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What to Read: Aloft by Chang-rae Lee

Aloft is the story of Jerry Battle, a man who has always managed to remain unscathed by life. As his 60th birthday approaches, though, he's finding it increasingly difficult to remain above the mess and tragedy of existence. Chang-rae Lee won awards and acclaim with his first two novels, Native Speaker and A Gesture Life. Now, he builds upon those achievements to offer a magnificently rendered, powerfully affecting portrait of a middle-aged man's coming-of-age. Poetic and plainspoken, uplifting and devastating, Aloft is a quietly amazing novel…

Lee says that Aloft was his easiest novel to write: "I just flowed along on Jerry's drafts." In fact, it was in a plane, hovering the "perfect distance" above the ground, that Lee found Jerry's voice, an authentic New York mix of working-class bluntness and unexpected poetry. The rhythm of Jerry's language is as plain and solid as footsteps on concrete, but with surprising flashes of beauty and erudition.


February 29, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What Not to Read: The Secret of Life: Commonsense Advice for Uncommon Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Wurst.Sure, if it was a writer's guide to turning upper-middle-class pathologies into book deals or how not to get a movie released I might be interested, but the day I take lifestyle advice from Elizabeth Wurtzel (would Uncle Grambo say "Worstzel"? Or would it be "Durstzel"?) is the day I ask Courtney Love if she can take care of my cats while I'm out of town.

I realize Wurtzel's been downgraded to paperback original, but isn't it about time to ban her from the printed word altogether?


February 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

My New Favorite Thing

Drunken Monkeys!Monkeys and boooze! What could be better?! The only thing that could possibly be better is if this vineyard made wallpaper in addition to merlot. While housewares do not seem to be part of this venture's offerings, they do have the best website in the whole œnosphere.

I have not tried any Papio wines myself—my pal Eric reviews a couple on his blog—but I don't really care what it tastes like: I'd drink the pink wine that comes in a box if it had jazzy drunken capuchins on the label.

February 27, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Public Service Announcement: Kirsten Dunst's New Haircut

As I review the traffic reports for this blog, I can't help but notice that a lot of people get here by searching for things like "kirsten dunst new haircut". The top search result at Google is this Village Voice book review, which contains a brief analysis of Dunst's hair history, but no useful photos of the new do.

The second (sometimes third) search result is my announcement of my own Dunst-style tonsorial redux. This posting contains one photo helpful to those seeking to make this look their own, but, in the interest of serving those who need more—I know I don't let my stylist start snipping until I have photos or sketches that depict the desired haircut from at least three different angles—I thought I should share the results of my own pre-cut search.

The one photo I have posted is from a photo gallery for the Mona Lisa Smile premier. This gallery is one-stop shopping for all your Kirsten-Dunst's-new-haircut needs, and it comes to us courtesy of the superfans at kirsten-dunst.org.

Ms. GyllenhaalYou might also like to check out this Maggie Gyllenhaal photo gallery—at maggie-gyllenhaal.net—since Ms. Gyllenhaal got her punk nouvelle cut from the same stylist. In fact, she got hers first. (Sadly, I cannot remember the stylist's name, and I am weary of searching for it. Once again, I must ask myself: Why do I not save back issues of US Weekly? Why?)

February 26, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Gospel According to Mad Max

I'm probably going to see The Passion of the Christ. It irritates me that I'll have to pay to see it, and I'll probably walk out in the middle, but I have to say I'm curious. I mean, how often do you get to hear Aramaic at the movies? And Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene? I could not approve more.

My objections to the film will, I suspect, be similar to my objections to Mel Gibson's "traditionalist" faith. These are theological objections. Basically, I don't believe that the New Testament was written by followers of Jesus named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; I think they were edited and revised over time by a variety of anonymous writers and compilers. More fundamentally, I don't believe that there is such a thing as an "objective" reading of the Bible; that is, no one person or group can claim to know the unique truth of the Bible. And, seriously: If I were going to give primacy to one person's reading of the Gospels, I would not choose Martin Riggs as my spiritual guide.

So, for me, it's just bullshit when Gibson says, "It happened; it was said." His avowed literalism lets him off the hook; it allows him to avoid responsibility for his own artistic creation. We can't blame him for the movie: God wrote it, and the Holy Ghost directed.

Now that film critics besides the Pope have had a chance to see The Passion, the focus has shifted from the movie's latent anti-Semiticism to its pornographic violence. While it should come as a surprise to no one that a man who had himself disemboweled on-screen might decide to lay it on thick when depicting caning, scourging, and crucifixion, even the critics who kept this in mind seem to have been shocked. Kenneth Turan sums up the consensus view pretty nicely in his review for the L.A. Times:

The problem with "The Passion's" violence is not merely how difficult it is to take, it's that its sadistic intensity obliterates everything else about the film. Worse than that, it fosters a one-dimensional view of Jesus, reducing his entire life and world-transforming teachings to his sufferings, to the notion that he was exclusively someone who was willing to absorb unspeakable punishment for our sins.

Despite flashbacks that nod to Jesus' other words and thoughts, no viewer coming to this film absent any knowledge of Christianity would believe that this is the story that gave birth to one of the great transformative religions as well as countless works of timeless beauty.

And without belief, this film does not add up. Without training in or exposure to Christianity, you are likely to feel as flummoxed by what you're seeing as Western missionaries did when they observed pagan rituals to which they lacked any emotional connection.

It's worth noting, however, that violence is, and always has been, a part of the Christian tradition. The most egregious and graphic examples are crusades and autos-da-fé, but Gibson's movie reminds us that the central story of Christianity is one not just of resurrection and redemption, but of torture and self-sacrifice, too. For some contemporary theologians, the violence at the heart of Christianity is a cancer, a pathology that cannot be reconciled with Jesus's message of radical compassion. Of course, the belief that Christianity is a religion of niceness and that Jesus was some sort of cosmic kindergarten teacher is rather new. In this very interesting article for Reason, Charles Paul Freund argues that Gibson's movie is part of a long theatrical tradition, one in which the lives of the saints provided endless material for the medieval equivalent of splatter films.

At the very least, I hope The Passion of the Christ gives Jesus a much-needed image makeover. While I actually appreciate the considerable kitsch value of the 20th-century Jesus, this cleaned-up, soft-focus pretty boy is, from a theological and traditional standpoint, absurd. Jesus's most hardcore followers—from his very first to the Franciscans to the Anabaptists—have recognized that he's a trouble-maker, a rabble-rouser, an ass-kicker. What would Jesus do? I'll tell you what he wouldn't do: He wouldn't say no to drugs and he wouldn't get good grades, but he might take out the trash.


February 25, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

And Now, These Headlines

Clay Shirky offers the most intriguing—and, in my opinion, most likely—analysis of the gulf between Howard Dean buzz and Howard Dean votes. For one thing, Shirky argues, most of the buzz was about the buzz, not about the candidate. And the buzz itself might have been the problem:

We know well from past attempts to use social software to organize groups for political change that it is hard, very hard, because participation in online communities often provides a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness to interact with the real world. When you're communing with like-minded souls, you feel like you're accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual world takes no notice, as is its custom.

Check out Shirky's article, and then vote Peabs.

In other news, I knew my fiancé was a teacher. I had no idea that he's also a terrorist.

And, finally, this fucking sucks.

February 24, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

I'm #1!

Let the champagne flow: I am now the Google-sanctioned representative of all Jessica Jernigans.

How I have waited for this day! One of the first things I did when I first went online back in 1998 was search for myself. I was appalled to discover that, not only was I not the only Jessica Jernigan in the universe, but I wasn't even the most popular. It was a staggering blow to my sense of self, and I have been monitoring my climb up the search rankings ever since.

For quite some time, the top Jessica Jernigan was a violin teacher in Indiana. She dominated the search engines, while I languished as outdated phone numbers. Slowly but surely, though, I have been building my web presence, and once I started this blog, I was determined to take it to the top. I reached the #3 slot at Google without too much effort, but it took weeks to displace a couple of my Amazon Listmania! lists. I don't know what link where gave me the final push, but, upon Googling myself this morning, I discovered I had finally made it.

I do know that I didn't do it alone. As I celebrate this momentous day in the history of my ego, I would like to thank some of the people who made this virtual achievement possible.

  • I wouldn't have been able to do this without some major love from Uncle Grambo of Whatevs (Dot Org), the blogosphere's preeminent source for saucy media commentary, prescient celebrity gossip, and photos of underage starlets. Uncle Grambo, you are the wind beneath my wings.
  • I've also gotten a considerable amount of traffic from two Friends of Whatevs. The Real Janelle is a glimpse into the day-to-day existence of a very charming lass with excellent taste in music. So Sayeth the Peabs has become the headquarters for Obvs in 2004. Peabs's campaign diary offers a fascinating, intimate look at national politics in this contentious election year.
  • Mock Turtle Soup is the online home of my favorite student ever. It's also a great place to find really creepy Japanese art.

Finally, I would like to thank the fine people at Cup of Chica, Prolific.org, Body Glitter is Sooo Five Years Ago, The Lengli Blog, Chip's Spynotebook, and 905life for their generous linkage.

February 23, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

My Fiancé Doesn't Understand Why I Put This On Our Wedding Registry

The Attilla Stool by Philippe Starck

February 19, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Significant Ex

Some exes are barely worthy of the designation. With these onetime lovers, not only did we ultimately find them repellent rather than attractive, but we can hardly imagine why we ever found them attractive in the first place. In my own personal store of romantic memories, there exist erstwhile paramours whom I can only remember as such with some effort. I can recall the details of these relationships—the facts—but I can no longer conjure the feeling of being with these people. It's like it wasn't me dating them, but my best friend, who told me all about it.

Then, there's the other kind of ex. With this individual, the tag "ex" doesn't so much denote the decisive end of love and desire as it signifies an ongoing ontological state, a paradoxical sort of relationship defined by the ever-present and immediate absence of a relationship. Complicated, yes, but you probably know what I'm talking about: These are the people we will always refer to as "my ex." This is the significant ex.

I got to thinking about exes—my own in particular and everybody else's in the abstract—when a friend of mine e-mailed me last week to vent some irritation and get a little emotional solidarity. She had just found out that an ex—of the significant sort—is engaged, and she wanted to know if she was evil for being kind of pissed about it.

Let me say first that this impending marriage is not frustrating any hopes my friend still cherishes, however furtively or ridiculously, for her ex. She is truly and totally over him, and has been for quite some time. This would seem to negate the most obvious reason for her current state of irritation. What, then, is the problem? As I considered her ethical question—is this forgivable crankiness, or actual evil?—I found myself wondering about the root cause of her existential crisis.

At a visceral level, I understood exactly what she friend was going through. What could be more galling than the potential of marital bliss for a significant ex? In a perfect world, of course, we would always be able and willing to share in another's joy, all the more so when the joy belongs to someone who was once central to our lives. But a perfect world this is not, as evidenced by the fact that our significant exes sometimes get engaged. Indeed, they occasionally even go so far as to get married, and sometimes they actually manage to be quite happy without us.

There it is: They are happy without us, and that is seriously fucked up.

Some exes are better off without me. Some exes, on the other hand, were certainly better off with me, and I sincerely hope that they find someone else as awesome as me some day. But, when I consider my significant exes, I think, "I was the best thing that ever happened to him, that ever will happen to him, that ever could happen to him, and he's totally deluding himself if he believes otherwise."

While I leave room for the possibility that there are multiple variations on the significant ex, this is one of them: The significant ex is the person we believe should never, ever be over us—even if we are over them. When I suggested this hypothesis to my friend, she found my diagnosis sound—revelatory, even.

So, I'm wondering: Is there room in a wedding announcement for a footnote, a brief mention of the passionate, epochal relationship which, had it not been immolated in the flames of its own intensity, the current marriage would never have taken place? Probably not, but—seriously—it only seems fair.

February 18, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

It Pays to Advertise

He was a man, looking for a woman. He was interested in friendship, play, dating, or a serious relationship. I was 32 and 5'3", with brown hair and green eyes. Luckily, we found each other. This is the story of how I took a chance on romance. It's a story that contains the word "penis." It's totally a love story for our time.

February 13, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack