leads one to assume that, inevitably, Powers was of the mind that his own position and attitude was justified. What would seem to be his apparent inability to read the situation years later, or at least, to see how it would appear to the common reader on paper, is comical.

The personal comedy gives way to sadness, however, as Powers rushes through their subsequent, brief meetings before Joyce’s death, which he hears about over the telephone. Thus, the book concludes,

It had not ended, but had lessened as so many friendships lessen when distance puts its cold hand between them, damped as they are by circumstances and time, and by differences of personality. A personality can fuse with another personality for a time, but when that time is over we gradually re-enter the Solitude of ourselves. Then all that remains is the memory of the fire which once warmed us both, and it is fragments of that memory which I have tried to reconstruct.

This memory reconstruction, this fragment is, this already brief friendship is the closest thing we have to discovering Joyce the man. But such is surely as Joyce would have preferred it: that he left behind, not traces of his life, but only his work.

How to Beg With Style in 2013

This is for all of you out there who are falling on hard times and see no reasonable way out of the situation but to collect spare change from strangers. You may have arrived at this point for a number of reasons. Perhaps you got laid off or fired. Perhaps you got kicked out of the house and your spouse legally owned everything you had. Perhaps you’ve been this way for a very long time and don’t know anything else. Maybe you can find plenty to eat but you just really need booze or drugs. Maybe you’d just rather stand with a sign in your hand earning $1.50 an hour than you would with a burger-spatula earning $8.25 an hour. Whatever the case may be, today I’m going to teach you how to beg properly in today’s competitive market.

Remember, this is only for people who have some kind of need. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy who was seen begging all day on the corner in crummy clothes only to go the parking lot around the corner and hop into a luxury sports vehicle.

There are a few things you’ll need:

1) Somewhere to Store Your Money
This is pretty simple. You can dream big all you want and expect to get a pocket-full of ten dollar bills that you can fold up neatly but chances are you’re going to get more heavy change than anything. At this point, you’ll want to make sure you have something better than a flimsy pocket to carry your change in. After all, if the change doesn’t amount to much, you don’t want to ruin a good pair of pants for what only amounts to a few dollars.

Some people have buckets. This is good because it’s non-aggressive yet sends a very strong message. This way, you may increase traffic by attracting timid people who wouldn’t normally approach you and put money in your hand. I’ve seen some people even set out hand-made pottery to hold their change. That way, people see that you’re creative. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t actually make the pottery yourself—you don’t have to even tell them that. At worst, it just tells people that you have good taste. Let’s face it: pottery is ten times better looking than a used coleslaw container or an aluminum chew-bucket.

2) A Good Attitude
This is so basic but you’d be surprised how many street people forget this. Face the facts: you’re going to have to deal with a LOT of rejection. Some people are nice about it and some aren’t so nice. If they’re rude, let them pass. You don’t want their money anyway.

If you get some kids trying to screw with you because they’re completely disaffected or because their parents have paid for everything in their life, walk away. You don’t want to get into a dodgy situation and they’re actually stealing time from you that you could be using to make some cash.

When people say “no,” don’t take it personally. One thing I’ve often encountered when responding to street people is that many of them simply don’t believe that I don’t have cash on me. Sadly, that’s today’s world. Debit cards have been around for years now and some people go weeks, even months, without so much as seeing Abraham Lincoln’s pale, green face. In fact, street people probably see more actual money than the rest of us.

If someone can’t/won’t give you cash, no matter their demeanor or phrasing, that is NOT the time to threaten violence. That is not the time to demand that they go to an ATM to pull out a 20 dollar bill if they don’t have the 10 cents you initially asked for. It is not the time to finger-check someone on the chest or forehead, nor is it the time to breathe in their face. All of these actions scream out “meth head.” Maybe that’s what you are, but you don’t want to ruin your chances, do you? Consistency in attitude will go a long way over time, and don’t take for granted that a lot of people do remember you. I know it’s called “begging,” but there are limits.

3) A Good Begging Spot
Study the area around you. There are some very simple things street people miss and here’s a common one—Here in America, you’re allowed to turn right on a red light if there is no traffic coming. Don’t stand at the right-hand side of a street at the end of an intersection because all those cars are doing is checking the street they’re turning onto for oncoming traffic. Either they won’t look at you at all or you’ll distract them and cause a wreck. If you have to beg at an intersection, go to the left-hand side where they can’t turn, but even that is difficult because it’s hard for them to reach you and it’s unlikely that they’re going to call you over to their car for a quarter.

The outside of parks are always nice. People are out relaxing and some feel more generous in these moods.

Medians or islands with slow-traffic are good for a few hours of the day, and you might make quite a bit with a good sign (more on that below), but you’ll have to do some planning and figure out those traffic patterns. There is also a higher chance that you’ll be chased away by cops.

Other good areas are outside of food joints. Just make sure you don’t stand too close to the entrance. If you’re in a place where there’s lots of food, people will subconsciously assume that you just need food. Hey, there are lots of people that will even buy you a meal for the night. And here’s where attitude comes in again: if you ask nicely for someone to buy you a meal, eventually, someone will. Bus and train stations almost seem cliché at this point, but why get rid of a good thing? As long as you’re not aggressive, at a bus-station, people will presuppose that you need the money for something that they can immediately relate to.

4) A Good Sign
You don’t need anything flashy, surreal or strange—It’s not a high-school car wash. But on the other hand, many street people don’t make their signs very visible. Brown cardboard and small, sharpie-written lettering with a novel-length text on it is just going to confuse people as they cruise by you at 25 miles an hour. Get something big and white. Write in big, bold letters. Look at how big the letters are on street signs and think about how close you’ll be standing to the cars in order to gage how big to make your letters. You might think that a more pathetic sign will make people feel sorry for you, but cardboard just isn’t readable. The writing will confuse the eye. The only time brown and black go together is on a chocolate bar. It won’t hurt you to invest in a good board, piece of paper or even a stick-sign. People won’t assume that you’re too rich to beg just because you found something white to write on.

If you need visual tips or research, there are all kinds of tools and pictures on the internet. Don’t have a computer? Libraries do and it’s free! However, lots of them do require you to have a library account, which is usually set up with a piece of mail to your house. Don’t have a house? Don’t worry. Maybe you can have mail sent to someone else’s house. In case you haven’t figured it out, the library is not exactly the IRS; they’re not gonna audit you over something like that.

5) A Good Story
When I say the word “good,” I DON’T mean “elaborate.” Think of a “good” story in terms of a “good” resume. What’s a good resume look like? It’s not bloated with details and it’s not four pages long. It’s two, maybe three pages long. Think of your story as your resume. It can be quite simple. People tend to prefer the story where they have just arrived at some trouble and just need one thing for the night. This is the classic story and it may not win trust, but it’s probably the more honest approach.

Don’t load it with too much tragedy or no one will take you seriously. Anything too elaborate reeks of “conman.” And for goodness sakes, don’t make up an unbelievable number of children in your care—If people don’t see the children they’re not going to believe you. Don’t come off as the representative of some made-up-sounding organization who is also sort of begging. Don’t go making up organizations if you aren’t prepared to create paperwork for tax write-offs on your nonexistent computer and printer.

Make sure your story is appropriate to your situation. If you plan on doing the same thing in the same spot on a daily basis, don’t keep telling people you just need money to get on a bus and into a hostel on the other side of town. People aren’t stupid. They’re going to know you just want a set amount of money every day and that you’re lying to get it. Even if your intentions are harmless, it’s a known fact that people don’t trust liars. Sometimes your story can simply be that you’re hungry and that you don’t have money.

With a good story, you’re not selling people entertainment but sympathy. Sympathy isn’t about the volume of tragedy involved in your story, but the relate-ability. We’ve all had our cars break down at some point or (for those of you born before 1990) we all needed to use a payphone at some point. We can remember what it’s like to be in need. If you’re begging, just remember that a little simplicity goes a long way.

6) Perseverance
Finally, perseverance. Like I said before, you’re going to get a lot of rejection. Just realize that it’s part of the job. No one feels they owe you anything, and at the end of the day, they don’t, really. A sense of entitlement won’t get you far. In some people’s minds, they don’t understand why you can’t just get a job. If you really resent rejection or feel that people owe you something, at that point, you may want to think about looking for real work. That way the people you work for actually do owe you something and you don’t have to wonder at the end of the day whether you’ll have enough for that burger or bottle of vodka. But for those of you willing to go the distance, perseverance is necessary. It’s important to learn because you’ll need it anywhere you go in life anyway. Not only will you need it while begging, but you’ll probably need it more.

I hope all of this helped. Happy begging in 2013! I hope to see some smiles out there on the streets and lots of shiny coins in the buckets.

Jacque-roll — A Story

Having seen the author photos on the book jacket of his most famous releases from the 80’s, one might expect to spot French novelist, Jacque Archimbault, in a crowd looking much like some kind of continental King of Cool: a leather, studded jacket, his hair in tremendous black spikes, a pack of Turkish cigarettes sticking crumpled out of his breast pocket and an expression that one might want to call pouty if one was not very afraid of him. However, as I spotted him in the crowd, I saw a man who looked like an areal view of a Nevada desert with its lines and creases. Nevertheless, he pulled off a sort of old-man-chic in a denim jacket and blue undershirt that covered up a heavy-smokers frail body. His eyelids were hooded but he was warm and cheerful when he greeted me in impeccable yet careful English.

‘I spent two semesters in Upstate New York,’ he tells me over coffee as we wait for our sandwiches. I was kicked out of three different boarding schools before I turned thirteen.’

Did he consider this an accomplishment?

‘My father sure didn’t think so,’ he told me. His father was a congressman, a devout Catholic, a heavy drinker and a merciless bully. ‘But I don’t talk about this,’ he says.

‘Too personal?’

‘Too boring. It’s so French, isn’t it? Every tortured artist from the country grew up that way.’

And ‘tortured’ is one unwanted title Archimbault has had to deal with. His novels feature reoccurring themes like blue collar workers with messianic complexes, misogynistic dinner parties, nihilistic Bahia services, sexual extraterrestrial encounters, and more than one talking animal who refuses to save the day.

‘It’s all jest,’ he tells me. ‘My novels have nothing to say. They’re exaggerations of reality, not representations. I’m not writing anything like Animal Farm.’

‘But you might be doing something closer to Jonathan Swift?’

‘I’m not really a satirist,’ he says. ‘If anything, I’m an exaggerationist.’

Over sandwiches, we ran quickly through several giants of French literature from whom he’s said to have borrowed, if not thematically, then stylistically. Raymond Roussel? ‘Deliberately confusing,’ he says. Stendhal? ‘Out of touch with modernity.’ Balzac? ‘Stupidest man dead.’ Proust? ‘Praised for writing thoughts no one captures, and no one captures them because they’re too damn boring.’ Raymond Queaneau? ‘Fatuous imagery.’ Goerges Perec? ‘Verbal masturbator.’ And now I had to ask, out of some devilishness, about one of his contemporaries. ‘What about Houllabecque?’ To this he grins. ‘He’s a stubborn teenage girl.’

One would suspect, having read his tone, that he was simply being difficult. In a later interview, he may praise these very same. He keeps the public continually on its toes.

When I asked him about the stream of creepy websites that have been popping up all about the internet featuring super-minute details about his habits, behavior and personal life, he confides that he is ‘quite spooked about the whole thing.’

‘It’s almost pornographic,’ he says. ‘The worst of it are those video clips.’

The video clips he speaks of are ones submitted by obsessive fans. My personal favorite is the clip, originally taken for a dramatic promotional video of his book Pale Dogs, which features him as one of his own characters. The fan-clip takes a repeated image of Archimbault sliding his jacket off as he sits down, over and over and over, one shoulder sort of bobbing followed by the other as his head slides from side to side.

‘There are far less flattering videos of celebrities posted on the internet all the time,’ I say. ‘It could be much worse.’

‘As I fear it will be soon if things keep going the way they have,’ he says. ‘It’s worse than being naked … The repetition of so short a movement, the distinction of muscles and tendons and face-ticks … It’s humiliating, really. Fetishistic.’

The least tasteful clip is one which shows the novelist with a look of gross derision on his face as he makes a vague jerk-off gesture into the air with his holed-hand. ‘That,’ he tells me, ‘was in response to something a journalist asked me about some statement that Dick Cheney made. This incredibly brief and only mildly entertaining scatology is now echoing forver, forever … forever and ever for all eternity out in cyber space.’

We continued the interview at his apartment, a large but bare place decorated in monkey bones. ‘I like monkeys,’ he says. ‘It’s an obligation, I feel. We’re up here, driving cars, wearing nice suits, being civil. They’re still out there picking fruit. We left them behind, didn’t we?’

He showed me his office with a large window facing the street.

‘Does the city street inspire you?’

‘No. The skyline does,’ he says.

He showed me to his room briefly and said, ‘Nothing happens here, I’m afraid.’

‘Nobody in your life to share the bed?’

‘Well, I’m in between marriages,’ he says. I want to ask him what this means but I’m sure it’s meant to be humorous. ‘In between marriages, I’m sad to say, I’m popular at the brothels. The sad old man. Here he comes!’

‘You don’t worry about diseases?’

‘Oh, the worry is always there. That reminds me, I’m due for a checkup.’

His smile is always there to tell me that his remarks require no follow up because they are indicative of his whacky, surrealist humor … which he thinks is so clever—which he thinks makes him so damned clever, as if I didn’t travel all the way down here to see him, like I haven’t read all his work and all his interviews and anticipate this. Like he thinks he can hide all of this from someone like me. Alas, this is why we love him, isn’t it?

He opened one of his top drawers and produced a small, black object that looked like some kind of picking tool. ‘This here,’ he said, ‘is one of the oldest crafted hand tools in the world. They think it’s been around longer than humans are said to have been around.’ He laughs. ‘Scientists!’

We left the room.

He left his drawer open. ‘And you just keep it there with your underwear?’ I asked.

He seemed taken aback. ‘Well, where else would I keep it? It’s the most important place. Don’t you Americans keep your guns there?’

We got onto the subject of politics for a while but he requested at the last minute that I not include it in the interview, which I wanted to honor because it was all very boring anyway.

We shared a few glasses of port before I left and he insisted that I stay for more and more drinks. When I left, he showed great concern, wanting to call me a cab, but I ensured him that I was staying at a hotel just down the block. He asked me to come by and see him again before I left.

That was convenient, because I had no intention of leaving. I’d been at the hotel for the past seven months, just waiting for the moment I would meet him. Now that I did, now that I had a monopoly on that secret internal world of his life, I wasn’t about to let it all go. I saw my ridiculous face in the reflection of a shop window and saw that I had a droplet of dried wine on my cheek and all over my lips. I reached for my handkerchief and wiped my mouth with it, realizing too late that it was a pair of Archimbault’s briefs. I pulled them away, the elastic band widening like a yawning mouth. I stuffed it back in my pocket as a blond girl looked at me in horror. I went on walking like nothing had happened.

It was nice to see his place again. I’d only ever visited it alone, in the darkness, making dexterous moves to sneak in and out the window on those occasions that he left it open when he went on walks and when he went whoring or whatever else he did. But it was so good to be inside with him, like two blood cells in the same organ. The place was alive with him inside it. But I could never return to that place as I knew it. I could never go back to his place in secret as I’d come accustomed to it. I would be forced to go as his friend, for if I went in private, there would be traces of me all over his neat home, just as there are now, thanks to myself and those many others who love him, traces of him all over the internet, his most sensuous movements repeated forever and ever and ever, all his involuntary little ticks resting now alongside photographs of his freshly-nicked drawers.

When was the la…

When was the last time you had a girl put a curse on you that worked? Or when did you last hear a screech in the woods and turned around to find that it was not a peacock but, in fact, a banshee? Have you ever been chased across the cemetery yards by a goblin?

Have you met one single person this year, in 2012, whom when you asked what they were doing with their lives, said, ‘Oh, I’m a hipster.’ One simply doesn’t hear this, at least not without irony. Why? Because, like witches, banshees and goblins, hipsters don’t exist.

Now, I know many will want to say, ‘Oh, but on the contrary. I see hipsters everywhere.’ But—I regret to have to make this potentially clumsy correlation—in the McCarthy era, people saw communists everywhere too. What you are seeing is not a member of a definable, objective counter culture. What you are seeing is a boy with a striped shirt. A girl with large glasses. A fellow in a fedora. But sadly, these are not the signifiers of what it means to be (allegedly) a ‘hipster.’ They are only the symptoms, and yet, not very useful symptoms, for they’re so broad and far reaching that anyone who happens to deviate from a polo-shirt and jeans might fit the part to your standard. But what causes these symptoms—or rather, what do we strongly associate with these trite generalizations? Pretention, the-will-to-have-done-it-first, music you don’t happen to yourself like, books you’ve never heard of, the excesses you don’t happen to favor.

I must make my main point here: It is my suspicion that a ‘hipster,’ in the broad sense of the word today, is merely an annoying person who doesn’t share any of your tastes.

You might say, ‘Why would you defend people like that?’ Well, I don’t feel the need to defend them just as I don’t feel the need to defend evil hexes, unicorns or dragons. I simply wish to warn people that they mustn’t feel so threatened by dragons that don’t actually roam the woods.

Now, none of us like things that are annoying and pretentious, but I hardly think it fair that a guy in a club should be ostracized by a plain-clothes person because he happens to wear a bowler hat or because he happens to be reading a biography about Che Guevara while wearing loud colors just because someone who happened to annoy the plain-clothes person carried a similar book and wore a similar shirt on their seldom visit to a non-Starbucks coffee shop.

You may say to me, ‘Sounds like the words of someone who’s angry about being called a hipster at some recent point.’ On the contrary! This blogger has not been accused. There are a series of sayings that broaden the terms of hipsterism beyond its metaphysical range. Surely you’ve heard them: ‘No one hates hipsters more than hipsters,’ which would cancel out the one who accuses you of being one with no real problem. My personal favorite, ‘If you know what a hipster is, you’re probably a hipster,’—as if their mere mention is some kind of self-reflective threat that could turn back in on you unless you’re one step ahead (in hipster fashion) by knowing that mentioning them makes you one of them: an attitude that is so reminiscent of the ‘hipster mentality’ that it would, in a technical way, still make you a hipster.

All over the world, there are douche-bags. You might meet them in the street or on the bus, or you might work with them. ‘Hello, my name is David and I am a douche-bag.’ You don’t hear this either. But the difference between a douche-bag and a hipster: we don’t identify a douche-bag as having any kind of identifiable subculture. But yet the one important thing they both have in common is that nobody would identify themselves as either. If no one is willing to admit that they belong to a certain group, one then has to wonder if the title is a very useful way of categorizing people.

As I said before, there were once real hipsters, which probably means little beyond the fact that the real hipsters considered themselves such. The movement started in the 1940’s and is linked symbiotically to jazz, which cannot be so readily said of ‘hipster’ sensibilities today. The original term ‘hipster’ replaced ‘hepcat,’ for some odd reason—I’m not sure if there was a bebop council that voted on it or not.

This is not to say that they were necessarily better for being the originals. Depending on your taste, you might have found them just as annoying and just as pretentious. The movement was described as white middle-class kids trying to be black—which probably says less about the movement and more about insecurity to do with cultural integration among the generation before. But if they are correct in any way, it could then be said, in regard to the history of hipsters, that white folks have failed our African American friends once again by being second hand racist toward these other white folks who wanted to do what one African American subculture were doing.

Now, I must eat some of my words for a moment. Maybe some of you know people that refer to themselves as hipsters without irony. However, I suspect, that if you gathered all of these people together in one room, they would (similar to the Punks) try to out-hipster each other, which would ultimately trace their contradistinction to one another, thus making them nothing like a real culture of any kind once again—which proves my point.

The automobile has provided us with an easier way to move from place to place. The television provided us with hours of easy entertainment. The internet provided us with an easier access to knowledge and Facebook provided us with an easier means to keep in contact with old friends. But there’s a dark side to easier. Dismissing certain attitudes, fashions and tastes as that of a ‘hipster’ is an easy way for us to cope with our own embarrassment over the cultural fashion follies, philosophy follies and awkward tastes of yesteryear. Anything can be dismissed as outdated, but the great thing about hipster-phobia is that you can dismiss anything that is considered ‘freshly retro,’ or new, or more unknown, as something that a culturally unattractive person would admire. And this will to stay ahead of the hipsters is, by its current definitional nature concerning hipsterism, a hipster attitude which would make anti-hipsters the biggest hipsters of all.

Once again, I’m not defending hipsters because I have shown that they don’t actually exist. If they did exist in the form that people claim they do, perhaps I would be talking about how much I dislike them the way people want to. But I’ll say this, even if they do exist, are they that big of a cultural threat that we have to keep hearing about them everywhere we go?

More importantly, before you decide that someone is objectionable, perhaps you should actually speak to them. If they’re a threat, then you can deal with it.

 

Yahoo Gets Sexually Attractive

The Yahoo article, ‘Five Unusual Turn-Ons For Men’ begins with the following quote from Marcel Proust: ‘Let us leave the beautiful women to men with no imagination.’

The writer of the article, Bob Strauss, goes on to write, ‘and if you’re loath to take dating advice from a French author who wrote a 10,000-page novel about a guy eating a cookie, well, you’ve clearly been brainwashed by decades of movies, TV shows and magazine ads.’

In other words, if you don’t appreciate (and misread) Marcel Proust as much as the writer of this article does, then refer back to the part of that condescending sentence that applies to you, you complacent consumer. I feel the Proust reference alone would deserve 2,000 words worth of my thought but, as I see that Proust hardly needs me to defend him, I’ll say this about him very briefly before I move on to the rest of Strauss’s train-wreck of an article:

First of all, A la recherche du temps perdu is ONLY around 3,000 pages, not 10,000. Secondly, though I’m not skeptical that there must be some mention of a cookie in that bulk of narrative, no one cookie left a significant impression on me. Further, the fact that he mentions Proust’s Frenchness and the length of his long novel with the words ‘anyone who doesn’t’ as deciding factors in what graduates people from their complacency tells me that he may be miscalculating his materials in relation to his subject just a tad. In other words, you’re meant to feel like a ridiculous person if you’ve not read a really, really, really long book about a cookie.

As for the actual quote from Proust, it is significant to note (if you don’t know already) that he was not into women. He was into men. So then, if I can resort to a very juvenile conclusion, it would be easy for me, as a heterosexual male, to say of his quote, ‘Well, easy for YOU to say.’ But to disqualify Proust’s advice for the sake of a joke would be premature, for I also consider the possibility that Proust identified himself more with unattractive women than he did with imaginative men. As for the ‘men with no imagination,’ this obviously implies that there are men with imagination who don’t need attractive women. So what does the man with imagination do? One character in Gaddis’s novel The Recognitions says to another, ‘I’ll just change all the men’s name’s to women’s name’s like Proust did, baby.’ A simple enough way for a gay man to get into the head of a straight man, I suppose.

In Nabokov’s novel, Ada, he has one character say, amusingly (though probably representing at least some of Nabokov’s latent homophobia), that Proust’s most prominent mistake in representing the mind of a heterosexual man is his making the narrator blister with jealousy at the suggestion that a female love interest is sexually interested in another woman. In other words, Nabokov thought it unrealistic that a straight man would be very jealous over a lesbian rejection of him.

An interesting thought, though I would try to do Nabokov one better, concerning Proust: Over the course of Proust’s book, there’s something a little different about his interactions with women. His narrator is always meeting with them in secret, delivering messages equally secret and, at dinner parties, sitting across from lovely young girls, nearly faint in his anticipation that they’ll slip some note to him under the table. If you’ll allow me this stretch—he has his narrator act toward women the way that Proust probably acted toward men in real life. In other words, the opening ‘advice’ comes from a man who, if only artistically, bore the very particular cross of being a sexual chameleon. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my Proust, but isn’t it just a tad harsh to say of anyone who doesn’t ‘take his advice’ (was any given anyway?) that they’re ‘brainwashed by decades of movies, TV shows and magazine adds’? So we’re off to a rough start in this article, to say the least, seeing how we were all initially insulted. But then we go through a list of unusual turn-ons starting with the most obvious (or what should be), as an example: women and weight. Generally, men like or don’t mind a little extra weight on a woman. Okay. This is true. Strauss has redeemed himself somewhat. But weight itself is an example; it’s not on the list. We get to number 1 on the list: Glasses. Good enough. I’m certainly okay with glasses as well, but the problem is Strauss’s inherently contradictory explanation:

‘Every guy loves a girl in glasses, but women never seem to know that. It’s not like we’re keeping it a secret—why would we? It’d mean fewer girls in glasses! Some glasses-lover needs to infiltrate Cosmopolitan magazine and get the word out!’

But didn’t he JUST say that we weren’t keeping it secret and that’s why girls wear glasses? Why then would we need Cosmo’s help? He also didn’t seem to take into account that, really, and this may be a stretch, but some women wear glasses because they need them for their eyesight.

One nauseating habit worth mentioning is his rooting every small kink or physical preference in an amateurish understanding of psychology as he bludgeons us with over-obvious symbols. We like bigger women, he says, because when we were children, we had big mothers and big nannies who protected us from ‘the insults of other children’—The latter part of the analogy is so incredibly irrelevant that it says far more about the pathology and bad childhood of the article’s writer than it does about any male who happens to appreciate a sizable ass. Of women with glasses, he says, ‘spectacle-wearing women remind [men] of their mothers or early childhood crushes.’ (My italics). Crushes? What a profound psychological insight: we are attracted to women who wear glasses because they remind us of other women who wear glasses. Do I see a Nobel Prize on the horizon?

Freckles are number 2 on his list. Fair enough. I appreciate a good freckle or five. But he has to, once again, crap on his own case. In so many words, he suggests that, in the same way that women love men who stink, men love women who don’t wear makeup. I’d be perfectly happy to defend the latter part of the statement or at least offer convincing samples, but let’s back it up for a moment … men and their stink? I remember back in high school, there’d be the odd day that I forgot deodorant—it didn’t incite women to give me the Axe Body Spray commercial response.

Number 3: an independent streak. Okay. I’m with him now, though it does seem that he goes a little too far with his ‘but on the other hand,’ as he spends more time complaining about why an independent streak is annoying.

4: Plain Janes. Though this would have been a great opportunity to expound upon the reasons that men might like Plain Janes, he spends most of that time warning those same Plain Janes about men who’ll try to change their plainness … That is not a cogent argument for what men prefer, despite the very theme of the article. It’s simply dating advice for ‘plain’ women, and not even very radical advice at that: (Date men who like you).

5: Assorted quirks. Here he quotes author Lisa Steadman, who says ‘You know you’ve met someone who’s a keeper when he or she compliments your quirks.’ I know no one would think this is a very psychologically thorough article, but it must be said, at this point, it’s not even trying. In fact, it’s not explaining men at all—it tells women to date men who happen to like their traits. Though not bad in itself by any means, it says absolutely nothing about men and their ‘unusual turn-ons,’ as the title tricked us to think.

As if that wasn’t enough, oh yeah fellas, you best believe that Mr. Strauss developed an equally comforting list of the ‘5 Unexpected Female Turn-On’s’. (Why do men get ‘unusual’ and women get ‘unexpected’ anyway?)

I already mentioned the attention he gives to men and their stink in the first article. In this article, Odor is number 1. And yes, once again, he does seem to mean a preference for B.O.

But I must, for a moment, go back to the opening paragraph, where he opens the topic with yet another albeit very different Frenchman, Jean-Paul Sartre. I’ll paraphrase him by saying that Sartre was ugly. Funny enough, Sartre had a lot of sex; strange that. Why, we wonder? I had to read back over his answer to make sure I had it right. I sure did: Women have sex with ugly men because women are attracted to ugly men.

Number 2: Scars and blemishes. Women like them because it signifies a dark past. I don’t know much about scars, but I at least have to give him a gold star for refraining from mentioning paternity and sexual attraction for one breath.

I must mention the last three traits together, if only because, while I’m sure they’re traits that women often enough find attractive, I challenge any man to find me a woman who finds all three attractive in one man: 3: Stereotypically “feminine” traits, 4: Vulnerability, and finally, Oh, I don’t lie to you  reader, 5: Awkwardness.

There must be some woman out there that would like a combination of these traits with body odor and scars too. Hell, let’s have all five in one and you’d be dating the Elephant Man.

He has a quote from a random 52 year old Helen, saying, ‘What really gets me is a guy who loves cats,’ in relation to the ‘stereotypically feminine’ category. Now, this may just be the test, since we all know how surly cats can be. So, if you’re stinky, covered in scars, not just effeminate but ‘stereotypically’ so, vulnerable and awkward, and if you can still get a cat to purr, then you would seem to have most of your work cut out for you.

I’m afraid this must be mentioned as well, for all of you who appreciate irony at the most fundamental level. The pictures that accompany both articles are very similar. The first is a photograph of an attractive young man gazing at the profile of an incredibly gorgeous redhead. The other is a redhead (also gorgeous but not the same one) looking at a handsome, rakish man. I suppose they should have just gone ahead and included ‘looks’ among the ‘unusual turn ons,’ since its how they roped us in on the way to checking our emails.

I’m aware that I’ve offered really no personal insight or research into the theme of sexual attraction, however, I must end this carping piece of criticism here because, as I sit here in the café where I compose it, I see a big girl in glasses with freckles who also happens to remind me of my mother. I think I’ll say hello.

*Since writing this, it only took minimal research to find that Proust was evenly bisexual in his attractions, which sort of ruins my main thoughts. I suppose, in that case, someone would be perfectly justified to write a snarky review of my snarky review! However, the rest of it will stand as it does, snarkiness and all.