rinue: (eyecon)
I'm rooting for Bernie Sanders at the moment purely because I'm tired of seeing people who make three times my income talk about how they're "poor" because they "don't make finance money." I'm all about class solidarity and am troubled that median income has remained flat for the last 15 years while inflation has not. I get feeling squeezed when you feel you work very hard and bring a lot of value to a company but aren't adequately compensated. I understand how exhausting it is to constantly fall short of financial milestones you set for yourself, even though you have all the advantages.

But you're not poor. I'm tired ot hearing from all these poor people in the top 15% of incomes whining to me that "finance money" is what it takes to be not poor, and patting themselves on the back for having saved a little something for retirement by taking more affordable vacations, unlike the other irresponsible poors (aka the actual poor).

Finance money shouldn't exist. It's undeserved. Farmers don't eat 300 times more than anybody else, and mattress makers don't sleep 100 hours more than anyone else. But I'm not even mad at the finance guys at this point, even though I want to take allllll their money. I'm mad at these ridiculous high-paid non-finance 30-year-olds who call themselves poor (because they're not made men) and lecture the rest of us about how we need to learn better money management skills and put more into the employer-matched 401Ks we obviously all have impoverished access to, plus magically find high-quality affordable housing and funding for the initial deposits and moving costs.

So Bernie, I am with you, purely in the hopes I will never have to read another of these "poor non-finance me" essays, even though I think you have a myopic understanding of structural racism and need to get behind reparations plus immigration reform. In the meantime, I'll go over my budget again to find the money I'm "leaving on the table" which doesn't exist. Pretty sure it's going into high-interest student loan payments I can't refinance because my income's not high enough even though I have a perfect credit score and haven't ever missed a payment, going on 6 years. I probably haven't read the right guru.

Don't get me wrong: I'm fine. Yet tired of that fiction where we pretend that everything under $250,000 a year is the same income bracket.

Tu e Lei

Feb. 1st, 2016 01:44 pm
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I think I'm finally getting the hang of Italian formal-versus-friendly address. It took me a while, because it's not really similar to French, where all you do for formality is flip to the plural you (analogous to thee versus you before English dropped that whole thing).

In Italian, when you're talking to someone respectfully, you use Lei, which is "she" except capitalized (obviously you can't hear the capital letter). Essentially, you are addressing them as "Milady" regardless of gender. ("Milady may do as Milady wishes" instead of "you can do what you want.") I've been around it enough now that it's normal, but when I first came over, it was confusing when a waiter would address my dad as Lei. What was going on? Were they asking him to answer for me? (No.)

That's not the hard bit, though. The hard bit is that when you're telling someone to do something, using third person singular (the Lei one) seems to mean maybe you're pissed off, or at the very least you feel you have a right to boss them around. Using second person singular, on the other hand, is polite. This is the reverse of what you're doing the entire rest of the time, where you talk to your buddies using "you" and maintain a formal distance with "Milady."

As far as I can tell, it's because when I'm telling you to do something, if we're not close, I need to be clear that I'm asking "as a friend" and it's totally your discretion. Scusi, excuse me my friend I bumped into on the sidewalk, friendly friendly, of course it's up to you whether you mind or not, but since we are both friends even though we're total strangers probably it's fine. There's a "please" implied, I guess.

Whereas if I'm your spouse or parent or something, fkin do the thing. Lady clean your room I am not telling you again.

That's how it seems to me, anyway. I may still be getting it wrong.
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I'm an avid board gamer, but I never cared about chess, probably because other people took it way too seriously. However, one thing I do like about chess, really the only thing, is castling, that move where the king and rook get to swap places. I love that move. I don't care about your king, and whether he lives or dies. The only time I feel I "lose" is if I am somehow prevented from making myself a little fortress with pawn walls.

I was thinking about that because I got a message from a friend apologizing for things a relative of hers said in a facebook comment thread. It took me a while to figure out what she was alluding to, because of course I blocked that user well before the offensive comments happened. In general, if I'm friends with you and you have an obnoxious relative who lives in a different timezone, that relative doesn't exist to me any more than she would in meatspace. To put it in a more Jay-Z way, I brush that dirt off my shoulder. I have enough people who like me, and enough demands on my attention; I don't lose anything by putting up the velvet rope. I recommend it.

I forget aggressive comment moderation isn't everybody's default. And by all means, it was appropriate of my friend to make sure I was ok. But, you know, of course I was. I castled. It's a way better game than whatever it is other people are playing.
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Still feeling spacy; I have a head cold that just won't quit, and though I'm getting 7 hours of sleep a night, for at least a week they've been interrupted by either my coughs or by Ciro getting in or out of bed to leave early for work or stay up late to finish a podcast, or last night it was tooth pain. January is generally my least favorite month, even though I like its name; it's the month that's cold and dark and has no holidays, plus everyone's dieting or budgeting carefully or staying home to finish up things they neglected in December. I'm not exactly an exception to this; both Ciro and I are working like crazy to get our savings back to a "safe" level. (I say "no holidays" but our wedding anniversary was two days ago. We were not in a position to do much, but we did eat a fancy pastry with lots of rum in it.)

My current doomed quest is, I'm working on an article for Atlas Obscura about William Beatty, the surgeon responsible for transporting Admiral Horatio Nelson's body back to London from Trafalgar. He's a dead interesting guy, and to a certain extent this is an essay I could write in my sleep. I've been fascinated with Nelson since I visited the H.M.S. Victory when I was 8, and I've been obsessed with funerary preservation practices for a lot longer than that. (I saw a dumb meme on Tumblr that asked "were you a space kid or a dinosaur kid?" First of all, both. [That's why it's stupid.] But secondly, has everyone forgotten about pyramids suddenly?) However...

However, there is a contention I've seen in several secondary sources and Beatty's own autobiography, which claims he was roundly (and wrongly) criticized by the British press for his choice of preservatory liquid. However, nobody quotes one of these alleged criticisms directly. It has the air of a cross between "my nan told me" and "I felt underpraised." I want it to be true. It may be true. But I don't feel I can say absolutely that it was true until I see it in print in a newspaper that was issued in November or December of 1805. And really, in order to figure out how widespread this attitude was (if it did exist), I'd need to check all the major newspapers.

So basically to do this properly involves original research that would take about a year, during which I'd need to live in London and Portsmouth and maybe Norwitch so I could access a lot of non-digital archives, and afterward I'd be the sole living expert on the subject and would probably be issued a doctorate in media studies. It's not an appropriate level of effort for one sentence in a 1500-word pop history piece.

Nevetheless, I've sent lots of e-mails to lots of archivists at lots of British libraries, some of whom have been very polite and helpful (special shout-out to the National Maritime History Museum in Greenwitch), as well as my relevant connections in academia and the library field. I've promised myself I'll settle for simply filling in the variable x in the sentence "In those two months, there were X items in The Times of London concerning the Victory's progress toward home." It's not really what I'm looking for, but it seems achievable since I can probably (for a fee) get online access to the relevant archive, and it would contextualize the sense of pressure and attendant performance anxiety one might expect from Beatty.

I have sensibly agreed to a file date that's two weeks out so that I can't let the research take over my life. Not that I necessarily use my time that well otherwise; my main focus over the weekend was Absurdist yet literary fanfiction about Yoko Ono. But this is the reason I can't manage longform historical fiction; I get hung up on figuring out the mineral content of the drinking water in Manchester in 1915 and how that influenced the taste of different tea blends.
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I've written mostly nonfiction the last few months; I'm short on both time and money, so it's valuable to know whether I'll get paid for a thing before I put in several hours writing it. Fiction editors want to see a completed piece. Nonfiction editors want a query. Selling fiction is like trying to pick someone up at a bar. I can be at my most gorgeous and still get turned down, or I might find somebody who wants to take me home even though I have a pimple on my forehead and won't stop talking about Napoleon. Selling nonfiction is like being the bartender. We may disagree over whether I'm a genius mixologist or a pleb who puts liquid in glasses, but as long as I'm serving alcohol and the glasses are clean, we're going to make a deal.

My queries have tended to be pretty successful; my fiction might be an acquired taste, but my essays usually hit a sweet spot that bridges "relatable" and "weirdly specific." I'm close enough to the mainstream that readers can identify with my experiences, but I'm oddball enough I can give things a mutch-coveted edge, point of view, fresh perspective, whatever you want to call it. My ideal for a nonfiction piece is that a reader will think "this is exactly the thing I'm obsessed with! Yet I've somehow never heard of this particular aspect or looked at it this specific way! How?"

Anyway, I decided to give pitching Cracked a try, because I like some of the stuff they run, and it seemed like our interests might overlap. I've heard people I don't know complain about their editorial process, but I've also known people who've published articles with them, and they aren't people I think of as willing to put up with a lot of nonsense. So I figured, try it myself, see what I think.

Cracked uses a pitching system that's unique to them. Instead of shooting a quick e-mail, it all happens on a proprietary bulletin board system that's pretty clunky. (Less clunky than sending things back and forth through the postal mail, though.) They also want you to fact check your piece before you write it; maybe half your pitch is your bibliography, although they don't say that in as many words. That's an annoying amount of on-spec work for a concept they might pass on as soon as they read the title, but it also makes sense in that you don't want to greenlight "6 Golden Age Hollywood Stars You Didn't Know Were Secretly Lesbian" and come to find out none of them were. Ditto "5 World War II Dogfights You Wouldn't Believe [because we didn't discover until very late in the editorial process that the author made them up]."

One of the plusses is that they reply quickly, typically within a week. Another plus if you don't like rejection is that they don't seem to say no to things as long as they're properly formatted and you show respect; as far as I can tell, their rejections are more like rewrite requests. If I pitched them something totally inappropriate, like "6 Best Annuals For Your Winter Garden," they'd probably come back to me with a nice note about how maybe I could redevelop the pitch to make it about weird unsolved murders that have happened on camping trips, some of which might involve plants. Note the "maybe." They haven't agreed at that point to buy a piece about camping trips, and if I revised my pitch in that direction, they might leave me a nice note about how camping isn't really interesting to their readers and maybe I should switch to murders that happen in videogames.

I pitched them a piece on famous pickled corpses, and a piece on world-renowned art that accidentally self-destructed. On both pieces, the feedback was contradictory in a way that feedback sometimes is. (I.e. This piece is too focused on materials science; why not make it about videotape preservation, which is entirely materials science?) I can find a way through that. But ultimately, it seemed like there was a more existential disconnect on whether it's inherently interesting that one of Queen Victoria's dead relatives was brought home in a casket made from kludged-together biscuit tins. And although I'm fully willing to engage with other contemporary art fans in a debate over whether Damien Hirst's work is dumb, I don't think the burden of proof is on me to prove his shark is an influential art installation. It factually is. I can't guess what counts as "really famous" if it's not audience sizes or press coverage or references and citations in other work.

Probably the most useful thing my (standup comedian) Uncle Rex taught me was the concept of "Wrong Room." Sometimes, your material is damn funny but you're not going to get a laugh because you're in the wrong room. For whatever reason, there is something about you that means the people in that room are not going to laugh. You could give the best set of your life and not win them over. Your sensibilities just don't overlap.

It's a shame, because I really feel like Cracked and I should. But I don't have enough spare hours to chase "famous enough that everybody in the world already knows this story; but simultaneously you've never heard of it before" crossed with "all these list items are the same thing, but also totally different." It's clearly a needle that can be threaded, because plenty of pieces make it through to publication and some of them connect with me. I just don't know that figuring out what "everybody" knows plays to my strengths. (Maybe something to do with Yoko Ono, who is very famous, but largely not for the reasons she's actually interesting?)

So I've withdrawn the pitches. I think it will be easier and more lucrative to spin individual items off into articles for other people. After all, I've already done the research.

I don't think I'll go through this process again any time soon; I suspect anything I could sell to Cracked I could sell in its component parts to somebody else for more money and less hassle, and retain more editorial control. I don't hate the Cracked system, and the editors seem like nice hardworking people, but they remind me of my experience at ComedySportz - oil and water "we're both funny so why don't we agree on what counts as a joke" exasperation.
rinue: (Manetmini)
Ciro is pretty broken up about the death of David Bowie, who has been an important part of his autobiography, and particularly his relationship with his father, who died two years ago. David Bowie was to some extent the part of his father that was still on Earth, if that makes sense.

Ciro's not good about updating any of his several blogs anymore (writing time goes to other places and other sorts of writing), but I thought that what he's said on the subject was significant enough to rescue from facebook and put someplace less ephemeral.

Ciro wrote:

"I feel disgusting having all this grief over someone I never met, like some kind of fame vampire, but there's no way around it -- the work and the man are like cornerstones of my own identity, and they have given me so much hope for myself and for the world. My father used to sing me to sleep with Space Oddity. It's a terrible thing to lose him. I have to work today, but I'd rather just stay home, listen to music, and cry.

The contemporary obsession with demographics obscures how out of step and lost I feel (and grew up feeling) in the world of sensible people, and how much I learned about real worth from a small-town Italian who left an unspeakable childhood for big bad America, but always carried the small town inside him.

Both of us learned some of how to survive our difference, and to value it, from David Bowie. A loss that unfolds and unfolds and I can't see the end of it, but it still doesn't equal what he gave to us.

I gladly give thanks with all my heart."
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This week I:
- pitched 2 heavily-researched listicles to Cracked
- wrote an (already accepted) heavily-researched article for Atlas Obscura, which I turned in early, but that didn't matter because my editor's on vacation
- wrote the first draft of an on-spec essay for The Billfold
- wrote and sent an on-spec essay to BuzzFeed Life, where an editor likes me
- outlined another essay for I haven't decided who
- queried a book agent
- wrote the usual number of postorbitals
- worked on an unfinished short story
- subbed another short story
- subbed 10 poems
- advised on a pitch of a TV show I helped develop
- plus all the usual stuff in my life that is necessary to keep the household running, continued to study Italian pretty intensively, and researched what tax preparation is available to me as an American citizen living in Italy

Since I only have 20 hours a week in which to write, I should feel pretty good and accomplished except none of these things involved somebody saying to me "hey great job" (except the tv pitch, and it was my co-creator who was was the main one who did the work this week, which all right was still nice to hear) and then handing me money or promising to soon hand me money. Which is awful because I'm working very hard right now to write things which make money; I need dollar money to hit my U.S. bank account as soon as yesterday. (For complicated reasons I don't want to get into here, I can't use Euros to pay U.S. bills at the moment.)

These are not the conditions under which I do my best work, although I'm still doing good work. I get nervous that my writing sounds desperate, even though it probably doesn't, or that I'm wasting time writing stuff when I should be writing other stuff (this motivates me to add more jokes, which tends to be a good idea). I'm sleeping very badly. Maybe not even because of the writing; maybe because I'm congested.

Basically, I think freelance writing is a lot like dating, where if you're perfectly happy to not go home with someone, it's much easier to be sexy confident and relaxed. Even though I think a slight edge of neuroticism is appealing in an essayist, flop sweat isn't. Normally, I'm not desperate, and I enjoy working on stuff because even if it takes a while to sell, I have a good time with the stuff itself. This month, I'm desperate, and will remain desperate until I know I have at least four sales in the can. I'm so tired. I can't tell right now whether it's the money pressure or the congestion or the sleeplessness or the decongestants. (I hate being on decongestants.)

It was a pretty day, though, warm enough I opened the windows. In January.
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1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

I started tying my shoelaces with a surgeon's knot; up to this point, I've used granny knots and double knots, and they came untied at least once an hour. I knew there had to be a better way, but since I mostly wear slip-on or buckle shoes, I wasn't highly motivated to learn it. However, I finally sat down with a video and practiced, and now my shoes stay sorted. Like magic.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

More notable is who/what fell off the hate list: IKEA. It's still not my favorite place in the world, but I don't mind it any more. I'm even a bit fond. It's probably a combination of exposure (I have by now been to enough IKEAs in enough places that I find them easy to navigate) and my preference for Italian crowds instead of American crowds. Italians are better at sharing communal space than Americans, but more importantly, they're physically smaller. In the U.S., I fall smack in the middle of the height distribution, which means half of the people around me are taller than I am. In Abruzzo, I'm as tall or taller than at least 80% of the people I run across. When a crowd doesn't block your sightlines at all, it's much less intimidating.

I still find the commissary mostly unpalatable. But I like the broad selection of LED lights, a technology I find wondrous.
rinue: (Yes Thanks)
Some mornings, and some evenings, I'm kind of bleary, and when those line up, I walk into the kitchen and am delighted to find someone did the dishes for me. Actual thing that's going on there is that I did the dishes last night but failed to form or retrieve a memory of it happening.
rinue: (inception train)
Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany, which means the holiday season is finally nearly over. I read something circulating around the internet, a personal essay along the lines of "since I have Asperger's, Christmastime is hard on me; all my routines are disrupted, and none of the television programs run at their right times." I feel something similar; not a dislike of novelty, but, well - I like my regular life. It's new for me, and I've fought hard for it. It barely even had three weeks to be "normal" before the holidays sent it careening.

So I've had a fun Thanksgiving, a fun Christmas, and my best New Year's Even in years, one of my best ever - but I want my friends to be in town and not traveling. I want to work my usual work hours. I want to read my websites and listen to my podcasts and watch my TV shows, all of which have been on at-least-semi hiatus.

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Drank and ate a lot with Ciro's cousins. Wrote and turned in article about Tintoretto. Not in that order. Sleepy. Pimple on nose bridge.
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2014. 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007

1. What did you do in 2015 that you'd never done before?

We moved to Italy; specifically to Pescara, in Abruzzo. I'd never been to Abruzzo before, and hadn't been to Italy since I was 9. It's the first year I've been remotely functional in a language that isn't English, although I still have a long way to go to reach the kind of fluency that lets you hold a normal conversation.

I also made forays into a visual language: emoticon. I got my first smartphone almost exclusively so I could engage in the long text conversations tnat are today's main long-distance communication, and sometimes the messages I send go [confetti] [wine glass] [big smile].

I became a regular contributor to The Billfold; one piece I wrote for them (futurist guide to retirement planning) was favorably discussed in the New York Times editorial blog, and another (value of a stamp) was recommended by the editors of Medium. I also started writing for Atlas Obscura, which I've been reading since before internet 2.0 existed. I'm still not making much money through writing, if you're curious, partly because I've been focusing on prestige stuff and/or magazines for which I have a personal affection. This year, around $600, although I'm owed another $200 that hasn't come in yet.

My publications:
Every Hand A Winner (Farrago's Wainscot)
The Eggshell Curtain (reprint, Daughters of Frankenstein, ed. Steve Berman)
Unattached Metaphors (The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts)
Counter Rant and People Yelling In German (Punchnel's)
Splinter Song (Liminality)
The $500 Wedding: An Assessment (The Billfold)
A Futurist Vision of Retirement Planning (The Billfold)
DIYing a Second Language (The Billfold)
The Trouble With Being Scrooge (The Billfold)
The Sex-Obsessed Poet Who Invented Fascism (Atlas Obscura)
The Complicated Costs of Marrying a Dual Citizen (The Billfold)
The Value of Having a Piece of Paper with an Official Stamp (The Billfold)
Enough Tacos to Get a Spaceship Past Neptune: Small-Time Dreams for 2016 (The Billfold)

My SF microfiction concern postorbital is up to 234 followers, and occasionally has influence disproportionate to its size. Somebody (I think an undergrad) wrote an academic paper about it.

With filmmaking, nothing's been in production, but I pitched a TV show to a German production company, which I definitely haven't done before. (They passed, but my collaborator and I are going to try shopping it around a little more.) I'm in talks to screenwrite something for another director, which is also new. And I've hooked up with a small Italian production company that mostly makes animated ads (to pay the rent); I'm helping them with English translations.

I started tying my shoelaces with a surgeon's knot; up to this point, I've used granny knots and double knots, and they came untied at least once an hour. I knew there had to be a better way, but since I mostly wear slip-on or buckle shoes, I wasn't highly motivated to learn it. However, I finally sat down with a video and practiced, and now my shoes stay sorted. Like magic.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn't make any resolutions, unless you count that I intended to move to Italy and then did. This year, I have a lot of pre-sold writing stuff that I need to actually write, and some fiction which I've let fall by the wayside that I need to wrap up. I'd like to have another feature script (about a castle siege) finished by summer, and hopefully be in a position to start pitching it to investors.

But my major goal is that by the end of the year I'd like to be making $400/month from writing. Presumably, this will happen a lot sooner than before the end of the year, since I'm already halfway there and the only thing that's been stopping me is lack of time, not lack of buyers. The dream is that I make closer to $7000 in 2016 and can pay off my student loans once and for all - which doesn't seem impossible, but doesn't seem certain either, partly because I'm figuring out how to balance the stuff that isn't guaranteed to pay (my weirdo fiction projects) with stuff that pays but I don't take seriously as art (comedic personal essays which plenty of people like, but which feel like cheating because I'm not making them up and will therefore presumably run out of material).

And obviously I have to get better at Italian and pass various citizenship exams. Which means I need to know a lot more about Italian civics and history than I currently know. (I know a lot for an American, but not much for an Italian.)

Read more... )
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It annoys me how often, in a movie or TV show, someone gets hit in the mouth and then spits out blackish blood. The thinking here is that desaturated colors are serious/gritty/stylish. It's black or dark purplish red blood to show this punch was no laughing matter. This the darkness of super-dark violence, blackedy pow.

The problem with this is that although I have led a risk-avoidant life with very little exposure to physical injury, I have had major dental work. I have flossed too vigorously on occasion. I know what blood coming out of my mouth looks like, and it's bright red. Bright red and a little foamy because of my spit. Bright red blood isn't clowny or childish. It's blood. It's what fresh, oxygenated blood looks like. Watch a boxing match sometime. That stuff coming out of their mouths, noses, and facial abrasions is scarlet.

All you're telegraphing with that solemn black spume is that your actor is spitting out a dye pellet and is actually fine.

On a vaguely related note, I hate it when a character winds up and then just holds his fist there, not making the punch, and it's supposed to be this moment that terrifies and upsets another character, because the non-punching character is apparently overcome with emotion and is just barely stopping himself from punching.

Come on. We know he's never going to throw that punch. Character two knows he's never going to throw that punch. It feels like some guy saying to his friends "hold me back, hold me back." That is not a guy who is planning to fight. That is a display of pure ridiculousness. It's theatre, not threat. Nobody in an argument with somebody who says "hold me back" suddenly thinks "my god, his friends have to hold him back. I better run away and cringe in a corner and cry."

It's dumb. Not even a good actor can sell it. Not even Russell Crowe in the otherwise magnificent L.A. Confidential can sell it. It is not a thing, as far as I can tell, that happens in real life. If you are overcome enough with emotion that you're going to hit someone you love even though you despise violence, you are overcome. You're going to throw a punch or not; you're not going to be in the thrall of your amygdala for exactly long enough to get halfway through a punch and then suddenly have your higher cognitive function kick back in like Superman struggling manfully at the top of a cliff with a boulder. (The alternative fist-raising scenario is one in which you're not overcome with emotion, and you're raising your fist to say "I'm going to hit you if you come any closer." In which case, you're not holding yourself back, you're holding yourself ready.)

I think it's a case of writers wanting to have it both ways. They want the drama of "you hit me" without actually having to show a character hitting another character, because if you show a man hitting a woman or child you have to assume some of the audience is never going to forgive. It's a cheat. It's the equivalent of having everyone die but oh actually they were just in comas and actually they're fully recovered with no lingering medical effects.
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Back in Pescara after an extended Thanksgiving in Massachusetts. It's good to be home, even if I still have the cold (or sequence of colds) I've had for about a month. (The usual advice is to get plenty of rest, which assumes I'm not already getting the maximum amount of rest that is possible for me, as if I generally interrupt my own sleep by choice.) In my absence, the city has put up all its Christmas lights, plus a big tree and an ice rink, and the street performers and chestnut roasters have come out in force.

In the States, I got the same "making conversation" questions again and again, as you do, which were mainly "so what do you miss" (nothing, I've only been gone a couple months), "how long do you plan to stay in Italy" (indefinitely; we'll see), and "what is the best time to visit," which I always answered as though someone was asking "when is it ok to visit you" since the alternative possibility is that someone's asking me what a full calendar year is like in a place they know I've only been for one season. That season is fall.

A single autumn: that season where it's drizzly and every single day is darker and colder than the one before it. The things you like about fall? They don't exist here. There is no Thanksgiving and no trick-or-treat. The trees are adapted to a sandy beach climate, which means their leaves don't change color particularly. (Deciduous trees lose their leaves in fall to conserve water in winter. Trees that are used to low-water conditions, like pines, palms, and cacti, are already conserving as much water as they can.) Pescara is still a cool place to be in fall, but probably fall is not its most glamorous time. So now you know.

By far the worst part of my trip was the brief section on the flight over where the Italians were split off into one border protection and customs line and the Americans (including me) went another way. This left me to handle quite a lot of awkward luggage on my own, because are Americans going to help with anything? No, they are instead going to try to run over me repeatedly, to express their distress with the fact that I'm not moving as quickly as they'd like, because saying "hey, want an extra hand there" requires too large a leap of the imagination and might reinforce my willingness to do things they don't agree with (like become ill). I solved this problem by using my massive amount of luggage as a barrier to absolutely block off an entry lane until I was finished doing what I was doing, because I am also American and therefore willing to respond with an unreasonable level of force. (More accurately, I'm a board-game-playing economist, and if selfishness is what we're doing, I play to win.)

The trip back was of course great, even though it was a longer and more hypothetically awkward transit, because I was never seperated from the Italians. I find it hard to talk about what I like here, because it's atmospheric and also sounds fake. I'm also not unaware of the stuff America does better (like easy availability of consumer goods. We really win that one.) In general, I don't like to do compare-and-contrast dualism. Anyway, it's a relief to be back in the place where I live, where I can resume the many partly-finished projects I've had to interrupt. It's nice to realize my various Pescaran friends and acquaintances take my presence in their lives as a given at this point, and are similarly relieved to be back in our usual routine.
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An article by me about Gabriele d'Annunzio just went up at Atlas Obscura. It's fair to say the article doesn't do him justice, due to word count restrictions, partly because he was a tremendously strange person, partly because his sexual appetite is hard to wrap your head around (and not appropriate for all readers), and partly because it's hard to convey how incredibly famous he was during his lifetime. I don't think there's anyone equivalent now.

However, what's really strange to me is the difference in perception between Italians and English-speakers. Even though Lucy Hughes-Hallett wrote a wildly-celebrated biography of him a couple years back, I don't think most Americans have ever heard of him, not even the kinds of Americans who cherish oddballs and weird history. And he was a tremendously, tremendously significant historical figure, and tremendously, tremendously flamboyant. You could write a dozen dissertations about him without needing to overlap.

Italians, meanwhile, have heard of him, especially in Abruzzo, where he's from, but don't understand why non-Italians keep reductively obsessing over the fact that he invented the core tenets and pageantry of Fascism. It's like if every time you brought up McCarthyism, somebody winced and said "God, why does everybody focus on the red scare stuff, as though he didn't also try to make sure Pepsi was readily available." Or: "Look, quit it with the Tate-LaBianca stuff, we all know Charles Manson's true cultural importance was his folk music."

I mean, Italians, I get it: he did write a lot of poems, plays, operas, novels, sleep with a ton of extremely famous women, and build a truly amazing house, and I would plausibly find any of that interesting even without the fascism. But because the fascism is there: yes, I'm afraid I'm always going to primarily think of him as a guy who ran a pirate state where he maybe thought it was a great idea to feed political opponents laxatives and then tie them up in burlap bags until they shit themselves to death.


Nov. 19th, 2015 09:56 am
rinue: (Default)
I'm pretty good at not mixing languages by accident, but there have been two hangers on, shall we say.

sorry/excuse me still comes out in English when I bump into someone
and comprendo (spanish for "I understand") when I'm trying to get across that I comprehend Italian, which is pretty funny and probably extremely confusing for people

In the last week or two, I've finally gotten to the point where "capisco" is more likely than comprendo. It's a little amazing that it wasn't one of the first things my brain hooked into, considering how many Goodfellas ">capisce?" impersonations I've been subjected to in my life.


Nov. 16th, 2015 08:58 pm
rinue: (Default)
Returned. Tired. Not dead. Regardless, continue to kill all the mosquitos in my name, per favore.
rinue: (Default)
Right, so despite my last post about how I'm perfectly safe, I'm maybe about to jump into the teeth of the beast, because early in the morning I catch a bus to Naples. I've never been there, and it might be perfectly nice. However, it has repeatedly been described to me as a wretched hive of scum and villany, one of the most dangerous cities in Europe. Now, I've been to several of the other most dangerous cities in Europe, not to mention a lot of reputedly rough U.S. neighborhoods, and had a perfectly pleasant time. But it is definitely the headquarters of the Camorra, who are scummy villains. (Fact.) Imagine all the horrors of Florida compressed to a single point, and this is my probably innacurate idea of Naples.

However, I have to go there to swear an affadavit in front of an American consular officer and a giant American flag. I'm not being cute with that last part: it is legally required that I stand in front of and look solemnly at this American flag while I sign the document, to drive home to me that I am representing the honor of America. Normally, I would go to Rome to do this, but it's pretty urgent and Naples had an earlier slot available. Because who wants to go to Naples?

Hopefully I'll have a great time and drink some good coffee and walk by some Caravaggios. More likely, I'll be exhausted from a long early-morning bus ride, I'll wait in line at a consulate that's on heightened terrorist alert and therefore heavily armed and eager to yell at me (not that I'm a terrorist, but I'm there and maybe late because maybe my bus was late), and then I'll get back on a bus. But maybe, just maybe, things will go badly sideways. In which case my last words are probably whatever editorial note I make before I go to bed. Documents/Sharon Edit. In honor of my memory, please kill as many mosquitoes as possible.
rinue: (plunge)
For the most part, nobody sent me "are you all right" messages after the Paris attack, since I am at least a 20 hour drive away, in another country, in a backwoods city most people outside of Italy don't know exists. (Backwoods is used advisably, since there are mountains with pinewoods, bears, and wolves that separate it from the rest of Italy.) This did not deter Ciro's mom, who is often guided more by feeling than logic, and although Ciro rolled his eyes I remembered a bit how I minimized my exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing because we were "nowhere near there" and then found out that actually Ciro and Scarlett had been right next to it, and then the Tsarnaevs fled to the town next to me. So my ability to evaluate "nowhere near there" is maybe compromised.

Still, I'm nowhere near there.

Yet I just received an e-mail from the State Department advising U.S. citizens in Italy to review the Worldwide Caution. (Summary, approximately: anywhere you are in the world, there could be terrorists trying to kill or kidnap you because we're at war. Please panic! But also this will do you no good! We just want everyone to be a bit scared so if something happens you can't say we didn't warn you.)

Thanks, guys. You're doing A-plus work.

(It is thrilling to get an e-mail from the State Department, even a mass e-mail that's stupid.)
rinue: (inception train)
Feeling a bit down lately, although I don't have much of a reason for it. It could be rain and shortening days, it could be a side effect of having to change birth control formulations when I switched countries, it could be a stress response to a lot of change - that thing where since you don't have a routine, every stupid small choice is momentous and deliberated. Plus constant double binds of not having time to do much, so even though I'm getting a lot done, it's small compared to what I still need to do; it's hard to have any feeling of triumph and "look how far I've come," particularly since it's hard for me to be sure I'll have more time later. Was this amount of time it? Did I pick the right thing to not get done?

Any new and non-routine thing is difficult: it's something I haven't done before in a language I don't use well. Going to the hardware store is difficult. Figuring out which laundry detergent is the unscented one is difficult. Odds are good that I'm going to mess up a lot of the time. It's constant failure. So I have to think: do I want to leave the house and do very badly, or do I want to stay in the house where things aren't quite functioning perfectly and then feel sad that I was a coward? And of course I'm not some college student who only needs to look out for herself and who has a clear sense of how much money is available for mistakes and jaunts. I don't have external structure and an end date.

Another way of putting this is that I'm doing fairly well as a freelance writer lately; I keep pitching articles and people keep agreeing that I should write them for money. I have approximately two hours a day I can devote to this, assuming I decide not to try to do anything else. But then oh what a failure I am for not only not going out to practice Italian and integrate into my community, but for digging even harder into my English lexicon. Nor am I working on fiction, or getting a film project off the ground, or keeping up with my distant friends, etc etc. And I'm supposed to be knocking on museum doors trying to build some bridges between a Boston museum and the contemporary artists here.

I'm doing what I can to free up more of my day so I don't have such ridiculously high opportunity costs. But for now I feel just completely incompetent. At least I'm getting lots of core exercise without having to schedule it - the rope to raise and lower the shutters in the morning and at night works about like a Pilates reformer, plus I'm constantly putting up and taking down dishes from high shelves, which is literally weight lifting. My torso is looking very good.
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