I am fifty years old, and I am fat. Not middle-aged thick, not suck in your gut for pictures. I am Fatty d’Fat Fat, Lord Fatisimo of the Great and Wide Fatties. I am also male, mostly white, mostly Irish by way of the South, and I grew up a non-practicing Episcopalian in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles County. Which makes me both obsolete and redundant. I’m also part Venezuelan, part Catholic, part Jew (how else can I explain my Irish Catholic paternal grandmother’s maiden name : Lowenstein?), and part Mormon.
The Mormon part is of my own doing. I joined the Mormon church when I was 17, and I left the church 13 years later. I say that I am still part Mormon not because of any vestigial beliefs I might be wagging behind me, but because my two sons Hunter and Noah were raised in the church. Hunter’s rejection and Noah’s embrace of the faith are both partly results of my choices. When you are a father, no decision you make can be unmade. I can play music moderately well. I cannot whistle. I sing poorly, but I sing much better than I should because I have tried all my life. I wish I could sing better, but it’s a great pleasure to hear Noah sing so well. Oskar sings too, and while Hunter never sings in front of me, he whistles with a perfect pitch and a gorgeous tone.
I love most sports but I cant play any other than baseball. I did not exercise whatsoever until high school. As a result entropy and resistance to fitness are my natural modes. But however unlikely, I fell in love with bicycles when I was a kid. My first bike was a Peugot 10 speed, something like this :
My Scout troop went on a two day 100 mile ride, and inexplicably, I smoked everyone else in my troop, including the adults. The support truck had to find me and tell me to slow down. Continue reading
I hate every name that describes what I love. Cinema. Maybe it’s that final “ma” syllable (just like drama) but I sound like a douche every time I try to use it seriously. Plus it’s one of those names for inexplicable things that comes through the utility door : the earliest machines that both recorded and projected the moving images were called cinematographs. Later, the halls and theaters where they were exhibited were referred to as cinemas. And of course, the law of linguistic metastasis requires that eventually such a name will become the shorthand for the entire experience.
Film. Ugh. You can almost imagine where this one came from — “I loved watching your magical light show. But how did you conjure it?”
“I ran a bunch of photographs strung together fast enough to create the illusion of motion.”
“Hot shit. But how did you get it on the wall ? I thought photographs were opaque.”
“Yuppers. Instead of paper I used transparent celluloid with a thin film of silver emulsion that allows images to be projected with a light source.”
“What the…? You made magic with a film?”
“Sick. Got any films with associative dialectical montages that resemble Marxist/Hegelian philosophies enough to claim a new revolutionary art form ? Or, if not, any films with naked girls?”
Using the word film to describe the art form is like calling novels pages or paintings canvases. And filmmaker ? Even the teenagers making lattes at Starbucks have cooler names than that. Then there’s the word I use the most : movies. It’s corny and graceless, and it creates a false difference between films and movies. But the one thing it has going for it is accuracy. As Dieter said to Eddie Munster on Sprockets, “Susan Sontag said that cinema lies at 24 frames a second, Eddie. Any comments?” Movies are still images separated by darkness, moving fast enough to fool the brain into perceiving motion. Does it matter ? Probably not.
Except wait, it does. Continue reading
This is an essay I read years ago in Harper’s Magazine. It’s hard to find now, but I kept it online. Our culture values organization, efficiency, productivity, and hard work. This essay speaks to that sad condition.
QUITTING THE PAINT FACTORY
On the virtues of idleness
By Mark Slouka
Harper’s Magazine – November 2004 issue
I distrust the perpetually busy ; always have. The frenetic ones spinning in tight little circles like poisoned rats. The slower ones, grinding away their fourscore and ten in righteousness and pain. They are the soul-eaters.
When I was young, my parents read me Aesop’s fable of “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” wherein, as everyone knows, the grasshopper spends the summer making music in the sun while the ant toils with his fellow formicidae. Inevitably, winter comes, as winters will, and the grasshopper, who hasn’t planned ahead and who doesn’t know what a 401K is, has run out of luck. When he shows up at the ants’ door, carrying his fiddle, the ant asks him what he was doing all year : “I was singing, if you please,” the grasshopper replies, or something to that effect. “You were singing?” says the ant. “Well, then, go and sing.” And perhaps because I sensed, even then, that fate would someday find me holding a violin or a manuscript at the door of the ants, my antennae frozen and my hills overdue, I confounded both Aesop and my well-meaning parents, and bore away the wrong moral. That summer, many a windblown grasshopper was saved from the pond, and many an anthill inundated under the golden rain of my pee.
I was right.
In the lifetime that has passed since Calvin Coolidge gave his speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in which he famously proclaimed that “the chief business of the American people is business,” the dominion of the ants has grown enormously. Look about : The business of business is everywhere and inescapable ; the song of the buyers and the sellers never stops ; the term “workaholic” has been folded up and put away. We have no time for our friends or our families, no time to think or to make a meal. We’re moving product, while the soul drowns like a cat in a well. (“I think that there is far too much work done in the world,” Bertrand Russell observed in his famous 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness,” adding that he hoped to “start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing.” He failed. A year later, National Socialism, with its cult of work [think of all those bronzed young men in Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will throwing cordwood to each other in the sun], flared in Germany.) Continue reading
When I first was thrown up against the the internet, I was in graduate school at USC in 1993. Students were given electronic mail accounts, though none of us actually used them. I rarely sent normal mail, and I couldn’t understand how doing it digitally would make it any more palatable. I forget the particulars, but there was also a way to access an early version of the Mosaic browser, but again, I don’t remember much that you could do with it other than access the department’s phone numbers and office hours. The 300 baud modem I had attached to my Mac Plus didn’t add any juice to the idea.
I’ve never been a futurist, because I think nested within that idea is a sort of unbridled optimism, and that’s something I’m more suspicious of than prone to, but I could dimly understand the promise smarter people saw in the dissemination of internet access. People like me, writers, artists, musicians, would no longer have to create in isolation. We would be able to connect with each other ; work could become common to all of us, and each person would become an author of every work, a sort of rhizoid amanuensis.
I do remember one of the first websites I stumbled across though. It was a collection of vorarephilia fiction and art called something like Swallowed by a Whale. I read several stories that all centered around the extreme pleasure of either swallowing someone whole or being swallowed whole by another. My memory is famously spotty, so for these stories to be still so vivid today indicates how deeply they were scarred into my cortex. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was already the beginning of the end of the promise of the internet and the beginning of something much more familiar and disappointing.
Today, I write alone, in isolation, sometimes by hand, sometimes on an old typewriter, or sometimes with the wi-fi turned off — a firewall between me and the world — and the idea of others taking my work and turning it into something common to all sounds like a shitty smartphone commercial. I’m not nostalgic, and I’m not optimistic. I am however, determined to make whatever is left of the internet work for what I want to do. This is the beginning.