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How do you feel about the Oxford comma? I know you're a Strunk & White girl, so I'm curious to see how you respond.
Your dashing, courteous, and elegant acolyte,
Uh, is that the same as the serial comma? I always use it, except when describing sweet little bunny rabbits. I though everyone used it, but what the hell do I know? I still can't spell half the words in the English language. My favorite style writer, by the way, is Bryan Garner. Modern American Usage is great, and though I know it doesn't sound promising for general writers, I still find his The Elements of Legal Style to be totally bitchin'.
Stacey, This is a bit strange to admit, but for years I have carried around a line from a book review of yours. In it, you call Katie Roiphe "a doofus." Since she struck again yesterday in the NYT -- fave bumper sticker that never was: Katie Happens! -- I felt forced to look up your old review. I saw that you actually wrote "Katie Roiphe is an idiot." I'm wondering if you could explain the difference between a "doofus" and an "idiot." Why is Roiphe the latter and not the former? And, if you could: can you recommend a remedy for her situation? Thanks! A Loyal Fan
I'd say a doofus is a goof mixed with a clown, like a grownup dude with excess thirteen-year-old-boy residue left inside of him. The doofus will yell "arrggh" from the window of a moving car because for a doofus, this is fun. An idiot, by contrast, is someone who possesses quite a bit of mastery yet suffers from a constitutional inability to think straight. It's common for idiots to be smart and accomplished: plenty of doctors, for instance, are big fat idiots. Idiothood can be disorienting (and sometimes destructive) because it manifests itself as a blind spot in the center of the idiot's expertise. Since in the New York Times article, Katie Roiphe misunderstands the modern culture she's analyzing and inserts her own psychological landscape in its place, one might be tempted to put her in the category of idiot, yes. But I have to say, I feel really bad for calling her that, and I sort of think she's a fascinating writer. I understand that people might be annoyed by her prose, which veers toward the overwrought, but it also has the quality of being a true cri de coeur. I mean, she really means it. She deeply, honestly believes that Mad Men, a show all about repression, is a show all about partying. And that she is forever excluded from this party.
Maybe it is a little confusing though, because I don't think she's dead earnest about every single thing she says. I'm sure she realizes that most of us don't go through agonies in the diary aisle. She's going for style. She's using hyperbole. If I were her editor, I'd suggest she use the first person rather than "we" since it can be difficult, as a reader, to be included in Roiphe's puritanical world (I don't know about you, but I'm totally drunk right now). I think she doesn't mean the we literally as a we. I think she means it as an I.
Is there a remedy? Good question, Paul, good question. For doofuses, time often takes care of the problem. A little maturity, a few backfires in the doofus behavior, a broken arms or a DUI, and you're on your way to being an ex-doofus. Idiothood is trickier. Seeing clearly, and knowing the difference between your inner self and the outer world is a valiant goal, but I don't know how to teach that. A clear-sighted intellect is rare and often earned at a great price: pain, illness, craziness, loss, time, plus luck. How did Joan Didion get to be Joan Didion? Go figure. But somehow she knows how to look at the world and to look at herself and find the deep, resonant commonalities. She's done this, by all accounts, while knocking back martinis and smoking her brains out and raising a child and writing movie scripts and living in bad neighborhoods and, from time to time, going to the grocery store in her bikini. Maybe there's a lesson in that, as we wage our own battles not to be idiots.
Ever see "Short Circuit?" 80's robot movie with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy? "NO DISASSEMBLE NUMBER FIVE!?!"
Yes, I have seen it. I haven't seen it in a long time, though as I recall it features an adorable moppet-robot. I'd have to see it again to comment on it, though I'm sure I'd say something nice because my cousin's husband produced it. I think?
I like robots.
Do you watch Mad Men and isn't it just brilliant? What do you think of the portrayal of women on the show? -or- Why does a show that portrays such in-your-face misogyny and repression and still attract such devoted female viewers?
Yes, I watch Mad Men, and yes I like it a lot, though I find it uneven so only brilliant in spots. I love the art direction, and I love some of the characters, and I love the smoking and drinking and window coverings and telephones. I'm also really interested in the formless, short story-like plots, though I'm still not sure if they work for me or not. I wish Don Draper had an actual character, rather than just a wardrobe, and I wish the characters didn't have so many meetings, since meetings on TV are just as boring as meetings in real life. But my big problem with the show is that I'm constantly distracted by the anachronisms in the plot and dialogue (no kid in 1962 would say: "Hey dad, what's up?" and no sane woman would ever go jogging). And I'm incessantly irritated by valley-girl acting of January Jones. I know, she's supposed to be stiff, but I'm always aware of the effort she's making, and the lack of nuance in her botoxed face. Her part is so big and pivotal that there are times when it kind of ruins it for me.
As for the womens, I think they love it for several reasons. First of all, men look great in suits, and though John Hamm would probably look like a refugee from Thirty Something in a pair of jeans, you cannot deny him in a suit. The women's clothes are also great. And the misogyny isn't sincere! It drips with irony and social criticism--so we can enjoy it even as we long for those poor women to get hit by the feminist movement. Plus a lot of that sexism is still around, it's just become more subtle or lurks beneath the surface, in, say, advertising (any ladies out there feeling wrinkled and fat?). It's bracing, in a way, to see bias portrayed so strongly. It tugs on our sense of injustice while not requiring us to think about our own lives. That's pretty much my definition of entertainment.
You're a brave woman to talk openly about being dumped by Rick Moody. I mean, I don't know him, but he seems like a formidable person to be dumped by.
Thanks for the propers. Really though, I was not brave so much as tuned-out. It was only when I was waiting on the line to be interviewed (about the mix tape I made for Rick to make him love me--it didn't work) that I realized, Oh fuck, I am about to go on the radio to talk about being dumped by Rick Moody. But oh well, whatever. It's awful to be dumped by anyone, and I was gaga over Rick, but that was a long time ago and he's such a great friend now and I love him and his wife and baby and I'm positive it all worked out for the best. Plus it's his loss. Plus I don't care. Time heals all wounds. No biggie. It's fine. No prob. I'm over it.
Do you suppose there is a market for a podcast of you reading your work in your own voice? Have you done this kind of thing?
Like a paying market? No. Like an unpaying market? Uh, no. But if you send me a nice mix CD I'll call you up and read you a story, how about. Also, if you go up to the "Interview" link above you'll find some radio interviews of me you could listen to. I'll see if I can add a link to a more recent, utterly embarrassing interview I did for for Jason Bitner's book Cassette From My Ex, where I talk about being dumped by Rick Moody.
Hello! Thank you so much for your Tucson suggestions. They were great. We had a wonderful time and even got to spend a little time with YOU on our drive through New Mexico and then into Tucson. You got a little lazy once we arrived and just wanted to eat sandwiches in our hotel room bed, but that's okay. I'll have to send you some pictures. If you ever come to Albuquerque (and you should) I can give you some great suggestions as well. Long live the Southwest!! Anyway, I just joined a roller derby league after many long weeks of practice and a strenuous test. I'm wondering if you could suggest a derby name. Check out this website!! http://www.twoevils.org/rollergirls/ Since I know you're interested in names (and I hope you're interested in derby). Anyway, literary references would be wonderful since I love to read and write. I was thinking of "Hold 'em Caulfield", but I'm not completely sold on it. Perhaps I should choose "Crazy Richter". Ta-ta!
Hi Little shirly. I'm so glad you had a good time in Tucson. I wonder how I manifested myself to you, and if I chewed with my mouth closed? I'm also glad you asked about a roller derby league name. Hold 'em Caulfield's cute, I like it, though I think it might be lost on some of your fans. How about naming yourselves after the 19th century landscape designer Capability Brown? I love that name. You could be the Capability Brownies, or maybe the Capability Brown Derby Girls. That makes you sound both cute and not to be fucked with. Or for a literary name, how about Alice in Derbyland--I like this since Alice is a sane heroine in a mad world, which is good for girls kicking ass on skates. That's all I've got right now. I'll keep thinking.
What would be a good opening line to smooth the way to Happytown with a fabulous woman who already, once on a previous occasion, responded well to a compliment on the shoes she was wearing at the time?
The best thing to do is to neg her, but you have to do it in a nice, joking way. "To neg," by the way, is a verb coined by pickup artists, and "pickup artists" are slippery little dweebs with more smarts than charisma who have scientifically dissected every human encounter with the sole goal of learning how to pick up girls. To neg someone is to compliment them in a mean way, also known as teasing, and for some reason this registers as flirting--or facilitates it--far more than just being nice. Sort of like in grade school where boys are mean to girls because they like them. (Not that this requires a boy-girl combo--it will register as flirting in any configuration). I recommend you say something like: "Those shoes aren't bad, but they're not nearly as cute as the ones you were wearing last time." Or something like that.
Long-time reader, first-time writer. I am a big fan of your fiction. Do you have any suggestions for young writers concerning where to publish quirky short stories that don't necessarily fit into a specific genre? Also, have you read "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" by Kevin Wilson? His style reminded me of you.
Hi Dale. I think the best thing to do as far as publishing stories is to just go to the library and read a lot of literary journals. Find the ones you like and send your work to them. Sometimes the editors are graduate students, so the mood of the journal might change a little from year to year. Pay attention to that. Another strategy is to get the Pushcart anthologies from the last few years and see what stories you like, then go back to the journals and read them to see if it's a good fit. But you must read the journals! This is in accordance with the rules of karma and morality. Because how can you ask them to read your work if you don't even read their journals? That would be bad. You don't want to be bad.
I'll check out Kevin Wilson. Thanks!
I just got through working with someone who is very famous. He and I seemed to be on the same "bathroom schedule" and I would see him in the bathroom very often. However, one of us would not wash our hands after using the bathroom (it wasn't me). I feel like sending this person a letter suggesting that they change their hygienic habits, so how would I do that? But who do I think I am, anyway?
Sorry I never answered this--I didn't see it until now, two months late. My answer: I say leave him alone. I understand your discomfort, but in the end, bathrooms are not the dirtiest places we encounter in our lives, they're just the places with sinks in them. Theoretically we should all be washing our hands after touching escalator handrails, the city of Manhattan, and the inside of our noses. I know that toilet seats seem dirty--that's why they make people with OCD touch toilet seats on Obsessed, my favorite TV show. But they're not as dirty as the buttons on vending machines.