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the joy of stress

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1. Strange. I seem to have, through canniness and sheer force of will, sorted out some major problems in the last week, short term ones and long term ones. I am somewhat remarkable in a crisis. What will! What energy! What absolute drive to solve problems and not stop until they are solved. That’s not what’s strange. I knew about that already. (In a sense, this is why I have been successful on the job market. The job market, remember, is just one big crisis.) What’s strange is that sorting it out has left me a little bit – OK a lot bit – depressed. Almost as if I miss the stress, the joy of stress. Almost as if, despite the misery I’ve been through over the last ten days, there’s a part of me – OK a lot of me – that actually loves to live that way. Lives to live that way.

2. Mrs. Ads says to me, Yes, but we need to learn to enjoy life a bit. But we she means me. She procedes to cry rather interestingly and perhaps symptomatically through the terminal and real split-up scenes in the climactic episode of Mad Men Season 3. Telling the kids and all that. Keep in mind, and spoiler warning, it is of course Mrs. Draper who is driving this split. At least locally. On the show I mean. Hmmm… Don’t jump to conclusions – it’s way more complicated than that, as marriage always is, especially once kids and jobs are involved.

3. Art follows life. The climactic episode of Mad Men Season 3 is all about precarity, omifuckinggod precarity, and then turning it around on the bosses just before they fire you. They consolidate to save labor expenses, you heroically rise up to fuck them over by bravado and skill. Our fantasies, ourselves. For those who do not understand Americans and how they respond to things (I’ve encountered at least a few recently, as you might be able to tell) this episode would be a very good primer. Especially the temporality involved. Literally the second that shit starts to go wrong, they get down to business, chosing conspirators, stealing files, organizing a coup.

4. Someone today read the first chapter post-introduction and described it  as “very sexy.” That’s a nice way to put it. Phew. Someone else (OK – Mrs. Ads) just said that there is so much of me in this book, really a ridiculous amount for an academic book. Not a single mention of me, of course. ** I think this has something to do with why it was so hard to finish. It is the most impersonal memoir imaginable, but memoir it in fact is. People say this sort of shit all the time, but it’s rarely all that true. In this case it’s true.  Others have understood in a sense without reading the book: Why did you write about X, when X is the thing that is absolutely impossible for you to handle, even for a minute. As they knew, they’d already answered their own question.

5. Part of the reason that it’s a memoir, but only part, is that about 75 percent of me is made of But what do we make, really, of the style indirect libre? Sounds bleak. Part of me wishes that meant I was dry and academic, boring and office-hugging. Unfortunately it means exactly the opposite of that. These questions are hard, and running from them can take you along way in life.

6. Now that Mad Men is over till next August (oh jesus) we have to find something new to watch. I glanced at the HBO website to see what we’ve been missing and found this. It’s a precis of a series called Bored to Death:

Jonathan Ames, a young Brooklyn writer, is feeling lost. He’s just gone through a painful break-up, thanks in part to his drinking, can’t write his second novel, and carouses too much with his magazine editor. Rather than face reality, Jonathan turns instead to his fantasies — moonlighting as a private detective — because he wants to be a hero and a man of action.

The offbeat comedy series ‘Bored to Death,’ created by Jonathan Ames (author of several books, including the acclaimed graphic novel ‘The Alcoholic’), follows the misadventures of a fictional Jonathan Ames as he pursues his quixotic dream of emulating his heroes from classic private detective novels.

[post edited because I was being a dick and was rightly called out for it by someone, well after the fact… I apologize… Half of point 6 is now gone, as is point 7…]

8. Someone suggested that I ask anyone, you know, like your father, to copy-edit my manuscript. Hahahahahaahaha! What sort of world ended I up in? I told him there were only three books in our house when I was growing up, aside from the World Book Encyclopedias I begged them to buy me and buy me they did. The first, and oldest, was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I assume a wedding present. The second was what some have called “the best business book ever,” Barbarians at the Gate which (from a highly us-centric angle) chronicled the first brush with precarity that I can remember (my dad is an extra in it, not named), and The Joy of Stress, which may or may not have been a gag gift at some point.

9. So my dad can’t copy-edit my book, no. In fact, I sent him an email to look over yesterday before I sent it, a highly important one. It took him an unreasonable amount of time to read it – like 20 minutes for a 500 word message. I sat on the phone while he did so I know. But he did, I must say, copy-edit it just the right way, taking out one line, changing a certain word. Because, readers, I won today with that message. Just wish that I could, you know, enjoy winning. But really it only makes me miss the game itself.

By winning, let me me clear, I mean that things seem to have returned simply to relatively frantic normalcy. Nothing more exciting than that.

Both the ability to win and the inability to take winning to heart, both of these things are mine because I am the conscientious only-son of an interesting man whose definining traits are his insatiable need to be anxious and his incredible ability to look calm and charismatic in a crisis.

** In fact, in the previous iteration there was a tiny, 5 pp segment on how I came up with the project before and after 9/11, and how 9/11 inflected the development of the book. Wasn’t cheesy, trust me – and involved a rather smart archive-driven history of the emergence of the phrase “the new normal.” (I should actually go back and cut that out and expand it and publish it… hmmm…) This was mentioned in a reader’s report, and made the editor flip out, rather unreasonably I think. So I’ve eradicated every drop of “I” in the new version.

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 17, 2009 at 1:11 am

Posted in me

14 Responses

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  1. Roth’s gonna be pissed when he reads this.


    November 17, 2009 at 4:10 am

  2. After 3 seasons of fascinated indecision, I finally fell in love with Mad Men after that last episode, and now the wait for season 4 already feels like forever. Is this what it’s like to write a book? 3+ years of not-knowing – if it’s good, if it’ll ever be finished, if you’re saying anything pertinent – and then when the end comes, and your questions are answered, you realise that they weren’t being asked in the first place, and the only question, or the only one that matters, is ‘what else am I going to do instead of watching 36 hours of a show I might not even like’?


    November 17, 2009 at 4:42 am

  3. Also re: Bored to Death – it might be my age (25) or my relative cultural isolation (Australia), but I’m a willing consumer Brooklyn fantasias, at least in theory, or though now that I write I can’t think of any of them I’ve like (except the first half of Fortress of Solitude, which makes me sound like James Wood); I guess I’m willing to believe, but I never get around to reading the necessary theodicies. And I probably never will, after the traumatic experience of Bored to Death episode 1. Jason Schwartzman spend the entire time looking like he’d rather be ironing Wes Anderson’s cordurouy. And it’d be a more productive way of spending his time.


    November 17, 2009 at 4:51 am

  4. You can add The Brief Life of Oscar Wao and Absurdistan to that list too, rounding it out to make a multucultural NYC wankery. I mean, I liked the books and thought they were smart, funny writers, but why the hell can you not even _try_ to come up with an interesting plot? Value the everyday etc etc etc sure, but seriously, a plot where the protagonist loves and collects comic books and grows up to be a creative writing faculty member? ??? At least Amazing Kavalier and Clay had the people _do something_ that was not exactly the fucking same thing the author did every morning. Meh.

    Anyway, I’m glad the book is working out. When do I get to see a copy? Oh, and did you get to meet the editor, to have him/her sell you a complete set of the encyclopedia brittanica in return for possibly passing your manuscript along?

    And go learn to enjoy leisure for at least five minutes at a time.


    November 17, 2009 at 5:36 am

  5. jpd,

    that was a joke! and a mean one about his latest novel!


    I absolutely and unmediatedly love Mad Men, and have from way back. The only wrong step I’ve seen in the show so far came in the otherwise fantastic last episode of the third season, when Draper force-retro-predicts that the age of Amerian innocence was over. Too much.


    a plot where the protagonist loves and collects comic books and grows up to be a creative writing faculty member?

    HA! And think of the meta-implications of posting that here. You’re about to cause an explosion of Bourdieuvian proportions.

    (I’ve actually thought about rewriting the first bit of the Rules of Art for the present day. The problem is there’d be no Baudelaire / Flaubert. That is to say no heroes….)

    I’ve not sold the book yet, Sisyphus. Just finished it. Still have a long road to hoe.

    And go learn to enjoy leisure for at least five minutes at a time.

    I smoke! That’s exactly how long I can stand “leisure”!


    November 17, 2009 at 8:00 am

  6. I once had a fantasy that the naval-gazing, middle-class, incestuous stew that is goddamn Brooklyn would produce an army of irredeemably inbred pseudo-boho mongoloids (imagine “28 Days Later” but instead of flesh, they feast on back issues of Vice Magazine) who could only be destroyed by fire-bombing the borough off the map.

    As for new entertainment – I take it you’ve already watched “The Wire”. If not, do it. (And that’s not just some lingering fealty to my onetime “hometown” talking!)


    November 17, 2009 at 8:00 am

    • I not only watch the Wire. I teach graduate seminars on it.

      Next! Seriously, what’s good. And be very wary of suggesting anything from the free-to-air networks. I don’t watch those. Someone help us out!


      November 17, 2009 at 8:26 am

      • Breaking Bad is pretty brilliant.


        November 17, 2009 at 4:28 pm

      • Though it is on a major network, I recommend Friday Night Lights. It’s the kind of heartwrenching, but smart show that DFW might have imagined when he proposed at the end of the millenium that writers need to return to simple human emotions, the need for faith, sincerity, and so forth. It’s got the sociological perspective of the Wire, but is less reflexively cynical, so you end up, whether you like it or not, succumbing to all kinds of sentimental, uncritical reactions: cheering for the characters, worrying about their future, tearing up and hoping your wife doesn’t notice, etc. Season 1 at least is good. It kind of falls off after that.


        November 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm

      • Man, I really don’t know what’s going on with TV these days… uh, how about “Columbo”? “Homicide”?

        You could always take up some kind of arcane hobby – learning Icelandic or collecting singles by The Fall…


        November 18, 2009 at 2:53 am

      • So Brooklyn it hurts, maybe, and you’ll probably hate it, but PFFR are doing things with the puerile-profound that I’ve never seen before. Their shows were Wonder Showzen (canceled) and Xavier: Renegade Angel (canceled).


        November 18, 2009 at 6:27 pm

      • Good. So what did you think of Generation Kill? I’d be genuinely interested to know, have found it difficult to unknot my own thoughts about it.


        November 18, 2009 at 9:14 pm

  7. I’ve been enjoying Californication. I think. Anyways, I watch it without fail.


    November 17, 2009 at 7:14 pm

  8. stress
    athletic-mindset that warps the rest of our experience
    [i don’t feel academically productive unless I’m on the my 3rd day without sleep and with 10 pages left to write]
    (see also: miss the game itself, the ability to win and the inability to take winning to heart)

    primacy of the episodic, huh? I’ve got little to suggest. maybe catch a good film (or, if you can spare the time, a good film)

    Brooklyn aesthetics
    the replacement of the archetype of the male with the archetype of the failed-male (comic books, but also Apatow). power fantasies in a world where masculinity – which we could posit as the capability of resistance – has been entirely drummed out by capital. (see also: Tarantino)

    I’m actually {cough} really excellent at this {cough}, but can you afford me?


    November 18, 2009 at 10:43 pm

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