Good Read: Half Empty

Damn, I realized that I misspelled his name on Twitter! I'm one essay away from reading David Rakoff's hilarious Half Empty. And, though, I imagine Rakoff would describe himself (almost) as a luddite, I have him to blame for my desire to be on Twitter - not that I gave into that desire too much. (However, I did happily Tweet my favorite Rakoff line - hence the cause of the name misspelling.)

As a once-purveyor of all things self-help and optimistic, I found a home in David Rakoff's writing. He's funny, he's biting but not snarky. If he must sink his teeth into some tidbit of idiocy, hypocrisy or over-self-indulgence, there is a reason for it. He's quite intelligent, and though I imagine he downplays his attractiveness, I found all these qualities quite attractive - not to mention he's quite cute.

I also like that he doesn't talk down to his readers as though he has to help them keep up: whether he's talking about Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, Jonathan Larson, or a porn convention in New York, his writing expects you to keep up, and keep up you will...AND if you must, take notes and google them later.

On Being an Artist:

...hanging out does not make one an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make one an artist. Neither do a hair-trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV - I hate to say it - none of these make one an artist. They can help, but just as being gay does not make one witty (you can suck a mile of cock, as my friend Sarah Thyre puts it, it still won't make you Oscar Wilde, believe me), the only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out. (48-9)

It was the parenthetical that had me tweeting (and snorting loudly with laughter at 1 in the morning).

On Living in Brooklyn's Penal District:

On the ground floor below me was an office that did...what, exactly? Résumés, taxes? I can't remember. What I do remember is the man whose office it was: Raul Rivas. That is his real name. Raul Rivas was knee-buckingly handsome. Perhaps if my life had been different, had I been a hot girl with a driver's license, say, I might have put on a tube top and gone outside to wash my car in slow motion, dousing the cherry-red hood of my automobile in a spew of water from a long hose and then working it up into a suggestive and creamy froth, while Raul Rivas watched me through the open office door, sweating through his white undershirt, just like Burt Lancaster in The Killers...but, I digress.

Once during the day - it must have been a weekend because I was at home - I could hear Raul Rivas having sex in the office downstairs. I skittered about the apartment like a cockroach on a frying pan, trying not to make noise while desperately looking for a knothole in the crappy floorboards. Eventually I just lay down flat against the tile of the kitchen floor, listening.

Lying flat against the tile of the kitchen floor listening to someone else have sex is essentially my early twenties in a nutshell. (54)

On Being Cast in a Movie Involving Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker:

My presence there would have been the classic Cinderella story if instead of being delivered from her grimy scullery to the carefree life of the palace, our dainty-footed heroine was a thirty-something guy who had left his evil stepsisters to go off and play a mincing fairy interior decorator. The Stepin Fetchit aspects of my part extended beyond the sexual to the ethnic. My part was that of an ersatz food-court Latin of indeterminate national origin. Even his name, Duarto, does not exist in Italian, Spanish, or Portuguese, a testament to the deep research for which our author [of the book of the movie] was known. Snippy ectomorphs like Duarto have been a staple of the movies since the early talkies. You have seen us, I am sure. Generally, we are slim, our hair is often brilliantined and pasted down like a phonograph record molded directly to the skull. We have been known to sport the occasional eyebrow-pencil mustache. Our jobs tend toward the mildly creative and powerless - tango instructor, wedding consultant, Hays Offce-approved neutered gigolo. Also, traditionally we exhibit two modes of behavior, both of them manifestations of displeasure. There is our comically outraged ethnic or sexual pride, the former eliciting from us a fiery Chiquita Banana "You een-solt my cohn-tree?" (which, as we have established, with a name like Duarto, does not actually exist and is therefore not really insultable), and the latter a dubiously macho defense of the molested honor of our woman, our own interest in whom would have to increase tenfold to reach the level of repelled. The far more common state of Duarto, however, is one of peevish boredom and affronted aesthetics ("Dios mío, where did you get that agonizing talbe?"). This makes us speak in a kind of enervated drawl that broadcasts to all the world that we would much rather be anywhere else than here, preferably somewhere holding a teacup poodle while being the willing recipient of vigorous anal sex. (65-6)

On Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty:

The notion of pilgrimage was central to Smithson's vision of the work's impact. He chose Rozel Point [Utah] because of its remoteness. As for the jetty's shape - a snapshot in stone of an unfurling galaxy - it spoke to his interest in notions of entropy. "I am for an art that takes into account the direct effect of the elements as they exist from day to day," he wrote. "Parks are idealizations of nature, but nature in fact is not a condition of the ideal...Nature is never finished."

Nor are we. Around us are odd bits of industrial detritus - a barely standing low concrete structure where we left the car, the decoy jetty we mistook for the real thing - all remnants of human effort, spinning out in ever-wider circles. Smithson saw it all as "evidence of a succession of man-made systems mired in abandoned hopes."

Smithson's right about everything except for that penultimate word, "abandoned." Maybe it's the unwavering brown that greets the eye, or the parching airborne salt one can taste on the breeze that jump-starts some atavistic impulse to defy such inhospitality and to shape this intractable land to our will. Looking around, it seems that aspiration might be the only thing that has not pulled up stakes here. The pioneers who founded Zion are long dead. The dust that was once those railroad barons has little need of the personal fortunes they amassed, but aspiration remains as green and tender as a lily stem. Even Smithson himself, devotee of atomizing dissipation, dead in a plane crash before the age of forty and gone from this earth for more than thirty years, constructed what might as well be a diorama of this unyielding faith. Newly emerged from decades of underwater obscurity, Spiral Jetty is now visible from space. (157-8)

I loved Rakoff's writing about the Utah countryside and the Spiral Jetty. I love it even more now as I re-read and type it out for you, as the sun sets in Lexington, the light moving down the sides of the buildings and now the blue shadows struck against a slither of pink sky.


I'm not sure this is my type of read, but I am jealous of anyone who has met SJP<3
JamTheCat said…
This is SO weird -- I was just at the Spiral Jetty, today, and wrote about it in my blog. And he's right -- its remoteness DOES make it seem more like a pilgrimage. But I seriously doubt it's still visible from space, it's so washed over by the Salt Lake. And I know I saw the real one, because the damned road ended.

I took pictures. If they come out (since me and this fucking camera do NOT get along) I'll post one to show you how sad it is.
Writer said…
I think you'd like it, David. It's quite funny. :)
Writer said…
Kyle, your comment alone made me sad. I hate it when places like this aren't taken care of. =/
JamTheCat said…
Okay, JP...apparently the lake's level is up and that is part of the reason the jetty appears to be partly washed away. I was submerged for decades. I'm still not 100% convinced it's not damaged...but it's not as bad as I thought.
Writer said…
Cool, Kyle. David mentions this in the essay that involves the Spiral Jetty. That when he was there, it was at a time of relatively low water level, but previously it had been covered for about a decade. :)

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