brothercyst: March 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

James Salter

Salter in the Guardian.

Is there a new novel? 'Oh yeah - there is, and it's going to be terrific. Maybe. It could be. I can't talk about it...'

Richard Ford's adulatory profile.

"Last Night," a short story--read this.

Download interview podcast.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Soon I will leave work. I feel tired. (It is hard to nap at the office.) Very little sleep, woke up early. Wearing red corduroy pants.

Oh yeah, so I did the volunteer thing with the kids. I thought we were going to be reading to them, but they were too young to sit still, so the volunteers simply played with blocks and so forth. This was at a battered women's shelter in Manhattan; the mothers were at some book club or therapy meeting, I think.

When I walked in (I was the only male except for one old guy), the team leader (dressed, incredibly, in severe stiletto heels and covered in dangly, shiny jewelry--was she crazy?) pointed at me and said, "So, we have this one little kid who somebody has to watch all the time and not do anything else, just to keep him under control. Can you do that?" That is how I met DANNY. When you say the name in your head, say it like Jack Nicholson roars "DANNY, I'm comin' for ya," while chasing his son in The Shining. DANNY was pretty cool. He can't talk, just yell gleefully and slam things and run away, but they said he always cries the whole time and throws tantrums, and he didn't do that with me, so I guess we got along. Every time DANNY picked something up (a block, a piece of plastic food) he did three things with it:

1) put in his mouth
2) put it up to his ear like a phone
3) threw it

I was sort of benignly watching this, nodding and saying, "That's right, first we taste it and then we throw it," when the team leader came over and said, "No, Danny, no, no, no! No Throwing!" But DANNY just bellowed and ran away. Anyway, I thought it was a pretty good experience, and I'm going to do it again.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I finished reading Prep. I liked it very much--approximately 404 times more than I expected to like it. It is a story about excruciating, debilitating self-consciousness.

Now, we have all had experiences when we felt crippled by the awareness of how our actions might be perceived, but the narrator of this novel spends her every living moment that way. It makes you want to rip your brain out and smash pumpkins and kill a drifter, but in a good way.

The distinction that Sittenfeld drew in her infamous (yet reasonable and intelligent) review between literature and chick lit is that chick lit's appeal depends on identification but literature's appeal depends (at least partly) on empathy. And it is a credit to Sittenfeld's talent that I did indeed empathize with the narrator although I have never been to boarding school, am not from the midwest, am male, and often do things without thinking very much about how those things will affect other people or, more specifically, other people's opinion of me.

However, what I also found interesting (although it didn't contribute to my appreciation of the book's literary merits) was the realization that I did in fact sometimes identify with the narrator. Unfamiliarity with the rituals of a rarefied place as well as the queasy feeling of being surrounded by people born wealthier than you'll probably ever be...sounds like freshman year at Yale. The paranoia, covetous resentment, and self-consciousness that arise from sudden proximity to such people when you've come from a public school that sends most of its students to community college or jail: definitely a familiar feeling.

Many reviews have complained that by the end of the book, "nothing really happens." Somewhat true, plot-wise, but something "happens" in the sense that the book does something to you--impresses you with its rigorous realism, exhausts you by describing with precision and engagement the narrator's unsustainable self-loathing and doubt.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

excerpt from gmail chat with my neurosurgeon friend

[slightly abridged to be more streamlined]

: glad to hear it
i just worked a 100 hour week

: dude
that is horrible
that' many hours a day

: seventeen a day, overnight call on friday, and then seven hours today
yeah, people that tired are cutting on other people's brains

: any mishaps?

: i saw a patient who was dead when i walked in the room

: did he recover

: no

: he came into the ER completely normal, and while he was there had a big ass brainstem hemorrhage and died

: why did he come into the ER

: probably had a little warning hemorrhage. or maybe it was unrelated--he had AIDS and chronic fungal meningitis

: argh
some lives are harder than others

: yeah, it's not good when the mold that grows on bird shit is taking over your brain

: i always want to post our chats on my blog

: feel free
gotta answer the door really fast
dude, that was weird--the doorbell rang and i ran downstairs, only to find that there was nobody at the door but a little tabby cat sunning himself on my porch

Sunday, March 11, 2007

After the animal shelter, I went over to KGB but wasn't terribly impressed by anything I heard tonight.

Last night I saw a concert by the Columbia Sinfonietta at Columbia's Miller Theater. Electronic music by Ron Smith, Noel Zahler, and Roger Reynolds, with whom my dad's setting up a concert at the National Gallery of Art. Smith's piece made me think of a tall thin ghost creature yowling in sadness for a long time. Reynolds's was more intricate and dense than the other two; it was clearly a lot more technically advanced (to my untrained ear).

Friday, March 09, 2007

Midnight Picnic

I have it now. Midnight Picnic, the short novel (it was a "novella," but now it's pretty clearly a novel) that I've been writing in an episodic and fragmented fashion since last summer is about 75% finished. And this afternoon I understood how to end it. Or, rather, how to get there, because I've known for a long time how it would conclude.

At home today. I didn't go to the office. A few random errands to take care of, but mostly writing, and I had a feeling last night would be a long one. It was. Attended some parties for a massive coffee table book called Photo by Sammy Davis Jr., including one at a place with gold skulls all over the walls. Slept around 5 a.m., woke early. My dad is coming to the city.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

for those not easily sickened

I saw a picture a long time ago that I consider one of the most disturbing images of gore/physical damage that I've ever seen.


Here is the picture.

But I saw it again today, and I began to wonder if it might be fake. The eyes made me wonder about this. One of them appears to be essentially undamaged. You would think it would be somehow dislocated or at least bloodshot. Its clarity is one of the most disturbing things about the image--he's clearly still alive--but might it indicate some sick photoshop work?

In case you're curious, the injuries were allegedly the result of motorcycle accident.


Also, I spent this evening walking and playing with pit bulls. More about that later.