LIFE HARVESTER #3: My Year of Rest & Relaxation, Nerds Candy, Marc Grillo's Couch,The Green Roasting Tin, Mother!
|Mar 15||Public post|
I'M LIKE HEY WHAT'S UP HELLO
What's good welcome to the new newsletter. I'm 36 now, which is tight. For one thing, 3+6=9. For another, 3 6s is 666. And finally 36 Chambers is a classic album of my youth which I'm happy to be reminded of. One time when I was in high school I was in an Acura smoking weed and listening to Wu-Tang with this kid from Ozone Park who told me that when he was like 12 rap music gave him a boner because his mom wouldn't let him listen to it and the act of doing something transgressive turned him on. I was like "even the Beastie Boys?" And he shook his head yes with the most grave look on his face.
Last month's episode with Tamara Santibañez was great and I think the most people who I am actually friends with IRL texted me to let me know that they enjoyed it, which is tight because I thought only strangers listened to my podcast. I knew as soon as we were done talking that it was one of the best conversations I'd had for the radio show, and I'm glad other people seem to feel the same way. Give it a listen if you haven't yet! This month we've got another old friend, Margaret Cross, talking about Golden Grove, the jewelry business she runs, how it got started, why she does it, etc. We talked about dead people we know, and Maggie told me that she learned about punk from TRL! It's a good episode and should be out next week. If you're not subscribed, do so at any of the links below, I need more subscribers every month if I'm ever gonna get a bidet advertisement.
ITUNES STITCHER SOUNDCLOUD
Life Harvester is now available every month in a print edition, as well as in this email. The print edition will not be available for individual mail-order, but it's already stocked in a number of stores in a number of cities across these great United States. Check this list. If you don't see it available in your town and you own or work in a record store/bookstore/coffee shop/library/hardware store/etc really wherever, please feel free to hit me up!
Any book or movie I talk about, there's gonna be spoilers. There might even be spoilers for books that aren't mentioned in the title I'm generally months to years behind on everything though so you're probably fine. But like, don't fuckin get mad at me because you didn't know Benjamin Button dies or whatever okay?
MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION
In last month's newsletter, I talked about Eileen, which I loved. While I was reading that Becca was reading this and she absolutely hated it. I couldn't understand why once I'd started it, because literarily up until the last sentence, I was all in. The conceit of this book is that a bratty rich girl from Upstate New York decides to quit her job and sleep for a year straight. And here's the thing: there was once a time in my life when I, a bratty rich girl from Westchester, decided that I was going to learn how to lucid dream and then create a life for myself where I could sleep as many hours of the day as possible, meet my basic nutritional needs with protein shakes, and achieve emotional fulfillment in my robust dream life. This is obviously a fucking stupid idea, but it's something I spent a lot of time thinking about, so I was delighted to read about a young lady implementing a very similar plan.
Moshfegh is a skilled writer. Her prose is unrelenting, and her world building is complex and thorough. She writes about the mundanity of substance use and abuse in a way that mirrors my own experience more than any author I've ever read. No one has reminded me about my particular drive to self-annihilate like Moshfegh and there's really something magical there. So maybe I was a little more generous with some of her other shortcomings, which perhaps Becca would be kind enough to relate as any attempt on my part to enumerate this book's flaws would just be a second rate paraphrase of conversations we've had:
So much has been written about this book by people who seem convinced that it is a badge of courage to write an unlikable woman as a protagonist. This kind of I'm With Horrible feminism misses the more pervasive tendency in fiction and film for national redemption to come through the lessons learned on women's bodies, a flaw this book remakes with a savviness that reflects the millennial burnout it seems to halfheartedly satirize. Most of Moshfegh's efforts to soften the bitchiness of the unnamed protagonist revolve around exposing her vulnerabilities which range from the Disney trope of Dead Parents to wanting to get back with her mismatched Yuppie boyfriend despite coercive sex. Like Kristen Roupenian's much-discussed short story, "Cat Person," neither went far enough on the spectrum of ordinary humiliation and horror that most young women experience to reach the escape velocity out of the 'no duh' end of #metoo. The satire fails in part because of the cardboard depth of the other women characters, especially her Miss Frizzel with pills wingnut psychiatrist or her drunk mom whose icy blotto seems like the blocking from a high school production of a Tennesee Williams play. The dualism of the protagonist's perfect size 2 cool girl and her blabbering, insecure, dieting but stuck at size 6 best friend was blood boiling in a way that was both trite and successful. It gave Moshfegh the space to write some dazzlingly cruel and funny lines, a true literary strength.
From my view as an art worker and scholar of performance art, Moshfegh's sendup of art world nihilism was disappointing because, in reality, that world is 1000x more solipsistic and vampiric than she portrays it. THERE IS JUST SO MUCH MORE TO MAKE FUN OF including a canon of far more vicious, exploitative, and nihilistic performance art. From Vito Acconci's Seedbed to most things Santiago Sierra has done—like tattooing sex workers to make a (stupid) point about unequal labor value and making a makeshift gas chamber in a synagogue by pumping car exhaust into it—that make her troublingly exoticized Chinese performance artist and his illicit photos seem practically polite. The ending, though, was insulting. I don't want the mean girl to be redeemed through excessive privilege and another loss for the loser friend, now a narrative pawn for her to learn a lesson through. I don't want her indulgence to pay off or for the theme of the book to suddenly be about 'waking up' to life. Is this her bid for Oprah's Book Club? A Darren Aronofsky movie?
Long live the unlikeable woman protagonist whose lesson is that life is the real bitch, wherever she may be.
I couldn't see any of that as I was reading, because I was too caught up in watching a talented writer see this thought experiment through to its logical conclusion. And of course, that logical conclusion was that when Moshfegh's narrator was done sleeping for a year, 9/11 happened. And even that wasn't enough to turn me off. Paul Auster's Brooklyn Follies has a similar arc, where a bevy of sad sacks play out their lives' tiny dramas for pages and pages seemingly with no end until, on the last page, 9/11 happens and—I'm not being facetious here—puts everything into perspective.
But with Moshfegh it's not enough to have the reader draw her own conclusion. Instead, on the last page of the book, Moshfegh has her narrator explain that she watches a tape of the attack on the World Trade Center repeatedly, imagining that a certain woman plummeting from the North Tower is a friend of hers who died that day. "There she is, a human being, diving into the unknown, and she is wide awake." Gimme a fuckin break, Ottessa. Never in my life has a the last sentence of a book so thoroughly ruined the experience of reading it for me. The rest of the novel, flaws and all, is at least complex and interesting. The pithy conclusions, that in death some kind of purity is reached, or that the living can mine tragedy for a reason to persist, is so deeply disappointing to me that I have a hard time remembering the entire book as anything but awful, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading it for two hundred eighty eight and eleven twelfths pages.
Nerds are a Wonka brand candy from my childhood that may still exist today. They are little pebbles of sugar that come in a variety of flavors which are discernible by the candies themselves being a different color, and by a slight difference in taste. They come in two sizes, single serving trick or treat boxes, and larger boxes which are approximately 10x bigger. The latter boxes contain two flavors, separated by a divider in the middle, with separate opening apertures, so that the eater may open one side and not the other, thus allowing the possibility to portion out either flavor in whatever way she sees fit. I've been conducting a casual survey and so far my results are that 100% of the people I know who are in recovery for an addiction of some kind ate Nerds by opening up both sides and pouring the whole box in their mouth all at once.
SLEEPING ON MARC GRILLO'S COUCH FOR A WEEK
Marc Grillo is the singer of Stigmatism, drummer of Μάτι, and a fellow New York half-Jew who loves hot dogs. Peas in a pod, me and him. Last time I was in the city I ended up sleeping on his couch for like 6 straight days and lemme tell you, it was a fucking treat.
There's always a fear when staying in another person's home that I will be an undue burden on my host, or conversely, that they will have expectations of me that I cannot fulfill. At this point in my 30s, most times I go somewhere I have friend with an office, a guest room, a closet. This mitigates a lot of that space-sharing tension. Not so in New York City, where square footage is at a premium, but Marc's house was perfect. There was easy access to the outside to smoke my bedtime cigarette, the couch I slept on was very comfortable, there were plenty of blankets and pillows (you might be surprised to learn how many of the men you know only own one pillow), great water pressure in the shower, etc etc. Excellent amenities.
As far as hosting style, Marc kept me apprised of his plans but knew I was busy and didn't push too hard, which I really appreciated. We saw each other most mornings and evenings and made a concerted effort to hang out just us at least once, when we got lunch at Carmenta's in Bushwick. Their Italian combo had the most delicate mortadella I've maybe ever eaten. Will def fuck with that place again.
One morning I woke up to Marc standing by the couch saying "I haven't had a massage in six fuckin years isn't that criminal?" I dozed back off for a few moments and when I woke up next he was saying "...so I think I got strep fuckin throat. You think I should go to urgent care on the way to the spa?" We had a short discussion about the ethics of potentially attending a spa with strep (bad) and then a geographic/transit discussion (one of my favorite types) regarding which urgent care it made the most sense to go to. He left and I fell back to sleep once again. When I woke up 40 minutes later there was a text from him waiting on my phone. "Just a bad cold." Who wouldn't want these kind of updates?
THE GREEN ROASTING TIN BY RUKMINI IYER
I used to cook a lot and was pretty good at it. Then one day I stopped giving a shit about anything including making meals for myself. Many years passed and I only ate sandwiches. For the first two years Becca and I were dating, I made the same thing every time it was my turn to make dinner: vegan bolognese. Part of it was nervousness about making vegan dinners for my girlfriend who is an actual Flavor Master, part of it was laziness.
When we lived in Austin it was easy because there's so much amazing cheap produce and one million incredible restaurants and food trucks with vegan options. In Pittsburgh, we are not so lucky. The vegetables are all garbage, and the restaurants are mostly terrible. C'est la vie, there's other good stuff in this town. But it really threw into stark relief how little I knew how to cook these days.
To remedy that, I've been working through a bevy of recipes on the internet getting my chops back, but the other month my sister, Emma, texted me about Iyer's meat cookbook and was like, "this book is incredible. There's a vegetarian version and you should get it." And listen, she's right.
These are all meals that you can make in a single roasting pan. I've never been much of a cookbook person and I'm generally distrustful of the "one pot meal" phenomenon, but everything I've made from this book has been incredible. It's a UK printing, so I'm constantly having to make on the fly adjustments between like, grams and cups or whatever, and sometimes the lexicon is different (like did you know Brits called eggplant aubergine?), but ultimately those things are easy to figure out and the recipes have been so delicious and pretty simple to prepare every time.
Yo this movie fucking sucks. Darren Aronofsky hates women, but you knew that. I didn't know anything about this film, including who directed it, when I chose to watch it one afternoon while sewing. I had seen the trailer and thought it was a classic horror trope about a woman going mad—or is she? There's a lot of haunting and possession films I've enjoyed that form a narrative around a woman being constantly bombarded with negative stimuli that no one but her is privy to, and a bulk of the tension revolves around her constant struggle to identify whether she is, in fact, experiencing this hellish torment, or if she's just finally lost it. There's something about that kind of tension that I find deeply engaging, much more than when the protagonist is a man. Because in many simple ways, women's status in our culture is to be disbelieved—whether about their own expertise, their own experience, their own bodily autonomy—and at their best, these films explore this theme intentionally and deliberately. At their worst they don't even know that this subtext is a possibility because much of horror is written and directed by men who, like Aronofsky, clearly hate women.
ANYWAY, as I was watching this dumb fuckin movie I kept having to rewind and double check that I hadn't zoned out sewing and missed a scene because a lot of it didn't make any sense (spoiler alert: I hadn't). One thing I did enjoy was how things got incrementally nuttier and nuttier, giving the viewer a nice Wile E. Coyote moment two thirds of the way through. By the time you slow down enough to realize there's no floor beneath your feet, you're already way off the cliff.
Ultimately, though it was a very unsatisfying watch, and you wanna know why? Because it's a fucking retelling of the first book of the Bible. Get the fuck outta here, Darren.
So long, jerks. See you next month. Fuck ICE, free Palestine.