Monday, March 30, 2015

Greetings! 3.30.15

[Say hello to the Boylan Blog readers, be polite, don't scare the reader away, we want them to feel welcome]!

[Make some comment about how spring is most assuredly on its way], [try not to mention how you walked home in the pouring rain the other night and you just generally prefer the snow, it won't do any good], [reiterate how harsh the winter was so our readers know you're coming from the same place as they are]. 

[Insert a .gif or a picture of a cute animal, spring themed, that'll bring the cuteness factor]

[Put forth a sincere thank you to everybody who submitted to The Junction, our magazine, and say that we're currently reviewing all the pieces we've received and are very grateful to everyone who has shared a part of themselves with us. Be personable. Also mention that we're still accepting art submissions, and that if anyone wants to submit art they should email it as an attachment to]

[Say that there is an announcement (not really serious announcement, end with a light-hearted exclamation point or something]!
[Announcement one concerns the paid internship opportunity being offered by the Wellspring Advisors in the areas of philanthropy, social justice, and human rights. (Do not forget that oxford comma.) The internship runs from May 18th to August 15th and applications should be sent to]

[Tell our readers to have a good week. End with a joke. Be funny. You can be funny, right? If you can't be funny, insert a .gif. A cute photo isn't going to cut it if you can't be funny; the masses demand cute .gifs.] 
[Do not insert some joke about midterms here, about how spring break seems so close but there's this wall in your way; it'll just depress people. This kind of joke isn't funny; you should know this by now.]
[Sign your name if you think anybody cares about it.]
— [Actually just don't, you probably don't want your name attached to such a shoddy greetings like this. Just walk away. Go on, get.] 

News Briefs 3.30.15

East Village in Crisis
Last Thursday, a block on Second Ave in the East Village was devastated by an enormous explosion that destroyed four buildings, killed two people, and wounded many more. There's a video at the source, and it's far too much like a small-scale 9/11 for my comfort, with the cloud of smoke and the vaporization of a building within the space of seconds. The immediate questions, of course, are how and why. It wasn't terrorism; just everyday human error, or at least that's what it sounds like to me. City officials indicated the explosion was due to a faulty gas or plumbing issue, but answers have been far from definitive as the investigation continues.

So we are still left with our how and why. We live in a city that's said to never sleep, a complicated network of moving parts and cogwheels meshing together. Despite the frantic nature of New York, there are certain things we tend to rely on, one of which being that we expect the buildings we bustle through won't collapse around our ears at any given moment. The next step after the investigation, after the clean-up, after the recovery, must be accountability. How did one building's pipe system take two lives? Who was responsible for upkeep and maintenance, for ensuring the safety of customers and personnel alike (one fatality was a patron at a restaurant; the other, an employee of the same)? These are not only businesses, but people's homes, buildings that are now destroyed. We have to start paying more attention to our aging infrastructure, because, let's face it, New York City's an aging urban jungle. Anyone who's submerged themselves in the century-old subway and all its, well, eccentricities, so to speak, can attest to that. We have to repair or replace old structures before they end up causing disasters.

We're New Yorkers; we can adapt. But we should never have to accept fatal oversights from those assigned to prevent them. The East Village, and the community of the city as a whole, deserves an answer for how and why.

Hey Boylan Readers~

Reporting now from your strange and obscure New York news column, Annaliisa signing on.
I'm sure all of you have at one time taken a trip to the lovely Coney Island. Many of us have experienced the waves, the rides, and the arguable ricketiness of the rides.
I can't count how many times I have watched a ride at Coney Island and been amazed at slow, menacing progression of the rides. A few of them appear as they are right about to collapse.
And in fact, on the ride the Cyclone-during this past Sunday, the roller coaster did indeed get stuck on the tracks.
Thankfully it finally got it's readers helped down from the disastrous height and back into relative safety. Although I wonder if the incident would have any type of impact on the riders aboard the dangerous trek of a roller coaster.
  The roller coaster is 85 feet at its highest, a bit of a scary drop when you consider you've been stuck up there for an hour or so.
24 riders had to be evacuated, but no one sustained any injuries, thank goodness.

I wonder how I would have felt being up there, and what inspiration I may have gathered. OR the fear that may have rumbled to the surface. I'm honestly surprised no one panicked and tried to jump out.
Strange Brooklyn News, signing off,

Annaliisa :)

Currently Reading 3.30.15

Gilbert Sorrentino's The Abyss of Human Illusion

So my friends and I have this running joke, that every time I start to work on or obsess over some project I really like and am really excited over, I will immediately begin reading a book with the exact same plot. I am not so egotistical to suggest I was writing stuff comparable to masterpieces, just that they shared some of the same focus or elements. Previous examples include: Crime and Punishment, Oryx and Crake, an episode of "Hey Arnold" (that last one really stung).

So of course, having recently finished a group of very short, imagistic, nonlinear but possibly connected, numbered short stories, I read Gilbert Sorrentino’s The Abyss of Human Illusion, a collection of short, imagistic, nonlinear but possibly connected, numbered short stories. Oy. 

All that aside, I really like the collection, and thought I’d share the entirety of one of his stories, just for a little taste:

- I -
         Mundane things, pitiful in their mundane assertiveness, their sad isolation. Kraft French dressing, glowing weirdly orange through its glass bottle, a green glass bowl of green salad, a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, its paper wrapper still on. All are in repose, in their absolute thingness, under the overhead alarming bright light of the kitchen. They may or they should, they must, really, reveal the meaning of this silent room, this silent house, save that they won’t. There is no meaning. These things will evoke nothing.
        In years to come, almost three-quarters of a century, they still evoke nothing. Orange, green, incandescent glare. Silence and loss. Nothing. There might be a boy of four at the table. He is sitting very straight and is possibly waiting for someone.

I love how focused this story gets on the objects, but the very presence of a person is almost entirely inconsequential. I also love the circular logic here; these objects are meaningless and therefore that becomes their meaning. How can something be meaningless when he devotes the entire first story to it? He is simultaneously questioning their value and also elevating them to a strange level of mythos. In a sense, this is also very similar to a zen aesthetic, the sort of insight gleaned from the imperfections of daily life; but it is also an antithesis, a sinister-ization of those elements. The Kraft French dressing exists as something that has become only a signifier of man, the suggestion or form of mankind without the actual humanity. That’s right, he forces you to confront the crushing philosophical consequences of condiments. Sign me up. More malaise on my burger please.

In a way it reminds me a bit of William Eggleston’s photography:
William Eggleston, Untitled (Louisiana), 1980

William Eggleston, Untitled, 1968
They are beautiful but sad, funny but dark, heavy and somehow static, like there is something totemic and unchanging about these subjects.

Sorrentino’s work feels a bit like Raymond Carver or John Cheever, obsessed with the emptiness of modern suburbia, but more aware of his medium. (Aware might not be the right word. Confounded by? Frustrated with? Delighted with? Less respectful of? More reverent of? Yeah. All those.) In his best known work, Mulligan Stew, the narrative turns into a conglomeration between a story about an author and the story he is working on writing, and includes multiple characters stolen from other novels (the title too is a pun, a reference to Ulysses’s Buck Mulligan). A later book of his, Gold Fools, is written entirely in questions.

Abyss is less blatantly experimental than those, but his fascination with falsity and language remains. The events in the stories are blatantly referred to as cliches, and he will give a single character multiple names (suggesting that the names don’t really matter at all). The stories are sometimes mundane, sometimes blatantly surreal (for example, a story ending with a wife “emit[ting] a low drone” or a story about a doctor, not a dentist, inexplicably tearing at patient’s gums and then mounting him). They invoke a sense of supreme familiarity and ennui while simultaneously provoking a foreboding sense of jamais vu, a sense that something is not quite right underneath it all.

And then, once you’ve gotten through the 50 unnamed stories, you find a series of footnotes for each story. These are unmarked within the actual texts of the stories, so unless you knew beforehand that they're there, you have no inkling they are coming. Sometimes they elaborate a certain, often totally mundane point, specifying that it was A&P peanut butter that a character was spreading; other times they completely change the entire tone of a line or story (for example, one of the notes for the final story: “…sunny, blue Los Angeles day…the sort of day that rapists and mass killers come out to pursue their interests”). Some are even deliberately ambiguous, or in fact purposely obscure objects or events (“…the shade of a birch tree…It may have been poplar, or whatever you prefer”).

The notes operate in a couple different ways. They reinforce the stories as objects of your own memory; they operate as memories of stories that already existed because they were already somehow so familiar, but manipulate those memories, perhaps forcing you to reconfront a story with an entirely different stance. Last, and I think my favorite, they can operate as a separate set of disconnected thoughts and images and micro narratives, perhaps inspired by the story, but not inherently connected, as one might think. The clarifications are made meaningless by becoming disconnected and therefore gain their own context and meaning.

Gilbert Sorrentino died in 2006, finishing this book by hand a few weeks before he died. And so he may be gone but this remains, his signifiers remain. The cover of this book reminds me of a Magritte painting (what is this, The Canvas!?); the author removed and an empty hat that must be examined for what it is: empty.

Rene Magritte, The Pilgrim, 1966

Poem of the Week

Shisui's Death Poem

So I'm not one for poetry, if we're going to be straight with each other; I wouldn't know good from bad. However, when I first got into J. D. Salinger, I simultaneously became very interested in the culture of the far east - which probably was no coincidence. What really struck my fancy was the fact that many zen monks and haiku poets would grow old, write a poem, and die minutes later. There was a haiku poet named Shisui, who was asked by his disciples on his death bed to write a death poem. Poor dude just wanted to die, so he drew a circle (it was zen symbolism for flipping the middle finger). Okay, so that last part was a lie. But he did draw a circle, throw his brush away, and die on the spot. It's pretty metal, if you ask me.

The circle is actually one of the most important symbols in all of zen Buddhism, as it symbolizes the void (which is the essence of everything (the realization of which leads to enlightenment)). So it leads me to believe that upon drawing the circle, Shisui was declaring his enlightenment, the visual equivalent of shouting, "katsu."

To include some actual poetry, I'm going to show y'all my favorite haiku poet of all time, who unfortunately doesn't have an official death poem. His name is Matsuo Basho, and he wrote the following gem:

The morning glory also
turns out
not to be my friend.

In fact, to leave off with something I won't shut up about if you mention him to me, here are a few Basho poems!

Teeth sensitive to the sand
in salad greens--
I'm getting old.
Cold as it was
We felt secure sleeping together
In the same room.
Wrapping the rice cakes,
with one hand
she fingers back her hair.

Currently Listening 3.30.15

There are a lot of great songs out there, and there are a lot of terrible songs out there, so for this week I chose a hilarious song that makes fun of the terrible songs. Bo Burnham is a comedian who uses music in his act and his show what. is great (and on YouTube!). I like this song because he's right about everything: I hate repetition in songs and I know that these singers are saying these ridiculous things to get girls to adore them and I fall for it every time. On New Year's Eve One Direction performed, and one of them (not even the cute one that broke everyone's heart, one of the ugly ones) sang something like "I love how you drink tea every night." And I thought to myself, I drink tea every night. Yeah, I, and a million other people. It means nothing! But that's the first thing I thought, and I was ashamed. Luckily, this song is also very catchy and I feel much better about waking up with this stuck in my head.

BOnus Point: Justin Bieber was in the audience at this show and was very offended by this song. And anything that offends Justin Bieber is fine by me.     

Currently Watching 3.30.15

I really love going to clubs. I'm definitely at the “stay-at-home wet blanket” end of the social spectrum, but it's the one thing I'm always down to do. I love dancing to radio garbage remixes. I love dragging wallflower strangers out onto the dance floor and pulling people together and making them dance with each other once they've relaxed. I'm like the Robin Hood of awkward club goers. Sadly, my closest friends have scattered across the continent like leaves in the wind, and unless we're basically friend-married, there's no easy way for me to ask, “so... wanna hit up da club and get crunk?” (Hot tip: probably don't ask anyone this.)

I'm not an actual dancer with any sort of background in... physical activity of any kind. When I bust a move, the move is called “busting a move.” But I really love to wiggle to music, preferably with a friend who is willing to wiggle back, and I haven't been able to lately, at least in a space larger than my room, which has about as much floor space as a postage stamp has surface area. Plus I have a roommate and I don't want to feel her judging eyes on me.

While procrastinating some desperately needed studying, I started feeling that urge. That urge to bust a move. Alas! It was ass o'clock at night and I had a paper due in the morrow. So, because my homework situation was so dire, I started idly browsing youtube for terrible dance vids, trying to recreate that club atmosphere from the comfort of my haze of existential dread/computer chair. But then something magical happened. I suddenly remembered: wow, dancing is an actual art form and I can watch talented people bust moves semi-professionally.

(The choreographers were talking about this like “the story is that the clowns' bigtop is closing and they're mad” and I still didn't go back to my homework.)

So You Think You Can Dance is a really, really tacky show. The host's comments all make me cringe. The clips they play of the dancers practicing before the actual performance, possibly meant to be charming, are painfully manufactured and unfunny. One judge has the worst voice in the world, probably in all of human history, and screams constantly. But the dancers and the choreography are really impressive, and the dances are all under two minutes, which is helpful if you want to justify just one more video at 3AM the night before a midterm. Which I still need to study for. So, here's a breakup song.

Dedicated to my classes this semester.

Culture Corner 3.30.15

I am half Navajo Indian and Half Ashkenazi Jew. So, obviously, I attended a fundamentalist Christian Junior High and High School.

I suppose I should give some context, right? Ok. My father is a man who was once upon a time the lead singer of a popular Top 40 cover band. He is a man who danced at Woodstock, high as a kite. My father--a man who rallied and protested The Vietnam War at Kent State University--converted from "Jew'ish'" to "Crazy Fundamentalist married to a Pagan" when he was around forty-two. Unfortunately, that meant I was twelve. 

For the most part, my dad made all of the decisions. You can see where this is going.

We lived in an area of the Midwest with a rather low population of Jewish people. There were precisely six Indians in the entire area, and we were all related. For years, I attended public schools. I liked it. No one gave a damn if we were Christian (because they assumed we were). No one cared if I my twin sister occasionally spoke to me in a language they didn't understand (they thought Dine' was a special "twin language"). No one looked at me as though I had two heads when I didn't attend sporting events or dances on Friday night. They just assumed I had better shit to do.

This all changed the summer before seventh grade. On the night my sisters and brothers and I returned from the reservation in Arizona, we could tell that the climate in our home shifted in the time we were playing with our cousins, and learning to weave from our Shima Sani. My mother, normally a buoyant personality, shimmering with the light of the desert beneath her skin, was subdued. She seemed withdrawn into herself. She looked as though she aged ten years in the six weeks we were gone. 

Also, there was a big, fucking crucifix on our wall above our dining table. Huge. That memorial of Our Lord and Savior was four feet long and nearly as wide. Apparently, no one told my father about "The Buddy Christ."

Because nothing says "be thankful you have food on the table, and so help me 'eat your peas'" like the Lamb of God forever posed on the worst day of his life.  It was a bit of a shock. That night, when we all gathered around our hand-carved Navajo table, with its sun faces on every chair, and Coyote legs, our father told us that we were now good Christian children.

He. just. told. us. We were now a new religion. After we'd spent six weeks learning how to walk with the earth, watching our cousin get his name, and dancing with our older brothers at a sing. This meant a few things: one, CHRISTMAS!! that was an unexpected bonus; two, our Friday nights were suddenly free of family meals; and three, we had to start going to church and Christian school.

Two weeks later I found myself standing before the mirror with my identical twin (no, we don't just look at each other to gauge how we look), trying to figure out how to snap our uniform skirts. There were at least six snaps. This did not bode well for the rest of our experience. It was likely to be as convoluted and irritating as getting into that skirt.

At this point, we had attended two church services, and could say with all surety that we were terrified and fascinated. These people danced in the aisles while they sang. It wasn't the gentle row of a "sing." It was  full-body freak outs of which we could only assume were caused by psychotropic substances filling the pre-church coffee ritual. If Navajos have peyote, did fundies have magic mushroom coffee that made them dance that way, and yell out in a foreign language? They looked as though they may be doing the Eagle Dance, but with far less-fearsome costuming.

My dad brought a tambourine. Because being twelve and in a new church and school wasn't difficult enough.

When we were dropped off at the front of the school that August morning, my sister and I stared at the students headed into the main doors. It was like a scene from Children of the Corn. They all dressed exactly alike. They all had their hair down and flowing around their shoulders, tartan headband firmly in place. The LL Bean backpacks they wore were each monogrammed in a perfect metallic. Meanwhile, my sister and I had dark brown pigtail braids hanging down to our waists. Our backpacks were hand-hewn leather, and stamped with the symbols for water and the Thunderbird. We weren't going to be normal at a public Junior High. At the Twilight Zone Academy--we were freaks.

During Homeroom, we not only performed the Pledge of Allegiance, but also the Pledge to the Christian Flag, and the Pledge to the Bible. Yes, we pledged daily to the flag that was the marker of the Crusaders.

Don't worry--I found an image to help you on this part.

The very next period was Bible class. Fortunately, seventh grade Bible class was the Old Testament. Seeing as how our Bubbe still insisted we attend Hebrew school and get Bat Mitzvah'd, we had this on-lock. I was also a huge fan of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and could totally handle singing all of the tribes of Israel. 

However, every other class somehow brought that subject back to Jesus. I was in over my head. I was just getting to know the guy, and BAM! Jesus is science! (Jesus as prima materia, and we super duper can link him to Adam and David and possibly dinosaurs because they were totally around at the same time...) WHAM! Jesus in math! (one plus one equals my relationship with God.) And all of every history ever was Jesus. I'm pretty sure I learned one thing about Asia in the entirety of my time there, and that was, "Hey! We brought Jesus to Singapore, and now they're great! Thanks for asking!"

My sister and I were quickly relegated to "those Indian Jews" who sat together and always brought their lunch. 

We were proselytized to, but not invited anywhere but church. We were regarded as more of a cabinet curiosity than persons. Needless to say, we hustled like hell and took every available course, as well as summer school to graduate early with a state diploma. 

Oddly enough, I look back on those four years with a sort of detached fondness. I learned a lot about myself at a very young age, and learned about true love and caring from those in the school who embraced and accepted my sister and I. I learned that with enough grit, I could get out of most awful situations.

I also gained Christmas. STILL a bonus. 

And now...your daily zen.

Canvas: Bar Art

Bar Art

I think one of the most fascinating aspects of being human is that I am constantly learning new things about myself. It's crazy. For example, if you had asked me five years ago what my opinion was on avocados, I would have replied, "Oh, the gross demon eggs? Yeah, I'll take a pass." But today? I effin love them. Like, I will cut someone for a good guacamole. Now, this is not a case of changing tastes-I just assumed I wouldn't like avocados and never tried one until my wife offered me some and we were luckily still in the part of the relationship where I cared what she thought of me, so I tasted the green mush thing. What I mean to say here is that I learned I like avocados and that I am a produce bigot. So, two things!

I am finding little revelations like that about myself all the time. Recently, it came to my attention that I don't like fun. Board games? No. Concerts? Ah! crowds! Zip lining? I'll walk, thanks. The one thing I do like that is in the fun spectrum are bars. But not bro bars ("Shots! Shots! Shots!) and not trendy bars (Ohhh, is that Emma Stone? Well, that totally justifies a $20 well drink). No, I like chill, slightly hipster Brooklyn bars. The kind of place where a girl will be propped up at the bar behind a Coors can reading Jennifer Egan or a couple of dudes will be nursing some drinks while discussing the latest Noah Baumbach movie. Or, to put it plainly, bars like South Slope's Skylark that has a wall of paintings like this:

Like Brooklyn itself, it almost seems like they are overdoing it with the ironic appreciation of objectively terrible stuff. Yes, that painting in the center is backlit. Of course it's from the 70s. Between that and rain lamps that's all they had to choose from for home decor. Remember, we are talking about a pre-Target era.

Yes, that is a beautiful oil landscape painting. It makes one feel that he or she is standing at the river's edge and thinking, "Man, I could go for some Foghat right about now."

 And here is a quartet of paintings illustrating that concepts such as "themes" or aesthetic continuity are for mere posers. And yes, that cat picture is made out of yarn, because that is something that people did back then. They made pictures out of yarn.

Yes, yarn!!!

But I did not post these photos just to mock them. The kitschy vibe of the place is what I love about it. It is what I love about all bar art. It's hard to say what exactly makes for a great bar, but creating an atmosphere that is welcoming and inclusive is probably one of the best places to start.The intentionally horrendous art pieces on the walls punctures the pretensions we city dwellers carry with us. For many who move to New York City, it means carrying the weight of the person they want to be around, and it can be an exhaustive load. 

These paintings strip those expectations away. Social anxieties are quickly washed away by a stiff drink. Soon, the facade breaks.  In bars like this, we simply dissolve into the goofy weirdos we were before we got to New York. We talk about the art, music, and books that we love not to sound interesting, but because we are interested. Theories are kicked around, jokes are told, and opinions are defended.

This is what I love about bars. I enjoy talking with people and booze helps me loosen up. I understand that some of our readers may be too young to imbibe, or at least legally. I would like to offer a warning. As far as drinks go, too much of a good thing really can be deadly. I have never been proud of the nights I over did, but I will always cherish the times friends and I drank slowly and responsibly. Think of alcohol as a free way to good conversation, but without speed limits, it's just going to end in a fiery mess.
Earlier, I said I don't like fun, and to some extent that's true. I tend to be a cynical grouch and would reprimand myself for my demeanor if I wasn't so often proved to be correct. I'm no recluse, though. More than anything, I crave conversation and I have yet to find a better place for that than at a good bar, preferably with funky art, and a classic rock playlist.

Currently Eating

Hello Readers!!

I am currently eating a delicious slice of pizza from Rosco's pizza on Franklin Avenue in crown heights.
Rosco's has arguably some of the best pizza I have come across, with a low price to add to its appeal. It has an eclectic blue, wire exterior- placed on the corner of Franklin Avenue. It has a good amount of outdoor bar seating as well.
And in the summer time, the windowed walls open up and allow the summer air inside. Beautiful vibes.
Rosco's also has a good variety of slices you can buy right away, otherwise you can order your own specialty pizzas (which are usually more expensive, but with more delicious toppings). They also serve a dangerously delicious lasagna, rice balls, garlic and cheese knots...oh, and beer.
The pizza I decimated yesterday was an olive, mushroom, bacon, capers combination.
It was almost too good to be true... check it out guys!!


Magic Hat 3/30


I'll take your cat to the vet
because you love your cat
and I love that you have that capability.
I couldn't love something
sneaky that pounces
on the unsuspecting pair of head phones--
contorting its body through small
spaces all snake-like,
with huge blinking, sociopathic eyes.
I could never love something with claws
that could potentially ruin something I didn't really like in the first place,
but might kind of still want;
something that could randomly wake me in the complacent hours of
the night, with its persistent melodramatic cries
for attention.
But you my dear, are the ideal lover.
You could hold a demon like that in your arms,
allow it to squirm and swat at your face, playfully.
Even when it hurts you by accident,
or on purpose,
you always still pick it up again.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Greetings 3.23.15

Greetings English Majors, Brooklyn College students, and future persons who are reading this blog! (I am happy that Beyonce is America's first female African American President, but I still find it odd that she ran as Sasha Fierce. So, is she President Fierce or President Knowles? Perhaps this all makes more sense in your time.)

Winter still has us in his steely grip, but just this morning I heard a songbird warbling outside my window signaling to Spring that it was safe to emerge from her hibernation and bring unto the world the full bounty of nature's delights. Okay, so what I actually heard was a pigeon coughing up a cigarette butt, but still: I think Spring is finally here, guys!

Speaking of summer registration (uh, I failed my Intro to Segues class), Cunyfirst went live this past Wednesday, so if you are planning on taking summer classes, make sure to sign up ASAP. Take a look at the Summer 2015 Course Catalog here.

That's it for now, folks! We hope that all of your semesters are going well and if not, feel free to swing by Boylan 3416 to gripe or just lay low. And in keeping with last week's cute theme, for the first time in 20 years, researchers have been able to document the existence of this lil' guy:

It's called an ili pika, a kind of rabbit/teddy bear hybrid. The creature was first discovered over twenty years ago in the Tianshan mountains in Northwestern China and only 29 people have reported seeing one since. Anyway, it is cute and I want to pet it and give it a kiss on the nose. 

News Briefs 3.23.15

Our Google Overlords

The way Google's current search system is set up, it ranks results by popularity. This understandably bumps up a lot of pseudoscience and gossip sites, which are often sensationalist and structured to lure the uninformed with headlines like “BEES—Fact or Fiction?” Well, I think I know the answer to this, but maybe I should click the article just to make sure. That's pretty much what happens to anyone who accidentally ends up on a trashy news site. But, with a million more links to equally compelling headlines all over every article page on the site, the only way to escape it to never end up on one in the first place. That's not just me, right?

Google has this idea to fact-check sites against a “Knowledge Vault” containing 2.8 billion facts largely regarded as true by the Internet. This seems sort of circular to me, but either way, it'll be filtering out a lot of those sensationalist news sites, including pretty much anything trying to debunk climate change or the effectiveness of vaccines. And Fox News. Watch the video; it's kind of hilarious how desperately they're trying to paint this change as immoral. They have a lot of reason to be scared, considering detected “incorrect facts” will bump a web page down in the ranking, and they're Fox News. To quote the anchor in the video, “whoever controls the truth controls the world.” Well said, middle-aged white man.

To be fair, Google is so omnipresent that it kind of freaks me out, so having them decide what's true or false feels a little sketchy, even if I don't use Google because I'm afraid they're spying on me through my laptop webcam or whatever. But honestly, the fact that more people all over the world will be offered reputable sites with information near-unanimously regarded as true means a lot in the way of self-education. The only downside I foresee is that it'll be harder to find unfunny tumblr shitposts from a year ago.

More practically, Google's priority has actually been health-related searches, and they implemented something cool through their Knowledge Graph over a month ago. Try searching for a virus or disease and chances are you'll get a card with a brief explanation of the ailment, along with signs and symptoms, how common it is, and a list of potential treatments, all compiled and fact-checked by medical doctors against reputable medical sources. It's no replacement for visiting a doctor, but it can give you information fast, and you'll quickly get an idea of what to look for if you need to research further. Considering 1 in 20 Google searches are health-related, this is seriously fantastic for a lot reasons.


*     *     *

Hello all! This is more a friendly reminder about local events than a news report trying to accomplish anything, but it effects enough of us that I figured I'd post it; the MTA is raising subway fares! A single ride goes from $2.50 to $2.75. Included with this is an equal raise in bus fare too. But there is a new rewards system, which gives you a free 11% of credit. Here is a website to help with all this new math. This went into effect yesterday, March 22nd, so be prepared next time you fill up your card!

The reasons for the increase in fare are shrouded in mystery. One theory posits that the MTA needs more funds to quash the ever growing population of rebellious mole-people that inhabit the empty tunnels. Another theory claims that the number 2.75 bears some importance on the scheme of energy leylines running under the city, and that the MTA is trying to harness the vast mystical powers with a combination of crystals and used wads of gum. And lastly, one unlikely conspiracy theory is that MTA is doing it to keep up with inflation. Crackpots, am I right?


Justice for Farkhunda

On Thursday, March 19th, a young Afghan woman was publicly beaten, kicked and burned to death by a mob for allegedly burning the Koran. Initially, the deceased family's statement to the media was that the young woman suffered from mental illness since the age of eleven.
As it turns out, these allegations were false. This young woman was beaten, run over by a car, set on fire, and then thrown off of a cliff into the Kabul River, while onlookers with smartphones recorded the ordeal. This young woman was beaten by a mob of men, with huge wooden sticks as law enforcement stood around as witnesses to the crime.
Today, hundreds of Afghans are protesting the death of the 28-year old religious scholar, Farkhunda. So far, thirteen men have been arrested for their participation and several police officers have been suspended and under investigation for allegedly allowing her brutal, public murder to happen.
This story is still developing. Since there is footage of the ordeal, the Afghani government expects more arrests to be made in the upcoming days. Currently, the protesters of Kabul have gathered outside of the Shah Doshamshera mosque, crying out for justice. Farkhunda was laid to rest on Sunday, by all- female coffin bearers.

Currently Reading: Sartre, Existentialism, and Privilege

In the midst of the amount of reading I have to do for classes, I was able to finish up a book I'd been meaning to read for a while before the semester heated up to boiling:

As you may or may not already be aware (as per my news briefs from last week on literary derivatives and Camus), I really like the existentialists. And though my time with Sartre was slight in the past (I'd only read No Exit, in high school), I was pretty sure I liked him too. Then I read Nausea

It's not so much that I hate Sartre now, or that I thought Nausea was particularly bad—there were a lot of things I really liked throughout the book, actually—but I do very desperately want to hit him very hard on the back of the head. In high school, I suppose, I never picked up on things that were subtly problematic in books, but now that I'm here looking at Sartre again I can't help but ask him desperately to check his privilege. A privilege he is at least somewhat aware of when he says things like

He is going to tell me his troubles: now I remember he said something was wrong, in the library. I am all ears: I am only too glad to feel pity for other people's troubles, that will make a change. I have no troubles, I have money like a capitalist, no boss, no wife, no children; I exist, that's all. And that trouble is so vague, so metaphysical that I am ashamed of it.

But before I get too far into that, a brief overview of the book: One Antoine Roquentin is staying in the small town of Bouville as he writes a history book. While attempting to write it, he is struck by "the nausea," which culminates to be the realization of the reality of the world: the existential moment, more or less. He is a man who was once driven by success who ends up resigned to being driven by his sensations. Nothing here is so much a problem for me except that Antoine is a gigantic misanthrope ("Misanthropy also has its place in the concert: it is only a dissonance necessary to the harmony of the whole.") who, instead of just perceiving, judges all he sees as somewhat "stupid" atop of its insignificance. But I see the problem of privilege arise the most when he expresses his thoughts on freedom:

I am free: there is absolutely no more reason for living, all the ones I have tried have given way and I can't imagine any more of them. I am still fairly young, I still have enough strength to start again. But do I have to start again? How much, in the strongest of my terrors, my disgusts, I had counted on Anny to save me I realized only now. My past is dead. The Marquis de Rollebon is dead, Anny came back only to take all hope away. I am alone in this white, garden-rimmed street. Alone and free. But this freedom is rather like death.

Freedom, in Sartre's head, is not something that people strive for, it is something we must accept: freedom is the sort of realization one is supposed to get when they realize they are without inhibition, because any and all inhibition is outside of the existential sphere of understanding through sensation. Which is a problem when the person telling you this is a wealthy straight white male who travels the world for fun: this freedom, as described, is attainable by those who don't have responsibilities they must work to meet, and live within the privileged sect of society that isn't held down by forces outside of their control. 

What I see as the problem here is that Sartre's philosophy is an intensely privileged one: you can tell anyone that they are necessarily free so long as they realize it, but if they're hungry this freedom won't permit them to conjure food and drink out of nothing. With this sort of realization, it became very hard for me to read this book without writing it off as a philosophical portrait of a midlife crisis. 

Which imposed a privileged little existential crisis in me, of course. Since I injected Camus into me in high school, existential thought has become, more or less, my default mode. I think there's a lot of beauty in that philosophy, and I wonder whether that beauty if overshadowed by its central players being old white dudes. The way it was formulated by Sartre, Camus, et al, is existentialism sexist (The Stranger and Nausea make a lot of use of the manic pixie dream girl trope; The Plague features a whole of one female character, who is a doting mother that sits quietly waiting for her son to come home), racist (The Stranger's main plot point is the killing of an unnamed Arab; Nausea's got a plot point about a pedophile described as "dark skinned"), or classist (All of these novels focus on upper-to-upper-middle-class people who seem to be afforded the luxury of existential crises by not having to work very hard to stay above water)? 

I don't really know the answers to these questions. Part of me might see how I could be misunderstanding Sartre, but I wonder if that accounts for Nausea's blatant misanthropy. More of me thinks I should read Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex for her thoughts on existential feminism, or Violet Leduc's The Prison of Her Skin. But this doesn't really solve the problems of race and class. The rest of me encourages writers currently dabbling is existentialism to do better. 

Poem of the Week

For this week, I wanted to focus on a poem by Diane Wakoski.

Inside Out

I walk the purple carpet into your eye
carrying the silver butter server
but a truck rumbles by,
                      leaving its black tire prints on my foot
and old images          the sound of banging screen doors on hot   
             afternoons and a fly buzzing over the Kool-Aid spilled on   
             the sink
flicker, as reflections on the metal surface.

Come in, you said,
inside your paintings, inside the blood factory, inside the   
old songs that line your hands, inside
eyes that change like a snowflake every second,
inside spinach leaves holding that one piece of gravel,
inside the whiskers of a cat,
inside your old hat, and most of all inside your mouth where you   
grind the pigments with your teeth, painting
with a broken bottle on the floor, and painting
with an ostrich feather on the moon that rolls out of my mouth.

You cannot let me walk inside you too long inside   
the veins where my small feet touch
You must reach inside and pull me
like a silver bullet
from your arm.

I wrote a paper on Wakoski's work a couple years ago. Her use of imagery including the moon and the stars continues to fascinate me. She is a pivotal poet, although not much is said about her often in the canon. She was still incredibly moving and powerful.

The sound of this poem absolutely amazes me. Lines like "inside the whiskers of a cat, inside your old hat," sound so amazingly songlike. I hope that someday I can write similarly to her practice. 
The image of a black tire print and spilled colorful Kool aid also spurs my imagination. I smell and imagine the exact location. This is very typical of Wakoski's poetry, she delves into minuscule scenes and tears apart almost every image you could think of. This definitive exploration and expulsion of ordinary situations provides the reader with tremendous insight.
How and why do we view the world the way we do? Why do we pass by beautiful situations and scenes on a daily basis? I believe that through poems such as these, Diane Wakoski is urging us to slow down. To allow ourselves to see the humanity and brilliance in environments we take for granted.
Another thing I wanted to mention about Wakoski's poetry is her dedicated repetition of images and motifs. And when I say repetitive, I mean really, lovingly repetitive. Symbols of and relating to the moon reoccur throughout years of her poetry anthologies; from the first to the last.
She also repeats the same image of a man on a motorcycle (who upon my research happened to be a man that brutally broke Diane's heart). However in her poetry she never explicitly says  this, it is far more delightfully implied. I adore that in her poetry. Her immense consistency and unique train of thought.
I am often drawn to her work when having writer's block of my own. I highly encourage you guys to check her out and learn to love her like I did.

And remember, slow it down guys:) Whether you're walking to the train, or taking the dog for a walk. Allow your mind to see and engage with everything around you. FEEL the environment as it moves around you.
You'll mirror this energy and also energize yourself when expanding your perspective so vastly.
Alright, enough of the hippie self talk. I'll let y'all be.
Much love,

Currently Watching 3/23

Prepare yourselves, because I'm about to drop some knowledge on you: I, Courtney Takats, have little to no attention span. I know this probably comes as a shock to everyone, so I'll let a moment pass so it can sink in. Okay, moment's over. Now, the main problem with having no attention span is (I'm going to start this sentence over because I had a sentence in mind to write and then Kyle came back to the apartment and I got distracted - thus proving my above point? (And now Kyle suggested we make tea and that I demonstrate the way my brain works throughout this post and I think that's an awesome idea (Side note [actually the main point of this post]: I watched this short film the other day and it was stellar. The coolest part about short films is that they're accessible to people who don't normally watch films, either because said person makes sure their schedule is full every second of the day {i.e., me} or because they don't have the extended focus for an entire movie {also me}.

(Side note 2: Genius idea: a "gotta jet" pack [a jetpack combined with a camping kit] (I should probably get back to the short film thing. So this film, called "The Gunfighter" is so very meta, and after all isn't that what we English majors eat up? (Fun fact: for quite a long time, I denied how much I enjoy postmodernism - until I realized it's the majority of what I like.) It centers on all the usual tropes of western stories, including the narrative voiceover. But what would happen if all the characters could hear the voiceover? (Watch this short to find out!) That last parenthetical statement right there perfectly demonstrates the beauty of short films. You need only spare a few minutes of your time to get the whole story (This is especially good for me, because I can't even commit to a favorite color [it's usually narrowed down to purple or green, unless I'm in a turquoise kind of mood]). I have this fascination with single scoop friends (strangers met for a one-time conversation, never to be seen again [insert suspenseful music here]) and short films are the cinematic equivalent.

(Side note 3: I don't know if paragraph breaks are allowed without closing the parentheses, but I've been doing it so I think I'm just going to continue [Also, this is unrelated but I used {I don't know why this is currently on my mind but whatever} to romanticize peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because they were [to me, at least] a rite of passage to being a child and I had never had one. I mentioned this to my friend recently and he's been determined to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich [I think I'm okay with it]]). The most exciting part about this short film is that it's not only meta and eight minutes long (both huge selling points), but it manages to paint a picture of the entire world of the film in a short amount of time without leaving the watcher unsatisfied and wanting "more." It's just enough. And that's beautiful (know what else is beautiful? Cherry blossoms when they first bloom [I'm apparently growing sunflowers with my friend this spring and we're doomed from the start but I'm really excited (Last side note: I just muttered aloud to myself: "what the hell, Courtney?" so thanks for taking this ride with me.]))))))) that it's hard to focus.

Currently Listening 3.23.15

If we're being honest with one another, which of course we are, who lies on the internet, right? I spent the last several days in a sweat lodge in Arizona on my family's reservation. Therefore, the thing I've mainly been listening to is my own bitching, and perhaps the loud echoes of regret which are filling my head, and telling me that my caucasian half thinks this was a really bad idea--and that half seemed really, really right in 110F. 

The things we do for family, am I right?

However, what I have been listening to, and what I plan on listening to again, is something near and dear to my heart. 

Also, this...


I know, crazy right? How is this close to my heart? I am the mother of two teacup humans. One is seven and one is three. I could lie (again, this is the internet, and honesty is assumed), and tell you I only read the highest level of ABC books and comics to my children. I could also tell you I never let them watch television or play hours of games on my iPad,  because MOMMA HAS CRAP TO DO--but--no. 

For a scheduled period of time each day, my children get to be truly American, and completely zombify themselves in front of the television. 

Some children's programming is truly awful. Calliou, for instance, is so awful, I'd actually rather join a book club with my mother, wherein we read aloud from 50 Shades of Grey, and proceed to discuss our favorite scenes, than watch that show one more time. Same goes for Ella the Elephant and those awful videos on YouTube that just show grown ups opening toys. Those videos captivate children, and I find them creepy and terrifying. 

Do me a favor, check out the number of times that video has been viewed. Is your mind blown?

However, Yo Gabba Gabba, has become my port in the storm. Not only is it so ridiculously trippy as to call into question the relative sobriety of its creators, production always manages to snag the best talent for their segments, making every parent sigh in collective happiness. Especially those parents ages 30-45. Because every day, Biz Markie shows up, and teaches us our children how to beat box. 

Typically, the struggle of parents, children, and television is a sort of internecine war that inevitably ends with tears and alcohol. Not the case with Yo Gabba Gabba. It is so superbly conceived that it is truly a joy to watch. And the music! Holy gods, the music. It's ripe, and creative, and it's new. The addition of artists such as The Roots, and The Who, and recently, Imagine Dragons, is serving to cultivate a love of interesting, good music in the next generation of thinkers, creators, and doers. 

Think about it, if our next generation is only exposed to the music they hear on television every day, they're at least given the exposure of a broad array of wonderful music, even if they are just watching this one show. 

With music programs being pushed aside to facilitate the school's ability to devote more classroom time to test prep, children aren't getting the same musical education that I was given. I had four hours per week of art and music classes. My son gets thirty minutes of the arts, once a week, for half of the year. The other half of the year, that time is spent preparing for spring standardized tests. 

Yo Gabba Gabba sets a foundational love of music in children as young as eighteen months, and sets a spark inside their little hearts that can only be truly realized when they're able to sample music of their own choosing. I know that now, at age seven, my son is still quite in love with The Strokes, which is a band he first heard in the womb, but was able to see and dance along with on Yo Gabba Gabba. 

Not to mention, they teach really good lessons...

Culture Corner 3.23.15

In case you didn't know, it's parade season. I'll bet you didn't know, because I think I've heard approximately none people talk about how psyched they are to go to a parade on the weekend. Parades are basically important to people who are involved in parades, and I happen to be one of those people. You see, in high school I was in the marching band because, as you may have guessed, I was unbelievably cool. I was a snare drum, or as we like to say, the rock star of the band. I've long since hung up my puke-green-and-mustard-yellow band jacket and put away my orthopedic marching shoes, but I go back to these parades often because my former band teacher asks me to and she's a lovely woman who needs the help.

There are a lot of groups involved in parades, but I'm going to talk about bands because that's all I know. Parades are actually like competitions for bands; each band in judged on their sound and formation, the precision of their lines, and if they perform a routine. I'm sure there are a lot of great bands out there for whom competitions like these are a very big deal, but we were not one of those bands. We were a Catholic high school band, which meant not a lot of funding, which meant we were wearing forty year old uniforms and playing instruments that literally crumbled to pieces in our hands. We weren't there to win, but no one likes to feel stupid, so it did and still does sort of sting when we see nice big bands, all smug with their shiny instruments and uniforms from this century.

But one thing that our little band has is heart, and a pretty good beat, too. These drummers all think they're Nick Cannon in Drumline, and they're not half bad. It's funny because all their marching songs are very traditional Irish and military songs, but this is really what they want to be doing:


I'm not sure why they're singing kids' songs, but I love how they take the old beats and make it their own. 

Illuminations 3.23.15

I'm about to go off on about how much I care about an individual's power of self-expression, but first, look at this absolutely awesome "selfie museum" called Art in Island that just opened in Manila. It features a bunch of interactive versions of famous artworks, and unlike a traditional museum, you're encouraged to get your dirty human hands all over the masterpieces.

Like, wow. I get that this is more of a theme park than an actual museum, half for tourists and half for fine arts enthusiasts, but I'm still delighted. Art is supposed to speak to you, or something deep like that, and this is sort of like a crossover between interactive performance art and fine art. The exhibitions are all set up so that they're either roomy enough for one more, or blatantly incomplete without you.

I've tried to get in the habit, but I take pictures of myself so rarely that last year's New Years Resolution for me was to take a selfie at least once a month, and I failed. I think I only managed to take seven all year. Maybe eight. But I love seeing other people's selfies. I hope in five hundred years we're called the Selfie Era.

Of course, self portraits have existed since the dawn of pretty much any given artistic medium. It's not uncommon or new to want to capture the self, and to do so with your own hand and eye. But painting a self portrait or setting up a tripod with a time delay in an aesthetically dilapidated barn are pretty different from winking into your iPhone camera set up with a selfie stick.


I love the intimacy and control of the selfie. People can take fifty in one sitting and pick the one they like the best, the one they want to use to represent themselves. The exact tilt of the head and squint of the eyes they find ideal, the angle that hides a zit or disguises a jawline they wish was shaped differently. They can move into lighting which flatters them best, or just completely disregard the whole concept of "looking good" and make silly faces to reflect their mood. In a world which is constantly telling you that you need a smaller nose, sharper cheekbones, a thinner neck, whatever, that's really powerful, especially for young people who are already so impressionable and insecure. I'm sure everyone is aware of how airbrushing and Photoshop have warped our perception of what a real human looks like. (Please click that link. Please, please, please click that link.)

I don't understand why people who take a lot of pictures of themselves get mocked. What's the alternative, photographing trees? The sunset? Maybe I'm being overly humanist, but you know what, we as a species can see the sunset every day from now until the sun collapses in on itself, assuming we survive that long, so what's the problem? I and everyone I know is gonna be dead within the century and maybe our ancient Instagrams on Ye Olde Hypertext Transfer Protocol will be the only piece of the universe which remembers my friend found a sick, wet kitten in the middle of winter and nursed him back to health.

That's what I care about. I care about that friend and the excitement you can read in her face as she cuddles her new cat, healthy and bright-eyed and ready to play. I care about the friend who has had problems with self-esteem since childhood showing off her makeup and new skirt, comfortable enough with the picture to want to share it with the world. And I care about the friend who makes purposely grotesque faces in every single selfie she Snapchats to me, because nothing better captures her obnoxious, ridiculous personality like those pictures do.

Art in Island is really unique in that it's embracing both sides of the coin. Of course there is merit in the work of "the masters"; that's why it has endured, and that's why we study and admire art that is hundreds or thousands of years old. The selfie museum is a celebration of fine art, but it's also a celebration of self-expression. I hope we get one in New York soon. Honestly, I just really want to be an awkward third wheel making a hideous screaming face in La Tempête. Why are they so unaffected? I hate being rained on. I hate being rained on so much that I'm going to take a selfie of my dissatisfied face the next time it has the nerve to rain on a day I need to leave my room. And I hope that's the way the world remembers me.