Dating in your 30s

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A friend suggested I write on this topic. While I’m usually averse to divulging views about more personal stuff, I’ll take her up. I’ve been 30 for five days now, so I’m qualified.

Dating used to be carefree. Two people were or attracted and interested in each other, and that was that. But aging brings complications, as we feel we must at least give a look down the road. Do I like this person enough to bother, or am I taking away from her/my prime years? It’s unfair, but women have serious complications in pregnancy after 35. Meanwhile, men can look hot with salt and pepper hair. Nature is a motherfucker.

Also, people all around us are acting decisively. As you’ve seen on Facebook, people are married. Nothing makes people freak out like a celebration of love. I suspect some people get married mostly for the Facebook status and the accompanying flood of pictures. These pics are the ultimate “humble brag,” proof the couple are socially well adjusted, evidence they will not die alone. I’m all for connubial bliss, and nobody roots for love like I do. Joyce: real love loves to love love. But single people can be comforted by considering how many marriages are filled with despair.

It’s well known that 50% of marriages end in divorce, meaning half of marriages are outright failures. But what of this other half? They fall somewhere between love at one happy end and I’ve-made-a-huge-tiny-mistake.

Starting everyday beside someone terrible can be avoided by prudence and patience while single. Many think looking for a “serious relationship” is the sensible, mature course of action, but finding a life mate is not just another thing to cross off the to-do list. It must be done right. Life is long. Judges consider “life” 25 years but it’s actually longer, meaning marrying the wrong person can lead to a lengthier imprisonment than murder.

The thing is not to look for a serious relationship, but to find a serious love. It’s hard to talk about love without sounding sentimental and corny, which is why in art it’s so often depicted horribly. It’s also wildly personal, so there’s no general way to talk about it, but maybe some things to keep in mind.

Compatibility is often thought of in positive terms—someone who accentuates your strengths. But don’t pick someone too high above you! It’s about balance. Don’t spend life paranoid and insecure about your better looking, richer, more charming partner. Compatibility might mean selecting someone as ugly, broke and dull as you. It’s not like you reach a verdict on a potential mate by consciously entering each variable into some kind of formal ledger, but you’ll probably be mutually attracted to someone who, if such a ledger were created, would come out about equal.

There are two related forces working against people finding real love: the unconscious evolutionary drive beckoning to just mate already, and social pressure. This latter world has different looks: your relatives asking if you’ve scheduled the start of a family, movies and TV about these problems, and of course advertising, which is itself a maelstrom of lies valuing love only because married people have predictable purchasing patterns (diamond ring, a home, stuff for the home, baby products, etc.)

Genuine concern for, or even acknowledgement of, an individual’s heart and soul is by definition banished from both these worlds, but these forces motivate many people all the same. So find someone who either does or doesn’t transcend this stuff to the same degree you do. Don’t be more or less self-actualized than the person you’re seeing.

There’s no formula for happiness. The famous dating blogger Sun Tzu says “know yourself and know your enemy and you need not fear the result of a thousand battles,” meaning you need to really know yourself and the other person.

Leo’s famous intro “All happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are unhappy after their own fashion” [Maude translation] sounds wonderful, until you think about it. Happiness has unlimited variations. 40-year-old Tolstoy was actually a proponent of the traditional nuclear family, and he thought passionate follow-your-heart Anna was just an alleyway skank, sympathizing instead with her steadfast, dull ex-husband. Later radical Tolstoy opposed pre and post-marital sex, joining him with other great thinkers like Dr. Tobias Funke.

In closing, in dating, chill. Not just because relaxing is less stressful than not relaxing. Chilling is crucial. When you focus hard inwardly, not only do you take care of your own life but you give off that I-don’t-give-a-shit vibe that’s powerful so long as you really don’t give a shit. Authenticity is key. It can’t be faked. Women call guys immature sometimes for not pro-actively seeking a serious relationship, but it might just be that they don’t give a shit in the way described above, and thus aren’t necessarily frivolous about matters of the heart.

And if you dodge trashy idiots, dating is basically just drinking, eating and talking with people who might be tolerable, even if you don’t instantly fall in love. Single people generally sleep alone and have to endure the stigma of being the single ones at parties filled with couples. This is nothing compared to how bad a bad marriage one can be.

At the base of Florence’s Duomo is a shockingly graphic depiction of hell inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Various ghastly devils cackle with laughter while engaging in heinous acts of violence: bashing human skulls in with clubs, impaling people with tridents, flaying naked people alive. Hellfire sizzles in back. This is the great Florentine poet’s allegory for daily life in a bad marriage. You don’t see this side of marriage a lot because, for some reason, people don’t post these pictures on Facebook.

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Our Heroes: Habs over bruins in 4

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Our Red White and Blue Heroes are hard to gauge: while it’s impossible to fault a team after sweeping their round, it’s also hard to know how much to make out of beating a young, inexperienced team missing its number one tender. More, we received a healthy dose of hometown reffing and fortunate bounces. But these variables seemed to emanate from our squad’s mojo, a by-product of our swag, itself a by-product of consistent, stable team play. We are a unified group who believes, and we seem to be making our own luck more than having it handed to us. We need to continue this momentum.

So ignore round one. We’re playing the Bruins, a cup contender that defeated Detroit in 5, with a core group that last year managed to beat the seemingly-indomitable Maple Leafs.

 

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We need Gallagher to beat up Lucic, Subban’s punishing slap shot and ass-first body check, Pacioretty and Gionta to score clutch goals against Tushy Rash. Hopefully Markov will eclipse his previous high by remaining healthy for five minutes.

Between us and glory is a team of highly skilled barbarians. Milan Lucic is the bully of the century, an insatiably bloodthirsty one-man military. Around him, nobody’s testicles are safe. Also, he is good at playing actual hockey. Threat 1B is Zdeno Chara. A lot of people don’t know this but his parents were carnival freaks, and in addition to passing on to Zdeno superhuman strength and size, he’s gifted with the ability to hammer nails into his nose.  So he is absolutely immune from succumbing to intimidation, responding to futile attempts the way I do to Leslie Nielsen movies. His reach covers blue line to blue line, making it as proportionally outsized as his nose.

Even Don Cherry would say that, despite being French, Bergeron is tough. Last year he competed in playoffs despite a broken upper and lower body. He is the best faceoff man in the league, by far a more essential component in victory than outscoring opponents to hear analysts talk about it. Krejci elevates his play when necessary, and is as enthusiastic about violence as his colleagues. You could compare Marchand to a real rat if only the sewer produced a creature so talented at diving.

If the entire Bruins team went to jail (which would happen if the law applied to them) they would immediately run the cell block, and would certainly be the ones on the giving end of jail’s notorious funny business, subduing comparably effete people like serial killers. For our heroes to win, we must score goals while skating very quickly away from them. Motivation to move will be abundant, arising from the desire to score, live, and not be treated like fresh fish.  

Hence my prediction, Habs in 4.

Why I’m cheering for the Habs this playoffs

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I, Jeff Halperin, will cheer for the Habs this playoffs. This may sound surprising from a guy who has recently expressed hatred for them and their fans. To be precise, I said the team was nothing but perverted midgets, their fans debased. Of course I was a diehard Leaf fan. But the latest edition of Leaf Collapse was really something else. It’s brought me to this, cheering for the Habs.

It’s impossible to look at the Leafs in the face, the sight of them makes my stomach sick. Even looking at blameless Kessel in ads I find disgusting.

Not everyone finds it natural to cheer for a different team in playoffs just because they’re Canadian; it’s a question of whether you see it as Leafs vs Habs or Toronto vs Montreal. I’ve always enjoyed myself in Montreal, and I currently have no allegiance to these Leafs.

Us Leaf fans don’t have a rejoinder to the smug gloating Habs fan or Subban triumphantly tugging the logo on his jersey. JVR taunted Subban, tugging the Leaf after scoring a game winner versus MTL—it was, shall we say, premature.

No, advanced stats corroborate common sense, the Leafs are a very bad team. When they are without the puck they never seem to get it back. Kessel and JVR manage to score in the remaining small window, somehow. But this isn’t even what’s worst about them. No lead is safe because psychologically they are beyond fragile. The Leafs have an incurable case of PTSD.

Rooting for the Habs is a middle finger to the Leafs, a form of protest. Not that they deserve this consideration, but part me of thinks it good that Habs fans witness sanity from a Leaf fan. One Leaf fan was so deranged he began a blog, “Our Heroes: A Balanced Perspective Of the Maple Leafs’ Journey to the 2014 Stanley Cup.” The blog is over because…enough already, I will end here before I get sick.

Our Heroes: A balanced perspective of the Maple Leafs’ journey to the 2014 Stanley Cup

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Game #4–Friday, Philly

The Leafs got ahead of Philly 2-0 in the first 5 minutes of the game. Counter-intuitively, these games are hard to watch: you sit there with nothing to gain, hoping to avoid an ugly crumbling. Of course watching my Leafs isn’t just fun, it’s thrilling. Skydivers can’t imagine the adrenaline rush I get watching Kessel skate with the puck. But whether we’re winning or losing, it’s gut wrenching.

So it’s funny that when Leafs do in fact blow the lead, the reverse feeling swooshes in and immediately I feel a win is at hand. I like to attribute this curious cerebral complex to the irrationality of our species, human kind, not to Leaf fans in particular.

Yet what appears on the surface to be fundamentally nonsensical may be called instinct, as I was ultimately vindicated: the Leafs scored late in the third to take the lead, blew that lead, then won on a beautiful overtime goal by Lupul, compliments of Phaneuf. It’s possible that through our long relationship and by the sheer force of my devotion, my gut is in tune with the Leafs. I doubt the aching in my stomach for them to win causes them to win, but it probably predicts it accurately.

Game #5–Anaheim

Funny that the Ducks are supposedly among the best teams in the NHL, because we beat the shit out of them, 3-1. We scored twice in the first period–first a Bozak goal from Phaneuf (same move as the winner from the previous overtime), second a Kessel breakaway (killer speed, good shot, stopped but somehow went in). Second period saw a beauty cross-crease pass from Kessel to Paul Ranger who buried.

Ranger gets a special salutary paragraph here. Old joke: if you want to see what it would look like if you were inserted into an NHL game, watch Paul Ranger. But not last night! Ranger looked WAY better than me, really. Even if he didn’t score he was effective in the D zone, hitting guys and (actually) clearing the puck. I was stunned to find myself admiring his play, but I am glad to see it and hope it continues.

Bozak had three points and was a beast. Poor guy doesn’t get credit because he’s taking Sundin’s role. Nobody can replace the Big Swede. But Bozak was all over the ice, tipping pucks out of the zone, getting breakaways, setting up goals.

Still, I became terrified after the Leafs took a 3-0 lead in the second. The Ducks are no joke. They (Perry, Getzlaf) got shots, mostly from far away but some in tight, but really we did a good job defending the league, even if Perry scored. But there’s nothing to stop me from freaking out, so I did. That’s not totally true. The only thing that can make me finally relax is winning the Cup, and I cannot wait for this Spring, when under the influence of unimaginable ecstasy I’ll probably set a dozen cars ablaze along Yonge. Look for me, I’ll be the guy without pants.

Our Heroes: Game #3

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Leafs beat New York in overtime, 3-2, on a day where Leaf management opted to make no moves on trade deadline day, convinced that chemistry is good and there’s sufficient firepower to win the big games come June. The game was odd.

Bozak scored a beauty on a penalty shot. He’s a breakaway artiste, I believe 3/5 in shootouts this year including the game winner in the outdoor game. Nice fake out, a clutch, and I think he went 5 hole or low glove but really he had little room to thread it and somehow he did.

Kadri scored a ball hockey goal. Kulemin made a nice patient move to the slot, waiting a while before getting a decent shot away, and Naz was there to bat the bouncing rebound home.

Things looked good for the buds when a Ranger was called for tripping with 14 minutes left in the third. But the Leafs failed to kill the power play, New York somehow scoring twice. I’d say this never, ever happens, except it happened like last week.

The first goal was the result of some miscues and diabolical puck luck. Puck went off a skate to a Ranger (a New York one, not Paul) who took a shot, but Bozak’s stick redirected the puck way wide of the net, only to hit Phaneuf’s ass (hard not to hit Dion’s ass, the biggest in the league) and got behind Bernier.

Our heroes were determined to use the power play to restore a 2-goal lead, so they went up ice with grit poise and purpose and New York scored a minute later. 2-2.

I’ve been chirping the hockey gods in this space lately and I wondered if they preferred to communicate their disgust with me this way, rather than say post in my comment section. But superstition is stupid, and I never give in to it during the regular season. So I made the hockey gods no offerings and trusted the boys to pull through.

And in overtime, the apartment line checked in. Kessel made a sharp entry into the zone. Lundqvist directed the biscuit behind the net, Phil fought for it and sent a sweet pass to the front of the net to his roommate / video game companion, and Bozak buried.

It was Martin St. Louis’ first game as a Ranger, reunited once more Richards, Cup winners in Tampa, the beneficiaries of anti-Canadian refs conspiring against the Calgary Flames. If you’ll recall, the Flames scored a goal in overtime of game 6 that should have won them the Cup, but the refs said “nah,” determined to give the Cup to a tropical hockey market filled with rich die hard fans of baseball and NASCAR.

That the Leafs stymied this Cup-winning duo, extra energized in this their first game together, speaks volumes about the Leafs capacity to win come June. I look forward to the imminent glory.

Our Heroes: Game #2 vs Columbus

From what I saw, the Leafs played the whole time in Columbus’ end, scoring, getting rush chances and continual sustained pressure. They looked dangerous and determined. Bozak barely missed what looked like an open net chance in the final minute or so with the net empty to tie the game, and for once our empty net didn’t get scored on (we lead the league in allowing empty net goals, one reason why our goalies have great numbers despite our total goals against).

How did we lose? I’m unsure. For one thing I had work and only watched the last five minutes of the game, a 2-1 loss. It is incredible to me how in sync I am with my team. It appears my Leafers arrived to the game the same time I did. When I got to the TV we were down 2-0, I felt relieved to make it in time for the comeback. The Gods I disparaged last piece are sometimes called mysterious, but really they’re just bastards. More likely they’re like Poseidon, toying with Odysseus, bouncing him around the sea before giving up the game and sending him back to Ithaka. Odysseus was lucky, it only took 9 years to return from Troy. Ergo, we are overdue. The Cup should arrive in Toronto roughly between June 3-10.

Ignoring the divine realm, strictly at ice level, we have a tendency to play up or down to our competition, losing against teams like Florida, Columbus and recently even bottom feeders like montreal. But we dissected the shit out of Chicago 4-0 earlier, the second time this season we beat the reigning Stanley Cup champs. Having watched us dominate our enemies secretly fear the worst. Even the most severely warped, foaming-at-the-mouth sens or habs fan surely must conclude these are the real Leafs.

While this seems obvious, maybe I shouldn’t attribute powers of impartial judgement and rational thinking to low lives rooting against the Leafs. But alas, we can’t help our nature: I am not just the paragon of hockey wisdom, but am generous with those who don’t share my viewpoint.

Our Heroes–A Balanced Perspective On The Toronto Maple Leafs

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The refs Saturday were more despicable than usual in allowing the perverted midgets from Montreal not just one point, but two. We can’t afford to lose games against such vastly inferior opponents.

The game begun in characteristic fashion. The Leafs were in no mood to play hockey, and a couple lucky shots snuck past Bernier. The Leafs didn’t put a shot on net for ten minutes, maybe more. This brutal hockey delighted the fiendish mtl audience. Leafs down 2-0.

Familiar with the Leaf’s heroic nature, I eagerly awaited the comeback. On cue, the Leafs restored the normal order of things by scoring three electric goals to take the lead. JVR’s finesse, determination and imagination can’t be suppressed for long, and he elegantly tipped a shot past budaj. Killing a mtl powerplay, the same JVR powered past subban and went five hole on a breakaway to tie things up. Finally, Kessel was Kesselesque, wiring a wrister a foot off the ice inside the bar in top flight.

It was gracious of the Leafs to show the montreal crowd what elegant hockey looks like, but I doubt they appreciated the gesture. They are an ungrateful lot and no doubt such gorgeous puck made them miserable. By tradition, they only applaud the most depraved, unspeakable acts.

The game’s ending proved that either there are no hockey gods, or they are a sadistic debased group of flunkies unworthy of worship. subban tied it up and the Leafs got three straight penalties. When JVR was violently hooked the ref called a penalty on the the guilty montreal runt, but called JVR too! Gleason was penalized for body checking. In overtime, an unusual delay of game penalty was called on Bernier and the habs successfully parlayed one perversion into another by scoring, winning the game. I’m not sure whether refs can be fined, suspended or imprisoned for desecrating  the hallowed game of hockey, but this should be looked into. Sometimes it feels as if the NHL scouts meth clinics in search of referees.

To be sure, the Leafs should have won, refs notwithstanding. Just sometimes fate takes pity on such ghastly underdogs.

I’m already over it, moving forward should be easy. Bernier is shaking off the rust from the Olympic break. For unexplainable reasons he wasn’t selected to Team Canada, which managed to win gold despite our glaring weakness in net.

Lupul looked lively in more ways than one. Sharp magazine named Lupul one of the best dressed athletes of all time. I believe the style and elegance imbued in all facets of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization rubbed off on his clothes. Anyway Lupul nailed a crossbar and was tough to contain.

Even Clarkson had a good night, which is to say he earned a tiny fraction of his ridiculous salary by scoring 0 points but looking less useless than normal. Kadri needs to bury again, but he was a presence and cannot be suppressed for long. Kessel and JVR are unquenchable fire.

Perverted outcome aside, things look as rosy as ever in Leaf land.

The Sopranos V.S. The Wire

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These masterpiece TV shows are in their sustained high quality more like novels (those lofty things!)  than television programs (low vulgar trash). As far as American art is concerned, The Sopranos is like Melville’s Moby Dick whereas The Wire is like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Sorry, but The Sopranos is superior to the Wire. Both are equally taut and economic in storytelling, the character complexity and dialogue is comparable too. But The Sopranos beats The Wire because its ambition to reveal the inner workings of a single person’s mind is greater than the accomplishment of The Wire, which is to demonstrate the inner workings of society. Even if both succeed equally in their goal, ultimately a single mind is more complex than society. But this difference in function or purpose also accounts for the narrative flexibility in The Sopranos as well as the dark comedy that runs through its core, something which The Wire’s societal message forbids.

The writing in The Sopranos’ narrative veers and changes more because its object isn’t pedagogical like The Wire. The Wire must instruct and demonstrate how life really is, and though it does this with incredible artistry it is a burden they’re chained to. The dream sequences of The Sopranos are an obvious illustration of this ability to move laterally in a storyline and not straight ahead, but there are others. The story isn’t linear in The Sopranos for the simple reason that people’s minds don’t work in straight-ahead fashion, and at heart the show is about a single mind—Tony’s. The Wire is a wonderfully dense web of things happening on one external plane, the observable world. They can’t devote an episode to a single character, much less what a single character is dreaming of, or of what subconscious motivations make him act out. These things are implied in The Wire, but this is done through backstory—McNulty’s family and drinking problems impact his policing, but this is still observable, and it’s shown. The real action of The Sopranos happens on an invisible level. When we see Tony act it’s in response to the drives that even though they’re discussed very explicitly (literally, in therapy) are still only hinted at because the subject itself, the human mind, precludes us from full knowledge. This is reinforced as his therapist comes to doubt her own work toward the show’s end.

The Sopranos object doesn’t just make it deeper or more intellectual, but its mode grants the writers the usage of a darkly comical tone that The Wire’s format can’t access. It allows them great fun! It’s taken for granted that the members of “this thing we have” (the Mafia) have made a deal with the devil and redemption for them is impossible. The entire show is governed by what is essentially the law of comedy, where by definition the hero is never in danger; if a house falls on him, he simply stands up in the rubble, brushes his shoulder off and walks away. The Godfather II (and the gangsters in Sopranos reference these movies all the time) begins with a targeted hit on Michael in his family’s home. Family is the most sacred thing in this Mafia, and Mario Puzo, author of The Godfather novel and screenplay, called the Godfather a story not just about the Mafia but about family. Violence in the family home is the symbol of the greatest threat possible to the Corleone’s (compounded since Fredo, his brother, inadvertently caused it). This is subverted in the Sopranos to be dark comedy: though he’s surrounded by no shortage of people who want to kill him, the only ones who seriously threaten Tony are his mother and his uncle. His mother puts a hit on him and his uncle shoots him in the stomach, almost fatally.

By contrast, The Wire’s writing can’t engage in such dark, detached humour because their object demands an explicitly attached view of life as it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is humour, but it’s at the level of dialogue or embedded in the situation. The Sopranos writers invert conventional mob movies  by making the drama not just about hits or robberies but ordinary conflicts, like family and sex, but also by doing its opposite, darkly and jokingly depicting ordinary people (not just Mafioso) suffering the violence of stone cold gangsters. In an example that cracks me up, Paulie and Chris get into a tiff over an expensive bill from a restaurant in the parking lot just after eating, and just then their unfortunate waiter approaches them with their paid bill to ask if they forgot to leave a tip. His kids are going through school, he explains, and Chris left only a $16 tip on a $1200 meal. The waiter gets lippy so, naturally, Chris hits him in the head with a brick. He begins convulsing, so Paulie shoots him then, for good measure, retrieves the $1200. This establishes that they’re cold-blooded gangsters and every mob show or movie would end here, but, emblematic of Soprano’s rich and dark comedy, the next day Chris and Paulie come to a sweet and heartfelt understanding over the phone. “Besides,” Paulie says, “somebody could have gotten hurt.”

Death in The Wire has attached to it all the consequences and implications death has in real life. The cops might make jokes about it because they’re numbed to it, but only because real experienced cops would too. Also, the bodies don’t disappear in this show like they do in The Sopranos. the Baltimore cops have to deal with the bodies because death matters in their world and in the world of the show. In The Sopranos, it’s just a joke. The waiter’s body never gets addressed in the show again. Better to kill a waiter than make a passing joke about Johnny Sack’s wife.

But nothing demonstrates the contrasting approach to each show’s writing more than their final episodes. The Sopranos finale was hated by people who didn’t understand the real point of the show. Those who wanted closure on the observable level of the everyday were upset when they got none. They wanted to imagine the characters living out their lives beyond the show’s finale. But the show itself is a dream, and there is no life after. Whether Tony is literally killed by some bum hit man is irrelevant. His life is only the show, and it expires when the show does. Anyway, he signed a deal with the devil before the first episode. When Chris gets initiated into the Soprano clan, Tony tells him, “once you’re in, there’s no way out.” Same goes for him. Whether he dies in a restaurant or keeps living his life of death is irrelevant. If the show itself isn’t art for art’s sake, it never set out to make an explicit value statement. There’s a Nabokov novel called The Defence where at the very end the protagonist is in mid-flight on his way to sure death. We’re tempted to believe he dies, but he doesn’t. Mark Lilly’s essay Nabokov: Homo Ludens describes how The Defence ends in precisely the same way I think the Sopranos does. Nabokov intentionally doesn’t depict the landing—his character “forever tumbles to a death that he will never reach.” We are not meant to imagine life beyond the book. He’s suspended. Same with Tony.

The line between reality, dream and death is constantly blurred. All throughout The Sopranos, images from Tony’s dreams pop into his real world (the toy fish that sings “take me to the river”), while real life images in turn intrude on his dreams (a real fish in the ice that begins talking to him after he kills his best friend, throwing him overboard “with the fishes”). The line between reality and dream world was always very fluid, constantly mingling. It’s instructive that while the tension of the climactic scene is building up and we’re meant to wonder whether or not Tony will die, the writers choose to show Meadow frantically failing to parallel park outside the restaurant where the action supposedly is. This is more dark humour, but it also reinforces how the real subject isn’t life or death. Will Meadow ever park successfully? It matters as much as whether Tony lives.

The Wire needs to end in opposite fashion because it has a point to make outside the show itself: it functions as social commentary, so as a systematic cross-section of society it must neatly wrap up every single storyline. By the end, they’ve touched on society’s primary institutions: school, unions, gangs, police, family, courts, and news. Each storyline from each institution has a counterpart, a mirror image, which completes society’s cycle. An exhaustive list is unnecessary, but here’s a brief sampling: a hack young journalist wins a Pulitzer for what we and he know is an elaborate, conscious lie; Bubbles the crack head finds redemption and gets wonderfully, mercifully clean; Omar is killed by some little runt who shoots him in the back, but his reputation, street-cred founded on genuine toughness, was such that the hood refuses to believe he was killed by anything but a posse’s gunfire, and his name and deeds live forever. Here are the mirror images, inversions of their counterparts listed above: the young honest journalist, the fraud’s peer in age, gets demoted and sent elsewhere specifically for describing how he lied; Prez’s young earnest student who tries so hard to escape the ghetto gets tragically addicted to crack, replacing Bubbles; Marlo, Omar’s mirror (their names are even composed of nearly identical letters) is rich and safely alive, but, unlike Omar, the street literally doesn’t even recognize his face or his name because he had people work the streets for him, and in a world where reputation is everything he is a nobody—he does live, but his name is worthless.

Watching these programs has restored my faith in television programming, which will probably last until I watch Breaking Bad. These shows are both masterful, but the takeaway is that The Sopranos is of a very different type. When satirizing one of those idiotic guide to the creative process books for writers that gave the imbecilic advice to “be able to summarize the structure and purpose of a book in a sentence of ten words or less,” Mordecai Richler imagined what this author might say to Herman Melville: “Herm, you’ve got a lot going for you here, especially for fish nuts and armchair adventure freaks, but we’ve got to think of promos in this office. So I want you to tell me in ten words or less, why Ahab just has to hook the big one.” Moby Dick isn’t a fishing adventure like The Sopranos isn’t about gangsters. It’s about the deeper undercurrents that defy a ten word explanation. But The Wire is about “all society.” The tone and narrative structure is accordingly different. Unchained to any purpose outside itself, The Sopranos can move in any direction it wants. Tangents, side trips, dream sequences are welcome. The Wire does incredible things within its confines, but it’s very limited, albeit deliberately and elaborately so. You’re free to like either show, but I do decidedly prefer Melville and Sopranos over Hawthorne and The Wire.

My next piece will either compare these two novels or dissect Duck Dynasty, which is an aggressive rebuttal to the bankrupt values and pseudo-spirituality of bourgeois capitalism, even if it’s an American reality TV show about entrepreneurial millionaires, though they do have huge redneck beards. Maybe TV isn’t so bad?

LIT CRIT–Haruki Murakami: After the Quake review

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I decided to read some Murakami for a few reasons. So many girls on OK Cupid claim to love him, and they usually list other decent writers alongside him. I want to relate to these chicks I’ll never meet. Murakami is still alive, unlike all my heroes. I’ve read some Ishiguro, but not much Japanese writing otherwise. The proprietor of Doug Miller Books, the fantastic second-hand bookstore located at Bloor around Christie, recommended this one to me after I told him I had already read and loved Barney’s Version and A Confederacy of Dunces. You trust a man after he recommends you those.

I really liked the stories. The narrative alternates between swift glossing over of years and extended dialogue. To give a picture of his aesthetic, it seemed to me like a Japanese water colour painting in that the focus of the painting isn’t situated squarely in the middle. Murakami puts the central event of the story in a corner or over to the side, and this has the effect of rendering what went on before or after more pertinent. I think this is what gives his stories weight while writing with such a light hand. Each story has space.

Light hand: this may sound like a stupid, clichéd term, so let me expands. Murakami talks about hard ons and hangovers while citing different old jazz musicians and literary references, so there’s no pretentious baggage that often accompanies “literature.” He writes about people who are fun-loving and light-hearted people, and also dark and suicidal, portraying them all with a pretty full picture in a short space. He’s a minimalist, meaning there’s no room for bullshit. Though remember, I’ve only read these short stories so I’m only describing his writing as it pertains to this collection. I’ll get to his novels one day soon maybe.

He’s good on dreams and surrealism. What I mean is he takes for granted that the fiction doesn’t need to correspond to journalistic standards of writing where things must be proved,  accurate, fact-based. If a frog comes to save Tokyo from an earthquake we must not ask if this is really possible. You will miss the point.

Imagination isn’t bound in good fiction.

I am amused that the Washington Post Book World described him as “poetic.” I hope this critic has read him in Japanese, not in English translation. I found the stories taut, moving, and suggestive of more than is there. Not poetic, but light. Perhaps this is what they meant, or maybe they meant to write something that would sell books.

The stories are easy to read, but I feel like they’ll reward rereading too. There’s more to get out of them. He’s anything but a stuffy, stodgy writer, and he is more wise than what people think of when they say “literary.” His sentences are stark and short, not the generous,  expansive, majestic stuff of Melville. But still, he’s cool.

Good stuff Murakami.

7.3/10…a fine rating.

New reads: Faulkner and Hemingway

Nabokov thought very little of these two highly celebrated authors and their books had sat on my shelf for too long unread, so I decided to give them a whirl. I think Nabby didn’t like them because the structure of their novels, how the  plot itself unfolds rather than the writing per se, is pretty straightforward in each. He hated extended dialogue and books about society, too. But I really liked both novels. I’ll read more of theirs soon, Nabokov be damned! Here are the off-the-top-of-my head reflections of each while they’re still kind of fresh. I’ll rank each book out of ten, although I do agree with Nabokov that there are only two kinds of books, bedside and waste basket. These are both the former.

A Farewell to Arms–Hemingway:

So much is made of Hemingway’s macho persona and his “tough” prose that I was kind of laughing when I started it. The sentences are short. Punchy. Ceaselessly short. The dialogue is repetitive. The same bland expressions used again and again. “Lovely,” “my sweet,” and others in that vein. But I love confronting a famous authors baggage and going beyond it, finally.

I thought Hemingway the tough guy would glorify the fighting more than he did, but I should have paid more attention to the title. The novel lays bare how arbitrary and senseless war is–tragic and stupid. I’d describe his writing as journalistic in a sense. He was a journalist after all, but it feels like he’s covering it objectively, without colour. Though a description of the colour of a lake as steel grey blue was memorable.

The blurb on the back literally describes a scene in the novel to be among the greatest in literary history. This is nuts. It’s not even close, but I really liked the novel. Hemingway is known for his glacier approach to writing, that is the little you see on top is what he writes and it gives you the impression of what’s unseen underneath. Yes, and there’s something to this, but the writers I like describe in vivid and palpable detail the unseen underside of the glacier, which is all the more remarkable because it’s not something you come into contact with otherwise. The difference in reaction is awe and rapture versus excited approval.

Still, there was very good humour, and there is no bullshit in his writing anywhere. The love between Henry and Barkley seemed a bit phony at first, developing from nowhere, but I came around to it. Maybe, like in advertising, repetition worked on me, but I think it had more to do with Hemingway’s selection of details–the little everyday sacrifices they made for each other. They were invested in each other to the exclusion of everything else, that’s for sure. I think the general lack of sentimentality in the style of writing balanced the corny dialogue: “I love you,”  “I love you.”

The retreat of the army is memorable, and I like the contrast between Henry’s dicking around in Italy when he wears and doesn’t wear his uniform. The way he feels and is regarded. Henry drinks a lot, even in the morning. There are good musings on life and death at the end that refreshingly is expressed in brief, drunk chat and not the obnoxious academic, solemn sounding stuff. This is the novel at its most impressive. But the end was exciting too. For a book that represents, as the back of the novel claims, “a new romance” for Hemingway, it’s very dark: Henry and Catherine’s baby dies and so does Catherine. No happy endings. War is like that, so is life. No wonder Hemingway shot himself in the head with a shotgun. More should have seen it coming, perhaps.

7.3/10

As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner

I tried to read Absalom, Absalom twice and was overcome with boredom each time. It felt like trying to see through an impenetrable cobweb. But Styron’s Stingo in Sophie’s Choice, the author himself speaking for the fellow Southern writer I imagine, gives such high praise to Faulkner, and I really wanted to give the big guy a shot.

There’s something about the Southern Gothic sensibility I find very attractive. It’s old-world, darkly funny, and there’s an endearing feeling of innocence that always seems on the verge of being corrupted. You’re watching human’s biblical fall with the foreknowledge it’s about to happen, and they toy with that, making it funny rather than sad or painful. Flannery O’ Connor stories are like that. There’s a ghost lurking somewhere. You don’t know if the author is laughing while writing, but they are, and so should reader. The amusingly tragic Bundren family plods along, suffering their flaws with a good spirit.

Each chapter has a different narrator doing a first-person description of the journey. To recap, the mother of the family dies in the beginning and her wish is to be buried in Jefferson. The plot of the book is the journey. I think Nabokov resented this easy structural format, as he liked oblique references that don’t announce themselves. He thought writers who use italics to identify for the reader that a character is thinking something were hacks. He was demanding!

But Faulkner plays with internal dialogue, what a character says to himself, versus the images and content of what flashes through a character’s subconscious. The former is made up of speaking language, the latter can use diction the character doesn’t possess because it’s about the images passing through his mind, not the way he himself would describe them. This is a neat trick that allows Faulkner to use words that these uneducated country Southerners wouldn’t know. Bellow characters are either autodidacts or professors, allowing the author to speak almost as himself through the characters. This is another way of doing that.

I found the book to be very funny at times! The father is such a good hearted idiot and it’s charming how the people around him resent him but can’t resist helping him. I became accustomed to the way they talk, like being in a foreign country for a while where their accent stops becoming novel. I think the dialogue, of which there’s a good deal, is better for the content than strictly the captured patois. For poor country people there’s a lot of religious and existential musing. This is right. It’s a solid reminder that technological advancements or formal education have no real bearing on intelligence. I think people commonly believe that the masses become more intelligent as time goes on and they partake in advancements in various fields, suggesting people were more commonly stupid. Nope!

This book was not very long, and the way the pages were broken up made it breeze by kind of fast. I felt like the chapter always ended with four or five lines on a page and the rest blank, then the next page started a third of the way down. The whole thing was 260 pages. I find it’s very easy to continue another chapter when you see it’s only a page or so long, and most of them were very short. I read the book in four days. Apparently it was written in only 6 weeks. If only such efficiency was everywhere!

There were old or local words I needed to look up to understand exactly what was happening at times, and straightening out the characters at first required going back to reread some little sections, but going backwards in the book was rewarding and I expect I’m going to pick up the book again soon for pleasure.

Faulkner, cool guy! He joined the high to the low brow very successfully, something I demand of novelists. Intelligence and humour, too. Nabby would disprove of the novel’s form, and I get that, but I love some of Faulkner’s sentences.  The guy could turn a phrase.

7.8/10