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saturday morning report: homo economicus

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I manage myself just as we all have been managed for the past decade, more than the past decade. Struggling with disequilibrium and underperformance, I offer myself yet another promise of soft reform – a renewed investment in rational organization, transparency and efficiency.

Instead of a superego, I have a blue-ribbon panel of Chicago School economists. Instead of an ego, I have an idealistic head of state who has long-since worked out the fact another world isn’t possible. Instead of an id, I have a dysfunctional market mechanism, taking profit just before the bonuses for the season are decided.

And Saturday mornings are when they let the numbers out. Heads shake, eyes roll, pundits yelp for reform until someone takes the podium to deliver the requisite talking points. We have a plan that we believe will restore confidence in our failing…

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May 9, 2009 at 10:13 am

Posted in me

number two

with 5 comments

Ah, well she’s here and everyone’s healthy. Some things went smoothly and others distinctly didn’t, which amounted to a stressful series of days (when did all this start? Monday…. And now it’s Friday night, and only now we’re all home…), the sort of days that take months off the end of your life, but now it’s done.

My now-less-limited experience of the NHS suggests that it kicks the living shit out of what you’re provisioned, even with good insurance, back home. Efficiency, rationing, and triage are one thing, but profit has no place in the realm of healing and birthing. (It’s not really me, and it might sound a bit dunno, but I’m actually thinking about launching a wee malpractice suit against a certain hospital in Brooklyn. Pretty angry, I am. It’s not nice to hear about the clear evidence of past medical miscues – miscues that are retrospectively obvious now –  from an NHS surgeon as your wife’s dripping pints of blood off of an operating table, a few hours after delivery… But the truth of the matter is, and all of you Americans have seen this, that there are so many disincentives for medical practitioners in the US to go looking for possible problems – paperwork, won’t get to go on the next Blue Cross sponsored golf weekend in Hilton Head, better money in one thing rather than another – that it’s a wonder anything is ever caught and fixed at all…)

Anyway, today, back from home with a car seat (which we didn’t end up using, the taxi driver was non-plussed by the idea of installing it) and riding the elevator up to the room, someone who was a grandmother saw what I was carrying and said, Ah, lucky. You’re taking yours home today. I’m not. Mine’s in the ICU. Mine’s three months early. But mine’s a fighter.

That’s the thing about cliched speech, speech that traffics in what they’d say if they were saying this not in real life but on television, bad television. But mine’s a fighter. I won’t say what the thing is, but I’m guessing you know. I had nothing to say back so I said, Good luck, good luck, I’m sure it’ll all be fine. And then she left the lift, a floor before mine. It was straight out of a handbook for writing the scene, she was straight out of central casting, and so was I. Wonder how it’ll end for her and hers.

I’ll be getting to the accrued comments over the next few days. Jinxing myself a bit, but Christ is it easier the second time around. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Sorry for a rough, self-centered post – had to do this one, on to other things soon, perhaps in minutes.

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April 24, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Posted in me

no venue

with 6 comments

When I am working at work, I wish I could leave the office and go to the coffeehouse, where there are other human beings around but those other humans won’t generally bother me. When I am at the coffeehouse, I wish that I was home where I the coffee is nearly free and I don’t have to wrap the strap of my bag around my leg. When I am at home, I think to myself that I can’t really work anywhere but the office. Like the Bermuda triangle of inauthenticity that Heidegger sketches out in Being and Time, where ambiguity gives way to idle talk with gives way to curiosity and back to the ambiguity again, traps in triplicate, trialectic, are the worst sort of traps to fall into, as the illusion of choice, of possibility, is renewed just that more freshly.

Perhaps it’s not about where I work. Perhaps the fact of the matter is that this sort of work is so incredibly and so inevitably lonely. When I move around the city looking for a place where this isn’t so, I am looking in the wrong places for something that’s simply not going to be found.

Even working with someone, while it solves out some of the wider and deeper pangs, doesn’t really change the fundamental situation. There is chitchat and cross-banter, question asking and answering, distraction and aid. But those things aren’t the work itself. When the eyes are on the page or the screen, and you have reached a level of concentration sufficient to understand or make yourself understood, you are inevitably, unavoidable by yourself. Working with someone – someone at the same table or the next desk or in the bedroom upstairs while you sit in the garden – only changes the rhythm of the pressure and relief from pressure (which is also, of course, the cessation of work) but does not change the underlying equation.

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April 13, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Posted in me

if you’d like to contract me to write this up in book form, contact me with advance numbers ready

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Sorta cute.

The NYT publishes a weekly book review on Sunday. I receive an email version Friday night. I look at it, then grumble about things. Week in week out. When I do, my wife tells me to calm down and concentrate on doing good work. Finally I agree and read something else as BBC News scrolls through world-wide disorder and narratives of piracy – ransom or escape, failied escape and suitcases of unmarked hundred dollar bills. I immerse myself in something – say, James Wood’s piece on Orwell in the current New Yorker. Time passes. Then my wife says, “Yeah, it says here that she got a $300,000 advance for that thing.”

“What are, what? What are you looking at?,” I respond. She has my laptop on her lap. I hadn’t noticed.

She doesn’t answer, but a few minutes later she says, “She’s reading tonight on Court Street.”

“Where does it, what, where does it say that?”

“On her personal website.”

“What are you reading? What?”

“She’s probably four years, five years older than we are. And it’s her first.”

“Um, we’re OK then. We’re right on schedule, right?”

“I bet she doesn’t have two kids.”

We will have a second child, likely, within a week’s time. I’m guessing before the weekend is up, but who knows. She has a manscript (my wife, not the second child – but the child is apparently going to be middle-named in part after one of the two founders of the Redstockings – and no, the name in question is not going to be Shulamith. Life is so fucking strange at times, you have no idea, Jesus….) and I plan to have two of those, an academic one and a not-academic one, by the end of the summer. Manuscripts, I mean, not kids. I have no idea what the kids will do for a living though I have a sense that the first will end up an academic, and thus enter into frames of trouble with her dad that will cost her shrink bills, if I’m not very, very careful. But it’ll be OK, trust me.

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April 10, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Posted in me, meta

hard time with time off

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In the course of my appointment this morning, I was asked whether it is the work itself that I want or something that the work will in turn give or grant me, somehow obtain for me. Something else, harder and declarative rather than interrogative, later, at the very end, left me reeling. But the first question is a good question.

So after I’m out on the street in Marylebone. I talk on the phone for a bit, and consider sitting at one of the coffee places on Baker Street, on Marylebone Road, on Marylebone High Street, but decide instead to walk toward Euston Station. It is a pleasant walk. I do it when I can, and have done it recently. You skirt the bottom of Regent’s Park – if you want you can turn in and look for Septimus and Rezia and draw the wrong conclusions like Peter Walsh does when he sees them there in Dalloway. Wrong conclusions that are also right, or right ones that are wrong.

I make my way along Marylebone Road until it turns into Euston Road, and there I stop at a Starbucks – again, one that I’ve stopped at before very recently, the one across from Warren Street Station. The plaza outside is like a tiny version of the giant plaza at the foot of the World Trade Center, when there was a World Trade Center.

At Starbucks, I write a poem. I start inside and then change to an outside table so that I can have another cigarette. Here’s what I came up with, a draft, a draft, barely more than a scribble….

The Tool

The lopper’s heart of hard black plastic,
the hinge it swings its fingers on,
cold forged in diecast mold in China
and bonded to last a lifetime long,
has worn itself to crack and splinter
under the fist grip force you daily bring.

Before the seller even asks them,
you know just what his questions are:
“Did you use your tool appropriately?
Did you follow all the instructions? Can you
tell me all that happened in the seconds
before it buckled, bent, and finally broke?”

Whatever. Lines and punctuation all fucked up, yes, and things are rough in the second stanza. Lots to iron out there. Still I like the sound of the first bit and the general angle – the swing, the lop, as it were – of the thing. So I head home, but not before catching a glaring look from a woman at the next table as I read it over and over under my breath.

I do not read on the ride home. I stare. As I sit, there’s occcassionally a warm frizz of homecoming, an anticipation of the shower I’m about to have, the sun shining through the kitchen window as I eat my lunch.

Back in North London, the front door catches on an Amazon box. It’s Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. After Hi to my wife – she’s busy writing, writing – I read the first few pages of the novel before I have a shower.

It starts with a character named Jeff (not Geoff) in Marylebone. He mutters to himself on the street before stopping in to a Patisserie Valerie on Marylebone High Street. Jeff is a writer, seemingly less successful than his author, though not entirely unsuccessful. He is working on a piece, or not working on it.

In the shower, I think about writing a post, this post. At lunch, my wife reheats me some pizza, the leftovers of a kid-sized pizza. I lay the peri peri sauce on thickly but carefully.

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March 31, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Posted in me

in lieu of an “also appearing in” thing on the sidebar…

with 5 comments

… something that I wrote was recently linked to on the estimable bookforum homepage, something I wrote under my real name, in print. This is a first, and is special to me, as I’ve been reading the linkblog on the bookforum homepage since before the guy who writes it (or wrote it, who knows) was hired by bookforum, since the linkblog was just his personal blog….

Anyway, don’t bother looking, as you won’t be able to figure out which one is mine. Trust me. But still, that’s a nice feeling…. Thanks to the person who got me the work….

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March 7, 2009 at 12:52 am

Posted in me

checkup checklist

with 2 comments

another sunny day in blighty

Man alive! The manicness! There are good, good reasons. Time’s a-getting short. But still. Let’s check the stats:

  • Drinking: Way way down
  • Smoking: Way way up
  • Writing: Up, especially today – 1200 words of boring review at Southbank Centre on eee, another 600 tonight.
  • Reading: Same, nil, except for LRB (see below)
  • Paper Marking: lots, but still not done
  • Abortive Blog Posts: Up, up. Two huge ones perking in the pot. And you’ve seen how many actually made it on to the site lately, so… But these are legitimate, old school AWP posts. So, you know, likely they’ll not be posted.
  • Anxiety: moderate, moderate to low, spiking at times
  • Loneliness: high – things get bungled and there’s no one to hang out with. I could see a movie or something I guess with my night out. London!
  • Crosswords: Frumpy non-participation, nil
  • Bothering people with dark depressive angst, kitchen table conversations of a certain sort and the like: still low, gott sei danke, though I’ve been a bit grumpy with all the grading to do.
  • Moments spent regarding the London Eye under the the heavy lightness of England and with the soft shuffle of freepaper rustling through my ear canals? Some, grindlingly happy ones at that, makes life worth living, never enough per the malign logic of such things, see the PoS etc.
  • Bolãno envy: slightly higher today after reading Michael Wood’s review in the LRB

I figure putting this stuff on display might somehow be instructive or edifying or at least comforting (by christ at least I am not like him) for someone…. And it’s a smidgen, just a smidgen therapeutic for me, or so I tell myself. But I guess I’ve blown the whole “under my own name” practice run.

et tu brute?!?!?!

I was going to make a resolution, but it seems rather absurd at this point. (There, I made it quietly… You can guess if you like…) If I go to bed now, I can get up and work some before the start of the day.

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February 26, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in anxiety, london, me