Benito Vergara

Weekend Reads; also, Rereading, and Some Tweets on Tweeting

In books on July 12, 2015 at 8:16 pm

I am not a big re-reader, and I know I should be. I happen to read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy once a decade for some reason — not because I am a huge Le Carré fan or of the spy novel in general (I am neither) — but because there’s a mystery in its patient rhythms, in how the story progresses through ellipses and silences, that I still cannot crack. I figure I will read Maria Dermout’s The Ten Thousand Things again sometime soon, in the same way that I will watch Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love again or reread Francisco Arcellana’s “The Mats.” You know, just because.

We all, of course, have different relationships to texts (novelistic or filmic) at different ages, and our life experiences necessarily provide us with shifting lenses through which to read them. The books don’t change; we do.

A movie I found charming and sophisticated in my late teens now seems unwatchable and, well, icky; Woody Allen’s Manhattan is a perfect example. Watching Antonioni’s L’Avventura in your relatively carefree mid-’20s is a very different experience from watching it at a decade later as an unhappy and bitter divorcee.

While I am glad that neither my parents nor the librarian at my elementary and high schools kept me away from books that I “wasn’t yet ready for,” I am sure there were books of my youth that were clearly lost on me. One of those books was To Kill a Mockingbird, which I read in the Philippines before I was a teenager.

I remember almost nothing of it, in the same way I remember almost nothing of the film which I saw around the same time.

And back then I knew almost nothing of the South, or of the Civil Rights Movement, or the implications of the African Americans sitting in the rafters and standing up for Atticus Finch. (Was that scene in the book?)

So I read the first chapter of Go Set a Watchman in The Guardian without much to compare it to, and reviews of the book will inevitably compare it to closely to the first novel. I found the chapter quite engaging, with the sentences beautifully constructed, and was eager to read more — but perhaps I should re-read To Kill a Mockingbird first, with a sharper critical eye. But is it still called “re-reading” if I first read it without historical context, a world and a lifetime away?

  • The other book coming out on July 14 — and the one I’m most excited about — is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Here’s a powerful excerpt, in “Letter to My Son” (The Atlantic)
  • “The internet means we’re a community and there’s no such thing as oversharing. Even this identity, Linda. We’re one in a way we never can be in real life. We’re an online forum past midnight.” Christine V. Nguyen, “Real People and Fake Friends: Linda Evangelista” (Entropy)
  • James Brubaker’s “Four Sci-Fi Variations on a Grandmother” (The Austin Review)
  • Two stories with something in common (guess): Hector Tobar’s “Secret Stream” (from ZYZZYVA, via Electric Literature)  and Emily Wortman-Wunder’s “Trespassing” (The Masters Review)
  • “She speaks to you as if you could speak back. Find a voice in your throat that wasn’t there before. She asks you questions, one after another, and though you can only answer Yes or No, you wonder if you are choosing the correct answer, or if one Yes or No in the wrong sequence could change everything, could alter your fate.” From earlier this year, Sam Martone’s chapbook “An Object You Cannot Lose” (Cartridge Lit)
  • Kerry Howley’s “The Cage of You” (Granta)
  • You might not agree with the assessment that “Elvis’s musical lift-off was never a simple black and white equation; it was more like a backroom radio left on between stations to pick up a tingly mix of all the different sounds in the air that month,” but what a sentence, what an essay. Ian Penman (again), from 2014, on Elvis; “Shapeshifter” (London Review of Books)
  • Otessa Moshfegh’s “The Weirdos” (The Paris Review)

Also, I thought I’d get back into using Twitter, but I clearly don’t know how to use it. I tweeted these below:

I suspect my reticence on Twitter has to do with a kind of tweet performance anxiety

Because I recognize two warring impulses in myself, or to be precise, my Twitter self, or the self I project on Twitter.

The first is equivalent to the nonchalant toss of a gum wrapper into a waste bin,

Where, like those early, tentative, Facebook statuses, I announce to the world that I’m eating a ham sandwich for lunch,

Or that the disco version of the Star Wars theme, pew-pew sounds and all, was playing at Safeway as I placed a jar of peanut butter in my cart,

And by treating Twitter as such — the repository of thoughts, relevant only to myself, flung into the ether —

reinforces the notion that I’m having a pointless monologue, except that other people may be listening in, but I know they don’t.

The second is the mystifying pressure, mostly self-generated, to announce, and not just retweet, something that promotes my own “content”

like a new blog entry, or an old blog entry, which of course implies the infrequency and a quick exhaustion of tweets on my end,

Or write some retweetable bon mot, with a labored incorporation of ‘80s song lyrics, or some nugget of wisdom mined with great effort,

Or some cruelly precise act of derision, or a Seinfeldian observation about the world we live in and life in general,

Each word, each character, polished and gleaming, chosen with care and agonizing deliberation

but projecting that same indifferent quality as the swing of the arm throwing that aforementioned gum wrapper.

And between these two overlapping compulsions one must add the need to engage with other Twitterers, to seek them out, to give praise, to follow

And perhaps retweet their words, which I suppose acts as a kind of validation,

though I myself traffic in the same cheap thrill when I receive the notification that I have been retweeted or favorited.

And so this, in combination with my two warring Twitter selves, explains this peculiar anxiety as I plunge into Twitter again.

Follow me, if you like: @thewilyfilipino.

Ten Weekend Reads; Also, How I Dedicated My Life to Satan

In books, music on June 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

1. Sometime when I was 13 or so, I dedicated my life to Satan.

I’m sure someone dared me to do it, but I don’t remember. Which means I had a witness — my brother, or my cousin — other than smiling or frowning deities, but I can’t recall for sure.

I do remember thinking about my poor parents if the whole infernal plan backfired: how they would have to find an exorcist in case I started levitating from my bed. Or have to clean up the thick green soup I’d spew onto the walls.

I declared my service to the Dark Lord in my bedroom. No upside-down crosses or burning candles or “Hotel California” played backwards accompanied my declaration of faith. I didn’t write any renunciations, or recite blasphemous revisions of the Apostle’s Creed. I simply took a deep breath and said something uninspired, like “I give my life to Satan.”

Silence. Nothing happened.

I was still there. I was still breathing. My head neither sprouted horns, nor was zapped by a bolt of punitive lightning. I had not been bestowed with powers of clairvoyance or the ability to hurl small objects across the room with my mind. My life of evil, ending before it even began.

My bedroom was still there, and it looked the same. My bed, my brother’s bed, our Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet posters on the wall. That one, with Tony Hadley facing the other direction as the rest of the band.

Years later I dedicated myself to Christ — a long story I shall not go into here — and was confirmed and baptized by immersion in holy water. That moment was accompanied by all the appurtenances of ritual designed to heighten the experience: the robes, the prayers, the congregation.

Nothing happened then either.

I was waiting to be filled by the Holy Spirit. Would it feel like a tingle in my spine? A sudden lightness in the soles of my feet? The clouds didn’t part, no dove descended from the sky, and no angelic choirs sang.

Looking back, I figure Satan just didn’t have any wonderful plans for my life. He simply had no use for a young uncorrupted Spandau Ballet fan, momentarily acting out in pimply teenage malaise, with no experience in the pleasures of the flesh. I wanted Satan in my life, but the old guy, ever the practical schemer, didn’t want me back.

Which leads me to more demons, circa 1775, via The Paris Review.

2. Leslie Jamison, “Catechism for the End of the World,” an introduction to Ryan Spencer’s “Such Mean Estate” (The New Yorker).

3. Claudia Rankine, “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning” (New York Times Sunday Magazine).

4 and 5. Alexander Chee on James Salter, from 2011. Then follow it up with an excerpt from A Sport and a Pastime, from 1966 (The Paris Review).

6. Columbia House was integral to the beginning of my musical education, via my mother when she ordered Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits as part of a 10-cassette package when we lived in California. (I think it was the only one of them that survived the Philippines; The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits and Frank Sinatra’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back was viciously attacked by mold, even as we attempted to replicate the slightly cooler temperature of Central California by placing the tapes in the freezer. That didn’t work either.) Anyhow, Annie Zaleski has a roundtable discussion / interview with former Columbia House employees, including Sasha Frere-Jones, as they “explain the shady math behind ’8 CDs for a penny‘” (The A.V. Club)

7. Mark Thompson is the deceptively affable fellow behind the monstrosity-filled Monstark Studios. I picked up his books at a local art fair recently and his books — especially Lepustrosities: Experiments Successful and Bugmen who Bear My Nose — are eloquent and horrid, suggesting a bestiary written by Lovecraft and Ligotti.

8. Issue 3 of The Austin Review was excellent; highlights were Jason Hill’s “Alex Gehry Changed His Status to Single” and Stephen Parrish’s “Metronome.”

9. The great Ian Penman has a wonderful article on Sinatra — his prose can be a little showy, but it’s gorgeous and well-crafted and the article is well worth reading even if you don’t care much about Sinatra. (I do.) Hard to pick which passages are my favorites, but I’ll settle for this, about the Sinatra / Jobim album:

Ten songs, 28’05”, voice never raised above a murmur: utter perfection. A music barely there, like pollen on a summer breeze, the drowsy strings not slathered all over everything, but coming and going like midnight optimism. Sinatra sings lines like ‘tall and tan and young and lovely’ – all these clicky, tricky consonants like soldiers on guard duty – and yet when you recall his voice it’s a soft, uncurling wave.

From “Swoonatra” (The London Review of Books)

10. “Is it possible that what we think of as genre boundaries are things that have been invented fairly recently by the publishing industry?” Kazuo Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman talk about “genre” (The New Statesman).

Epic Weekend for the Middle-Aged.

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2015 at 7:31 pm

So I’ve historically reserved Sunday evenings stressing out about the soul-crushing week of work ahead. This is obviously the worst way to end the weekend, so I thought I’d look back instead.

As I approach middle age, what constitutes an “epic weekend” has become more sedate; traveling, music, partying, the overconsumption of regulated substances, etc. need not be thrown in. This weekend sure qualified as one, though certainly aided by unexpected presents (for Father’s Day!), and a visit from my daughter.

Smaller pleasures all, though no less satisfying:

  • a healthy home-cooked meal (turkey meatloaf, tofu and spinach, mashed potatoes — and bibingka made with brie, which kind of cancels the healthy part but I’m not complaining)
  • Google Hangouts with my dad and the rest of the family (it’s also his birthday in a couple of days)
  • several rounds of Love Letter with Izzy, who roundly defeated me
  • the roasted corn pizza at The Forge, made even better by the fact that we hardly ever go out anymore
  • 2500-odd words into a story about a guardian / mechanic of sorts and her relationship to her inventor mother and a machine — the closest I’ve gotten to sci-fi lately — and I’m a little frustrated because all I have are the characters and the setting and two detailed scenes but there’s zero plot, then I stop writing, and then I take a yoga class, then a shower, then BOOM the pieces suddenly fit.
  • And did I mention a great yoga class? Man I could barely do a downward dog a month ago. (Obviously Darlene had a lot to do with it.)

(Lastly, True freakin’ Detective is back? But I’m going to do exactly what I did with the first season and watch it all in one marathon sitting, so shhhhh.)