Thursday, June 30, 2005

My Wife is Spotting

I am teaching my wife how to work out with weights. Today, I had her "spot" me. I used all of the pedagogical techniques at my disposal to teach her how to spot somebody. First, I showed her what to do, using verbal directions as well as visual demonstrations. I told her where to stand, and I even repeated the directions. Then I began doing curls. As I reached muscle failure on my last set, my arm slowly urged the dumb-bell up and then stopped only half-way through the rep. My wife stood there staring at me, the dumb-bell, and, without moving an inch, said "Ah, naw, you're done." After I collapsed and finished cursing, I explained to her that "Ah, naw, you're done" might not be the most appropriate method of helping somebody achieve their goal. In fact, "spotting" means your supposed to help the person you're spotting (not to be confused with heckling). I did two more reps with my wife reluctantly pushing the dumb-bell up with her hand while silently giggling at the strangeness of the whole thing. I could tell exactly what she was thinking: "If it's so damn hard why don't you just stop, jackass!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Joyce's ULYSSES: Over-rated

That's right; I said it. It sucks.

I have a few friends who revere this novel, and they join countless critics and literary aficionados who claim Ulysses is one of the greatest works of mankind. In fact, I recently saw a list of the best 100 novels ever--and Joyce's work was #3, beaten out only by Don Quixote and War and Peace. Yet whenever I ask anybody why Ulysses is so incredible, I invariably get a confused if I had just asked whether breathing was a good thing. Somebody will say it's a breakthrough novel (whatever that means) and another will say it's the best stream-of-consciousness work ever written. And somebody else will sputter out the words "timeless" and "post-modern".

In other words, nobody can tell me a damn thing.

Ulysses is a failed novel. Sure, it's an innovative work, staggering in its attempt to break the genre. A critic of Kenneth Brannaugh's film Love Labor's Lost said something which is important here. The film, which attempts to take Shakespeare's play and transform it into a muscial, doesn't work. The critic admits that it doesn't work--but he also says that we must admire and congratulate the film-maker for taking such a risk, for striving to produce something new. We must apply the same standards to Joyce. He tried something new, and others have since built on this work. The publishers should be congrulated too, for publishing such a work was a huge risk, a breaking of the "genre" of publishable work. How many publishing houses today would touch such experimental writing (especially a work of fiction in an industry which publishes 75% non-fiction)?

The tipping of hats to valiant attempts--sure, that's important; however, the fact remains the novel is a failure. The purpose of a novel is broad, perhaps, but it is definable, I think. We read it to be entertained; we read to escape our mundane lives. We read to learn what it is like to be stranded on a desert island, to look evil in the face, to be worshipped, to be humiliated and destroyed...ultimately, we read to experience all that there is to be experienced. Often that experience is tied to how we see characters interacting in the world--and how that world pushes back. Or we see the world from the perspective of the characters themselves, hearing their voices or seeing the world filtered through their eyes (or even through their minds). The ability to experience becomes difficult when the world is filtered entirely. It becomes more difficult when there is no perceivable journey.

You are already thinking of a rebuttal. Let me sum up your options:
1) You say: "You've convinced me. You're arguments are eloquent. You are good looking. Here, take some naked pictures of my wife. And here are some throw cushions for your home."
2) You say: "Oh yeah? Well your mama is so fat that she broke her leg and gravy came out."
3) You say: "The novel is not a static genre. In fact, Joyce's novel caused us to re-examine what a novel is; he widened the genre."

My response:
1) You are a reasonable person. Now I'd like to share with you my ideas about why "horticulture" is neither a culture or a whore.
2) I too have seen White Men Can't Jump and your mama is so poor that when she had to move homes she kicked a can down the street.
3) Joyce widened nothing but the gap between the masses and the intellectual elite who love to cling to books and words which the proliteriat cannot begin to fathom. No--Ulysses is not a novel. A piece of experimental writing? Yes? Narrative stream of wretchedness? Yes. But, no it's not a genre-widening piece. I could take a dump on a statue of Buddha and call it art, but I hope nobody would say that I've just widened art (or Buddha).

Friday, June 24, 2005

Don Quixote, the Man of Las Vegas

Art and Life continue to molest each other:

I brought Cervantes' Don Quixote to read on my recent Las Vegas trip, a four-day bachelor/bachelorette feista for my good friends Nate and Sarah. As I lounged by the pool of the Hard Rock Hotel (a fruity drink in one hand and my Cervantes in the other), a found compelling evidence that Don Quixote was indeed among our party in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is a world of illusion. It is the solidified and actualized mirage in the desert--the one mirage which you can see and touch and drink from and get arrested in. The boundaries between illusionary and real become blurred (and as you drink more fruity drinks almost everything becomes blurred). In a way, when you travel to Vegas you become mad. Even now, less than 24 hours back, I find the strong urge to tip people wherever I go. Of course, Don Quixote's madness was focused; he saw himself as a knight and his surroundings were adventures to be had. This specific madness is the kind you feel in Vegas.

When you sit down at a blackjack table, you are seeking that moment of your destiny. You know you are destined to win--why else would you play? You may try to trick yourself into believing you play Craps for the free drinks, the comraderie or just for the thrill of it--but the deeper truth is you long for that moment when you go "all in" in Texas Holdem and rake in the chips; it's not about the money; it's about realizing your moment of glory, the moment you've always known would come to you.

Las Vegas, of course, feeds this belief that you are in a land of fairydom and magic and power. Scantily-clad cocktresses lean towards you to accept your gracious tips (you're like a king bestowing gifts really), carriages in the form of taxis are just a whistle away (and you will never have to do the whistling yourself), and you return to a bed fluffy and well-made by Latino-like elves (who also perfume your bathroom and remove the unpleasant remains of last night from the waste-can).

Like Don Quixote, you rush headlong into this dream. You are a knight! And you will be known! And more often than not, you are beaten about the head, body and soul. You step up to the Craps table and within 15 minutes you've lost 300 dollars. And even if you win, you party so hard that you fall down an escalator and tear open your knee. You lose your wedding ring. You get sunburnt and a hangover after 6 pool-side Margaritas at $13.50 a pop. After your fourth drink, you go for a swim with your cell phone. That night you spend $57.00 tipping the topless dancer waggling your two new silicon friends in front of you; you are certain that the two of you have made a "connection." She doesn't call...either because she threw away your number or because your cell phone is broken.

Some might say your "knighthood" is a joke. And you probably agree as you return to reality, broke and broken in spirit. I'm only partly through Don Quixote, but I doubt he will ever return to reality. And the final tragedy is that you never will either. That part of you that knows you are fated to achieve your destiny (whether that means hitting a jackpot or finding the three girls of your dreams) is still there--and it will be fulfilled the next time you go to Vegas and BY GOD THERE WILL BE A NEXT TIME!

Perhaps that isn't a tragedy but just human nature. And perhaps the joke that you are is the joke we all are--and the joke is not mean but joyful. The moral of the story I suppose is to follow your dreams wherever they take you--because you can't help but do so. And where else but in your dreams can you see your friend Nate dancing to "Planet Rock" alone on the dance floor of Cleopatra's Barge, doing what appears to be a bizarre rendition of "the robot?"