Nov 8th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
Art is always the practice of translation. You must translate your feelings into an intention, that intention into an idea, that idea into an object. And when readers or viewers come upon your object they undergo the process in reverse, except that they rarely end up at exactly the same feeling or intention with which you started. Each art object bespeaks an infinity of possible experiences.
After my father-in-law’s recent death, this truth came home to me through song lyrics, which I often learn incorrectly. Take the song “All The World Is Green” from Tom Waits’s album Blood Money. Despite what I believed for years, the opening lines are not: “I fell into the ocean/and you became my whale,” but indeed “and you became my wife.” Both options suggest some form of consuming experience, though I think mine, with its intimation of a swallowed Jonah-figure, is more frighteningly appropriate to the song’s sea-bound setting.
Equally problematic to me is the last verse, which starts: “He’s balancing a diamond/on a blade of grass.” I always thought it finished with these lines: “The dew will settle all our grieves/when all the world is green.”
The true lyric – “The dew will settle on our graves” – is probably directly tied to the specific tone and themes of the song, which Waits wrote for a Danish production of the play Wojzeck. But my version, again, feels like it offers more. Not only the soothing image of salt tears transmuted into clean water. But also infinity – of cataclysm, of pain, even of artistic misinterpretation – collapsing into the single dense point of What Is. The dew will settle all our grieves. Doesn’t that seem like a promise worth holding onto?
Nov 2nd, 2012 by 300 Reviews
Separation is key here: white from yolk, cream from coffee, each square a pit to fall into, rounded on some edges, hard and harsh like the prongs on a fork in others. The lights flicker and pulse, the scraping of metal on metal a comfort of sorts. If they were to let us behind the counter we could pretend that we were in my kitchen fishing for spatulas in wooden drawers: you know, the one with the loose handle—I know you have one just like it where you live, yet my grandmother has always said that a donkey is smarter in his own house than a genius is in someone else’s. The truth is, I am not as clever as I think I am. The truth is this: we should never be awake at this time of night, at this time of morning—that lights have already gone out, that we are looked at through tired eyes, dried out from smoke so that we can see each other in the dark instead of a shadow of hands, the swift movement of hair. This could be nice. This could be nice, but we are tired: the potatoes cool quickly, the butter does not melt. I could say this ended at the bottom of a cup or a song on a jukebox or when the woman at the cashier punched the yellow ticket through its heart, but both you and I know the sun is coming up or the day is starting and this is an aubade of sorts—a parting of lovers? no, that word is reserved for dinners with wine and desserts after—the curve of a spoon, a table cloth, something that cannot be wiped away with a dirty rag wet with soap.
Oct 24th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
When Pokémon Black and White were released, they featured over 150 new “pocket monsters,” marking the first installment since the game’s inception to introduce so many. The response from the general public, from the Pokémon fans of yore, was typical: “An electric zebra? A garbage-bag monster? A candle that evolves into a chandelier?” These Pokémon, like those introduced in every iteration of the series after Red and Blue, were perceived as an affront to the initial genius of the game, an insult to childhood memories of Pikachu, Charizard, Mewtwo.
Yet there is never any mention of the downright silly monsters among the originals, or of the painfully bland. It doesn’t strike anyone as odd that one of the most beloved creatures, held up as proof of the game’s lost creativity, was named by combining the words turtle and squirt.
The easy answer is that Pokémon were more impressive to our ten-year-old selves. But I’d like to think it’s more complex than that. In later years, with the game’s decline in coolness, plus our evolving interest in the opposite sex, it was probably simpler to insist there was something wrong with the monsters rather than to admit there had been some irrevocable change inside of us.
For me, Pokémon remains an entertaining game that satisfies my love of collecting things. I always look forward to the revelation of new monsters, to finding a rare one rustling the tall grass. But for these scores of fans who only pay attention long enough to disparage the new monsters, to reminisce about old favorites, there is no monster original enough to impress, for they are not scouring the pixelated caves and oceans for new additions to their team. They are searching for a feeling, long vanished, that no amount of Master Balls can capture.
Oct 3rd, 2012 by 300 Reviews
We waste too much chasing posterity. Presidential libraries, memorial plaques on park benches, bricks stamped with names—everywhere we are trying to leave legacies. Some just want to be remembered fondly, but for others the phenomenon has nearly no limit to scope or ambition. Somewhere right now there are a thousand different poets working on their oeuvres, a hundred thousand painters, a million stage actors. Everywhere else there are people fucking in the dark.
Permanence doesn’t exist, and what good if it did? There is no architecture beautiful enough that it should not one day fall, there is no beauty pure enough that it should not age, and there is no age golden enough that it should not succumb to another. In trying to make it otherwise, we only burn up faster and hasten the ends that inevitably come. Recent adventures in art restoration have shown it, as has the vainglory of many a dictator. Consider too the myriad stories of Europeans, both fictional and real, who ran off to the Americas in search of the mythical fountain of youth, asphyxiating young and proud on the end of a poison dart. Even that most popular form of posterity, the family, is beginning to strangle the planet under the weight of overpopulation.
Life is not the miracle but rather the Technicolor ephemera we spray everywhere while dying. It’s the harrowing late comedy of Bill Hicks, the last words of a Flannery O’Connor character, the yak butter sculptures of Tibet. The best moments of a song only last a few bars. The peak of a tomato comes as it turns. The tattoo is buried with the body. A supernova flares out. If permanence existed, it would be hell. Rather, we ought to celebrate the onanist—his ejaculations are furious, finite, and free.
-Jeremy Allan Hawkins
Sep 19th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
Alien Crush Returns was a sequel to the Alien Crush pinball video game that was originally produced for the Turbo Grafx 16 system in 1988. Granted, a space-alien-based, pinball-based video game hailed from the obscure regions of the republic of Nerdistan, but it was only eight dollars and I took the plunge. Like most video games, Alien Crush Returns had different levels that gradually increased in difficulty. The difference was that it was never clear how I advanced. The playfield levels were set up like a pinball field but all the buttons, stoppers, and lights that one expected from a pinball game were gone. Instead, bugs, slugs, and spiders of a most alien nature were both targets and landscape. Flippers and a ball were still employed but how I scored points was beyond me. I began to shoot blindly into any expanding or contracting alien orifice I saw, and after beating the game twice, I was still on shaky ground as to the elements of successful play. But I was having fun and I couldn’t begrudge the makers too much. If a game costs less than the ticketed admission to see Katherine Heigl become flustered, one would feel miserly in complaining. Having saved the planet, or, at least, a planet, yet again, I saw that one of the options was online play. I selected said option but found no one available in the Americas. Fine, no problem, I understood. It’s just a hemisphere. But then the Wii searched worldwide. Among the seven billion residents of Earth, there was no one else that desired to play Alien Crush Returns with me. I had never felt so alone in my life. A few weeks later, I tried to play online again. The result? Me flipping balls at aliens all by myself.
- Van Newell
Sep 12th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
Photo by Lord Jim
As I was walking to work one morning on a busy sidewalk in DC, a man drove by, steering his car with his wrists as he maneuvered his thumbs to send what was either a text message or an email. Whatever it was I’m assuming it was “important,” which is in quotes because it’s the kind of important that people around here say with deadly seriousness. They don’t remember that there’s an entirely more serious level of deadly seriousness—as in, the kind of deadly seriousness one would invoke if they and, say, 15 other people walking to work were run over by someone steering with his wrists as he attempted to communicate via text.
He could just talk into the damn thing.
I don’t text while driving mostly because I don’t have a car, but also because I have enough trouble texting while sitting still. My phone, allegedly “smart,” seems to think it knows what I’m trying to write. I know how people trust the red squiggly line in a Word document (or worse, the green grammar squiggle) over their own judgment, but what bothers me much more about the autocorrect on my phone is just how annoyingly wrong it can be. I have this immense fear that we as a society will begin to acquiesce to this, thinking the smartphone is helpful and right. “Stop” becomes “Superman” and “hello” becomes “agoraphobia.” So if you’re texting your husband that you’ll pick up a loaf of bread on the way home and the next thing you know you’ve wrapped yourself around a tree, your last words might be “ink masking home soup &”. Instead of hearing your voice one last time, your husband doesn’t even get your words.
If our phones are going to kill us, they should have the decency to leave our words intact.
-Sheena K. Fallon
Sep 5th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
One day you were photocopying all day long. This was after the day you interviewed for ten minutes. This was after the day you couldn’t disagree that you wouldn’t be happy. One day you were photocopying all day long three days a week for so many days it seemed like forever. The mechanized whine of the photocopier was the sound of your brain cells dying day by day.
One day someone left, and you moved into the emptiness. One day someone else left, and one day, someone else. You still used the photocopier—no one had an assistant anymore. There was so much emptiness. One day you were going to New York. This day came every season, two seasons a year. One season you sat on a couch outside the New Yorker; the next season you sat in the cafeteria.
One May you won a fellowship to the professional meeting. You thought, for a series of days, you had a career or the “one day” beginning of one. You were a writer who marketed other writers’ writings. The next May human resources set a box of tissues on the conference table and tore the top off, a loud sound in a room meant for more people. That day you were told you might consider a career change.
That day you were told you would have a separation date but not the date. You waited. One day you were asked to write up your own separation date, a one-to-two-sentence justification. You asked the emptiness, who is breaking up with whom? You did not know whether your date would be accepted or which was best—a day soon or distant.
Some days later you celebrated your five-year anniversary. You threw yourself a party: “permanent vacation.” Then you waited, day after day, for your separation date. You knew it was coming, one day, you just didn’t know when.
Aug 15th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
Because I write and edit for a living, I am probably too critical of the ways in which I hear English used. Some pet peeves: people who use the word like like a lot; the word bro; beginning too many sentences with So… (an offense of which I am guilty); and most recently, overuse of that. In particular, using that as a demonstrative adjective before a noun that refers to some concept, and in so doing making the concept in question abstract and ethereal, as if it is distant and hard to reach. For example, saying “you’ve gotta have that heart” instead of “you’ve gotta have heart.” The that creates a gulf between the verb and its object.
Over the last few months, I’ve noticed this that thing everywhere: in the office, while watching Stephen A. Smith rant on ESPN, and in print. Take the following quote from a recent soft-focus Washington Post article about an autistic ticket taker who works for the Washington Nationals:
“Working with David, he wants that responsibility to be that person, to be that leader and talk on the radio,” Langenstein said.
Context: David is the ticket taker and Langenstein is his that-using boss. It’s almost surprising that Langenstein, a grown man who goes by Billy, didn’t interject a that before radio, thus making the radio more an ideal than object. Unless it was his intent to interject some mystery into his comment — which I doubt — this is lazy, messy grammar (beginning the sentence with a participle is also problematic, but that’s another review). What he should have said is something like David would like to lead others by talking on the radio. But instead Langenstein broke what should have been a simple declarative sentence into a multi-part ramble that infected everyone it touched with its inanity.
So, advice: don’t do this. That’s clown grammar, bro.
Aug 8th, 2012 by 300 Reviews
… It is a directed silence, more than a pause, an implication, a
prompting … I want you to know that something has been left out, but I
am not going to tell you what that thing is … No literary text I’m
aware of uses the ellipsis more than Pär Lagerkvist’s Barabbas, which
won the author the Nobel in 1951 … I tell my students that I imagine a
sea monster on the page … the visible words his surfacing … the
ellipses the places where he submerges, heads for the deep … In the
biblical narrative, as well as Lagerkvist’s novella, Barabbas is the
prisoner released in place of Christ, omitted from the tableau of the
Crucifixion … I think of the “Yada Yada Yada” Seinfeld episode, where
the characters omit crucial parts of stories with that phrase … One
student suggests that the ellipsis is always a passive aggressive
attempt to get the reader to pry into the omission … “All right,
enough!” George exclaims. “No more yada yadas. Just give me the full
story” … My father, who is very sick, laughs hysterically without
cause, and when we ask him what he’s laughing at, he can’t speak well
enough anymore to say … The book is full of narrative ellipses, too,
not just the dots on the page … voyages to the underworld described
simply as “nothing” … confessions of faith no one can understand … the
particulars of decades in Barabbas’s life … He sits in his chair, his
head lolled slightly to one side, his proper square teeth exposed as
his body softly shakes, and he whispers, “I’ll tell you later” … My
students hate the book for its baldness, for the blank simplicity of
the characters’ sentiments, their clichés and idioms … I want you to
know … “This book is about him” … Something has been left out …