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6/26/2003 10:47:00 AM
Thursday, June 26, 2003
I'M STILL HERE
It will take me a couple of days to get up to speed over at www.sheilaomalley.com. There are a couple of things I need to learn how to do ... which I WILL, dammit ... so eventually, obviously, I will make the switch-over completely. That will be by the end of this week.
I'm reading Mortals, the long-awaited second book by Norman Rush, author of one of my favorite books, Mating. I am having a very hard time getting through it. As a matter of fact, I have stopped reading it completely, and have moved onto Robert Evans' The Kid Stays in the Picture. Mating is a special book. Mortals is not. By page 100 I was sick of the two main characters. Norman Rush obviously finds them both very fascinating, and endearing. So every single tangent in the minds of the characters needs to be drawn out for sometimes THIRTY PAGES ... If I had a marriage like those two do, I might have to slit my wrists. Just to escape and get some peace and quiet, for God's sake.
It is so self-conscious. So pleased with itself. So obsessively analytical. Do these two people ever just sit on the damn couch and NOT talk to each other?? That is my ideal relationship. One that is filled with an inordinate amount of comfortable shared silence.
Another thing Rush does is continuously assure us of how funny Iris (one of the boring main characters) is. He fetishizes her humor. He gives us glimpses of it (or tries to). But mostly he just repeatedly states it, as though it is an indisputable fact. "She was such a funny woman." "He loved her humor." "He was going to be losing a funny woman."
The problem with this goes back to one of the first rules of writing: SHOW. Don't TELL.
I don't think Iris is funny. She never made me laugh. And you can't keep just re-assuring me: "No no no, wait, she is a DAMN funny woman! You have to see her when she's had a couple of glasses of wine! She is a riot!" That doesn't work in a book. It doesn't work in life either. Either something IS, and you know that it IS because it can be SEEN and ACKNOWLEDGED by more than one person, or it ISN'T. Iris ISN'T funny, in my book. Just saying it is so, Mr. Rush, does not make it so.
He gives us examples of her humor, but ... to my mind, it's all just coy stupid little puns. Now I know some truly funny people, people who you describe as "Oh my God, he is so funny" -- "Funny" is one of the top five adjectives you would naturally use to describe some people. Humor is undeniable. It's not like being sensitive, or being kind, or intelligent. You cannot fake humor. Some people THINK they are hilarious, but no one is laughing.
I think I have made my point here.
The good parts of the book are when it goes into the life of a CIA agent ... how they live, their relationship to "the agency" -- what it meant for the CIA when communism fell apart. What that event did to the psychology of the agency, etc. What it is like to have a job which is, for the most part, invisible. You will never be acknowledged publicly for your work. You cannot talk about it with your wife. All of that, so far, has been very interesting.
There's also a long sequence where Ray, the main character, is being held prisoner in this warehouse in northwest Botswana. The Boers are involved. He is being held hostage with this other man, an African, who is a psychiatrist, and very anti-Christian. His name is Morel. Morel has lived in England for years and has returned to Botswana on a mission to rescue Africa from the yoke of Christianity. He thinks organized religion is designed to keep people passive, to keep people in a state of waiting, etc. Morel is an African. Morel believes that what Africa needs is common sense, industry, and people willing to invest in THIS life. It's an interesting question. That's also brought out to interminable degrees in Mortals, but I actually have learned a lot, and it made me think.
Ray is obsessed with Milton. Which is understandable. I am relatively obsessed with Milton myself. But what I am picking up on, somehow, in the writing of this book, is that it is RUSH who is obsessed with Milton, and has tried to wrestle Milton into this story, in order to express how he, Rush, feels about Milton. And because of that, it doesn't really work. It feels very self-indulgent.
Another good writing lesson.
An interesting contrast: June 16 was Bloomsday. So I spent an entire day hanging out with James Joyce, which, basically, was how I spent my entire last summer. Joyce Joyce Joyce. Now you kind of cannot find a more subjective writer, a person more fascinated with his own obsessions, a person who can go off on a tangent for thirty pages just because the subject matter interests him. June 16 came smack in the middle of my struggling with Mortals, and there are some vague similarities between the books. And yet Ulysses captivated me, challenged me. One author goes off on tangents, and I find myself looking stuff up on the Internet, calling my dad for information, trying to understand what exactly he is getting at ... what is REALLY going on in the book. The other author goes off on tangents, obsessed with his own obsessions, and I get increasingly annoyed, thinking to myself: "Shut UP! You're not the first freakin' person to discover Milton ... Get OVER it...Shut UP!"
So here's the difference, the undeniable difference:
James Joyce is a genius.
You should not attempt such a book unless you are CERTAIN that you yourself are a genius.
Here's where I stopped reading Mortals, and I will eventually finish it, because I still feel a certain amount of obligation toward the writer who brought Mating into my life. Now Mating, with all of its serious themes, is a truly funny book. Laugh out loud funny at times. Rush just set up the scenes, and then let the narrator describe her response to certain things, and her verbiage was FUNNY, her way of dealing with stuff was FUNNY.
Okay: So Ray (the CIA agent) and Morel (the African crusader) are being held in this warehouse. And being pulled out separately by these Boer thugs to be tortured, on occasion. It is a bad situation. The two of them are enemies, for a very boring reason. It is a plot device, rather than a reality. So they are forced to deal with each other. There is a bucket in the room for them to use as a toilet, and there are two pages, two pages which took two years off my life, years I can never get back, where Morel goes to the bathroom, and he is constipated, so it is difficult for him, and Ray, to relax Morel and also to distract himself from the shitting going on across the room, recites Milton outloud.
I read those two pages. And then I put the damn book down and have not picked it up since.
When I pick the book up again, I am going to have to skip the Milton-recital-during-Morel's-"evacuation" (a word Rush actually used, and which, quite frankly, grossed me OUT.) and pick up from after that episode.
Now, when we first meet Leopold Bloom in Ulysses, he is eating breakfast with his wife Molly, kind of anxiously, thinking he is a cuckold, and about to leave for the day. But before he leaves, he goes into the bathroom and shits. It was hugely shocking at the time ... you don't usually follow characters into the bathroom like that, but Joyce did. I read the whole sequence, and laughed out loud at the audacity of it ... the reality of it ... he is bringing us all down to the human level. It may be pedantic to say to ourselves, as a way of reassurance, "Everybody has a crack in their ass." Or: "Yes, he may be Secretary of State, but he goes to the bathroom like everybody else." It is the human condition.
That's what I got when Joyce followed Bloom into the bathroom like that. I became overwhelmed by humanity. It's tragic, and it's comic.
In Mortals I just got grossed out and now I cannot get the image of Morel squatting over the bucket out of my mind. I wish I could. I need that brain space for other things.
Now I'm reading The Kid Stays in the Picture, by legendary producer and head of Paramount at one time, Robert Evans. It's awesome. A lot of fun. And he writes it completely how he talks. Which is hilarious. If you've ever heard an interview with Evans: he's very articulate, very very intelligent, but his vocabulary is like a film-noir hero.
"Lemme tell ya somethin', pal, you don't get to be where I am without steppin' on a few heads. That's the biz."
He calls women "broads", "dames".
I am enjoying it very much. Great stories. The story of his life is an inspiration, and a cautionary tale. It's FUN. It is nice to take a break from boring old Ray the CIA agent and his un-funny wife Iris, and the African Morel going to the bathroom in the corner, while Areopagitica is being recited. Jesus. Spare me.
Gimme Robert Evans.
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6/24/2003 07:46:00 AM
Tuesday, June 24, 2003
Edit your bookmarks, take note of my new URL, and come and visit me on my brand new blog ... Not much going on over there yet, and this old blog will always remain available (should you be overwhelmed with the desire to read about Azerbaijan and oil or Vaclav Havel's speech in 1990) ... but I am leaving.
Join me over here!
It's rather Amish-looking at the moment, but I will spruce it up once I familiarize myself with Movable Type.
I must send a shout-out to Mr. Dean Esmay, who has been ushering all of us onward, to bigger and better heights. Thank you, Dean!
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6/23/2003 04:39:00 PM
Monday, June 23, 2003
Out of the last 40 days, it has rained on 32 of them. It poured yesterday and it is pouring today. There is flooding in Hoboken, which means that on every block there's about 2 feet of street-space where you do not drown when you try to cross. People line up at the bottleneck, avoiding the raging white water which begins at the corner, with the sewer grates overflowing, and spreads down the street.
Last night there was a respite. The rain stopped, leaving a cool night, with a huge wind. I went and saw a show at The New York Comedy Club. There were four fabulous comics, funny funny funny, and one who was not so good. He's very successful, but there was something ... too angry about his delivery. Now, granted, comics in general are an angry bunch. That's where the comedic impulse comes from. Rejection, pain, wanting to get back at everyone who ever called them a jackass. Nathan Lane put it perfectly in an interview. He was asked, "Were you an angry child?" Lane answered, "I was a small round angry person. Nobody ever thought I would do anything, and I remember being about 5 saying to myself--" (in a tough-guy Clint Eastwood way) "Oh yeah?"
His success is his revenge.
But this guy last night wasn't all that funny ... and therein lies the rub. Some jag-off in the back started heckling him, and the guy, instead of turning it to his advantage, and either joining together the entire club in hostility against the heckler, which can work, or making some smart-ass remark which would shut the heckler up for good, which can also work, this guy started getting into it with the heckler, throwing insults back, and it was suddenly like a locker-room in junior high school. It was not good.
He also looked out at one point (the club is very small, they are right on top of us), looked right at me, and said, "Pretty girls like you are a pain in the ass." Everyone laughed, more out of the surprise of it, than the humor, and he went on on his angry 13-year-old diatribe. "You're gorgeous, woman. I would never ever trust you. I could never leave you alone at the bar for two minutes because I'd come back and you'd be surrounded by men. Pretty girls are a huge pain in the ass."
Uh ... not exactly the soul of wit, is he?
But the other ones were fabulous. So funny. Comics are some of my favorite people on the earth. Talk about your pains in the asses! In general, they are all royal pains in the asses (I have dated quite a few of them, having spent some formative years in Chicago, Comedy Central), but one of my favorite human impulses is the pro-active impulse to make another human being laugh. To me, it is the meaning of generosity.
I love being around that energy.
Walked home from the Path station through the freezing big wind. A beautiful night.
This morning? Torrential rain on my windows.
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6/22/2003 10:22:00 AM
Sunday, June 22, 2003
It is the 4th or 5th straight day of rain. I am in heaven. Everybody else appears to very annoyed.
At midnight tonight, the next Harry Potter book is being released. I know a couple of people who are going to random Barnes and Nobles' to get in line at circa 9 pm. Good on ya!
I love mania like that. Member people wrestling over the one remaining Cabbage-Patch doll?
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6/20/2003 02:00:00 PM
Friday, June 20, 2003
Here is another entry from the devastatingly embarrassing journal I kept during my time in Ireland as a 14 year old girl. I enjoy torturing myself by making this all public. I was laughing so hard on the bus this morning reading over some of this stuff I had to put the thing away.
April 20, 1982
We left bright and early for Cork. I was so exhausted I slept the whole way.
Today is sort of grey but not bad. We are staying in the St. Kilda's B&B, a huge brick house in town. Cork - oh, I have been waiting to be in a really big city for a long time. The bustle -- the drive -- I love it. Our rooms are really large and I have a double bed all to myself. To be truthful, though, the view from the window stinks. An alley with clothes hanging out on lines. Oh, well. I love the city.
After we settled down and I relaxed, we walked into town to find a coffee shop. I watched all the kids in uniforms come flooding out of the schools for lunch. It took us a while to find a place but we spotted a cafe in this huge internal mall that sold sugar doughnuts. The stools were really high. The doughnuts were all right, to say the most. Since it was lunch hour, 1000s of kids were in every coffee shop we passed and sitting out on steps and benches. They practically take over Cork for an hour.
After a while, we got up and started to look around the mall. They had a great bookstore and a great poster store with posters of Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and ... drumroll ... HARRISON FORD!!! Oh, I wanted it so much, and I still can't figure out why I didn't ask Mum. Probably because she would have said, "Well, we don't have to get that in Ireland." But that's why it would have been so special.
We went outside and while Mum and Jean went to the Tourist Office, me, Dad, Bren, and Siobhan sat down beside the river (very polluted). It was so so sunny and bright. Everything glared and we had to squint. The park was quiet, in great contrast to the mad rush of millions of kids a quarter of an hour ago. Siobhan got big thrills by throwing rocks in the water and all that sun on my back was starting to make me drowsy. I put my head down and dozed off until Mum and Jean came back. They had a few pamphlets on tourist things in Cork. Dad wanted to go back to some bookstores and Jean and Siobhan were dying to go on a double-decker bus.
And so we went back to the Tourist Office, a cool soft place with no blaring lights to find out where to get on the bus. So we went back out. Oh, I love the city. There was a big fountain and everything on the go. Stripes is playing at the cinema. Bill Murray's face makes me laugh. We found the bus stop and just in time. A big shiny green double-decker was waiting. We ran on, went up the stairway, and sat down up front. I wasn't really sweating in the thrill of it all, but it was neat to be so high.
But we had to get off two bus-stops later, right after the conductor collected our fare.
We came back up to our rooms and I studied English for a while, so I could watch Trapper John, M.D., with gorgeous Gregory Harrison. I really got a lot done, so I drew for a while while Mum and Dad went out to supper. When it was 7:55 (TV shows are always on at the strangest times here), we all trooped down the stairs to the lounge, a nice comfy room with a big heater. A girl, Paula (13) was there doing her homework. I liked the look of her at first, but then when Gregory came on and I said, "Oh, I like him", she snorted and covered her mouth. And through the whole show, she kept groaning and flipping through all her school books, wanting us to think, "Oh, my, what a lot of hard work she has. Irish kids have so much homework." We didn't say a word.
Dad found a bookstore with all these second-hand Enid Blyton's for only 35p each. So he's going to let me buy them all!! YAY!
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6/20/2003 10:21:00 AM
I had a second date with the man from Massachusetts who shall remain nameless. (Description of first date here) I'm just keeping him nameless because I respect at least that little bit of his privacy. He doesn't even know what a "blog" is, though, so I could shout his social security number to the moon and he would never know.
We met up last Friday. It was a date. We met first at Willie McBride's, the pub where we met. We met there for a drink. I said when I sat down next to him, "I think you and I are in a rut." He looked very nice, once again. Was in a suit ... a very cool suit. No tie. I, however, was wearing a black biker's jacket, blue jeans, and big black boots. My hair down and wild. I took one look at him and said, "Once again, you look very nice, and I look like I have come off the back of a Harley." He glanced sideways over at me, and commented flatly, "You're hot."
"Hot." It struck me as a funny word. Juvenile. "Hot."
The man has never had Thai food in his life (how the hell is that possible?) so we went for Thai food. He's a math geek. And I wish I was a math geek. So it works out well. He explained the relevance of John Nash's theories (because I asked him to: "Basically, what is the big deal with game theory? Why did he win the Nobel?") ... so we have interesting conversations.
I am always intrigued by men with INFORMATION. I like men who KNOW things. Who are not, perhaps, openly emotional, but can answer questions, and who can TELL ME THINGS. I like information better than emotion.
After Thai food, we walked through the light drizzle to a nearby pub, for a drink. It was a beautiful night. Blue, dark, rainy. I was on a date. On a Friday night. I'm never on a date on Friday night. It was 10 pm or so. We took about 3 sips of our beers, and then he said, "You want to go to Atlantic City?" I said, thinking he meant "someday" or "this summer", and said, "Sure!" There was a long frozen pause, where neither of us said a word, or moved, and then I said, "You mean right now?" He said, "Yeah. Right now."
This is where my age shows. It was 10 pm. In an hour or so, it would be about time for me to hit the sack. It's a two and a half hour drive to Atlantic City. So if I said yes, that meant that I had to accept the fact that I would not get to bed until, oh, three, four, five o'clock in the morning. I am a fascist when it comes to my sleep. Do not try to mess up my REM cycles. I hesitated for about a second, and then decided, Oh, what the hell. Life's short. "Sure. Let's go to Atlantic City."
We left our unfinished beers there, and walked to his car through the drizzle which was actually no longer drizzle, but a torrential downpour, with thunder and lightning booming through the sky. We drove to Atlantic City through a literal monsoon.
I called it a "monsoon" and he kindly informed me that "monsoons" only happen in the Pacific. See what I mean? INFORMATION.
We drove for 2 and a half hours. We basically had a road-trip on our second date. We talked about fractals. And schizophrenia. I told him I had briefly dated a schizophrenic, and his response was: "And how were they?" We talked about mathematicians. And music. We listened to music. We were going to Atlantic City. I don't even KNOW this person.
By the time we arrived at the sinful neon city on the sea, it was 12:30 at night, and I was positively exhausted. I actually got a bit alarmed. How the hell am I going to last through this? I need to go to bed. My eyeballs are drying up. This is an hour past my bed-time. Mr. Nameless Man was on a mission to find me Visine. I was losing it. "I can't see! My lenses! I have to go to bed!" We went to Caesar's, which is over-the-top cheese-ball. I was laughing out loud looking at the faux Roman decor. It must be the oxygen they pump into the air of the casinos, because within 20 minutes, I perked up.
Not only did I perk up, but I sat down at a slot machine, and won 50 dollars in 10 minutes. I only put in two bucks ... and suddenly, 50 dollars came pouring into my cup. I was exhilarated. Like a little kid. "I'm gonna buy sandals! Maybe a CD or two!"
Mr. Nameless Man is not a slots kind of person. He sat at a blackjack table, and ended up walking away with 400 dollars. I don't know how much he gambled. To be perfectly honest, I don't like gambling. It makes me nervous. Money is not something to risk, to toss around, to play with. Money is to be SPENT. Or to hold onto, to save up for. So it's not really my thing. However, I loved winning 50 dollars. I'll tell ya that.
By now it was two o'clock in the morning. We cashed out. I wanted to go see the beach, and the boardwalk, but the monsoon continued to rage, so it was not condusive. I love knowing the ocean is close, though. I love love love it.
And then, we hauled ass back to Hoboken. I slept for most of the way home. He dropped me off at 4:45 in the morning.
It's good, occasionally, to say Yes to things which, at first, may seem anathematic to you ... I'm very rigid with my sleep, and with my time. But ... being too rigid is no good.
And we HAD a date for tonight ... he invited me to the dinner cruise his company was throwing ... I was kind of panicking about what to wear. Then last night, he called me twice. I was deeply deeply involved in the VH1 "Greatest Moments in Rock" and didn't feel like talking, so I didn't pick up. I also didn't listen to the messages, assuming he was just seeing what I was up to, if I wanted to get together. But: please don't call me twice, was (and still is) my attitude. He called me once at about 7:30, and then later at 11:15. I wasn't too wacky about that. Don't stalk me. It's too early for stalking.
But it turns out, his grandmother died and he was calling me to let me know he couldn't take me to the cruise thing-y.
Damn. I felt kind of like a jerk, truth be told. Thank the Lord I didn't pick up on that second call and say to him, in true Sagittarian-style, "Listen: please don't call me twice in one night. If you don't hear from me right away, it means I'm busy. I'll get back to you when I get back to you."
Phew. That would have been real bad.
Redheaded Sheila is still watching the news, still involved, still keeping herself informed ... but I am not feeling like writing about it at the moment. It's exhausting. I'll get back to it. But I've got other writing projects going on now, too: fiction, essays, etc. A lot of time, new muscles being used. It's all good stuff.
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6/19/2003 12:03:00 PM
Thursday, June 19, 2003
It's a rainy rainy morning.
I've been a wee bit ill. Last night, my roommate and I had a wonderful and funny night watching VH1's 100 Greatest Songs in the Past 25 Years. Great program. We sang along. We had bouts of nostalgia and love for songs we hadn't thought of in years.
Hungry like the wolf.
I can't go for that (no can do) - GREAT SONG
You gotta fight --- for your right -- to paaaaaaarty
One of my favorite parts about the program were the mini-interviews with other artists about each song in question. The generosity of artists towards one another. Big stars talking about how such and such a song had such a huge influnce on them, how lives can be changed by hearing a SONG. So true.
Also, dammit, the lead guy from the Goo Goo Dolls is a fox. I could barely deal with him at all. He is ... kind of scary gorgeous, actually. A freak of nature.
Jen and I sang at the tops of our lungs.
"Do you really want to hurt me?
Do you really want to make me cry?"
Lyrics returning to our consciousness 20 years later. Hilarious how that happens. Some things never go away.
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6/18/2003 07:22:00 AM
Wednesday, June 18, 2003