Greif on the beauty of adulthood

…The more traditional way of trivializing sex, by subordinating it to overwhelmingly romantic love, has diminished as an option as the focus of self-discovery has increasingly devitalized full romantic love. Self-discovery puts a reflecting wall between the self and attention to the other, so that all energy supposedly exerted in fascination, attraction, and love just bounces back, even when it appears to go out as love for the other. When self-discovery is combined with the notion of a continually new or renewed self, and this newness is associated with literal or metaphorical youth—well, then you simply have a segment of the affluent First World at the present moment. 

This means the trivialization of sex and the denigration of youth will have to start with an act of willful revaluation. It was require preferring the values of adulthood: intellect over enthusiasm, autonomy over adventure, elegance over vitality, sophistication over innocence—and, perhaps, a pursuit of the confirmation or repetition of experience rather than experiences of novelty. 

Let the future, at least, know that we were fools. Make our era distinct and closed so that the future can see something to move beyond. Record our testament, that this was a juvenile phase in liberation that must give way to a spiritual adulthood! Turn back to adults; see in the wrinkles at the side of the eye which catch the cobalt, the lines of laughter in the face, the prolific flesh, those subtle clothes of adulthood, the desire-inspiring repositories of wisdom and experience. Know that what we wish to be nourished upon age and accomplishment, not emptiness and newness.

Mark Greif, Afternoon of the Sex Children, originally published in n+1 and selected for the 2007 Edition of Best American Essays, edited by David Foster Wallace

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 2 notes.

Part of Dan Lee’s beautiful piece on time spent with Fiona Apple

Janet needed to go for a walk. It took us twenty minutes to find her leash and gather supplies, including a camera, flashlight, lighter, and water. In the process, we stumbled across an old autographed photo of her grandfather smoking: “Best Chesterfield Wishes—Johnny McAfee.” She’d bought it for $20 on eBay. We drank marijuana-laced lemonade and left.

We stepped through a portal into a Venice, California, behind Venice, California, from which it was possible to imagine the entire rest of the country rising eastward. It was like a village of bungalows, windows glowing, and across the horizon, like staggered towers, stood the giant Mexican palms. There was a half-moon. The three of us made our way up a sidewalk that became engulfed in a swirling flock of branches that made a perfect tunnel, impervious to light. Most of the time it was just Janet sniffing, her nails clicking on the concrete. We went to the “walk streets,” the tiny pedestrian pathways through the gardens of hundreds of closely packed Craftsman-style bungalows. It was dark green, there were little fountains, she showed me her favorite tree. She took out her digital SLR camera to record a short video of music spilling out of one of the bungalows; she said she loved hearing people’s lives, especially their music, from the outside.

Without having planned it, each of us had made a mix for the other, and when we got back, I asked her to play the one she’d made. We drank more vodka as the Pharcydes rapped, “She keeps on passing me by.” I sat in a chair near her desk, and then, as the night wore on, on the floor. She stayed put mostly at her desk. There was a giant John Wayne–dressed–in–­rodeo–regalia lamp on the corner of it. Very long spans of time passed with neither of us speaking. Mildred Bailey sang that “it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.”

Dan P. Lee, I Just Want to Feel Everything’: Hiding Out With Fiona Apple, Musical Hermit, New York Magazine, June 17, 2012

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 2 notes.

Landing on Floating Island of the Gods

Landing on floating island of the gods without invitation, form of deafness exemplified by reckless flying. The flier is within the wind, is an aspect of human weather. When one of the senses is stalled, a form of deviant weather occurs where the wind’s bits (fliers) do not adhere to the arc of their origin. This causes all kinds of crazy landings. The particular deafness spoken of here effects breaches formerly unheard of; the flier will glide unknowingly past the warnings of others, he will focus only on a lush strip of green-and-gold earth seemingly floating in the middle skin of the atmosphere. The gods are there. With closed eyes, they are frying tiny birds over a fire. Then from the sky a man hurtles downward, the sound of the gods washing past him like colored wind, his fingers twisting in elaborate shapes of speech. The gods turn their heads into the smell of the roasting food, their dream erased by a dark rupture in the sky. 

Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 1 note.
But Chapo’s greatest contribution to the evolving tradecraft of drug trafficking was one of those innovations that seem so logical in hindsight it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before: a tunnel. In the late 1980s, Chapo hired an architect to design an underground passageway from Mexico to the United States. What appeared to be a water faucet outside the home of a cartel attorney in the border town of Agua Prieta was in fact a secret lever that, when twisted, activated a hydraulic system that opened a hidden trapdoor underneath a pool table inside the house. The passage ran more than 200 feet, directly beneath the fortifications along the border, and emerged inside a warehouse the cartel owned in Douglas, Ariz. Chapo pronounced it “cool.”
—
The tacit but unwavering tolerance that Mexican authorities have shown for the drug trade over the years has muddled the boundaries between outlaws and officials. When Miguel Angel Martínez was working for Chapo, he says, “everyone” in the organization had military and police identification. Daylight killings are sometimes carried out by men dressed in police uniforms, and it is not always clear, after the fact, whether the perpetrators were thugs masquerading as policemen or actual policemen providing paid assistance to the thugs. On those occasions when the government scores a big arrest, meanwhile, police and military officials pose for photos at the valedictory news conference brandishing assault weapons, their faces shrouded in ski masks, to shield their identities. In the trippy semiotics of the drug war, the cops dress like bandits, and the bandits dress like cops.
—
It might seem far-fetched that the cartel would try to assassinate one of its own, the son of Mayo Zambada, no less. But Sinaloa guards its secrets ruthlessly. After Chapo’s friend Miguel Angel Martínez was arrested in 1998, four men came to kill him in prison, stabbing him repeatedly. In that assault, and another that followed, he sustained more than a dozen stab wounds, which punctured his lungs, pancreas and intestines. After the second attack, he was moved to another facility and kept in a segregated unit. This time, an assassin managed to get as far as the gate outside Martínez’s cell and chucked two grenades at the bars. Locked in with nowhere to run, Martínez could only cower by the toilet to shield himself from the blast. The roof caved in, and he barely survived. Asked later who it was that tried to have him killed, Martínez said that it was his compadre, Chapo Guzmán. “Because of what I knew,” he explained. (Today he is living in witness protection in the United States.)

Cocaine Incorporated by Patrick Radden Keefe for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, on El Chapo, the head of Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa

But Chapo’s greatest contribution to the evolving tradecraft of drug trafficking was one of those innovations that seem so logical in hindsight it’s a wonder nobody thought of it before: a tunnel. In the late 1980s, Chapo hired an architect to design an underground passageway from Mexico to the United States. What appeared to be a water faucet outside the home of a cartel attorney in the border town of Agua Prieta was in fact a secret lever that, when twisted, activated a hydraulic system that opened a hidden trapdoor underneath a pool table inside the house. The passage ran more than 200 feet, directly beneath the fortifications along the border, and emerged inside a warehouse the cartel owned in Douglas, Ariz. Chapo pronounced it “cool.”

The tacit but unwavering tolerance that Mexican authorities have shown for the drug trade over the years has muddled the boundaries between outlaws and officials. When Miguel Angel Martínez was working for Chapo, he says, “everyone” in the organization had military and police identification. Daylight killings are sometimes carried out by men dressed in police uniforms, and it is not always clear, after the fact, whether the perpetrators were thugs masquerading as policemen or actual policemen providing paid assistance to the thugs. On those occasions when the government scores a big arrest, meanwhile, police and military officials pose for photos at the valedictory news conference brandishing assault weapons, their faces shrouded in ski masks, to shield their identities. In the trippy semiotics of the drug war, the cops dress like bandits, and the bandits dress like cops.

It might seem far-fetched that the cartel would try to assassinate one of its own, the son of Mayo Zambada, no less. But Sinaloa guards its secrets ruthlessly. After Chapo’s friend Miguel Angel Martínez was arrested in 1998, four men came to kill him in prison, stabbing him repeatedly. In that assault, and another that followed, he sustained more than a dozen stab wounds, which punctured his lungs, pancreas and intestines. After the second attack, he was moved to another facility and kept in a segregated unit. This time, an assassin managed to get as far as the gate outside Martínez’s cell and chucked two grenades at the bars. Locked in with nowhere to run, Martínez could only cower by the toilet to shield himself from the blast. The roof caved in, and he barely survived. Asked later who it was that tried to have him killed, Martínez said that it was his compadre, Chapo Guzmán. “Because of what I knew,” he explained. (Today he is living in witness protection in the United States.)

Cocaine Incorporated by Patrick Radden Keefe for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, on El Chapo, the head of Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 3 notes. .
The “Dr. Drew” interview was broadcast live from Thera’s home. Several minutes into a discussion with a medical expert, the camera suddenly cut back to Thera. “Oops,” Drew Pinsky said. “Thera is having a little bit of a reaction there. Thera, are you O.K.?” She had slid slowly to her mother’s lap and then onto the floor. “Is her airway O.K.?” Pinsky asked. “Do you need me to call the paramedics?” Her mother looked oddly calm, explaining that Thera had epilepsy. Recently she had also been experiencing nonepileptic seizures, which are a common form of psychogenic illness in people who have epilepsy. “It’s going to pass,” she said. Thera was conscious, eyes open, but seizing up on the floor. Soon after the cameras stopped rolling, Lydia temporarily blacked out. Within a few days, she was feeling so much numbness in her legs, she had to rely on a wheelchair. She borrowed Thera’s.
On the day we spoke, Lydia no longer needed the wheelchair, but she still did not seem well. She was having trouble sleeping and was on 11 different prescription medications. As we spoke, Lydia’s 5-year-old sister silently came into the living room and crawled under a fleece leopard-print blanket beside her, looking out warily. Lydia’s mother works long hours, and her grandmother works nights. That leaves Lydia to give her sister dinner, to put her to bed, to take her along on trips to the mall with her friends.
As for their father, “No one knows where he is,” Lydia said. And even if he were around, she would not trust him to watch her sister. “He was always violent since maybe I was 10,” she said. The worst incident occurred in February 2009. Her father had been drinking. “I threw a shoe at him, he kept yelling at me and punched me in the back of the head,” Lydia said. “We ended up in a corner just like that, punching each other in the face for 10 minutes before my grandmother pulled him off.” Lydia, her arm swinging steadily, spoke in a low, almost disinterested monotone. Fourteen at the time of the attack, she filed a police report.
“He reached out to me on Facebook a couple of days ago,” Lydia said. For the first and only time during the interview, she let out two loud humming noises. “He found out from watching — hmm, hmm — from the news and stuff. I didn’t really let it bother me.”
Her sister got up and wandered into the kitchen to get some potato chips. “It isn’t important,” Lydia said. “It isn’t relevant.”
What Happened to the Girls in Le Roy, Susan Dominus, The New York Times Magazine, March 7, 2012

The “Dr. Drew” interview was broadcast live from Thera’s home. Several minutes into a discussion with a medical expert, the camera suddenly cut back to Thera. “Oops,” Drew Pinsky said. “Thera is having a little bit of a reaction there. Thera, are you O.K.?” She had slid slowly to her mother’s lap and then onto the floor. “Is her airway O.K.?” Pinsky asked. “Do you need me to call the paramedics?” Her mother looked oddly calm, explaining that Thera had epilepsy. Recently she had also been experiencing nonepileptic seizures, which are a common form of psychogenic illness in people who have epilepsy. “It’s going to pass,” she said. Thera was conscious, eyes open, but seizing up on the floor. Soon after the cameras stopped rolling, Lydia temporarily blacked out. Within a few days, she was feeling so much numbness in her legs, she had to rely on a wheelchair. She borrowed Thera’s.

On the day we spoke, Lydia no longer needed the wheelchair, but she still did not seem well. She was having trouble sleeping and was on 11 different prescription medications. As we spoke, Lydia’s 5-year-old sister silently came into the living room and crawled under a fleece leopard-print blanket beside her, looking out warily. Lydia’s mother works long hours, and her grandmother works nights. That leaves Lydia to give her sister dinner, to put her to bed, to take her along on trips to the mall with her friends.

As for their father, “No one knows where he is,” Lydia said. And even if he were around, she would not trust him to watch her sister. “He was always violent since maybe I was 10,” she said. The worst incident occurred in February 2009. Her father had been drinking. “I threw a shoe at him, he kept yelling at me and punched me in the back of the head,” Lydia said. “We ended up in a corner just like that, punching each other in the face for 10 minutes before my grandmother pulled him off.” Lydia, her arm swinging steadily, spoke in a low, almost disinterested monotone. Fourteen at the time of the attack, she filed a police report.

“He reached out to me on Facebook a couple of days ago,” Lydia said. For the first and only time during the interview, she let out two loud humming noises. “He found out from watching — hmm, hmm — from the news and stuff. I didn’t really let it bother me.”

Her sister got up and wandered into the kitchen to get some potato chips. “It isn’t important,” Lydia said. “It isn’t relevant.”

What Happened to the Girls in Le RoySusan Dominus, The New York Times Magazine, March 7, 2012

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 0 notes. .
Finlay notes that the effectiveness of such designs comes at the expense of guests, who have been persuaded by flowers and nice furniture to squander money on games whose odds favor the house. According to her findings, Thomas’s designs have a particularly marked effect on those guests who normally don’t gamble. The seduction of his decor, perhaps, is that it doesn’t feel like a gambling environment. The beauty is a kind of anesthesia, distracting people from the pain of their inevitable losses. 

Jonah Lehrer, Royal Flush: How Roger Thomas redesigned Vegas, The New Yorker, March 26, 2012

Finlay notes that the effectiveness of such designs comes at the expense of guests, who have been persuaded by flowers and nice furniture to squander money on games whose odds favor the house. According to her findings, Thomas’s designs have a particularly marked effect on those guests who normally don’t gamble. The seduction of his decor, perhaps, is that it doesn’t feel like a gambling environment. The beauty is a kind of anesthesia, distracting people from the pain of their inevitable losses. 

Jonah Lehrer, Royal Flush: How Roger Thomas redesigned Vegas, The New Yorker, March 26, 2012

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 1 note. .

On Earth

My little sister walks away
from the crash, the black ice, the crushed passenger
side, the eighteen-wheeler that destroyed
the car, and from a ditch on the side of the highway
a white plastic bag floating up
out of the grass
where the worms are working slow and blind beneath
the ants that march
in their single columns of grace like soldiers
before they’re shipped out, before war makes them human
again and scatters them across the fields
and the sands, across stretchers and bodies,
across the universe
of smoke and ash, makes them crouch down
in what’s left of a building
while a tank moves up the street towards the river
where it will stop, turn its engine off, the driver looking
through a window smaller than an envelope,
where he will sweat and think
about how beautiful Kentucky is. On earth
my twin brother gets his cancer cut out
of his forehead after a year of picking at it and me
always saying, ‘Hey! Don’t pick at your cancer!’
but joking because he can never be sick,
not if I want to stay on earth,
and my little sister can never be torn in half, a piece of her
used Subaru separating her torso
from her legs, not if I want to live, not if I want to walk
across the Hawthorne Bridge
with the city ahead of me, the buildings
full of light and elevators, the park full of maples
and benches, the police filling up
the streets like Novocain, numbing
China Town, numbing Old Town, the Willamette
running towards the wild
Pacific, the great hydro-adventure North
still pulling at the blood of New Yorkers and New Englanders,
the logging gone and the Indians gone
but for casinos and fireworks and dream-catchers,
my little sister has to rise from the dead
steel and broken headlights, my twin brother
has to get himself down from the operating table
if I’m going to be able to watch the rainclouds come in
like a family of hippos
from the warm waters of Africa
and dry off in the dust, they have to be here
if I’m going to write a letter
to Marie or Dorianne, Michael and Elizabeth
have to be in their bodies
for me not to cut them
out of my own. They have to answer
the phone when I call for me not to walk into the closet
for ever. Right now I am sitting
on the porch of the house I grew up in. The second place
I was on earth! The porch where Emily sat
in 1994, drinking licorice tea
and reading Rexroth’s translations of Li Po,
some Chinese poetry
in the curve of her foot, the Han River
spilling out of her hair, over the steps,
and into the driveway
where the dandelions grew like white blood
cells. I would pick them in Kelly Park
and I would walk along the street with them
on 92nd. All my wishes, all of them floating out
over a neighbourhood
where I wanted to be in love
with someone, drinking orange sodas on our backs
with the sky unbuttoning our jeans
and pulling off our shirts. There’s nothing
like walking through Northwest Portland
at night, even though it’s sick with money
and doesn’t look like itself. There’s nothing on earth
like the moonlight, lake at night
smell of tall grass and suntan lotion. It’s hard to imagine
not knowing the smell of gas stations or pine,
the smell of socks worn too long and the smell
of someone’s hands
after they have swum through a rosemary bush.
I want them all
and all the time. I need to walk
into Erika’s room, over the piles of clothes on the floor
which I love for their pyramid euphoria. I need to
smell her body on mine
days after we have destroyed the bed or ruined the carpet
she hates unless we are on it. On earth
my older sister can never open another bottle of beer, shoot
another glass of whiskey. She can’t have the monster
of her body go slouching through
the countryside of her family, killing the peasants,
burning the fields along the road to another sobriety
and then be hacked to death by her own pitchforks and spades,
not if I want to brush my teeth
without biting off my tongue. Not if I want to drink coffee
and read the paper and breathe. Oh to be on earth.
To walk barefoot on the cold stone
and know that the woman you love is also walking barefoot
on the cold tile in the kitchen
where you kissed her yesterday, to be standing in a bookstore
and smell the old paper and the glue
in the spines, to look at a map of a strange city
and be able to figure out
where it is you’re going. To swim in the ocean,
to swim in a lake and not know
what’s beneath you. To have two thousand
friends on Facebook you don’t know
but stare at every night because you’re lonely.
To walk through
Laurelhurst and see a blue heron
killing a bright orange fish, lifting it into the suffocating air
and then drowning it again, and then the air,
and back and forth until it feels
the fish is hers completely. To feel how the subway is racing
beneath an avenue
or how the plane that took off from New York is doing
well in the sky over Arizona. To know
how it feels after drinking whiskey or that secretly reading
romance novels has made you
into a kinder, gentler person, walking through
the grocery store in the middle of the night,
in love with avocados and carrots,
standing in front of the frozen fruit
with the glass door open
so the cold frozen-food air can cool your body down
before you walk through the cereal aisle
with its innumerable colours and kinds, how a box of cereal
feels in your hands
like an award you’ve received for some great service, to wait
in line at the checkout and not care that you
have to wait. The feeling of being on a boat
and the feeling of putting on new shoes
with a metal shoehorn. How you feel like you can run
faster than you ever have. To get on a bus in winter
and have your glasses steam up, the bus
taking you down the street you have known all your life
or only just found but love all the same. On earth
my mother is talking to her breasts
because they want to kill her, they have turned against her
like a senate, but in the end
she talks them out of it. She makes them behave like two dogs
or like children playing
too rough with the cat and the cat screaming, her tail almost
pulled off. She has to still be here, taking
the Lloyd Center exit to work
in the rain, if I’m going to live at all. On earth
I have a bed I can’t wait to get into, the clean smell of white
sheets, letting my head fall
onto the soft pillow and worry and pull
the blanket over, like a grave,
and in the morning watch the cold winter light
blowing in through the window. Every night the dark
and every morning the light
and you don’t think Jesus walked out
of his cave, crawled out of his Subaru
and stood on the side of the road for the ambulance to come
and cover him in a white shroud? On earth
I faint in the lobby of the multiplex, pee my pants, go into a seizure
like someone talking in tongues, wrapped
in the flames of belief, my body held in the hands of strangers
above the old shag carpet
while on earth the popcorn is popping wildly
and the licorice is bright red
beneath the glass counter, next to the M&Ms
where the most beautiful girl in the world is standing
in her stiff uniform, her name-tag
pinned tight, her name written on a piece of tape
that covers someone else’s name.
She will never kiss me, never lie in bed with August outside
and whisper my name. On earth
Joe has a heart attack, his pack of unfiltered cigarettes
resting like a hand near his books.
He rides his heart through the three acres of bypass
and then leads it to water. On earth
I steal flowers from the park, roses and star lilies,
I sleep too much. I’m always too slow
or arriving too early, before anything has opened. I keep
dreaming my older brother
has come back like a man returned from a long, exhausting
run. I can’t do this much longer!
And because I don’t have to, I cut an orange
the way athletes do, into perfect
half moons. I peel the pulp away, the skin that looks like
the surface of the moon. I put each one
inside my mouth
and let the sex of it burst into my throat, my lungs
like two black halves of a butterfly
trapped in the net of my chest, I read a poem
Zach wrote about a pond, I’m thinking
about the last time I saw Mike
before he moved into the Zion-air of Utah, I reread
a note Carl wrote that only says
beware. On earth Charlie is cut open
and put back together.
He goes on loving his friends and looking into the mirror,
and maybe the nerves have not grown back
over the river the scar has made, and maybe he is tired
but on earth! He has to get up in the morning
if I’m going to lie on my bed
listening to records with the window open
and the door open and wait
in my boxers for love to enter in her dirty feet
and sweaty hands, if I’m going to pull her near me, my mouth
over a knuckle, my hand beneath her knee, he has to
still be here. On earth
survival is built out of luck and treatment centres
or slow like a planet being born, before
there was anyone to survive,
the gases of the Big Bang just settling, or it’s built
like a skyscraper, by hand, some workmen
falling, and some safe on the scaffold, up above the earth,
unwrapping the sandwiches they have been waiting all day to eat.

Matthew Dickman
The London Review of Books 

This was posted 2 years ago. It has 3 notes.