How Low Can You Go ?

Limbo Craze

An hour or so after I delet­ed my Face­book account, I got an email explain­ing that in fact my account had only been deac­ti­vat­ed but it would “be per­ma­nent­ly delet­ed with­in 14 days.” Which means it wasn’t delet­ed at all. If I logged in dur­ing those four­teen days, the delete request would be can­celed. I’d have to can­cel all over again and wait anoth­er two weeks. I was in Lim­bo.

I knew I wouldn’t make it. I quit in the first place because I have no self-con­trol. I was com­pul­sive­ly check­ing FB fifty times a day. When I wasn’t on it, I was think­ing about it — which pho­to I’d post, or which inane arti­cle I’d share, not to men­tion all the out­rage I drummed up respond­ing to every­one else’s out­rage. I wouldn’t be able to stay away for four­teen days. And why four­teen days ? Why not twen­ty-one days ? Why not sev­en ? It wasn’t arbi­trary. Noth­ing on Face­book is arbi­trary.

To Face­book, each of us is a gold nugget of data. No, that’s not right. A nugget of gold is use­ful only once, when you sell it. But a radioac­tive gold nugget is dif­fer­ent. Face­book has fig­ured out a way to enrich us like ura­ni­um so we siz­zle and radi­ate away our half-life into the ether day after day. A radioac­tive nugget is a life-long gold­mine, and no way is Face­book going to make it easy for that gold­mine to dis­ap­pear. I had been active on Face­book (a gross under­state­ment) for almost sev­en years. None of my likes and posts and shares and quizzes and com­ments were use­ful to any­body even a few hours after I made them, but to Face­book they were iso­topic ever­last­ing gold­en gob­stop­pers, which is why they’re saved in per­pe­tu­ity. I’m sure Facebook’s social engi­neers, or Fascisti­neers for short, burned through months of data, cash, and guinea pigs to fig­ure out that twen­ty-one days would make peo­ple think something’s fishy — noth­ing takes twen­ty-one days to delete ; sev­en days would be too fast for most peo­ple to have sec­ond thoughts and change their minds. Four­teen days must have been sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly deter­mined to be the sweet spot, and I didn’t stand a chance.

But it turns out I did. After a cou­ple days, the com­pul­sion fad­ed. After a few more days, I stopped think­ing about Face­book entire­ly. When some­one told me about some­thing they read on Face­book, I had a sort of men­tal gag reflex. I didn’t care and I didn’t want to hear about it. The four­teen days came and went four days ago, and I’m real­iz­ing it only this morn­ing.

I miss my friends on Face­book. I met a lot of new peo­ple there from around the world who I’d nev­er get the chance to meet oth­er­wise, and I stayed in touch with fam­i­ly and old friends too. All that is gone, and that’s hard. I live a pret­ty qui­et life, and I don’t take friends light­ly. I used to say I might be alone but I’m not lone­ly, but I feel lone­ly now. I also think it’s okay to feel lone­ly. It’s okay to feel bad. Now maybe I’ll do some­thing about it — seek out friends close to home, get out of the house, etc.

But on the oth­er hand, I feel like I’ve gained at least two hours a day. It was unset­tling at first because I didn’t real­ize what was hap­pen­ing. It felt like the clocks were run­ning slow. But now I’m lov­ing the extra time in the day to work. Beyond that, my mind has start­ed to calm down. If the mind is like a car’s engine, my idle speed was way too high. I was burn­ing fuel and and wear­ing myself down for no rea­son, revving hot and fast all the time. It feels like my mind has set­tled into a calmer, qui­eter nat­ur­al state. These days I’m in the mid­dle of a very stress­ful and unhap­py divorce, and recent­ly I’ve fall­en out with a good friend I love ; yet even with all the anx­i­ety and exhaus­tion and sad­ness, I’ve been calmer and less scat­tered than I can remem­ber being in years.

But did Face­book real­ly delete my account ? I’ll nev­er know. If I check, there’s a very good chance I’ll be right back where I was 3 weeks ago. Lim­bo is the very edge of Hell where sin­ners must wait for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of sal­va­tion, but it’s also a super goofy dance.

Hi Fi

I remem­ber the Nation­al Lam­poon of my youth as cut­ting-edge, razor sharp social satire with some sophis­ti­cat­ed sex­u­al humor tossed in to keep the plebes hap­py. When I got the jokes and the arcane polit­i­cal ref­er­ences, I felt like I was part of a high-mind­ed fra­ter­ni­ty. Well, I start­ed look­ing through some of the Nation­al Lam­poon archive recent­ly, and it’s safe to say that the real­i­ty is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than my mem­o­ry. While there was some fun­ny art­work and clever satire, most­ly I saw a shit ton of tit­ties. Plus a mil­lion stereo ads with more tit­ties. I can’t say the ads didn’t work. To this day, I love a good stereo.


T + 48

This is the sec­ond day since I delet­ed my Face­book account. I joined back in 2009, so that’s sev­en years of posts, com­ments, threads, friend­ships, “friend­ships”, and more gone for­ev­er. I don’t have to look back very far here to see that I’ve tried deac­ti­vat­ing my account in order to gain some sep­a­ra­tion from all the things whirling around in the world. I’ve tried it a few times. It didn’t work. I’m an idiot child. I’ll fol­low any dis­trac­tion through the trees and into the rape van it’s got parked behind the com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter. Not that Face­book is a rape van, but it is, kind of.

So I delet­ed it. It wasn’t hard. I like scorch­ing the earth behind me, leav­ing nowhere to go but ahead. A bunch of years back, some­one robbed my house and took my cold weath­er coats, my stereo, and my lap­top. I didn’t have any­thing backed up. Every­thing I’d writ­ten since grad school through the first three years of my career was gone. Sto­ries, let­ters, poet­ry. I wasn’t upset though. I felt lighter, freer And I felt an urgency to go out and make new things.

I’ve gained at least two hours per day over the last cou­ple days. It’s ridicu­lous but it’s true. I’m not all chum­my with my phone any­more either. I don’t check it when I wake up. I don’t don’t check it dur­ing the day. I hard­ly look at it at all. I know I’m miss­ing out on stuff. My friends from every­where are writ­ing smart, hilar­i­ous things and shar­ing art I’d want to see. I’m already out of the loop on all the lat­est out­rages and gaffes and rev­e­la­tions and lis­ti­cles and deaths and sta­tis­tics and out­rages, again. It real­ly is a loop, accel­er­at­ing, feed­ing back, blow­ing apart and then reform­ing, giv­ing me no time to sit in the after­noon breeze and won­der what’s hap­pen­ing with me.

Death or Glory

I’d rather be strung out & broke, shit­ting in the park, and for­got­ten by my chil­dren than write a book about why what I do is so great and then sub­ti­tle it “How to Think About Art, Plea­sure, Beau­ty, and Truth.” What a nob, A.O. Scott.


The colum­nist reads the crows
falling out of the the lau­rels
and adjusts his hat. The sto­ries come
when the dogs go slack in the wet grass
and the crows walk in the street.
There is talk of revolt,
the mad­ness at home can wait.
We wait until night to howl at the rats
behind his house where he waters
the grass, sil­ver and naked but for his hat.


I kicked you out. You packed up and fell
asleep on our bed, tick­le porn
spilling out of box­es across your hips.
An ech­e­lon of shi­va beads advances
upon your dark nip­ples
or the scar across your throat.


At first glance, “Ida” is the sum­ma­tion of a movie I was cre­at­ed on this earth to hate. It’s a peri­od movie shot in black and white*, it’s about a nun, and it fea­tures a road trip and a sax­o­phone play­er. I almost choked myself out in a rage just typ­ing that sen­tence. Nonethe­less, “Ida” held me cap­tive, and my opin­ion of it has only risen in the days since. (“Ida” wasn’t shot in black and white. It was shot in col­or dig­i­tal­ly and con­vert­ed to black and white using col­or grad­ing soft­ware. This is the case for almost every­thing released in black and white in the last decade at least. I under­stand and appre­ci­ate the rea­sons for shoot­ing this way, but the deci­sion to make a black and white movie feels arch and orna­men­tal in a way that ear­li­er direc­tors choos­ing to shoot on black and white film stock did not. While the black and white grad­ing in “Ida” is of the high­est qual­i­ty, the images bear the unmis­tak­able crisp­ness and res­o­lu­tion of the dig­i­tal era.)

Reli­gion is like a loaded gun. You don’t show it unless you’re going to use it. The gun is going to go off — the only ques­tion is will it end well or not. And when a char­ac­ter is defined by her reli­gious devo­tion, you can be that her faith is going to blow up too. The only ques­tion is will it end well or not. When we meet Ida in Poland in 1962, she a week from tak­ing her vows to become a nun. She vis­its her Aunt Wan­da — home she’s nev­er met before — and learns she is actu­al­ly a Jew. This kind of plot wal­lop usu­al­ly bores the hell out of me, because it means for the next 90 min­utes, I’m going to be sub­ject­ed to end­less ver­sions of “who am I real­ly?’

First, “Ida” is only 80 min­utes long, and sec­ond, while it feels almost like a folk tale at times, the film is very aware of itself. That aware­ness man­i­fests itself in what “Ida” doesn’t do : it doesn’t ask ques­tions like “who am I?” and it cer­tain­ly offers no answers. It is more of a reflec­tion on the lim­its of guilt and anger and accep­tance. The film is made with long, still takes where the cam­era seems to resists mov­ing and instead set­tles itself into the scene at hand. Dra­mat­ic sto­ry points are treat­ed almost as an after­thought, but sus­pense and desire build as the cam­era remains on Ida and/or on Wan­da longer than we are used to, longer than we expect, and the ten­sion con­tin­ues to build when they leave the frame : we see only ner­vous fin­gers stick­ing out of win­ter coats as relics of grief and tragedy are pulled from the ground ; lat­er, in the most mem­o­rable scene of the film, Wan­da puts on some music on the phono­graph and movies in and out of frame with a fran­tic ener­gy . She returns with so much verve that when she leaves the frame the last time, so casu­al­ly and ter­ri­bly, we are com­plete­ly emp­tied. It’s this self-imposed set of bound­aries, struc­tural­ly and the­mat­i­cal­ly, that allows “Ida” to become tru­ly cin­e­mat­ic.movies-ida-050214-videoSixteenByNine540

And that’s where the two Agatas come in. Aga­ta Kulesza plays Wan­da per­fect­ly. Oth­ers have said that the film should be titled “Wan­da” because she is the more ful­ly drawn and com­plex of two char­ac­ters. When she first invites Ida into her kitchen and asks her what the nuns told Ida about her, she’s relieved when Ida tells her that the nuns didn’t say any­thing. Wan­da is disheveled, wear­ing a night gown and smok­ing a cig­a­rette, and she has a lover who is get­ting dressed to leave, so it’s easy to imag­ine, stand­ing in for Ida, that Wan­da is a pros­ti­tute. That she is a once respect­ed judge who turns to drink­ing and sex to stave off the shame of her fad­ed career is only one sur­prise about Wan­da that makes her a fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter and the per­fect guide for Ida through the land­scape of Poland and of sin.

Aga­ta Trze­bu­chows­ka is the 23 year old star of the film. She has nev­er act­ed before the direc­tor Paweł Paw­likows­ki dis­cov­ered her in a café, but she was the per­fect choice for the old of Ida. Wrapped up in her gray habit for most of the film, Ida’s expres­sion­less face must tell a sto­ry with­out being a blank slate. Like every­thing else in this film, what’s beau­ti­ful about Ida comes from our inabil­i­ty to know if her calm expres­sion is a sta­sis of oppo­sites that can­cel each oth­er out, a bal­anced uni­ty of her many con­tra­dic­tions, or just a bull­shit mask that she’s dying to take off. And Trze­bu­chows­ka is so great at car­ry­ing all these pos­si­bil­i­ties in her stun­ning, love­ly face and in her per­for­mance that it isn’t until after the film ends that we real­ize the answer is D all of the above. The final, hand­held, shaky track­ing shot of Ida walk­ing in the mid­dle of a dirt road, her eyes full of every­thing — an unknown future, a past either rec­on­ciled or roil­ing, a heart either full or bro­ken — while the head­lights of pass­ing cars throw dull halos across her face, is the kind of thing I was put on this earth to love.

Mea Culpa

I am a reformed anti-vaxxer. My old­er boys were vac­ci­nat­ed in the late 80s and ear­ly 90s, but when Oskar was born in 2002, our pedi­a­tri­cian dis­cour­aged us from vac­ci­nat­ing. He cit­ed the increase in the num­ber of vac­cines as well as the dan­ger of side effects, etc. and we went along with it. I also had my old­er sons cir­cum­cised (despite their mother’s protest), and by the time Oskar came around, I had come to see the error of my ways, so I prob­a­bly con­sid­ered my ear­li­er atti­tude toward vac­ci­na­tion to be part of my cave­man ways that need­ed to be reformed. I’m a smart guy, but I admit that I didn’t do my home­work or even con­sid­er things like herd immu­ni­ty.
Oskar got whoop­ing cough last year when he start­ed mid­dle school and since then he’s been vac­ci­nat­ed for every­thing except HPV and menin­gi­tis. The menin­gi­tis vac­ci­na­tion comes in high school. I have done much more research and have come to real­ize that I was very wrong. It’s impor­tant to be able to admit your mis­takes and change when you can, and it’s just as impor­tant to speak out when what each of us does can affect all of us.
I live in the heart of the anti-vax move­ment (San­ta Mon­i­ca), and our pedi­a­tri­cian, Jay Gor­don, has been at the white hot cen­ter of the debate for years. But when I sched­uled vac­ci­na­tions with his office, they were very hap­py to pro­vide them. They real­ize that the risks are high and real (though they prob­a­bly don’t acknowl­edge their role in cre­at­ing the risk through the years).
There are no intel­li­gent argu­ments against vac­ci­na­tion for peo­ple with healthy immune sys­tems. Zero. There is no point in pre­tend­ing both sides of this argu­ment have good points. They do not. Those who argue the sci­ence isn’t in on vac­cine safe­ty do not under­stand vac­cines. Live virus/bacteria vac­cines do not make you sick. They are atten­u­at­ed, which means they are not vir­u­lent but they are alive. This allows your body to devel­op immune respons­es with­out hav­ing to get sick. Like any­thing else, there are poten­tial side effects, but the com­mon ones aren’t seri­ous and the seri­ous ones are sta­tis­ti­cal­ly very rare.
Some­one above post­ed that doc­tors came to her 24 hours after the birth of her child to vac­ci­nate her baby. That doesn’t make sense, and I can under­stand why that would be extreme­ly upset­ting. Your baby is brand new in the world and is per­fect. Babies also have their mother’s immune sys­tem for sev­er­al weeks, so there’s no need to act that fast. I’m sym­pa­thet­ic to par­ents who want to pro­tect their chil­dren and not just do every thing doc­tors say to do with­out ques­tion­ing. I was like that and I still am to a degree, but not about this.
When Oskar got whoop­ing cough, though, it was incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to watch him suf­fer, know­ing if we had vac­ci­nat­ed him, this wouldn’t have ever hap­pened. Night after night, he woke up ter­ri­fied and pan­icked, unable to breathe, mak­ing that awful ‘whoop whoop” sound that just breaks your heart. He missed weeks of school, he had a high fever, and even after the worst of it passed, he had a raspy, wet cough for more than three months. And if he had it as a baby or a tod­dler it could have killed him.
I’ve come to real­ize it is the height of irre­spon­si­bil­i­ty bor­der­ing on crim­i­nal­i­ty to not vac­ci­nate our chil­dren. The state can­not and should not com­pel peo­ple to do it, but the prob­lem with schools refus­ing to enroll unvac­ci­nat­ed chil­dren is that schools are not equipped to be pub­lic health police. They don’t have the resources. And that doesn’t address home­school and pri­vate school stu­dents.
This is where it real­ly does take a vil­lage to raise every child. Each child is impor­tant to all of us, and her wel­fare is in our best inter­est as well.

Lovers Night Out

Under the larch­es and lark shit
and the woo they lay down —
a canopy of bad ideas and chuffed promis­es —
Bethany slept and Paul count­ed
the things he want­ed to do
before he died.
Bethany the heart, Paul the vein.
Like Chi­nese beryl or blas­tomeres,
they’re cleft and uncleft, twins who mim­ic
twin­ning. They make every­thing
that they believe.
Bethany the anchor, Paul the chain.
After dark, they unfurl and slide
into town. Paul prongs oys­ters
onto her dusty tongue, and she
chirps and licks him clean.
Bethany the mem­o­ry, Paul the stain.

The Aubergine

This is then, when they stepped out, right ?
down the steps from the hotel to the Aubergine –
more like black bruise col­ored,
the con­crete ramp they call the Aubergine
to make being old or in a chair not stink –
and across the Checker­board –
the reg­u­lar board­walk paint­ed black and white
so get­ting to the sand is a game not a drag –
and to the sand. Before this is when
they were in their room for two days
only some steps and the Aubergine
and the Checker­board away from the sea.
This is after the fight at El Patio
and the fire and the red tag on the door –
so you know you can’t live there any­more –
after the first hotel in Carls­bad –
this is Lagu­na, right ? this is when we freaked
and didn’t know if they were in jail
or in TJ or they killed each oth­er,
which she did, him, when they stepped out
and down onto the cool blue gray sun­down sand
after two days in that room with a rock
she picked up on The Aubergine
and the hotel said their room was real­ly clean
and the bed was still made.