Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 10s of 2010

I'm working on a post trying to sum up what 2010 gave to me, but it's been really hard because I learned more in 2010 than probably in any year prior. But I came up with a couple of my top 10 lists to bide the time. Deal with it!

Top 10 Albums of 2010

1. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
The haunting sound of tires spinning on pavement managed to conjure so many of my high school memories, along with a wicked nostalgia, and cemented this album’s place at the top of my list.

2. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
Big Boi’s solo debut gave us the best and most innovative rap album of the year. (Sorry, Yeezy.)

3. Freelance Whales – Weathervanes

This album is the musical version of puppies. Additionally, it’s brilliant.

4. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network Soundtrack
Transcends Facebook.

5. Girl Talk – All Day
How does Gregg Gillis know every single song from my childhood and probably yours?

6. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
The album that defined summer 2010 for me – and reaffirmed the legitimacy of the cowbell.

7. Drake – Thank Me Later
The album that changed my mind about Drake.

8. Robyn – Body Talk
Because it’s the best dance album of the year, and because she ate a banana on stage when I saw her perform.

9. Owen Pallett – Heartland
Owen did dark and twisted and beautiful way before Kanye.

10. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Because it’s legitimately a great album, albeit over-hyped – and because if I don’t everyone will poopoo my list.

Top 10 Films of 2010

1. The Social Network, David Fincher
What everyone expected to be simply "the Facebook movie" transcends its subject to tell a human story about ambition, creation and the sacrifice required for both. Brilliant writing, directing, acting and scoring make this the best all-around film of the year.

2. Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance
My second-most anticipated film of the year (behind a disappointing Black Swan), BV didn't let me down. Raw and honest, it is perfectly beautiful in its beautiful imperfection; it captures the feeling of a first film but with 12 years of development. 

3. I Am Love, Luca Guadagnino
This Italian film trumps genre by being stunningly beautiful in every category. It made me fall totally in love with Tilda Swinton, and John Adams' score, reminiscent of Philip Glass' work for The Hours, became my writing soundtrack for weeks after I saw it.

4. The King's Speech, Tom Hooper
I watched this film a few days after I watched A Single Man for the first time, and I now hold firm to my belief that Colin Firth is our best living actor. His face can change in a millisecond and is utterly convincing; the story is great, the cinematography is gorgeous and Helena Bonham Carter is one of my favorites.

5. The Fighter, David O. Russell
Two words: Christian Bale. If he doesn't go home with an Oscar, it will be outrageous. The story is good and Mark Wahlberg and especially Amy Adams shine too, but Bale outperforms every other aspect of this film. Just unreal.

6. The Town, Ben Affleck
This is one of my favorite films of the year, and would have probably ranked higher had it not been for the other amazing films I considered. I love Affleck's performance and Jeremy Renner will certainly be nominated for an Oscar for his role. Transcending the traditional cops and robbers film, it tells the familiar story of leaving home and the people you love in search of a better life.

7. 127 Hours, Danny Boyle
While my fascination with James Franco isn't exactly understated, this film is an achievement separate and apart from that. It tells a story about the slowest, most boring subject - one man stuck in a canyon for days - using quick camera shots, rapid-fire humor and a thumping, brilliant score by A.R. Rahman.

8. True Grit, The Coen Brothers
I will happily watch Jeff Bridges eat a sandwich. The Dude does not disappoint in this re-make, delivering humor and, yes, grit in equal proportion for a country-style feast. The Coen Brothers are surprisingly less nihilistic than usual, which I appreciated.

9. Howl, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Franco shone again in this bio-pic about Allen Ginsberg. The film was obviously inspiring to me as a writer, and I liked the use of the poem, which is cut in with the interviews Ginsberg did with The Paris Review, to reveal something about the creative process. I also saw it a few doors down from the Chelsea Hotel, which gave me the warm fuzzies.

10. Burlesque, Steve Antin
Yes, I'm really including this in my top 10. Like the wise Cher once tweeted, it isn't Shakespeare, but it's not supposed to be. The film is actually very well done. Fun, entertaining and glittery, yes, but the writing isn't bad and even rather witty at times. I only saw it once, but after it was finished I wanted to watch it again and again, which is more than I can say for Black Swan, the other "dance movie" which I did see twice in theaters. And I adore Stanley Tucci.

Worth noting: I have yet to see Rabbit Hole or Winter's Bone, which are both lauded as two of the year's best films. But I can only rate what I've seen. I'll consider them honorary contenders until I see them - which should be soon - at which point I may edit my list accordingly.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

and you won't look back

A year ago I ran through the front door with my phone in my hand. It was cold out but I didn't put a coat on. Cut glass rattled in wood as the door fell shut behind me. It would be my last ditch effort, and your response would be the last ditch period. You told me she was moving there to be with you, I paced the driveway. I asked you how that felt, you paused and said, pretty good. I went back inside and later I drove my car to a friend's house and made some more phone calls but this time no one picked up.

Just something about this place, if I'm here too long I feel swirls of a person I used to be, and it makes me surly. Sitting at a table of family friends, sweet people with happy unexamined lives, being asked over and over if I have a boyfriend yet. When am I getting married, ideally. I shrug and churn out a number. Really I'm only dreaming up answers, but I can't say that aloud. I'm already too strange, too far away.

She said, times have changed. She said, in my day, if you weren't married by 21, you were considered an old maid. I said yes, times have changed. The thing is, my parents didn't raise me to be an expert at finding boyfriends. They didn't buy me school workbooks at the toy store so that I would be a good wife. Most people can have babies, and most people do. Most people want to get married, and most people do. Most people vote, but it doesn't mean most people should. A woman in a mall looks me up and down and says she likes my outfit, asks me where I'm from. My mom smiles and says, she lives in New York, she's a writer.

I remember in high school, I got into this fight with my parents. I don't remember what we were fighting about, I can just vividly hear myself saying, I'd rather be alone at the top than not be at the top at all. The memory is transcendent, like I'm remembering someone else say it. I see myself standing there with a fire in my eyes. I find it equally comforting and frightening, like the old me knew the new me would eventually show up and was readying the fort. In my darkened bedroom, I taped my poetry to rose-colored walls.

There's this amazing poem that's stuck in my head since I read it. These lines: This is for every little boy and girl who stood between home and a tornado, weighed the options, and took a chance on the twister. The image of the tornado is violent and accurate, but I think the writer neglects the other half of the story, something the Dorothies may find comforting. That once you've chosen the tornado, it becomes your home.

People keep asking me when I'm coming home, coming back to the South. I just smile and say I don't know, we'll see, we'll see. But really the tornado is my home now. I love the turbulence, pressing my face to the wind and stretching my limbs over an unlimited expanse. I can never go back to living on the ground. I need the scorch to live. The only way to go is up. Up and away.

Friday, December 24, 2010

she's like montana

She likes to wear layers. T-shirts over dresses, dresses over jeans, things that don't make sense. She pulls her socks up to her knees and wears high heels with them. I don't understand how it's possible, how I see her body better in all those clothes, how it deviates and distends as she reaches to fill her cup with coffee each morning. The more clothing she puts on, the more I want to disrobe her, piece by piece. It's devastating.

The first time I saw her, it was raining. She walked in the bar on a Thursday night, when I go to drink beer and watch soccer with strangers. I've gone every Thursday for three years and had never seen her before. She walked in like she knew the place, and she was dripping wet. The rain pounded against the panes but I couldn't hear it over her voice. She sat at the bar three stools down from me and asked 'tender Tommy for a towel and a tonic. Just a tonic? I asked. I don't drink, she said. You walked into a bar, I said. She said, yeah, it's raining and I wanted to dry off.

Later, much later, I would ask her why she drank tonic. Why tonic, and not soda or juice or water. She just smiled and said she liked the natural taste of bubbles. We would lie together on the floor of my apartment, sometimes naked sometimes not, smoking and listening to film soundtracks on vinyl, our heads sharing a pillow but our bodies in opposition. She would listen to me talk about anything and that's why I fell in love with her. That, and the softness of her ear as it grazed mine. It's amazing, how her ears are good for all kinds of things.

She got very angry at me one night about something I said to her friends at a party. I remember not knowing why she was so mad. She wouldn't speak to me on the way home. I got on my knees in our bedroom and unbuttoned my shirt and told her I adored her and didn't know what I had done wrong, but everything I said just made her more and more angry. She locked herself in the bathroom for a few hours and I sat on the floor leaning against the door frame and when she came out she climbed on top of me. Her face was covered in tears and I held onto her and she kissed me and said she would love me forever and I believed her.

I took a photo of her that night, after the fight, after we made piles out of our clothes and I ran my fingers along her body. I brushed her hair out of her face and used my thumbs to rouge her cheeks, and told her to look at me like she had never seen me before. Her mascara was smeared and her lipstick was gone but she let me take her photo anyway, and it's the most beautiful thing I own or will ever own. There is only one copy, and I made her promise to let me keep it no matter what, in case one day she is gone and all I have left are sweaters and socks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

ask, tell

I woke up at 9:30 this morning and read Twitter. I'm in Alabama and I read that Obama was signing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal into law at 9:15 EST, and there was going to be a live video feed of it on the website. I had my time zones confused and thought that meant I could still watch it. But it was too late.

I went to the website anyway and there was a live video of a press conference with Robert Gibbs. I thought about how I hate publicists, how the implication of a publicist is that a person doesn't trust himself to self-represent in an appealing way. The implication of a publicist is that somewhere, truth is lost, or that truth doesn't matter. I don't like to think about how the artists I admire probably have publicists. I admire them because I believe they are telling me the truth about life.

I shut the computer and burrowed back into the covers and slept til noon for the first time in months. It felt good. While sleeping, I had a dream. I had a co-worker who was a teenager, maybe 16 or 17 years old, a boy. He asked me if he could come over after work and I said yes. He came over and we talked and he sat beside me on a couch and leaned in and buried his head in my neck. He cried and said his grandmother had died that morning. It made me very sad and I ran my hands through his hair and told him it would be okay and that I was sorry. Then he started to kiss me, but he didn't know how to kiss because he was so young. It was so sweet, it made me want to cry. I kissed him back.

A person I used to love works as a publicist now, or did the last time I spoke to him, nearly a year ago now. I thought about that as I crawled out of bed at 12:45 and fixed myself a sandwich. I don't know if it was breakfast or lunch.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

it must be nice, to disappear

This Christmas, a loneliness has crept up on me, a feeling I haven't felt in a while. That feeling of wanting so badly to kiss someone and having no one to kiss. Going to a holiday party at a friend's house and staring at a flickering candle, wishing you were anywhere else with any other flickering candle. Trying to be social but not able to fake enjoyment or interest in new people. Trying to drink more, to feel brighter, but just feeling sleepy.

But it's okay, because the fear of loneliness is so much worse. Living in some dark in-between place where you write letters to former flames and pray to god for some guidance, anything, a response, some hate mail even. You trick yourself into believing you can't be alone if someone hates you. You shield yourself from the reality that you are always alone, no matter what, hated or loved, a night light flickering on and off. The fear becomes your shadow, or a security blanket you drag behind you like a weight. It never leaves you.

But when you stop fearing your solitude and accept it, then graduate from accepting to embracing it, loneliness gets this odd sterling lining. You feel sad but the sadness doesn't dominate you. There's no shadow, no blanket, and it's okay. You watch couples holding hands on trains and you don't feel bitter or wonder if you'll know what that's like again. You pick a person and a place and you make up stories to fill that space, you temper loneliness with creativity. You see a diner on a cab ride to an airport, and you imagine stopping in alone on a rainy day, your rubber soles scuffing linoleum, sitting at a table and warming your hands on a cup of coffee. You look up and a man is watching you from the counter. Not in a creepy way, he's just drinking coffee too. He walks to the bathroom and on his way back you reach out and grab his hand and ask him to join you, just something they do in the movies. The whole script takes place right there, just a conversation across a table with a man you love by the time the check comes.

When you embrace your solitude is when you can make something beautiful out of it. Until then, you're just a coward, cowering in the crevices of the candlelight, hoping a strong wind won't blow you out.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

i wish it was christmas today

It is really cold in New York right now. It's February cold in December; the kind of cold that makes you hurt from the inside. The sort that makes you want to work extra hours at your job, out of gratitude for being able to pay for the roof over your head, the clean pillow underneath it, the chocolate you eat under blankets.

I left my office tonight and saw the same man I see often, sitting underneath the scaffolding outside the door. He's in a wheelchair. The first time I saw him, he was grappling for his dropped cell phone. This time a woman, a stranger, was helping him with his sleeve. I couldn't really see what she was doing, but I heard her say, Is that better? His face is partially paralyzed so he can't talk very well, but he mumbled something in response. He was bundled up, and I wondered who had helped him dress. I thought about goodness.

In my work neighborhood there is a Dunkin' Donuts with a mirror on one side that runs the entire length of the space. I go in every morning and spend three dollars and 48 cents on a coffee and an orange juice, plus tax. I don't like to think about how much money that really is, or how I never used to drink coffee. There is a Latino woman who works the register. Sometimes she remembers my order before I say it, and sometimes she smiles. Some mornings she does neither of those things, but every morning she's there.

The other day as I was leaving an older man was coming in. I let him in first, and in passing I smiled at him and said good morning. The blue sky was making me feel friendlier. As I went out, I caught a glimpse of him in that long mirror. He had whipped around and I saw his face following me, stunned. I think he had forgotten what good morning sounded like coming out of a complete stranger.

The thing about a city is that it embodies all the people in it. It is only as good or as bad as the eyes that see it. It contains the properties of the people who observe it. The thing about a city is that it is just like everything else.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the worst are full of passionate intensity

I bought a new type of soap the other day. I thought it was lotion and it was really cheap and it promised to provide seven different types of hydration, so I bought it. When I discovered it was soap I felt surprised then disappointed then excited I wouldn't have to buy soap for a while. For sale, soap and a full range of emotions.

The soap is scented. It smells like my ex-boyfriend. Not the one who pushed me down onto the bed, but the one who tied me there. When I shower now I feel mesh knots grazing my wrists and hear flesh rubbing against flesh and taste red wine. One time we got really drunk on red wine and stayed up til six in the morning fucking and talking and fucking some more until the sun came up and we blacked out. Even after living in New York for two years, that night might be the closest I've come to a rock star life.

We had problems. He drank too much, like everyone else in college. He was on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds to help him cope with the loss of his parents. He was an orphan by the time he was 19. When we started dating, I knew his mother had died fairly recently, and one night we were at his apartment watching a movie and there was a scene with a funeral or something. He mentioned casually that it reminded him of when his dad had died, years ago. I told him I had to use the restroom, then I sat on the toilet with the fan on, crying.

The pills made him numb, I think. Not completely, but partially. He always appeared to be just on the brink of a sincere emotion, except for when we were intimate. When he kissed me, when he held onto the back of my neck while he made me come, when he rested his head on my stomach, that's when I saw who he really was. But outside of that, he lived in a shell. I saw him cry one time, on the eve of his college graduation. He said, No one will be there to watch me walk. A lone tear fell from his eye and I crawled  into his lap on the edge of my bed and pulled his forehead into my neck and cradled him. Women who say they don't want to take care of men are lying. People want to take care of other people.

He was good at comforting too. Since I was a kid I've had this compulsion to scratch myself. My parents always said it was scented soaps and detergents, but really it's a coping mechanism to deal with stress and anxiety. Sometimes I scratch myself in my sleep. I would wake up in his bed with these red welts on my legs, blood drawn. He would pull me into the bathroom naked, bend down and run his hands along my marks and say, Oh sweetie, you have to stop scratching. 

Another time, I was with him when I found out I had ovarian cysts. I had the worst period I've ever had in my life. I lay in his bed in the fetal position, unable to move from the pain. He went out and bought heating pads and laid them across my lower abdomen. They were the kind that stick to your skin, so I fell asleep with them on me, like leeches. I woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat so I ripped them off and cranked up the central AC and curled my body into his. We were only together for eight months or so, but we took care of each other like we had been together for years. It was strange, like children, we never said I love you.

I asked him once if he believed that things happen for a reason and he answered no so immediately and coldly that I knew he wasn't lying. It was the first time I knew we wouldn't end up together. They say the strongest human sense is smell, but really I think it's loss. The sense of loss and the scent of it, haunting and halting only when you reach the bottom of the bottle.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A conversation with Ciara

A few weeks back I interviewed Ciara at her album release party in the West Village. Then I reviewed her album Basic Instinct, which comes out tomorrow. The album is basically a buffet of female power anthems. It makes me miss living in Atlanta, driving around in summer with my windows down and my speakers cranked.

When I met Ciara for the interview, we were both wearing fur vests. It was sort of hilarious. Here's a photo of us together. Sorry for the crappy quality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

teach me how to dougie

Just a couple thangs.

When I was home for Thanksgiving, my childhood best friend Ashley made me walk on train tracks in six-inch heels while she took photos of it. They are here.

I didn't write about it (not really), but at the beginning of November I went to a taping of Inside The Actor's Studio with James Franco. It was so amazing and inspiring. A few weeks later, author/fave writer Stephen Elliott wrote about Franco in his Daily Rumpus e-mail. Franco optioned The Adderall Diaries and plans to direct/star in a film version of the memoir. I wrote Stephen back and told him about the taping, and he asked me to edit my notes into an article. So I did. Then it was linked to by USA Today. So that was a good day.

Because good things usually come in threes: I have watched this like ten times. I think it says something.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

i have seen the moment of my greatness flicker

Have you ever loved someone so much, whatever love might be, that you just sit in their lap and cry? You look at that person, and think about all the times you ever felt so alone, so ceaselessly alone, like the universe. You take that person's face in your hands and you try to say something that will touch your universe to the other person's. You say, I love you. You say, oh my god. You say, before I knew you, I waited. You say, never leave and I won't either. A tear might fall from the other person's eye, or maybe the person laughs, and that's when you lose it. A hundred nights of asking God for a sign seem like another life altogether. Once the sign comes it's easy to forget about the miles of stretched out concrete that led up to it. And equally easy to forget that whoever is in charge of making the signs does so without err, but doesn't account for the flecks in your eyes.

You take the person's face in your hands and a tear falls or a laugh bubbles up, and that's when you cry. You cry for every person you've ever loved, your mom and your dad. All the people you used to love but don't anymore. You want to actually curl up into a ball so small it's visible only to that person, then you want to press into their stomach and disintegrate into their skin. Being in love is wanting to disappear.

And all the other times, when you've been alone so long you nearly forget what it's like to love someone, you can allow yourself to remember. You can lie in your bed with a book and a pen and you can write in cursive letters, Sometimes I want to fall asleep with the light on. And then you'll wake up at 4 a.m. and the lights will be on and you'll crawl blind to switch them off, and then just before you drift off again, there it is, that feeling you haven't felt in this life. 

You pull the blanket up around your nose, take your face in your hands, and cry. You pray for a sign.

Monday, December 6, 2010

we are all little boys and little girls

Yesterday was my Kid A reading. It was really amazing - Cake Shop was packed out and pretty much everyone I know in New York City was there, plus a couple people from out of town. It was definitely the largest group of people I've ever read in front of.

My assignment was to write a poem inspired by Radiohead's song Motion Picture Soundtrack off the album Kid A. The song is a part of who I am, and I wanted so badly to do it justice. After listening to the song for the 10,000th time this year, I came to the conclusion that it's essentially a love letter to suicide, a tale of the battle between the good and evil forces that plays out in all of our lives.

Here is my poem. Thanks to everyone who came out yesterday. Sometimes it is like the movies.

we are all little boys and little girls

I had a discussion with a friend
over monitors
about Freemasons,
who is one and who isn't.

I said I didn't know what
the big deal was.
People always say artists sold their souls to the devil at a crossroads
to get the talent they have,
whatever talent might be.
He said,
who knows.

maybe they sold their souls to God
in the back alleys of their minds.
Because eventually the road ends,
and it's either death or nothing.

People start to believe things they said they'd never believe.
People curl into themselves under sweat-soaked bedsheets.
People tousle the clouds under their feet as they walk upon high,
on rooftops so gilded,
they strip soles of humanity.
People smoke cigarettes and flick ash into the fire.

I have measured out my life with IM boxes.
I have cried onto my keyboard,
drawing myself into a cube with tears running a river through Qs, Rs and Ts.
I have confused names and old faces and
I have forgotten who I am.

I have imagined defenestration
and masturbation
and a different nation,
one run entirely by machines,
leaving people like me
to capacitate and then undo their demons,
all while in their pajamas
or maybe never getting dressed at all.

I am a Freemason.
You are a Freemason
And you and you and him
and his yellow dog too.
It's one of those things
we can never disprove so it may as well be true.

God is a Freemason.

The fall is nearly as thrilling as the high,
and it’s a cheek turned to God.

Because eventually the road ends.
All the parts you thought made you
shut off at once.
The grinding halt reverberates off slick bricks,
the rooftop blown off.

You're left barefoot and childless.
Loveless neon signs vibrate through whiskey glasses,
wooden stools steal your shirts,
people tell you things but you can't remember.

You remember when you used to hope,
but the feeling is distant
like a city you read about in a book but never visited.

I think you're crazy maybe,
but worse yet I think you're dead.
Every day is a memory of the next.

I have seen you beg for your soul,
stirring it around in a bucket of shit,
over and over to the tune of a harp
that's strung with the hairs of the people you loved
who didn't love you back.

At the end of the road,
there’s a sign.
It is the same in all languages, at all times,
and it reads:
What do you live for?
What do you live for?
What do you live for?


I live for a newspaper pressed into seedy cement on the street in Harlem.
I live for nights spent with strangers on SoHo benches.
I live for my mother, who said you can always come home!
I live for saltwater seeping into my skin as I step onto the floor of silent seas.
I live for must, and do, and will, but never should.
I live for the guiding light of glow in the dark stars stuck to the ceilings of our skulls.
I live for muzzles butting mirrors and stretching to their ends.
I live for a saxophone in a subway station squealing syncopated sadness.
I live for reflections in rocking cars, breath beating upon bombs planted in our bellies.
I live for my disembodied spine dancing in the dark to an invisible drum.
I live for church organs and choirs and stained glass thrown across my chest, broken.
I live for visions and revisions and reversing my decisions.
I live for the smell of your incense, your insensitive hands throwing me against the wall.
I live for the fucking Freemasons.
And I live for myself,
The only person who will never leave me,
Because I won't let her.
The law of their God is in their hearts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

cultivating habits

She went with a friend to a chain bookstore on her lunch break. She went to buy a new book by a famous rapper, in which he writes the meanings behind some of his lyrics, like with footnotes. The book has one of Andy Warhol's Rorschach paintings on the cover, in gold metallic foil. She was waiting in line to pay, talking to her friend about Camus, because he was looking for a copy of The Stranger. She said, did you know that Bohemian Rhapsody is based on The Stranger? He said, yeah you've told me that before. She said, oh yeah. She said, what's that other book he wrote? Something about a man in a cage. And then there's the one, like The Flu or something. Not The Flu but an epidemic of some sort. The Epidemic? No. Shit. What is that book called? A man in front of her in line turned around and said, I think it's called The Plague. They both laughed. He said, but I like your title better. He walked off to pay for his book. She laughed and laughed, then bought her book about rap/poetry. On his way out the man turned around and said to her, You just made my day. She said, no sir, you made mine. They both laughed again. Then later, walking on the streets of New York, in the drizzling rain, she said: Now I will never forget the name of The Plague. She thought, I'm glad I didn't buy this book on Amazon.