Pish Tosh

Monday, June 27

The Icy Dildo: or, My Imaginary Internet Friend

I have a blog crush. This is not so strange, as I have had or still have a blog crush on all, like, four of you who will read this post. But this one, it goes beyond. It's not just that I ardently wish to be 1/10th as funny sometimes as is everything that comes outta her, er, mouth, typewriter, whatever, or that she has nice cheekbones in the pictures of her you occasionally can find. Or even the fact that she uses the word "ballsac" or the phrase "pumpkins full of owl shit."

What it is that's really put me over the edge is that I found out, by reading her archives obsessively is how I found out, that not only is her birthday the same week as mine, but we graduated high school the same year. Since that time, I've attended college and graduate school, which I still attend albeit RELUCTANTLY, and my writing has gotten for me the modest favor of two eensy weensy publications in periodicals with circulations the size of the staff at my dentist's office. Since that time, she's attended college, interviewed famous bands, had a career, and her writing has gotten her not only fired, but also interviewed in The New York Times, Good Morning America, and a lot of other major national forums. And her readership is apparently the size of the entire democratic party in this state, fifty or sixty or TEN-THOUSAND times over.

So. It's like she's ME. ONLY BLONDE. AND WITH CHEEKBONES. AND SOUTHERN. AND MORMON. AND A GRAPHIC DESIGNER. AND REALLY REALLY FAMOUS. But like me, nevertheless: WE WERE BORN IN THE SAME MONTH.* When EMF released their seminal album, the one with "You're Unbelievable," we were BOTH sophomores in high school. THAT HAS TO COUNT FOR SOMETHING!

Normally, instead of going all capital about it on my blog, I'd probably send her an e-mail that says "YOU PROBABLY HEAR THIS ALL THE TIME BUT YOUR BLOG IS AWESOME!" However, I'm reluctant to do so, and that's because last time I initiated e-mail correspondence with a blogger, she wrote back to me and we had an entertaining and rewarding friendship for almost two years.

Then, I learned that she didn't exist.

I first clicked on this blogger, when I saw her mentioned here, because she had the same name as I. My name is weird, and if you do ever see it it's on a boy, so I was interested to discover a technically-literate young drama queen of the same name, with a knack for writing a blog. Drama. In the two years I spent with her, not only did she do her boss, get a new job, visit her birth mother, and take in her cousin's pregnant ex-girlfriend, she also got engaged to and unengaged from a woman. By the end of the blog, it was all drama and steamy, graphic depictions of lesbian sex.

But what I thought was, she was writing a memoir in front of us, and maybe making some stuff up. Because she existed. Oh yes. There were pictures of her on her blog, a pretty but not stunning young woman in the very locales she described, and pictures too of all her supporting characters, like Adopted Sister and Former Best Friend and Spanish Go-Go Dancer. When the blogger got a haircut, she posted supporting pictures of herself with the new haircut. Ditto when she gained weight.

This is a long and sordid story I guess I don't feel like getting into as much as I thought, when I began this post, that I felt like getting into it. Suffice it to say, I have 60+ e-mails from this woman, still, in my overstuffed inbox. (Really. I just counted.) In these e-mails, she elaborates on and offers further insight into her relationships with various family members and partners mentioned on the blog. She gives me a pep talk about first moving in with K., she reveals that she searched for and found and read a story of mine on the web. She gives me advice about buying a Volkswagen, and she has a long argument with me about pornography and to what extent it exploits women. (In case you're wondering, I was the one who was like, well, don't women watch porn too? It doesn't have to be seen as ALL exploitative, right? And she was all like "my viewpoint is sociobiological" and "in my experience with the ladies on the field hockey team...") She knew my household well enough to ask relevant questions like, "how's the masturbating dog?"

For example, here's an e-mail in which she elaborates on why she keeps her dildo in the freezer:
You never tried it before? Omigod girl, you don't
know what you're missing! Take it out of the freezer
right before a long hot bath, then afterward retire to
the boudoir and mmmmm!

A year ago, she took her site down again and replaced it with a Polish error message. Similar stunts had happened before, and she always reincarnated a few days later with more tales of drama. This time, however, a discussion got started in her absence here, and that was that. By about halfway through this interminable comment thread, the amateur sleuths of the blogworld had pretty irrevocably shown: this chick, she was a hoax, perpetrated by a middle-aged man with a wife and kids.

A MIDDLE AGED MAN. GAVE ME ADVICE ABOUT FREEZING DILDOS. My god, was this something he heard about from someone else? Or was it something he MADE UP just to see if I would DO it? (I never did. And yes, he knew what I looked like 'cause I sent a little picture to give my correspondent a face since I'd seen so many of "her." I am totally gullible.)

I had a pretty hard time with this at first. What got me was mainly how ELABORATE this hoax was. Not only was this a regularly-updated blog with long, rich entries, BUT ALSO the "girl blogger" had full-fledged e-mail relationships with me AND A BUNCHA OTHER PEOPLE. "She" commented regularly on a bunch of other blogs, and even IM'd with a lot of people.

This guy had to have spent, like four or five hours a day EVERY DAY "being" this girl. TOTALLY. WEIRD. I also felt -- and still feel, I have to admit -- kind of mad about the emails. That "she" let me believe we were... discussing our personal lives. Equitably. It was worse for other people: the "blogger" had been "raped in Mexico," went the story line, so a lot of readers had e-mailed her with their own most private violations. I had nothing like that, but it's still totally weird.

Like this one time we had a fight. I remember I went running after we had the fight. I remember my feet pounding into the twisted ground, pounding out all the bad feelings about why, why, why, no matter how kindly you tried to be, could you not express your reservations about someone else's beliefs without it being all like you are trying to wound THAT PERSON? Rather than to offer an alternative? Or at least, to express a differing viewpoint?

But I had a fight with a person who didn't exist. It was all in my head. If that's not a spur to Buddhism, I don't know what is.

And what to make of THIS?
This really feels like
girltalk to me. Boys tend to send me these regimented
call-and-response type emails, quoting and everything,
and sometimes I try to play along but not lately
anymore, I just save it for work. So I probably sound
retarded all the time now, instead of just most of the

But here's a strange thing. I "faked" in my e-mails to "her," too, because I thought she was more "naive" and "girly," than me. So I did the enthusiastic "OH, THAT'S SO WEIRD" thing or whatever, "practicing" my "empathy" skills.

So I was doing a mild version of the same thing I'm still kinda mad at him for doing. And aren't we all doing this, all the time?

So. I have to admit I admired the guy, what he'd pulled off, and I felt a tiny bit "proud" to be part of it. The native informant. Like the time I sent an e-mail ruminating on domesticity and the very next day, to document domesticity, he posted a picture of the Go Go dancer peeling potatoes. And I don't believe that he was MERELY taking advantage of all who wrote to him. Here's from an e-mail I got after it had all come out. I sent him an e-mail, addressed finally to HIM, where I was like, wow, totally weird that you did this.
[T]hat's what I've been missing all these years -- the
friends I made without really making them, and all the
genuine interactions we could've had.

Take you, for example. Do you know how hard it was to
pass up that common ground? I live in a world where
people have MBAs not MFAs, and reading means the WSJ
or whatever you bought at the airport, and writing is
just a commoditized skill that results in productized
content. Now you tell me you're contemplating the
same choice I did, novel or dissertation. That's too
funny or something.

Yeah. Only then he never wrote me again. See what good friends we were? And this post has also got me thinking about an accusation by another former friend, about how I am "bad" at relationships "with women." I was like, how dare you extrapolate from my relationship with YOU to my relationship with ALL WOMEN? Still. I'm sensitive about it. I can't even tell a real woman from a man faking a woman. And when I DO have a best-friend woman with an actual, documentable vagina, we piss the hell out of each other because I have a very small tolerance for obligatory compliments. I love compliments... it's just the OBLIGATORY ones I hate. Also, don't make fun of the college I went to. Or if you do, don't expect me to like it. Also, I don't want to share my deodorant with you and I don't want to cover your shifts at work.

Obviously, I need a boot camp about How to Love Women, beause clearly men and their evil, evil culture have trained me to HATE women.

Anyhow, this is why I'm reluctant to write to bloggers. Heather Armstrong, I don't believe she exists. You can say to me, there are the pictures! There is the blog of her husband! There is her Flickr site! There is the New York Times section with the picture of her baby on the front! And I will say to you, Yes. Isn't this "Heather Armstrong" rather overdetermined? Are we not INUNDATED with reasons to reasons to believe in her existence, reasons PERFECTLY CALCULATED to weaken our defenses? Against what future invasion, I ask you.

So I will continue my crush from afar. For now.

*Different years, sure, but, you know, THE SAME MONTH.

Sunday, June 26

The like awful English language

A love story

When I was thirteen I fell in love. It was pure and true, and had nothing to do with the monstrous crush I had on a skinny, swimming, crying-in-history-class-after-he-lost-first-chair-in-band-class trumpet player named Jeff, though that crush was so monstrous that I wrote his name upstairs under all the peeling wallpaper. When my dad finally got around to stripping off 50 years worth of haphazardly-applied falling-to-dust irregularly-peeling wallpaper, there you could see them, like termites, on the naked wallboard: little hearts with I Love Jeff declared inside.

No, the love I mean here is the love of semicolons, which I met through my favorite book, The World According to Garp. For example:
Garp shoved Benny so that Benny's rump slouched into the bar sink; the sink was full of soaking glasses, and the water sloshed up onto the bar.

The women looked helpless in their summer dresses; the loading of station wagons was hurried and miserable.

Through Garp, I also met the colon:
But Garp wondered: if he bought the condoms now, would they still be usable for graduation?

And discovered you could use BOTH in the same sentence, ALONG WITH A DASH:
One of them was Harrison Fletcher; his field was the Victorian Novel, but Helen liked him for other reasons--among them: he was also married to a writer.

Yes, I read about condoms when I was thirteen, and also about people biting the tips off penises when their husband accidentally rammed from behind the car in which they were fellating someone else. My father, a passable hippy, always said, "I will not censor your reading! Because with information you can DECIDE FOR YOURSELF!" and so I read this book, which had passages like: "The organizer tied several ribbons on the animal's organ, each colored bow an inch apart. The girl approached the animal, rubbing oil into her thighs and abdomen and coaxing the animal to lick her body." And then I was like Ew! No way! And it was probably a better deterrent to consummating sexual relations than telling me not to consummate sexual relations would have been.

Meanwhile, my mother -- whose feelings on censorship differ from my father's in that NO WAY CAN MY CHILD LISTEN TO THIS FILTH -- was taking away my little brother's George Michael tape, but it was too late. The fateful words, Sex is Natural, Sex is Fun, Sex is Best When it's One on One had already turned my brother into a homosexual.

In college, where I learned about new things like Rage Against the Machine, the Garlic Chicken Burger with Cheese Fries, and lesbians, a new extender of syntax came into my life: the parentheses. I was introduced to the pair of them through a virtuoso, Vladimir Nabokov, no slouch with the semicolon himself.
Finally, Ada showed Van a letter from Dr. Krolik on the same subject; it said (English version): "Crimson-blotched, silver-scaled, yellow-crusted wretches, the harmless psoriatics (who cannot communicate their skin trouble and are otherwise the healthiest of people--actually, ther bobo's protect them from bubas and buboes, as my teacher used to observe) were confused with lepers--yes, lepers-- in the Middle Ages, when thousands if not millions of Vergers and Vertograds crackled and howled bound by enthusiasts to stakes erected in the public squares of Spain and other fire-loving countries."
The sentences, they go on forever, playful and piquant and so loooooong. Seventeen years old and desparate to get my boyfriend to have sex with me or, failing that, to find a new one who would, I circumnavigated a whole book of sentences like this, then drifted hungrily to English class, where sunbeams bounced off the dusty blond hair of a boy who years later would take me to Italy. Culture was coming into my life, and it featured a complicated prose style.

My very favorite instance of parentheses is the narratively succinct "picnic, lightning" from this sentence in Lolita:
My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you all know blah blah blah, sentence goes on for quite some time golden midges.

It's no wonder many papers I wrote in graduate school came back with comments like Good writing but WOW! LONG SENTENCES! YOU NEED AN EDITOR! This in spite of the fact that my other great love in college was Denis Johnson, whose beautiful prose could never be called bodacious.
Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn't know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That's what gave her such power over us.

I am taking a (required-for-the-taking-of-PhD-exams) German translation class, presumably because the ability to tell a German dative preposition from an accusative one will have a material and, one gathers, positive effect on my ability to indoctrinate future students into, uh, the study of English.

German is fun. The funnest part of German is the way modifiers work, or rather -- as my book calls them -- Extended Adverbial Constructions. Because in German you write Extended Adverbial Constructions, it means you're SUPPOSED to write, as I did above,
a skinny, swimming, crying-in-history-class-after-he-lost-first-chair-in-band-class trumpet player named Jeff
instead of something most English teachers might steer you toward, something more like
Jeff, who was skinny, who swam on the swim team, and who cried (like a little pussy, most of the class thought, though I didn't because I liked pussies, as long as they were Jeff) all during history class one day because he'd just got beat out for first chair trumpet in band class...

This quality among others, such as the fact that German writers are apparently allowed just to make up random compoud words like WeFeelingofConfidence or HatHairHating, gives it a bad rap, as my father reminds me every single time I mention taking a German class. "Have you ever read Mark Twain's 'The Awful German Language'?" he'll ask. "Ha! Ha ha!"

But German isn't so bad. Still, is it so supple as English, so capable of wrapping its legs around its own head?

One summer I went to a Nabokov exhibit at the New York Public Library. Wow, was it ever hot that day! Much like today.

I had an epiphany in the Nabokov room. In English, you can put prepositional phrases wherever you like. You can write
The idea was based from the first on the notion of ice cream
or you can write
From the first was the idea based on the notion of ice cream
or you can write
The idea was, from the first, based on the notion of ice cream.
It's amazing. And further, deftness lets you stick the phrase in the slightly surprising slot, the nevertheless grammatical result of which lends interest to your writing. It makes you look a pro. Every time I think of this, I think of a poker player rolling chips across his knuckles, and in this case the chips are the deftly-moving syntactical units.

There was meant to be a further titillating story about my affair with Stanley Cavell, whose appositives yield perfectly balanced sentences and who can turn content on a dime, if that dime is a word that means a perfectly clear thing in one clause but in the next opens out ass over teakettle onto its other meaning. But nevermind. That's not the point. Even if parallelism is totally sexy. My first e-mail to my husband K. contained mostly a compliment about his "elegant" prose in class. It was awesome. His sentences were so long.

The POINT here is that despite an abiding love of precisely slotted clauses and of the stately pleasure domes of sentences lifted out of the mud by the magical bindings of colons, dashes and parentheses, I totally love to use teen-girl faves like totally as my drumbeat. I love to begin sentences with Dude: and I love to soften up a slab of prose by tossing in a couple of "likes," with or without the coordinating set of commas. (Usually without.)

And I suppose probably some of it is a semi-conscious deliberate decision to take my prose down a peg or two, take the starch out of it, to bring in the readers and Fuddy Duddies of Formal Diction be damned. To let rhythm dictate when I'll violate rules, to tease out the music of how people really speak. (THOUGH I HATE THE SOUND OF THE SPLIT INFINITIVE, EVEN IF IT'S NOW "OKAY." DAMN YOU SPLIT INFINITIVE! DAMN YOU CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE!)

Not that anyone's complained, but it has seemed funny to me, an erstwhile teacher of grammar, to toss off titles like "I totally thought this would happen" or "What if, like, Sylvia Plath had a blog?" But you know what? IT TOTALLY SOUNDS GOOD THAT WAY.

However -- and I've probably told you this one -- a lovah once seriously said, to me, in bed, "You are the only woman down on whom I've wished to go." DOWN ON WHOM I WISH TO GO. Yeeeeeeah. Not sexy, which maybe explains also the difficulty with keeping erections. But then he ran off with my Amazonian, published, rich roommate (who looked terrific in mini-skirts), had eight interviews his first trip to MLA, got a tenure-track job, and lived happily ever after. So I guess that shows what the gods think of those who value grammar EVEN WHEN IT SOUNDS WEIRD.

Saturday, June 25

Do you ever think about what if, like, Sylvia Plath had a blog? Would it be cool or would it be like, ugh, I have such bad PMS today?

Lately I guess I don't know what I want to do, in the immediate. Or it's that I am incapable of juggling projects. I don't want things to TOUCH, just like I always wanted my food divided into separate experiences: corn first, mashed potatoes with butter next, salty ham last. Not together. One, then the next.

Summer is a time for exercise, though suddenly the exercise has to be done first thing because these are sauna days. It is a time for fruit and vegetables, though I'm skipping the Farmer's Market to go running in a minute. It is a time for translating German, something true to form I have to do right before class in the morning.

Hypothetically, those side dishes still leave plenty of time, but once afternoon hits I just sit on the porch, eat wasabi peanuts, and listen to books on my iPod. The trouble being, of course, that Audible.com and other books-on-tape companies don't exactly cater to the studying-for-phD exams crowd. The Queen of America goes to Washington City? No. So I am listening, again, to Drop City.

The Exercising, Translating German, Resisting the Heat portion and the Writing A Book portion and the Doing Exams portion of my life are all supposed to be happening simultaneously, yet like the food on my plate I don't want them to touch. I want to do one of them at a time. Slowly.

I have gotten out of the habit of trusting myself to be able to get things done. My self-confidence is an itsy-witsy little julienned slip of a translucent thing.

It's a good chance to practice stoicism, dealing with discomfort, patience.

Friday, June 24

Three-Ton Vigilante

In summer I ride my bike to school. My little contribution to lessening the traffic problem, plus also there's nowhere to park near campus ever anyway.

I'm self-righteous about it. I ride on the street, with traffic, and I obey all traffic rules except for one. Someone died in this town recently by riding their bike the wrong way down a one way street, straight into a dump truck. The dump truck was turning onto the street and had a green light. This is a very sad story but HELLO, DON'T RIDE YOUR BIKE THE WRONG WAY ON THE STREET, AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT STAY OFF THE SIDEWALK; YOU'RE THE REASON DRIVERS HATE BICYCLISTS.

I reserve most of my wrath, though, for drivers. If you are driving near me and do something stupid like turn without using your signal or insist on passing me even though I'm going as fast as you and your passing me causes you then to have to cut me off at a stop sign, I'll say right out loud "IT'S CALLED A TURN SIGNAL DUMBASS!" or "HELLO, BIKES ARE VEHICLES!"

But I told you there's one traffic rule I ignore and it's stop signs. Not ALL stop signs; I'm not an idiot. Or, you know mostly not. Mostly I stop at stop signs. But on the way to school there's a half-mile vaguely down-hill stretch with stop signs every block. It's a huge frickin' pain to stop at all of them and have to start up again, so I take stock of the situation as I approach and if no one's coming or if it's clearly going to be my turn I blaze on through. It's ninety degrees out here, people, and each time I have to start my bike up from scratch it's using up energy that came into my body by virtue of the fossil fuels needed to drive the trucks that bring the cans of organic chickpeas to the store. Each time I have to come to an UNNECESSARY complete stop, it uses up THAT MANY MORE fossil fuels. DO YOU WANT THE TERRORISTS TO WIN? I didn't think so.

Also, I'm usually running late.

So today, a van is beginning through the intersection perpendicular to me as I approach. I slow a bit but clearly the van will make it through the intersection well before I get there so I'm not slowing much but. The. Van. Is. Now. Going. So. Slow.

Inching. Crawling. Stopping.

I drift past the stop sign and around the van as it finally clears the intersection and stops and the man who's driving hangs his head out the window and yells back at me.


At first I'm kinda mad and then I'm kinda happy because that man, he is just like me. He recognizes the importance of the traffic rules. Even though in this case obviously he's a little bit wrong since I'm on a BIKE and the little extra bit of virtue I gain from that fact makes up for me fudging the stop sign a little.

Then I'm even happier because the man's logic. It MAKES NO SENSE!

This man is so worried that the approaching bicyclist might have the fucking nerve not to come to a complete stop... a situation he addresses by COMING TO A COMPLETE STOP HIMSELF IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERSECTION. IN A VAN. IN TRAFFIC.

In the summer, in July, in the United States of America, where lost cub scouts avoid their rescuers because the rescuers are strangers and where scientology woos alumni of the television show, Dawson's Creek.

Sunday, June 19


One two three.

(taps mike.)

Is this thing on?

Thursday, June 2

All you people who Google things like, "Freakiest Picture Ever," somehow thereby landing at my disappointingly unpicturesque website?

You have to see this.

Wednesday, June 1

All about the phlegmatic persona

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