This and that No. 7

Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison

Louise Bourgeois, Femme maison, 1994.
Photo by Christopher Burke via The Guardian.


My morning today.

I was almost heartened — or whatever its shadow word is, the word for noticing that someone else has been undermined by the same enervators — to see, while poking around in Dawn Powell’s unedited diaries, that in 1956 she wrote: “Domesticity can deaden the creative nature as much as alcohol or poverty – indeed more.”

This and that No. 6 is here.

some Sylvia for your pocket

I’ve been meaning to write about Sylvia Townsend Warner here for literally years now, but to really do her any justice I need to go back and re-read many things of hers I read fairly recently. Which is hard to make myself do when I’ve got such a large pile of other, new-to-me things I’d like to get to first. (Same problem with various films, which I’d never write about after having seen only once). I will indeed do it anyhow at some point because I think it’s important, but in the meantime I see no reason not to send you off about your business without a few enticing little scraps of Sylvia to tuck in your pocket.

This first one in the series is from the short story “Furnivall’s Hoopoe,” which appears in the collection The Music at Long Verney. If you’re a New Yorker subscriber you can read it in their archives here, as it was published in their Jan. 3, 1970 issue. They published a great many Sylvia Townsend Warner stories over the years — she became very good friends with her editor there, William Maxwell, and you can and should read some of their correspondence in The Element of Lavishness — and in my opinion being able to plunder their archives at one’s leisure for her alone is well worth the cost of a subscription.

Jan. 3, 1970 New Yorker cover

the Jan. 3, 1970 cover

There are plenty of other passages I might have opted to start off with, and loads of them where she’s doing something more dazzling in a writerly way, but this one captures some very true things about love and that’s been on my mind lately. Particularly the other day, when I found myself thinking about The Great Gatsby in connection with a food blog post (spoiler alert: it’s somehow just as depressing miniaturized and briefly outlined with clams as it is as a novel), and again just a couple of hours after I’d written it, when I found myself having a long talk with an unhappy friend about her married girlfriend. Maxwell wrote the foreword to The Music at Long Verney well after Townsend-Warner’s death in 1978 and briefly but rather heart-breakingly describes her own love troubles with her very long-term girlfriend Valentine Ackland:

Sylvia was not distressed by Valentine’s casual infidelities, but when she fell in love with a spoiled American woman who thought she might (and then again thought she might not) want to live permanently with Valentine, Sylvia suffered deeply and even made herself homeless until the crisis had passed. As she wrote a friend, ‘I was gray as a badger and never at any time a beauty but I was better at loving and being loved.”

Having read much of her work, I find her believable on this point. Fortunately the crisis did pass and they went on living together until Ackland’s death from breast cancer in 1969. Ackland opened an antiques shop in their home in 1952, which is an interesting background tidbit about The Music at Long Verney; five of its stories are set in the same (fictional) antiques shop. According to Wendy Mulford’s This Narrow Place: Sylvia Townsend Warner and Valentine Ackland Life, Letters and Politics, 1930-1951, Valentine and Sylvia had a routine worked out for dealing with annoying customers whereby Valentine would ring a little bell to summon Sylvia, who would then call her away for some important reason or other. Anyhow, on to the little scrap of Sylvia, which fortunately is far more economical and humorous than my introduction to it. I regret having to give it to you in two pieces but those are the breaks.



a good kick in the blog-pants

I find my spam comments in-box incredibly inspirational and I’m disappointed in myself for having forgotten to check it for such a long time. Clearly this is the reason for my silence over here! One of them, at least. I’ve been blogging over on my food blog pretty regularly lately but I’ve got a funny problem that’s disproportionately affected this one, apart from the usual moods and illness and day-job stuff: My w on my keyboard is broken. I snipped that one from a recipe for mango pickle I happen to have open in another tab. I’ve become adept at scavenging for this letter. Needing a big one is much more problematic but I incidentally mentioned Edith Wharton on my food blog the other day so at least that’s there if I need it. I could simply buy a replacement keyboard, of course, but I’d like to get a . . . hmm . . . cord-free one that I can use in connection ith shit alongside both my big desktop computer and my iPad, and I’d like to research my options a bit before buying. A tedious little project, as I’m not very interested in shopping for things like this. Then I noticed that blog-friend A beguiled slim alien (that is not really his name) is making lipograms and naturally I thought, suppose I never buy a replacement? At the very least I should give this more time to see if I can use it to my advantage.

My spam comments inevitably push me to reconsider things in this exact same manner. They are consistently inventive in language usage and often very funny too, and I find the combination irresistible and inspiring. Seriously, if you don’t have a blog, think about starting one solely for the purpose of harvesting spam comments. Here are the ones I have at present (after discarding the useless and irredeemably dull ones, the ones that are just links and the ones about SEO something blah blah):

Lunar Camel Co. spam comments

Lunar Camel Co. spam comments part 2

Click either image to enlarge. I’ve blurred the email and IP addresses because even spammers have a reasonable expectation of privacy there.

So many ideas and lessons! The fact that they’re about hard-on pills, escorts, and headphones also, I admit, tickles my blogger parts. They generally are this flavor. I like to think there is a subtle but discernible hint of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll around here and apparently there is. If my spam tilted more in the direction of moms earning $2000 a day at home I’d feel a need to do some inner searching. But back to the ideas.

1. Addled syntax can be super-exciting. It tends to lose something if made intentionally, but that’s all the more reason to practice and to experiment and to learn to cover your tracks. Being nimble, spontaneous-seeming and intentionally playful is damn hard to pull off in part because none of those qualities should be obviously being pulled off.

2. If you’re going to blog about topical topics, bring a fresh perspective to them. Zombie attack jokes are very cheap at the moment. The paranoid edge to the zombie references in my spam here is genuinely off-kilter in a manner that’s hard to fake, and that makes them more intriguing. Alongside the doom and gloom in both of them is a strange vision of something transcendent: “an unexpected getting” and “a good unsuspected becoming.” I believe both are meant to evoke innocent people placidly minding their business, but if so there is a curious sense of transit on their part, a sense of movement amidst their calm, and an implication that the actions being talked about have not stopped occurring. It’s a challenging idea to get one’s mind around and, I think, an interesting one.

3. An under-used bit of vocabulary can pack a big punch if thoughtfully deployed. I’m talking about the use of “devilry” in the last one there, the Slendertone link. Very nicely done.

4. Flattering your reader can be embarrassing for both parties but that doesn’t make it a bad thing. I take a small but genuine pleasure in thinking of myself as “an overly skilled blogger” and “thus cool,” even if it’s only robots and jaded, spotty Uzbeki teens saying so.

5. Being mysterious but not coy is tricky but should be attempted. To say that “[c]ertain 3 areas in this article are definitely the very best” but not specify the areas doesn’t cut it for me, but there’s room for improvement.

6. An unaffectedly simple question can have a devastating effect. The one inquiring about my method(s) for making my blog froze me in my seat because I truly have no idea. Surely this commenter didn’t mean coding, surely he or she meant something more nebulous? But those aspects of it are not any less opaque to me than they are to anyone else. I’m going to try not to get hung up on this at the moment and focus on making use of some of these other lessons instead.

new old thing

Going to fly kites. On Saturday my friend & I went to Governors Island to fly these kites he bought on the street in Bed Stuy. (From a guy on Broadway, he says). We’re hoping to make them trendy so that we can open a small and extraordinarily expensive kite boutique in Brooklyn selling hand-painted kites in designs more meaningful to our clientele than the usual phoenixes and dragons, such as bodega cats and leaves of organic kale. I don’t see how this enterprise could fail: our kite-buyers would be able to literally fly their preferences overhead, and their friends would have no trouble locating them while waiting in one insufferable line or another. We haven’t gotten started painting the kites yet but by all means feel free to start spreading the word about them (“a potent medium for exploring notions of identity and selfhood,” etc.).




These people could be flying a bottle of artisanal apricot and Gloucestershire ‘Old Spot’ hotdog bitters or looking for their friends (underneath a tin of 19th-century moustache pomade) or their friends’ friends (a jar of small-batch rhubarb-peyote kimchi) instead of watching tacky cruise ships pass by, and if doing so would enrich me why shouldn’t they be?


How cathartic it was to narrowly escape rain — it started coming down just as our ferry departed — and have a restorative Vietnamese dinner in Chinatown, followed by browsing for weird fruits.



unidentified portion of NJ


Manhattan-20120526-01654 square


Manhattan-20120526-01655 square

wax jamboo, coming soon in kite form

spring mixture

overgrown ferris wheel via

Overgrown ferris wheel photo by Beau Colburn via AnOther.

Shangri-la Leisure Center

Shangri-la Leisure Center
East 9th St. between 1st and 2nd Ave., NYC.

George Barbier, La Luxure

George Barbier, la Luxure, from here.

Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, “Chanson des Jumelles.”

underwater crystals

Fire Island sunset

memorex 90

mixtape contains:

Alternative TV, “Love Lies Limp”

Charles De Goal, “Syncho”

Pizzicato Five, “Twiggy Twiggy / Twiggy vs. James Bond”

Serge Gainsbourg, “Baudelaire”

David Bowie, “Oh You Pretty Things”

Marcel Zanini, “Wana Nene Wana Nana”

Ike Turner w/ Lonnie the Cat, “I Ain’t Drunk”

Bob Lind, “Go Ask Your Man”

Les Rita Mitsouko, “L’Hôtel Particulier”

Music from Saharan Cellphones vol. II, “?”

The Rolling Stones, “Sing This All Together”

Luke Haines, “Inside The Restless Mind Of Rollerball Rocco”

Olivia Tremor Control, “Green Typewriters” [I]

Air, “Cosmic Trip”

New Order, “Ceremony” [single]

Jacno, “Anne Cherchait L’Amour”

Belbury Poly, “A Pilgrim’s Path”

Cibo Matto, “White Pepper Ice Cream”

up yr junction

My friends are DJing tomorrow (Thursday) at One Last Shag in Brooklyn. Sadly I won’t be there because I’m Doing Other Stuff, but I see no reason why you shouldn’t be there. The flyer says it’s a queer party but they don’t get into scraps with breeders or anything like that. If you request a shit song, however . . . look out!

up-the-junction flyer

Update: More info here.


zoological table d'hote

More about Night and Day magazine — and a zoological table d’hôte — over on my food blog.

moon mania addendum

Melies moon in 3D

3D Méliès moon via Monster Kid magazine

When I wrote that moon mania post about the restored color print of George Méliès’s Le Voyage dans la lune I was so into Air’s new soundtrack for it that I didn’t realize I already had an alternate soundtrack lurking in the more recessive recesses of my iTunes: Daniel Arfib’s L’Approche de la Lumière, from his album Musique Numérique. It’s just not an album I play often, but I happened to take a closer look at it the other day and immediately noticed that the length of the song (16:31) was maybe pretty close to the running time of the film. The title, of course, is not directly on point; it means “approach of the light.” The film is titled “Le Voyage dans la lune,” usually translated as “A trip to the moon,” and was made by George Méliès rather than his peers the Lumière brothers, who I used to mix him up with when I was a film student. (There was a healthy competition between them; Méliès was present at their first screening and offered them 10,000 francs for their camera, which they refused). But! It sounds like it could be a soundtrack. It’s not just that it’s outer space-y, it has a narrative feel, and it’s as arid and crunchy as moon rocks.

The running time isn’t quite right — the film is a couple minutes shorter, even with the long-lost ending that was discovered in 2002, which was well after the album was made in 1981. But if you press play on the song and the video at kind of the same time (or not quite the same time), something interesting might happen. As it did for me when I started the video a few seconds after the song and noticed the percussion kicking in at the same time the workers started hammering away on the projectile. There aren’t many moments of synchronicity like that but I think overall it’s more intriguing than the tired old Pink Floyd + Wizard of Oz sandwich others may have offered you.

Daniel Arfib, Musique Numerique

I don’t know how to change the color of WordPress’s sickly pale little mp3 player so I’m calling your attention to it with words. There it is above. Under the video.

There’s not a ton of information on this album on the internet and next to nothing about this particular track, which is the B-side. I don’t know how to explain why but I very often think the things I blog about are not obscure and I am genuinely surprised when someone says “that was esoteric” or something to that effect — apparently I am afflicted by a peculiar sort of naïveté that causes me to think people will know what I’m talking about if I mention, say, a magazine that was published for six months in 1937 and doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page — but I can see that this is something people probably won’t be familiar with. I was tipped off by the eBay seller who describes the album as “private cosmic . . . . insanely rare and insane private electronic ‘photophonic’ music . . . . one of those early electronic music albums whose entire premise is based upon some bat-shit crazy arcane methods of computer programming or mathematical patterns . . .” I don’t have it on vinyl myself, I’ve just got a crappy mp3 I downloaded from who-knows-where a long time ago, but I see it was unofficially reissued by the Icelandic label Creel Pone in 2008, so . . . it is marginally less insanely rare than it used to be when the only actual copies floating around were the ones Arfib had privately pressed.

The internet says Mr. Arfib is currently working on something with “gesture controlled audio systems” in connection with “the geneva emotion research group,” but the links I’ve followed haven’t yet expanded my understanding of what that means. I’ll keep you posted. In the unlikely event you’re now jonesing for something at the poppier end of the French mathématiques-music spectrum, here’s that Jacno-produced single from Mathématiques Modernes I blogged about a while back.


The Sangha Program

The Sangha Program
For Boy Scouts And Explorers Who Are Buddhist

I’m trying to find a spot in my apartment for this vintage (1950s?) Boy Scouts poster. They were apparently recruiting buddhist boys and I suppose I am too, though it’s strictly a bring-your-own-kerchief arrangement, and you needn’t be buddhist, or a biological boy. I spent a semester in college studying in a buddhist monastery in India but the closest I have ever come to any Boy Scout stuff is I once sat next to a guy who sued them in a restaurant while he gave an interview about the case, which concerned their homophobic membership policy. He didn’t win that case, but “avowed homosexuals” are of course welcome in my troop, as are beardos, weirdos, sluts, hair hoppers, and people who are anti-troop on principle but like hiking. Merit badges will be awarded for arcane campsite selection; non-imperious hike leadership; fire-side blog-admiring; impressive erection of tents (that is what scouts get up to in the woods, is it not?); preparation of campfire breakfasts; preparation of campfire coffee (a separate and important pursuit, it nearly goes without saying); and tasteful and well-mannered book-borrowing. NYC-area recruits who like to take day hikes but do not have a car are eligible to receive Metro North train snacks.

The symbol on the poster is the wheel of dharma, also called the Dharmachakra. It’s a very, very old symbol with roots in Indian buddhism. Lots of types of buddhists use the wheel as a symbol but when one starts talking about turnings of the wheel things get really complicated. The concept of a sangha is more straightforward; it is, simply, the buddhist community.

Tibetan dharma wheel cabinet

a Tibetan altar cabinet with dharma wheels on the doors

The official Boy Scouts sangha program apparently still exists, but it’s confusing.


weenie charmer

I got my blog-defibrillator out this afternoon and my poor old food blog — dormant for two years! — has been revived. It is now sitting up in its convalescent blog-bed, smiling sweetly, and asking for esoteric soups.