Quote of the Day: T. J. Stiles

It was reading this quote that persuaded self she needed to join the Authors Guild:

I have supplemented my income with secondary activities. I teach now and then on a freelance basis. I have done some freelance commercial writing. But two years ago I lost my big freelance client, and my income has dropped by 20 to 40 percent a year. In the past, I have resorted to desperate measures. I like to say my last book is so big because it’s a tombstone to the 401k that gave its life so the book could live.

— from “Among the Digital Luddites,” Authors Guild Bulletin, Winter 2015

Jill Lepore on the State of Debate: The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

How to argue is something people are taught. You learn it by watching other people, at the breakfast table, or in school, or on TV, or, lately, online. It’s something you can get better at, with practice, or worse at, by imitating people who do it badly.

— Jill Lepore, “The State of Debate,” in The New Yorker, 19 September 2016

Self begs to differ. She actually doesn’t think people can improve their debating skills by watching other people.

She also thinks that the rules of debate are rendered bizarrely unimportant when the debate is being televised. Because, whether consciously or subconsciously, the debaters will start to “perform.” Of course they are not their true selves. Hello! It’s like Judge Lance Ito in the OJ trial — he was a judge but he was sort of being a certain kind of judge. You cannot tell self that television did not influence his behavior: it could have gone two ways: Ito could have been a little more spontaneous, perhaps to get more of an emotional rise out of the crowd. Or he could have become more “judge-y” — projected more of what television viewers might expect to see from a judge. Self thinks Ito took the second route, and the one who paid was Marcia Clark.

The ones who get better at debate are the ones who see some sort of advantage accruing to themselves as a result of being better (more argumentative) people. The people who see absolutely no point to debate will continue to do their own thing in their peaceful little corners of the world.

When a committed debater meets another committed debater, the debate ceases being about words. It becomes a power grab.

It’s such an empty enterprise, really. All bells and whistles and see-who’s-paying-attention. Especially when it’s conducted for television.

Just self’s two cents.

(Self, when did you get so cynical? Dunno. Mebbe from watching/observing from the sidelines for so long?)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Mourning for Isotope, edited by Christopher Cokinos

Filipinos once had an ancient written language. If I were to show you what the marks look like on a piece of paper,they would look like a series of waves. Like the eye of the Pharaoh I saw in my old high school history books.

— from self’s hybrid essay/memoir/short story The Lost Language, published in Isotope

Isotope was a literary journal based in Utah State. When that university began to make steep budget cuts, the magazine lost the heart of its funding. In 2009, editor Chris Cokinos issued an appeal for support. Terrain.org posted it.

Alas, Isotope lost the fight. Self mourned. It was the only literary journal of its kind, combining science writing and creative writing, a place that joined physicists and playwrights, biologists and memoir writers, and created an exciting new kind of community.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Quote of the Day: Alice Gregory

From Gregory’s review in The New York Review of Books of Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, by William Finnegan (August 13, 2015):

  • This capacity for geographical familiarity — knowing exactly where the neighbor’s fence warps slightly — is a visceral kind of knowledge, gained organically, and it atrophies as we age. Learning a place by heart is a luxury rarely afforded to adults, and unless absolutely forced to, one seldom even notices that the ability has been lost.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


“The Mystery of ISIS” by Anonymous

The New York Review of Books, 13 August 2015

Self is not kidding: for the first time ever in her many years of reading The New York Review of Books, there is a piece whose writer is identified only as “Anonymous.”

It’s a review of two new (well, relatively new; the issue self is reading is a year old) books about the rise of Islamic State aka IS/ISIS/ISIL/Army of the Levant and its founder, Ahmad Fadhil aka Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan (Regan Arts) and ISIS: The State of Terror, by Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger (Ecco)

The reviewer asks:

  • “Who (in 2003) could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and — defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth — create a mini-empire? The story is relatively easy to narrate, but much more difficult to understand.”

The piece is very long and dense with information. Among its many references is one to Lawrence of Arabia (who said “. . . insurgents must be like a mist — everywhere and nowhere — never trying to hold ground or wasting lives in battles with regular armies.”) and another to Chairman Mao (who insisted that “guerrillas should be fish” swimming “in the sea of the local population”)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Beautiful Passage

This is from Essay # 3 of The Lonely City, a collection of essays which so far are all about New York, and the special loneliness of being lonely in a city of so many millions of people (Self actually appreciates that kind of loneliness; she loves the angst of it).

Self took the picture below last spring. She was looking across Park Avenue from a building on the east side:


Sunset, Manhattan: May 2016

On East 9th Street there was a café that looked out over a community garden planted with an enormous weeping willow. It was populated almost exclusively by people gazing into the glowing clamshells of their laptops and so it seemed a safe place, in which my solitary status was unlikely to be exposed.

— “My Heart Opens to Your Voice,” Essay # 3 in Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

Edward Hopper, Jo Hopper, and the Whitney Museum

This passage is too sad. Jo Hopper, Edward Hopper’s wife, was a painter. But she painted very little after she married (She was 41, Edward was almost 42).

. . .  it is almost impossible to form a judgement of Jo Hopper’s work, since so little of it has survived. Edward left everything to his wife, asking that she bequeath his art to the Whitney, the institution with which he’d had the closest ties. After his death, she donated both his and the majority of her own artistic estates to the museum, even though she’d felt from the moment of her marriage that she’d been a victim of a boycott by the curators there. Her disquiet was not unwarranted. After her death, the Whitney discarded all her paintings, perhaps because of their calibre and perhaps because of the systematic undervaluing of women’s art against which she’d railed so bitterly in her own life.

— “Walls of Glass,” Essay # 2 in Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone



THE LONELY CITY: Another Chapter

I didn’t stay in Brooklyn long. The friend whose apartment I was staying in came back from L.A. and I moved to the green walk-up in the East Village. The change in habitat marked another phase of loneliness; a period in which speech became an increasingly perilous endeavour.

— Olivia Laing, “My Heart Opens to Your Voice,” Essay # 3 of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

This is really a lovely book.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

THE LONELY CITY: Edward Hopper

The Lonely City, by Olivia Laing, is a work of nonfiction.

It’s a collection of essays about lonely people.

Self’s on Essay # 2, “Walls of Glass,” which delves into the work of painter Edward Hopper and one painting in particular, Nighthawks, which can be seen at the Whitney (one of self’s favorite New York museums).

The painting is something the author returns to, again and again, during a lonely fall. She followed a lover to New York and it didn’t work out. Something about Hopper’s painting resonates with her.

Self decided to throw in a photograph of her own. It documents her enduring fascination with windows, her fascination with glimpses of other lives. Photo after the excerpt:

All photographs are silent, but some are more silent than others, and these portraits attest to what was by all accounts Hopper’s most striking feature, his gigantic resistance to speech. It’s a different thing from quietness, silence; more powerful, more aggressive. In his interviews, it functions as a barrier, preventing the interviewer from opening him up or putting words into his mouth. When he does speak, it’s often simply to deflect the question. “I don’t remember,” he says frequently, or “I don’t know why I did that.” He regularly uses the word unconscious, as a way of evading or disclaiming whatever meaning the interviewer believes to be seeping from his pictures.


Windows are portals. When self looks through a window — any window — her imagination takes flight.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.




X-Men: Apocalypse and the Egyptian Mummies in the British Museum

Self took this post down for a while but then she decided to put it back up because she just went and saw X-Men: Apocalypse for the second time and — Evan Peters, hell yeah!

BTW, the movie improves on repeat viewing. But why Mystique keeps carrying a torch for Magneto is really, really frustrating. Every time she talks about him, with tears in her eyes — aaargh! That’s why it was such a breath of fresh air to have Quicksilver around: imagine, a man who feels no subliminal attraction for any of the female characters, whatsoever!

Below, her original post:


About a week ago, in London, self walked all the way to Shaftesbury Avenue after spending three hours in the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum just to watch X-Men: Apocalypse in the Odeon in Covent Garden.

She also thought it would be a good excuse to check out the Covent Garden area. See? Like killing two birds with one stone.

That turned out to be an excellent idea. Because the movie began with — ancient Egypt! Some dude was harnessing the power of the sacred pyramids — or something — to give himself eternal life! Of course, self had no idea that Egyptian leatherface was actually the beautiful Oscar Isaac.

Anyhoo, watching the movie was like entering a zone, where everything happening had a connection to ancient Egypt (mind-blowing, right?). Of course, it also reminded her — when all the Egyptian stuff was done — that there was an actor named Evan Peters who plays Quicksilver.

Honest-to-God, how could she have forgotten this guy? She loved his scene from the earlier X-men movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, so much. But there were just so many X-Men crowding her thoughts, not to mention James McAvoy. In almost every scene. James McAvoy. And there was Nightcrawler. And the Archangel. And Jean Grey (looking exactly like Sansa Stark; self almost expected Littlefinger or Ramsay Bolton to put in an appearance). Not to mention Fassbender emoting and singing to his daughter. And J-Law being very capricious about when she wanted to be blue or not. So, finally. EVAN PETERS! She nearly jumped out of her seat. She was so happy to see him again.

Anyhoo, the point of all this. The point of all this is that she also has a short story that involves Egyptian hieroglyphics. It appeared in a fabulous magazine called Isotope, and was edited by Chris Cokinos. Isotope was a magazine that featured both science writing and  creative writing. Self’s essay, “The Lost Language,” appeared in Isotope in 2007. A year or two later, it went defunct. And now, nobody can read that story anymore! WAAAAH! (She does have extra copies of the particular issue with her essay. It’s back in her house in Redwood City, CA. Which is a long way away — across an ocean, in fact. Across a continent, even — from where self is currently: Oxford, UK. But if anyone wants to get a copy, she can promise that, as soon as she arrives back in California, she will get her hands on those issues and mail it to whoever wants one. Because it seems such a terrible waste to keep those issues mouldering in her closet, taking up space and being useless)

Here’s how it begins:

Filipinos once had an ancient written language. If I were to show you what the marks look like on a piece of paper, they would look like a series of waves. Or like Egyptian hieroglyphics. Like the eye of the Pharaoh I saw in my old high school history books.

The rest of the essay is very digressive and is actually pretty funny. There was a time when all of self’s short stories were so filled with angst and pain that she actually rejoiced when she wrote “The Lost Language.” At last! She was capable of showing a little more range!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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