Friday, April 30, 2010

In Which Simon's English Degree Proves Dangerous

Sometimes if all of my tv shows are reruns, I go on Hulu and watch things that intrigue me in some way despite being really bad shows. One was NY-LON. I initially started it for the LON part, hated it from the second episode on, but kept watching it anyway. No one is more grateful than I am that it only lasted seven episodes. I also watched quite a bit of What About Brian before I realized . . . what about Brian? My most recent choice was Crusoe. Crusoe lasted twelve episodes, some of which were very nearly entertaining!

Probably because NBC sunk a lot of money into it, Crusoe was not simply cancelled, but brought to a close and labeled a miniseries. The amount of money they must have spent is obvious from the set. In fact, the most horrifying thing about the cancelling of Crusoe is the amount of effort the production people clearly put into building the treehouse.

It's basically the coolest thing ever in the history of mankind. To explore it in more detail, visit this Entertainment Weekly article. In the web extras, all the men kept saying that it was every five-year-old boy's dream, but there's no need to put qualifiers on it. Does anyone not dream of bringing human civilization to the trees and residing there in a sylvan paradise? Crusoe has a splendid view, a copy of Milton, a juicer, and a super hot roommate. Weighing that life against the life of a merchant in early eighteenth-century England, I'm not sure the treehouse doesn't win out.

The point is, a lot of people worked really hard to make the set for this show exceptionally awesome, and then it got cancelled. SPOILER ALERT! In all stories, whatever impressive object the hero makes with his own hands must eventually be destroyed by his nemesis to underscore the moral gulf between them. That's just the way it goes. But when it happens in Crusoe, there's a distinct sense that not only are the villains wretchedly evil, they have poor taste. One of them looks at the treehouse -- which is essentially land art -- and remarks that Crusoe lives like an ape. Inevitably, they burn the whole place down and the viewer is subjected to many lingering shots of consuming flames. The viewer can't help thinking every person who worked on that show must have equated the torching of the treehouse with the rejection of their creative vision. On other shows you might have to dismantle a house or a hangout and sell off the furniture, but the Crusoe crew had to take apart something ingenious and beautiful.

Possibly the worst part of it all is that I can't argue that the show shouldn't have been cancelled. In spite of a great set and actors who were quite decent in addition to being blindingly good-looking, it seems to have gone off-track somewhere in the conceptual stages. It didn't know whether it was goofy, sentimental, or philosophical. Consequently, the writing never got where it was trying to go because it didn't know where it was going in the first place. In short, the show itself never earned the work that went into the treehouse.

I was thinking about this because on Saturday it will be a year that I have been working full-time on this damn novel. A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of what I see now was clearly madness, I spent a few days making a huge spreadsheet detailing all the threads of the plot, in an attempt to make sure they were weaving together properly. It took up twenty-four sheets of paper. I laid it out on the floor and stared at it for a while and thought, why does this seem familiar? Then I realized it was reminding me of the treehouse. So I burned it. No, just kidding, it was totally helpful and I've made good use of it. But that was a scary moment, and I blame Crusoe for providing me with the metaphor.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cheat Sheet

When starting a new show the post production staff usually gets a casting "cheat sheet" with photos of major characters-- for my MTV show, it meant a sheet of paper with 24 blond headshots, for my last reality gig it was a print out of murder suspects and cops, for the new show... they just handed me a 750 page book called "Tombs, Treasures, and Mummies".

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Thanks For Clearing That Up

Thank you Google translate-- it is now perfectly clear what my cellphone is trying to tell me.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fun With Paper and Glue

About once a year or so I am inspired to make an elaborate card with cut paper. The process goes like this:
  1. Lightbulb goes off above head, illuminating theoretical card so amazing it requires a power source and an operatic choir
  2. Ten minutes later I realize I am lacking twenty-five of the twenty-eight colors of paper I need, wiring, and an operatic choir
  3. Three hours later I am surrounded in an explosion of tiny bits of paper that look like deformed confetti
  4. An hour after that I've glued myself to my desk
  5. Following much thinking, rethinking, scaling-down, and acceptance of my limited array of tools and skills, I have a card that weighs about a pound because of all the stuff I've glued to it
One of these days I should document this process, but by the time it gets interesting, I usually have too much glue on my hands. Anyway, here are some finished products.

This is the one I just made, for my sister, to alert her that her birthday present (a season of The X-Files) is on its way. Those black lines had to be dragged through a pool of glue, it was a glorious mess.

This was for a friend who was living in Edinburgh at the time. It is an approximation of Edinburgh Castle, maybe 60% accurate.

A birthday card for Ivan. The 'hogs are drinking fermented apple juice probably because they're distressed that they live in a world with no sun.

And a card for a friend I met in England, who was present at the purchasing of Heslington. In fact, I think she was the one who assured me that spending fifteen pounds on a sheep-shaped doorstop was a really good idea. How right she was.

There are a few others in existence, but I forgot to take pictures before I mailed them. I've nearly exhausted my supply of decent paper (all that's left in any quantity is orange, yellow, and green), and should probably invest in some glue original to this decade, and maybe an X-acto knife, but I will probably leave it for next year. At eleven o'clock at night. Which everybody knows is the best and indeed only time to start projects.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Simon and Ivan Launches Internationally

I have verified the safe arrival of Ivan in Rome. So far, information indicates a case of jet lag, a dissatisfaction with Egyptian airline food, and the existence of an apartment the landlords of which Ivan may or may not have somehow offended? The motivation behind their perceived dislike for Ivan was unclear. I repeat, jet lag was involved. Also unclear is the exact nature of Ivan's work in Rome. It has something to do with mummies. Raising them from the dead, battling them, teaching them how to plant gardenias -- these are all possibilities I have considered and have no reason to outright reject. All I know is that Ivan will be VERY FAR AWAY for six months and that I may be forced to sell personal possessions in order to fund a visit. Does anyone want a copy of 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (with a foreword by Max Harris!)? Proceeds will cover a visit to the gelato shop.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Light

I'm quite smitten with the light that comes through our kitchen window. Makes me think of this poem.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

But is the Atmosphere Coated, Uncoated, or Matte?

You know you have been spending too much time working with Pantone blues when you go out to spend an hour cloud watching and catch yourself thinking the shade of the sky looks pretty close to 2718.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Eyjafjallajökull canceled my flight to Rome. They opened all the airports today. I suppose I will feel vindicated when planes start dropping from the sky, but for now I'm just bitter and semi-stranded in Brooklyn.

And looking for new flights had me stress eating my way through a variety of processed cheese products-- it was to the point where my brain was so addled by the existance of $2,000 one way tickets through Spain that I ate a bag of cheddar kettle corn, took a nap, took a walk, ate some Kraft and then finally settled down to drink a Magic Hat #9 and book my damn flight. And if Magic Hat isn't the best thing for a tired brain, I don't know what is, because I cracked one open and the bottle cap was like a hug:

Thank you for the pep talk, beer bottle. I'll be flying to Rome via Cairo on Sunday. Eff you Volcano. In other news, it's kumquat season! Stop by south slope if you'd like to try a fruit that feels exactly like being punched in the face!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Best Night Ever!

Last night I made brownies, and then I went over to the institution known as "MAMA's house," where they had strawberry rhubarb pie. I was offered some pie, but, thinking of my cooling brownies at home, and my fat gut, I declined. Trying to explain this bizarre behavior, I started off saying, "Two desserts in one night would be..." and the end of this sentence was kindly supplied for me: "...the best night ever!" They know me too well at MAMA's house.

I never did try the brownies because it was too late by the time I got home to be consuming five hundred calories in one go. Also, I made SEVERAL errors in the recipe, so I was not wholeheartedly eager to try what I can only refer to as a culinary experiment.

However, if the brownies end up all right, I have a second chance at The Best Night Ever, because today a freelance client brought me an apple pie. Please, witness the miracle of the apple pie:

Looking at this pie objectively I'm inclined to believe that it is probably the most delicious-looking apple pie I have -- nay, anyone! has -- ever encountered. I've already been spoiled for all future freelance projects. Now I fear I am spoiled for all future pie.

chats with small brother

Ivan's away message: Eyjafjallajökull, i love you but you're bringing me down.

two days later: Small Brother: lol i just realized that Eyjafjallajokull is the volcano
Ivan: seriously?
Small Brother: i just thought you were hitting random keys
Small Brother: i'm smart, i swear.

meanwhile: I think "foiled by volcanic ash" is the best excuse for missing work EVER.

Friday, April 16, 2010


"Ivan! I've found him! Your new Italian boyfriend!"
Thanks, Luke.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

One More Thing Regarding Auden

You know that poem John Hannah reads in Four Weddings and a Funeral that turns you into a bawling mess every time you get to the funeral? Or am I the only one that still happens to? I also cry when Beth dies in Little Women. It gets sadder with repeat viewings. Anyway, that poem is called "Funeral Blues," and it's by our very own Wystan Hugh Auden. It's actually the third in a set of four poems entitled, "Four Cabaret Songs for Miss Hedli Anderson." (The poem I quoted from earlier was the second in that set.)

In spite of all the weeping, I have always been slightly suspicious of this poem as an expression of grief, because it's so melodramatic:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog barking with a juicy bone

The juicy bone is the first note that's off-key. In the following stanzas, everything is silenced but drums, a skywriter writes "He Is Dead" in the sky, ribbons are tied around the necks of doves, and traffic cops are made to wear black gloves. Eventually the planet, solar system, and entire universe are done away with. It is very sad and beautiful. It is a little bit funny. Do doves really require crêpe bows? Really?

It turns out the first two stanzas were written for a play Auden wrote with Isherwood called The Ascent of F6. F6 is a fictional mountain. (Not a bomber jet, as I was inclined to think.) Its name is presumably meant to evoke K2, which Auden's brother once climbed. He was a geologist. Fun fact! (Another fun fact: K2 is the second-highest and second-deadliest mountain in the world. You would think the deadliest would be Everest, but no! Annapurna has the highest fatality rate. On a related note, I happened to be the second of two K's at work and signed my e-mails as K2 for the duration of my employment. Every time someone died on K2 while I worked there, I felt responsible. But I digress.) In this play, the British government cajoles some climber to go up F6 and he gets killed from a surfeit of glory or something. I haven't actually read it. Point is, the poem that his distressed lover sings about this begins with the first two stanzas of "Funeral Blues."

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

And then it takes a turn:

Hold up your umbrellas to keep off the rain
From Doctor Williams while he opens a vein;
Life, he pronounces, it is finally extinct.
Sergeant, arrest that man who said he winked!

Shawcross will say a few words sad and kind
To the weeping crowds about the Master-mind,
While Lamp with a powerful microscope
Searches their faces for a sign of hope.

And Gunn, of course, will drive a motor-hearse:
None could drive it better, most would drive it worse.
He’ll open up the throttle to its fullest power
And drive him to the grave at ninety miles an hour.
So, basically, the moving performance that Matthew gives over Gareth's coffin starts out as a parody of a state funeral. But Auden evidently decided that the poem really ought to take another direction, and replaced the last three stanzas with the two that everyone now knows:
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
To be honest, I'm not totally sure this part isn't slightly ironic, too -- all that changes is that is becomes more personal, less public. The drama is so extreme, it starts to sound like a parody of grief. I don't know what kind of jerk would write a poem like that, but I think you could argue that Auden might. Anyway, I find all of this terribly interesting and it serves as proof of two things I have long suspected:  (1) to the author, no work is ever finished, and (2) everything sounds deadly serious when read in a Scottish accent.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pictures from a Lazy Photographer

A few days ago there were probably great photos to be had, if I had possessed the following:

1. A better camera
2. Big portable spotlights
3. A willingness to leave my apartment at one in the morning to go out into the foggy darkness

I'm sure National Geographic will be calling any day now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

W. H. Auden

So when I said Auden was a swell guy and you'd like him, what I really meant was that he's a weird guy and I like him. This is a man who said of himself that he looked like an unmade bed (regrettably accurate), and liked to replace the pronouns in famous lines with "your mother." In a discussion on capital punishment he apparently said he would like to carry out such a sentence on Bertolt Brecht. Personally. He proposed marriage to Hannah Arendt, but she declined, maybe because he was gay, maybe because he looked like an unmade bed. Who can say. Anyway, I like Auden because he does not have the distancing aura of wisdom about him that makes other poets seem to belong to some other plane of existence. Auden definitely lived on the same earth as everyone else.

He was born in York in 1907, and for maybe a year lived in a house right down the street from the bed and breakfast I stayed in last June.

He moved around a lot as a child, and eventually ended up going away to school when his father went into the military during World War I. He met Christopher Isherwood at school. Isherwood, you may recall, wrote the novel on which the movie A Single Man is based. Reading any biography of Auden gives you the impression that the world is very small. Auden seems to have known everyone of any importance. For Pete's sake, he was even friends with Daniel Day-Lewis's father, Cecil, which seems like a very strange fact until you discover that Cecil went on to become the British Poet Laureate at the end of his life.

Anyway, Auden continued to move around and travel throughout his life. He lived in Berlin for a bit in his twenties, then decided to become a soldier and got mixed up in the Spanish Civil War for a few weeks, then went to observe the Sino-Japanese war with Isherwood (on which they wrote a book together), and then, when he was 32, moved to America. He lived in Brooklyn, then taught at Swarthmore, then taught at the University of Michigan. In 1945 he went to Germany to do an absurd job for the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. He said, "We asked them if they minded being bombed. We went to a city which lay in ruins and asked if it had been hit. We got no answers that we didn’t expect." After that he split his time between New York and an island in Italy called Ischia.

Although Auden initially moved to America more or less with Isherwood, he met Chester Kallman not long after, and ended up in a long, strange sort of marriage (obviously unofficial) with him. The relationship was somewhat marred (to understate it) by the fact that Auden was, or wanted to be, monogamous by nature, and that didn't appeal to Kallman. They continued to live together on and off and remained friends and creative collaborators until Auden's death. Sometimes people try to make something of that fact that Kallman did not live long after Auden's death, but the unromantic fact is, Kallman was in very bad health already. He started drinking at breakfast long before Auden died, and it was because a boyfriend of his had been killed in a car accident. I personally find all this really depressing. Auden wanted so much to be in some kind of marriage that he actually proposed to four or five women over the course of his life. He did actually marry Erika Mann (Thomas Mann's daughter), but it was only to get her out of pre-war Germany.

In 1972, Auden moved back to England to teach at Oxford. He died of a heart attack less than two years later, after giving a poetry reading in Vienna. He wrote an intimidating amount of poetry, some plays and essays, a couple of travel books, and various libretti (the libretti being mostly collaborations with Kallman). By the end, he was drinking too much, taking a lot of sleeping pills and amphetamines, and wearing slippers in the street. At some point during this time he wrote possibly the only poem I can always remember in its entirety:

He still loves life
but O O O O how he wishes
the Good Lord would take him.

Some are of the opinion that Auden is sort of great but not really that great. I get the feeling certain critics would prefer him to be T. S. Eliot. This is plain foolish. We already have a T. S. Eliot. Why can't we have an Auden, too? I suppose I take offense to the very idea that comparing the worth of two different poets is useful. To say that Auden is especially not to verse what Einstein is to physics seems to suggest that he would have done better not to write at all, so as not to have publicly fallen short. That's nonsense. And anyway, Auden's enduring ability to fall short is what I like about him. His work isn't perfect and his life didn't turn out entirely to his satisfaction. He was kind of a slob. But he's a slob who wrote "O Tell Me the Truth About Love":

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

. . .

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

What Auden has that Eliot doesn't, and what Eliot has that Auden doesn't, and what everyone has that everyone else does not, is a unique and incomparable way of seeing things. What can I say? I like Auden's way. Even if he does look like an unmade bed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010


This is Colin's Fancy Temperature-Telling DooDad (our wall clock is a sun dial). Allow me to translate for the doodad: "It is lovely and sunny out and you should drink your coffee on the roof".

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Ten Thousand Things I've Forgotten to Post About (and by ten thousand I mean roughly six)

I have been shamelessly blog-dodging lately, so here's a long, multi-subject post to make up for my having missed a whole week. First, now that Blogger is working again, I can show you the tragic plight of my imprisoned amaryllis.

Look at how it yearns to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine. It is helpless even to move the curtain aside so that it can see out the window. It hangs its head dolorously and wishes it could speak. Sigh.

Fortunately its short life is now over and it has less to worry about. On to other things.

Ivan's post about her message in a bottle reminded me that I meant to blog about two things she gave me for my birthday which I think I've already shown everyone I know, but as we know nothing is real until it happens on the internet, so please allow me to re-introduce you to two prized possessions: my one-gallon can of omnipotence and my Viking odorant.

Ignoring the can's directions, and explicit warnings not to open it, I popped off the top and began storing mittens in it. I haven't noticed any increase in my ability to coerce the universe into doing my bidding, but after having been immersed in the can for some time, my mittens do seem to have grown strangely powerful . . .

The Viking odorant offers these benefits: "provides long-lasting odor," "dank, authentic stench," glides on smooth without flaking." It also cautions you not to apply to broken skin or axe wounds, and warns that it "may attract bears." Simon P., this is not the odorant for you. Unfortunately it is not the odorant for me, either. It smells a lot like Canadian Man Soap. I think I've had enough of smelling like a man for a while, but a Viking could do worse.

More recently, Ivan sent me a marvelous set of handwarmers, with a bonus neckwarmer, which is very impressive because she knitted them herself. Out of alpaca yarn. Let's compare Ivan's knitting abilities to my own.

Ivan's work. Note the delicate pattern and tasteful buttons.

And here is the scarf that took me so long to knit they stopped making that kind of yarn, hence the fact that it is half the length of a normal scarf. Like Cordelia, it is poorly made. It's full of mistakes, tight in some places, loose in others, and, it must be said, the color is definitely a shade that a thirteen-year-old girl would choose.

Let's not talk about it anymore. Next! I've been meaning to post about this item that my sister got me for Christmas. Prepare yourself. It's so adorable you might fall down.

Unbearable, is it not? It is the latest addition to a growing collection, of few more of which live here, next to my desk, fiercly guarding the Ivan's knitting and a postcard of which I am fond:

This postcard was left to me by my favorite former boss. Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? is the title of a book published in the UK by Little, Brown. I haven't read it, but the postcard got me through the end of the Bush administration and many a rough day at work. I have so much to thank the British for. Even if they were the root cause of a significant number of those rough days at work.

This has been a highly materialistic post. I plan to make up for this next time by writing at length about that noble art form called POETRY. That's right. It's National Poetry Month. More than a year ago I threatened to do a detailed post about W. H. Auden, and this seems like an appropriate time to follow through. Auden was a swell guy. I think you'll like him.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


i didn't eat the food i brought
which is bad
because it was a hard boiled egg
and now i won't eat it
because that's gross
or do they not need to be refrigerated?
I think hard boiled eggs are ok for awhile
they're like classic school lunch items
in the 1950s
american girl dolls eat them.

Friday, April 02, 2010

It Is Good to Have Goals

I desperately need to weed out my inbox so "RE: Drunk Man Tries to Resuscitate Roadkill with CPR" can live next to "Fwd: NZ Man 'used hedgehog as weapon'".