Gertrude Stein is a literary train wreck

I know the name Gertrude Stein, and understand that she is a Giant of Literature, so if you did your master’s thesis on Stein, or otherwise like her work, good on you. HOWEVER: For the first time, I truly read some actual words Stein wrote and published. And not something she dashed off on a napkin to pay the restaurant bill, but one of her most famous poems. And listen, she’s a literary train wreck.

Stein isn’t somebody I’d tell a student or new writer to emulate. If I actually cared about the new writer’s sanity and career, I would tell them this: read her words, then do the opposite.

Sacred Emily starts like this:

Compose compose beds.
Wives of great men rest tranquil.
Come go stay philip philip.
Egg be takers.
Parts of place nuts.
Suppose twenty for cent.
It is rose in hen.
Come one day.
A firm terrible a firm terrible hindering, a firm hindering have a ray nor pin nor.
Egg in places.
Egg in few insists.

Here’s another chunk:

All the time.
A wading chest.
Do you mind.
Lizzie do you mind.
Ethel.
Ethel.
Ethel.
Next to barber.
Next to barber bury.
Next to barber bury china.
Next to barber bury china glass.
Next to barber china and glass.
Next to barber and china.
Next to barber and hurry.

This goes on and on. It doesn’t get any better.

It just gets weirder. Here’s another section:

Cunning piler.
Next to a chance.
Apples.
Apples.
Apples went.
It was a chance to preach Saturday.
Please come to Susan.
Purpose purpose black.
Extra plain silver.
Furious slippers.
Have a reason.
Have a reason candy.
Points of places.
Neat Nezars.
Which is a cream, can cream.
Ink of paper slightly mine breathes a shoulder able shine.
Necessity.
Near glass.
Put a stove put a stove hoarser.

And here’s my favorite part.

When a churn say suddenly when a churn say suddenly.
Poor pour percent.
Little branches.
Pale.
Pale.
Pale.
Pale.
Pale.
Pale.
Pale.
Near sights.
Please sorts.
Example.
Example.

Notes

Listen, I get that Stein was being avant-garde, and purposefully deconstructing the stodgy old nature of poetry. I’m not ideologically opposed to literary and artistic craziness, if done well.

This poem isn’t done well.

If you told me a high school freshman turned this in and got an F from their English Comp teacher, I’d say yeah, that’s about right. Because it’s random, like they threw a bunch of words into some kind of spreadsheet and programmed javascript or whatever to compose sentences. Back in the old days, maybe they’d open random pages of the dictionary, pick a word, then riff off that word while stealing from Grandpa’s favorite bottle of gin and replacing whatever got drank with water so he never caught on.

When you’re already famous and you commit this sin against humankind, simply because you can, it’s seven separate kinds of self-indulgent.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: The fact that nobody can understand you doesn’t make you a genius.

Sure, you can become famous by going to extremes, then hopping on waterskis to jump the shark guarding the Outer Fringe of Extremes before you reach the Neutron Star of Complete Insanity.

The first man to paint a canvas black made some news. The second, third, fifth and 30th artist to paint a canvas black–or white, or whatever monochrome shebang you like–doesn’t shock us. And yes, the artist Banksy just had a painting sold that shredded itself as the sale concluded. New and shocking. What’s not shocking is now others will copy him, or come up with twists on the same idea, though none of those attempts will work half as well, or at all, because the surprise factor is gone baby gone.

I read that some of Stein’s later work is more accessible, which is literary jargon for “you might like this better, since it makes A LOT more sense.” That’s cool. I get that she was experimental. Here’s the thing, though: you do all kinds of experiments knowing 99 will fail and hoping for one to just rock. This doesn’t rock. Sure, it’s kinda interesting as a train wreck, in that you can see the pieces strewn about and think about why it’s a mess, and speculate on what she’s trying to say amidst all the wreckage. Yet when you really drill down on it, Stein’s poem is a lot like Bansky’s latest stunt: its only power is shock value, and only because Stein was rich and had all kinds of famous literary friends like Hemingway.

If a student or unknown writer had done this, we would never had known.

How to carve a survival bow

Ever wonder how to carve a survival bow if you really, really needed to?

First, here’s how NOT to carve a bow.

You don’t use a 2×4. You don’t whittle it down to nothing. And you don’t skip the whole thing about picking a strong piece of wood, fully drying it, soaking it in oils, etc.

Here’s the right way to do it, out in the woods, where there are no 2×4’s.

Take it away, Survival Lilly.

 

Smug yuppie Snow Joggers give TV interview, then fail

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

So it’s the Snowpocalypse up here, and in nearby Portland two joggers paused to give a TV reporter the benefit of their wisdom, and to expound on the great texture of the snow for running.

 

Billy Squire wrecks his career with ROCK ME TONITE

music video meme sound of music

If you don’t remember Billy the Squire, probably because you weren’t born yet, he was kind of a big deal for a while. A rising star.

Then this video came out and smooshed him faster than you can say Milli Vanilli.

And yes, he started out by getting creative with the spelling of “tonight,” because that’s the revolutionary rebelliousness of a true rock star, though he didn’t go as far as Prince, who uses an entirely different alphabet.

Let’s ask ourselves, for the sake of history: Why was this music video so deadly?

It’s not the music. This isn’t some 11-minute long art film with a soundtrack that some rock star thought would be a killer idea. And yeah, that happens. Somebody gets famous and they think every idea that pops into their head is brilliant.

Close your eyes and listen to the song. It’s not terrible. A decent rocker with nothing to really complain about.

The lyrics aren’t inspired, but they aren’t completely insipid, either. Let’s go with banal.

Here’s the problem: people didn’t have their eyes closed. If this song simply hit the radio, Billy might have kept on rising up and making scads of money.

The visuals are simply awful.

Billy oozes uncool out of every pore. If there’s matter and anti-matter, there’s cool and uncool. Billy does not come off as cool in this video. He doesn’t seem like a cocky, confident rock star. It feels like he’s trying too hard, and failing.

There aren’t that many rock stars who look good dancing. The smart ones keep it low key. Billy Idol doesn’t dance — he pouts and pumps his fist. Bruce Springsteen never really dances. Bono, Sting, even Mick Jagger doesn’t really dance. He does a funky chicken and that’s about it.

Billy the Squire kept trying aerobic instructor moves, which did not look good on film.

When his band finally showed up, I kept swearing they cloned Billy, or shot multiple takes with him playing all the instruments. Every band member but one dude had the same outfit and over-permed hair. IT WAS CONFUSING, and not in a good way.

So all in all, this is an epic train wreck of a video.

Also: Bonus points to whoever digs up what happens to Billy Squire.

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

THE NOTEBOOK

(The title makes sense, since the story turns on an actual notebook.)

by Nicholas Sparks

Chapter One: Miracles

Who am I? And how,I wonder, will this story end?

The sun has come up and I am sitting by a window that is foggy with the breath of a life gone by. (Melodramatic and clunky.) I’m a sight this morning: two shirts, heavy pants, a scarf wrapped twice around my neck and tucked into a thick sweater knitted by my daughter thirty birthdays ago. The thermostat in my room is set as high as it will go, and a smaller space heater sits directly behind me, clicking and groaning and spewing hot air like a fairytale dragon — and still my body shivers with a cold that will never go away, a cold that has been eighty years in the making. Eighty years. , I think sometimes, and dDespite my own acceptance of my age, it still amazes me that I haven’t been warm since George Bush was president. I wonder if this iIs this how it is for everyone my age?

My life? It isn’t easy to explain. It has Not been the rip-roaring spectacular I fancied it would be, but neither have I burrowed around with the gophers. I suppose it has most resembled a blue-chip stock:

(end of page 1)

the notebook by nicholas sparks
THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks. A book that belongs next to Hemingway. A movie that should have won many, many more Oscars, yes? Nicholas Sparks was ROBBED.

Notes from the Red Pen of Doom

The biggest problem isn’t the line editing, though it’s clunky. While clearly first-person P.O.V., he keeps inserting needless attributions like “I wonder” and “I think.” Here’s the monster problem: 90 percent of page one is spent telling the reader — repeatedly — that the first-person narrator is (a) 80 years old and (b) seriously obsessed with talking about how cold it is.

Space on page one is precious. It’s for raising narrative questions that won’t be answered for 400 pages. Compelling questions.

Life or death. Together or alone. Freedom or slavery.

I can imagine a story where being 80 years old and cold is the problem. Maybe a doctor is headed to a remote Alaskan village when his snowmobile breaks down. He’s  the only doctor within 200 miles, the only hope for a mother who’s in the middle of a labor gone wrong. Now you’ve got public stakes and private stakes. If he doesn’t strap on snowshoes and get past hungry wolves and polar bears, he’ll die, and the mom in labor might die, and her baby might die — and they’ll be no doctor out in the bush for a lot of people.

So: a cold old man becoming warm can matter a lot in a story.

Not in this story. On this page one, it’s boring.

Having an 80-year-old hero can make this hard. Go back to the first line: “And, I wonder, how will this story end?” Not a lot of suspense there. It’s hard having high stakes when the protag is already looking back on his life, as if it’s already over.

This is why most novels and movies feature younger protags. The more you have to lose, the higher the stakes.

It’s why you have movies like INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, not INDIANA JONES AND THE CONTENTIOUS BINGO GAME.

You certainly can have great stories with older heroes. They just have to DO something.

Anthony Hopkins did a great job with Hannibal Lecter, an active and charming killer. Old, yes, but he didn’t act like Sparks’ old man. There is no book called HANNIBAL LECTER AND THE SPACE HEATER.

So, back to THE NOTEBOOK: the beginning should set up the ending. Does the climax hinge on whether our 80-year-old hero puts on another ugly Christmas sweater and finally stops kvetching about being cold? No.

It’s about whether or not he’s alone or together. Whether his wife remembers him or not.

So the first line is on track. Almost. Not “Who am I?” but “Who are you?” And that question should come out of the mouth of the wife.

Or, if Sparks wanted some misdirection, have that question come from somebody else. But since the end is about togetherness, about love and romance and faithfulness, the first chapter should be full of loneliness. Not cold. Not sweaters and scarves and space heaters.

Talk about how friends move, how coworkers get different jobs, kids grow up and stop calling.  Spend the first page on loneliness, if you want the ending to be about togetherness.

Had I not read the back cover, and didn’t know the climax of this story, reading page one would not motivate me to read more.

If the narrator complains a lot, and doesn’t think his own life is exciting, why the hell would I keep reading about him? I will now praise the One Known as the Spork: the ending of this book, as a plot, isn’t bad. Page one doesn’t do it justice.

Verdict: Take out the Nine and shoot it full of holes, then burn whatever’s left and start over with a fresh sheet of paper.