29 April 2013

Harlem Shake

In November 2011 I posted a bunch of poems based on songs that were #1 on my birthday. Then I posted my 2011 and 2012 songs in May of last year.

This year Harlem Shake was #1 on my birthday. The week before it was Macklemore's Thrift Shop. Then after only another week Thrift Shop was #1 again.

That is the Backstreet Boys.

The song is inoffensive - though annoying as hell - but inoffensive. The weird viral-video crap of white people acting foolish...just NO.

This happened because Billboard changed the rules of how they calculate the #1 on the Hot 100. They have added in views on YouTube and other social media platforms. Harlem Shake would have NEVER been #1 otherwise.

I went to college with Macklemore. I wanted his song to be my birthday #1. It would have been right.

But...I made the rules and must live by them. So. Here is my 2013 birthday poem.

Harlem Shake

Con los terroristas
with those 9-5s - making dollars
do the Harlem Shake

Walk yourself to the 2 train
take yourself to that dead-end job
con los terroristas

History in the concrete
history in the basements
Do the Harlem Shake

This city forgets itself - breaks bread
with whomever has the dollars
con los terroristas

Dance your ass off
for the man? - or yourself
and do the Harlem Shake

Eventually everything blends
every block looks the same -
con los terroristas
and do the Harlem Shake

26 April 2013

Sellers : Lean In / Give And Take

I was asked recently why I stopped writing about best-sellers. There are several answers to this question. The easiest way to explain is to have you look at the bestseller list for non-fiction this week.

Take your time.

The first two books on that list are self-help. I will not accept someone calling them anything else. This is what they are. They are supposedly "rich" "adjusted" people telling you how you are doing it wrong and how you should do it like they did.

The number one over on the fiction list is by Mary Higgins Clark. Who, as far as I'm concerned is interchangeable with Nora Roberts, whom I talked about already.

This is why I stopped doing best-sellers. It's the same thing up there week after week and it's hard to find new things to say about another bland book about absolutely nothing.

I'm being harsh, glib, and unfair. But it's tiring to think about these books for more than a few seconds.

Let's break down the #1 and #2 non-fiction books just for argument's sake.

Lean In
Author: Sheryl Sandberg
Publisher: Knopf
Date: 3/11/13

This is a book by Facebook's chief operations manager. She is a rich woman. She worked for Google, at the beginning, and has the dollar bills to prove it.

The book is not for women who do not already have some means. It is for those who have the education and the position to benefit from what seems to amount to an FAQ for the boardroom.

At Huffington Post Daria Burke looks at the book as it relates to women of color. Then over at US News & World Report Mary Kate Cary sort of tears the book apart on its ivy-league crowd-sourced writing and the contradictions that Sandberg exhibits in her anecdotes.

I don't really care for wealthy people telling me how to better live. It's why I won't buy Gwyneth Paltrow's new cook book. This just seems like another in a long line of pseudo-sciencey books about how to break in to the 1% with a layer of gender studies glazed on top to make it more interesting or somehow critic-proof.

Author: Adam Grant
Publisher: Viking
Date: 4/9/13

Let's just read the copy for this one, the italics are mine:

"For generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Using his own pioneering research as Wharton's youngest tenured professor, Grant shows that these styles have a surprising impact on success. Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries. Combining cutting-edge evidence with captivating stories, this landmark book shows how one of America's best networkers developed his connections, why the creative genius behind one of the most popular shows in television history toiled for years in anonymity, how a basketball executive responsible for multiple draft busts transformed his franchise into a winner, and how we could have anticipated Enron's demise four years before the company collapsed-without ever looking at a single number.

Praised by bestselling authors such as Dan Pink, Tony Hsieh, Dan Ariely, Susan Cain, Dan Gilbert, Gretchen Rubin, Bob Sutton, David Allen, Robert Cialdini, and Seth Godin-as well as senior leaders from Google, McKinsey, Merck, Estee Lauder, Nike, and NASA-Give and Take highlights what effective networking, collaboration, influence, negotiation, and leadership skills have in common. This landmark book opens up an approach to success that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities."

You're welcome. I saved you the time reading this double "landmark" book. You just have to be a "giver" not a "taker" and everything will be great. My favorite line: "Although some givers get exploited and burn out, the rest achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries."

Some people will be successful doing something while others will not be so successful.

WHAT!?! That took some research to come up with? Before anyone gets all angry with me about this, please...re-read that copy. I know book PR copy is always silly (I review books for money) but COME ON.

Le sigh.

Sellers is my attempt to examine what books are topping the best-seller list and why. To talk about and understand the trends in popular writing.

24 April 2013


I have discussed my love of entropy a few times.

I have not discussed my love of taxidermy. Over at Lapham's there is a long read on Barnum's American Museum and the long history of making dead animals look alive.

Bobcat Form - Foster Taxidermy Supply
I'll sum it up. The American Museum of Natural History was set up in 1909. At the time, there was little concern for making things look real. Then Carl Akeley came along and invented processes that recreated musculature and bone under the skin. He posed the stuffed animals in lifelike poses, sensationalist ones. It was a revolution in making dioramas. He went through and remade all the AMNH scenes. To do so, a lot of animals had to die.

I once dated a guy who lived with my good friend and co-worker B. Their flat was divided by a large living room and kitchen. I dated C only for a few months, but one night I went to get ice for some water and discovered the bodies of several rats in the ice box.

In zip-loc bags.

B was, and still is, an amateur taxidermist. She made surreal and fascinating tableau out of them. I loved it and immediately began to research the process involved. The skinning, de-boning, drying, and then the assembling.

Whitetail Form - Foster Taxidermy Supply
What amazes me is that at one point the process involved filling a skin with sawdust and beating it until it looked vaguely like the animal it once was.

Today there is a whole industry built around this. Naturally. The forms that replicate musculature are amazing ghost-like images. It is like staring into the abyss of death.

The faces of these forms is what I can't help but stare at. They seem judgmental, angry. That they are molded to look very realistic is telling. One could argue that this is a good thing. That the people who kill then mount these animals should have to stare into that hollow face day in and day out.

I don't have a real problem with hunting. Nor with trophies. As long as the hunting wasn't brutal or illegal I have no issue. I would hope that the animal in question is at least used for meat.

I will admit to a massive sense of unease when coming into a room full of trophies. The false glass eyes, the slightly misty skins. Again. Ghosts. Tombs.

Like wondering through a catacomb filled with skulls.

It is a mirror of our own mortality. And it fascinates me that people who hunt would want that in their homes.

22 April 2013

Other People's Poems

I have always had a fondness for poems about death. About the aging process. I wrote an entire thesis on entropy built around the work of A. R. Ammons' Garbage.

What I'm trying to say, is that I have a love of decay. The beauty in the moment of no longer being.

The USS Guardian stuck on the Tubbataha Reef being cut into four sections so it could be safely removed. It is stark. Poetic.

I have also always been fascinated by the image of a cut out tongue. The muting of a person. From Titus Andronicus to this:

I'm Charles

Swaying handcuffed
On an invisible scaffold,
Hung by the unsayable
Little something
Night and day take turns
Paring down further.
My mind's a ghost house
Open to the starlight.
My back's covered with graffiti
Like an elevated train.
Snowflakes swarm
Around my bare head
Choking with laughter
At my last-minute contortions
To write something on my chest
With my already bitten,
Already bleeding tongue.

-Charles Simic

15 April 2013

Secondary Burial

Burial in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
by Alphonse de Neuville & Édouard Riou
On Friday I put up a short post about the burial of a tunnel bore. At the end of that post I made a quick note about walls lined with books being similar to the bore lining the floor of a tunnel. It's glib for sure, but I mean it.

Most people have books around them. In some form. My parents have a set of Encyclopedias from the mid-90s in their living room. I don't recall using them more than a handful of times. I am sure they are unused as of now. Their gilt pages collecting dust.

My mother recently found a box of classic books. I am sure you have seen them. The large, leather-bound Robinson Crusoe's and Tale of Two Cities with the matching embossed covers and ornate text. These types of books simultaneously cause nostalgia and panic in me.

Nostalgia for a time when a set of classics was in every home. Panic for the weight that these supposed classic books hold. That weird magic where certain books become required and needed to have been read.

That is a different kind of tomb. One of frozen lists of must-read books and ivory tower shenanigans. One I have little time for.

The idea that the books in a library somehow make that library is not really radical. The edifice exists to house certain written words. It is a cultural mausoleum. Though one that I hope is visited often.

1st Edition, 1962
Recently I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. This novel, written in 1962, is both strange and amazing. It concerns a family of shut-ins, not unlike the Beales of Grey Gardens. Told from the point of view of the youngest sister in the family, Mary. The book is disjointed, paranoid, and deeply fragile.

A large plot point is the burial of objects as talismans of protection.

Mary has nailed a book to a tree. She buries watches and other trinkets int he grounds of their estate. Each has significance to her, each protecting a different aspect or part of her life.

Jackson herself had agoraphobia and this last novel of hers is a beautiful drawing out of that fear.

Jackson also wrote The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House. Both of those books also deal with a fear of the outside. And then a breaking down of a person who explores the outside.

To protect something we must bury it. Hide it away and never gaze upon it.

Shirley Jackson was fierce
The Egyptians built tombs to house the gilt offerings to their dead royalty. These objects never meant to be seen by anyone.

Even my grandmother was buried with a rosary clutched in her hands. As if that object would somehow help her along the way. A modern-day penny on the eye to give to the ferryman.

Why encase something to keep it safe? If an object is important should it not be used/seen?

Those encyclopedias in my parent's living room. Their gilt pages should be cracked open, even if the information is now out of date. Time capsules are strange if they are never opened.

Even the buried don't stay that way. Pablo Neruda died in 1973. His body was exhumed this passed week in an effort to figure out how he died. 40 years after the fact.

There is a practice of the Secondary Burial. In many societies large mounds were used again and again. The idea being that after some time had passed, these sites were no longer untouchable. Still holy, still sacred, but open for use.

This is a library as well. As time passes we remove certain things from our shelves. Our culture. And we replace them with something else. In and out of favor.

Buried within, then without.

12 April 2013


My good friend A posted this on Facebook. I watched it a few times in a row.

The video is of a tunnel boring machine breaking through and finishing the Airportlink tunnel in Brisbane, Australia. The time lapse ends with the burial of the machine.

It is cheaper to bury the used drill in concrete at the end of the tunnel then to bring it back to the surface. Its work finished, it becomes a part of the supports of that which it built.

The walls of a library are held in place by the books that built it. The history of a place becomes that place.


08 April 2013

Dust Jacket : A Guide To Being Born

A Guide to Being Born
Designed by: Alex Murto
Illustration by: Lou Beach

Alex Murto designed that typeface, called Effing, that was meant to be sexual that floated around the internet a few months ago. His covers tend to be the 'take a nice illustration or typeface and put it together' type.

There is nothing wrong with this. It makes good covers. This is one of them.

But it has zero to do with Murto. As far as I can tell, he added flowers to the original illustration by Lou Beach and softened the colors to make it look more three dimensional.

Which...I guess...

The whole point of Beach's work is that it looks like weird acid-trip versions of Victorian illustration. The flatness is part of the aesthetic. Beach is trying to reference specific things from our past.

Old advertising, medical diagrams, religious icons.

Like this ad for Maidenform from the 1950s. They did a long campaign of 'I dreamed I...' ads. The idea was that you could do ANYTHING in these bras.

Take a look at this ad though. There are women in bras wearing animal heads.

It's hard to compete with that today. If this ad showed up in Vogue next month people would go crazy over it. It is weird. And not average weird, very very very weird.

But also really kinda amazing. Like frame it on the wall amazing.

Which is why Beach does what he do.

His recent book 420 Characters (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2011) was one of my favorite odd finds of last year. It features 160 stories of only 420 characters. At one point Facebook limited the characters in posts to this number. Beach posted these as his status.

The book features his collage illustrations along side the stories:

Many are animal-headed men and women in various Victorian and mid-century costume.

If I hadn't told you the ad above was real, you would be excused for thinking it was his work.

A lot of his work, the cover illustration included, incorporates a sense of the medical drawing. Reminiscent of Gray's Anatomy.

I think of the times I have gone to the acupuncturist and stared at the charts. Thinking that they are beautiful and terrifying. The same experience occurs in doctors offices. The charts and ads on their walls a constant reminder of the ways a body can deteriorate and fall apart.

Victorian illustration of cadavers and medical equipment are striking. For their bluntness. Their shocking realism. The acute awareness that the drawing was made of a dead person, that the organs seen were exposed so the illustrator could draw them.

The viscera of it can be felt.

Which, given the oddness of Victorian society and it's prudishness is interesting. That these people would decide that they would turn their noses up at so many things as being 'crude' while demanding this incredible realism in their medicine.

These are the people that brought us the modern form of the seance after all. Modern mysticism in general really.

That mysticism comes through in Beach's work in subtle ways. The cover reminds me of icons of the Virgin Mary. Of old religious relics in general. Something about the egg with a face on it. The pose. The absolute zeal of it.

An exhibit of Frida Kahlo's clothing recently opened at Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City. There are corsets, braces, a prosthetic leg. Her flowing native Mexican inspired gowns bring to mind the Virgin. The country and its history.

Beach's work calls back to Kahlo's and further back to Hieronymus Bosch's nightmare-scapes.

These artists juxtapose the beautiful and terrifying to create worlds we want to look at but never want to encounter. The artistic counterpart to the stranger in the alley, the creepy side show, the dream you cannot wake from.

Frida Kahlo's brace/corset.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

05 April 2013

Manhattan on Fire

© 2002-2013 The Lincoln Institute
July 11, 1863 was the day that numbers were first called in the military draft for the Civil War. Even though there were rumbles of protest, the calling of numbers went peacefully.

On the 13th the numbers were again called. An angry mob of around 500 people showed up at the Ninth District Provost Offices at Third Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan. The draft was halted as the building was set on fire. Rioters stopped the fire fighters from putting the blaze out. Horses were killed and street cars were toppled. The city cut telegraph lines to keep the news from spreading that a large group of mostly white Irish New Yorkers were rioting against Emancipation.

The fear was that there would be no jobs for the white men.

Because of the war, there was no militia to be sent into the city. The mob turned against the black people of New York. The mob beat, tortured and/or killed numerous black people, including one man who was attacked by a crowd of 400 with clubs and paving stones, lynched and set on fire.

Particularly terrible was the destruction of the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th and Fifth Ave. 233 children lived in the building when it was attacked by several thousand rioters. The place was stripped of food and supplies before being set on fire and burned to the ground. Amazingly each of the orphans escaped.

At least 100 black Americans were killed on the first day of rioting. Many black-owned businesses were burned.

The homes of politicians who supported the Emancipation were attacked.

By July 16th at least 120 people were killed. 11 black men were lynched. At least 2000 were injured. Property damage was $15 – $75 million (adjusted for inflation). 50 buildings burned to the ground and many more had to be demolished from the damage. Whole sections of the city were altered overnight.

As a result of the violence many blacks moved to Brooklyn,which was still a separate city, and New Jersey. Whites and blacks would be divided by boroughs for decades. This division can still be seen in parts of the city to this day.

The riots are considered the largest civil insurrection in American history. Ever.

What amazes me the most about this event, aside from it happening at all, is that I never knew about it. That something so important to the history of this country occurred and no one pointed it out in my many years of school.

That while a war that deeply divided our country was going on, our largest city was also deeply divided - to the point of killing 120 people - and we don't discuss it...

I can only look at is and say that this is part of our problem. Part of New York City's larger racial and political and class-based problems. Deeply hidden beneath daily lives, all over the country, are these hidden pasts.

I don't know if we can unearth and put to rest enough of them to actually heal. I don't know that the wounds heal themselves. But it's interesting that we don't acknowledge that the wounds are there.

You can read more about the riots at Mr. Lincoln & New York. A larger version of the map at the start of the post is here.

03 April 2013

Other People's Poems

This poem has one of my favorite stanzas ever in it. The first stanza in section 4 is possibly one of the most beautiful thoughts on modern life ever written. I mean this.

J and I watched the end of the second season of Mad Men tonight and it reminded me how much I love this poem. Enjoy.


My heart’s aflutter!
I am standing in the bath tub
crying. Mother, mother
who am I? If he
will just come back once
and kiss me on the face
his coarse hair brush
my temple, it’s throbbing!

then I can put on my clothes
I guess, and walk the streets.

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Words! be
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,

and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which at best is only a talent
for poetry.

Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embrace a cloud,
but when I soared
it rained.

That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest
oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks
what a funny place to rupture!
and now it is raining on the ailanthus
as I step out onto the window ledge
the tracks below me are smoky and
glistening with a passion for running
I leap into the leaves, green like the sea

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

- Frank O'Hara

01 April 2013

The $500,000 Deal

Photo by Tommy Mas for Vice
I don't know anything about Cat Marnell as a person. But I know a surprising amount about her.

I know that she used to work for xoJane in New York, was maybe fired for her rampant drug use, and then wrote about said drug use for Vice. She just signed a $500,000 book deal with Simon & Schuster for her memoir, How to Murder Your Life.

Along the way she has written about how she only uses Plan B as a contraceptive, how she sleeps with A LOT of people, and how she uses a TON of drugs. A lot has been said about her. The Atlantic alone has posted this, this, this, and today's announcement of the book deal.

I have no interest in slut shaming Marnell. She can sleep with whomever she wants. I don't really care about the drugs either. There have been great books and articles written by and about drug users.

My problem is that she just isn't a very good writer.

That Vice column, Amphetamine Logic, is a hot mess of barely coherent ramblings with little point. Her ridiculous final two posts were a shameless attempt to tack on meaning at the end of the column right as her book deal was closing. The first opens with her having lunch with her agent...

I honestly thought the drug-addict socialite was passe. Do people really enjoy reading about someone who clearly has money wasting themselves and then flaunting it?

Maybe she's a good example of the neo-yuppie that has taken over New York City. That hipsters have just turned into yupsters should surprise no one. They were halfway there. I guess my shock is that this tired old trope is somehow being dusted off at all.

Just because you put something in a slightly more gritty light doesn't make it less obnoxious. It's like she's living out some weird Chuck Palahniuk/David Foster Wallace hybrid.

The drug use? OK.
The sleeping around and not using protection in 2013? OK.
The glorification of all of it? OK.

Because she's being meta about it. She's winking as she does it. Or something else incredibly tiring. Didn't we get bored with this public self-destruction and class showmanship in the 90s? Is this what people complain about when generations recycle themselves because seriously. I was thinking it was going to just be clothes and TV and music.

Maybe I'm getting too old for this shit. Maybe it will play well on the twitters to her 20,000 followers. Or something.

I looked up her age. Marnell is 30. This is my generation. I'm supposed to understand this behavior, be able to somehow identify with it. I can't help but feel like she's trying too hard to still be a teenager. That somehow it's all an act.

But maybe she's an incredibly fucked up young woman who needs help not $$$. Maybe none of it matters and I take it too seriously.