film: Dan in Real Life (2007)

One of the rules I try to keep is that if I wake up, I should get up. In the middle of the night it’s easy to convince oneself that if only it was possible to get out of bed at this moment ownership of the whole world is within grasp, every notion of genius in all history with every heartbeat, every car slipping past, every sleepless bird singing because the streetlights never go out—get out of bed and the world can be mine. But before making that move you begin to question it all. Sure, you can get up and do something great, but you’ll just get sleepy within a couple hours tops. You could drink coffee. Yeah, but that’s not healthy, four hours of sleep and some coffee, in fact, you really need to stop drinking coffee past five anyway, what were you thinking? But the ideas! They’ll be there in the morning. Write them down now. Well, nothing to write with, okay you’ll remember them. Yeah, but, you rationalize, maybe I feel sick. Maybe I feel hungry. I should eat. Maybe I have to piss. So you get up. There. The supreme impetus to greatness: the refusal to piss in one’s own bed.

So, I’m up! Checking vitals. Hungry. Eating snack. Head aches, teeth ache, therefore I’m stressed. See lava lamp and get tears in eyes, therefore I’m getting older. We find words to express degrees of being alive. I wake up thinking about my grandfather, I wake up thinking about how he’s got medications making him piss out whatever’s made his legs swell up. You don’t have a chance to run a few tests on the stability of your soul before giving it a good pat and sending it up to heaven. You’d think that one by one you could piss out your organs if they weren’t doing right, being that regardless everything finds its way out of your body whether you’re alive or not. So your legs swell up. Piss it out. We’re teaching robots and computers to fix themselves, but when your heart goes bad, you can’t just piss it out, you don’t wait until your last organ is passed before heading up to heaven. You take a look around, see where the neighborhood is heading, lock up and head out, you can always come back for the plumbing later if you find the need.

We watched Dan in Real Life last night.

A few days ago she made a comment on how something or other “that’s why I’m not really interested in history, I just don’t see how it applies.” I explain that I wasn’t interested until I began seeing how it applied—that at the end of the day I often don’t see the past as present. And not in a metaphorical sense. I listen to the news and they discuss the Ukraine, civil war, the loss of the Crimea to the Russians, I think “well, I don’t give a fuck, that’s not my family’s land.” By which I mean the land we never owned outside of Kiev that we left more than a century ago. And that’s when it strikes me: I will never, ever get another story out of my grandfather. All this time, and I still don’t know what makes him happy. Well, I try to console myself, I got a lot of stories out of him. I took all his slides. But what of it? My father’s known him for 60 or so years. I have a handful of great stories from this past week alone. Who asked me?

So then you resign yourself to all the things you aren’t, all the things you define yourself by and yet aren’t. Well, let’s face it. I’m not a poet. I’m not a songwriter. I’m not much of a musician. No, I’m just another schmo trying to make a buck so I can tack another room onto the condo. In WWI when most of the French didn’t speak French they handed you a language. That’s what they used to do. Give you a language. A team. An economics you tie yourself to with credit and can’t never get away from. I have allergies and poor digestion and keep thinking, yeah yeah, if I could just get this idea to get me all rich I could be happy because then I’d have a doctor and could buy all the starbucks I want! I got my insurance card in the mail today. Seems like just yesterday that I was advised to try to stay healthy for the next four years or so and then Obamacare will kick in and at least they can’t reject me anymore. Now that they can’t reject me, I’m bitter because they want me to pay for what I lied and begged for before. What is it that I want? To read. To attend synagogue and feel closer to God. To be French. To practice piano. I dreamed last night that I was walking up and down an aisle of books of classical music. I was determined to buy one.

It isn’t that our parents are getting older. It’s that they’ve always been older. It isn’t that I missed out being friends with them when I was young. It’s that we play certain roles. I couldn’t drink beers with my dad when he was in his 30s because I was busy being his child. I would joke with my grandfather, on my birthday tell him I’m catching up to his age. We feel time standing still, but we see it moving around us. It’s everyone else who’s getting older. What about them isn’t habit? What about them can we extract while it’s still real energy, what can we listen to that isn’t an echo of words they said decades ago? I see this look on her face, and she says “right!” in a way that indicates she’s annoyed with me—it happens when she remembers that I lived for 30 years before we met. It’s how I know that when you find love, you can’t expect from it to replace the people who have died. There are holes that must never be filled. You have just to expect it to pick up where the people who’ve died left off. Left you. With holes. You can’t expect your wife to be your grandparents too. She has to just take you and love you despite your grandparents-shaped holes. Most of those holes I guess you just cover up, put them on paper, and just keep building out your life, looking back when nobody’s watching.

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1793)

franklinI’m feeling a bit sad because I’d nearly finished writing about this book, and somehow the file’s been lost. My computer dies very easily and frequently, and the result is that I’ve learned to make the mistake of not saving files more often because I enjoy suffering.

Right. Ben Franklin’s Autobiography is, potentially, my favorite book ever by default. I’ve read it more times than I’ve read any other book. You might compare this to how the film I’ve seen more than any other is The Jacksons: An American Dream, the made-for-TV movie from 1992 that always seemed to be on television when I was younger, away from which I could never tear myself (phew—the awkwardness of ending sentences properly. But, when one only knows a single rule of grammar, one must apply it mercilessly). The fact of the matter is that it’s the first book in the first volume of the Harvard Classics, which all of a million times I’ve tried reading from start to finish, and never succeeded. But I always begin at the beginning, and, fortunately, I always receive a new bit of wisdom applicable to my life at the moment.

I’m struggling to remember the point of the last essay, which was ultimately based on a conversation Cindy and I had some weeks ago. Forgiveness. That was part of it. Let’s see how far I can get in retracing thoughts. But I don’t see how they apply.

I’ve been keeping my car’s radio on scanning the stations lately, and during the day there’s mostly Christian preaching, and I skip over it. But I heard the words “ten boom” as a station zipped past. I just had to get that on the table before I forgot. Oh, wait…the forgiveness, etc. essay I lost was about Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Apparently I never wrote anything on Franklin.

Anyway, I always pick up little things to apply to my life. When I read this in 2004, as I remember where I was sitting, hiding in a corner of the dry cleaner’s trying to avoid customers since I was supposed to be working,

  1.      Fundraising: I recall Franklin’s advice to someone who’s asking him to help with fundraising: make a list of everyone. Then, ask the people whom you know will give you money. Then, show the list of people who’ve given you money to the people who might give you money. And after that, go to the people who won’t give you money and show them the larger list.
  2.      Learning Languages: Don’t bother learning Latin first. Learn Spanish, Italian, and French, and then you’ll have an easier time with Latin, and if you never get to it, at least you have some living languages under your belt.
  3.      Strong drink makes strong men—is a false argument for drinking beer for breakfast. Franklin suggests that they should eat the quantity of grain used to make the beer, I guess in the form of oatmeal with some pepper ground on it, and some water, and they’ll end up with more energy.

This time, I came across passages on business:

  1.      If you’re working with someone else, no matter whom, draw up an agreement stating what each party expects of the other.
  2.      Deal honestly with everyone in business, and things should turn out okay.
  3.      Negotiate by finding ways for everyone to win. He wanted to eat vegetarian when he was working for his brother, and his brother didn’t want to have to pay for separate meals for him when nobody else was vegetarian. So he asked his brother to give him, I think, less than the amount of his meal cost, so his brother saved the money, and half of that money he used to buy his ingredients and cook for himself, and then he also got to spend his eating time reading rather than hanging out with the other workers. So everyone won.
  4.      It’s proper to work your fucking ass off. And you need to convince your loved ones of this.

Around the time I was reading this, these two passages stirred something inside me of what was occurring in my life at the present. The fourth is most difficult for me. Although it ought to be simple, I think I have very little to give right now.

Well, what? All I got out of the book was practical advice.

Bataille, Story of the Eye, “Simone”

Pull out your pencil–we’ve got another awkward fantasy to illustrate. So, in this one, Marcelle’s legs are over the narrator’s shoulders, she’s pissing on him while he’s pissing on her breasts, and Simone’s also pissing on her back, and he’s poking Simone’s nipples with guns that have just been shot, and Simone’s pouring creme fraiche on Marcelle’s anus, and that pretty much covers it. When you stop and think about it, the length of time it takes to get into this position is probably longer than the amount of time they can spend enjoying it. Also, synchronized urination is probably fairly difficult to achieve. But that’s the beauty of fantasies, I suppose.

Part of my efforts to gain more time in my day and health in my life has involved poaching an egg every morning. If I fail to cook my egg, I don’t get to eat until lunch. If I try making it and it explodes or something, I only get to eat what I can fish out of the bowl. I’ve been trying to not just “try harder” at doing stuff–I’ve been actively punishing myself for failing, all across the board. Punishments work so much better than rewards.

But this chapter is where our star duo begin playing with eggs, raw, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, in the bidet, in the toilet, in the anus, you name it!…which is going to make breakfast tomorrow morning significantly more unhappy than usual for me.

Something about the eggs strike the characters as particularly blush-inspiring. Eggs, like eyeballs (yes, she tries to suck the narrator’s eye out of his head); eggs, like testicles (which, unfortunately, we’ll come to a wonderful description of in a later chapter). A fascinating parallel here is in this novel’s being published a year before the release of Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel’s first film, in which that classic eyeball-slicing scene takes place. (Yeah, you know you want to see the eyeball-slice…so here you go, you hero, you.)

Upon my asking what the word urinate reminded her of, she replied terminate, the eyes, with a razor.

Published a year before Bunuel filmed this scene!! And so long as we’re discussing Spaniards and testicles, it was Lorca who described Spain as stretched out “like the hide of a bull. . .it has the shape of an animal hide, and a sacrificial animal at that. In this geographical symbol lies the deepest, most dazzling and complex part of the Spanish character.” And, indeed, the characters will make their way to the bullfights (where the testicles make their dreadful appearance).

As the chapters progress, you might have noticed, the symbolism is getting piled on pretty thick, complete with italics, just in case you missed the connection between eyes and eggs (a connection which must also be in French, as I’d ALWAYS mix up those two words while speaking French, particularly while grocery shopping, to the horror and delight of my pals).

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this extended run of entries about Bataille, but for now we’ll have to say farewell to him for a little while, as we’ve reached page 40, which according to my reading list means it’s time to move on to other books for a while.