Monday, February 21, 2005

The War of Art

Over the weekend I figured out why I have not yet penned a masterpiece: I do not have enough lucky items. Take Steven Pressfield, the successful author of two historical works of fiction, that heartwarming novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and a little book called The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Mr. Pressfield has lucky boots and lucky cufflinks, a lucky charm and a lucky nametag. On his desk he has a lucky miniature cannon that he points towards his chair so it can fire inspiration into him, and he also has a lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. For good measure, before he starts work, he recites a lucky prayer, T. E. Lawrence’s translation of the Invocation of the Muse from the beginning of The Odyssey.

The War of Art is an inspiring book, teaching us that every Artist is a Warrior battling Resistance. Resistance is whatever stops the Artist-Warrior from creating his Art—whether self-doubt or dirty dishes. You may think you have a sensible reason for not pursuing your art—an empty bank account, for example—but you must banish it, for Rationalization is the spin-doctor of Resistance. As if sent by the Muse herself, this book entered my life at exactly the right time. On Friday night I was cursing my chosen profession, childishly shouting at Jordan, “But I don’t WANT to have a good attitude!” On Saturday a friend lent me this book, which I read in an afternoon. And today I am a Warrior marching into battle.

The final section of the book has a plot twist akin to that in the last book of The Chronicles of Narnia, in which Aslan reveals that he is actually Jesus. Pressfield tells us that the ultimate goal of the Artist-Warrior is to summon the Muses—and these are not metaphors for the imagination, but actual angels, emissaries from above. Ultimately, works of Art are created not by the Artist-Warrior but dictated by God Himself. Angels? I felt betrayed, much as when I get absorbed in some made-for-TV movie, only to realize I am watching PAX. Then I realized that my sense of betrayal was merely a form of Resistance. After all, it is surely not for me to say that if God, the Son or the Holy Ghostwriter were to pen a novel, it would not be The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Mr. Best Ever

Last December, I worked in a cubicle, proofreading junk mail for a junk mail company. (Actually, they called it “direct marketing,” and avoided the phrase “junk mail” as assiduously as actors shrink from saying “Macbeth.”) In this unlikely setting, I met the most joyful person I have ever encountered: Mr. Best Ever, as I shall call him. Mr. B never had a bad day. When anyone asked him how he was, he always said: “I am the best EVER!”

This must be one of the most irritating sentences in the English language. It was particularly galling to the people working in that office. Since their work was often dull, none of them were the best ever. And it was not at all clear why Mr. Best Ever felt so much better than them. He was a junk mail salesman. His job was to persuade other companies to pay the junk mail company to run their junk mail campaigns. He was an ordinary-looking man on the cusp of middle age. He wasn’t in love, in fact, he lived alone. What was his secret? One day someone asked him. Mr. Best Ever paused for a moment then announced:
“Raw food.”
He also claimed to sleep a mere four hours each night, and to meditate for two hours each morning.

It was an impressive regime, but would it make you feel that good? I was suspicious. I felt that either he was lying, or he was simply wrong. He might think he was the best EVER, but I knew better. After all, don’t you need pain to feel pleasure? I accosted him at the company Christmas dinner:
“If all you feel is ‘the best EVER,’ doesn’t that mean you’re simply, well, numb?”
“Not at all,” Mr. Best Ever replied, munching on his special plate of salad. “I am in a state of constant bliss, moment to moment. Right here, right now, talking to you, that is the perfect place to be.”
“Well, if you’ve discovered the secret to eternal happiness, maybe you should write a book about it,” I replied, desperate to ruffle him.
“I am,” Mr. Best Ever replied. “It will be called ‘The Best Ever.’ It will have different chapters, ‘The Best Day Ever,’ ‘The Best Dinner Ever’—“
“The Best Job Ever?” I interrupted. Surely he didn’t think that was being a junk mail salesman?
But apparently it was.
“The best everything,” Mr. Best Ever said firmly.
Whatever I did, he would still be the best EVER, this annoyingly enlightened junk-mail bodhisattva. Even if I force-fed him some Kentucky Fried Chicken and demanded "And how do you feel NOW?", he would reply, through his mouthful of cooked food:
"The best EVER."

To-Did List

Cousin of the to-do list, the to-did list is, as you might expect, a list of things that one has done. I began keeping one a couple of years ago, when I was slipping into depression. I was looking for a part-time job and trying to do freelance journalism, and not having any luck with either. Although I worked hard, sending out resumes and pitching articles, at the end of the day I had nothing to show for my labors. So when I crossed items off my to-do list, instead of consigning them to limbo, I began adding them to a "to-did" list.

At first the to-did list didn’t help much. In fact, it made things worse, reminding me how much work I was doing to get nowhere. But at least it distracted me from my to-do list. It stopped me from fretting about the future, about the seeming impossibility of the things I wanted to accomplish. Instead, I concentrated on completing whatever small task was at hand, in order to shift it to my to-did list. And then, because I was more focused, I began to get things done. I started to sell articles and I got the part-time job I needed. But that’s not really the point. The power of the to-did list is that it enforces a Zen-like focus on the now, the task at hand, the sentence on the page, the sweet spot that lies somewhere between the to-do and the to-did.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


OK, I admit it. I’m bacon-curious. I am a vegetarian who is having a love affair with bacon. I love bacon all ways—spaghetti carbonara, wilted spinach salad with a warm bacon vinaigrette, bacon sandwiches, and, well, just plain bacon. My vegetarian friend S insists that because of my bacon flirtation, I am in fact a carnivore. I resent this. I have been a devout vegetarian for nearly fifteen years (ever since an unfortunate incident with a chicken). I would argue that I am no more a carnivore than a straight woman who occasionally frolics with other women is a lesbian. Just as she would be called “bi-curious,” I am “bacon-curious.” Just as she lusts after her husband, I lust over a head of organic broccoli. Just as on occasion, she meets a particularly delicious woman, so, on occasion, I meet a particularly delicious plate of bacon.

New and Used Sandwiches

I recently got a gmail account (mostly for the name, reminiscent of G-spot, G-force, G-string, and other sexy things) and am intrigued by one of its features: the ad links placed in the right-hand margin next to your e-mail messages. These are chosen using the same technology that Google uses to select ads to place alongside search results. As an example, take my recent correspondence with a friend involving the word “sandwich” (actually it was a code word, but we won’t go into that now). One of the links enticingly promised “New and Used Sandwiches,” available on eBay. Naturally I clicked on it. I am a penniless writer desperate for money, and if people are making money by selling used sandwiches on eBay, then I certainly want in on it. (As some people know, I used to be a phone sex worker, so there is no limit to how low I will sink.)

Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that there were no “used sandwiches” to be had, and in fact there were not even any actual sandwiches. However, I whiled away a good twenty minutes perusing the pages of sandwich-related products, such as a 1974 copy of Allen Ginsberg’s work, Reality Sandwiches and some charming “Handmade Dollhouse Miniature Egg Salad Sandwiches.” At first I was annoyed not to have discovered a new source of income (if people are selling panties, then why not sandwiches?). But it is pleasing to discover that the people at Google have such a delightful absurdist sense of fun.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Octavia Boulevard Flaneurs

Octavia Boulevard, previously Octavia Street, is nearly finished. I am disappointed. When they said they were changing it from a “Street” to a “Boulevard,” I envisioned sidewalk cafes, grassy verges, perhaps even people with parasols and poodles. There are some elegant lampposts, but mostly, it’s just concrete. I have been doing some research on the matter, and if they really want to make it a boulevard, they should get some flaneurs.

Flaneurs, as you know, are people who aimlessly wandered the boulevards of nineteenth-century Paris. They strolled purely for the sake of strolling, with no destination in mind, and they often stopped to admire details—an intriguing shop window, a well-trimmed poodle. Some of the flaneurs liked to take pet turtles or lobsters for a walk—in part to epater le bourgeoisie and in part to ensure a suitably languorous pace. The flaneur is an idler, a loafer, a slacker, but also someone who scorns the ideology of capitalism, favoring walking not working, process not product, and aimlessness over achievement.

It seems to me that San Francisco—a haven of anti-capitalist sentiment and home to thousands who shrink from nine-to-five jobs (including me)—would have no shortage of willing flaneurs. Furthermore, the Lower Haight is a medical marijuana Mecca, where you can hardly walk a block without getting a pungent whiff. Some believe that, as one Web site puts it, “Baudelaire's flaneurs were stoned out of their heads from hashish. It was under the influence of this drug that they took so long to go nowhere and found so much hilarious interest in even the most boring aspects of things.” If the flaneurs of old were indeed stoned, Octavia Boulevard may become home to a new breed of super-flans.


An article by Kate Spicer in the London Sunday Times announced that a new social type has emerged: “the cocaine yogi.” Strangely, the writer did not take inspiration from words like “Boho” and “Bobo” to come up with the obvious coinage, “Coyo.” Anyway, the Coyo likes to take drugs and party—and then atone for it with yoga and healthy food. These poor souls follow “a punishing regime of feast and famine, detox and retox, binge and purge” (Robert Downey Junior, a Bikram practitioner, is apparently the ultimate Coyo). Several things annoy me about this article, but the most annoying is the idea that yoga practice and healthy food constitute “redemptive hell.” The writer seems to think that they are just something people do to offset the effects of too many martinis. I practice yoga every day and I’m a vegetarian who eats mostly organic food. This lifestyle is not hell, but rather a wonderful privilege. I also commit plenty of weekend sins—but yoga is not my way of atoning for them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Tofu 2004
A few days ago I noticed the word “TOFU” spray-painted onto a U.S. mailbox in Presidio Heights. A few weeks ago, I also saw the phrase “2004 TOFU” daubed on a step on Corona Heights. I was intrigued, in part because I am a lover of tofu and also because tofu and graffiti just don’t go together, any more than hip-hop and alfalfa, or yoga and break-dancing. Is this a sign that tofu is now mainstream, relished by hoodlums and health nuts alike? Or maybe it’s just in San Francisco, city of vegan cookies and soy lattes, that even vandals love tofu.

The Stop Scribbling Society

Recently I met a lovely woman who makes her living by curing other people of writer’s block, through her organization, "The Red Room Writers' Society." The euphoniously named Ivory Madison does this chiefly by offering a time and space apart from everyday life that is dedicated to writing—in this case, the elegant red dining-room of a Victorian mansion in San Francisco, where clients must sit and write for “one solid hour,” followed by “tea and hot hors d’oeuvres.”

I don’t suffer from writer’s block, but I really wish I did. In fact, I would pay someone to induce it. I don’t mean I would pay someone to stop me writing. That would be easy—just take away my laptop. I mean that I’d pay someone to stop me wanting to write. I’m not sure what this would involve. Perhaps my not-writing teacher would wire up my keyboard so it administers a mild electric shock every time I touch it, or maybe I’d have to copy out some of the more chilling passages from the journals of Sylvia Plath one hundred times each. Maybe I’d have to sit in a room for an hour with other aspiring non-writers and do nothing, followed by hors d’oeuvres.

In any case, I would pay someone at least ten thousand dollars to stop me writing, an amount I would earn back many times over by spending my time in gainful employment instead of idle scribbling. Let’s face it, writing is a very bad career choice: even if you’re good at it, there’s no guarantee that you will sell your work, and even if you sell your work, you’re unlikely to earn money. If I didn’t write, I would probably be much happier, and definitely much richer. Instead of helping people to conquer their fear of the blank page, it would be more humane to encourage it, perhaps via a daily affirmation, “My life is rich and full without writing,” to be repeated three times before a mirror and with conviction.