Project Runway Season 9 Episode 10: Sew 70s

Halston panorama

Welcome to Project Runway: The Lifetime Movie. You know the one, where the plucky young woman triumphs using nothing but her brains and talent. Oh, wait, that’s all Lifetime movies. Well, yeah. Welcome.

Prelude:
The women are all glum since they didn’t do so well last week. (Sidenote: I was listing the designers left, and I could not remember who the third woman was. I knew there were three, I knew there was Anya and Laura, but I could not remember who the third one was. I finally thought, “Danielle!” Danielle went home weeks ago. Somehow, I didn’t come up with Kimberly until I actually saw her name on the screen. I’m sorry, Kimberly. But I think that’s a bad sign. And it’s a sign this show has lost me: You know you hate a show when you start hating everything and everyone connected with it, except Kimberly, who they’ve buried to the point where I can’t remember her name, and country boy Anthony Ryan. Uh oh…)
Viktor, on the other hand, is excited. Josh says, clothing is clothing, it shouldn’t matter if it’s menswear or womenswear, there’s excuses being made. This becomes ironic about an hour from now. Viktor isn’t worried about the challenges, but he is worried about people getting nasty: “the tiger will come out. Mrrreow!” Not much of a “tiger” there, but it’s a pretty good “annoyed cat”. I think there’s a metaphor there.

The Challenge:
Heidi meets them on the runway and says something about the past. Laura interviews that everyone knows how to construct clothing, so now it’s about “good Mood trips” and finding the right inspiration. Laura is taking on the role of Gretchen as Annoying Know-It-All-Talking-Head. I wonder if she was set up for this, as in the producer says, “You’re the one with the best viewpoint on the others, so tell us what you honestly think about every little thing.” You know you hate a show when you start seeing the hand of the producers behind everything that happens.

They go back to the workroom where Tim is waiting with Heather from Piperlime: it’s the Piperlime challenge, and the winning design will be sold via their site. The designers salivate. The specific challenge is to design a revival of the sophisticated seventies, because Piperlime is all about trends. I think she considers that a good thing. Anthony Ryan interviews they just did seventies looks and it didn’t go so well. Heather goes into some details: big wide legged pants, silky tie front blouses, strong and feminine (unlike women of any other decade). Anya imagines an earthy palette; Kimberly thinks plaid. Tim tells them not vintage or retro like last week, but sophisticated; they’ll have a dossier on their computers. Anya interviews she’ll be happy to do sophisticated instead of Pocahontas. Tim tells them they’re the crème de la crème, and I get a sinking feeling; Tim, what have they done to you? Is the glamour really worth it? You know you really hate a show when you start snarking on Tim Gunn.

Bert’s thinking a pillowy top and long dirndl skirt because that’s the only kind of skirt anyone wore in the 70s (except those of us who wore jean skirts, gator skirts, tiered skirts, a-line skirts … but we weren’t fashionable); Joshua doesn’t know much about the seventies, so he’s grasping for ideas. Kimberly is inspired by a picture of her mom, who was a secretary in the seventies, so she’s going to do sexy secretary. Viktor imagines a fitted tailored jacket, YSL, safari made modern. Anya thinks holiday in Jamaica, which is what she always thinks. Laura plans a maxi skirt with fitted top; she considers herself a 70s glam girl. Anthony Ryan wants to mix prints in a layered look; he can show who he is in a bigger way. You just do that, Anthony Ryan.

They have $100 and two days. Not much money, but plenty of time.

Mood:
Anya has the envelope with her $100 tucked into her dress, just like old-time ladies used to do, because she doesn’t have any pockets. Of course not, designers hate pockets. They helpfully show a freeze frame with an arrow pointing to the envelope snuggled against her left boob. I think someone in post-production editing just wanted to draw an arrow pointing to Anya’s boob. We see various shots of the envelope, and it’s working its way out, inch by inch. Again, I think it’s interesting how many shots of Anya’s chest they just happen to have. Lots of happy cameramen on that crew. At some point the envelope disappears, and she retraces her steps, the Mood people help her look, but it’s gone. It’s the Pea Puree all over again. I think the cameramen picked it up, myself. And an admiring shout-out to Fukui San of TwoP who quips: “Somewhere in the bowels of Mood, Swatch is chewing on five 20 dollar bills.”

Tim asks if he’s sure it isn’t in her clothes, and honest, I half expected her to strip right there at the Mood cash register because if there’s one thing I admire about Anya, it’s her willingness to give it all she’s got whether it means dyed hands or climbing on a table or running up and down stairs over and over or ripping off her dress to check for money. But somehow she determines to her satisfaction that the envelope is not working its way south, and Tim tells her she can get leftover money from her fellow competitors, or she can use muslin, but that’s about it.

Now, I’ve been kind of hard on Anya, but this policy does seem a little crazy. This isn’t about talent or buying the right or wrong fabric, it’s about losing an envelope. They can’t be worried contestants will start stealing money. Accidents happen; when Kenley left her fabric behind, she was allowed to go back and get it, and this seems to me to be in the same category. But that isn’t how the show sees it. Laura says something like “They said at the very beginning if you lose your money that’s it” so I guess this is black-letter law laid out in the initial briefing.

Nobody has extra money. Tim points out they only had a hundred bucks and they spent all of it, which is what they’re supposed to do. He sounds kind of nasty when he says that, and I don’t get why. There’s something very off about Tim this week, it’s like he’s been invaded by mind-control aliens. She gets $11 and change from Anthony Ryan and gets a little fabric, some buttons, and a zipper. Tim breaks free from the mind-control aliens and point out how very generous she was with everyone in the last challenge, giving fabric to everyone like a mini-Mood, which sounds more like Tim. Bert says that will come back to her. Except of course he’s spent his money already.

The Workroom:
Everyone comes over to Anya and gives her little bits of fabric. It’s like that last scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when the whole town comes over to give Jimmy Stewart the money Uncle whats-his-name left in the mean banker’s office. Seriously, one by one they come by: “I have this, it isn’t much;” “You can have these two pieces of white.” Except Viktor, who interviews, “I’d like to help her… but I can’t.” Yes, you can, you choose not to. In the end, it looks like she turns everyone down, and her finished look only uses the print she bought. But Tim praises everyone for their support. Gee, Viktor, all that assholery display for nothing. But it’s time to get inspired by the 70s and add wow and pizzazz, and keep in mind the winning look does have to go into production. Anya cries for the first time on this show (she hasn’t had any reason to cry, since except for last week she’s been sailing along on top) and says they want dynamic and fashion forward and muslin is not any of those things. Hey, the very first Project Runway episode ever – they sent each designer a bolt of muslin and told them to make something out of it and bring it with them. I don’t remember anything about the looks that resulted, it was a long time ago and I don’t think I’ve seen reruns, they often drop the earliest episodes or they start them at 7am when I have other things on my mind.

In the “credit where credit is due” department, I have to admire Anya for buckling down and working with what she’s got. Certain other designers – looking at you, Josh – would’ve thrown world-class hissy fits and then wouldn’t have had time to do anything. Anya got to the “it is what it is” phase pretty quickly, and her tears seemed unavoidable rather than made-for-tv; she in fact seemed slightly embarrassed by them. So I have to give her props. Olivier made much more of a fuss in his talking heads about the “massive” Ewan and a lady with double-d boobs.

Bert does his turn as the History channel. He interviews he has an advantage since he did this before, for Halston. Viktor shows him some shoes, and Bert tells him, “Very Rudolf Nureyev. You do know who Rudolf Nureyev is?” and Viktor says “Of course” like he has no clue. I’m a little surprised to hear shoes other than ballet slippers referred to as “very Rudolf Nureyev” myself, but I’m not a gay fashion designer.

It’s a gossipy little bunch tonight. Anthony Ryan is thinking Woodstock and the hippie movement, which doesn’t sound very sophisticated to me. Joshua is familiar with the disco 70s and could do that easily, but the challenge is to make something marketable on Piperlime so he thinks that’s not exactly the way to go. Good instincts there, Josh. And yet… well, we’ll get to that later. Laura is excited since she wears vintage all the time. Laura, you and Anthony Ryan were obviously not listening when the teacher explained the assignment. They specifically said NOT vintage. Viktor doesn’t trust Josh; he thinks he’s stealing elements of other people’s looks. “I’m not driving you any more, Miss Daisy, you do it.”

Anya starts dyeing but doesn’t like the color; it’s insipid. Bert interviews he doesn’t like Anthony Ryan’s fabric choice; it’s like he’s going to the mall or to bury something in the woods. I don’t quite get that – I’m not sure how one fabric can evoke both occasions. I certainly wouldn’t wear what I wear to the mall to bury something in the woods. Or vice versa. Then again, I haven’t been to the mall in almost a decade. Maybe things have changed, and people there are wearing bury-something-out-in-the-woods clothes there now. Laura‘s playing with two prints; Viktor thinks they’re clashy.

Laura thinks Kimberly’s fabric is JC Penney. But prints, she says, are so subjective. Unlike color and style, see. She and Anya wonder if they should talk to her about it; they explain to Viktor the girls have a pact to tell each other if they see one of them making a big mistake. They phrase it as “she won’t believe in it” but Viktor points out it’s a competition. Laura says, “There comes a point where we have to start worrying about ourselves” and Anya adds, “We can’t all stay until the end.” Actually, it is possible all the women could stay until the end – three women, three slots in the finals. Laura is too busy ending the pact one-sidedly and unannounced to notice her top and her skirt are, as Viktor said, clashy.

Bert‘s talking about the old days, hanging out at Studio 54 with Diane Von Furstenberg and Halston, and Laura asks, “Is that where you got your Halston job?” “No,” he says, “I got it in the balcony, the third row.” My, Bert is frisky today, isn’t he? “Is that a dirty joke?” asks the ever-brilliant Laura. “Could be,” he says, in his best Robin-Williams-as-Adrian-Cronauer. Bert’s worming his way back to my good side. Though I still remember what a jerk he was to Viktor in the stilts challenge, and to Anthony Ryan on the smeakers case. He’s been on his best behavior since, though.

Kimberly tells Viktor she likes his inverted pleat. I’ll bet she says that to all the boys. Oh, the one on the back of his jacket. She’s very somber about it. She says it’s become popular, and he sees Josh has the same pleat. Oh, now I get it, she’s tattling on Josh. Viktor gets a little huffy then decides the hell with it, his pieces are always stronger. Good decision, Viktor. You are a bit of an old woman, but you use your head.

The Twist:
Tim shows up, way too early for a walkthrough, which means… Twist! They have to make a second look that is one piece, not separates, and they will get $50. Normally a two-day challenge would automatically mean that, but not this season, they’ve had a lot of two-day challenges and this is the first twist thrown at them, IIRC.

They have time to sketch before returning to Mood but Kimberly keeps working on her first look and just thinks about the second one. Anya wants to make a jumpsuit, I suppose since that went over so well the first time she did it. Hey, if she makes nothing but jumpsuits from here on it, she’ll win ALL the challenges! Bert plans a minidress, as does Josh, and Laura remembers a fabric she’d seen that she wants to use. Anya pins her money to her shirt. Someone tells her what a great idea that is. I can see it now: new trend, pinning your belongings to your shirt to avoid gauche pockets. It’ll be right up there with the arm warmers at Lima High. You know you really hate a show when an inoffensive thing like this generates a fantasy that fills you with rage.

Tim’s Walk Through:

Anthony Ryan: Tim doesn’t like the idea of a longer skirt; it’s too old a look, so Anthony Ryan makes it a mini. For his second piece, he’s going to make a maxi. Tim points out it’s “a void among you” which throws me for a minute. Oh, no one else is doing a maxi, I guess. Except for the people who are. I wonder if Tim’s ok.

Anya is making a paper bag waist on her pants, and Tim is relieved to hear she hasn’t really started since it looks like a Hefty bag waist at this point. He says her jumpsuit idea is right on trend.

Tim visits Bert; Laura calls his look Roller Barbie. Tim says it could go either way. The second look is a skimp. I don’t know what a skimp is. I don’t think I want to know.

Kimberly is making a look with a bare midriff and a mini, and Tim suggests she choose one “sex element” or the other. She decides to go pencil skirt.

Viktor is working on his jacket. Tim tells him the more safari construction the better, because otherwise it’s just a pretty jacket. A pretty safari jacket is much better, I guess. His second look will be flared pants mimicking the suiting. Wait, I thought it had to be one piece, so is he doing a jumpsuit too?

Josh has a pink shirt. His second look is a tight mini; he’s doing androgeny, one masculine and one feminine. Tim warns him to “be careful of the narrative” because while he can spin a tale as well as anyone, the clothes need to speak for themselves. Except when the judges want to know where she’s going, then it’s all about the narrative. Even Tim is inconsistent this week.

Laura is doing something I can’t figure out, and Tim thinks her fabric wants to be designed differently. Then he does a “I’m not trying to be mean, but” that raises the hair on the back of my neck, I can’t imagine what it does to Laura. Probably nothing, actually, since she seems to think anyone who doesn’t get her stuff doesn’t deserve her attention. Apparently Nina hates Laura. She’s “bristly about her taste level.” Really? I know she was the only one who didn’t like her look last week, but I don’t really recall this being an ongoing problem. Laura wasn’t aware of it either. She doesn’t care if her brand pleases Nina, but she has to please her in this competition. That’s actually a good way of looking at it.

The models come in for their fitting. Bert’s model calls his look Charlie’s Angels. She probably means the movies, right? I mean, she’s never seen the original Charlie’s Angels. Bert’s helping Victor with something, and compares it to “putting a you-know-what on.” I’m guessing he means condom, but is that something he can’t say out loud? Did someone put something in Bert’s coffee this morning? Anthony Ryan sees Anya as embodying his client, so he asks her what she thinks, and she says she will buy every piece. Don’t listen to her, Anthony Ryan! She’s a competitive girl, you think she’s going to tell you the truth? She isn’t even going to tell the truth to Kimberly, and she made a pact with her.

They go home and sleep, then come back and work more. Anya and Kimberly keep sewing right up to the very end, and Tim shooes them to the runway.

The Runway:
Heidi is wearing an Olivier top. That was the first thing I thought when I saw her. It’s the color of oatmeal and it looks like bandages with lots of pleating and folds and seams. And she’s probably skinny enough to be Olivier-approved. She does have boobs, though, so maybe not. And Olivia from Piperlime is the guest judge. Is this some kind of subconscious thing? Do I actually miss Olivier? Nope, not in the slightest.

Kimberly: A black print circle top that I don’t understand at all (I’m thinking back to her very odd initial Come as you Are look in ep.1, I think it was) over a narrow black skirt. And a grey jumpsuit with a peek-a-boo triangle at the navel. You’ve got to be kidding me. Kimberly, what has happened to you, girl? Are you trying to go Anya on us? This has to be a bottom three look, and following last week, she might actually be in danger. And the pockets – I love pocket, but even I can see these are not hip-friendly pockets. MK is frowning.

Anthony Ryan: Ever since TLo started calling Julie “Julie Dogblankets” I’ve been seeing dogblankets everywhere. I’ve been trying to resist it, but here it is again: a dogblanket vest-with-lapels-or-shirt-jacket-without-sleeves, in a zigzag black-white-grey print. I actually like it (which scares me), except that it’s over a red-grey-black geometric print sleeveless shirt and super short, super tight red skirt. Individually the pieces aren’t bad at all, but together they’re GAH! His second look is a red/black squareish plaidish print maxidress with white over the sleeves. Everything about this bothers me. The print is kind of cool, but not right for the dress. I wrote “very Gretchen” which I think was inaccurate and harsh, but it was the first thing I thought of. He says it’s casual but trendy. I don’t know from trendy, but I don’t like the shape, it’s too narrow at the hem and too unfitted in the bodice. Again, those two things are fine but they don’t go together. It’s a no for me.

Bert: A sheer top over a gold bandeau over black short-shorts; Bert says there’s a lot more skin than he expected as it walks down the runway. I think it’s something out of a Columbo episode, where the rich lady is lounging around the house before shooting her husband. That’s pretty 70s, come to think of it. His second look is a very simple dress, white in front and gold in back. He calls it Grecian but Rami would object to that. It’s kind of pretty, actually. Especially if you like nipples. Is this the skimp – because it’s skimpy? I’d believe it was a nightgown if you told me.

Laura: black and white chevron print top, over a yellow-green-black print skirt, another fine entry in the let’s-mismatch-our-prints contest; and a “jumper” of sheer black pants and grey top. Isn’t a jumper a sleeveless dress worn over a blouse? They’re all calling them jumpers. I hate jumpsuits, but I have to admit it’s very pretty, quite elegant. I wish it was a top and pants instead of a jumpsuit. It’s not much in the way of design or innovation, but Piperlime doesn’t require that, do they.

Joshua: black and white plaid pants in a very narrow cut, with a hot pink and black blouse. The pants are ok though a little tight (they make the model look bulgy), but the blouse is horrible. I think he was going for Mondo, especially in the pants. Josh, you are not Mondo. Do not try to be Mondo. You cannot try to be Mondo. You either are Mondo, or you are not, and you are not. He also has a long dress with a print skirt. I like it. I really do. Uh oh, bad sign. Either that, or I’m suffering from severe meh fatigue.

Anya: Black and white print high-waisted pants in a very wide cut, with a reddish low-cut halter top that’s just like all the other low-cut halter tops Anya’s made, and not very well-made at that. I know it’s muslin, but, well, it looks like muslin. I don’t like the fit at the armholes or the bosom. I can see trip to Jamaica, though, and since the people in this world go to Jamaica and not to work, and since she’s Anya and she’s given a season pass for bad sewing, I’m guessing she’s going to do well. For me, it’s a low pass, because I can see possibilities in it, but it’s the sort of thing you can see a celebrity like Rachel Zoe or that Hilton chick “designing” – that is, telling a real designer, “make wide leg high waist pants in this fabric and a halter top,” and the real designer comes back with a gorgeous garment which the celebrity then takes bows for on the runway. If they want to that kind of design show, why don’t they steal the other show Bravo invented with that exact premise? (I forget what it was called, it was so awful). And how many times are they going to let her get away with making the same style? Speaking of… her jumpsuit, which the Lifetime Rate the Runway picture makes the model look like she has an extra pair of thighs in there.

Viktor: A pale pantsuit with the safari jacket; the jacket is a little overbulky to me, with wide trimmed lapels and those pockets, plus the belt – but it’s ok. and it’s obviously been designed by someone who knows how to design, and sewn by someone who knows how to sew. The Rate the Runway picture includes an unfortunate shadow that looks like the model has peed herself. The shell underneath has too much print. His second look is a halter-top grey over black dress, which is likewise ok.

And once again, I’d be hard pressed to pick a winner. Or, for that matter, a loser. Averaged together, Kimberly’s looks are the worst, but most of them had at least one horror.

Kimberly is safe, and is sent back to the lounge to wait all by her lonesome. Safe? Either it’s because they’re all mesmerized by jumpsuits, or her respectable past held her up. Note to myself: if I ever go on PR, make jumpsuits.

The interrrogation:

Laura: She says she loves color and print, used an easy knit to make a full maxi skirt and a b/w top with graphic chevrons. For her second outfit, she wanted an easy look. Heidi likes the second look, but not the combination of the two prints. Nina says the top looks like a prison uniform, and the weird print used for the skirt isn’t good. The other look won’t read online. Olivia agrees the prints don’t go together. MK says it doesn’t look like fashion, it’s just clothes; it’s not what’s next. Laura, please note: it wasn’t just Nina who had a problem here.

Viktor: Heidi loves his two great looks, though the suit could be a little better.. MK thinks the t-shirt is “killing the sex,” (I love that phrase, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before but I may just have repressed it) the suit is looking career matron. Alone the t-shirt looks cool, he loves that Viktor is wearing matching snakeskin shorts and bow tie. Nina likes the nice tailoring on the jacket, but it’s a little conservative. She loves the dress, it looks expensive. Olivia likes the pants, she’d save the t-shirt for something else. Heidi marvels, it’s unreal what he can do in a short time. They had two days, Heidi. Remember, this is how PR used to go before you dumbed it down for Lifetime. Remember? Seth Aaron? Christian? Chris? Jay? Rami? Emilio? Oh, but they were men so they don’t count on the Network for Women. How about Kara Saun? Jillian? They turned out some amazing stuff on short notice too.

Josh: He talks about masculine vs feminine. MK says it’s more like schizophrenia. The plaid pants against every fashion law of nature. They’re over the top, and have no easiness. He decides they come from 1870s France, wrong 70s. Heidi thinks it’s the worst outfit she’s seen, with too many things going on. How can you put so many things in one outfit? Josh says, “Because that’s who I am? A lot hings need work, but it would sell off the runway.” Heidi says if it doesn’t resonate, it won’t do him any good to live in his own little bubble. You know, I don’t like his stuff either, but I think it’s what he does, and to tell him to be more like everyone else just depresses me. Olivia thinks his ideas need to be confined. Because that’s what Piperlime sells, confined fashion. Nina says the fabric choice is horrendous; the second skirt is “tragic print” but he does take risks. He just has an edit problem.

Anya: She tells her sad tale about losing her money, and they figure out her first look cost $11. Heidi is impressed. She likes the jumpsuit with the sheer back. The top of the first look is the color of Dentyne, which I realize is perfect. But he likes the working, well done. Nina loves the print. It looks expensive, and the color is good. Both outfits are good for shopping online. Aha, a new type of fashion: internet chic.

Anthony Ryan: Olivia feels it’s incomplete, the shirt needs sleeves. The pattern mix doesn’t work. The second dress second looks like tent. Nina says it looks hippie-dippy, and not in a good way (is there a good way to look hippie-dippy? I happen to love it, but this bunch throws it out in the trash). The layering isn’t working. It doesn’t have a luxe feeling. MK likes that he went to a very different early 70s, granola girl. But they only let Gretchen do that last season because she … oh, wait, no, he can’t say that. The skirt is awful. Heidi calls them shmattas. I didn’t know Heidi spoke Yiddish. She would not want to be any of them. Nina thinks she looks like part of a cult. I think they want to ditch Anthony Ryan and they’re just making up stuff.

Bert: He was going for Shellie Hack’s Charlie ads. Eww! However… I wonder if he’s remember that last season, Gretchen’s winning navy jumpsuit in episode 2 was called “very Charlie.” Heidi thinks the shorts are way too short, but the dress looks expensive. She likes the two colors for front and back, it looks elegant. MK likes the metallic blouse, the asymmetry. It’s the two sides of the 70s, streamlined and glamorama. Nina would buy the top. The other look is simple and beautiful. So… she wouldn’t buy it? Olivia likes the first look, it’s very sexy. On the second look, she likes belt details, the little metal ends. What? That seems like a stupid thing to like about a dress.

They go wait in the lounge while the judges have the Little Chat. Kimberly asks for the rundown. Josh tells her he missed the mark, because he wasn’t born in the 70s. See above, Joshua complaining about designers making excuses. Viktor says he wasn’t born in the 70s either, and Joshua gets all huffy, accuses him of trying to get aggressive (there it is again, that countermove like when he told Bert “I need to you stand back,” Josh has been in therapy or anti-bullying classes and he knows how to use it against people, it’s very passive-aggressive, and he does it so well I wonder if someone’s teaching this) by telling me everyone should know these movies. Movies? I guess Viktor said something about movies I didn’t catch (I’ll edit this when I see the repeat). Bert points out they have to know these things, as fashion designers. I agree with that: that’s what being a professional means, it means having a body of knowledge beyond the immediate tasks you do. If you just make clothes (or paintings or birdhouses or songs or stories), you’re a craftsperson. If you add context to it and work from fundamentals, you can, maybe, someday, be an artist.

The Little Chat:

MK says Joshua‘s pov is not about editing or simplicity. You’re just figuring that out now, Michael? Olivia complains about the leopard belt. Nina says there’s nothing wrong with leopard. I think I missed a lot of this, because Nina cannot be defending Josh. But the belt was hardly visible between the hot pink and the plaid. Olivia points out he needs to take criticism better or he’ll scare buyers. Heidi demonstrates how he “starts steaming” like she did the “Gretchen honey badger” thing. But the honey badger was a lot funnier. Olivia says the girl will not be getting laid with those pants, showing that Piperlime has its priorities straight: clothes exist to get you laid.

Heidi doesn’t know what went wrong with Anthony Ryan. Nina thinks it looks Charles Manson cult. Nina hasn’t seen any footage of that, has she? These people need to educate themselves before they use historical references that other people actually lived through. MK hates the mix of prints. Olivia declares it not photographable, which of course is the important thing for Internet Chic.

Nina wonders how Laura could put those prints together. Olivia agrees, it’s not flattering. MK calls it an ugly print skirt with a prison stripe top, and other is three sleeping pills. Watch that creeping dosage, Michael, you can get in trouble that way.

Heidi repeats she’s impressed with Anya. Olivia likes the print pants. MK says the jumpsuit is a home run. Heidi says it’s quiet but a show stopper. MK points out with the low cut, if it was cut wrong way you’d be topless. Nina loves that she’s smart, thinks quickly on her feet and made it happy. MK picks on the color. Heidi says, “We all want that jumpsuit.” MK wants one, too. Jumpsuits are comfy. They are not, you have to strip to pee! What universe do these people live in?

MK loves that you can wear Bert‘s top with jeans (instead of the horrid shorts he made). Nina says it photographs well. I’m getting a little sick of all these photographable clothes. MK loves the silk jersey dress, in any length or color. Olivia gushes about the silver ends on the belt again. She’s really fixated on them, isn’t she? Like a baby chimp who likes bright shiny things.

Heidi praises Viktor for another great job. Olivia loved the tee; MK thinks every piece is great, they can be mixed together, and he manipulated the snakeskin just right.

Sounds like Viktor wins, Laura or Joshua is out, right? Ah, but you forgot: this is the Lifetime version! So:

The Verdict and the Long Goodbye:
Anya wins, and Bert and Viktor make faces. So do I, but I was wise enough not to do it on TV. Then Olivia tells Bert she wants to put his silver tips on Piperlime, and she guesses she’ll have to bring the dress along to do that. So Bert is appeased. That still leaves Viktor, who made all this stuff everyone loved, and all he got was, well, nothing. Because, well, it’s Lifetime, and the lady who lost her money has to rise victorious from last week’s defeat. The classic comeback. Bert, well, I think those silver tips hypnotized the Piperlime lady.

Laura is safe with the caveat that she really missed the mark, ironic since she considers herself to be the height of 70s glam. And Anthony Ryan is out. Anthony Ryan? Ok, his look was crap, but… Anthony Ryan? Are you sure? Ok. It’s Anthony Ryan, rocking his one nut home. Sorry, babe.

Tim gets verklempt while sending Anthony Ryan to clean up his workspace, and pulls out of his ass, “It’s the fashion Olympics, you’re all excellent designers, and an excellent designer is going home.” It must kill him to call these people “excellent designers.” At least I hope it hurts. Because if he really means it, we’ve lost our beloved Tim to the Dark Side of Lifetime. You know you really hate a show when you no longer trust Tim Gunn.

Next week, the designers are inspired by birds (an owl, a parrot, a cockatoo, I think) in a head-to-head competition. I can see it now: MK will say “He did the bird, and you did the birdshit.” Is anyone taking wagers on how many times birdshit will be mentioned? Flipping the bird? Birds-eye view? And who thinks Josh is going to get nasty, whoever he’s up against? Anyone who picks Anya as a partner-competitor is going to go take a nap since they know they’re sunk. Now I see why they sent Anthony Ryan home. They wanted Josh around for this one. I’m thinking they’ll line him up with Bert. You know you hate a competitive reality show when you can write it before you’ve seen it. Maybe…(eyes to heaven)… Maybe… (whisper)… pretty please maybe they’ll surprise me…

Painters, Players and Poets

Something strange was going on in the Lewis Gallery at the Portland Public Library.

I pass it on my way to Periodicals (to find the latest New Yorker stories and New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle) every week or two. It’s a new space, created during the year-long renovation that just completed last Fall; a single large room, more of a hall really, next to the stairs. The exhibit changes about once a season, and I typically spend a few minutes wandering each time I visit.

The first thing I noticed earlier this month were the chairs. It’s an art gallery, so I expected to see paintings on the walls – which there were – but there were unique chairs placed in front of each piece of art. Everything from random sticks tied together with twine, to an upholstered ottoman, to a sleek rocker, each one facing a painting, and each one with a small binder and a CD player on the seat. A woman sat in one of the chairs. I wasn’t sure, at first, whether she was a real woman or part of the exhibit. When she moved (aha! Real woman!) I thought it was nervy of her to sit in a chair on exhibit.

It was, I found, the idea. Sit in a chair by a Maine chairmaker, face an artwork by a Maine artist, and listen to a CD track of a Maine poet, singer, songwriter, musician, something, performing an audio piece inspired by the art.

What an incredibly cool idea! Or maybe I’m just naïve – art galleries aren’t really my thing, I wouldn’t know about this one if I didn’t visit the library so often. Maybe this kind of thing goes on all the time. Maybe I just need to get out more.

There are a few kinks in the system. I found it awkward to juggle the book (which contains bios of the artist and performer) and the cd player at the same time, even sitting down. And there’s no way to sit down without picking up both the book and the CD player, since there’s one of each on every chair. Then, to move to the next chair and the next piece of art, you have to move the book/player from that chair. And if you follow the CD tracks, you have to find the next painting – they aren’t lined up sequentially. Or you have to fast-forward and find the track you want, which isn’t that easy. For some reason, I’d assumed each CD player would have only one track, the one pertaining to the art, music/poem, and chair it was placed with. But I suppose that would’ve become confused, since people would move them. Frankly, I’m surprised they’re all still there. Either we have very well-behaved library patrons in Maine (unlikely from what I’ve seen in the computer and teen areas) or they’re electronically labelled and the alarms go off if someone tries to slip out with one.

But it’s quite an experience. Since I had other things to do and places to be, I only spent about 20 minutes today on 2 paintings and their associated chairs and sounds. As with all art, some appeals to me, and some doesn’t. I fiercely covet the Thomas Moser rocker, with the graceful lines and deep soft sheen. Today I couldn’t even sit in it – it’s just too beautiful.

I’m eager to go back when I can spend more time. There’s a wonderful primitive on wood, an abstract sculptural piece, a graphic design, a black and white by Robert Shetterly (I have his children’s book of portraits, biographies, and quotations, Americans Who Tell The Truth, bought at a Veterans for Peace concert a couple of years ago – he’s a special guy) – I don’t have much vocabulary for art. Fortunately, you can see most of it for yourself.

Next time, maybe I’ll even sit in that rocker.

The Sing-Off 2011 – Episode 2

Art by Constance Bannister, Thom Lang

Hello, I am Zin! And I am so happy it is Monday and The Sing-Off is on again! The second group of eight go in brackets of four, just like last week. They start with a group sing of “Sing”. One singer, an incredibly pretty black woman, with long straight hair and bangs, stands out as being, well, not so great, I am not sure if she is nervous or if that is her shtick and it works in her group. They keep showing a close up of her and I can not figure out why. Maybe I am the only one who does not think she is a good singer?

Nick asks the judges what they use as criteria. Ben says he looks at the journey: a group might be shaky but have potential. Others might be technically great but they seem to have reached the end of their journey. I think he means the Cat’s Pajamas from last week – not that they are old at all, but they have a sound and they are not evolving. Sara just promises to get better at judging. I did not have any problem with her last week! Shawn says he is looking to be inspired.

The first four groups perform..

Dartmouth Aire from Dartmouth College, a large all male group. In their intro a black guy with slanted Alfalfa hair says they are by no means traditional which amuses me! The group started in 1946; not as old as the Whiffenpoofs but pretty solid. I wish there was a Classical round here, they would kill it, but I am afraid they are not going to be competitive in this particular contest. They do “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. They have some nice choreography at the end.
Shawn says, “This is what I’m talking about.” The art of a capella is how you entertain people, not just voices. They had him from beginning to end, they kept moving their feet, it was an energetic song, a great rendition. He loved that Michael gradually went into the lead, he is a good front man, his mother would be very proud.
Sara loved it. Michael, you mom is just beaming. I think I missed something about Michael wanting to make his mother proud. It was a wonderful marriage of physicality and breath control, spot on.
Ben: they came out of the gate kicking ass and stayed that way the whole time. He would not have minded if guys brought the dynamic down a little in second verse to give Michael a hand, but loved the swells in the bridge.

Pentatonix from Arlington TX, five people. They started as a high school trio, added a bass and beatboxer. Kevin plays cello and does percussion at the same time which is incredibly cool. They do “E.T.” by Katy Perry. They are really good! I like that they split up the leads and everyone sang a little!
Sara: loves the ambition, top 40 and club songs are not easy especially with just five people, loves that each has a little moment.
Ben: great ride, all dead on with each other, harmonies were moving, arrangement is great, Kevin did effects that were “wicked awesome,” low end was impressive, a club low end. His only criticism was to maybe take the song a little slower, but really great and a lot of fun.
Shawn: Scott did great riffs. He swore Kevin was cheating, beat is real bass. Hard for a bass to stay on key and move.

Messiah’s Men from Minneapolis, a large all-male group, refugees from Liberia who met in a refugee camp there. They do gospel, Afrocentric and soul. They do “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield. Good percussion. Nice bass.
Ben: big sound, interesting groove, not the average beatbox groove. Unisons were especially powerful.. All together, key center is a moving target, they need to keep the key center in same place. Very moving.
Shawn: gospel, afrocentric and soul, he felt all three, loves the back story. Not technically perfect but he could sit and listen. They have storytelling voices.
Sara: a pleasure to see them express themselves. Tiny technical things, her favorite part was at the end when they circled up. She felt emotional connection, but wanted them to stop moving.
I think they are in trouble.

Sonos from LA, five members, mixed group. They have been together three years, touring. They typically use effects pedals, explore electronic sound. They will not be using any effects pedals in show, and it will be hard for them because they hide behind them. That does not sound good, and they have not even sung yet! They have been touring but are struggling and are not sure how long they can continue. They do “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak in a jazzy arrangement. I loved the beginning with the percussion, but I found it intrusive after a while. The lead is a little shaky especially in her high range towards the end.
Shawn: ambitious arrangement. Percussion was fast and amazing. It is a sexy song, he would have enjoyed more playfulness, swaying would have been good enough. There was too much space between the harmonies, it sounded thin. They have potential but he did not feel it like he wanted to feel it.
Sara: She sang with the bassist in college (full disclosure). She loved the arrangement, and liked the sparseness of chords and fast beatboxing, it reinvented the song, was sensual. She wanted more dynamic range. She understands it was hard for them to put down the pedal.
Ben: dead on, beatboxing is the future, their own style. Interesting arrangement. sparseness is a choice, they need a little more confidence.
I think they are in trouble, too!

Pentatonix were clearly the best. Dartmouth was good, good enough to get through this round certainly, but I am afraid they just stylewise will not last very long. I think Sonos will go home, but I do not think Messiah’s Men will last long either.

And I am wrong! Messiah’s Men is out. Interesting. They cut the guys with the biggest sob story – it really is about the performance. They have integrity. And nobody is trying to out-do Simon Cowell! They do Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a swan song, which is very sweet. I like them very much, and I am glad they got to sing; but their style is not one for this competition. You can visit their website, listen to some of their music, and wish them well!

The champions from last year, Committed, just came out with new album. They do a brief snippet of Always. Billboard has an article from last June about their album. They have a Myspace page but it looks like it has not been updated since they were on The Sing-Off last year!

The next group of four perform.

The Collective is a medium-sized mixed group from Nashville. Jeremy Lister, from Street Corner Symphony (the runners-up last year) put it together, including his little brother Jonathan. Jeremy is still singing with SCS! In fact, SCS tweeted “Someone let us know what is happening on The Sing Off, we are doing a show tonight and can not watch!” They are all solo artists, a capella is completely new to most of them. They do “Rolling in the Deep.” The lead, Ruby, is the girl that I thought had a problem in the opening. I do not like her voice! No, not at all! I think it is the vibrato, almost a quaver, which pains me to say because I have been criticized for too much vibrato. She is the only voice I have not liked on three years of this show! This is strange!
Ben: solid, clearly good singers, Ruby owned the lead, kept our ear. When the chorus got there he did not feel lifted., but solid, great singers. Then he says something about outside the box but decides there is no box. Shawn: possible concern about soloists blending, in time they will find a more definite sound, enjoyed performance, enjoyed Ruby’s quivering alto, rich and thick, depth. He did not get blown back but still solid enough.
Sara: blend for a new group is solid. Ruby is mesmerizing, theatrical. They are missing something, maybe in the arrangement. She would love to see how time improves things.
I am less than impressed.
Soul’d Out – Oregon High school group. “We’re a real life version of Glee.” No, not really, Glee is not a capella! They do Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. They sound a little high school choir especially at first. Nice job after Let the Sunshine In. but ends on a chorus chord. They are a pretty good high school group. But… no.
Shawn: He gets concerned about high school groups but they held their own. Very intricate song, so much music, did it pretty well. Especially since songs are older than everyone, they captured the feel, did well.
Sara: Yay small town. So much energy, certain times chord structures got muddled, Ethan, adorable, so much emotion, showed maturity, disciplined.
Ben: Their parents were five when song was written. First half held its own, good start, second half was tough (exactly the opposite of what I thought, interesting). Hard to pull off, repetitive melody, hard not to show effort, and unfortunately it tore apart at end
They are in trouble.

North Shore – five guys from Boston specializing in Street Corner doo-wop. They have been singing professionally and making a living at it since the 70s but they are struggling financially this year (everyone is, people can not afford to hire entertainment). They do “Run Around Sue” by Dion, pretty much exactly as Dion did it, very nice, lots of fun, great sound. But why are they wearing bowling shirts? Kara Saun, are you still doing the styling? Or is this their own stage costume?
Sara: loved it. Done impeccably. She can not tell who is singing which part, blend is perfect. Guy is a stellar front man, so much personality.
Ben: great. Relaxed, energy does not have to mean flying off the handle. Thomas did an awesome bass line. Refreshing without beatbox. (but it will come back to bite them later in the competition, I think)
Shawn: did it right. Crisp, clean, timeless, nice to have veterans, provides authenticity. Thomas held down the bass. Guy, great energy.

Deltones – a large mixed group from the University of Delaware. “These people taught me how to love to the fullest.” They were all rejected from other a capella groups on campus, so they formed their own group. Wait… they are sounding like they are being tortured down there in Delaware and this is an oasis in the middle of hell! And how many a capella groups are there at one university? They do “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman. Nice, but it is a solo with backup.
Sara: story might sound cheesy , finding home with a capella group but that’s what happened to her. Beautiful arrangement, a little nervous to start, Jessica, lead, felt growth, power, strength. Innocence in the arrangement.
Ben: Jessica, friends backed up really well. Pretty arrangement. He does not think it was nerves, more vulnerability. Build was artful. Post bridge, the group almost blew Jessica away when she was flipping into head voice, they should have pulled back there. Moving over all.
Shawn: Jessica has a beautiful voice, little quivers, but it is not about how perfect it is. They have a lot of potential, and have more to show.

I think it will be Soul’d Out.
It is between Soul’d Out and Deltones. And Soul’d out goes home. Oh, one girl looks like she is going to cry. They do “Mamma I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Ozborne as a swan song with a guy as lead. They do not have a website (there are many groups with that name, it seems) but they have a Facebook page and you can leave them fond wishes there!

Overall I was less impressed with the groups this week, compared to last week. The only group that really seemed to be in the running was Pentatonix. Of course, any group might have a much better week next time. And I enjoyed listening to all of them, none of them were bad, it was a very enjoyable concert, and the right groups were cut. It is hard to cut refugees and high school kids, but I am glad they are still judging based on the music and not on what makes good TV! This is my favorite singing competition!

Ann Beattie: “Starlight” in The New Yorker 09/19/2011

New Yorker Art: Photo by Hank Walker, Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

But what happens if you’re a Rockette and you have a cold? You go out there onstage and take your position, that’s what. A bit of medicine to bolster you would make sense. But, medicine or not, out you go. Out we go, indeed! When have we not rushed ahead, despite any protests made to Dick? You smile the family smile, and you try to get through the minutes, the seconds, until the helicopter takes off, and if people want to photograph that, which they no doubt will, they’ll see nothing but a machine, rising, flying, becoming smaller, disappearing. They’ll read a lot into that.

They might have. But the vicious double peace sign made everything else insignificant.

I’m a complete sucker for innocent-bystander stories, and Pat Nixon was an innocent bystander if ever there was one. This book excerpt (you can read it online) gives us vignettes of her (fictionalized, of course) thoughts at crucial and private moments: the last photograph in the White House, the release of Nixon’s memoirs, the acquisition of a stray dog, a late night walk through San Clemente close to the end of his life. At the time, I always thought Clemente sounded like clemency, and that both comforted (because we all need clemency sometimes) and annoyed (because some things should not be forgiven). From the vantage point of 2011 – the outrage of the 70s seems almost quaint.

Anyway, the story. (isn’t it interesting how a story about Pat Nixon turns into a rant about Nixon? I think that’s the point – one of the points – of the book) Which is not a story, it’s a collection of sections from the forthcoming book, “Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life.” It is perhaps as much a book about Ann Beattie as it is about Mrs. Nixon. In fact, the Book Bench interview is just as interesting as the story.

On her use of varying POVs and distances:

…words weren’t enough. I wanted to act like a person who really could move, the way a person moves a camera. I wanted to see through her sometimes, like an x-ray, but at other times I wanted to see around her—to see her as others might have seen her. There are many perspectives on Mrs. Nixon in my book, and I can’t say that I was “right” when I took the long view or when I came in close.

On the use of a historical personage, blending fact with fiction:

Well, the facts grounded me in reality. I’m as appreciative as anyone else to be informed and enlightened, but facts are only facts and I’m not sure we live by facts. I interspersed some of those facts with whatever my instincts and intuition led me to…

On her unusual choice to include herself in the work of fiction:

And perhaps because it was I decided to admit that and to appear in the text myself. I decided to analyze why I was interested in Mrs. Nixon’s story, what strategies were available to me to reveal her, or anyone, in fiction. I admitted to my games, showed my cards, only to question (sincerely) whether I had found my subject and discovered something about her essence: whether I’d drawn the ace I needed in order to put down my cards and depart. Mrs. Nixon is not the only one who walks away at the end of the book, seemingly sure of a few minor things, but also a bit lost in the universe.

It’s clear to me now that the purpose of including these excerpts is to increase interest in the book, and ultimately to increase book sales. It’s also clear to me that it works. It’s an interesting approach to a book, to a story, to a character, and Beattie makes interesting choices throughout.

I Learned the Truth in Mexico

Hello, I am Zin! (this post was written a couple of weeks ago – I forgot about it, sitting there gathering dust in the Drafts bin!)

Since the Second Person Study is winding down (not ending – I will keep adding to it, but not as often), I need a new project! I just this week – yesterday – started writing in the Flash Factory at Zoetrope again. I have not written there since last May! So I am thinking maybe I will track that here, to keep me motivated.

For those who do not know, the Flash Factory is a private office at Zoetrope that holds weekly prompt-driven flash-writing “contests” (the only prize is the honor of giving the prompt for the next week). All participants review each other. I have found it useful for finding ways to approach things differently. Most of my published flashes began in the Flash Factory!

This week, the prompt was “Eavesdropping” given by the wonderful Beth Thomas:

Your task this week is to write a flash based on an overheard snippet of conversation. Take note at the grocery store, park, bar, etc. People are so free on their cell phones these days, you can overhear all kinds of interesting personal stories.

You can borrow a phrase, a few sentences or a plot, just make the story your very own. You must post the “borrowed” stuff at the bottom of your story and give us a little insight into when/where the eavesdropping took place.

Word limit: 600.

I wrote a story from this true incident from 2 or 3 or 4 (or 5?) years ago:

I was waiting for the dental hygienist – the one who loves to scold me, and even though for four years I have had no cavities, no tartar, no gingivitis, no additional bone loss, nothing, nothing at all for her to tsk tsk over, she still will scold me because she is like one of the nuns from Catholic school (where I never went but I understand about it anyway) and I deserve to be punished for spending the first 50 years of my life ignoring my teeth and somehow I have managed to redeem my molars and she does not believe in that kind of forgiveness!

I was reading the 2001 O.Henry Prize stories (pre-PEN). A little girl, maybe 6 or 7, said to her mother: “I learned the truth in Mexico!” I stopped reading, because I thought that was a surprising thing for a little American girl to say (you might expect it from a waif, wearing rags and peering at you with haunted eyes from behind the ruins of her ramshackle hovel in a burned-out village somewhere on the other side of the world). Her mother mumbled something from behind her People magazine, and the little girl said, “MOM!” in that tone little girls use to let their mothers know a tantrum is imminent if proper attention is not paid to them immediately.

“Yes, you lost a tooth in Mexico,” her mother said, and turned the page to read something else about some other beautiful person.

I wrote the words on the inside cover of my book, both versions, for some day when I would be able to figure out how to use them.

I do not want to post the actual story here. It was titled “I Learned the Truth in Mexico” and was about a man with a long history of depression who was drowning, clinging to a rope, he could just let go and die but he found he could not do that, so he discovered the surprising “truth” that he wanted to live!

It is not a very good story but I am glad I actually wrote something! I have been writing so much on this blog but no fiction! So I have to start somewhere. And maybe I can turn it into a good story after it percolates a while and I see the suggestions the Flash Factory has!

Update: My flash won! And the “prize” as usual was to set the prompt for the next flash gig – so I made it, write a flash in second person! And, in honor of my friend Marko, gummi bears and gruel (which, well, you would have to be there, Marko runs a “What’s for Dinner” thread in an office on Zoetrope and somehow works gruel and/or gummi bears into nearly every week!) And what is really wonderful is that Randall Brown, Flash God, wrote a story and will be here at some future point to talk about second person! I am so excited! So even though the story was not that great, good things came out of it. And now I am going to work on the next Flash Gig…

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Elizabeth Tallent, “Never Come Back” originally from Threepenny Review

He rubbed at mirror fog and told the dark-browed frowner (his own father!) to get ready; she’d had her Victor look. Whatever this development was, it fell somewhere between failing grade in calculus and car wreck, either of which, he knows from experience, would have been announced as soon as he walked through the door. This news, while it wasn’t life or death, was bad enough that she felt she needed to lay the groundwork and had already set their places at the table and poured his beer, a habit he disliked but had never objected to and never would. As a special treat, Daisy’s father had let her tilt the bottle over his glass while the bubbles churned and the foam puffed like a mushroom cap sidling up from dank earth, and if she enjoyed some echo of the bliss of being in her daddy’s good graces while pouring his beer, Sean wasn’t about to deprive her of that.

I found this story to be a game of ping-pong, a sort of exercise in “who’s the bad guy now.” First it’s teenage Victor, son of hard-working Sean and soother Daisy, when twin girls show up and claim to be pregnant by him (as it turns out, only one of them, Esme, is actually pregnant). And if there’s a bad guy, there must be a good guy, and first it’s Sean. Mill employee, hard-working, blue-collar, solid American. When I read the opening scene – he comes home from work, sees there’s some kind of trouble, and takes a shower before facing it – I kept flashing back to the auto industry bail-out a couple of years ago, Wall Street vs Detroit and the fight over “the people who shower after work” vs “the people who shower before work” and rationalizations about why it was ok to bail one out and not the other. I was on Sean’s side right off the bat.

But the Bad Guy shifts over time from Victor to Sean to Esme, and then through them again. In her contributor’s note, Tallent says: “My secret ambition in this story was to kindle empathy for characters whose actions are, on the face of it, indefensible, but which make the deepest kind of sense to them.” I think she succeeds for the most part, though maybe Esme needs more buttressing in that regard.

I like how Sean and Daisy’s parents, their backgrounds, are brought in early. Nothing happens in a vacuum. I also liked the bracelet, the competing loves. There’s a lot of that in this story, and it set off the ping-pong game, or at least signalled the start of it.

I’m not crazy about the way the gun is handled. It appears twice, and the first time it’s as if neon lights are highlighting the paragraph saying, “Remember this!” So when it appears later – even before it appears – it’s pretty obvious. I don’t think surprise or suspense is the point, but it seemed a bit clumsy to me. Seems the editors of Threepenny Review, PEN/O.Henry Prize, and the Pushcart committee disagree (it will appear in the 2012 Pushcart volume). I have a lot to learn.

Project Runway Season 9 Episode 9 – Image is Everything

A Viking for Nina. Who knew?

I was bored. Even with Adam Lambert. But: tonight Anya slips off her pedastal and dents her crown, and that was kind of interesting.

Prelude:
Anya faces up to it: the remaining designers are her friends. But – friends are friends until there’s high stakes. See? There it is. They’ve changed the edit on Anya.

The Challenge:

Heidi meets the designers on the runway with the mantra: Image is Everything. She tells them to meet Tim at Rockwood Music Hall where they’ll find out what’s up. Anthony wonders if they’re doing something with images of old rock stars.

The hair guy is with Tim. Oh, this is the Pimp the Shampoo episode. An odd choice, since they’re designing for The Sheepdogs, a heretofore unsigned rock band composed of four men. They do all have long hair, so I suppose it kind of makes sense. Rolling Stone is going to put the band – sing it with me – on the cover of the Rolling Stone, which I am assuming is as big a deal now as it was back in the day. Tim tells the designers fashion and music are linked as profound forms of personal expression, so it is up to them to create an image for the band, keeping true to who they are as artists. The winning look will be in an advertorial in Rolling Stone and Marie Claire and will be worn at a live Rolling Stone event. I wonder how much Rolling Stone is paying for this. Do they really need the publicity? Rock isn’t what it used to be, and neither are magazines.

They’ll be working in randomly selected teams of four without any team leaders. Each team member will create a head-to-toe look for one band member. Tim tells them they don’t need to worry about cohesion as long as they look like they came from the same planet. Except he already said they have to create an image for the band, isn’t that cohesion? This is another nonsensical challenge. The end result is the teams are more like groups just so they can use the four guys as models twice over, so the drama should be kept to a minimum.

Team Harmony is Laura, Bert, Anya, and Anthony Ryan. Oh, lord, flashback to the sneakers challenge. But I think Bert has grown up a little since then, and they don’t have to agree on anything anyway. Laura snarks about being the only person who is always with Bert, she never gets a break. Anthony Ryan’s having flashbacks, too.
Team Untitled (they’re really into this, see) is Olivier, Viktor, Kimberly, and Joshua.

And of course we go through the “I’ve never done menswear!” thing again. Except for one thing: Olivier is a menswear designer. How did I miss this? Was I just not paying attention? No wonder he likes his women flat. The band starts playing, and Olivier covers his ears. Bert interviews that Olivier is a delicate personality. I can sympathize, actually – I don’t like loud music, even music I really, really like. And this music probably wasn’t depressing enough for Olivier. I’m guessing he’s a Mahler fan. Or some kind of new atonal minimalist school that only allows three notes to be played. Mozart probably gives him hives.

Ewan, the lead singer, likes boots, jeans, suede, and denim. Bert and Olivier will be designing for him.
Sam, the drummer, wants a caftan or a daishiki. Anya jumps all over that one, of course, as does Kimberly.
Ryan, the bassist, is wearing snakeskin boots. Josh fixates on those so he takes him, as does Anthony Ryan.
And Leot, guitar and vocals, likes jeans. How unique. He’s always wanted red jeans, which is a little better. Laura and Viktor will be working with him.

Mood:

Laura spends $450 but it’s ok because Bert only spends $150 so she uses his money. They get $300 to make a band outfit? Seems they have two days, too, though day 1 was pretty much shot between going to the site and to Mood and meeting with the band members. Still, I remember Korto, who poured bleach on jeans and sneakers for Suede and turned him into a punk rock star. And I don’t think they had all that time and money, either. These guys have it easy, and it doesn’t show anywhere.

Olivier is all upset because menswear is all about detail and fit and proportion and he has the biggest guy to work with. It’s not that funny the second time around, Olivier, you’re boring me. The guy isn’t skinny, but he isn’t obese either. Bert talks about doing sheer blousey something vintage from Haight-Ashbury. Anthony Ryan interviews it’s a plus that Bert lived through this era (I’m not sure what era, but I doubt Anthony Ryan knows either) but he may not remember living through it, since he can’t remember where he put his toothpaste. I don’t know, but I think the bathroom is a good place to start. I’m bored. Maybe I’ll check my email.

Laura can’t find red denim at Mood so she’s going to dye it, since that’s what Leot likes. Anya is running around Mood in a state. Tim keeps yelling at Olivier to hurry up. Olivier mumbles something I can’t understand about twenty shades of beige, which seems like something that should make him very happy. He interviews it’s very frustrating, but I’m cutting my toenails so I’m not sure what.

The Workroom:

Olivier wants a bigger mannequin, since Ewan is bigger than the mannequin he has. Anya interviews she’s worried about Olivier and his frustration over the size of his victim. No, she doesn’t say victim, I do. He does look forlorn, but I’m over Olivier and all the many things he gets frustrated over. I’m getting the sense that this is Olivier’s loser edit. That’s fine with me. I thought he was appealing at first, but he went annoying real fast. I’m glad he was around last week for comic relief, though. He runs around fitting a pocket on various people. I have no idea what he’s trying to determine from that. Viktor and Anya gossip about him: Viktor wants to see what Olivier is coming up with since he’s done menswear. Anya is surprised his palette is the same, and remembers he had trouble working with clients the last time. They both think it’s bizarre he thought he was going to win. Josh is trying on muslin half-pants over his black briefs. I thought flamboyantly gay men waxed their body hair. Maybe just the chest and back? Because his legs have some very unattractive growth.

The hair guy comes in to talk hair. I’ve run out of toenails. Maybe I’ll clip my cat’s claws. That’s always fun.

Olivier dislikes something, what else is new. Bert doesn’t have enough fabric, and he’s having trouble with dye, it’s turning out grape juice purple instead of blue. What, Mood didn’t have any blue fabric? I don’t get why they have to dye so much. He had so much money to spend, and still he has to dye it and he doesn’t have enough? I don’t understand. But then again, I don’t care. Laura interviews that she doesn’t care if Bert comes up with a dopey look since they don’t have to design a cohesive collection, which is very Ivy of her. Especially since he let her use the Mood money he didn’t need.

Walkthrough:

Tim does a walkthrough with the guys in the band. Leot doesn’t like the color Laura dyed the pants, so she dyes them again to get them darker. He doesn’t want a tank that’s so low because he has a lot of chest hair. They do a graphic adding chest hair to a sketch. How amusing. I’d balance my checkbook, except I haven’t used a checkbook in ten years since everything went electronic. Olivier interviews Bert’s look is flamboyant and odd. Olivier probably thinks oatmeal is flamboyant. Ewan does think it’s a lot of purple, and Tim says it’s very feminine. Bert tries to talk him into it and says something about the blouse, and Tim points out he’s calling it a blouse. Anya interviews Bert is having one of those critiques that leads to scrap it and start over. I’m not sure it’s that bad, but he does dye it again.

Viktor tells Leot about crispiness and I get myself some breakfast cereal. He’s distressing the denim; Tim warns him it’ll look cheap if he does too much. Cheap? It’s supposed to look cheap, that’s what distressing does. He’s making a pleather cowboy motorcycle jacket, and boy does that sound scary. Laura interviews she hates pleather, the jacket is a big pillow, and he doesn’t have time to do the distressing. Now she’s doing Gretchen, except bitchier. Gretchen was more superior than bitchy. My Cheerios are really good.

Kimberly shows Sam a plaid for the tunic, and he says he likes the pattern but prefers another print on the table, which turns out to be some fabric Anya loaned her. I don’t understand this, but Anya starts worrying she might be giving Kimberly and advantage – what if he likes Kimberly’s look more than hers, what if Kimberly wins? Yeah, Anya, I’m sure Josh thought that when he helped you dye your mustard jumpsuit fabric, and I’m sure Laura thought that when she helped you sew the collar on. New edit, Anya, watch yourself.

Josh has made pants with an exposed zipper; Tim points out that draws the eye to the crotch, and Josh says, “Right!” He interview he sells primarily to gay men so he worries about making things too gay. I’m not even interested in making up a joke about that. Maybe because it’s raining and that’s attracted my attention. Oh, look, a raindrop….

Ewan and Tim check in with Olivier, who has a shirt in a print with swans. Because that isn’t flamboyant at all. Ewan isn’t sure about the swans. Olivier says from far away you can’t see the swans. So, that’s the answer, just keep away from everyone. “Don’t come near me, I’m wearing swans!” Olivier interviews that if he makes exactly what Ewan asks for, what’s the point? The point is winning the challenge, silly. Then he tells Ewan he’s big. Ewan says, “Are you saying I’m big?” and Olivier says, “You are big.” Ewan stares. Go ahead, Ewan, step on him, knock him down and crush him, I’m pullin’ for ya, guy, I’ll pay your bail, do it, do it! But no, he just stares, and Tim moves him along with a comment about seeing what happens at the fitting. Olivier interviews it’s hard to design when you don’t feel passionate about it and don’t care for it. I wonder how Olivier gets through the day in Real Life.

Fitting:

At the promised fitting, Kimberly declares Sam’s butt looks yummy. In her pants, that is. Viktor‘s pants are missing the crotch, and he says “The front needs a little more closure” which is a bit of an understatement. Chaps won’t cut it on mainstream TV, Viktor. Tim points out to Olivier that the pants don’t fit, they need to come up in the back.

Anya is now gossiping about Olivier with Josh – boy, when they changed the edit on Anya, they really changed it – and Olivier comes in and catches them. I doubt Olivier has the social skills to realize by the very awkward silence they were talking about him. He interviews he’s sick of everyone complaining about his time management skills, he’s grateful for the concern but he’s ok. Definitely the loser edit.

Bert says something about “they may be from Canada but I don’t like shatikis or whatever they are.” This is one of the most stunning statements of the night. I think Bert has some brain damage. I can’t decide between “Canadian Daishiki” or how can anyone of Bert’s age and background – he who discuss Queen Victoria in mourning for fifty years and is designing for Haight-Ashbury – not know what a daishiki is? Bert hasn’t tie dyed since 1972, but he’s happy with the result since it looks like a galaxy and it’s trippy. Viktor complains he started his jacket with fringe and later Josh added fringe to his shirt, he shouldn’t be copying. Viktor plays hall monitor a lot.

Ewan is sitting in his underwear waiting for Olivier to finish sewing something. As Olivier is buttoning the shirt, he asks if he likes it. Now he’s in a hurry. Sam tells Kimberly his shirt looks like a bowling shirt. He’s right, actually. Bert thinks it looks like what they wear in fast food restaurants, and he’s right, too. The hair guy braids Ewan’s hair for Bert. He looks like Willie Nelson. Ewan with braids, not Bert.

Anya interviews she just made a garment that’s ill fitting and poorly designed, and she just hopes it’s better than Kimberly’s because they’re both clearly in the bottom. And here I just said in a comment to last week’s post that she seemed genuinely nice.

The Runway

Adam Lambert is guest judge. And I’m still bored. Maybe this is just a letdown after the hilarity of last week.

And for the FIRST TIME EVER… I think someone is getting paid for every time they use those words. Instead of walking the runway, the guys will play songs, first in one team’s outfits and then in the other’s. I guess that’s a good idea, since that’s how they’ll be appearing, but it makes it really hard to see what’s going on.

So they play (they seem like a pretty standard low-rent rock band to me), and to be honest, they all look like they’ve rooted around in a Salvation Army Donation Bin – not the store, the bin outside where stuff is thrown before it’s collected and cleaned and put out for sale. When they line up later, the only things that stand out at all are Viktor’s jacket, and Josh’s outfit which is only noticeable because it’s a little brighter than everything else. And I didn’t even notice the zipper.

I’m very confused.

The inquisition

Anya tries to sell Team Harmony’s look as modernized Jimi Hendrix. Except for Bert, none of these people were alive when Jimi Hendrix was on the planet, and it shows. MK doesn’t see the swagger. Anya says they were told it wasn’t about cohesion so they didn’t spend too much time coordinating, which is absolutely true. Nina asks why, as a group, didn’t you come up with an image, something that would be theirs? Because, Nina, when you give contradictory instructions for challenges (Image is Everything/cohesion not required) they’re going to pick whichever is easiest. Signals got crossed somewhere.

I’ve looked at the designs on the Project Runway Rate the Runway site so I have a better idea of just how bad they are.

Laura/Leot: red jeans, white tank top with some tie-dye red, and a blue/grey shirt-jacket lined with different print, a contrasting dark red collar, fringe under the sleeves (bad idea) and a narrow scarf. I see what he means about having a hairy chest. But it doesn’t bother me. Not one bit. The collar looks a little wonky, though, where it meets the lapel. But with what we’ve got going here tonight, that’s nitpicking. Leot likes the dark colors and retro vibe. It’s one of Heidi’s favorites, it looks real and stylish. She’s not a big fan of fringe but it works. Adam also says it’s one of his favorites, very 70s but contemporary, bridging old and new. MK worries about the tie dye, it’s a little Sweeney Todd, like he cut himself shaving – he’s absolutely right. Nina isn’t crazy about it, it’s a ladies’ jacket with a silk scarf from the mall. Nina’s such an old poop. It still looks rumpled and dirty to me.

Bert/Ewan: striped pants, an open “shirt” (no collar, cuffs, or button placket) over a tee in bleh grey-blue-purple with a splotch of white over the back hip. Bert didn’t want to do bell bottoms and wanted to do shading rather than tie dye. Which is fine, but it looks dirty, like he’s been working construction for the past 48 hours, maybe sat in something unsanitary, and didn’t have time to change. Ewan is outside his comfort zone. That speaks well for Ewan. Adam likes the tunic, it’s retro but new. MK: “Who would’ve thought Bert has a rocker vibe.” It’s not a costume. Heidi doesn’t like the pigtails, but Nina and Adam love them, Nina thinks he looks like a Viking. And you like that, Nina? Vikings do it for you? Hmmm… interesting – read “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned.” The story, not the book, though the book is great too, it’s only the title story that’s about Vikings. Or just watch the trailer, it’s hilarious (caution: reader discretion recommended, the story isn’t hilarious – it’s a 9/11 allegory, in fact). Ewan does kind of look like the one Viking.

Anya/Sam: the daishiki from hell. It’s maybe the worst-made garment since the last menswear challenge. There’s a patterned front yoke which looks glued on, similar to the zipper in her winning sneaker look. Except it isn’t glued. It’s basted. You can see the basting stitch. If that’s supposed to be a decorative stitch, it’s poorly done. The colors look like baby poop. I can’t quite see the horrible mess she made of the back of the pants, but it doesn’t look like real pants. Nina and Heidi both thought Pocahontas. Sam likes the freaky hippie vibe she was going for but it didn’t quite come together. His pants are splitting in the back. MK says they finally got to see she’s only been sewing for four months. She gave him a suede lobster bib. He’s the reggae Jesus, in a Brady Bunch daishiki. I’m so relieved, I half-expected them to say how wonderful it was. Seriously. Because this isn’t the first time she’s sent something poorly made down, it’s just more poorly made than usual, and they called her on it, finally.

Anthony Ryan/Ryan: off-white pants, brown-toned untucked sleeveless flowered shirt (the wood print) with piping on the armholes (which I like), fringed back from the yoke (which looks pretty stupid to me). He used a different fabric for the yoke, which I don’t like, it looks like a pillowcase. The pants are baggy in the back, but they look like real pants. It looks reasonably well made. Ryan says he normally wouldn’t wear a sleeveless shirt but he likes it. Heidi wishes the pants were tighter. MK thinks all he’s missing is a shoulder bag. Adam likes the top, it looks like mushrooms which is appropriate, but the color and style don’t work together.

They retire to the lounge while the band changes. Anya stings from her first bad critique. I don’t get it, actually. It’s beyond trouble with menswear. Funny fit on the pants, that’d be one thing, but it wasn’t a shirt with a placket and collar, it was a tunic, and she couldn’t handle it. I’m really surprised.

And the next team goes:

Olivier/Ewan: Off-white pants, a wallpaper-flowered shirt with contrasting light-blue pockets, yoke, and collar. The sleeves are an odd length, almost three-quarter but not quite. But Olivier was right about one thing: I do not see the swans. And frankly, after the parade of dirty, rumpled, dull stuff, this doesn’t look half bad to me for a few seconds. Then the blue pockets start to annoy me. But other than the choice of prints and colors, it isn’t that bad. However, Ewan is not pleased. He appreciates simple, but doesn’t like the light pants. He told Olivier he prefers dark colors. Heidi thinks it’s boring, Dad jeans. Adam calls the pants short and boxy, and the print looks like upholstery fabric. Nina thinks it’s too feminine. MK says there’s nothing interesting and it doesn’t fit, and Olivier is the only one with menswear experience. The sleeves are rolled up, and Heidi makes him roll them down showing they aren’t finished. To be fair: did she make everyone else roll their sleeves down, too? Because most of them had rolled sleeves. I don’t even think this was the worst outfit of the night. The print is ridiculous, and the contrasting pockets/collar/yoke don’t look right at all. But the pattern is perfectly matched at the placket; the fit is reasonable. Let’s not fool ourselves that this is worse than Kimberly’s bowling shirt, Anya’s construction-paper nightmare, or Bert’s filth that had me reluctant to breathe through my nose. But Olivier is the whipping boy this episode; it’s time for him to go, obviously. And I think he’s slipped by on enough challenges to deserve it.

Kimberly/Sam: brown cords, a short-sleeved tie-dye orangish button-front tunic piped and trimmed with brown suede at the sleeves and collar. Sam likes the pants, they fit great, but the shirt got lost. MK calls it Peter Brady at the Autumn Harvest, failing again to deliver a clever bon mot. MK thinks rust and brown are awful colors (unless it’s a neoprene tree skirt, then it’s wonderful – this season, awful and wonderful are relative). Kimberly says she’s just glad he’s in a shirt and pants. Nina says the shirt looks like an old man’s pajamas. Adam went to Scooby Doo; Heidi, a forest elf. MK finally does the bowling shirt. Nina asks why the huge buttons. Kimberly doesn’t know why. MK points out the collar doesn’t work. Kimberly nods. “I hear you.”

Viktor/Leot: denim jeans with pockets and belt loops and distressed knees, black-white-yellow flowered shirt with piping at the yoke (and an unmatched pattern at the placket), and a spectacular braided and fringed pleather jacket. I’m thinking he’s made that jacket before. Leot likes the shirt and jeans. Everyone loves the jacket. Heidi says it looks like a two thousand dollar jacket. Adam likes the movement, though he’s not nuts about the shirt which takes away from the jacket. MK points out he’s got the only real jeans, and they fit. Nina is impressed.

Josh/Ryan: When I said this was the only thing besides Viktor’s jacket that stood out from the parade of yuck, that wasn’t completely a compliment. It’s got some genuine design, it doesn’t look like it came out of the Salvation Army drop bin, and it’s well-made. It’s also something Kevin Arnold might have worn to a costume party in Season 2 of The Wonder Years (except for the zipper). Tight white pants with a big black zipper, brown back pockets, and clunky brown something on the outside of the cuff, like an embellished slit. The vest could be interesting if it wasn’t in such stupid colors, the fringe becomes sleeves with bands to cuff them just below the elbows, all over a kind of Indian print tank. He has a lot of war ribbons. Ryan likes the look. Josh is worried it’s screaming too much sex (well, duh, what was the clue, the bulging crotch?) but he loves it. Heidi thinks the pants fit well and she likes the zipper, she loves the top and the vest but not the fringe or the orange squares added on. Too much stuff. Adam thinks the zipper is cool, but he doesn’t like the brown on the side of the pants legs, and the dark pockets ruin the booty. Nina says it’s when he goes tricky or design-y that he goes wrong. MK likes the sleeve and the weird cross referencing that’s going on. I’m not sure what he means by that. I’ll have to go see if I can find out. Adam loves the print of the tank.

Top looks: Joshua, Viktor, Bert.
Bottom: Anya, Olivier, Kimberly.

Viktor wins. He tries to do a rock-and-roll hand signal behind the screen, but it comes out a finger wiggle, which is kind of funny. He interviews how much he loves Rolling Stone and Marie Claire (and then they stop pointing the gun at his head). Come on, he’s never heard of Rolling Stone before. Musical Theatre Monthly, sure.

Olivier goes home. He’s a very awkward hugger. He’s got a backstory, though I guess we’ll never find out what it is. I don’t like it when people, with training or not, diagnose someone based on their appearance on a reality show, but I do wonder if Olivier’s got a diagnosis of something somewhere. I started out liking him – I’m a sucker for quiet. But I think his quiet is more disdain than shyness. ETA: Thank you Blogging Project Runway for blogging this tidbit from your exit interview with Olivier: “Olivier has lived almost all of his life abroad. He moved to Taiwan as a child, and also lived in London and Milan. He returned to the United States just in time to audition for the show.” So while he was born in Ohio, he has spent very little time in the US. This makes his language situation much clearer – and I wish this had been included with his introduction back in Episode 1.

It’s exactly the outcome I was expecting, but what perplexes me is that Olivier and Kimberly were the last two on the runway, which is outrageous. I guess it doesn’t matter, but Anya should’ve been there. Kimberly’s look was dumb, but it was sewn. Anya’s look was dumb, and was half-sewn. I can understand her not going home – no problem there, Olivier was definitely the right choice, no matter what they say they’ve always done cumulative judging. But Anya should’ve had the scare, not Kimberly, who has also done really well all along, and who also has never done menswear before.

Next week, Anya loses her money in Mood. I’m betting it isn’t as catastrophic as all that.

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Lynn Freed, “Sunshine” originally from Narrative Magazine

Zavros/Hood: "Le Corbusier"

They told Grace they’d found her curled in a nest of leaves, that since dawn they’d been following a strange spoor through the bush, and then, just as they’d begun to smell her, there she was, staring up at them through a cloud of iridescent flies.

This is one of those stories, like “Incarnations of Burned Children,” that is so well-done you can’t help but read it over and over to see how it does what it does, and so horrific you suffer every time you do.

It’s available online, so if you haven’t read it, do so. You might want to wait until you have a good chunk of time. Not because it’s a long story – it’s only 12 pages in the book – but because you may need some time to recover. Or just to think, let it sink in. Maybe to consider as you read how you’re reacting to each new piece of information. Maybe reread to pick up what you missed because you’d read it with a certain frame of reference and by the end had distorted that frame into a bizarre shape that no longer makes sense. Take your time.

Maybe that was just my experience. I started out with, “Oh, it’s about this, I see, it goes in this box.” But then as I read on, no, it’s more about that so I put it in that box, but it didn’t really fit there, either. Horror? Fantasy? Nineteenth century historical colonialism? Future shock? Slavery? Apartheid? Misogyny? Man defiling Nature? The Wild Child? It is all and none of these, perhaps. In the end, it’s a story unto itself.

The author started with a feral child, and intended to write a novel (from her Contributor Notes). She’s also interviewed “she did not know where the plot of Sunshine was going until it got there.” [addendum: the St. Mary's College seems to have taken their newspaper, The Collegian, offline] And in a different interview, that it’s “about the tyranny of master over slave, evil over innocence, and of the complicity of the powerless in the suffering of others.” And by the way, she finds writing a process that exhausts her, and she “avoids it like crazy” – “I’m deeply suspicious of people who love writing,” I’ve always wondered why there are so many of us who are tortured by writing, we procrastinate, clean our bathrooms and go to the gym rather than write, yet we end up writing anyway because we can’t stop ourselves. But that has nothing to do with this story. Does it?

The story itself: wild child vs Master De Jong and everyone else, from the hunters who initially capture her and sell her to De Jong, to his slave Grace who is used to cleaning up and civilizing such captives and tells them when she brings them to the Atrium “there was no way out,” to Beauty, another slave who holds the girls down for whatever needs to be done, to the doctor who fixes her broken arm and her rotted teeth, to the families of the girls sent to him for such civilizing so that “when he was finished with them, the girls would fetch a decent bride price regardless” to the girls themselves, to the village men who “liked to say they’d come to his house one night and cut off his manhood like a pawpaw. But Grace knew it was all talk. Without his money, where would they all be? Where would she be herself?” So De Jong, it seems, is Too Big To Fail.

I don’t think, however, that the story is really “about” De Jong, or the wild child. It begins and ends with “them.” They share the guilt. And in the last lines, They pretend it could never, of course, have happened.

I was introduced to this story some time ago when someone posted a link on Zoetrope; the writers there are always happy to see stories in online journals win prizes. But reading it again, a year later, it’s just as powerful.

PEN/O.Henry 2011: Brian Everson – “Windeye” originally from PEN America

For a time, it felt like he had brought the problem to life himself by stating it, that if he hadn’t said anything the half-window wouldn’t be there. Was that possible? He didn’t think so, that wasn’t the way the world worked. But even later, once he was grown, he still found himself wondering sometimes if it was his fault, if it was something he had done. Or rather, said.

I occasionally have a recurring dream: if I think the wrong thing, the universe will disperse. I’m not sure I’m explaining it right. It’s a dream, after all, and dreams are the closest most of us come to insanity – everything makes sense within the dream, leaps of time and space and breathing underwater and knowing people you’ve never met before, then it dissolves when you try to explain it later, awake. From what I understand, it’s related to “magical thinking,” a leftover from early childhood, immortalized in “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” And in churches that talk about “impure thoughts” and “lusting in one’s heart.” And in mothers who scold, “You should be ashamed for even thinking that!”

If I’m dawdling before addressing this actual story, it’s because I’m not really going to address it, other than to say I was moved by it. It’s short; it’s available online. Read it. After all – I can quote the author himself, who says in a piece from The Collagist:

Not long ago I had an email from a reader which said, in part: “I’ve been grappling with your short narrative called ‘Windeye’ for the past week, and I can’t seem to get a firm grasp on the true meaning… [A]ll of my interpretations seem to have faults. Is there any way you would be able to shed some light on the meaning of the story?”
I let the email sit a few days. I considered not answering it. The problem was that no, I couldn’t really shed light on the meaning, true or not, of the story.
I don’t think of the story as a container for, or repository of, meaning. My sympathies lie much closer to what I see functioning in Scott Bradfield’s novel: such fiction is experiential, and for me it is successful to the degree to which it allows readers to undergo an experience outside their immediate realm of possibility, and to the degree to which that second-level experience in turn functions in relation to the first-level experience that we think of as living.

I have no idea what that means. Just like I have no idea what the story “means.” But I know that I was absorbed into it, I was startled at one point, delighted and saddened at others, and that’s quite a lot to get out of 2200 words.

The Sing-Off 2011 Episode 1

"ALL I WANT IS A RECORD DEAL" by freeze67

Hello, I am Zin! I am so happy this show is back! At the same time, I am a little bit sorry it is not in its traditional Christmas Hiatus schedule! It feels a little ordinary now. It was so special to have this surprise the first year, and then to find it again last year, like a little present just before Christmas! I suppose it is good that it has been successful, but I hope it does not change the nature of the show! It does not seem to, at least not yet – I am guessing they filmed this over the summer like they did before, and will just have the finale around Thanksgiving live.

I have to say I am THRILLED to lose Pussycat! I do not know anything about Sara Bareilles, but from this first night I love her, she does not try to act like she knows more than she does and she got funnier as the evening went on! And I am of course so happy to see Ben Folds (Music Nerd), and Shawn Stockman again!

A total of sixteen groups are competing. The first eight groups performed tonight, and two were eliminated. Next week the second eight will perform. The prize is $200,000 and a recording contract.

As usual I am at a bit of a disadvantage since I am not that familiar with current pop music, although between The Glee Project and various other shows I recognize a few things I would not otherwise know!

First up, the Yellow Jackets from the University of Rochester, an all-male group. Five of them attend the Eastman School of Music which is one of the best in the country. They did a musical exchange with Kenya recently and used a song from that experience in their number, “Waving Flag” the official song of the 2010 World Cup, written by Somali-born K’NAAN in honor of the victims of the Haitian earthquake in 2009. It is an amazing song! And they did a wonderful job with it! I love African music and this has a very African sound. Shawn: powerful, all kinds of levels and a lot of range: Awesome!
Ben: the tempo fluctuated a little; great lead by Aaron.
Sarah: maybe more intricate counterpoint in the arrangement but maybe the song does not call for that – she says “I am new here!” I love her for that!

Next, the Fannin Family, eight siblings from Hortonville, Wisconsin. They are not afraid of being compared to other singing families like the Partridge family (which, well, it was not a real family, and only David Cassidy and Shirley Jones actually sang, the rest were studio musicians) or the Osmonds or the Von Trapps (wow, now that is a whole different ball game) but they do not want to be put into a box. I do not think they have to worry. Maria, the lead, is 14. I am dubious from the intro. They do “Who Says” sung by Selena Gomez. And yes, Maria, while a very gutsy 14-year-old to do this, is not quite yet a polished enough singer for this; her full voice is ok but her sotto voce is just unsupported sounding. The group is pretty high-school choral. The arrangement is mediocre. They are in trouble!
Ben: They are lucky to grow up singing. In Ireland they all sing at the pub and then beat the crap out of each other and then sing some more. I found that an odd comment but I think he is grasping. The blend is effortless, because being in the same family they have similar voices, but for the same reason it lacks a variety that makes group singing work, varied timbres; Maria is very impressive for a 14-year-old (which is true). Their bass is out of his range.
Sara: also loved Maria, how great that a 14-year-old could do that (it is a lot of pressure). She loves the strength and power in the words, which has nothing to do with how they sang it. They are wholesome and innocent. A few pitch issues. She enjoyed it.
Shawn says they did an awesome job, fought jitters; there were some harmony quirks, but it was a good performance, good job.
Alas, I think they are toast.

Afro-Blue is the “premiere jazz choir” from Howard University – and I love that they have a token white person! Now that is equality! They primarily do jazz, R&B, and funk. They sing “Put Your Record On” which is very jazzy, not my thing but it works.
Ben: loves the sound, loved the lead Christie, her presentation was very relaxed, they made the jazzy sound accessible – jazz chords can freak people out. Nice bass work from Reggie.
Sarah: thoroughly entertained. She wrote down “very attractive” and is embarrassed to say that. She thinks they have a promise of versatility.
Shawn: he wrote “class, style, slick, smooth, effortless, fun.” Christie was warm butter on grits. A great first job. I think the message here, and with Sarah, is they had better be able to do more than jazz – last year the jazz-only group ended up eliminated once they figured out they could not do anything else.

Delilah is a girls-only group which leader Amy put together with many girls from groups that competed in seasons one and two, including Pitch Slapped, Eleventh Hour and Noteworthy. And she brought in a serious bass, Gina (she knew lack of a “bottom” has always been a problem for girl groups) and a beatboxer – which is interesting, I was wondering if Courtney, the girl percussionist from both prior seasons, would show up again! They sing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars which I know since it was done on the Glee Project! Apparently it is a very popular song, even though I can not see why. I love that Amy (the lead) gets very soulful at one point! The bass is good, but they still have the “girl group” sound which is unavoidable. Still, it was pretty good! Sara and Shawn stand for them.
Sara: awesome! Dynamics, versatility, emotion, sex appeal, switched up the groove in the chorus, hit some crazy interesting chords. Well done.
Shawn: Amy was an awesome lead, what boyfriend did you channel? She shakes her head. Strong, passionate, sexy, great job.
Ben: they deliver the song first. Toothless loggers could pull it off if they deliver the song. Gina was a great low end, and the group knew when to drop out to get a dynamic going, when Amy went all out. Loved the chromatic harmonies, the rubbing seconds (I have to look that up, I know what a second is – singing two notes a step apart at the same time, that is, ‘do’ plus ‘re’ or ‘sol’ plus ‘la’, it is discordant and insists that you resolve into something else – but a rubbing second?); impressed, great work.

One of these four will be eliminated. To me it is pretty obvious…

The Fannin Family is eliminated! For a Swan Song they do… oh, I do not remember what they do! [eta: they do a shaky version of "Tomorrow" from Annie] They are cute, and the 14-year-old tugs at the heartstrings, but they really were not in the same league. They have a website and you can find them there and send them a nice message if you like them! Or ask them to sing at your event! Or buy a wristband to support their singing! They seem like very nice people, and they are good singers, I think they would be very enjoyable at a family reunion type of thing!
I appreciate that they set the show up this way. Maybe it lacks suspense – except for me I am on pins and needles worried they will carry someone over because they have a cute 14-year-old and are sweet and are all about family values! But they really do go on the performance and the musical chops, it is so nice to see for a change, it is not about “what will sell” or “who can we make the most money from” or “who is good tv” meaning who throws fits (I am looking at you, Project Runway!) Thank you! Of course, this may not last, but so far it is the same show, with the significant improvement of Sarah.

Now on to the next four…

Urban Method was put together by Tony, who runs a recording studio in Denver. They are more edgy, and include a rapper, Mykal. He is trying to become a famous rapper from Denver. It is strange, I do not think of Denver as particularly “urban” and certainly do not associate it with rap. It must be lonely out there for him! Then again, I have never been to Denver and maybe I am stereotyping it! They sing “Love the Way You Lie” by Rhianna with an eminem rap. It is very very cool! Love the rap and the percussion! All three judges stand! I am becoming more and more a fan of the R&B/rap mash-up.
Shawn: cool, that sounded like a track, he loves the percussionist switched from snare to rim shot (I am not up enough on percussion to catch something like that but I am glad they get credit for it!), rapper Myk was great.
Sara: Myk has star quality, so gelled, theatrical with Katie and Myk, so committed to the performance. Katie as female lead took her time, had so much confidence. Tony did a great job of putting the group together. She loved the end when the arrangement shifted into another groove, fantastic job.
Ben: great rapappela, he loves that a great band can be informed by a studio (I am not sure what that means), sees a star in Myk, he kept up and it is hard to keep it articulate like he did. “Troy, the bass was shaking my ass.”

Cat’s Pajamas are the “show business pros” for this season! Aha, so they do have categories! It is an all male high energy 50s-60s-70s show. They did cruise ships for a couple of years and wanted to be on land, so they went to Branson where they do 200 shows a year at the Dutton. They do “Some Kind of Wonderful.” It is pretty much what you’d expect when you think “cruise ship” and “Branson show.” Very polished, not very emotional. It is like when the Kings Singers do pop music – I always think, “Oh, that is nice, now do something good.”
Ben: really strong, next step is to take a risk and expand artistry. The voices blend wonderfully.
Shawn: loves the bass and the lead, fun, entertaining. How does it translate to a listener who does not see the group?
Sarah: wrote down “super tight package” and she laughs at that, “Well, you know me. Well, you do not but you are going to!” then she does a Queen Elizabeth wave. I love her! “Moving on and please everyone come with me…” she wants to see versatility, what they look like in jeans and t-shirts “and I do not mean that in a weird way either…”
I think they are toast.

Kinfolk 9 is an LA group of extended family and friends from the artist community. They do “Secrets”. They are not perfect but there is something very appealing about them. Moi, the lead, is good, not a powerhouse, but for me a little too visually soulful with the half-closed eyes and swallowing the mike; but that is just me.
Sara: she can see the emotion, well done, good performance; Moi is a good front man, bass Daniel is wow, almost overpowering. They are all powerhouse singers (hmm, I do not think we are using the word “powerhouse” the same way), well done.
Ben: Moi has a beautiful voice with a great delivery, nice work. Jennilee did a great job putting a group together, it will take time to get the blend together. It was an emotional performance, they need to come together technically with blend, that just is a matter of time.
Shawn: some harmony quirks, but he can sense the hunger and desire, they overshot some notes, it comes with time; he felt the energy Moi had, can always fix the technical stuff, but keep the feeling.
They are in trouble!

Vocal Point is a male group from BYU – “the most fun Mormon guys can have on stage.” They make a point of taping them flirting and kissing girls so no one worries they are eunuchs I guess! BYU had a group of girls last year, yes? Or in the first year? Is it anti-Mormon to sing together? The Tabernacle Choir is co-ed! They lost one guy, Ben, three days before because he had to go to Australia to see his father who is very sick with leukemia. They sing “Jump Jive and Wail”. The lead is amazing, completely unexpected – he is a bland guy with glasses and he turns into a brotha! A 50s brotha but still! I love the bass and the arrangement is really good. I can not help but think, if any Mormon had done this song back when this was current, they would have been drummed out of Utah! But now it is ok, I guess time makes it safe! That is true of everyone! The same people who were raised to defy “Elvis is the Devil” ended up thinking punk – or rap, or hip hop, or whatever – was the devil! They did quite well!
Ben: great. Keith, the high note at the end earned the standing ovation, it really drives it home. Loved the high hat beat boxer, the cymbal makes it groove, sounded like a high hat in verse (I did not pick this up but I believe him). Bass lines were great, great job, he wants to use them to teach modulation, they did the modulation very well.
Shawn, how much fun was that? The modulation, twice, was good. He did miss the baritone with Ben being gone. They have infectious energy.
Sarah: so much personality. The song kept morphing; good blend, classic collegiate doo-wop.

I would prefer the Cat’s Pajamas be out, for two reasons. First, I thought they were the flattest performance, not in terms of pitch but in presentation, it was polished and professional and shiny and surface and plastic and dead. And second, they have been professionals for several years now, they have connections and if they are not able to move forward it is because they are limited in repertoire and style and in, well, heart. But Kinfolk 9 was definitely less technically proficient. Still, theirs was the more enjoyable performance, although that is just my opinion. I think they can improve (maybe not in the time period to make it far on this show), but I do not think Cat’s Pajamas can, I think we have seen what they have.

Cat’s Pajamas are out. Wow. I am pleased – not that they are out, I would not mind listening more to them, but in this group of four – actually of the first eight – they are the ones I can do without the easiest! Their swan song is “Bye Bye Love” by Paul Simon!

I am very pleased! But it is not the same warm toasty feeling as when it was on near Christmas, when it was on two or three times in a week, and it felt like something only those of us who were hanging around watching TV while the Cool Kids were off skiing or partying were watching! This is more like Dancing with the Stars somehow. Still, I love Sarah Bareilles, and it is pretty much the same show. It is interesting to me how it makes such a difference when it is shown!

Next week the other eight groups will perform and two will again be eliminated.

Yi Mun-Yol: “An Anonymous Island” from The New Yorker 09/12/11

New Yorker art by Jaime Hernandez

“We all knew each other,” he’ll say nostalgically. “It was like looking down into the water at your own reflection…Most of the people were blood relations, so it was practically unthinkable for a woman to be unfaithful. Once in a while someone went off to a nearby village for that sort of thing, but sooner or later it was found out.”
Whenever my husband goes on like this, a repugnant memory resurfaces in my mind and I feel sorry for him. Maybe I should feel some shame for myself too, but it’s something that happened ten long years ago.

I’m always cautious about translated stories. Especially those translated from a non-Indo-European language, and/or a culture very different from mine. I assume I’m missing a lot. There’s only so much that can be translated, after all. I’ve always wondered if there was really such thing as translation, or if the best we can hope for is a very sophisticated transliteration (I once turned Beowulf into iambic pentameter just for fun. Ok, and a grade, but it was fun. I had no idea what I was talking about, of course).

This 1982 story, for those of us (like me) unfamiliar with the author, the translator, or Korean literature, reads like a modernized folk tale. A woman, hearing her husband rant about how anonymous things are in the big city, and how that leads to moral decay and “the corruption of a woman’s sexuality,” recalls her first teaching assignment in an isolated village. Everyone was more or less related to one another – except for one strange man.

…I felt something like a sharp beam of light pierce my skin. I stopped to look for the source and saw a young man sitting on the back porch of the store, silently watching me. His pants were so stained and dirty that I couldn’t tell what material they were made of….I stared at him without realizing it. Just then the light seemed to prick at my skin again. It was hidden behind a veil of madness, but the source was unmistakable – it was coming from the man’s eyes.
It’s as if I were on a forest path. I see a snake through the thick foliage and the fear stays with me until I leave. No simple fear but a kind of primal thrill that dissolves into a hollow of regret when I’m safely through…

She comes to learn more about this man, Ggaecheol (a child’s nickname, she says). He isn’t actually crazy or mentally retarded, but he doesn’t have a home or a job; he shows up at a house for a meal or to bunk overnight then doesn’t show up again until he’s been through every other house in the village. No one refuses him; in fact, they seem to welcome him, though he is rude and unappreciative. She’s very curious about this, and figures “he plays some peculiar role in the sex life of this closed village.”

She eventually meets her future husband on a summer vacation. He finishes college, joins the military and is scheduled to ship out to Vietnam, but he will try to visit her in her isolated village first. She waits at the train station, but the last train does not carry him. She’s desolate, and, well, horny. And wonder of wonders, Ggaecheol just happens to be in the deserted shed where she takes shelter from a rainstorm. “I just let go of everything. I’m embarrassed even to remember it, but I didn’t feel victimized.”

She worries for some time that he will tell others what happened, but he doesn’t. And she begins to realize this is the role he plays in the village: “…he was the lover or potential lover of every one of [the women].” That explains why the women tolerate his behavior, but the men? One day she talks to a male teacher, who’d grown up in the village, and shares her observations about the town. He acknowledges she’s right, and chalks it up to “vulnerable pride and pragmatism.”

Pride means a man doesn’t want to see himself as the victim. If a man wants to feel superior to Ggaecheol, he can’t consciously know that he lost his wife to someone like that….Pragmatism? That’s what makes the men forgive Ggaecheol, because some other husband has suffered the same thing. As you know, this village is made up of just one family clan. Everyone’s related by blood or by marriage. Instead of suffering the shame of incest or having in-laws found belly-to-belly, isn’t it better to save face by letting Ggaecheol do what he does?

When she leaves to marry, she meets her replacement at the train and considers telling her about Ggaecheol, but decides not to. He is watching the new teacher, just like he watched her three years before, then he looks at her with a glimmer of a smile and gazes out over the village “like a great man, the possessor of everything, an emperor.” The end.

An interesting little psychological fable, it seems. But what if the translator explained in his Book Bench interview that there are a lot of language puns and cultural references going on here (I won’t even attempt to explain it, but the name Ggaecheol is not an accident, nor is the final word “emperor” – read the interview, it’s very enlightening)? That would certainly add a level of complexity to the story.

And what if it just so happened that the author was in his childhood a pariah in South Korea after his father, devoted more to Communism than to his family, deserted to North Korea in 1950, a topic covered in his 1994 novel, Meeting With my Brother (English translation 2002) about a young South Korean travelling to China to meet his half-brother and learn of the father who defected and abandoned him at age 2? That would certainly add a level or two. You can read a review of this book (“The meeting between half-brothers allows for a form of reconciliation, but the chasm between them remains great, mirroring the continued North-South divide. Unification, and the possible costs and dangers, both personal and economic, are repeatedly discussed”) at Complete Review– and I’m given to understand it’s available in the UK, but I’m not sure where. Anyone who knows, give a holler!

And then on top of that, consider that translator, Heinz Insu Fenkl, born in 1960 of a South Korean mother and a German-American army officer who moved him to the US and then to Germany, is now is a SUNY-New Paltz professor specializing in Korean folk tales after writing his own story, “Memories of my Ghost Brother”.

And that this ran in the issue of The New Yorker that was available on 9/11/2011.

I’m not sure what any of that specifically has to do with the story of the teacher and Ggaecheol, but it’s enough to make my head explode just trying to absorb the information.

Not bad for a translation – or, a very sophisticated transliteration, if you prefer – of a modern folk tale. And a full humanities course if we just follow the leads.

Project Runway Season 9 Episode 8: “What Women Want”

Large singing (bowl and) mallet. Because I couldn't find a large and stinging mallet.

Tonight: Project Runway, the Comedy. I had fun. It’s all about boobs. Who likes ‘em, who thinks women should be mastectomized so they fit better into his designs – and who is stupid enough to actually say what s/he’s thinking on video tape. Best line of the night: Tim’s “It would be different if… you weren’t firm.” Either that or his “I’m playing the role of a large and stinging mallet.” I just can’t decide.

Prelude

Bryce feels bad he hasn’t won, he wants to prove people wrong. Poor Bryce. Joshua is exhausted mentally and emotionally (of course he is, creating chaos takes a lot of energy) but today he’s in a better place.
Anya notes there’s a “thickening of the air” with so many people gone, but it’s kind of fun, there’s a sense of camaraderie. Really? What show is she on? Laura thinks she, Anya and Kimberly are the right last three girls.

The Challenge:

Heidi walks out on the runway carrying the Evil Velvet Bag! She brings out “your new clients,” all men. And not all young, fit men, either. Time for a freak-out! Anthony Ryan doesn’t know how to do menswear. Joshua has done menswear, so he’s not intimidated by that, but he is intimidated by the waistlines he sees on the men – because it means more fabric. Yeah, right. Laura thinks some of them are ok, some are going to be a challenge. Anya is so glad she has immunity, because she’s never done menswear. That’s ok, Anya, you’ve never done pants and you did them, you’ve never sewn silk and you did that, you never did this or that and you do it all perfectly, so shut up because no one believes you anymore. As the winner of the last challenge, Anya gets to pick her client first, and she interviews she picked the most slender man. Of course. She’s probably worried about fabric, too. [eta: I've seen a lot of ooutrage aimed at various designers for their focus on thin, but no one is bothered by this comment of Anya's. Well, I am.] Olivier interviews, “We’re left with all these fat people, and fat is fine but not when we’re making clothes.” Here’s where I start to giggle. Because sometimes it’s just so ridiculous, it’s beyond outrage.

They go back to the workroom where Tim gives them the good news: they will be making clothes for the wives and girlfriends. The men will provide information about what kind of look they want, or their wives would want, so we’ll all find out how well the men know their women. But, as Tim points out, no matter how well they know their women, they may not know their sizes, so that info will be provided. The women will serve as models. They have two days. Bert interviews it’s been his experience with some men that they don’t have a clue about fashion. I think that’s probably pretty accurate. Laura hopes her client’s wife is a golddigger. I guess that would mean she’ll be thin?

The designers consult with their clients. The hilarity starts. Viktor asks his client, “If she went shopping, what store would she go to?” (which is a pretty good question) and the guy doesn’t know. Anya asks her client, “What color does she not like?” and the guy says, “That’s a good question…um…well, yeah, that’s a good question… uh…” Anya interviews most men don’t know how to describe color, style and shape. Oh, come on, they may not know a cap sleeve from a peplum, but surely they can tell you if their wife wears bright colors or a lot of black, can’t they? Not this guy.

Joshua asks, what does she think about lace? He’s worried because his client says to keep it simple, and Josh doesn’t do simple. He interviews: “It’ll be good for me to do it, so simple box, here I am!” Bryce‘s client gives him all kinds of words to describe his wife’s style – cutesy, elegant, girly. What seems to stick is that she likes pink. And love. Bryce gets teary; the guy loves his wife, so Bryce is going to make it all about love, though that isn’t something he does a lot. Bryce loves his boyfriend. He wants to share about his boyfriend with his clients, but he doesn’t because he’ll cry. Poor Bryce.

Anthony Ryan is asking his client, “Candy apple red or a deeper red?” Now that’s probably going beyond the level of comfort. Turns out the guy wants to replace his wife’s favorite dress, which he lost. Lost her dress? How did he lose her dress? Something about a bag, I don’t know if that means luggage or a paper bag. No, I don’t care any more. I want to go back to the distinction between candy apple and deeper red. Laura‘s client tells her, “Picture you, a little darker, a little taller and a little bustier.” Sounds like a golddigger to me.

And now for the stars of our show, the Boobsie Twins. Bert‘s client, Anthony, can’t stop talking about his wife’s breasts. “Basically she’s a hot piece of tushy.” Yes, he says that about his wife, on national television. He wants to show off her cleavage. He fell in love with her boobs first, he saw them hanging out, she’s hot, sometimes he motorboats them. And he motorboats the mannequin, just to show us how. “It’s like the Cookie Monster, except it’s the Boobie Monster,” he says. “She knew what she was getting into when she married me.” Ok… but I bet she didn’t know you were gonna do this on TV. For that matter, did you stop to think your friends, your boss, your kids’ teachers, your mother – her mother – are all going to be seeing this? I’m thinking he’s auditioning for “The Real Husbands of the Real Housewives of Who Cares.”

And, saving the best for last, Olivier. He doesn’t like women having boobs. They should be flat so they can wear his designs. No, I am not making this up! Wait – didn’t he ask his model to pad her bra several episodes ago? In Mood, he and his client have the conversation about breasts we’ve been hearing in promos where he asks if they’re ginormous. The client-husband tells him they’re double-D. Hey, I thought these guys didn’t know sizes. I guess they know the sizes that are important to them. Shoes, who cares, but bras are a different matter. Olivier asks Tim if he knows about cup size. “I don’t have any personal experience with it,” says Tim in that bemused-but-dignified way only he can pull off. A lady at the Mood counter tells Olivier it’s a bigger cup size. I’m stunned that a fashion designer has no knowledge of bra sizes. He interviews, “Those boobs to me are trouble.” He’s losing English more and more as time goes on, isn’t he? Does he actually speak another language, or is it just a general deterioration brought on by a proximity to mammary glands?

The men go shopping with the designers and come back to the workroom with them. The women will be in later for a fitting. Kimberly explains how they use style lines on the mannequins, those narrow tape things, thank you, Kimberly! I’ve watched 9 seasons of PR and I’ve never really understood that, if it was something to do with patternmaking or measuring or what, turns out it’s just a way to see what the lines of the thing will look like.

The women arrive.

Olivier is not happy about working with a client. I think Olivier sees designing as locking himself in a room and putting finished garments under his pillow and the Fashion Fairy takes them and leaves him a lot of money and the date it will be walking the Red Carpet and on whom. I don’t know much about the fashion industry, but it’s my impression that one does have to work with actual, you know, people. His lady doesn’t like the material he chose. She complains her husband always wants her to wear yellow. Olivier interviews they’re both so nice, but he’s confused, they take so much energy, he wants them to be quiet. At one point she asks her husband, “Does he understand what I just said?” Lady, he was born in Ohio. Yeah, I know, I don’t believe it anymore, either. I don’t believe anyone on this show any more. Except Tim. I always believe Tim. If he ever lies, my universe will collapse. She wants a bell sleeve, and he tells her that’s old fashioned and he doesn’t recommend it, which is the right thing to say, actually. But he interviews he just wants people to wear what he designs and not make him compromise his POV. I know writers like this. It’s mean to laugh at someone in distress, but I can’t help it, it’s hilarious. Does Olivier actually work as a designer? How does that work, exactly?

Victor‘s guy is playing with a pizza cutter. Bert‘s guy is doing more boob madness. His wife nixes her husband’s original idea of a bandeau top and baby doll skirt, and picks Bert’s v-neck design. “She crushed my hopes and dreams,” says husband, who was maybe going to motorboat her right on the runway. I am having so much fun, I can’t stand it. It’s like last week was worth it to get to this.

Laura‘s lady likes the color, and insists she’s not high fashion. She had 16 siblings and never wanted to be a Barbie growing up, and now she can be a Barbie. Looks like the golddigger miracle happened. Laura interviews she dresses a lot of Barbie women since they’re the ones who have the money to pay for the clothes; and she wonders, “How did he snag her?” which no doubt pleased the couple and their family and friends when they all sat down together to watch the episode air. Personally, I wonder how she snagged anyone; she looks like she’s been rode hard and put away wet, metaphorically speaking. Anya describes a wrap dress in silk to her lady, and tells us again how challenging it is to sew with silk; funny, most other designers does it pretty much every week.

Victor is making a skirt that looks just like the skirt his lady is wearing, so he’s glad he’s on the right track. Anthony Ryan‘s lady starts to tell him about the dress that got lost at the airport and he leans towards her, glares at her husband, and says, “We’ve already talked about that.” I’m liking Anthony Ryan more and more. Don’t like his glasses, though. I can’t believe glasses have become a fashion statement. All that time I spent stumbling over things in junior high because I wouldn’t wear mine.

Kimberly‘s lady loves the top she’s made. Joshua has metal plated shapes (I don’t know what that is, but he’s got ‘em), but his lady doesn’t want them, they’re too showy. Remember the simple box, Joshua? He interviews, “When he said simple, I didn’t know he meant simple.”

Bryce is worrying about pink. He doesn’t like the pink fabric he got, so he’s going to dye it pink. Fuschia, after consulting with Anya who never dyed anything before (oh, I left that out of the list earlier) but now is offering consults. It turns out bright pink, and Bryce worries about the dress being too bright. Poor Bryce. Laura tells him it’s really bright, and Viktor interviews it’s “the color of anti-diarrhea medicine” and makes him want to go to the bathroom really really bad. I can just see that interview:
Viktor: It’s Pepto-Bismol pink…
Producer: No, you can’t use the product name.
Viktor: But that’s what color it is.
Producer: Call it “anti-diarrhea medicine.”
Viktor: Who says “anti-diarrhea medicine?”
Producer: You do, unless they pay us for product placement.

It’s the price of fame, Viktor.

The next day Tim does his walkthrough.

He thinks Viktor‘s look is adorable: “I could believe you came in off the street dressed like that,” he says to the woman wearing Viktor’s mostly-completed outfit. How is that a good thing in a design competition? He looks worried about Anya‘s look, especially the proportion with the sleeve; Anya says it was cut wrong so it needs to be cleaned up. See how she did that? It was cut wrong, not “I made a mistake.” And I wonder if she knew it needed to be cleaned up before Tim commented on it. But I have an attitude towards Anya. Can you tell? Bert shows him the simple, modern, unadorned look, and Tim asks the lady if she’s sold on the depth of cleavage; she is. We already know her husband is. I have to hand it to Bert, he dealt with his clients extremely well, especially considering the guy was motorboating his mannequin.

Tim is concerned about Olivier, the yellow and blue look crayony, and he suggests a different fabric for the top. He warns Olivier he often has time management issues and the guy says, “Yeah, you were going slow yesterday” and Olivier looks at him like he’s going to kill him. No, actually, he doesn’t, he just stares, but you know it’s in his heart.

Tim tells Laura she’s doing the Full Tilt Barbie, which she admits she is. Bryce is worried about his pink dress; Tim tells him the pink looks great on the woman. I think it looks like his horrible Nina dress, with that stupid center panel he’s so fond of. Bryce scraps it and starts an all-pink dress. Poor Bryce. Kimberly is nervous when he looks silently at her look. Tim is impressed with Josh for editing himself, and tells the couple his stuff is usually just shy of a float in a parade. Josh tells the woman she doesn’t need to wear a bra, and Tim agrees: “You don’t. It would be different if… you weren’t firm.” The husband interviews he’s happy Tim thinks his wife has nice breasts. She elbows him. He corrects himself: “Firm, sorry.” I’m surprised he doesn’t have a t-shirt: “Tim Gunn likes my wife’s breasts.” And we end the day with Olivier: “This f#*@ing dress.” Good thing Josh didn’t overhear him. My stomach hurts from laughing for the past 45 minutes.

On Runway Day, they scramble for a couple of hours. Olivier‘s lady now doesn’t like the crack up her ass, as her husband charmingly puts it. Olivier is stressed out having to deal with these stupid things, he wants a non-speaking person who will just do her job. He tries to explain to them, it’s a competition. They still have this foolish idea that they’re the clients. I have to hand it to Olivier, he gets mad very quietly.

Tim announces the ladies will all receive some jewelry from you-know-who. Maybe it’s the unsold stock from Gretchen’s collection. Tim is having the usual difficulty getting everyone to move to the runway: “We’re going to the runway, today I’m playing the role of a large and stinging mallet.” Maybe it’s a large and singing mallet. Or mallard. None of them make any sense to me. Is this a line from a movie or something? What the hell is a large and stinging mallet? Tim, this is your go-to image? Just what kind of bad decisions have you been making at 3am lately?

The Runway and Interrogation:

The men get to watch their wives model their new garments. Malin Akerman is the guest judge. I don’t think I’ve recognized a guest judge all season. Either I need to get out more, or they’re down to the D-list. I suspect the former.

Anya: Top three – A Japanese and African kimono, one-sleeved, black and white print, with semi-obi and rope belt. MK thinks it’s fabulous, memorable, and likes the culture clash. Heidi appreciates that it’s something she hasn’t seen ten times, it’s unusual, and she likes short and long and use of different fabrics. Nina is dubious about the sleeve, it overwhelms her, and her arms are cut, why hide them? The client says she wanted to hide them, leading to jokes about her having one good arm. Malin would wear it on red carpet, sleeve and all, it’s a bold statement, classy. I think the sleeve is too long and it looks like the washing machine ate half of it, but I admit I have no fashion sense. I still say in any other season she would’ve been laughed off by now. She’s really gotten a lot of mileage out of this whole “I’ve never sewn X before.” Still love her hair, though.
Viktor: Top three – a grey pleated skirt with a wide deep-yellow hem border, sheer blue blouse with short sleeves. He wanted to push the envelope since she’s an attorney. I think the skirt is way too tight, it’s pulling across her hips and the pleats are popping. Heidi loves it. Malin loves the lines and the accentuated waist. MK thinks it’s overaccessorized, but spot on. Nina calls it charming, but too accessorized. even though the custom bag is adorable. It’s not too girly, just right. The client says he listened really well; originally it had long sleeves, and she asked for short sleeves, and he executed it exactly. I think the cut of the sleeve is a little odd, it looks like they’re riding up. But what do I know. MK says a long sleeve wouldn’t have worked, so the lesson is, listen to your customer. Except when the judges tell you that you are the designer and you’re supposed to talk your customer into what you want, but they all have a memory of microseconds on this show. And forgive me, but isn’t this look kind of grade-school?
Josh: Top three – a really nice little black dress with a sheer overlay half-circle skirt and a very nice lace neckline (the bodice is square, the lace neckline is round, it’s cool) and the squared back cut down to the waist, very similar to the squared backs Team Chaos won with last week. He worries it’s too simple. He tells the judges it was hard fo him to keep it simple. Heidi is shocked he didn’t bedazzle her. There’s a thing where she seems to be pushing the client towards a runway proposal, but they’re not going there. Josh says, “There’s more to me than bedazzling.” Yeah, like metal plated shapes your client nixed. Malin says it’s a great dress, with nice lace. Heidi calls it elegant. MK tells the woman she’s a modern Grace Kelly, and he loves that Josh pushed her into wearing a turquoise shoe to give it a real personality, because you see you have to listen to your client and push them into things (see what I mean about the microsecond memory?). Nina loves the accentuated beautiful waist, it’s flirty. It is nice. But – it’s a little black dress! It’s nice that Josh didn’t put spangles and neon all over it, but – it’s a little black dress! Have we sunk this low?
Laura: Safe – teal one-shoulder flowy dress with asymmetrical hem. It’s about an inch too low across the boobs. She’s not pleased at being only safe.
Kimberly: Safe – grey print skirt, purple one shouldered blouse with ruffled neckline and a wide band at the waist. Kimberly is happy, she thinks the fit is immaculate. And, let’s be honest, she fit a truly epic bootie.
Olivier: Safe – I’m so disappointed, I wanted to listen to him babble about evil breasts on the runway. For all the drama, it’s nothing spectacular – a cream one shoulder top with that odd darting pleating seaming asymmetrical thing he likes, navy pants. In fact… it kind of looks like a one-shoulder version of Kimberly’s winning Nina look, without the gold. He’s very happy with it, she looks good, he loves the colors and the fit. Even with the boobs and the round ass.
Anthony Ryan: Bottom three – It’s the Miramar Patriots cheerleader uniform from my old high school! Red, white and black, instead of blue, but it is the same thing. V-neck sleeveless top that looks like a sweater vest in black with red at the neckline, a street length red skirt, and white belt. Anthony Ryan wishes there was more of him in it. I wish there was less Cheerios. He presents it as retro, vintage, fun. The husband explains about the lost dress. Malin says it’s like a cheerleader outfit or a cigarette girl. Wow, she must’ve been watching old movies for that reference. Heidi thinks she looks like an old lady going to lunch or to play bingo. I want to know what kind of old ladies these people are hanging around, because I’ve never seen an old lady wearing anything like that. The woman defends it by saying she loves vintage and retro. Heidi says it needs sex appeal. Nina complains about the white belt, it looks boxy. MK says it looks like a superhero ice skater. Weak, Michael. Malin won that round of put-downs easily. I feel sorry for the woman who was so happy to get a replica of her lost favorite dress. Maybe now she’s glad it was lost.
Bert: Bottom three – What do you make for a woman whose husband is obsessed with cleavage? A very low v-neck in a black and grey print with the top vertical and the skirt horizontal. Bert thinks she looks awesome, and the husband loves it. Bert says this is the design she picked when he offered several. He explains (a little) about the breasts. Heidi understands, ba-da-bing. His client loves the look. MK says it’s made beautifully, cut well, but it looks like a dress you could buy in a million stores. Very safe, fits beautifully, but this is PR. That makes me laugh. Malin says it’s a nice dress, but she’s seen it before. Is she just repeating what the others say? Nina thinks it’s a little tight, short, and shiny, just too much, it should be a few inches longer, but the client says no, she likes it short. Heidi laughs and says she has that problem too. MK points out Heidi isn’t wearing a skirt (and it’s true, the way she’s sitting, no skirt is visible) but he loves her anyway.
Bryce: Bottom three – it’s pink. Pinkpinkpink. Sleeveless dress with very low pockets, a sweatshirt band on the hem of the skirt, and some banding across the top and bottom of the bare back. He says the husband stressed the color, so he gave her pink with structured tailoring. His idea of structured tailoring isn’t my idea of structured tailoring. It doesn’t fit. His client thinks it’s great for a wedding she’s going to, she can put her keys and cell phone in the pockets. The husband loves the back and her legs. Nina says it has too many details: pockets, edge on hem, lines on back, belt, she’s swallowed up by all the details, the dress is wearing her. Bryce can see that. Well, then what did you do it that way for?!? Malin loves the pockets and likes the color, but doesn’t like the fit, it’s gaping in the back. Heidi likes the color but that’s it, the pockets are ginormous, does she really want to wear all that stuff on her thighs? MK delivers his promo line about being at the buffet and slipping a lamb chop in one pocket and a beer bottle in the other. I don’t know what kind of buffets MK goes to, but where I come from, people don’t do that, no matter how big their pockets are. Also, the tailoring is off, and the seams are puckered. I don’t think it’s that bad, design-wise; the color annoys me, but I hate pink. And the fit is wonky. But I like the pockets, if they were sewn correctly to lie flat, and the band at the hem. What I don’t like is Bryce’s tie. He’s going for the loosened-tie look, but there’s a glued-on quality to it. Maybe it’s pinned at the knot. About a decade ago, a figure skater portraying Frank Sinatra (I think) had a loosened tie sewn to his shirt. It didn’t work then, it doesn’t work now. Bryce is just not Rat-Pack material. Poor Bryce.

The Little Chat:

Bert: Heidi says she looked great in it. Nina says it’s something different. This doesn’t sound like a bottom tier dress. It wasn’t all that, guys, it was trashy, meh at best. Heidi asks MK, do you think Bert is boring? MK, oh yeah, B for boring. You could go to mall and buy that dress. That’s the kiss of death right there, the dreaded mall. Malin calls it a dress you see on girls at discos. Discos? There are still discos? She’s nowhere near old enough to have been in discos in the 70s. They end with: it was fine. Bert’s on borrowed time here.
Bryce: Heidi says he turned her into such an old lady (I think she mixed up her insults here, this wasn’t the old lady dress; maybe I mixed up my notes, I’ll have to see on repeat), though the color pink saved her. This is interesting, considering Bryce was most worried about the color. Malin thinks it looks like a size 6 woman wearing a size 8 dress. You know, that’s exactly it. MK is glad there’s finally a dress to make a woman’s thighs look bigger. “He made a cocktail dress out of a handiwipe.” Handiwipe? MK’s never seen a handiwipe, has he? You guys need better snark lines. Or better yet, if you don’t have something clever to say, just shut up. It isn’t like you’re required to have a clever put-down for every outfit.
Anthony Ryan: MK goes through the cheerleader-sailor-child uniform routine. One image is sufficient, thank you. Heidi thinks she’s going to an old folks home to visit her grandmother. You know, people do that, Heidi, is that something that’s against the rules in fashionistaland? I’m so tired of all the bullshit insults about malls and visiting grandma and going to church, people who aren’t supermodels do these things, the people who watch your stupid torn-apart-at-the-seams show, the show you ruined, they do these things. Oh, dear, and here I was having so much fun, and now I’m cranky. Bring back Olivier and frighten him with some boobs. That’ll cheer me up.
Josh: Nina praises his editing and the splash of color in shoes; it highlighted her tiny waist and nice back. MK goes on about listening to a client, and pushing them a little, like with the shoes. He pretends those aren’t two opposite things.
Anya: MK says it was the most runway, most capital-F Fashion. Malin thinks the sleeve added the extra little bit. Heidi liked the border all around. MK remembers hearing for years about designers claiming their models were going to gallery openings, and here it is, something that actually would be worn to a gallery opening. I don’t remember that many gallery opening. I remember two, in fact: One by Santino, and one other one, someone was a gallery owner, maybe the recycled paper brioche girl whose PR stint was tragically cut short by a Gumby model? Heidi likes that Anya always has a pov, and brings new and unusual silhouettes. To tell the truth, I was confused when I saw Anya on the runway, because I knew she had immunity so why would they call her out? It never occurred to me she was in the top three.
Victor: MK likes that he did separates, and it’s a nice silhouette. Wait, does no one else think the skirt is way too tight? Nina loves the look. MK says he had an advantage, he had most fashion obsessed couple. Heidi wishes he’d skipped the bag and glasses, though bag was cute and he made it. That’s why he didn’t skip it, Heidi.

This was fun until they started talking about these meh looks as though they’re perfection. Face it, guys, no one with real creative talent wants to be the new Piperlime-Lifetime-MarieClaire Product Placement Project Runway. And you’re stuck with all this dreckitude (oops, sorry, different show…) trying to pretend it’s divine.

The Verdict

Joshua wins. I’m very surprised. I was sure it was Anya – she wouldn’t have been my choice, obviously, since I was sure she was in the bottom, but I imagine a lot of people will be complaining about this decision. Josh is happy he has two wins. He does a handspring behind the screen. I suspect America held its breath hoping he broke his neck. Anya, of course, applauds him enthusiastically. I want to rip her face off. It’s this contrary thing I have, I guess. Back in the lounge, he has Anya feel his heart (he’s been wearing his shirt unbuttoned all day) and grabs her hand and places it on his bare chest. She’s perfectly cooperative. They train those beauty queens to handle anything, you know? He tries to do the same thing with Olivier, and gets shooed away. Olivier’s even afraid of Josh’s boobs.
Heidi reminds Bert to step it up, he’s going too simple. Which is funny since simple just won.
It’s down to Bryce and Anthony Ryan. For a terrible moment I was worried. I mean, they could do that, just to screw with everyone; I believe they are that self-destructive. But Bryce is out. Poor Bryce. But I swear, if it’d been Anthony Ryan, I would’ve thrown something at my TV.

Bryce and his pinned-on loosened tie go home. Tim points out, “You’ve been here for a good long haul,” in a tone that wonders how he did that on so little ability. He’s the Angela of this season. He says he’s going to lock himself in his room and listen to Lady Gaga and sketch until he has a genius collection. Good luck with that. Poor Bryce.

Next week, we have another team challenge, because they’re so much fun. This time it looks like they actually do have to make menswear, for a band. A rock band, not a marching band, which is too bad because Anthony Ryan would have the majorette look already made. Scene to watch for:
Tim: It draws your eye to the crotch.
Joshua: You don’t like that?
I have a feeling those lines are edited to go together. But there’s still the crotchless jeans, reggae Jesus, and Adam Lambert. Does it make me a fag hag if I’m really happy Adam Lambert will be guest judging?

The Second Person Study, Part 16: Three Stories from Wild Life by Kathy Fish

Raffael, "Child with Bird"

Hello, I am Zin! Matter Press (obsessed with compression) recently published this book as their first collection of flash, and it is wonderful! Out of more than 30 terrific flashes, four are second person – and I am very excited about them, they are wonderful examples of what I have been studying! I will cover three of them here:

The Cartoonist originally published in elimae, December 2007
The story begins with observation, which becomes more and more creative: from the rather ordinary “Your father’s bald head bent over his food” to “Your mother, looking wearing, bags – actual pieces of luggage – under her eyes, parked on her cheekbones.” This gives the sense that the “you” is actually seeing pieces of luggage under her eyes! Then, in the first complete sentences of the story, action: the bird flies in, Mom reacts. Then the first imperative: “Furrow her brow” and I think this is the first indication of the cartoonist living inside the head of the “you“. The story returns to creative observation: “Your father’s words: sit down you lunatic in a bubble over the steamed peas” – again, it feels like this is what the “you is seeing! And the big brother, ominous, is introduced. The piece closes with another imperative: “Draw him smaller than everything else.”

What is really amazing about this: in the original version at elimae, the imperatives were not there! The last line was “Smaller than everything and everyone else” and the “Furrow her brow” line was skipped entirely! Originally, it was observation only. The rewritten lines create a character – the cartoonist inside the head of the “you” directing! A wonderful tweak!

On the story level, this is Thurber gone dark: a miserable family and the “you” has figured out how to cope with it. Mom is tired, Dad is aloof, eating, yelling, calling Mom a lunatic! The whole family just speaks to get food! Baby bro, banging a spoon, ignored. Big bro is threatening – that is what the description “slumped” and “narrowed eyes” and “in the shadows” conveys to me – so the cartoonist tells the ‘you” to draw him smaller than anyone else – to minimize the danger? To minimize his existence in the family? Or both? The action – the bird – is secondary to the family setting and the way the “you” (who could be male or female, and pretty much any young age) is directed by the cartoonist in his/her head – an extension of him/herself! And the bird is a crow, not a sparrow or a pigeon or a jay, but a symbol of death!

I adore this story! I adore the added imperatives, and the progression of observation!

Summer Job originally published in Spork, issue 6.1
This is the country version of “Orientation” – the new employee is a farm hand, detasseling corn! She is told who to watch out for and what not to do, in an imperative voice, with perhaps more danger! I am also reminded of what Monika Fludernik said about dramatic monologue telling a story without the narrator actually telling the story.

Sweep originally published in Spork, issue 6.1
Another flash I adore! It is in the form of self-address, which I have not encountered yet in this study! It seems like another imperative, like “Summer Job” above, but it quickly becomes evident the protagonist is giving the commands to herself. While it is self-address, but like a dramatic monologue, it tells a story without telling a story! At first, I thought she was sweeping to keep herself from dwelling on a romance that ended, or never began, an unrequited yearning that she is talking herself out of, with the last line showing a truly sad self-loathing! She is using the creation of physical pain to distract from emotional pain, doing a kind of grounding exercise (using all the senses to stay in the here-and-now). Then I realized – feathers – parakeet – why are the feathers on the porch? Feathers are not like leaves, they do not just appear on porches in sufficient quantity to sweep! Did the man leave and take his parakeet with him, trailing feathers from the cage? Or… did she massacre the parakeet… and the man? And the last line is a justification? I am not sure!

This would not be anywhere near as effective in first or third person! And again, there was a change from the original published version: “That man” of the last sentence became “The man.” I am not sure of the significance of this, but “that man” makes him seem more distant, almost an abstraction (“what am I going to do with that man?”), while “the man” could be inside with his parakeet, rotting away….

The Second Person Study, Part 15: “You” by Joyce Carol Oates

YOU! Who?

This story does some fascinating things with second person; Monika Fludernik analyzes it in the third part of her treatise “Second Person Fiction: Narrative You as addressee and/or protagonist.”

One of the coolest points she makes is that the story “illustrates the excellent suitability of second person fiction for the expression and description of intimacy.” It is a superb way of telling this story of mother and daughter, since it is capable of increasing the intimacy between reader and narrator (by “even if only initially, seeming to involve the actual reader in her role as a potential addressee”) and of increasing and decreasing the intimacy between narrator and protagonist:

Since address combines a distancing factor (foregrounding the non-identity of the I and You) with the presupposition of an acquaintance with the person thus addressed, it proves to be a fictional mode adaptable to detailing the jig-saw structure of the mother-daughter relationship. As feminist studies have revealed in detail, that relation alternates between dominant intimacy and the continual struggle on the daughter’s part for liberation from the boundedness of that very intimacy.

I personally feel there is also a great deal of accusatory tone here, that teen-age scorn done with finesse, and this is possible without spelling it out by use of second person, as the daughter relates what mother is doing while daughter is trying to find her lost sister. It is quite remarkable.

The story starts with one “you” protagonist: “You are leaving the airplane…. You hate mornings – anger rises in you, bubbling like something sour in your throat – but you grin into the morning because someone is approaching you, shouting a magic word. Your name.” Wow, the egotism! We learn “You” is Madeline Randall, B-list actress, met at the airport by her agent and a friend who fetch her luggage and discuss the part she is about to film: “But that part is exactly you,” her agent tells her. ” The new you. It could have been written exactly for you!” At the motel (“the odor of chlorine and bug spray” – this is not the Beverly Hills Hotel) someone asks if she is Madeline Randall. Her identity is the focus of so much of the opening, and we keep reading along, learning who “you” is without ever getting a clue of who this person is.

The scene continues to play. “You” works on the part, goes to dinner, and threatens to go back to New York – “It’s my daughter….there’s trouble with my daughter.”

It strikes you that this is an important scene, an emotional scene. People are watching you anxiously. You might be in a play. Not one of those crappy television plays, like the kind you have flown out here to film (you’ll do five tapes and make thousands of dollars, thousands!) but a real play, like Chekhov, like… like Chekhov, where people do cry out at each other and hold up their shaking hands, pleading.

Yes, this is a scene in an important life, your own.

But they need you to be you, so you prove your worth with pushups and get ready for dinner. And here, it’s casually dropped in, the first “I” – four pages into the story! There is an “I” in this story! It is not a reflector narrator at all, it is the “homocommunicative address mode” Monika has outlined, the “person-and-a-half” as I call it. Aha! This changes the narrative – four pages into the story!
We do not know who this “I” is yet. We return to “You” for a paragraph and learn “You” “like to set traps but don’t like to clean up after them. As a matter of fact, you never clean up after anything!”

And then in the next paragraph, nearly a page after the first ‘I” is dropped, we find out who that is:

Now they are herding you to the elevator and now I am walking through the rooms of our apartment in New York, my head pounding – now they are herding you out to a taxi , fussing over you, admiring you, and now I am dialing the telephone again.

This juxtaposes “You” – in the lap of luxury – with “I“, in distress, though we do not yet know the nature of that distress. But the scorn comes through loud and clear. Yes, while I am here taking care of what must be taken care of – cleaning up – you are off partying! This reversal of parent and child roles (it is usually the child who is having fun while the parent takes care of things) adds to the effect, I think! It is quite wonderful!

After a page of this, we learn more of what is actually happening right now – twin sister/daughter Miranda is missing. We do not know what the urgency of this is. But we realize it is more than just a girl who forgot to tell anyone she had a sleepover with a friend.

We then learn about the night before; we get more of an idea what is actually happening here when “You” tells Miranda: “I have renounced that man! I have discarded him! If you persist in seeing him I will discard you! If you persist in refusing to see the doctor I am finished, finished, finished with you!”

At this point, I thought I could not be getting it right. I thought, Miranda is pregnant by a man Mom-Madeline used to date. But, wait, would not Madeline be outraged at the man, not at Miranda? Would she not have stayed in New York? Is that not what anyone would do in that crazy situation? So I must be wrong… but I was not wrong. I will not go into the rest of the story, only to say this wonderful use of second person continues right up until the last scene, the last paragraph, the last sentence.

I think the power of this story comes from that “what the hell” feeling, the slow reveal of information that includes a really shocking situation (or am I too easily shocked?) along with the juxtaposition of “You” and “I” as mentioned above – what mother and daughter/sister are doing about the girl who goes missing after this argument over this truly abhorrent mess. And I think the use of second person is the perfect way of telling this story. And of course the title – perfect! The narcissism of Madeline, her constant performing, the accusatory “YOU!” It sums it all up in three letters.

However… I will tread into a region that I still do not understand, and that I am not sure I need to understand right now to appreciate second person. We get everything through the POV of Marion. Is Marion reliable? There is no reason to think otherwise, but even a reliable, reasonable daughter can exaggerate and blow Mom out of all proportion (who has not said, or heard, “I hate you” or “I never want to see you again”?). Was Madeline truly thinking so egocentrically? Did she really drop the “trouble with my daughter” angle as soon as it failed to yield drama, as depicted? Still, the conversation (“finished!”) was apparently real. I am inclined to believe Marion. But is the story more about Marion, about her view of Madeline, than it is about Madeline? Madeline is clearly the villain, but is that because Madeline is the villain, or because Marion sees her as the villain? What is real, and what is Marion? If I tell you a story about how my great-grandfather beat me, then you discover it was all something I made up (which would have to be the case, since all my great-grandfathers died before I was born), would that be a story about my great-grandfather, or a story about me?

As part of her view of the story as “a superb example of what one may consider to be the postmodernist tendency to subvert the realistic, representational mode,” (sheesh, do they not teach tight prose in Austria?) Monika says:

…the story in fact allows one to observe the naturallistically and narratologically ‘impossible’ combination of voyeuristic omniscience (seeing into and knowing the minds both of the actress/mother Madeline and that of the fictional “I“, the daughter Marion) with no realistically recuperable teller or reflector agent who might view events unfold….important almost epistemological questions remain unanswered. Are we getting Marion’s view of her mother’s psyche, or a ‘real’ figural mode presentation of it?

This leap into pure narratology and discourse analysis is beyond me, and I would love to study it further. Some day, I may! You may find a “Narratology for Dummies” section here! But for now, I will just appreciate that there is the impossibility that Marion can factually relate what Madeline is doing, and that is part of the intriguing magic of this story. It is like thinking about infinity plus one!

I am shocked at how good this story is – and very surprised, and perplexed, that I have not run into any mention of this story in the course of my study until now! Monika, I forgive you for all your insane nomenclature and twisted syntax, for you led me here! It is extraordinary, not only as a story but as a use of second person – two modes of second person! – to add to the story of the relationship! This should be at the top of every second-person-story list! And I am not even a big Joyce Carol Oates fan – but this story could have made me one, if some one had suggested I read it instead of shoving “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” down my throat over and over again!

PEN/O.Henry 2011 – Lori Ostlund, “Bed Death” originally from The Kenyon Review

Mr. Mani regarded us for a moment. “Well,” he said at last, “with love, there are always two: there is the snake who devours, and there is the one who cooperates by placing his head inside the snake’s mouth.”

I had no idea where this story was going, but I was very happy to meander along with it. In fact, when I realized where it was going, I was disappointed: the journey – and the interesting people I met along the way – was so much better than the destination: another Bad Romance in an Exotic Location story.

Then I read the Contributors’ Notes. And I read the story again. And I changed my mind: everything in the story does, indeed, lead to the end. And on first read, I overlooked it – just like Julia overlooked the big bed in the lobby of the school.

But then I went back to my initial view. It is, after all, a Bad Romance in an Exotic Location story. No, it’s more than that. No, it isn’t – I can’t make up my mind.

Initially I was struck by all the dualism (how ironic). Two very different women (I’ll admit, I thought the first-person narrator was a guy at first). Two very different schools. Two very different beds. Two very different places to live (three, actually, but the first two can be lumped together to fit the pattern; that’s how sophistry works, people). Two very different doors to the closet. Two glasses of orange juice.

The details, the small events (you can read an excerpt of the first few paragraphs on Ostlund’s website), are spellbinding. I’m not surprised a lot of that detail is taken from real life; Ostlund spent time teaching English in Malaysia with her partner, and they lived in a hotel with a sick man lying on a cot in the hall, and in the Nine-Story Building. This alone makes it worth the read: even if it is a Bad Romance in an Exotic Location, it’s a terrifically engaging one. I’m reminded of a writing teacher who advised me to take all the flashbacks and back-story out of one of my short stories. “But it won’t make sense,” I said. “It doesn’t matter,” she told me. “Stay in scene, include all the sensory details, get the reader into the scene with you, and they won’t be able to put it down. Which would you rather write, a story that’s clever, or one that’s impossible to stop reading?” I’d like to do both, actually.

My one technical complaint about the story is a flashback (the navel sequence) that seems unnecessary and intrusive.

It wasn’t until I read Ostlund’s description of the narrator in the Contributor’s Notes – “how ill-equipped she was for the world, how fragile her relationship was, and how incapable she was of extending compassion to another lost soul” – that I saw these things outlined clearly in her attitude towards Mr. Mani and Shah and the wounded man on the chaise longue outside her door at their first hotel. Ostlund again sums it up perfectly in her notes: “this understanding – of the way that others’ pain or suffering can become a minor and curious backdrop for the drama of our own lives – became the framework of my story.” Maybe this is why I felt the unnamed narrator’s romance had little to do with the life she and her partner were leading: to the narrator, it really didn’t, she was shut off from her surroundings in a profound way.

Consider the title: “Bed death.” I was tickled to learn that’s an actual phrase coined by sociologist Pepper Schwartz (though I’m dubious about a sociologist named Pepper; I once had a therapist named Halcyon, and had trouble taking her seriously). I’m not sure why it’s applied only to lesbian couples. But the idea of the sexless relationship, void of libido (“desire” from the Latin libere, ‘to please’) matches the narrator’s relationship with other people in the story. She observes them, does not enter into any kind of human relationship with them, and is unable to feel compassion. Even for herself. Turning away from the teary Shah at the end of the story speaks volumes.

Now, there’s a lot to be said for “A story must stand on its own.” But not every reader can quite make the grade on that, so I’m glad to have a few hints when I haven’t quite looked beneath the surface; and when a story comes from a book that won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction (2008), I’m going to make the extra effort. I’m still reeling from the tremendous wealth of implication contained in a few sentences – any few sentences, pick one at random and a five-page treatise is possible – in Flannery O’Connor that I discovered during the “One Story at a Time” discussion at the Book Balloon (even though the clunky message board made the discussion hard to follow). And that’s part of what I’m doing here – learning to be a better reader, to consider, “Is there more to this than Breakup in an Exotic Location?”

In the end, I enjoyed the story tremendously, and I was completely engaged. I’m much closer to wanting to read her collection, The Bigness of the World, than I was when I read “All Boy.” That’s good enough for me. Even if it is a Bad Romance in an Exotic Location story.

The Second Person Study, Part 14: Wrestling with Monika Fludernik

Why are You doing this to Yourself?

I have been tormenting myself by trying to understand “Second Person Fiction: Narrative You as addressee and/or protagonist” by Monika Fludernik, professor of English literature and culture at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg, Germany (she is Austrian).

I can not make sense of huge passages in this paper! There is an entire vocabulary which sometimes has subtle gradations in meaning, and I am unable to decipher it: Histoirediscours – narrational enunciatory plane, – existential (not the philosophy) – actantial roles – metaleptic mode – covert narration – diectic center – phlogiston (no, I made that up, I actually know what phlogiston is, or rather what it is not but once was thought to be).

Is there a narratologist in the house? Hmmm… I did not think so.

So I will try anyway, and maybe along the way I will figure out some of these things.

In the three page introduction to the paper (which took me almost two hours to get through) Fludernik proposes she will do three things:

1. Outline the issues in fitting second person into narative paradigms, and setting up a typology. This is where I had the most trouble.

2. review the discourse types that generate or reflect models for writing or reading second peson texts. This was not so bad.

3. examine the short story “You” by Joyce Carol Oates (first published in Cosmopolitan in 1970 and included in her collection The Wheel of Love to examine the use of second person in fiction. I actually understand some of this! And it is a wonderful story!

First, Fludernik sets up her typology. They involve the function of address – and here I get confused because it seems to me “addressee” refers to the person doing the addressing, not the person being addressed, and that is where I get lost, I think! So I will not even try to parse it out. You can read it for yourself! If you understand it, please let me know! I seem to have particular trouble with who the “addressee” is – I am thinking the narrator is the “addressor” but maybe not! And I am having trouble with planes – narrational, existential, story, and enunciatory planes! I need to do more study!

Second, she lists natural discourse forms that allow for second person fiction to happen at all. One thing she talks about in the first section, that I find fascinating, is that it is very strange “the narrator to tell the addressee’s story” – and this would only happen in Real Life if the addressee had forgotten the events (“You let the dog out an hour ago), or if maybe the narrator wanted to relive them together (“Remember that time you went to the Cape for spring break? You thought it would be fun on the beach but you did not realize it would be so cold so you…).

But in the actual section where she discusses natural discourse, she gives four types of literary predecessors to second person fiction (all quotes):

Conversational storytelling: John Barth’s “Life Story,” B.S. Johnson’s “Aren’t You Rather Young To Be Writing Your Memoirs?”, Stephen Koch’s Night Watch, Hawthorne’s “Main Street.” Such a use of address does not intrinsically resemble second person fiction, but it helps to dangerously subvert the fiction/nonfiction boundary inducing the actual reader to, at least initially, feel addressed by the textual you.

Skaz narrative: A traditional mode of oral narrative in which a bard addresses the community…. Pseudo-oral literature such as Twain and Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone Days; Gogol’s “Overcoat.” And: Second person fiction utilizes this subversive potential for creating an unsettling effect – that of involving the actual reader of fiction, not only in the tale, but additionally in the world of fiction itself, and eerie effect that can be put to very strategic political use. This technique has been widely applied, for instance, in recent black women’s writing where it allows the fictional narrator both to evoke the familiar setting for the community-internal reader and to draw readers from different cultural backgrounds into the fictional world of the black community, thereby increasing potential empathy values and forcing an in-group consciousness on the (factually) out-group reader. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Sula, third person present tense sections of Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day.

Letter writing: In much second person fiction an address function is motivated realistically by an implicit or explicit letterwriting subtext. The reader, in her attempt to make sense of the situation of address, is led to interpret the address to an absent addressee in terms of an epistolary model. Alice Munro’s “Tell Me Yes Or No” is a good case in point.

Dramatic monologue: The dramatic monologue does not narrate, it is unmediated direct discourse. Yet the ‘point’ of dramatic monologue usually consists in the unwitting revelation of the speaker’s ignorance of (or worse, implication in) not entirely innocent fictional events. The raison d’etre of the dramatic monologue, lies precisely in the uncovering of a ‘story’ which the speaker does not tell but which her discourse reveals to the perceptive addressee. Browning’s “My Last Duchess” Hawkes’s novel Travesty – The text can be argued to be subversive both in terms of neat narratological distinctions and in terms of awarding the actual reader in her interpretive function a prime share in constituting narrative signification. [Note that Richardson specifically excludes Travesty from second-person status, which is why I use the term "person-and-a-half" and also another area of my confusion].

Then she gives four “non-literary antecedants” (again, all quotes)

The Instructions and Guide Book You: we all know this one! (this is not a quote!)

The Courthouse You: The rendering of the defendant’s or witnesses actions and thoughts in a reconstructed narration addressed to the defendant/witness with the aim of eliciting a confession (“you took her home…. You walked her to the door…. And then you killed her”)

The Generalizing You The most common departure point for second person fiction is the linguistic device of generalizing You: “when you have a cold, you feel really lousy”.

The Self-Address You When people in their private thoughts argue with themselves, assuming a dialogue between their egos and superegos…. one novel that makes more than a cursory use of self-address you, Lillian Smith’s Strange Fruit: ” Sometimes he felt what he believed the white folks were feeling. Or most of them. Something, you felt against your mind, against all you knew. Against all you believed. Yet, there it was… you’d always wanted to know a white girl. You knew their brothers, you’d played with them as kids, sometimes gone fishing. But you never knew a white girl.”

So from these roots come second person literature!

Third, she discusses the story “You” by Joyce Carol Oates. That deserves a post of its own! But some terminology became evident (I am writing like her!) in the first few paragraphs and I think this is it:

When Monika (after all she has put me through, I think we should be on a first-name basis!) refers to “reflectoral mode” I think that is the “You get up. You feel the need to hurry so you skip breakfast and run for the train” type of thing, such as in “Scordatura.” This means a pretty much invisible narrator, one who does not exist – let me see, this narrator is not in the existential plane, but is in the narrative plane. And the narrator can not be an actant in the story since he does not exist in the story! I hope I am using these terms right. I understand what I mean, but I would just say “invisible narrator” instead of planes! Or call it “standard second person” like Richardson does! I think Monika is a troublemaker. I think the “instruction manual” form of second person would be included here, since there is an “invisible narrator” who is not in the story. I would consider it a separate form – but I am not a narratologist!

Then there is “homocommunicative address mode”, which is what I have been calling “person-and-a-half” – the type of thing in “We Didn’t” or “Once in a Lifetime.” I do not think Richardson considers this an actual second person at all, but I could be wrong about that. It is in fact more of a blend of first and second person – “I held the door and you smiled as you walked past me” type thing. The you is an object as often as a subject! And the narrator/addressor, who is probably a protagonist – to use Mean Monika’s terms – shares the existential and narrative plane of the story with the addressee, who might also be a protagonist! The addressor/narrator is probably an actant in the story, or at least is a person with whom the addressee/protagonist is aquainted. I am not sure if they both must be protagonists, but they are in the two examples! I am not sure how they could not be – I suppose one could be a minor character, but that seems like a silly distinction.

And she also talks about the intimacy and distancing aspects of second person! Wow, I thought I was making that up, I am so happy to find it is real!

First she says: “…excellent suitability of second person fiction for the expression and description of intimacy. This is true especially of the reflectoral mode where the second person creates an even greater empathy than first or third person variants (implicitly, even if only intially, seeming to involve the actual reader in her role as a possible addressee…” So as we read “you” we automatically think, “Who, me?” and are feeling talked about, resulting in more of a relationship with the narrator – an intimacy between the narrator and the reader. At the same time: “Since address combines a distancing factor (foregrounding the non-identity of the I and the you) with the presuppostition of an acquaintance with the person thus addressed, it proves to be a fictional mode adaptible to detailing the jig-saw structure of the mother-daughter relationship.” So it can work both ways! I will go into this more in a future post (it is not that simple, of course) but I was glad to see these concepts are recognized by someone who actually knows what she is doing!

I think I am beginning – just beginning – to understand Monika! This frightens me!

The Joyce Carol Oates story “You” will be next. It is full of interesting second person tricks!

Project Runway Season 9 Episode 7: “Can’t We Just All Get Along?”

Art: Myaka, "Chaos vs Order"

In case you weren’t sure… the answer is, “No.”

Heidi brings The Evil Velvet Bag to the runway. The challenge will involve two teams of five. Lots of sighs, including mine. There will be no team leaders. As winner last week, Anthony Ryan gets to chose a team member first. Heidi picks a button from the velvet bag: Josh starts off the other team.

So it goes:
Anthony Ryan picks Anya picks Viktor pics Olivier picks Bryce. Instead of Bert, Olivier picks Bryce. That’s gotta hurt. It also speaks volumes. Olivier is perhaps the only person Bert has said something nice about, and Olivier picked Bryce over Bert.
Josh picks Laura picks Kimberly picks Becky and Bert ends up with them. Heidi feels bad for Bert that he’s last again. Interesting she doesn’t think, I wonder why? Bert reiterates there’s not a group of people he would enjoy working with. Which is fine, since there isn’t a group of people who would enjoy working with him.

In the workroom, Tim explains the challenge. It’s the create-your-own-fabric challenge. Anthony Ryan is really happy, he used to be in graphic design so he’s “all shits and giggles.” I think I’ve been subconsciously lumping Anthony Ryan and Joshua together because they look alike (to me; but to me, everyone looks alike), and that isn’t fair to Anthony Ryan, he’s kind of a sweet ol’ country boy.

They also have to shoot a video to be shown during the fashion show and pick music (which isn’t addressed at all, we hear the same thing we always hear), and produce a fashion show containing five looks, at least three of which must contain prominent use of the new textile. They have two days, and get a special adviser: Betsey Johnson, whose special advisory role seems to be to show videos she used for her fashion show and act all crazy and goofy in case anyone forgot she’s the crazy goofy one. Lauren is very excited since she considers herself the love child of Betsey Johnson and Oscar de la Renta. I haven’t seen that in her work, and it sounds like a bizarre combination, but ok. Betsey shows the video and talks about starting with the girl, who is she, tough, sexy, all that, and then going on to design the fabric and collection. Her collection includes a t-shirt with an x-ray design that reminds me of the flayed wolf painting. I wonder if exposed bones are in this year. She advises them that being cooperative and strong is the key, throw away the me-me-me. Then Betsey disappears and we never see her again. Kind of a waste of Betsey Johnson. Maybe she didn’t want to guest judge? She just wanted to show off her line?

They have 30 minutes to huddle and then 45 minutes at the computers to design the fabrics. The exact specifications were pretty much skipped over in the show, but it looks like they had to come up with three fabrics for each team. It seems like maybe they had to use black and white prints, but I saw people drawing with color but only black and white was printed out. I wonder if this was a technical glitch? Of course, since this was the technologically sponsored challenge (no, I will not do product placement the dignity of naming the perhaps defective products), nothing was said. Maybe ten people just all thought black and white. Since Betsey Johnson introduced the challenge, I mean; she’s all about black and white, right? Like Kenneth Cole is all about avant garde.

Anthony Ryan talks about an ink blot test. Anya says it’s what she was thinking exactly, but he has something visual. I don’t know what she means by that. I’m very suspicious of Anya. I think she’s got everyone from Heidi to the guy who sweeps the floors wrapped around her finger, without appearing to manipulate anyone at all. In any other season, her designs would be mediocre, but she’s achieved mythological status this time. It’s a pretty impressive display of groupthink. Political operatives should be taking notes. Viktor suggests Chaos for a team name. Bryce interviews he feels they’re looking at him like they’re worried he can’t design. Uh, Bryce…? Sorry to tell you, man, but… yeah, that’s about the size of it. You’re the guy they keep around so if it comes down to Anya and Anthony Ryan doing crap designs in the same week, they can send you home instead. They end up with three b/w graphics: blocks of three lines, alternating between horizontal and vertical (the verticals look like a stylized M and the horizontals like a stylized E so you’ve got ME ME ME fabric, stick that in your inkblot and smoke it), angled doodles (looks like wire hangers to me), and what I’ll call leopard paisley. I don’t see any ink blots. Someone (Bryce?) did say something about sticking to B&W, so maybe it was intentional.

Laura talks about an aquatic amoeba, and Josh suggests The Village People, which convinces me that black and white was not part of the challenge specs. Maybe that’s why the drama got such screentime, to distract us from wondering why ten designers came up with six black and white prints. They go off on a tangent and all play Name the Village People – the construction worker, the cop, the Indian… Laura keeps insisting there was a fireman and Josh gets mad at her. This is the subtle way we are clued in that Josh is on the edge, because he never has been before, see. Laura interviews there are two people who bring nothing to the table (I think she means Becky and Bert) and Josh who snaps at everyone. Then she and Kimberly do the work. Somehow they end up with clocks and time as a theme. Laura doesn’t get it. Their team name is Nuts and Bolts; if they’re using clocks, shouldn’t it be Gears and Springs? They print out fabric designs to pick between them.

Bert’s fabric design isn’t printing out, so he gets frustrated and mutters, “So much for the friggin’ clocks” and clarifies on request with a more pointed word. Josh goes off the deep end, and starts screaming at Bert: “Is this what it’s going to be like? Because I WILL NOT HAVE IT.” And that goes on a while, throwing in that he hates vulgarity (he interviews that people who swear aren’t intelligent… Forgive me, but like some of the people at TWoP, I have an urge to run up to Josh and say: “Fucking Fireman, Fucking Fireman!” for as long as I can keep from laughing). It isn’t even an interesting fight. When you show a fight every week, how can they stay interesting? Bert finds all the drama amateurish and beneath him. Hey, buddy, you’ve caused your share of drama. I’m not forgetting your history. But in this case, Bert really wasn’t causing any trouble (he was upset about the printer, not complaining about what people were doing) and got unfairly dumped on in horrific fashion, and he handled it pretty well, though he went back to his passive-aggressive fallback by insisting he didn’t use any swear words. There’s a very interesting physical element, when Bert approaches and Josh says, “You need to back up” but I’m not going to ponder that here. Josh stomps off, Laura goes off because she “knows how to handle him” (I just hate people who handle other people). Their prints are time-related: Becky comes up with gears, Josh does graffiti (“cancelled” and “delayed”), and someone else (Laura?) contributes numbers. I still remember Melissa’s Japanese number coat from thirtysomething which was, what, thirty-something years ago? I loved that coat. It was so Melissa. I loved Melissa. She was so Melissa. She was Betsey Johnson done honestly. I wish Melissa was on this season of Project Runway. Not Melanie Mayron. Melissa. Though Melanie Mayron would be fine, too. I’m digressing… that’s what Project Runway has become, something to get distracted from.

Becky interviews that she is aware Josh recently lost his mother. I find it interesting that Becky, whose designs Josh scorns, knows this, but Laura has no clue, or isn’t saying. They decide Laura and Josh will go out and make the video (Laura getting out of a cab wearing different shoes – a girl on the go, in a hurry – and clocks in an antique store) while Kimberly, Becky and Bert go to Mood.

On Team Chaos – remember the other team, the one that isn’t fighting? – Viktor and Bryce shoot the video (Times Square, lots of people, chaos) and Anya, Olivier and Anthony Ryan go to Mood. Back in the workroom, they all review the video and Anya comes up with the idea of a kaleidoscope that will go with the inkblots they don’t have. I guess this is chaos. They keep looking at the other team and expressing undying gratitude they are not there. Often, this kind of setup goes bad, and the disaster team ends up winning. God help us.

At the end of the day Josh makes a Public Service Announcement, especially to Bert: his apology. He’s getting quite good at apologizing. Bert thinks it’s grandstanding (oh, it is) but he did it and that’s the important thing. No, not really. The important thing is to stop creating situations requiring apologies.

And the next day they start to work with their new fabrics. Kimberly isn’t using them because she doesn’t like them, and they only have to use them on three looks. Viktor is making his own inkblots on fabric – aha! Inkblots at last! – and worries because it could come out looking like cow instead of inkblot. Becky uses the number fabric for a skirt; Laura interviews that Becky claims she does rockabilly but it’s Judy Jetson with a vacuum cleaner. Laura has some very incoherent images at times. Becky walks in on Laura and Anya having a little chat in the lounge over lunch, and gets a little worried she’s being thrown under the bus. Becky, I like you, I really do – you were the first person I recognized, you’re maybe the only person on the show I wouldn’t hate to be caught in an elevator with – but you consistently crawl under the bus. Your diagonal slashes dress was pretty cool, but that’s about it.

Tim’s Walkthrough:

Viktor shows him Team Chaos has square and square-ish backs. Tim thinks it’s cohesive; he can see by their body language they’re working as a group. Tim reminds them the fabric will move when worn by a person. That’s about it for Team Chaos. They’re low-drama, after all.

Team Nuts and Bolts, on the other hand, gets a prayer meeting. After Tim gets troubled by the clocks, and by Laura’s blue charmeuse jumpsuit, and Bert’s weirdly seamed dress, and Becky’s skirt, and Kimberly’s skirt in faux poodle, and Josh putting a goofy textile under a sleek jacket, and Josh won’t tell him where the girl wearing the jacket is going because it’s against his principles to worry about that sort of thing. Tim tells them many good things are happening but they have to be together. He has them join hands and vow to communicate and be honest. I’m not so sure those are two things they need. Anthony Ryan cracks wise about how Tim is holding a prayer meeting and that’s a PR first. Afterwards, Josh is dismayed; he’s never had a critique with Tim that went that bad. Then he does a teary interview about his mom; it’s her birthday. She died two years ago (I wonder if Becky considers that “recently” or if Josh made it sound more recent) and he was too busy working in a bar pursuing his dream to go home and see her much. He talks to his father on the phone. I’m sorry, but I’m so over rude people crying about the tragedies in their lives and using them as an excuse for their inexcusable behavior. And I haven’t been on Josh’s back until now. But it’s getting to be a weekly thing: how will Josh freak out this week, and I’m sick of it. Other people need to get their turns to freak out, too.

Anya is worried about Bryce. Becky is cutting her third skirt. Anthony Ryan nags Olivier to get going on his pants instead of working so obsessively on his jacket. And like that, until Tim calls them for the runway.

This is as good a place to note the irony that the team named Chaos is the orderly team, and the team named Nuts and Bolts was chaotic. I live for stuff like that.

The Runway:

The guest judges are actress Rose Byrne (shrug) and designer Rachel Roy. Not to be confused with Rachael Ray, though I think they could have Rachael Ray as a judge and this season it really wouldn’t matter. It’s been a Rachael Ray kind of season. One person from winning team will be winner, one person from losing team will be out.

Team Nuts and Bolts:
Josh: loose graffiti print pants, horribly fit, with awful pockets on the sides, a black and white blazer with a meshing-gear closure that could be amazing except it’s over an electric blue shell that dilutes the impact. The back of the blazer is cool. But overall, it’s a no.
Becky: a black jacket with ¾ cuffed sleeves and horizontal elbow slits, a yellow/chartreuse shell, and a graffiti print narrow skirt. The jacket has some interesting detail. It’s one step up from meh. Sort of thing I’d wear, if it wasn’t chartreuse. That isn’t a good thing, btw. I’m all about comfort and frugality, so I wear thermal knit tees over jersey skirts most of the time.
Bert: a one-shoulder dress in the gear print with a diagonal front zipper across the top and an interesting back strap. It’s mid-calf. You can hear Anya say “The length is awful” as the model comes down the runway. It is. It’s that impossible length, the one you’re never ever supposed to wear. I give him credit for the zipper and the strap. The fit is sloppy, though. It’s one step up from meh.
Kimberly: a nondescript yellow/chartreuse short-sleeved top with a deep V back, a short ballooning skirt (I don’t know what it’s called, it has a sweatshirt-hem to push it up and make it puffy) in what someone calls “faux poodle” textured taupe fabric, and an electric blue belt with triangles and trapezoids hanging off it. No use of the created fabrics at all. I think it’s pretty wretched. I hate that kind of skirt, the blue and chartreuse make my eyes hurt, the belt is sloppy. It’s a No, No! ETA: The more I look at this, the more I like it (much to my surprise). In fact, I’m beginning to think it’s my favorite look on this team. Which isn’t saying much, but it does have a certain impact.
Laura sends out a hideous bright blue jumpsuit with a belt in the graffiti fabric. For some reason it isn’t on the PR site (maybe it crashed the technology? Or they didn’t want it out there so everyone could see what a stupid decision they made eliminating a meh outfit and keeping this horror because they liked last week’s prom dress), so I’ll have to wait until TLo shows it to enumerate why I hate it so much. Mostly, I hate jumpsuits, and this one is so gnawingly bright it adds the the horror. Then, the belt is ridiculous, it looks like a sweatband that fell down. My loser for this team. ETA: it’s now on the PR site, and it’s just as bad as I thought it was. The straps are attached badly; the bodice in general is a mess. I’m perplexed how discussion of this garment was excluded – it’s like the mystery of the all black and white fabrics, someone thinks, “If we don’t say anything, no one will notice.” Wrong.

Team Chaos:
Anya: a print dress with short black sleeves and a deep back and a narrow twisted black belt.. She used two of the prints, the leopard paisley in symmetrical patterns, and the scratches as side panels. She’s not Mondo. They keep playing her up like she is, but she just isn’t. She’s not even Uli. And while I’m glad she finally made sleeves (which Viktor helped her with) I don’t like them in black. It’s one step up from meh.
Bryce: an orange slightly-cropped tee with a nicely draped deep back opening, and print shorts in the leopard paisley shorts with graphic black outlined pockets in the triple-line fabric. Meh.
Anthony Ryan: a white slightly ballooning skirt with ink blots towards the sides, a gold or tan waistband or belt , a sleeveless collared shirt in the three-lines-h-and-v print, and an orange tie at the buttoned-up neck. It’s quite nice.
Olivier: a longish grey jacket with black lapels and a generous peplum. It’s open down to the waist in a way that a size-0 breastless model can almost wear it without a blouse (though her boobs will bounce around a lot), and pants in the doodle print. I hate it. The jacket reminds me of the one Giordana made that got called a Polish office worker (I’ll admit, it’s not nearly as bad, but overall it does bring it to mind), and the pants do not go with it at all. I’m amused that Anya helped him with the pants, since Anya claims to have made pants only four times now. My loser for this team.
Viktor: a gown with an inkblot print bodice, sheer black yoke and back, and black skirt with center slit. It’s the only thing I’ve actually liked all evening. It’s very sharp. My winner for this team.

Team Chaos is the winning team. Team Nuts and Bolts go back to the lounge to wait, and they bicker some more because they don’t have much time left. Kimberly kicks Josh, Josh kicks Becky. It’s a cute little abusive chain.

The Interrogation:

Heidi tells Team Chaos they got a lot done and did a great runway show, she likes every outfit and all three prints. They’re prints she hasn’t seen before, and it’s hard for her to pick the best one. Oh, come on. Does she think we’re that stupid? MK says some pieces are more sophisticated than others. The tailoring on Olivier’s jacket is the strongest tailoring ever. I think the hyperbole is the most we’ve ever seen, too. The video had the urban kaleidoscope of nervous energy, and the collection represents attitude. Viktor’s evening gown is very chic and sophisticated. But with Bryce’s shorts and t-shirt, the urban sophisticate got lost and went to the mall. I like how they phrased that. But don’t even urban sophisticates need something from the Gap sometimes? Nina wants Olivier’s jacket, and she too loves the evening dress. The only criticism is the hair and makeup could be more polished. Heidi asks who should be the winner. Everyone claims they worked as a team, blah blah. So she picks on them one by one: Olivier? Who should be the winner? He answers, “If I have to choose I … mumble mumble…” laugh. What? MK says, “Did you say yourself? What, you think you can’t have an ego in fashion? Good luck!” and Heidi thinks it’s hilarious he can’t even say it out loud. So they make him say it again. Olivier thinks he should be the winner. They go down the line and everyone picks themselves except Bryce who thinks Anya should win for who knows why, he doesn’t give a reason. He doesn’t have to give a reason – because she’s Anya, this season’s anointed. And he’s Bryce. He knows he can’t win, he knows he won’t be going home, so why not curry favor with royalty, bask a little in her glow. Reality TV sure has made me cynical.

Team Nuts and Bolts gets their turn. Kimberly explains the concept: a girl running out of time, busy, clocks. Heidi thinks it’s all so busy. Well, success! No, not really… MK thinks the theme is too literal; the video looks like a hooker convention with legs and high heels getting out of the cabs. But the hair and makeup was cohesive. MK thinks Kimberly was smart to not use the prints: “Not a lot of people want to have ‘cancelled’ on their crotch.” For Becky, except for the jacket her look was nothing, nondescript top and skirt in an awful print. Hey, just like Olivier! Bert knows how to cut clothes even if it does look awful in that print. Isn’t the point of the challenge to do something with the print that looks good? Heidi asks about working together, and Bert talks about the altercation and the apology. Heidi remembers an apology with Becky. Take that, Josh. But, Heidi, do you remember you thought Victor was the evil force in his skirmish with Bert, and Anthony Ryan in his, and both of them just worked together, along with three other people (one of whom is clearly not anywhere near their league and one of whom is marginally incomprehensible) and got along terrifically? Josh says, “Look at the design.” After all, he made three impeccable pieces. Gee, Josh, what do you think this is, a design show? I’m not sure his design was all that, actually, but I agree it is the thing to look at. Heidi asks who was the weakest link: predictably, Bert says Josh. Laura says Bet because of all his “under the rug comments.” Under the rug? Is that “under his breath” plus “under the bus” plus something subconscious about a rug, like maybe she’d like to murder him and wrap his body up in one and dump it in the river? “Under the rug”? Josh says Becky, because he doesn’t see much design, her foundation isn’t there yet. Becky, poor Becky, wedges herself securely under the bus by saying, “Well, everyone kept telling me they didn’t like the skirt, and I redid it three times, but no one told me what to do about it.” Shades of Mormon Josh way back in episode 1: “I can’t believe no one told me it was that bad!” Kimberly thinks Becky is also the weakest link, and tries to soften it: “but only because her style is a little simpler, and it’s a different aesthetic.” I still don’t understand why Laura’s hideous jumpsuit escapes comment. Oh, wait – because Lifetime is for Women and they’ve already used up their woman-criticizing-leeway on Becky.

The judges have their little chat. MK raves over Olivier’s tailoring again. Heidi loves Viktor’s dress, it was a cool idea, and Anya did a beautiful dress. Nina says Anya has a wonderful eye for prints; MK agrees she mixed prints in a way that worked. Hey, Bryce mixed prints, and his shorts were stupid but the mixing of the prints worked fine. Of the losers, MK is bored by Becky’s outfit, and Nina saw no design; MK says she can sew, but it isn’t Project Seamstress. No, it certainly isn’t. He doesn’t think Becky has a voice. Heidi thinks Becky has too little voice and Josh has too much, she’s worried about his taste level. Where was his taste level last week when you loved the tree, Heidi? Nina says he came up with the worst print. MK thinks he’s a bit of a bully. Nina notes Bert doesn’t have nay friends. MK thinks his dress would be ok in a different print, but he’s definitely not a team player. No one mentions the electric blue jumpsuit in the room. There’s something about jumpsuits they all love. I don’t get it.

Inexplicably, Anya wins. Oh, forgive me, of course it’s explicable: she’s Anya, and she hasn’t won a challenge yet while Viktor and Olivier have each won one, so she has to be put on the same level, and she used two different product placement fabrics. Anya knows how to play the game. See what I mean about cynical? I still don’t like the black sleeves, and I still say it’s just a dress.

Becky’s out. I’m sad. Becky, it doesn’t mean you’re not a good designer, and don’t ever think of yourself as dowdy; this just wasn’t the format for you. I’ve seen pics of the Fashion Week collection, and trust me, Becky, you wouldn’t have had any trouble making a collection to fit right in there.

So endeth one of the least satisfying episodes of PR ever, in what’s turning out to be the least enjoyable season ever.

Next week, the designers work with husbands/boyfriends to create a look for their wives/girlfriends. Olivier tries to figure out how to talk about breasts. Despite his accents and his tendency to mumble, he can say “ginormous” without any trouble.

Haruki Murakami – “A Town of Cats” in The New Yorker 9/5/2011

New Yorker Illustration by Adrian Tomine

New Yorker Illustration by Adrian Tomine

While math was like a magnificent imaginary building for Tengo, literature was a vast magical forest. Math stretched infinitely upward toward the heavens, but stories spread out before him, their sturdy roots stretching deep into the earth. In this forest there were no maps, no doorways. As Tengo got older, the forest of story began to exert an even stronger pull on his heart than the world of math. Of course, reading novels was just another form of escape — as soon as he closed the book, he had to come back to the real world. But at some point he noticed that returning to reality from the world of a novel was not as devastating a blow as returning from the world of math. Why was that? After much thought, he reached a conclusion. No matter how clear things might become in the forest of story, there was never a clear-cut solution, as there was in math. The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a problem into another form. Depending on the nature and the direction of the problem, a solution might be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. It served no immediate practical purpose, but it contained a possibility.

This story is available online. You’re probably better off reading it yourself than reading here, because I have little to say about it.

I had trouble with this story for several reasons. First is that it’s an excerpt from his novel IQ84, just about ready for release in English translation. It sounds like an interesting novel, “an ode to 1984.” In his interview, Murakami says, “For Orwell, 1984 was the unknown future. For us, it is a time that is over and done with, part of our known past. By setting the actual past beside a past that might have been, exchanging certain elements of each with the other, and blurring the boundary line between the two, we can transform memory into something that is more collective. In that sense, I am more strongly drawn to depicting the recent past than the near future.” Apparently the novel goes back and forth between two different realities, as hinted in the quote above. I’m intrigued by this. But not by the excerpt, which seems to be exposition for the interesting stuff.

The story covers Tengo’s visit to his estranged father, now in a sanatorium. Tengo’s childhood, dreaded Sundays spent tagging along with his father collecting NHK subscriptions, is recalled, including his belief that someone else was actually his father, and his belief that his mother did not die but is living somewhere else: “Tengo fundamentally disbelieved his father’s story. He knew that his mother hadn’t died a few months after he was born. In his only memory of her, he was a year and a half old and she was standing by his crib in the arms of a man other than his father. His mother took off her blouse, dropped the straps of her slip, and let the man who was not his father suck on her breasts.”

On the train to the sanatorium he reads a story titled “A Town of Cats” in which a man arrives by train in a town inhabited only by cats; he fears the cats are coming to kill him, but they appear not to see him; when the train goes by again, it doesn’t stop, as if he is invisible: “And never again, for all eternity, will the train stop at this station to take him back to the world he came from.” Tengo asks about his mother, but Dad is rather nonsensical; at least it seems that way, possibly it is material that will become important later in the novel. Tengo reads him the story about cats, and as he leaves, is “shocked to see a single tear escaping his father’s eye.”

I have a feeling the 1000-page novel is fascinating. Murakami’s style isn’t my favorite, but as I’ve said elsewhere, sometimes all style has to do is get out of the way and let the story out. But I resent an unsatisfying excerpt being passed off, undisclosed, as a short story.

James Zwerneman: “Horse and Rider Thrown Into the Sea” from One Story, 8/1/2011

"Struggling Woman" by Roland Benjamin

"Struggling Woman" by Roland Benjamin

I was afraid in those days, afraid of my island, afraid of my own crooked heart inside me.

This wonderful story – a story-teller’s story – is set on the island of Grenada, but it took a while for me to pick up on that. Initially I was thinking somewhere in India (mangos, mongoose), then Jamaica (ganja and Rastas), then Indonesia (monsoons); finally a lightbulb went off. But oddly, I wasn’t disconcerted by the lack of exact placement, because it could’ve been anywhere a single mother worries about her boy, anywhere women find strength in each other and face what must be faced to raise their children, anywhere people in poverty struggle against overwhelming forces and learn forgiveness via much practice.

James Zwerneman lived in Grenada for six years, and explains in his One Story Q&A: “I had written a few stories in a row that felt hollow to me, so I kind of leaned on my Grenada years, which are some of my favorite years. I wrote about 40 pages of sketches. When Wini emerged I liked her and felt happy to orbit the sketches around her.” This is his first published story. It’s a remarkable beginning.

The title comes from a victory hymn, often used at Passover but also in Christian churches, based on the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus:

I will sing unto the Lord,
For he has triumphed gloriously,
The Horse and Rider thrown into the sea.

The Lord my God,
My strength and song
Is now become my victory.

The Lord is God
And I will praise Him,
My father’s God, and I will exalt him.

The story is told in 13 very tiny numbered chapters. I wonder if the “13” is a coincidence.

The story is told from the first-person POV of Winifred, single mother to Jeremiah. They live next to Miz K, an older woman who’s raised her children already (“You raised some right and wrong before,” Wini tells her. “But this is my only one. If I raise him wrong, I will not be able to bear it.”) yet takes in a “stray” boy named Lester. Elroy, sweet on Wini, lives along their path in the jungle as well. Wini isn’t interested in Elroy unless he gets a job, a truck, and quits drinking. Elroy isn’t a bad guy, just weak, I guess you could call it, and she has him over for juice and dinner on occasion. She finds out he’s got a job as part of the Mongoose Gang, thugs who act on behest of the corrupt government, and he’s spying on Dr. Jake, a white American doctor with the Church.

The boys, fast friends, steal eggs from one Mr. Sylvester, a man of some means. The two women send him to work for Mr. Sylvester to pay for their crime, and in time they decide, with his help, to build their own chicken coop and sell the eggs at the Tuesday market. It’s a lovely sequence, and of course eventually heartbreaking in multiple ways. It just isn’t safe to be capitalists, even just to sell a few eggs, in this place and time.

Many wonderful scenes are woven into the story – some humorous, some wistful, some tragic – all of which do exactly what they should do: they engage me in Wini’s life, and lead me to care about her and her son, and Miz K and her acquired son.

In the final scene, Wini has Dr. Jake and his very white, very clean family over for dinner. And of course, whenever you have a special event, something unforeseen happens: a swarm of wood ants (similar to moths; he describes his personal experience with them in his Q&A linked above) invade the house, something that happens sometimes just before a storm. This last “unlucky chapter 13″ sums up the story, the people, the island, the world in some ways. Wini thinks: “And in a younger time it might have flustered me. It might have set me to thinking I was cursed in somehow….It may all keep happening, all of it, but you will keep praying and hoping anyway, and that is how you will do until the end.”

This attitude had me a bit frustrated – for a spark of anger can be a good thing, bringing with it a commitment to bring about change. Then again, for a lot of people, it’s all they can do to raise their kids on goodness and hope instead of despair and vengeance. Maybe that’s the point.

An interesting aside: I was looking for art to go with this post and ended up on FineArtAmerica, where there’s a whole “Grenada” category. And what did I find there, but a painting by one Mary Zwerneman (addendum: her art has since disappeared from the site). Since I already knew the author lived on Grenada, and since I assumed Zwerneman is not a common name, I emailed the artist and discovered she is indeed the author’s sister. I didn’t use her painting (it featured an American flag, and was an expression of her life as part of two cultures) because I’d found one that better fit the story – I found a wealth of images, including hers – but it was such a surprise to “meet” someone in that way. How connected we are – and how easily we still can become lost to each other.

David Means – “El Morro” in The New Yorker 8/29/11

A typo carved in stone at El Morro

Kimberly told one dervish story after another that afternoon in Griffith Park, reciting them until they both drifted asleep, only to awaken, later, to bright sun and blue sky and the hard clomp of hooves. Above them, on a string of horses led by a guide, was a group of Japanese tourists taking snapshots of a vista that included Hollywood buried in a bowl of haze, the desert landscape, and two homeless girls, pale and gaunt, huddled on a sheet of cardboard.

I was looking forward to this, since I enjoyed David Means’ “The Junction” from PEN/O.Henry 2011 so much – the storytelling hoboes, cherry pie, and home. But I read Zin’s post about “The Junction”: “I really struggled to get into this story! I had to restart four times! I actually gave up at one point…. this one that has a first paragraph six pages long… and who is speaking, there is an “I” and “he” and “we” and who is who, what the hell is going on here…” and I think, oh, yeah, that one was like that, wasn’t it? How quickly we forget! Because it was worth it, in the end.

And this story was like that, too. The first sentence is almost 100 words, longer than some micros. The POV is constantly shifting. There’s a parenthetical (containing a memory of a friend who told a story about a dervish that told a story – the end is quoted above) that goes on for about a column and a half, three or four paragraphs. And there’s a complete shift of POV at the end. Huh?

But, like “The Junction,” it drew me in.

The main character is a runaway teenage girl whose name we never learn. Meth-head Lenny picked her up a couple of days ago, and now they’re driving all over the western United States, it seems. He talks non-stop. She does everything she can not to listen. He has four topics: drugs, Native American culture, birds, and the story he made up for her, because she only told him her father kicked her off the farm back home in Illinois and he’s not interested in knowing more facts, he wants to make up his own version of her story. They encounter a woman directing traffic; he makes up a story about her and her brothers, and she ends up in the front seat and the girl moves to the back. They go to El Morro, a natural monument of sandstone where all manner of travellers have carved their names for centuries until the Park Service protected it. Lenny abandons the girl there, and Russell, the guard at the visitor center, takes her to some kind of halfway house. Then he tells his wife all about it that night.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Add to that the voice of a meth addict relating some of it, a mute runaway thinking the rest, all the technical tricks mentioned above, and why bother? Because it’s about story-telling. Everyone has to tell their story. Stories embedded in stories. Dervish stories. Lenny robbing the girl of her story and making one up for her. Russell telling his good-deed story to his wife. El Morro, a monument to stories – The National Park Service website tells us: “Ancestral Puebloans and Spanish and American travelers carved over 2,000 signatures, dates, messages, and petroglyphs for hundreds of years” (ouch to the wording). And, in a twist of fate that will amuse copy editors everywhere: “The first English inscription at El Morro, carved into the rock by Lt. J. H. Simpson and R. H. Kern in 1849, has a spelling error: “inscriptions” was spelled “insciptions” with the “r” inserted afterwards.”

I’m not beginning to understand this story; it’s way too complex for me. The number 4 keeps coming up. There are four characters. Lenny has four topics. Russell has four cameras by which he views the park. I’m not sure what the significance of the number 4 is – maybe just coincidence. Lenny takes the girl and tells her to shut up (he steals her voice, doesn’t let her tell her story, he will make up her story for himself) while Russell possibly starts her on the path to recovering her voice. There’s something godlike about Russell: seeing all through his four cameras, understanding the girl, rescuing her, protecting the mark she made on El Morro. Something redemptive, restorative. I’m just groping in the dark here. Still, like “The Junction,” it worked for me. And I was interested in the decision to shift POVs at the end, so someone else could tell what now became his story.

David Means loves stories. Storytelling was at the heart of “The Junction” as well. In an interview with The Paris Review, he explains why he writes stories, not novels, and ends with: “And it’s not fear of bad reviews, or not making something that isn’t coherent or good that holds me back, but rather a fear of wasting time—and in doing so not being able to tell the stories that want to be told. If a story wants to be told and you don’t tell it, you’d better stand back because something’s going to explode.”

I’ll listen to his stories. Even if they are over my head.