Category Archives: Dept. of Frustration

Music Review: “Working on a Dream,” Though Apparently Not Too Hard

It’s no coincidence that the release of Bruce Springsteen’s new album, Working on a Dream, comes a week after the joyous inauguration of President Obama. Bruce came out in support of Obama during the primary, and he stumped for his man just as he had for John Kerry.

The venture into politics is paying off huge: besides the obvious benefits of having a competent President, the Obama campaign appearances were clearly the launching pad for a whirlwind of publicity: a Golden Globe win here, an inauguration gig there, a Wal-Mart exclusive compilation for casual fans who should know all those songs already, a performance at the Oscars (that one didn’t pan out), and the pinnacle of American consumer culture, the Super Bowl half-time show.
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Date Me, The World Is Ending

No, seriously.

Back in the Traces

Scribblerist: Hi, my name is S_______ and I have writer’s block.

Writer’s Block Anonymous (WBA): Hi S_______.

Scrib: For the past six months I’ve been battling a serious case of writer’s block. It’s not been easy and, in fact, it’s been miserable. I worry about getting un-stuck all the time, and I feel guilty when I watch a movie or hang out with friends when I’m ‘supposed to be writing.’ I know you understand these feelings –

WBA: We do.

Scrib: And it’s not just writing. The frustration spreads, virus-like, to other parts of my life. I’ve been unhappy with my relationships, my body, and my late-model Toyota automobile.

WBA: (sympathetic noises)

Scrib: Thank you. Well, tonight I’m here to tell you, I’m back, I’m writing, and it feels great. I feel like professional athlete who’s on a steriod-fueled high after a three hour session with his motivational coach. I’m – wow – I’m living the dream. I’m writing my blog and working on a short story about a boat captain in New York. It’s great. Whoo!

WBA: Uh, what? That’s not helpful –

Scrib: Yeah! (singing) Don’t stop believing! Hold on da da to that daaa da! (upends lectern)

WBA: That’s it – (administers severe beating)

Scrib: (bleeding, broken) It feels good to be back.

Desk Jockey Life-Porn

My friend Jonathan is living in the Chinese coastal city of Dalian, a small metropolis he has described as a cross between San Francisco, Palm Beach, and Dubai; like Portland, but bigger, classier, wealthier, and Chinese. Apparently, Dalian is a collecting pool for all manner of young, hip Asians, Russians, and Americans, and he’s found work as an English tutor and author of language education textbooks, which he writes in a cafe part time, presumably while wearing loose-fitting linen clothing perfectly suited to writerly idling and the nursing of Bloody Marys. Here in New York, in the blinding hustle of unrestrained, collective Capitalistic striving, I stew in a mixture of admiration and jealousy. I should be in China, living simultaneously in the mountains and on the beach, which is apparently possible there, because the hills run directly to sand and ocean. Jonathan writes:

I took a jog this afternoon, but after ten minutes of running I found a little path that led into the mountains, and my jog turned into a brief sunset hike. Dalian is a mountain city, like San Fran Sans Trollies, and there ain’t nuttin’ butter then having a mountain trail ten minutes from your front door.

That is the language of the truly relaxed, of a man in harmony with his surroundings. Reading Jonathan’s blog, The Art of Living, I am reminded of living in Spain during my semester abroad in college and the value of an open-ended adventure devoid of conventional purpose. You don’t travel to make money or fall in love or advance a career; you travel to let striving fall away and find, in it’s place, a connection to movement and the ever-unfolding newness of the world that is difficult to see in the grinding rhythm of daily life and worries.  For a desk jockey, this sort of writing is a kind of porn – I read it to remind myself that I’m going to go see the world too, one of these days.

Cutting Through the Hype

Originally posted on One City, blog of the Interdependence Project

Regular readers know I’ve been swept up in the cacophony of chatter surrounding the race for the Democratic presidential nominee. Some of my commentary, I feel, has been worth reading, mostly for it’s entertainment value. Some, not so much.

On my morning blog cruise, I read this post by Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic. He says,

Pollster.com’s Mark Blumenthal has got me all guilty about reading meaning into randomness.

Curious, I read Blumenthal’s analysis of Gallup and Rasmussen’s polling data for the last 8-odd weeks (a warning to liberal arts types – it’s not technical, but it does contain numbers), and I realized just how wrapped up in the media hype I’ve been. I came away with the following conclusions:

1. Accounting for statistical methods, Obama and Clinton are essentially tied in the polls. They have been for weeks. This means:

2. The media has been using meaningless ups and downs in the polls to create fake news. Example: Last week’s mini-media-storm on Obama’s poll numbers immediately before and after his speech on race (given to address the also-meaningless Rev. Wright controversy).

3. Conclusion: Don’t trust the media. And don’t trust me. Discourse about actual policy has been hijacked for the past several weeks by empty drama.

A corollary observation: Obama’s oft-touted momentum may also be largely illusory. It feels real because I’m surrounded by ObamaHeads; I also seek out campaign videos and visit Obama’s campaign website (what better place to shore up my feeling that my guy is winning?). The reality of the race, however, is told in the popular vote and the delegate count, and Obama is winning both (although not by a great margin).

Endgame: It is mathematically extremely unlikely that HRC can catch up in pledged delegates, and politically highly unlikely that Superdelegates will defect to her en masse, thus handing her the nomination. In other words, it’s not a close race, it’s a done race. Everything else is narrative.

I’m no longer worried about Hillary rising in the eleventh hour like a zomboid Obama-killing robot; I’m worried about my own impressionable brain soaking up spin like a dry sponge. I am the liberal blogosphere’s ideal consumer and, in a way, I feel like I’m just waking up from a bad dream, where the landscape is constantly shifting, voices are shouting discordantly, and advertising is the only real constant.

Bio: Scribblerist writes for whoever will read him, like an ugly puppy that nobody wants. He holds no degree in Political Science from Harvard and is singularly unqualified to comment on matters political.

Update: The incomparable George Packer cuts down the hype with style.

Your Friday Hyuck (2)

New York is choked with rich people consuming conspicuously and making us staid, middle-class folks feel like nobodies (which we are, but we don’t like to think so). So when I stumble upon a lampoon of the trendy, Bacchic, hyper-Chelsea culture, I chuckle with envy. Check out this excerpt from Andy Borowitz’s humorous piece on the real estate ridiculousness in New York:

IN XANADU DID KUBLA KHAN a hedge-fund manager’s 3 BR, 4 BA pleasure dome decree. The West Village, Chelsea, and the meatpacking district are all a coke vial’s throw from this molten-hot trophy building that boasts New York’s highest concentration of douchebags. Just minutes from downtown’s chicest restaurants and just hours from being seated in one. Don’t miss out on the chance to have some dude from Merrill vomit outside your doorway while his skeletal girlfriend screams, “I know you’re doing my sister, you dick!” Recently indicted seller highly motivated. $4.25M.

Priceless in its accuracy. The whole thing is in this week’s New Yorker, which I subscribe to so I can feel cultured.

Shoelace

This was written for OneCity, blog of the Interdependence Project NYC

I’ve watched my shoelace get progressively shorter. The lace in question is attached to the right-side partner of a pair of black leather Kenneth Coles known as my Work Shoes (formerly, my Interview Shoes and before that, my Dress Shoes). I’ve had this pair of Coles since I was 16 and they’re scuffed on the sides and top, deeply creased where my toes bend when I walk, and the heels are worn in the particular groove of a moderate over-pronator.

“See?” said my podiatrist during my last visit, holding the left shoe closer to his face. “History of moderate over-pronation,” he concluded, like paleontologist inspecting a fossilized egg.

“Is that bad?” I asked.

“You’re going to need orthodics,” he said. I frowned.

“Are those expensive?”

In addition to over-pronation and an inclination towards shin splints (immediate and immobilizing), my feet smell like a rice paddy when wet. I am also a vigorous shoe-tier. I tie my shoes with authority, like an actor in a play trying to convey a powerful inner disposition. I yank and pull and wrench. That long, floppy lace is made my bitch, again and again. And usually it’s fine – sneaker and boot laces are tough and designed to take abuse.

This one, however, wasn’t built for punishment. The Kenneth C’s themselves are nice. Once, a tailor who was measuring me for a pair of slacks noticed them and exclaimed, “Oh! Italian?” I told him they were not and he shook his head in wonderment and said, “very nice.” Having no sense of fashion in men’s dress shoes, I came away thinking, “They must really be nice.”

I started my current job last June (type: Office/corporate, law-related, requiring education but not intelligence). The rules demand that I be clad in “Business Casual” attire at all times, so my Interview Shoes came in to heavy rotation as my Work Shoes. My first day of work, I sat down in my kitchen, full of English muffins and morning light a-streaming, and commenced tying. Leftie went fine. Switch to Rightie and SNAP. With the first tug, I broke the thin leather lace nearly in half. No time, I thought. First day. Go. Using a ball point pen for precision, I re-threaded and took off.

Six months on, the nubby, frazzled remains of my right shoelace have come to embody my attitude towards my job, and work in general. I’ve broken it twice more, and each time I move down one eyelet and re-thread, thinking, “I’ll replace it over the weekend.” Well, I’m down to the last eyelet. If I try to walk to the coffee room too fast, or skip to catch an elevator, the shoe flaps on and off my heel like a percussive jaw: fwop – fwop – fwop. It really is time to replace it, but I know I won’t until it snaps again and disintegrates, like a tiny leather spaghetti noodle in the wind. On that day, I’ll leave my desk and head downstairs in search of a replacement lace, dragging Rightie behind me like a club foot so he doesn’t come off. If someone asks me what’s wrong, I’ll smile ruefully and say, “Oh, nothing,” all the while thinking, You were tough, little one. We had a good run.