Friday, May 28, 2010

On the beach

On the beach
Originally uploaded by shorterstory.
I was in Santa Cruz on a business trip and this was as close to the sand as I got. Can you tell from my shadow-self that I'm wearing a long sleeve shirt, a sweater, a blazer, and a scarf? Because it was FORTY NINE DEGREES that morning.

Of course, when I finally returned to the proper coast and I was four thousand miles from the Pacific, it hit 90 in NYC.

Experience has taught me that I am sort of an Unexpected Weather Goddess. When I went to Arizona, the wind roared like an angry child the entire time. When I went to LA, it rained. When I went to Florida, it rained. When I went to Seattle, it was 85 degrees and sunny. The only day I spent in San Francisco, it was so beautiful I took a nap on the grass. (Also I had a migraine from seeing the wretched mess & wasted opportunity that was A.I.)

In a week, Mr. Ben and I head to Israel, where I can only hope my streak will break. Perhaps there is so much religion in the air that my powers will be completely drowned out. This trip -- ostensibly to celebrate my darling friend Tamar's wedding -- also serves as a ten-year anniversary: those of us going over now to hold up her huppah on the beach were there a decade ago after our high school graduation.

Surely the country has changed since then. (The intifada started just after we left, and there's probably a totally different frozen yogurt craze.) We'll spend some time in Tel Aviv, and some in Netanya, where the ceremony takes place. But what else should we make sure to see or do? Like a barista, I am thrilled to receive any and all tips.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Bitchtar": Best Reviews of SATC

Since I am not planning to watch this gross disfigurement of a series I had real affection for, my only enjoyment out of its existence comes from creating a Bad Review Revue*:

Dodai at Jezebel starts us off right with an augmented montage of stills:

Salon gets its digs in twice-over:
1) "This movie might as well be set in Czarist Russia or on the Ice-Diamond Planet of K'Znorg, for all the realism it provides." -- Andrew O'Hehir
2) "It's like the cinematic progeny of "Not Without My Daughter" and "Arabian Nights" with a makeover by Valentino." -- Wajahat Ali

"The film is an epic eyesore. It’s as if they set out to make a movie that said, 'You’re right! We are hideous!'" -- David Edelstein

"Sex And The City 2 panders to that audience to the point of self-destruction, squandering whatever goodwill the franchise had left after the first so-so movie by plopping its beloved characters into a series of garish vignettes that throw their shallowness into sharp relief. By the point where proud, menopausal jezebel Samantha stands shrieking in the middle of a Middle Eastern marketplace while waving magnum condoms and flipping off hijab-clad Muslims on their way to prayer, it’s inconceivable that anyone would want to even be in the presence of “a Samantha,” much less be one." -- Onion AV Club

"David: What did you think???
Neel: I thought it was perhaps the worst movie I've seen in the past three years.
Neel: Like, I am having a hard time thinking of something I hated more. You were sitting next to me. How many times do you think I checked my BlackBerry?
David: My cellphone battery was dead by the end of the movie.
Neel: The over/under would probably start at 50 times?
Neel: It was epically, cosmically, comically bad.
Neel: Actually not comically bad. There was nothing even remotely funny about its badness."

-- the Awl

And finally:

"Bitchtar" -- NYPost

God, this makes me sad. I have a feeling this one will resist even parody.

*Original credit for which must go to Matthew Baldwin.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Delayed Gratification

It has been edited in parts, and the name of the byline is not quite mine, but who cares?* My essay, "Delayed Gratification," is up on as one of their featured pieces! Check it out:

N.B.: Family members and anyone worried about knowing too much about me, read at your own risk. Nerve is, you know, a sexy site, with sexy stuff in it. Also, they italicize an awful lot of words.

*Okay, I kind of do care. I'm trying not to! I remember this feeling from working at the Swarthmore student paper, the Phoenix. Focusing on the edits is silly. I'm on Nerve! The world can see me! The one comment that's up so far is incredibly sweet!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

this is what i get for reading polls

As some of you know, I'm a bit of a compulsive when it comes to numbers, as long as there is no arithmetic involved. Every day at 1:05, for example, I check my boyfriend Barack Obama's Gallup approval numbers. Not everyone loves him as much as I do (I know! Crazy!), and the fickle public must be monitored.

Then, when I'm done with Gallup, I head over to to get a sense of the bigger picture. Most of the time I scan the list of new polls, investigate three or four, then delve into the comments before recoiling like a dog who smacked into an electric fence.

This time I only got as far as this NBC/WSJ Poll before succumbing to whimpering & whiplash:
US: National Survey (NBC/WSJ 5/6-10)
Harry Enten | May 12, 2010

Topics: National

NBC News / Wall Street Journal
5/6-10/10; 1,000 adults, 3.1% margin of error
Mode: Live telephone interviews
(NBC: story, results; WSJ: story, results)


Approval / Disapproval
Obama: 50% Approve, 44% Disapprove (chart)
Obama Economy: 48 / 46 (chart)
Obama Terrorism: 48 / 42
Congress: 21 / 72 (chart)

Positive / Negative
Barack Obama: 49 / 38 (chart)
Democratic Party: 37 / 42
Republican Party: 30 / 42
Tea Party Movement: 31 / 30
British Petroleum: 11 / 45
Charlie Crist: 8 / 16
General Motors: 37 / 27
Citibank: 10 / 43
Toyota: 31 / 34
Goldman Sachs: 4 / 50

Preference for Congress after 2010 elections
Democratic Control: 44%, Republican Control: 44%
Let's break this down. Obama's at 50% approval (fine) with a 2 point advantage on the issue of the economy (!). Everyone hates Charlie "Opportunist" Christ, whose sham marriage, which failed to get him on John McCain's ticket, will also fail to help him stay afloat in Florida. BP, which ruined our water, polls almost as badly as Citibank, which ruined our entire economy. The Democratic Party is exactly as popular as failed, bankrupt automakers General Motors, while probably this asshole who hacked kindergarteners to death in China is still viewed more favorably than Goldman Sucks. All more or less to be expected.

Then we get to the fun stuff.
"The Arizona law makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally. It requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration status if they have reason to suspect a person is in the country illegally, making it a crime for them to lack registration documents."
64% Support, 34% Oppose

"How likely do you think it is that the decision in Arizona to promote strong enforcement of immigrants who are NOT in the U.S. legally will lead to discrimination of Hispanic or Latino immigrants who ARE in the U.S. legally?"
66% Likely, 31% Unlikely

More Off-Shore Drilling
60% Support, 34% Oppose
So, there's this law, right? It requires that you have your papers on you at all times if you have even a tinge of melanin in your skin or a faint whiff of chile on your breath. As an LA councilman puts it in an LA Times piece on the boycott of the Saguaro State:
"Los Angeles is the second-largest city in this country, an immigrant city, an international city. It needs to have its voice heard," said Councilman Ed Reyes, one of the resolution's sponsors. "As an American, I cannot go to Arizona today without a passport. If I come across an officer who's having a bad day and feels that the picture on my ID is not me, I can be deported, no questions asked. That is not American."
Knowing that, how do the American people feel about this law? 64% of them think it is A-OK!

Well, back up a minute. Maybe they don't realize it's racist. No one likes racists or racism, right? That shit polls worse than Toyota. Let's ask the American people whether they think this new law will be racist.

Well, cock-a-doodle-doo! They don't care. 66% percent of respondents think that HELL YES, despite Jan Brewer's insistence to the contrary, this law will be racist. It doesn't bother them! Heck of a job, whiteys.

Oh, and as an extra kick in the pants, the poll then kindly informs us that 60% of Americans support *more* off-shore drilling, because what has the Gulf of Mexico ever done for us? Damned lazy, welfare-check-cashing, bean-eating, sombrero-wearing, American-job-stealing Gulf of Mexico. When was the last time we saw *its* passport? We say, let the sucker drown.

BONUS: In Portugal recently, the pope overlooked poverty, illiteracy, AIDS, iodine deficiencies, sexism, racism, religious extremism, child-rape, terrorism, environmental catastrophes and sinkholes that eat houses to declare that "same sex marriage and abortion were among the 'most insidious and dangerous challenges that today confront the common good.'" Just, you know, FYI.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Write from Wrong

I have a bit of history with Gary Shteyngart. First I read Russian Debutante's Handbook and admired him. Then I read this interview in the Forward and despised him. Various people who have come in contact with him told me various unsavory stories that helped solidify my dislike, and I didn't read Absurdistan, which might have complicated it.

Now I read this interview with him and feel all conflicted. On one level, I can relate to an uncomfortable amount of what he says. Like this:
Before the book deal, while you were working those five years on the manuscript, did you identify yourself as a writer?

No, no, no! Are you kidding me? I’m always shocked by Americans and their self-confidence. They haven’t published anything, and you ask them what they do and they say: “I’m a writer.” I say, “Oh, who is your publisher?” And they say, “Oh, well…I’ve been working on this book for the past 87 years and it’s brilliant but…” I do have to say that takes a lot of chutzpah and that’s wonderful. It really means that you think of yourself as a writer. I didn’t think of myself as a writer until the book came out.
On the other hand, we diverge here:
What were you spending your money on at the time?

Beer. Wine. Vodka.
Oh, Russians. I got my hair cut by a Russian this weekend. Or, more succinctly, I got bobbed! The Russian in question, Leila, was excellent at what she did, and yet she still managed to rub me the wrong way.

ME: (looking in the mirror) I don't know. I'd like it to be a little ... more exciting?
RUSSIAN: (disapproving) Well, you are the boss. You tell me what to do and I do it. But how do I know what you think is more exciting? Maybe you think mohawk is exciting.
ME: There are a lot of mohawks about these days.
RUSSIAN: Tell me about it.

Eventually she gave me a great haircut. But how much do you have to pay a Russian to do a good job *and* be nice to you? A question for the ages.

Back to Gary, who is either more ballsy, more arrogant, or simply more determined to be a full-time writer than I am:
I always tell my students to find a non-profit job because non-profit means that there is no bottom line! Or some kind of municipal job. You want to work 9-5, so that when the day is over it’s over and the weekends are yours. And the best thing, which I had at a couple of jobs, is when you can lock yourself in your office and write. People would say, “Oh Shteyngart is not a team player, he is always locked in his office, God knows what he is doing in there!” I used to work at this non-profit that dealt with immigrant resettlement and I would help write directions for new Russian immigrants, like how to not get drunk, how to avoid AIDS, stuff like that. That took max a couple of days a month, really. And the rest of the time I would lock myself in my office and work on the draft of my first novel. Half of it was finished by my senior year in college and the other half was finished working that job. It wasn’t the kind of service job where I would come home exhausted. I would come home ready to write or would have accomplished the writing at the office. It was brilliant.

I didn’t work more than two years at any one given place because there’d be lay-offs or people would realize I wasn’t doing anything.
It is twisted, but I kind of admire that. Here I am trying to please my bosses at whatever 9-5 job I am currently working while also trying to ultimately do the author thing. I would never close my door and work on my novel. For shame! Also, until now I've never had a door. But perhaps Gary's willingness to piss off anyone who is ultimately unimportant *means* something. It can be freeing, I imagine, to stop caring about inessentials. Trouble is, the idea that someone could dislike me -- especially a boss -- has never been something I could shrug off.

I have to admit I've never worked more than a year and a half at any given place either. Not entirely by choice, though. Again, like Gary. Hrm.

On Friday, I met Mark Oppenheimer and we talked briefly about Gary Shteyngart. I mentioned the offensive article in the Forward. Turns out it was his piece -- he was doing the interviewing. I also met the adorable & fantastic Myla Goldberg, who went to Oberlin like Gary Shteyngart, and the adorable & fantastic Irina Reyn, who went out on dates with Gary Shteyngart back in the day. Holy lord, people, can a world with six billion people in it be so small and yet so full of Russians?

ETA: Jesus Christmas, as the children say: The man is everywhere! Here is another interview with him on Tablet.

Monday, May 03, 2010

So Sexual!

This article about church counselling for women who are addicted to porn goes off the rails so fast you don't even hear the squeal. All of a sudden, the train is lying on its side, smoking, its wheels spinning pitifully in the air.

The piece begins innocently enough:
Ms. Renaud, who is taking a DVD course in sexual addiction counseling from the American Association of Christian Counselors, said she started the group and the Web site based on her own experiences. She became interested in pornography at age 10 after finding a magazine in her brother’s bathroom. After that, she said, “I wasn’t able to get enough of it.”

“At school I wanted to go home and look at it more,” she said. “Then I went online. I’d stay late at the library to look at it. Eventually I got into masturbation, phone sex, cybersex.” She also cracked the code on the family’s satellite television service, she said. “That was my life for eight years.” Then, she said, she met a Christian woman who helped her stop.
Porn can be addictive; addictions can disrupt your life. Problem, meet Solution. Great!

Then the article gets wacky:
The programs at Ms. Renaud’s group and at XXX Church diverge from secular sexual theory by treating masturbation and arousal as sins rather than elements of healthy sexuality. Emphasis is on recovering “sexual purity,” in which thoughts of sex outside marriage are illicit.
There you are, Gentle Reader, meandering through the flowering meadows of NYT prose, and out of nowhere, a great white shark bites you on the leg. That is how strange & abrupt this twist is. "Arousal" is a sin? You know that's biological, right? As for "Thoughts of sex outside marriage," well, yikes. If you don't even think about it, how do you know you want it -- and what "it" even is in the first place, or what kind of "it" you think you may like when the time comes?

This piece purports to be about porn addiction. What it ends up saying is that there are churches out there -- whole faiths, even -- that are making biological truths into religious crimes. Maybe not a significant majority of women has a problem with porn, but surely a significant majority thinks about sex. Especially since we are, you know, wired to.

It goes on:
As an adult she needed pornography to be aroused with her husband, she said. “I’m learning the correct way of intimacy and bonds,” she said of the group. “It’s learning what your spouse wants, his needs.” In her first weeks, she recalled, she struggled to avoid masturbation.
I feel awful for that woman. She was using porn with her husband. Consensually! In the context of matrimony! Why does she need to be shamed for that? Why does "the correct way" to have sex have to eliminate the aids to her desire? If she's already married, why can't she masturbate? Is it okay if she promises to only think of him?

Presumably porn is titillating because it is forbidden, because it seems "wrong." It must seem even more so to people whose community norms are so extreme. Vilifying porn, even in the context of marriage -- and not just porn but, as the article lists, "Masturbation, Lustful Thinking, Cutting, Feeling Useless, Dad’s Bad Choices, Self-Gratification, Self-Mutilation, Unhealthy Thoughts" -- only adds to the cycle and makes those activities more enticing.

Also, part of me wonders whether there is a queer subtext to all of this. Are the women under discussion drawn to porn because they are attracted to women? I mean, of course there are lots of reasons to watch the stuff, but in my experience the men are as gross as the women are fake. Maybe the stigma against admitting an attraction towards the same gender is worse than the stigma of admitting an addiction to smut.