Pushcart 2012: Tim O’Sullivan, “Father Olufemi” from A Public Space #10

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

"Snow Storm People" by Oliver Fluck, October 2011

The Catholic Diocese of Toledo had paid for his flight from Abuja to Boston, his surgery, the cost of his monthlong convalescence, the walker, and the bus ticket to Halfestus, Ohio, where he’d agreed to preside for three years over the parish of a Father Krinkle. It was probably unhealthy to imagine what his welcomers would think. He was replacing a priest accused of child molestation. He was as dark as could be and, from the photos he’d found on the Internet, the people of Halfestus wre as white as could be. He’d arrive a cripple.
At least this last bit would improve. He would heal….It would take months, but one day he’d stand at the pulpit and raise his arms – a man upright, his limbs deliriously functional – and proclaim, “This is the day of the Lord.”
But who was this man, proclaiming? He’d never been this man. He’d never been as helpless as he was now, being carted across a foreign continent to a foreign town.

I’m not sure how a story with a setting and situation as rich and intriguing as that could manage to be tedious reading with little payoff. I’m sure there was a payoff – I’m positive – but I missed it. There’s something about the priest taking this bus ride, the people he goes through – the old priest who accompanies him to the bus station in Boston, the driver who is solicitous at first but not so much by the end, the passenger who just got out of prison, the little boy who’s never seen a Bible before, the dream/memory of Mrs. Ogunye’s party, the girl at the bus station who leads him off through the snow into nowhere – there’s something there. There has to be. There’s just too much cool stuff going on, and I wonder what’s wrong with me that it seemed, to me, to add up to nothing but a collection of threads with no warp or weft. As always, I take full blame for my inadequate reading, and welcome direction.

It’s interesting this is the second story I’ve read this week in which disabled limbs feature prominently. But that’s merely coincidence.

I do like the ending, though I wish I could find a way to comprehend it. Usually, with a story that eludes me, yet that dangles something profound just out of my reach, I spend a lot of time, perhaps unfruitfully, pondering, considering. In this case, I’m, well, just not that interested. And that strikes me as bizarre, since, to read how I’ve described it above, it’s fascinating.

Julia Elliott: “LIMBs” from Tin House #51, Spring 2012 – Science Fair

Tin House #51, "Science Fair"

Tin House #51, "Science Fair"

“Elise.” He squints at her. “You still got it. Prettiest girl at Eden Village.”
She flashes her dentures but says nothing.
“You remember me. Ulysses Stokes, aka Pip. We went to the BBQ place that time.”
Elise nods, but she doesn’t remember. And she’s relieved to see a tech nurse headed her way, the one with the platinum hair.
“Come on, Miss Elise,” she says. “You got Memories at three.”
Elise points at the plastic Power Units strapped to her lower limbs.
“You’re gonna walk it today,” says the nurse. “I think you got it down.”
Elise grins. Only three people from the Dementia Ward were chosen for the test group. So far, she’s the only one with nerve signals strong enough to stimulate the sensors. As she strides along amid flowers and bees, she rolls the name around on her tongue – Pip Stokes – recalling something familiar in the wry twist of his mouth.

I like science fiction and science-based fiction, but I have to confess this story didn’t really work for me. You can read it for yourself (at least for now, but hurry, it may disappear when the Summer issue of Tin House comes out) at the Tin House website. [addendum: too late, it's no longer online]

Elise is a patient in a nursing home. She’s just getting used to her Leg IntuitiveMotion Bionics (LIMBs, hence the title) which, if she gets the hang of it, will restore her mobility. She’s also participating in a study to enhance her memories. The staff wasn’t overly optimistic, given the state of her dementia, but she seems to be progressing: she eventually remembers suave Pip, with whom she had an affair many years ago during a difficult period of time when her husband, Bob, was in a deep depression following a disabling accident.

She discovers both Pip and long-estranged husband Bob are in the nursing home with her. What are the odds on that? I’m all for strange occurrences, but this bothered me. Makes me wonder, in fact, if all this is taking place in her head, and I’m being too literal. But it seems pretty literal to me.

Many things bothered me in this story. Little things, like the phrase “nanobots have been rebuilding Elise’s degenerative neural structures, refortifying the cell production…” Shouldn’t it be “degenerated” or “degenerating?” I must be wrong – the folks at Tin House are pretty high-powered, literarily speaking. But, like the coincidence of Pip and Bob and Elise all at the same facility, it bothers me.

I think the direction of the piece is to show how technology and science are tools that allow the deepest wishes of our hearts to be made manifest, so are in fact very humanistic. I’m down with that, sure. But the technical elements seem unnecessary to the true story, which is: whom does Elise choose? Add to that the choppy style that veers from memory to present and back again repeatedly, and I wished her story (which is quite lovely) had been couched very differently.

Of course, I’m well aware that I’m probably just not “getting” it, that there are depths of meaning I haven’t come close to perceiving. Maybe I need a few of those nanobots myself. And as always, guidance from those more astute than I is welcomed.

Stephen O’Connor: “Another Nice Mess” from One Story #162, 03/29/12

"Fire in the Hole" - a 3D alphabet by Oliver Munday

"Fire in the Hole" - a 3D alphabet by Oliver Munday

My colleagues and I are charged with deciding which soldiers should be killed in the war, as well as where, when, and how they will die. At first I thought it strange that we should be orchestrating casualties for a war that ended before my grandparents were born, but the human resources executive who hired me explained that the war was not, in fact, over, that wars never actually end, and must be continually refought, at least for as long as they are remembered.

The narrator – (Oh, the woes of the unnamed first person narrator story. To be honest, I don’t even notice it when I’m reading. In fact, I’m a big fan of first person fiction, both as a reader and as a [sometimes] writer. It’s only when I talk about the story that it gets awkward to keep referring to “him,” especially if/when there are other “him”‘s who must be differentiated from the main character. In most cases, as in this case, the unnaming seems to me to be deliberate. No one in this story has a name, other than Stan Laurel. Oh, and a person who the narrator makes up, but that hardly counts. I just think it’s worth noting that the author makes up a nameless character who makes up a named character, and the named character is far less real than the nameless one) – is telling his story from the ballroom of an old mansion, where, as described above, he determines the fate of soldiers in The Great War. Unsurprisingly, his supervisor has provided guidelines for this. Dying while marching in rank formation, instantaneous death, and, when large numbers of deaths are called for, a single event such as a bomb killing many soldiers at once, are preferred. But not always possible.

In the next room, separated by a mirrored door which keeps swinging open due to a faulty latch, our narrator can hear the sounds of a movie production, probably Babes in Toyland, starring a very elderly Stan Laurel.

As a consequence, even when we are preparing for our most important battles – Verdun, for example, or Cambrai – we are constantly serenaded by the tinkling of toy pianos and the clattery crescendos of wind-up monkey cymbal bands.

Now, devotees of The West Wing will jump up and down at this point. In delight, perhaps (“Hey, this is just like the Season 4 episode The Inauguration, Part 2 – Over There), or annoyance (“Hey, this is a knockoff of when President Bartlet was deciding whether or not to send troops to Kundu to end the genocide and watched the Laurel & Hardy Babes in Toyland because it just happened to be what his visiting grandchildren left in the VCR and it inspired him to change American foreign policy”). We might even work in the faulty latch on the door in the Oval Office during the storm scene of the Two Cathedrals episode. West Wing fanatics never forget, and they still gather at TWoP because everything reminds us of TWW.

But what we have here is a very different story, even if it does use the juxtaposition of war and a goofy play-war movie.

Our narrator consults with a soldier whose mission, as it were, is about to conclude, as the supervisor puts it (reminding me a bit of A Taste of Armageddon from Star Trek, S1E23) and some difficulty arises. The soldier, quite reasonably, doesn’t want to die. He’s fine with someone else dying in his place. The narrator tells him to go find James P. Hall, who can help him, and the soldier leaves to find Mr. Hall.

The truth is James P. Hall is an entirely fictitious name that I conjured out of thin air. But I have every confidence that once the soldier gets down to the precinct where I directed him, and asks where Mr. Hall might be found, none of my colleagues will trouble to determine whether Mr. Hall actually exists. They will simply dispatch the soldier to yet another precinct, or to yet another authority. And every time he asks for Mr. Hall, this process will be repeated and repeated, until, finally, the soldier will either succumb to bewilderment and exhaustion, or develop the fortitude to accept his fate and go to his death with the dignity and resignation of a true hero – the encouragement of such fortitude being, of course, the primary reason we give soldiers the opportunity to come to terms with their fate in advance.

At this point I flashed to Catch-22. It also sounds like something a local city hall clerk might pull on someone trying to escape a parking ticket, or perhaps like an experience with customer service at Time Warner Cable (don’t get me started…)

It certainly occurs to me that this idea of personally facing people who are to die before you decide a cause is worth fighting for isn’t a bad one. In fact, I now recall the trailer for Rachel Maddow’s new book Drift which, though I’ve been hearing about the book for some time now on Rachel’s nightly show, I just viewed today, oddly enough, and heard her talk about the widening gap between the nation and the military – and how that separation is perhaps making it easier for “us” to decide when to send “them” to war. It might be harder if we had skin – ours or a loved ones – in the game ourselves.

Somehow I insist on jumping outside this story into others. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean the ideas are derivative or well-trod, especially in this case, where a fresh twist is provided at every intersection with other material; it’s just that certain facets bring to mind something else. In fact, I like it when a story becomes a nexus for several other works. I just hope the author wouldn’t be too upset that television features so prominently. But I go where I’m led. And I will further say, the matter-of-fact approach to the surrealism of this story, complete with scrambled timeline references, strongly reminded me from the first paragraph of Seth Fried, a recently acquired literary crush. Not to mention the dream-like aspects, which are indeed in Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled as well as the story he wrote to practice for that novel, A Village After Dark. That’s quite a compliment. In fact, all the touchpoints, for me, have been complimentary.

In his One Story Q&A, O’Connor recounted his inspiration for the story:

One evening last summer, I was walking in the woods, idly thinking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when suddenly I was struck by a bolt of guilt. Specifically, I thought that since I hadn’t worked hard enough to oppose those wars, I was to some extent responsible for them. The thought passed. The guilt receded—as my political guilt has a tendency to do—and two or three days later it was time to begin a new story.

Whenever I start something new, I try to keep my mind blank, and get out a first phrase or sentence without even thinking about it. In this case, what came out was my narrator’s statement about devoting every waking thought to the Great War. I had no idea why he was thinking about the war, or even that he was a “he,” but I did remember that bolt of guilt, and worried that I was in danger of producing an overly schematic political fable. So I decided to mix things up a bit and give myself a little more imaginative freedom, first of all by having my narrator working in the ballroom of an old mansion, and then by having that movie being shot in the next room—a movie which, to my surprise, turned out to star Stan Laurel.

So while there may be familiar elements – and there always are, in every story – this was an original and personal journey, and I’m thrilled to have been allowed to come along.

I see O’Connor has a couple of collections out, and I think I’m going to need to take a look at them. Anyone who takes me through Seth Fried, The West Wing, Ishiguro, Catch-22, Rachel Maddow, and Star Trek in 15 pages is definitely worth investigating.

Rivka Galchen: “Appreciation” from The New Yorker, 3/19/12

New Yorker art by Stephanie Pierce

New Yorker art by Stephanie Pierce

From 2007 to 2011, the daughter put $170,000 into savings, $25,000 went into a SEP-IR. A., $9,000 went into a Roth I. R. A., and the remainder was placed into a money-market fund. Other money went, as the mother might put it, into the hands of petty charlatans who didn’t make it into law or medical school and whose parents, with their valueless American values, never taught them anything, poor things, actually, poor things. Or it went, as others might put it, into the hands of venders of artisanal chocolates and ninety-dollar T-shirts.

Right off the bat, let me highly recommend the Book Bench interview Willing Davis conducts with author Rivka Galchen, in which the questions are as illuminating as the answers: “I really like how you’ve made a narrative out of disparate parts, the way elements rub up against each other to create a story. When you’re writing something that’s not a traditional narrative, how do you ensure that resonances will come through? More specifically, what gave you the confidence that the mother’s story of her real-estate brokering would juxtapose so nicely with the story to that point?”

I was intimidated by the first sentence of this story, packed as it is with financial data, but it soon transitioned, as you can see in the second paragraph quoted above, into more typical material. Still, it is a story of a mother-daughter relationship viewed through the lens of their financial experiences.

One moment that still sticks with me occurs after we learn how Mom has done a great job giving Daughter every opportunity to be in a position to buy artisanal chocolates and ninety-dollar T-shirts, and while Daughter has been thrifty and reasonable in most arenas (excepting those maternal hot-button issues like Daughter’s separation from her husband and her childlessness), she’s lost some perspective:

The daughter said, All you care about is money and weight, and you give me all this advice; but I’m thinner than you and I make more money than you.

It’s a very effective moment, though it requires the background of the story to appreciate it. I’ve never been a mother, but I’ve been a daughter, and while I laughed at Mom sometimes in this story, I felt guilty when I read the above line. I think I once said something similar to my father; I suspect most middle-class kids have said something similar to their parents, because that is, after all, the goal of parenting, to bring one’s kids to better circumstances than oneself, and thus, ironically, leave oneself open to their superiority. This jibes with Galchen’s intent: “I knew the story would only work if the mother was, on some deep level, the more appealing character. I hope that’s the way the story reads.” Yes, it is, though Mom has her comic catastrophes, particularly in a hellish encounter with Jenny Craig.

I enjoyed the voice in the beginning of the story; it seemed to peter out a bit as things went on. But it picks up again in a pitch-perfect last paragraph:

But you have to stop confusing things. That’s why you come to the wrong conclusions.Because you start in the wrong place. By then you’re not really even talking about what you’re talking about, the daughter went on, not really sure what she herself was talking about, and realizing that she had lost track of precisely what it was that she was trying to estimate justly, and why she had imagined that she could.

This brings me back to the opening Book Bench interview question by Willing Davidson: “This story hinges on a pun, or a duality—that ‘appreciation’ can be used in a financial as well as a kind of moral sense.” This story effectively juxtaposes and interweaves that duality; not perfectly, perhaps, but well.

Sunday with Zin: Spitting

Anti-spitting posters, American Lung Association of Virginia (ALAV) Collection

Anti-spitting posters, American Lung Association of Virginia (ALAV) Collection

Please stop spitting!

Allow me to be clear, please! I do not mean baseball players, who seem to train in spitting as well as batting and fielding. Nor do I mean spitting while at the dentist. Though, if your dentist still has a spit sink, it is probably an antique (and so is your dentist)! They all use suction tubes now. Most of the time, my hygienist just tells me to swallow – “It is just your own saliva” except it also has stuff she has been scraping and maybe a little blood (though not much since I am a flossing fiend these days, having such a degree of bone loss my teeth are hanging on for dear life and I can not slack off for a second, which is what happens when you ignore your teeth for the first 50 years of your life)!

Nor do I speak of recreational spitting! So have all the fun you want at the International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship held in July at the Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, MI (dominated by “Pellet Gun” Krause of Arizona for ten years until his son, “Young Gun” Krause, bested his record by 25 feet).

And by all means, enjoy yourself if you wish at the olive pit spitting festival in Murcia, Spain in August (and if you win, earn the title “Caballero Predilecto de la Orden de los Lanzadores de Huesos,” or Venerated Knight of the Fellowship of the Olive Spitting Knights). I would not get in the way of anyone intent on achieving knighthood!

If cricket spitting is your thing, see if you can beat the record of 9.17 m set by Danny Capps in June 1998, I will not hold it against you (well, maybe just a little; after all, a person who puts a dead cricket in his or her mouth, even if he or she intends to spit it out right away, is perhaps someone to be approached with caution)!

And if you wish to just compete in plain old spit spitting, inspired by the Best Comedy Short from the 1988 Houston Film festival, The Great O’Grady, go right ahead, it is quite a cute film! And the Spit Take thing Jimmy Fallon does strikes me as, well, stupid, but I have learned not to interfere with the activities of consenting adults, especially on television!

I do not have a spit phobia, either. I was downright charmed by the spit blessing Elisa Jimenez of Project Runway Season 4 introduced us to, and I encourage her to spit as much as she wants! On the clothes she makes.

But not on the sidewalk. Please!

I am afraid I can not legitimately claim health concerns. Although there were past campaigns to eliminate public spitting because of fear of TB and other diseases (the poster above is from such an effort), I have found differing current-day claims on the issue: London TB expert Dr. John Moore-Gillon says, “The chances of contracting TB by casual contact is very low, but if lots of people are spitting in the street or in enclosed places, and if the incidence of TB in the population is high, then it will increase, albeit slightly.”

Even if that still concerns you, Biology Professor Dr. Christine Case of Skyline College in San Bruno, CA is not so sure: “TB can be in sputum, but that is coughed up from deeper. Expectorating phlegm is dangerous and carries disease like flu or TB….The fad of spitting is different from the expectorating of phlegm.” Oh, thank goodness! Spitting is bad enough, but when people start expectorating phlegm, we might as well fold up civilization and call it a day! She still is not a fan of public spitting, though: “Like you don’t eat with your feet. Just because you could doesn’t mean you should.” Do you not love the “Like;” only in California does a biology professor speak Valley Girl.

But when I am strolling along Congress Street minding my own business, and someone a few feet ahead of me hawks up a lugie on the sidewalk, I avoid it, because, well, it is disgusting! Even if I am not going to catch a disease from it! And I do not understand why someone would do this. These are not people who would pee in public, but for some reason, they spit. It is your own spit, keep it to yourself! I do not want it!

So please, stop spitting!

Pushcart 2012: Lydia Davis, “Five” from Little Star #1, 2010

Photo by Jon's Magic Lens

Photo by Jon's Magic Lens

Into how small a space the word judgment can be compressed: it must fit inside the brain of a ladybug as she, before my eyes, makes a decision.

I’m a big fan of micro-fiction. I worship at the feet of Randall Brown, my flash idol; even when I don’t get exactly what he’s doing, I’m intrigued by how he does it.

And I very much like these micros by Lydia Davis (which can read online). But I like some of Randall’s better than some of these, and I’m puzzled by how this collection of five micros is Pushcart-worthy whereas others are not. My guess is: if you’re only going to allow one set of micros or flashes in the Pushcart volume for a given year, it’s got to be a “name.”

Be that as it may, it’s a lovely little set. I’m wowed by JUDGMENT (quoted above), her HOUSEKEEPING OBSERVATION, the artist so enrapt by THE SKY ABOVE LOS ANGELES that she is lured away from her painting, and the comparison of the pleasures of the narrator reading with the dog licking its leg while SITTING WITH MY LITTLE FRIEND (even if the title does evoke Bob Dole’s 90′s era Pepsi commercial/Viagra spoof; that’s my warped mind, and I take full responsibility for it). I’m not so sure about HANDEL, but that’s me.

Overall, it’s a cavalcade of thought, art, music, the physical world, the compromise of marriage, and joy of reading, a portrait of a woman I might like to know, and, I’m grasping here, examination of the ability we all have to judge the world around us: the sky is more beautiful than my painting, pained tolerance of a husband’s Handel obsession is worth it (I had a husband who played Viennese operetta all day, I can sympathize), a reasonable view of a dirty floor, and the sensual nature of reading.

But my (micro)heart still belongs to Randall Brown.

Project Runway All Stars: Episode 12 Finale, part 2: Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

Mondo wins, and the rent in the fabric of the space-time continuum caused by Gretchen’s Season 8 win has been patched. And now Heidi can make the tons of money off Mondo that she thought she’d make off Gretchen. What, you think they went through this farce of a season out of a sense of fairness?

That being said, I’m delighted Mondo won. Congratulations!

And in the woman-on-the-street interviews, I was amused by the woman who said she wanted to pick up Mondo in his short pants and put him in her pocket. I thought the Pocket Mondo was a TWoP thing. Hey – maybe she’s a TWoP person.

There’s the usual pre-show stuff. Austin’s wearing a sequined jacket; Mondo tells him, “Does Liza Minelli know you went through her wardrobe?” It’s ok though, because on the ride to the show, Austin is getting a fashion orgasm. Just don’t get it on your jacket, Austin. He’s wearing a scarf of pink netting under the jacket, and I keep thinking all night it looks like a rash.

The show is in Gotham Hall, which would be beautiful if the ceiling and elegant chandelier weren’t rendered tacky by the lights and rigging. It’s still a poor substitute for Fashion Week. Since a lot of people have been invited, does this mean everyone got to show a collection?

The judges are Georgina, Isaac (who must resent that someone else has top billing), Tommy Hilfiger, and Mr. Neiman Marcus.

Ok, his name is Ken Downing, but his function is to represent Neiman Marcus as the winner gets a boutique in “selected” stores.

Austin introduces his collection: It’s called Austin Scarlett: a vampire from the 18th century lives in Williamsburg and sometimes borrows clothes from her Hasidic dandy friends. Is Austin trying to piss off Williamsburg? I’m pretty sure there are no Hasidic dandies, but then again, I’m pretty sure there are no werewolves, so I guess I can go with it. I see the 18th century, the Fragonard and Madame Pompadour he referred to last week, in the ruffles and tulle; the vampire in the black leather. I’m not sure where the Hasidic comes in, other than the hair.

Coral cropped pants with gathers, shirt with spangled black jacket (much like a shorter version of the one Austin is wearing, in fact). I have no idea what the pants are actually called – those steal-a-bottle-of-wine pouches that taper down – but Anthony used them back in Season 7 on one side of a dress; I wonder if he had input into this. Not my style, but I can see it appealing to some people, and it’s very “edgy” as they say; I think the pants cut at the knees are a terrible length, but that’s what they are. Oddly, as “edgy” as this is, I can see something blocky and thus possibly Hasidic in it. But it makes the model look like she has chunky legs.

Black lacquered lace dress with a pick-up flounce on one side; very nice. I never knew lacquered lace existed but that’s what the judges call it. It’s kind of a Kenley dress, isn’t it?

Sleeveless coral wrap blouse with bows on the shoulders, black leather skirt with pink tulle in the back godet. Overall it’s ok but not something distinctive. I’m not a fan of floppy bows. To me the tulle in the back looks like she has toilet paper stuck to her skirt. To make it worse: pink toilet paper. Don’t make me go there.

Red Carpet mermaid gown in metallic black and red fabric. It looks like there’s a short dress and a long dress under it. It’s more Michael – or even Jerell – than Austin, but yeah, I can see him doing this. Very constructed, but with neck ruffles. The fabric strikes me as way too gaudy, the design is over the top.

Black leather halter top catsuit with purple tulle ruffle at neck.This is his Sixth Look, made from leftovers. I hate it, but I suppose it’s fine if catsuits are your thing. It doesn’t strike me as Austin at all.

White ruffly wedding gown with black belt and gloves; really gorgeous. And pure Austin, except for the black gloves which Anthony did back in the Night at the Opera challenge, when I commented he was channeling Rami. Maybe there’s just nothing original left to do on PR.

My overall opinion: the black lacquered lace and the wedding gown were spectacular. The rest was between meh and eww. The incorporation of the inspiration is inconsistent. For that matter, to use a question the judges sometimes use: would the same woman wear the hypersexy catsuit and the elegant, feminine wedding gown? Or the elegant, classy lace dress and the ugly-edgy gathered pants?

The judges all full of praise. Georgina says there are many special pieces, with good ideas. Isaac doesn’t see it as a collection, more like a Best Of retrospective of many years They all love the wedding gown and the black lace dress. They say there’s a youthfulness to his couture glamour. That’s interesting: Mondo is known for youth without glamour, and Michael is known for glamour without youth. Thing is: in Austin’s collection, the youth and the glamour are in different looks, I think.

Mondo: Front and center, time to claim your birthright. He announces his Therapy theme.

Polka dot blouse with patent leather print miniskirt; too busy for me, but ok. I’m not sure about the placement of the dot on the skirt. At least it’s off center. But it still looks like a target in a highly inappropriate place. Which has nothing to do with Isaac’s Target, though Target is usually an inappropriate place.

Checkered dress with circle pockets and big buttons. It’s cute. I seem to be the only one who thinks so.

Sleeveless two-print top over Mila-pants. I hate the Mila-pants. This is his Sixth Look; it’s more like Mila’s Sixth Look. The top works because of the combination of the prints, but it’s a bland shape.

Pantsuit with checkered jacket, ink blot tee, different colored sleeves (which I love), and wide-legged two-tweed pants with pocket flaps. I wish the legs were a little narrower, and I’m not sold on the tee with the jacket and pants, but it’s pure Mondo.

The Heidi dress with inkblots instead of polka dots. And again, the different colored sleeves (I think; I can’t really see the left arm). Hey, when it works, it works. He could have a whole line of this dress with different patterns in that center panel.

Metallic gown in a red, silver and black print with additional print. What is it with metallics? Are they “on trend?” It’s gaudy, more Michael or Jerell than Mondo. I don’t understand it. It’s half loungewear, half gown. But it’s nice to see some color at last.

Overall, not his best, but at least he didn’t crash and burn. The pantsuit, the skirt and blouse, and the checkered dress work, though they aren’t my favorites of his work. I miss the color he’s used in the past. I completely lost the whole “therapy” thing, except for the ink blots, and I’m still troubled (™ Tim Gunn) by the reference to Viktor’s ink blots in Season 9.

The judges judge: Isaac finds it the most cohesive of the collections; he loves the applique on the gown (what applique?). Tommy loves the first outfit, but finds too much detail on the dress and the pants pockets. Mr. NM is impressed by the ink blot print. Angela doesn’t think the lame fits (I agree).

Michael takes us to the Serengeti, because it sounds more exotic than the overused “Safari.”

Beige and brown jumpsuit in a kind of snakeskin-motley pattern. Halter top, loose pants. Looks Anya to me, except for the print.

Fitted animal print dress; long sleeves, backless, so, sorry, Joanna, no bra. There is a vest with it, though, but it’s better without the vest. Interesting seaming on the bustline. I’m no fan of animal prints, but this is nice.

Looser fit animal print dress; nice. Nothing unique.

Loose jacket and shorts in yet another jungle print. Ok.

Ruched animal print top with loose pants; I thought it was a jumpsuit, but he says it’s two pieces. The top is a sort of bustier. It’s ok.

White gown with, guess what, a plunging v, x-back in black. It’s very pretty, it’s very Michael, it’s the sort of thing he whips up as one of four things for every challenge. It’s his Sixth Look, so that’s pretty much what he did, using leftover fabric from the Greek flag dress.

Overall, the animal print was too dominant and often obscured what might have been interesting construction details. Not to mention, if you don’t like animal prints, you’re out of luck. Everything is ok – with occasional touches of nice – but routine.

The judges are, as always, complimentary. Georgina says it’s made well, but is too commercial; she loves the Grecian dress. Tommy says you could put it in stores tomorrow and it would sell. Ken sees a cohesive attitude and likes use of different prints. Isaac gets the fantasy of the prints, but some pieces are mixed in not the most interesting way. He again loves the feel of flesh he gets from Michael’s looks, but warns him it can go cheap fast.

The judges go into private deliberations and mumble some stuff so it looks like they’re really considering all three. Then they pronounce Mondo the winner. Austin and Michael get weekends in Paris as a consolation prize. A weekend in Paris? That sounds exhausting. I hope it’s at least a long weekend.

It’s been a long season. And casting is currently proceeding for Season 10, which will air “this summer”. Doesn’t that just send tingles up your spine?

See you then. ;)

Addendum: I do everything I can to avoid spoilers during the season. So I was pretty surprised, when I checked the TWoP “Spoiler Thread” after the show and found this Gawker article from September 15, 2011, which gave not only the top five and their exact order, but the tip that Rami would go out midseason. But, while I was surprised, it’s par for the course; keeping these things secret is impossible when they’re filmed months in advance, which is why there’s a Spoilers thread to begin with, and why I avoid it.

What really shocked me was this:

According to our source, fan favorite Mondo Guerra walks away with the prize. That makes sense since many are still angered that he lost season eight to Gretchen Jones. Heidi Klum even wore a dress he designed for the show’s finale in a show of solidarity with the designer. Our tipster says the plan was to hand it to him all along, and that angered the other designers, including Mondo, but he took the win nonetheless.

Now, I stated in my PR Preview post that Mondo was the Reason for this Season, and I’ve been unabashedly on his side from the beginning, regardless of his moodiness. If this spoiler is true, I understand his moodiness better now. And I understand his comment to Michael in Part 1 of the finale: “It’s a lot of pressure, Michael.” I wonder if Rami’s ouster was connected to assuring the expected outcome; I also said in my Preview that he might be Mondo’s sole serious competition. He did make a mess the week he was eliminated, but I still cry foul on that whole episode.

I believe the spoiler. I believe that’s why Mondo was so ticked off all season. I believe that’s why it was a bloodless competition. I even believe that’s why Rami was cut early. What I can’t believe is that, now that there’s some kind of semi-almost-kinda-confirmation for my suspicions, I’m still shocked by the deception. And disappointed in Mondo for going along with it. But you know what: in the same situation, with a suave producer whispering excuses like “it’s only tv, nobody believes this stuff” in my ear, would I have really, truly done anything different?

Moral of the story: Sometimes a tin-foil hat is your friend.

Kevin Brockmeier: “The Human Soul as a Rube Goldberg Device” (Madras Press, 2012; originally from Words and Images and The View From The Seventh Layer)

You have a pet theory, one you have been turning over for years, that life itself is a kind of Rube Goldberg device, an extremely complicated machine designed to carry out the extremely simple task of constructing your soul. You imagine yourself tumbling into the world like a marble, rolling with an easy momentum over the chutes and ramps of your childhood… then flying like a shot from the cannon of your adolescence and landing with an ungoverned bounce on the other side, where you progress through all the vacuum tubes and trampolines and merry-go-rounds of your adulthood… and all the while changing, changing at every moment, because of the decisions you make and those that fate makes for you, until faintly, with your dying breath, you emerge from the mouth of the machine and roll to a stop, as motionless as you were before you began, but scarred and colored and burnished now with the markings you will carry with you through an eternity.

Hello, I am Zin, and I get to do the comments on this story because it is a Zin story! And a Second Person story!

The first thing you need to do is plan how you are going to approach this teeny-tiny book. Because it is special! It is a Choose Your Own Adventure style book! I have somehow managed to avoid these all my life! When I was doing The Second Person Study (I am going to include this book with those because it is of course second person), my primary sources Professors Richardson and Fludernik kept referring to CYOA books as archetypes of second person literature – and now I finally read one! And I love it!

No matter what – whether you walk in the woods or go to a coffeehouse or McDonalds or call a friend or simply spend a quiet day at home – you will end up on Page 73: You will die. How would you like your memories of your last few hours to play out? Because:

It will be several thousand years before the human race develops a procedure to retrieve the memories of the dead from their bodies. By then the age in which you lived will be recollected as a time of barbarism and brute physical destruction, of interest to only historians of cultural degradation. But in the name of scientific research, a few sample bodies from your century will be exhumed for memory reclamation, and among those selected will by your own.

To the surprise of everyone involved, you will prove to be a very popular exhibit. People will wait for hours to get a glimpse of you, some of them returning many times.

You will come to be regarded as a sort of cult phenomenon. There are days when the line to your gallery will reach all the way through the entrance hall and across the courtyard, fading like a plume of smoke into the broken red skies of the city.

Now, your decision as a reader of this book is, how will you approach it? It contains maybe 30 sections, 2-3 pages each, which become 14 story lines with six “chapters” each (and one orphan section, partly quoted above, which belongs to none and to all). At the end of each section, you decide. Sometimes it is a simple action decision: go for a walk or stay home? Go right or left? Sometimes it is more involved: If you have ever really been happy, or if you have not? If you would like to go out and test the air, if you are comfortable where you are? These join with the second person voice to put the reader into the story more than most stories!

And it is a very interactive book! I suppose you could just read from page 1 to page 131 (do not worry, it is a teeny-tiny book so they are teeny-tiny pages) but what would the fun of that be?

So, if you are like me, you start at the first page and then make a decision on page 3 to go to page 21, then on page 23 you go to page 45, etc etc. And when you finish that set of “chapters” you go back to page 3 and jump to page 89 instead, and go where that leads you! It took me about two hours to read this, because I kept trying to put little notes and pictures on the pages to show where I had come from and how many jumps I had made. And then I went back to see if I had missed anything, which is a good thing, because otherwise, I would not have realized there was an orphan section! And a very important one!

And no matter what, every story line ends up at page 73. Now, I have to say: Margaret Atwood covered similar territory a lot more quickly, in her flash fiction “Happy Endings”:

The only authentic ending is the one provided here:
John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die.

But this book is not just about “whatever you do, you die.” It is, as the opening quote says, about how you build your soul! Is that not a cool thing? We learn a lot about the “you” of the story, who obviously is not “you” and thus does that whole subversive thing Richardson likes to talk about a lot. It does keep you – uh oh, it keeps the reader off-balance. And I think some people might become annoyed by this. But I enjoyed it! I love weird techniques! But the thing is, there is a character here, with a childhood, an adolescence, a past we learn something about, and in the present are specific events that are sometimes repeated in the story lines: kids playing soccer, an ambulance, the fall air. Whether “you” is home to take the phone call from the guy who dialed the wrong number, or whether “you” merely hear his answering machine message later, or whether “you” are out all day so never know about it, this is an event that happened! So “you” is a real character! We get to know this character, and I came to like him/her (I assumed he was male for some reason, probably because the author is male, but I am pretty sure he could be female as well, though I will have to check). All the while it is, well, “you”!

I forgot how much I love playing with second person!

Sprinkled into the story, in every arc, are wonderful little gems. “You” muses that the best SF writers “practice literature as a form of nostalgia” – and this is in a book designed to remind us of books from our childhood! Is that clever or what? When “you” sees a girl with a T-shirt that says “Life Is A Bedtime Story” “you” want to ask her: “If life is a bedtime story, then what kind of story is death….? A horror story? Or simply a mystery?” This, in a story about dying!

Then we have this:

How often, you wonder, has the direction of your life been shaped by such misunderstandings?…Sometimes you imagine that everything could have been different for you, that if only you had gone right one day when you chose to go left, you would be living a life you could never have anticipated. But at other times, you think there was no other way forward…It is as if some invisible giant has taken control of your existence, setting his hands down like walls on either side of you. He has changed your course with each bend of his fingers.”

And is that not exactly what the reader is doing, literally and physically, with the story? This kind of character-reader interaction reminds me a little of the very end of Sophie’s World (not to be confused with Sophie’s Choice which is a very VERY different thing!) except that there I think the writer was controlling the characters (I have not read that book in a long time, maybe it is time for another round, it is another wonderful fun book!)

I so enjoyed this! I first read Kevin Brockmeier about a year ago when “Ryan Shifrin” from The Illumination was in Tin House; I ran out and bought the book immediately – and it is still waiting, so patiently, to be read, because I foolishly used a stack instead of a queue (only computer science nerds will know what I mean, do not worry about it) so I have now moved it to my rucksack and have begun reading it on the bus – I think I will need to check out his collections as well. This story is in his second collection, The View From the Seventh Layer, but I suspect it was easier to manipulate the teeny-tiny Madras Press edition what with all the page-flipping and back and forth! In any event I am glad to have discovered it!

Non-Fiction – Alan Huffman & Michael Rejebian: We’re With Nobody: Two Insiders Reveal the Dark Side of American Politics (Wm Morrow 2012)

We’re opposition political researchers, which means we’re hired by campaigns to compile potentially damning profiles of candidates. Our lives during the campaign season are a coast-to-coast series of behind-the-scenes interviews and paper chase sorties – clandestine missions that revolve around facts, truths, lies, surprises, and dead ends…. One day we’re in New Orleans, staring cross-eyed at court records in the hazy morning aftermath of a late night on Bourbon Street. The next we’re in New York City, resolutely standing on the last nerve of a records clerk who frowns as she looks at the request I’ve just handed her.

I chose to read this book after watching Jon Stewart interview the authors on The Daily Show. I was looking forward to it: two former journalists – writers – doing a job I’m somewhat aware of, and an overall topic that interests me: how candidates market themselves (and get derailed). Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped.

Right off the bat, I’ll confess: I didn’t read the last two chapters of this book. I gave up. That isn’t to say there aren’t some “good parts” to the book – there are, definitely. I think this would’ve been a terrific article. A longish article, perhaps, maybe even a two-parter, but really great. Trouble is, it’s a 187-page book. A book written by two people. Two authors, that’s always trouble for the writers, but when the authors alternate chapters with less coordination than I would have expected, the trouble is passed on to the reader.

For example: the mainstay of their job is checking public records in courthouses, municipal offices, etc. Which means they frequently have to ask government clerks to pull files. Not all government workers are charming and helpful; we’ve all been to the DMV, we know how it is. But it seemed to be mentioned so many times over the course of the first half of the book, I began to feel sorry for these clerks, and get pretty defensive on their behalf. Just in time, one of them acknowledges the clerks are not well paid, have tedious jobs, and have work to do other than pulling records, but by that time I saw these guys as ogres picking on defenseless middle-aged women who have to pay the rent just like everyone else. Did they really need to repeat that annoyance so many times?

The assignments related feel muddled and, sometimes, incomplete. There seems to be some confusion of gossipy news coverage – which opposition research has nothing to do with – with misuse of “oppo” (as they call it). Accounts of assignments are spread out with so much intervening material, it’s hard to realize that the mayoral candidate they’re talking about at the end of a chapter is the same one who was featured at the beginning. This may sound like a reading problem. And, I’ll admit, it could be. But I’m a pretty careful reader. I think that’s documented pretty well throughout this blog, in fact. And I found the individual adventures difficult to follow and a lot less interesting than they could have been, had they been presented more sequentially.

Maybe the problem is that they can’t reveal too much in the way of detail. I’m not talking about names, of course – there are none, this isn’t a tell-all, and I wasn’t expecting it to be – but there’s a murkiness to this that really makes it less readable than it could be.

I think another problem is that their job ends when they turn over their report to the campaign that hired them:

While we objectively investigate and report on the subjects of our research, what separates us from full-time journalists that we never directly publish our political work…As a result we have little control over how it’s eventually presented to you…

Maybe I’m reading the wrong book. Maybe the book I want to read is the one about the campaign manager who takes the report and ignores it, or distorts it. How a campaign decides what’s worth disclosing, and what will just make them look bad. How they disclose it, and when. The strategy side of things, rather than the process. If so – my bad. But I still think this would make a great article if edited down.

My favorite section was the self-research chapter. A campaign manager wanted to hire them to do research on his candidate, to see what the other side’s oppo would turn up; the candidate refused, quite angrily, insisting it wasn’t his first campaign and there was nothing to find (not that hadn’t been found before, at any rate). And of course something was uncovered and he went down in flames. Read Chapter 12, for sure, it’s a good one. Chapter 13, on the other hand, is a travelogue about different places they’ve been (though it’s Chapter 9 that contains an interesting observation: “It may be useful to talk country in rural areas, or no-nonsense in Chicago, or to present yourself as a charming curiosity, which, in our case, may mean laying on the Southern charm in Idaho. It is also sometimes useful to flirt with the person, whether male or female, depending on your gut feeling”), and chapter 14 is full of general observations about deadlines, with little specific material at all.

They do make several valuable points along the way, such as:

But it’s distressing to see how political lies have adapted to public scrutiny….The purveyors have become increasingly effective despite increasing access to the facts, in part because of the successful use of dazzle camouflage – whereby complicated imagery is superimposed on the truth to fool the eye.

While I agree heartily with this sentiment, it’s rather tenuously connected to their job, since, as we’ve already seen, they don’t publish anything. If incidents when this happened to them, when their research was used poorly, were included, I might feel differently, but either they always work for Good Guys, or they couldn’t include specifics for other, perhaps legal, reasons.

The title of the book is one of their often-repeated lines of dialogue: every time they go anywhere to request information, someone will ask, “Who are you with?” “We’re with nobody” is how they avoid answering. They never, ever say who they’re working for.

If you like atmosphere, the book starts with them talking to a guy sitting on his porch holding a gun, squinting at a pickup truck rolling by. There’s an investigation in New Jersey which includes thuggish undercover police hanging around for no discernible reason. And there’s an interview with a potential opponent’s ex-wife (ex-wives will talk, police won’t) which results in the discovery that the candidate may have a domestic violence arrest:

…one thing polls show is that voters will tolerate and even accept an awful lot of misgivings by politicians. They have tolerated cheating spouses, dalliances with prostitutes, the occasional DUI, college drug use, and even cocksucking in the White House. But they will never condone domestic violence. Slapping a woman around is a political killer.

What’s sad is what is tolerated. We’ve come a long way from when a simple divorce was a scandal, I guess. In this case the potential candidate was convinced, through undisclosed back channels, not to run.

Now that’s the book I wish I’d read.

Pushcart 2012: Frederic Tuten, “The Veranda” from Conjunctions Spring 2010

Paul Cezanne.  The Large Bathers, 1906.  Oil on canvas, 82 7/8" by 98 3/4".  Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Paul Cezanne. The Large Bathers, 1906. Oil on canvas, 82 7/8" by 98 3/4". Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He wrote about the Bathers, how he loved the awkwardness of the nude figures, the almost childish painting of their forms. As if Cezanne had set out to fail. As if he had sought through that failure a great visual truth at once obvious and occult. He quoted from a letter of Cezanne’s, in which he spoke about his unfinished paintings – paintings he had deliberately left unfinished, patches here and there of raw canvas as if left to be later painted. Cezanne had found truth in their incompleteness. That empty spaces invited color, leaving he viewer to imagine that color, leaving the viewer his exciting share in the completing of the visual narrative; blank spaces suggesting also that art, like life, does not contain all the information and that it is a lie when it pretends so.

We start and end with Her – only the artists and writers in this story have names, other than an initialed butler – and in between learn about Him, and Them. But only enough about both of them to understand how the empty space left by his death has affected her. Besides the Cezanne painting, also unfinished was His life, of course, but so is Her life, and, having known the love of Her life after two false starts, She just waits for it to be over instead of completing the narrative. In this way, She betrays Him.

I think. What do I know, anyway. When I look at the painting, I see the face of a smiling woman, her long hair parted in the middle, looking slightly to the left. But only if I squint.

In a Conjunctions reading at Montauk Bookshop on August 28, 2010 (you can read the transcript or listen), Dr. Tuten (an artist as well as a Professor of Literature) described his story this way:

It’s about a very serious, unfashionable artist. How can I say it? I mean it’s so corny to say it—a man of integrity, of character. He has a vision, it’s not current, it’s not trendy, and he does it all his life; he’s very quiet, very unassuming, and very shy. Except with women. And with women he dares everything. So his feeling about life is, to lose an opportunity to meet a new woman that you’re attracted to is to lose a part of your life. So he takes chances.

He “did not have friends in the full sense of the word, though he believed in the idea of friendship as found in the essays of Montaigne. He liked the idea so much that he did not attempt to injure it through experience” but He is willing to take risks with women, in particular, women “who read books he honored….You could be fooled or betrayed by friends but never by books.” I love this distinction between women and friends. He goes to great lengths to enjoy art (similar, perhaps, to the risks he takes for women), travelling to Europe or, as it happens, Philadelphia, where his favorite work, Cezanne’s Large Bathers, is exhibited.

They meet through His art, after She sees his work in a gallery She frequents, where the owner displays His art. The gallery owner notices His art soon explodes with “new vigor and insight…a kind of generosity lacking earlier but still keeping the work within its usual reserved boundaries.” This dealer becomes concerned when he learns She is building a house in Montauk: he has known other artists and “…sometimes, their flame went out because the hungry fuel that had fed it was no longer there, and the rich life took its place.” This leads to an interesting exchange between the dealer and Her:

He knew artists who, when they reached the pinnacle of their art and reputation and had earned vast sums, turned out facsimiles of their earlier, hard-earned work and were more concerned with their homes, trips, social calendars, their placement at dinner parties than with anything that might have nourished their art, which coasted on its laurels.
And for that last reason the dealer said to her, “Go slow and keep the life contained, for his sake and yours.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry, no one will come to our dinner parties, should we ever give them, and we shall not go if ever asked.”
“This is not a moralistic issue,” he said. “And I’m not against money. You know it’s not about you. I love you,” he said, turning red.
“And I love you for how you were in his life and in his work from the start.”
He made an exaggeratedly alarmed face and said, “Were?”
“Were, are, and always will be,” she said, then repeated it.
They left on good terms…

So we also have an echo of boundaries, which in the case of this particular artist’s work, seem to be a good thing. I’m not sure I understand that.

Maybe that’s why it’s a story that grabs me by the neurons instead of the heart; I’m interested by the choices Tuten made, rather than captivated or moved by any emotion he evokes. To paraphrase my favorite writing book, writing is all about choices. I’m intrigued by Tuten’s choices in this piece, because, though I don’t really understand them, I feel a mind at work behind them. If I understood the choices, I might be grabbed by the heart as well. I can always hope.

For example, he uses some interesting (and I’m not using that word casually – it isinteresting) sentence construction, such as:

His picture had never appeared in any of the art magazines she subscribed to, which, with the exception of the bulletin from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was a trustee, were none.

There must be a reason for the roundabout phrasing there.

And then, we have the third person omniscient narration. Mostly it swaps between the two principles, and dabbling with the gallery owner, but we get a brief glimpse into the thoughts of a bit player, on the first night She spends with Him: “She gave her driver the day off. He was glad and made his escape across the bridge to Astoria, Queens, where his wife and children watched TV until they went blind.” It’s here that I wish this story had been included in BASS or PEN/O.Henry, because I’d really like to know why the writer uses this little flicker into a character who is, really, unimportant to the story. I wonder if it has something to do with the painting, with some shift of focus between figures, including a tiny bit of interest in one of the most minor ones. But I don’t know much about art.

Time also has an, dare I say it, interesting way of not making itself known. Immediately after Her conversation with the art dealer about moving to Montauk, we read:

Now he was dissolved in the sea, vanished in a soup of bones and brine. And now she was alone until the sea took her away, too, if it were the sea who one day would be her executioner.

Did they live there for years? Weeks? Did they even move in? Did he drown himself, perhaps in despair over losing his artistic fire, as his dealer feared? Or did he simply drown by accident? Tuten chooses to let us surmise, to let the reader imagine the colors that should be painted in those empty spots.

The story ends with Her reading His comments on the Cezanne, quoted above. That shift to the unfinished, along with a woman somewhere in her middle years, considering Her life to be over, waiting for the end, leaves a sense of sadness. But it’s not really a sad story; it’s more that She is a sad character, unwilling to finish Her life without Him, He whose live was unfinished.

Maybe she’ll change her mind some day.

Sunday with Zin: at Khan Academy

A Mobius strip!

A Mobius strip!

Hello, I am Zin, and I have decided Sunday is Zin Day! Since I have not been commenting on stories lately (though I have one coming up very soon, just a couple of days to finish up) I have to find something else to do here! So I will do assorted things on Zin Sundays!

Last week I heard about Khan Academy on 60 Minutes (yes, I am an old fart who has watched 60 Minutes from before you were born, you young whippersnappers). It is completely free; if you want to keep track of what you watch you can log in with either a Google or Facebook account, but otherwise you can just go!

They have thousands of brief – 5 to 25 minute – video lessons on all kinds of subjects. The videos are very simple – no animation, just the guy writing and pictures to illustrate what he is talking about. They are very good lessons! They are interesting, like that fun class with the teacher everyone liked, except without the acne! And he explains things very well!

Most of the videos are about math (schools are using them) and economics (the guy who started the website is an economist) but there are some other things like history, cosmology (and other sciences), and art. Or you can learn about the Paulsen Bailout if you are that sort of person. I am not!

So I am finally figuring out the French Revolution, which has confused me all these years – how the good guy became bad guys, now I am beginning to understand! And the other night, one of the Project Runway designers mentioned Fragonard as his inspiration, so I watched videos (just illustrated talks by art historians, a little different) on two of his paintings! Which just happen to lead into the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, but that was by accident.

But the best ones are in the section at the bottom by the “resident mathematician” Vi Hart. Do not be scared! She is so much fun! For example:

The Möbius Tale of Wind and Mr. Ug: This is amazing! If you have seven minutes please watch it! You are not supposed to learn anything, just watch the little story! It is fun even if you have no idea what a Möbius strip is!

and

The Binary Hand Dance: It helps if you understand binary numbers (ones and zeros) but if not, just watch, it is very funny! If they taught math like this when I was in school, I might be able to add!

Let me know how you like them!

Donald Antrim: “Ever Since” from The New Yorker, 3/12/12

New Yorker illustration by Josh Cochran

New Yorker illustration by Josh Cochran

Ever since his wife had left him – but she wasn’t his wife, was she? he’d only thought of her that way, had begun to think of her that way, since her abrupt departure, the year before, with Richard Bishop – Jonathan had taken up a new side of his personality, and become the sort of lurking man who, say, at work or at a party, mainly hovers on the outskirts of other people’s conversations, leaning close but not too close, listening in while gazing out vaguely over their heads in order to seem distracted and inattentive, waiting for the conversation to wind down, so that he can weigh in gloomily and summarize whatever has just been said.
He was at it again.

I’ve noticed that when I connect emotionally with a story, I miss a lot of details; I might not even know the names of key characters, the setting, the tense or person of the narration, until I go back and think about it later, because, like with great sex, in the moment I’m lost in the experience. Then there are those stories that are so cleverly woven that I’m enthralled with the brilliance of a writer who has used the same 26 letters and 9 punctuation marks we all have access to, in such an interesting and unique way. And sometimes, like this time, I sense little hints left like breadcrumbs, but I get lost anyway.

This story of a cocktail party, like Antrim’s story from last May, contains some wonderful elements. There’s a choreography that’s absolutely masterful; in his Book Bench interview, he says “Traffic control, for me, can be a pleasure” and he’s good at it. For example, right after the opening paragraph quoted above, protagonist Jonathan does his “lurking man” bit with a cluster of fellow party attendees, dropping his gloom, and the cluster reacts to enfold him:

“What you’re saying, if I’ve heard you right, is that the current rates of city government spending will eventually bankrupt the public schools.” He was speaking to a group of young parents – presumably, that’s what they were – at a book-publication party for a novelist he’d never read. He’d come with his friend, his date, he should say, who worked for the novelist’s publisher. He added, “My ex-wife, well, not my wife, but, you know, she might as well have been, taught eighth grade in the Bronx for two years.”
“Really?” a woman in the group asked. The man next to Jonathan turned sideways as if he were a door swinging open to let him in.
Jonathan stepped forward.

I love that detailed social ballet; it feels so accurate. It also starts two of the themes that run through this story: belonging, and the ex-not-wife Rachel. I’m trying to ignore the ex-not-wife thing as much as possible, since it’s the most blatant part of the story (at every turn he’s reminded of her), and thus the least interesting (though, since it’s the crux of the story, I can’t ignore it completely).

The theme of belonging, however, dovetails nicely with the religious imagery I found in the names used throughout. I’m not sure if I’m overreading. I went hunting in all my usual places for confirmation, and found it only in a comment on Cliff Garstang’s Perpetual Folly which also brings up the Biblical Jewish names. It isn’t just the Jewish names, though.

The Jonathan of the Old Testament is best known for his friendship with King David. I’m interested in how Jonathan describes Sarah as his friend first, then his date, and later we find out they’re more like a couple who’ve been together for a while.

The ancient Sarah was, among other things, associated with laughing at God’s assurance she’d have children when she was in her 80s; in the story, she’s the “friend/date”, and Jonathan sees her as playful; he also associates her with his old age (just what every young woman wants):

When they walked down the street together, and he rested his arm on her shoulder, he thought sometimes about how essential it would be in old age to have someone to lean on. And though his old age was a long way off, and he felt, the majority of the time, that he would never reach it anyway, he nonetheless considered it often when he was with Sarah.

Deborah was one of the few women of power and strength in her own right (not through her husband, father, or brother) in the Bible. At the party, Jonathan meets and possibly flirts with a strong Deborah, who tells him: “I want you to know that if we sleep together and I get pregnant I’m keeping the baby.” Which, by the way, splashes some cold water on the flirtation (which may be accidental on his part) and sends him skittling back to Sarah.

And Rachel, the omnipresent ex-not-wife, is the name of the woman Jacob wanted to marry when he was tricked into marrying Leah instead. Jacob spent seven years working for her father to win her hand; unlike Jonathan and his Rachel, however, the biblical pair did marry and fathered the Twelve Tribes. Our fictional Rachel, on the other hand, left Jonathan and married Richard Bishop. Now, maybe that name is a coincidence. And maybe it’s a coincidence Jonathan is standing on Church Street, taking a break from the party, when he calls Rachel and discovers she’s moving to LA and he finds himself sort of free of her (at least temporarily). And maybe it’s coincidence that one of the editors at Sarah’s publishing house who’s pursuing her ardently is named Fletcher, who is described as “thinner than he – in better shape all around, no doubt – with sharp cheekbones and a widow’s peak” or that, if we think mutiny instead of arrowsmith, another Christian is trying to take away Jonathan’s girlfriend when he is slow to propose. But I don’t think so.

The “belonging” theme rings throughout as well, from the initial sense of belonging to the circle at the party, to his diasporic longings for his place of origin:

Jonathan was extremely conscious of his origins, which were Southern…. he regarded himself as oddly and bravely homeless, imagining, from this city he’d chosen to live in, a lost, green place – Charlottesville, where his parents had been professors, and the nearby Blue Ridge, where he’d camped as a boy.

(no, “Next Year in Charlottesville” doesn’t quite sound right) to the difference between his and Sarah’s backgrounds:

…this drawn-out, vague acquaintance had given them each the subtle feeling, once they’d begun seeing each other and sleeping together, that they somehow shared common origins, though in fact she’d grown up on the Upper East Side, the daughter of psychoanalysts, and showed a dedication to European fashion magazines – Rachel had rejected fashion as a malignant form of commercialism – that he would never, throughout their long life ahead, their marriage, come to fathom.

That paragraph contains a wealth of substance besides Sarah’s New York roots: Rachel again, and a quick little flash-forward, slipped in so quickly it’s hardly noticeable, moving the narrator into the foreground as he spills the beans on Jonathan’s future. But if your mind wanders – and it might, given the intricate detail of who’s standing where talking to whom smoking what that suffuses this story – you might miss it. I’m fascinated by that trick of narration. There must be a word for it.

I think – I’m not sure – the climax of the story comes when Jonathan, having talked to Rachel on the phone and believing now he is mostly free of her, give or take a few slips he expects to happen – gets a jar of cherries from the bartender (cherries? really?) and winds a stem around Sarah’s finger while kneeling before her:

“Are you proposing?” Sarah asked.
He said, “I’m not sure that I can propose without a real ring. But at least you’ll know.”
“I’ll know what?
But he was afraid to say.
He stood and kissed her on the cheek.

I have no idea what that means – we already know they do indeed get married – but I hear violins and see soft-focus lighting. They then disappear towards Broadway, his arm around her shoulders, perhaps thinking about his old age.

Ok, I’m making all this up as I go along. Maybe it’s just a New York cocktail party story about a committment-phobic young man, and I’m just sensitized to religious symbolism because it’s the time of the year when everything from the wine on special at the supermarket to the onslaught of ads for Filet-o-Fish sandwiches at Burger King is grounded in religious practice. After all, Jonathan, Rachel, Sarah, and Deborah are not necessarily Jewish names at this point. So yeah, I’m overreading (but… why then are the novelist’s books titled Abel Kills Cain and The Strictures of My Love?). It’s what happens when a story doesn’t really connect with me: I torture it to find meaning. Sorry.

But hey, it was fun… ;)

Additions to “Cool Sites for Writers and Readers” page

I’m adding four new entries to the Cool Sites for Writers and Readers page:

Goodreads: Book reviews by individual readers. Zin just recently started taking Goodreads seriously (an account was set up a while ago but pretty much ignored until last month). All of Zin’s reviews point to blog entries here, which is backwards to the way they want you to do it, but that’s Zin for ya. This may be a phase, but it’s a site that should be on the page.

If you’re not subscribing to The Millions online feed, oh, you should be. Not just for standard literati fare such as:
essays (The Slacker in Modern Fiction: The Flâneur Goes to the Mall by Elizabeth Minkel);
interviews (Lethal Language: Ben Marcus Urges Writers to March on the Enemy by Adam Boretz);
reviews (Speaking of Anne Frank…, of Nathan Englander’s new story collection, by Yevgeniya Traps);
etc. (The Beautiful Afterlife of Dead Books by Kyo Maclear and Innocent and Abroad: Mark Twain and the Art of Travel Writing by Nathan Deuel);

but they also come up with some of the wackiest fun stuff around. Which is why I’m also adding, as amusing diversions (because we all need another time sink):

Least Helpful: Daily Dispatches from the Internet’s Worst Reviewers. Use caution when reading this website while drinking any beverages; you will need a new keyboard. Most of the reviews are from Goodreads or Amazon. For example:
The Invisible Man: “I kept wondering when he’d become invisible. disappointing.” (sic)
Veggie Tales: The site sums up one rambling review complaining about perceived Christian and “pro-meat” viewpoints (the Veggies, it seems, eat meat) as: “Rated PG-13 (for unrealistic dietary choices of talking religious vegetables)”
Audio Jammer (product review): “This tiny thing does the job… I know my neighbors had had a listening device the past year because the couple no longer talk, watch t.v. or play their music, it as if they have dedicated their life into mines….” (sic)
Please, let me never show up on this site.

and

Witless Innuendo: a tumblr of “those end-of-review warnings from The New York Times’ film critics.” I never before noticed how recognizable these are. Such as:
“Murder, torture, naked women – the usual” (for 88 Minutes)
“Much Martian blood (blue and otherwise) is spilled” (for John Carter).

More later.

Project Runway All Stars: Episode 11 – Finale Part 1

Fragonard: "Love Letter" c. 1770

Fragonard: "Love Letter" c. 1770

This is the boring penultimate episode that in most seasons is only interesting because Tim Gunn does home visits and grimaces at catfish or bounces on trampolines or declines (with his inimitable courteous dignity) to accept turtle poop. But since there’s no Tim Gunn, and there are no home visits, it’s an episode that’s interesting because…. wait…. it’ll come to me….nope, it’s a total waste of time. But that isn’t going to stop me from dripping words all over the internet, nosiree.

The short version:
Four days.
$3,000.
Five looks.

Austin – His theme is Fragonard meets Madame de Pompadour meets Williamsburg Hasidic rock star – any questions? Not since Rami and Jillian (Joan of Arc and 15th Century Spanish armor, respectively) has there been such an interesting concept on PR. Makes Gretchen’s “Running Through Thunder” sound piss-ant, doesn’t it?

Michael: Central Park, green, animal print – aha, Safari! Oh, Michael, don’t you know there’s already been a Michael who did a Street Safari, and afterwards he had to change his name and design t-shirts for Starbucks? Is that what you want, Michael? Your designs with latte drips all over them? And now a big shoutout to ketzel on TWoP for this astute life advice aimed at Michael:

When I started to make art, a great teacher warned me never to settle for my first idea. “The cheap and easy stuff comes first, kid,” he said, “You gotta not fall in love with the first cheap and easy thing that winks at you.”

I gotta remember that.

Mondo is really, really Depressed. After a day of Being Depressed, he uses it as his theme: “Therapy.” Electroshock. Acupuncture. Ink blots. I hope this was filmed before Viktor’s ink blots aired. Because Viktor, he really did great ink blots.

They work for a couple of days, and then:

Twist – Sixth Look, using only fabric scraps left over from prior challenges. This is a Made for Mondo twist if there ever was one. But he’s still depressed. Oh, come on, guys, you knew it was coming. There’s always another look, except for the Remedial Season 9 when they had to cancel it to allow time for Anya to redo her collection (my interpretation).

Twist, part deux: pick a 24-hour assistant from among your former competitors.
Mondo picks Mila. Kind of makes sense. Graphic, good skills, no nonsense, no buddy-buddy stuff. He’s still Depressed.
Austin gets Anthony, which is a surprise to me. What about your BFF Kenley? Not so BFF that he wants to be saddled with her for 24 hours, it seems.
Michael chooses the Grey Fox, April, which shocks me, especially with Rami the draper standing there (I didn’t see him, was he actually there? I assume he was). And Gordana, who can sew up a storm and is incredibly nice as well. But he says girl’s got mad skillz.

They sew. Mondo sulks. Austin and Michael complain about him.

That’s about it.

Ok, a few details that, if I squint and try hard, might be worth a mention:

- Mondo sees Austin has shaved his mustache, and snarks, “He went from Errol Flynn to Kermit the Frog.” Hey, that’s not really something a guy who wears lederhosen ought to be saying, y’know? Funny they don’t even try to disguise the interview shots that, throughout the season, have shown him both mustachio’d and clean-shaven in random fashion, sometimes both on one episode IIRC.

- They visit Joanna to gawk at the awe and splendor of her offices; she comes out looking remarkably attractive and wearing shoes that make those rhino heels Christian Siriano loved kept breaking in his “Having a Moment” special look downright comfy.

- In addition to the usual obligatory kowtows to power, there are a couple of somewhat interesting questions they ask Joanna:
Mondo: What about theatrics and over-the-top styling in the fashion show, how important is it?
Joanna: It depends, if it’s authentic to the collection, that’s fine, but in any case, it’s not essential.
Michael: What does the guest editor job entail?
Joanna: It entails joining Nina’s team for discussions of how to interpret runway looks for readers who want to wear fashion (in other words – nothing specific, sit and listen, get coffee and maybe the next unreleased Harry Potter book – oh, wait, there are no more Harry Potter books….
Me: Do you ever fall over backwards in those shoes?
Joanna: no answer. What’sa matta, Joanna, afraid of the truth?

- Mondo interviews that the magazine job would be terrific for him because he loves collaborating with creative people. Which is why he sulks for four days in the workroom and rebuffs all friendly advances, and storms out of a cocktail session, and is happy he has a space where he can close the door. I love Mondo. Dearly. When Austin and Michael bitch that they’ve got problems too, I love Mondo all the more. Depression (capital-D Depression, the illness) isn’t about problems. In fact, some of us function best when we have “real” problems, because then people understand how hard it is for us and we can be brave and soldier on. It’s when you wake up and the sun is shining and you have a trip to the South of France on your calendar and your sensitive and loving boyfriend makes you a perfect omelet and your dog greets you with waggy tail and the cat purrs next to you and you have a series of outstanding offers and your inbox is crammed with praise and affection and you still wish you were dead that you understand capital-D depression. And you can, indeed, truly believe that you enjoy collaborating with creative people, because you recognize it as something you would enjoy, if you were capable of enjoying anything.

- Michael picks April as his assistant, and I momentarily couldn’t remember her name, so I write “death girl” in my notes.

- Anthony tells Austin, “That lace looks like dead white lady.”

- Michael says something to April about her finally getting her pony. Remember, she wanted to use prize money from a challenge to get a miniature pony? It was the most excited she looked the whole season, too. I think she should give up fashion and go into miniature-pony breeding.

- Austin wants the hairstylist about including payot. This could be really good. Or, HaShem could strike him down on the runway. Watch what happens.

After the Runway:

Mondo: just before the first challenge, he “kind of broke up” with his best friend of 11 years, and also, he’s been having problems with his partner. I think he’s reaching. Face it, Mondo, you’re a depressed whiner. Me, too. Embrace the Emo.

Anthony on assisting Austin: “I was the help, just call me Minnie.” At least I think it was Minnie. Winnie?

Isaac to Michael: “I adore how much you love flesh.”

Now… aren’t you glad I skipped the long version?

Gregory Maguire: Tales Told in Oz (Madras Press, 2012)

"Small House, Colares" by Andy Newman

"Small House, Colares" by Andy Newman

For students of the native märchen, we present a compendium of traditional tales of Oz. They are selected to represent diverse regions of the nation. Originating from different periods of our profound past, each story illustrates a narrative tradition: a hierophantic biography, a trickster tale, a children’s fable, a pour quoi story. As an amuse bouche we append a suite of apothegms.

I haven’t read the original Gregory Maguire book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, though I’ve been idly wanting to for some time. In fact, this teeny-tiny book finally inspired me to actually get my hands on a copy (the library copy has been missing forever).

What’s great about this little book is, as in the introduction quoted above, the presentation of the individual stories as a scholarly survey of the folk literature of various regions and historical periods of the fictional Oz. I’m looking forward to reading Wicked, and possibly additional Maguire works, to get a better sense of how these tales fit in.

Make no mistake: Maguire is no fanfic writer – he’s got a PhD in English and American Literature from Tufts – and while he is a childlit specialist, Wicked is not aimed at children:

I knew from the start that the book would have to include two of the things that prepubescent children have no interest in: sex and politics. Since the idea of the book (a fictional exploration of the nature of evil) came before the subject (The Wicked Witch of the West in Oz: A life story), I knew that the book would engage in philosophical enquiry.

Who can resist that?

The Legend of Saint Aelphaba and the Waterfall” is exactly that: how Aelphaba went from lowly beginnings to sainthood on the power of her compassion, and how she hid from a group of hunters in a waterfall that froze on her pursuers:

In the decades afterward, it became known that the saint was waiting to emerge from her cave when she was needed most, to restore to the land the purity that had been bled from it through the abuse of ecclesiastical license committed by her grandfather, the Bishop.

From what I understand, in Wicked the character Elphaba is named after Saint Aelphaba, but she turns to evil and becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. The waterfall and the water that kills the witch are a further connection. I’m really eager to read more.

Four Improbably Handshakes: a Munchkinlander pumpkinhead tale” is explained thusly:

Stories from rural Munchkinland are known for featuring simpletons of every stripe and certification. Scarecrows remain the most popular buffoons….In the story to follow, we behold a Jack Pumpkinhead, a folk figure of endless variation.

I really enjoy how these legends are presented as folk tales of a fictional place; it’s double-layered fiction. It’s the story of a Jack Pumpkinhead (which is, as you might guess, a sort of scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head) created by a blundering amateur magician, and a magical lemon that is really not the magic; it’s the handshake that’s the spell. There’s a wonderful cascade of events in this story, culminating in a clever and amusing ending; direct reader address is key.

The Witch and the Fox Babies” was of less interest to me, though I suspect it’s very important in conjunction with the other works about Oz, since the Wicked Witch ends up in a cave:

And did she ever come out?
Not yet.

I may revisit this later when I’ve read more of the works.

Skellybones Fir-cloak” is a creation myth about Lurline, about whom it seems many tales are eventually told. It’s a story of opposites: male and female, sun and moon, life and death, and how they oppose and cooperate.

Quadling Quacklings” is “a handful of folk sayings collected by anthropologists who managed to wade back from Muck Country.” Including the slightly bawdy:

Q: What are the virtues of the virtuous wife?
A: Clean from the neck up and dirty down below.

If you’re not interested in fairy tales, or in The Wizard of Oz, or either the book or the musical Wicked (which as I understand it has been simplified considerably to fit into a two-hour stage work, but still has some cool music), or the creative process of taking an established work and fashioning an entire universe, complete with a mythological and cultural anthropology to support it (think Tolkien rather than Harry Potter), these particular tales might not interest you at all. Me, I’m fascinated.

Pushcart 2012: Steve Stern, “The Ballad of Mushie Momzer” from Prairie Schooner, Spring 2010

I was conceived when my brother Doodya, who was also my father, sat in the privy behind the family’s hovel in Vidderpol playing with his schwantz. This is what they told me, and the Jews loved telling me at every least opportunity. My mother, fat and blind, eyeballs like soft-boiled eggs, had lumbered into the outhouse to move her bowels. She hosted the skirts of her tent-sized shift to squat over the hole, where she felt herself impaled on an alien organ as it spurted its load. When she shrieked, Doodya opened his eyes and, bellowing like a gelded calf himself, shoved my mother onto the outhouse floor. Then pulling up his moleskins, he trounced through the muddy yard scattering fowl, gathered his patched caftan and phylacteries from a hook, and vanished from the earth as surely as the Ten Lost Tribes.

And then his life really goes downhill.

I tried with this one. I tend to enjoy Jewish stories, and Steve Stern writes almost exclusively from Yiddish folk tales, so I was looking forward to it. But this, this was agonizing. I’m not even sure it was supposed to be funny. I was so miserable reading it, I couldn’t tell. I kept waiting for it to turn the corner. Not into a happy ending – into something, anything that made it worth slogging through page after page of misery. Was I supposed to be laughing at this guy’s misfortunes?

Such as his harelip, cleft palate, and other deformities? His annoyingly cheerful buddy Angel? His kidnapping into the Army? His castration following his only sexual encounter? His seeming return to try again? Is there a message here I’m supposed to get?

I kept thinking, this is the Jewish version of Jim Shepard. But I didn’t enjoy this story at all. In fact, it annoyed me, which is unusual. It does have a very strong voice, with a kind of sneery whimper of derision to it; that might add to that.

I’m positive there’s some larger picture I’m completely missing. It’s a parable about the Jewish experience, or about Life, or about The Human Condition, or The King of the Schlemazels, or some such thing. Or it’s a perfect example of some form: the Yiddish folk tale, the Hero Myth, the Job parable. Or maybe it’s an homage to someone, like Saul Bellow or Philip Roth, both of whom are among Stern’s inspirations.

I can glimpse a few hints – he thinks the afterlife can’t be worse, yet it is. The scenes he sees through the scrim are of him; the desire he has to impart hope to the struggling actor, to empower him to change his life, is made manifest as he is returned to his life at a point at which he can still effect change. Really? That’s it? All this misery, for that?

I freely admit my ignorance, and my complete lack of whatever aesthetic sensibility (dark humor? irony?) is required here. I’m glad it’s a great story, and if someone wants to explain why, I’ll be delighted to listen. Just don’t make me read it, ever, again, please.

Jim Shepard: “The World To Come” from One Story #161, 3/4/12

"Yes or No" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1905

"Yes or No" by Charles Dana Gibson, 1905

Sunday 6 May
My mother told me once in a fury when I was just a girl that my father asked nothing of her except that she work the garden, harvest the vegetables, pick and preserve the fruit, supervise the poultry, milk the cows, do the dairy work, manage the cooking and cleaning and mending and doctoring, and help out in the fields where needed. She said she’d appeared in his ledger only when she’d purchased a dress. And how have things changed? Daughters are married off so young that everywhere you look a slender and unwilling girl is being forced to stem a sea of tribulations before she’s even full grown in height.

We think we’ve invented everything. No one has ever known the hardships we’ve had in this time of economic woe; we’ve learned it all about love and relationships and sex and psychology and poetry and letters; when we have it bad, no one has ever had it as bad as us, and when we have it good, it’s a kind of good never before experienced.

Jim Shepard is here to tell us: Not so fast.

I’m not a big fan of diary format for stories, but he uses them frequently, and effectively, on his expeditionary stories. And this story can be seen as an expedition of sorts, into uncharted territories for the unnamed diarist, working with her husband Dyer on their upstate NY farm. We’re privileged to see her weekly writing at least of this period from January through June of 1856. It’s interesting this is the period chosen.

Sunday 1 January
With little pride and less hope, and only occasional and uncertain intervals of happiness, we begin the new year. Let me at least learn to be uncomplaining and unselfish. Let me feel gratitude for what I have : some strength, some sense of purpose, some capacity for progress. Some esteem, some respect, and some affection.
Yet I cannot say I am improved in any manner, unless it be preferable to be wider in sensation and experience.

After the calamity of Nellie’s loss, what calm I enjoy does not derive from the notion of a better world to come.

So we see her recovering from the death of her little daughter. I find it wonderful that this period is more interesting than what has already passed. Then again, given the parade of deaths and other tragedies in this little corner of the world during the six months we read of, death is not an unusual event. I’ve always wondered if parents who expected to lose a child grieved any less than we do today, in a time and place where a child’s death is fairly rare. It seems not.

The diarist and husband Dyer are rather distant, though kindly so. She is resistant to the idea of having another child, so has refused sexual relations. Dyer is rather solicitous: “My heart to him is like a pond to a crane: he wades round it, going in as far as he dares, and then attempts to snatch up what little fish come shoreward from the center.” He brings up plans to make a sleigh, a perennial project that apparently holds some delight for her, though she is less than interested. Theirs is not a marriage of love and compatibility, but of possibility. And if she is overworked and not content, he too has lost some dreams along the way:

As a suitor he was generous but not just, and affectionate but not constant. I was appreciative of his virtues and unconvinced of his suitability, but reminded by my family that more improvement might be in the offing. Because, as they say, it’s a long lane that never turns. And so our hands were joined if our hearts not knitted together.

As a boy he made his own steam engines… I have no doubt he would have been happier if allowed to follow the natural bent of his mind, but forces of circumstance compelled him to take up a business for which he had not the least love.

Tallie, the wife on a neighboring farm, comes to visit in January, and our diarist feels… something: “There seems to be something going on between us that I cannot unravel.” The evolution of their relationship is told masterfully, in slow motion with great detail, beginning in February with a cold, wet foot, after Tallie has broken through the ice into a brook on her way over:

I made her remove her boot and stocking and warmed her toes and ankle in my hands. For some few minutes we sat, just like that. The warmth of the stove and the smell of the applesauce filled our little room, and she closed her eyes and murmured as though speaking to herself how pleasant it was.

The diarist looks forward to her weekly visits (“When she arrived my heart was like a leaf borne over rock by rapidly moving water”) and is distressed when they don’t happen. Eventually, they kiss: “Astonishment and joy. Astonishment and joy. Astonishment and joy.”

That’s about as far as things go, really; there’s no steamy sex scene. But Shepard does a lot with just a couple of episodes of kissing, let me tell you. Especially with the dog keeping watch for Dyer or other intruders. Because this must, of course, remain a secret. Which is why she’s writing it down. I suppose reading someone’s diary was considered unthinkable in that time. Or perhaps Dyer has read the diary. He does seem to have a pretty good idea of what’s going on:

Opened the mudroom door this afternoon to Dyer having returned from the fields, and he said with some asperity that it was pleasant to be greeted by the smile one values above all others only to see that smile vanish because it’s been met by one’s own presence, instead of someone else’s.

Aside from the tortured syntax (it is a diary, after all), this is to me where the real story lies, where the real love is. Is that shocking, for a woman to read a story about an overburdened, artistically imprisoned woman (more on this in a moment) and feel for the man in her life? Or is that part of the design? Because we are introduced shortly to Tallie’s husband, when she invites them over to dinner:

Finney said that no matter what misfortunes arrived at his doorstep, he would seek improvement of his lot with his own industry: he would study his options closely and attend to everything to which he’d believed he had already adequately attended, but with more venehymence….Finney said as an example that when he’d first begun farming he’d been so vexed by his inability to stop his dogs barking one January that during a storm he’d held the animal round the corner of his barn in a gale until it had frozen to death.

In his fiction, Shepard frequently relishes all manner of harshness and brutality while keeping love, passion, and light center stage, and he has done so again. If it wasn’t evident before, in comparison with Finney, Dyer is a prince. Both men seem to know what is going on between the women, and they have very different reactions.

In fact, Finney’s reaction, foreshadowed at that dinner, becomes even more extreme. He and Tallie move away suddenly; she isn’t allowed to say goodbye or even notify her friend of the move. All that’s left behind are a few pieces of furniture and a bloody handprint. The sheriff declines to investigate. Our diarist pines. Dyer waits patiently by. At last, a letter arrives…

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s the diarist’s story. And there’s no denying the hardship women faced in this era. It was handed down to them:

My mother told me more than once that when she prayed, her first object wa to thank God that we’d been spared from harm throughout the day; her second was to ask forgiveness for all of her sins of omission and commission, and her third was to thank Him for not having dealt with her in a manner commensurate to all of the offenses for which she was responsible.

And there’s always the question, what would the diarist, who is quite a writer (including the poem she wrote for her dead child), have been if she’d been able to continue in a setting more conducive to artistic ventures? But also, I can’t help but wonder, what might Dyer have invented had he become a builder, inventor, engineer? Two lives, two talents wasted. It’s also interesting that at one point Tallie shows the diarist her own poetry; it’s bad, really bad, and the diarist “could not support the rhyme,” which is a moment I love.

While on one level it’s the story of a woman awakening one spring, it’s a lot more than that. And when I read Shepard’s One Story Q&A on why he chose to use diary format, I was surprised by this:

I wanted to catch if I could the moment-to-moment and day-to-day nature of 19th century farming lives, as well as how seasonally based those lives were: the importance of the weather, and their meals, and of course the drudgery. But the journal nature of the story also seemed crucial when it came to capturing all of the little ways in which the narrator has let her Tallie down.

I don’t understand at all how she has let Tallie down. I’ve been thinking about it for several days now, and I’ve re-read the story several times, and I still don’t understand. Is he being facetious – that the woman is so used to taking the blame for everything, she will find herself to blame for this as well? I think this will require re-reading at a future point, to see what I have missed. My favorite kind of story, one that evolves over time.

[addendum: A nice addition to Best American Short Stories 2013]

Almond Zin!

Hello, I am Zin! And last night I finally ! got to see Steve Almond read in person!

My Zoetrope buddy Jeanne (Hello, Jeanne!) emailed me early last week to tell me Steve was doing workshops and a reading here at the Space Gallery right down the street from me! I think it is a riot that someone else, who lives almost in Rhode Island, has to tell me what is going on two blocks away! But that is how it sometimes goes!

Jeanne was taking one of the workshops, but I have not been writing fiction lately, and I am not really at the Steve Almond level yet, and so did not think the workshop would be a good idea. I wanted to go to the reading, so I met Jeanne and her daughter (who we discovered some time ago lives in my apartment building, how is that for coincidence) at the reading that night.

He is extremely funny (but only if you are on the left side of the aisle, I would guess; you can judge for yourself from the collection of online essays on his website under “Patriotic Writings“) and read from his teeny-tiny self-published books, like This Won’t Take But A Minute, Honey which I have (and which I carry around to read on busses and in waiting rooms and wherever because it is so wonderful) and Bad Poetry (which I do not have but I think I will need to get) and Letters From People Who Hate Me (ditto on do not have) – this one has some of the best come-backs to obscene hate mail because they show the letter writer for what he or she is, a maniac without the ability to think, and make a larger point about the issue at hand at the same time. Like the guy from the Space Gallery who introduced him said: Some funny people will tell you a fart joke; Steve Almond will tell you a fart joke, and follow it up with a penis joke, but the penis joke will turn and venture into an area of utmost vulnerability. That is exactly what he does!

These books are only available at readings (or you can order them through the Harvard Book Store). So I should have bought them! I could have gotten them signed! I am an idiot! But I get frazzled when I am out in public, so many things to think about – do I have a normal look on my face or am I imitating The Scream? Am I singing or making other funny noises? Am I standing ok or am I cowering in terror? I do these things a lot at home so I worry I might do them without realizing it when I am out in public. I did not want to embarrass Jeanne! So I did not think about practical things.

After he read a bit, he took questions and someone asked about the problem he had with Fox following his resignation from Boston University after they hired Condaleezza Rice to speak at Commencement (this is thoroughly covered in (Not That You Asked): Rants, Exploits and Obsessions which I also have; they were running the clip he made about that adventure) and admitted “I have not done any research on this” and Steve joked around about feeling like he had to do research before attending a reading (I did do some research. I had my entire Steve Almond collection in my rucksack. But I did not tell anyone. They would have thought I was strange. Am I?). He is a very funny speaker. Jeanne said the workshop was excellent as well. And I obviously love his writing, especially his non-fiction and flash.

My only complaint with the reading was that it was too short! Maybe 45 minutes. But he gave a noon-to-3pm workshop, a 3:30 to 6:30 workshop, and a 7:30 reading, so I am thinking, that is a full day! And it was free, after all (the reading was free; the workshops were $100 which is not bad at all for someone of his calibre). And most people have very short attention spans. Me, I like to go somewhere and plant myself for a while, preferably in a dim secluded corner where no one will see me or ask me anything like “Why are you hiding here in this dark secluded corner?”, so I am just not really made for the short-attention-span lifestyle!

But it was a fun reading and I am very glad I went – thank you Jeanne for cluing me in and for meeting me there!

Alice Munro: “Haven” from The New Yorker 3/5/12

New Yorker photograph by Grant Cornett

New Yorker photograph by Grant Cornett

I had not approved of my parents’ going to Africa. I had objected to being dumped – my word for it – with my aunt and uncle. I may even have told them, my long-suffering parents, that their good works wer a load of crap. In our house we were allowed to express ourselves as w liked. Though I don’t think my parents themselves would ever have spoken of “good works” or of “doing good.”

In some ways, this is the mirror image to Claire Keegan’s “Foster” from two years ago. Instead of a girl sent from a cruel home to a kind one where she learns what it is to be loved, the unnamed girl in Munro’s story is sent from an “open” 70s home – expressing yourself, self-determination and freedom, chili in clay pots – to a restrictive and regulated place with her Aunt Dawn and Uncle Jasper. She doesn’t see her aunt as being particularly burdened by this atmosphere, however:

She was used to holding back until she was sure that my uncle had said all that he meant to say. Even if I spoke to her directly, she would wait, looking at him to see if he wanted to do the answering. What she did say was always cheerful, and she smiled just as soon as she knew it was O.K. to smile, so it was hard to think of her as being suppressed. Also hard to think of her as my mother’s sister, because she looked much younger and fresher and tidier, as well as being given to those radiant smiles.

My mother-in-law was like that. I had no trouble at all thinking of her as suppressed. Then again, I was older.

The girl doesn’t really think of herself as being subjected to any kind of restriction:

When I got better acquainted with my new school and with the rules about what girls there did after they reached their teens, I realized that biking was out of the question….

She was right, both a bout my acquiring a few friends and about the way that that would limit the things I could do.

In fact, she find it quite nice to live in a house nicely kept by Aunt Dawn, and to sleep on sheets hung out in the sun to dry rather than being sent to the Chinese laundry – or, as Uncle Jasper bellows, “Chinks.” My father was like that. Children, even thirteen-year-olds, have a remarkable way of adapting to pretty much anything as normal. And there is a theory that adolescents long for structure and limits, which is why they rebel, to be sure those limits are in place. She comes to enjoy living in the haven Aunt Dawn has created for Uncle Jasper:

“Haven” was the word. “A woman’s most important job is making a haven for her man.”
Did Aunt Dawn actually say that? I don’t think so. She shied away from statements. I probably read it in one of the housekeeping magazines I found in the house.
Such as would have made my mother puke.

The events turn around Jasper’s estranged sister, Mona, a violinist touring with a trio. She’s giving a concert on the night Jasper has a medical association meeting, so Dawn invites her, and the neighbors, over for dessert. She doesn’t want Jasper to know. To the girl, she seems to be having a grand time – “..it certainly looked as if she were excited about something. Perhaps just about being personally responsible for these moments, this spread of delight…” – when Jasper arrives home. There’s an awkward scene where he noisily eats a bowl of pork and beans as they leave. I’m guessing he has some resentment towards his estranged sister for pursuing a musical career. Or, most likely, any career. For not being controllable. He punishes Dawn for some period of time:

After our conversation about music, Uncle Jasper’s attention to me became more respectful…. Once, he said that it was a pleasure to have an intelligent person to talk to across the table. My aunt said yes, it was. …Life was hard for her, but by Valentine’s day she was forgiven…

A few months later, Mona dies, and the funeral is to be in the family church. Dawn, looking radiant in lilac – “A thorn had been removed. A thorn had been removed from Uncle Jasper’s side, and that could not help but make her happy” – drives up with the girl, who’s never been to a funeral and has some trepidation about “the Last Look.” Jasper comes later and creates a scene rearranging things to suit him – substituting his own organist and hymn, which Dawn does not sing – then finds himself cornered by the altar as the choir comes in. Hoisted by his own petard, as it were. Out of control, and unable to punish anyone for it. It hardly seems like enough.

But that’s just the story. The way it’s told is another matter.

The unnamed girl, the narrator, is both observer and participant. She’s affected by the change in her living situation, yet the story is mostly about Jasper and Dawn. I suspect the girl’s degree of participation is necessary to establish that she is not a fully reliable narrator, that her interpretation of events is naive as she does not understand the passive-aggressive and narcissistic uncle’s methods. It’s quite annoying to see her take the role of her uncle in some ways, enjoying the fruits of Dawn’s labors without contributing anything to those efforts. If she had to do the work to maintain the house she comes to enjoy, maybe she’d feel differently about it. Chili in clay pots might not look so bad once she’s had to bake the delicate cookies and wash the multitudes of flatware and linens.

My real annoyance, however, comes from the tense shifts. During scenes of particular intensity, such as the dessert party or the funeral, Munro shifts into present tense – but peppers it with “flashlight voice” recollections that muddy the waters. Here’s an example:

The pianist is sitting with her hands quiet on the keys, and the cello player has stopped. The violinist continues alone. I have no idea, even now, if that was the way the piece was supposed to go or if she was flouting him on purpose. she never looked up, as far as I can remember, to face this scowling man. Her large white head, similar to his but more weathered, trembles a little but may have been trembling all along.

Maybe this serves as a transition to the girl-today, but it’s distracting to me. Assuming the object of present-tense in these scenes is to increase the immediacy and effect of being lost in a recollection of particular power, flopping around like that draws me completely out of the scene, out of the story, and nullifies the effect. Add to that, my annoyance at the girl for acceding so readily to her uncle’s world-view:

Some of my ideas had changed during the time iu had been living with my aunt and uncle. For instance, I was no longer so uncritical about people like Mona….Devotion to anything, if you were female, could make you ridiculous.
I don’t mean that I was won over to Uncle Jasper’s way of thinking entirely – just that it did not seem so alien to me as it once had.

I found myself annoyed with this story overall. Especially now. And as always, I wonder: is that perhaps the point?

Nah.

Project Runway All Stars Episode 10 – Let’s Get Down To Business

The suspense is killing me: will the remaining designers carry on the longstanding tradition of producing crap in the next-to-last challenge?

The combatants are: Michael and Austin, who just missed the finals in their seasons, and Kenley and Mondo. But Mondo sees it differently: it’s Team M&M (him and Michael) and Team KA (Kenley and Austin). I’d call it the Misfits vs the Cool Kids, but they’re all pretty much misfits. How about, Misfits and More Misfits?

The Challenge

Angela tells them they’re doing ready-to-wear that’s modern, feminine, romantic, and affordable. And of course it makes me laugh that a $350 “everyday” dress is considered affordable. They’ll be working with Nanette Lepore to produce a garment within a budget; they’ll present her with sketches and she and a coster will figure out the retail price, the cost of labor for the particular design, and the designers will have X dollars left for fabric, which they’ll choose from her storeroom. I’m assuming her fabric is at wholesale prices, since no one freaks out about being limited to under $50. I wish we saw more of what went into the coster’s job – determining a price for the dress and figuring the cost of production. But I wish a lot of things.

Nanette

The winning design will be sold in her stores, and profits will go to savethegarmentcenter.org which is apparently Nanette’s cause celebre. That’s a step above putting the money into Heidi’s pockets, I guess.

Right off the bat, Mondo freaks, because he sketches like an eight-year-old. When they’re given sketch time, he draws hearts and stars, which is so cute. But I have to say, that seems like a huge disadvantage to a designer; it’s like a composer not being able to play an instrument, isn’t it? Other designers have done the “I don’t sketch” thing (Angela of the Granny Fleurchons, and the one who made the Buckminster Fuller Silver Soccer Ball Dress; she stood on her head instead of sketching and went home in the first episode) but they aren’t around long. There’s a little mini-drama in which Kenley tells Michael he should teach Mondo to sketch, and Mondo takes great offense when he overhears – though I’m not sure why; who the hell cares what Kenley thinks, and by the way, she’s right, which he realizes himself, since he’s worried Nanette won’t think he’s a real designer. Maybe he can buy sketching lessons with the prize money.

Kenley: She’s designed for a mass market before so she’s very comfy with this challenge. She sketches a dress with a keyhole cutout; Nanette advises her to sex it up. They decide the price will be $350, and after all other costs, she has $41 for fabric, which she claims is right on target per her expectations. She finds a peacock feather print and another fabric for piping, but goes a little over so cuts down the piping fabric. Back in the workroom she decides the keyhole won’t work with the print, so leaves it out.

Michael: He wants to do a really gay dress. I have no idea what that is, but apparently it means a caftan. He plans to use jersey. They tell him the armhole he’s using is a fabric eater, and he’s not using seam lines, so his price point is set at $380 and his budget for fabric is $48. He can only get three yards; turns out he thought it was 60 inch fabric, but there’s a border so it’s really 47 inches of print (this seems really strange to me, but what do I know) so there go the sleeves. But he’s glad it’ll push him out of his comfort zone. Wait – a caftan IS his comfort zone. I think he means he can’t make four different dresses this time, he has to get it right the first time.

Austin: He plans a glamorous swing coat that can be worn over anything from a cocktail dress to jeans. Nanette says he could use a crispy taffeta for fullness. He gets a price point of $500 and has $65 for fabric and trim. He says something about the fabric being $15 a yard, so it’s definitely cheaper than Mood. He’s right on target for cost.

Mondo: He’s doing a dress in five fabrics set in stripes. He explains his sketch problems to Nanette; she says it looks like a tin can with strings hanging out. The price is set at $300, with $32 for fabrics. He’s already feeling defeated, but he ends up under budget. He’s feeling loss of control, and is very scared of failing. Again. He feels like something he loves is pushing him away. I can sympathize; I get that way a lot with writing. Except he’s a lot better at designing than I am at writing. Michael’s a little pissed off that he’s working so hard to be here and Mondo isn’t feeling it. Yeah, Michael, I’m sure he’s doing it just to annoy you.

Joanna and Nanette walk through and critique. Joanna gives a little talk about the intersection of art and commerce; Kenley pretty much ignores her and keeps working. Joanna calls her out: “Kenley, I’m talking to you” to get her to pay attention. I’m liking Joanna more and more. Except (obligatory shout-out) I still miss Tim Gunn.

Kenley: she’s doing a tulip sleeve. Nanette thinks it looks different from the sketch; it needs to be more fitted to the body. Kenley says it’s gorgeous the way it is. Michael interviews she’s doing the same thing she always does, high neckline and short sleeves. Kenley says the dress will be about the print. The print isn’t all that great, not for a whole dress. It looks kind of nightie-ish somehow, too much white. But of course Kenley does what she wants, and Joanna and Nanette wander away to visit with someone who wants their advice.

Michael: Nanette tells him the dress can’t plunge to the navel; he suggests a hook and eye closure which can be left open or closed, and she says that works. Joanna starts in with the bra things again, and he offers to put a hook and eye in the back. She asks about accessories, and he tells her about a peacock necklace and gladiator wedges. These questions make me think he’s still being interviewed for the guest editor job. Austin interviews it’s hard to wear Michael’s clothes unless you’re a model. Honey, it’s hard to wear any of this stuff unless you’re a model, and live in New York, and don’t expect to actually do anything but stand around looking nice.

Austin: Nanette responds to the bright color of his coat. She thinks it comes out beautiful it could be an entrance-making coat. Joanna thinks it’s on the line again, is it hideous or fabulous? He’s excited at the level of luxury he’s been able to achieve, since not all the dresses in the workroom look expensive. He’s right, they don’t, but his coat is kind of a mess, too. Michael doesn’t get what they see in Austin’s work.

Mondo: Joanna notices all the fabrics, which he’s stitched together. He explains again about his sketch problem, and Nanette repeats the tin can with string remark. They ask where someone would wear it, and he says a date, cocktail party, or the park. Nanette says it’s more like playwear. He suggests flip flops to go to the flea market, or heels to go to dinner. He’s pretty depressed and withdrawn (again, I sympathize) but at least he’s not snippy with them.

Exit Joa-nette.

There’s more fussing and sniping. Mondo thinks Michael’s dress is the dress they’ve all seen before, like the gelato challenge. Mondo thinks his own dress is like a pit bull, it’s so ugly it’s cute. I wonder if he meant a bulldog. A pit bull isn’t ugly. A pit bull is just mean looking. Not cute at all. He’s having problems, never felt so wishy washy. Except last week, and the week before, and the week before that, Mondo. He doesn’t like the color of Austin’s raincoat, thinks it’s old looking, and unfinished. And Kenley didn’t match her pattern (again! she already got dinged for that).

Austin’s taffeta is rumpling; he frets that he should’ve lined it. He thinks Michael’s dress is inappropriate and bargain basement. I can’t disagree with him. He interviews it should be him, Mondo, and Kenley as the final three.

Kenley’s really happy with her dress, of course. She asks who’s the bigger diva, her or Austin, and Mondo votes for Austin. She thinks her dress can be dressed up or down.

Michael thinks his dress feels like him. Yes, it does, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. While his model is dressing he says something about “not using tape today” which kind of freaks me out – are they allowed to use tape this season? Are we revisiting the whole illegal tape issue? He’d be crushed if he was eliminated now; they replay clips from that awful episode, the one I still can’t watch.

From what I’m seeing in the workroom, they’ve all followed the long-standing tradition of making a mess of the next-to-last challenge. Nothing looks good. Michael and Kenley are both using ugly prints, I don’t like Austin’s fabric, and Mondo’s made beachwear.

The Runway

Nanette is the guest judge.

Austin: Pink raincoat with self-belt; he says it can be worn with the “watteau” back (aha, I finally know the word to describe that half-belted effect I seem to be drawn to), loose and fully swinging, or completely belted. I don’t like the fabric any better here than I did in the workroom/ the color is ok but it just looks, I’m not sure, awkward. And there’s something odd about the collar, but I can’t see it well enough to figure it out. He says he was inspired by the challenge of keeping to a budget. Isaac didn’t know it was a coat, and now that he does he forgives some of the things that would be unforgivable in a dress, but it’s still a little wrinkly, and even a raincoat needs to be pressed. Nanette agrees; not every fabric looks great on the runway, but she thinks it might do well in retail. Angela loves the cut. Privately, they admire his love for youth; Georgina and Nanette feel his choice of fabric didn’t live up to the design; it wasn’t Nanette’s top choice, but they put it in the success category.

Michael: Green print caftan. I like it slightly better than in the workroom, but I think I’ve just gotten used to it. I really hate the color and the print. It looks like something that would be considered loungewear, something you lie around in to watch TV when you’ve had a hard day at work but it’s too early to get into your pjs. He says he heard the words “timeless” and “feminine” and went with draping, but used a full print this time. Nanette says right off the bat, “I love this, I’ want to put it in my suitcase and take it away.” I’d love her to put it in her suitcase so I don’t have to look at it any more. But why is she carrying a suitcase if she’s a New York designer? Georgina says something about sensual; Isaac says something about objectifying women but I don’t catch it, if he’s approving or disapproving. Angela questions the length; it’s kind of pooled on the runway. Michael says it could be translated into something shorter. Georgina wants some tweaks. Isaac doesn’t like the strap across the back, it’s too Canal Street. I don’t know what Canal Street is, but it doesn’t sound good. Nanette doesn’t like the open back because without the option to wear a bra, it won’t sell. Wasn’t he going to put a closure there? Why didn’t he? In their private chat, Georgina points out that without the print, it’s a simple caftan. Hey, with the print, it’s a simple caftan in an ugly print. Isaac defends it as really pretty. Nanette is pleasantly surprised it exceeded the sketch. Angela says he has potential but is hit or miss; Georgina wants him to have confidence in his point of view and be unapologetic. Oh, yeah? Hey, he sent out his point of view – too long and without the back closure, and you dinged him for it. Make up your minds what you want.

Mondo: Horizontal striped multi-fabric dress with pockets and a ruffly skirt. I think he’s going to get hit with the “junior” label. I worry about the placement of the pockets, because they bulge at the hip, and they usually snipe at that. But it’s not bad. Maybe I’m getting used to it, too. In fact, the more I look at it, the more I like it, which shocks me because it kind of reminds me of Sweet Pea’s dishtowel dress from Episode 1, but a lot cuter. Yeah, I’m talking myself into this. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s Mondo. He tells them about the dark place he goes to, and how he did what he loves, mixing colors and prints, to come up with a fun, flirty dress that can be dressed up or down. Isaac loves it; the balance of colors is masterful. He wishes it was a little slimmer at the waist, not so potato-shaped. Oh, wow. Who doesn’t love a potato shaped dress? Nanette thinks it’s cute, but someone with curves might have trouble with it. Angela hates the heels he paired it with, she would’ve preferred sandals. Georgina thinks it’s not the most exciting dress he’s ever come up with but she likes the use of fabrics and that’s where his strength lies. When they’re by themselves, they all praise him; Georgina and Nanette love the mix of fabrics, Isaac gives him props for really studying them and putting them together correctly. Angela says it’s her least favorite of Mondo’s looks because it’s boxy and not flattering.

Kenley: Peacock feather print dress with tulip sleeves edged in purple. I’ve loved some of Kenley’s work, but not this. Maybe the fabric is too thin? It looks like a nightie. The print doesn’t work, it’s too big or something. However, for all the talk about her not matching the print, I like how the print mismatches in back; it creates an interesting new pattern in the center of the back. Kenley thinks it’s flattering and loves the print. Georgina loves her vintage quirkiness, but the print here is problematic. Angela says the seams throw off the eye because of the print. Nanette says it’s nice and it’s wearable, but it’s missing the keyhole detail that would’ve given it real marketability, a special element that would have made it sell. In private, Georgina thinks the design fought the print. Angela’s disappointed, because Kenley has the ability to design prints but didn’t this time. Isaac finds it frumpy. Nanette points out she won’t take advice (but neglects to mention she is unapologetic for her point of view – see what I mean? You can’t please these guys). But they overall think she makes fun clothes.

The suspense is over. It’s definitely a next-to-last-challenge meltdown across the board.

The judges caucus, and it seems to come down to Michael (sophisticated) or Kenley (young and contemporary) going home.

And the winner is… Mondo! He’s shocked; he was sure he was going home.
Austin is relieved to be safe, since he never made the finals in the first season.
And the loser is… Kenley. She gets a little stony and interviews about her vision, but she’s ok about it. Michael is in, and he’s happy, duh.

I continue to be perplexed by reality tv, and while the beginning of the season seemed to actually base decisions and comments on what was on the runway, they’ve gone back to some unseen force at work determining who wins and who goes home. Michael should’ve gone, for the second week in a row. Maybe it’s the We’re-making-up-for-forcing-two-mediocre-women-down-your-throats season, so they’re forcing The Men Who Got Screwed Last Time into the final spots.

After the Runway

A model shows up wearing Mondo’s dress, which is available for sale on Nanette Lapore’s website (even if it is sold out and won’t ship until May 15; hey, it’s a summer dress anyway). If I had $300 sitting around, and if I was willing to spend $300 on clothes, and if I was 22 and weighed 103 pounds, I might just buy it. They did make it more fitted with a tie in the back. I kind of liked it better before. It was more Mondo.

Two other things of interest: Mondo is wearing a pink shirt and yellow boots. And Anthony visits. He holds Mondo’s hand and tries to get him to be less depressed. He’s very sweet about it, so Mondo doesn’t tell him to f-off, which is what most depressed people do when someone pulls that “just be happy” crap.

Oh, wait, three things. Michael does his impressions of Austin and Isaac. I’m not so sure about Austin, but he does a really good Isaac. He did a great Michael Kors, too. I’m not sure if it’s a career, but he could pick up spare change doing those at parties.

Of less interest is the fashion jab of the week, which goes to Mondo jabbing himself for making a dress that, like a pit bull, is so ugly it’s cute.

And both Kenley and Anthony are hoping Austin wins, which makes Mondo feel a lot less depressed, I’m sure. That’s ok, Mondo, I’m on your side. Yeah, a lot of people on are bitching about how they don’t like the glum moody Mondo, but I get it, and I still love you.