Questions for Plum Sykes

plumsykes.jpgYour new novel, “Bergdorf Blondes,” have created some disgraceful and unintentionally hilarious Q&A sessions which demonstrate that you are a Tina Brown in the making.

I have a new disease, which I’ve called glitteratitis. I want Bret Easton Ellis to use me as an object in his next novel, preferably as a footstool.

As a writer for Vogue, you have ideas, right?

I’m too beautiful to be concerned about the human condition.

You’ve used “blonde” as a verb and every time you open your mouth, people have been actually lost brain cells listening to you.

You’ve got to keep the English language fun. Have you ever known an English teacher aware of this season’s fashion designs? I haven’t. Perhaps if these teachers paid attention to the way they dressed, English classes wouldn’t be so square.

How can you justify writing a book about these kinds of women with all that is going on the world?

After 9/11, I finally had the excuse I needed to open up my secret stash of candy. And I thought to myself that Jonathan Franzen needed to write a history of candy rather than these long novels about human behavior. He made my head hurt. Who really wants to pay attention to that sort of thing? This age is about comfort and self-entitlement. If you look at this lady with the cigarette in her mouth, she’s simply not in fashion. And besides, we have cheerier photos at Vogue.

What did you study at Oxford?

I wrote my thesis on the frizzy hair movement of the 1970s, drawing particular attention to the Farrah Fawcett feathering movement. It was well received.

P.T. Barnum once said, “Never underestimate the stupidity of the American public.” Would you say that you could apply this to being born in London?

How brilliant. Can you pick up lunch?

“Dagger of the Mind” — Allegory for 2004 America


DR. ADAMS: “Now Captain Kirk is going to have a complete demonstration. I want there to be no doubts whatever in his mind.”

KIRK: “Mmmmm.”

dagger2.jpegDR. ADAMS: “You’re madly in love with Helen, Captain. You’d lie, cheat, steal for her, sacrifice your career, your reputation.”

HELEN: “No, Doctor! No!”

DR. ADAMS: “The pain — do you feel it, Captain? You must have her, or the pain grows worse, the pain, the longing for her.”

KIRK: “Helen.”

DR. ADAMS: “For years, you’ve loved her, Captain, for years.”

KIRK: “For years, I’ve loved you.”

DR. ADAMS: “You must continue to remember that, Captain. And now…she’s gone.”

dagger.jpg[The mind machine is turned up to a dizzying level.]

KIRK: “Helen! Helen, don’t go! I need you, Helen!”

DR. ADAMS: “Now, Captain…you must take your phaser weapon and drop it to the floor. Captain, the pain increases unless you obey me.”

KIRK: “I…must…drop it.”

[KIRK drops phaser.]

DR. ADAMS: “Very good, Captain. Very good indeed. And now your communicator. Drop it to the floor.”

[KIRK desperately flips open communicator.]

KIRK: “Kirk to Enterprise.”

[The mind machine is amped up further.]

KIRK: “Uhhhhhhhhhh! Kirk…to…Enterprise. Ahhhhhhhh!”

HELEN: [shrieking] “No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

[KIRK laughs maniacally in pain/torture/confusion, as camera fades out to commercial break.]

An Open Note to Maud Newton

In response to this:

Avoid the hoopla and the hate and be you. It’s almost Memorial Day Weekend and people all over the nation are freaking out. Probably some unspoken reaction to the fact that a madman is in office, the United States has been caught with its hands in the photographic cookie jar, and there appears no immediate remedy. Tough times, when you factor in the economy and the fact that more guns will be fired into other people tomorrow than any other day of the year. (Okay, that last statistic was a lie.)

But my point is this: everyone is entitled to freak out a little, including you. If that means stopping the blog for a little while, we’ll miss you, but so be it. It’s a fait accompli. We’re cool.

Writing a novel is one of the hardest things that anyone can do. But don’t stop. Keep trying. Your shit is good. Or are you convinced that there’s some nutty conspiracy here who loves you? We here at Return of the Reluctant have offered to give 24-7 cunnilingus to Kate Lee, if only she’d check out our wares. She’s declined. She doesn’t like our tongue action. But no worries. Whereas, on your end, no prob. In short, what else do we have to do to point out that you rock?

In response to (1), please stop the negativity. Your stuff is not drivel. Don’t listen to the angry folks. They’re jealous and have too much time on their hands.

In response to (2), did you know that Jonathan Lethem essentially strung together a bunch of stories for his early novel Amnesia Moon? Sounds cool what you’re doing. Part of a grand tradition. You’ve got to start somewhere. Plus, you’ve got to set goals. Glad you’re taking the bull by the horns.

In response to (3), good good and good. Do what you need to do. When it’s ready, it’s ready. Only three people have read my play so far. But you’ll eventually get to the point where it’s no longer love-hate, and it simply just is. Keep at it.

In response to (4), bloggers are fucking crazy. No one is asking anyone to offer in-depth interviews. Since we feel partially responsible, given our previous call for greater coverage, we should also point out Samuel Johnson’s grand maxim, “No one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” We should also point out that we are blockheads. Fuck, we’d love to offer that kind of in-depth coverage, but we’re trying to pay the rent ourselves. And it sounds to me like you’re an expert in yourself. Probably more.

In response to (5), We’ve told you this several times privately, and now we’re going to tell you publicly: You don’t have to answer every email, especially ours. Human beings have limits!

In response to (6), if it’s not fun, don’t do it. Come back when you feel it’s fun.

And for all you other whipper-snappers, you leave Maud alone. Or we’ll personally subscribe you to every known mailing list pertaining to organized religion.

That is all.

Just Imagine How Much Trouble It Is To Buy A Pack of Trojans

Singapore is lifting its chewing gum ban, but not without a few stipulations: (a) only 19 medicinal brands will be allowed, (b) anyone dealing black market gum will face two years in jail, and (c) you will need a license and an identity card to buy a pack. (And, yes, that’s all true.) No word yet on whether Singapore has taken a cue from the Brady Bill and plans to add a 30 day waiting period.

The Literary Hipster’s Handbook — 2004 Q2 Edition

“con-fuse”: When an author uses his reputation to offer an overlong and unedited book, thus conning his audience into buying or reading it, and eventually lighting the reader’s fuse. (Or: Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle.)

“Dale Pecker”: An unpleasant asshole at a literary cocktail party who claims erudition, but who will never shut up. The distinction between a Dale Pecker and a socially maladjusted person is that the latter still has a love of literature, while the former does not. Term expected to fade into obscurity before summer. Use sparingly. (Ex. I was shooting the shit with Bill over China Mi鶩lle’s upcoming New Crobuzon book, when this Dale Pecker came up and wouldn’t shut up about Ted Chiang.)

“get Doctorowed”: To be booed at a literary gathering, often when one blusters about politics. (Or. E. L. Doctorow) (Ex. He had the audience in the palm of his hands, until he got Doctorowed after referring to some obscure and apparently evil legislative acts against potatoes.)

“Laura crown”: Generally used when a person has repeated the same point in 35 different ways over the course of an hour. A term sometimes punctuated with a pantomine gesture that causes the person to which the phrase is being directed to bow down and become donned with an imaginary crown of laurels. Reported inspiration: Laura Miller.

“niggerati”: Out of style. A failed effort to sound politically incorrect in the comic style of Richard Pryor, but a term that ultimately sounds silly and serves no purpose save through contextual mocking of the term’s originator. Source: Alice Randall, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, discovered by Old Hag

“to Rushdie”: To read a literary book that is too long and not very good and slip into a despondent state. Also, used in the context of flashy marriages and writing — the latter, more specifically applied to anything Salman Rushdie has scribed from The Moor’s Last Sigh onwards.

“swink away”: To become thoroughly rapt with a hip literary magazine like Swink or Pindelyboz, only to be found in a semiconscious state under the docks days later, magazine clutched tightly in hand.

“wonketting off”: Disparaging. Used when angry bloggers express jealousy over the possibility of other bloggers getting book deals, even if the book deals in question are not forgeone conclusions. Often used by paranoid types who have too much spare time and believe the blogosphere is out to get them. Sources of grief: Ana Marie Cox and Daniel Radosh “Talk of the Town” piece.

There Are Better Ways to Relieve Depression Than a Disappearing Act — Hassling Scientologists is a Start

The Last Samurai (which has nothing to do with Tom Cruise) author Helen DeWitt has pulled a Spalding Gray. She disappeared shorty after emailing a friend that she was feeling depresed.

[8/29/05 UPDATE: We never bothered to report it, but Helen Dewitt was eventually found in Niagra Falls. In February, Ron Hogan reported that she was back writing: specifically, this “Letter to an Undergraduate.”]

What’s Worse Than Cowboy Bluster? A Completely Ignored Genocide in Africa

Reuters: “The United Nations has estimated that one million people have been displaced by fighting in Darfur and calls it the largest humanitarian emergency worldwide. Another 125,000 Sudanese refugees have fled to Chad to escape violence….UNICEF said it was providing 300,000 displaced people with access to clean water, double the number of a few weeks ago, but 700,000 people remained out of reach. It has installed nearly 190 new water pumps and repaired 320 existing ones in the area.”

John Kerry, Can You Hear Me?

There’s a moment in Superman II where E.G. Marshall, playing the President of the United States, appears on television, announcing to the nation that he has surrendered his authority over to General Zod. But Marshall breaks down midway through the speech and shouts into the microphone, “Superman: can you hear me? Superman!” Zod then picks up the microphone and asks, “Where is this Superman?” and demands that Superman come to challenge his authority if he dare, so that the son of Jor-El can eventually kneel before Zod.

But Superman has lost his powers. He has just been beaten to a pulp by some hick in a diner and he suggests to Lois Lane, as he is bleeding, that maybe they might need a bodyguard. But Superman, knowing that he must rid the world of the forces of evil, insists that he has to go back. He eventually gets his powers back and stops the three baddies. Though not without sacrificing his love for Lois Lane.

The moment is one of supreme comic book movie melodrama, but for some damned reason, it’s one of the grandest cinematic moments I remember as a kid. It might be the general state of helplessness, an unexpected breakdown following the calm actions of a leader willing to kneel before Zod to save human lives. But I like to think it’s more about decency in the face of horrible capitulations — something that buys the human race a little more time.

In contemplating the current situation, I feel almost exactly like E.G. Marshall reflecting the will of the people. If Kerry is really presidential material, just where the hell is he? Deaths continue in Iraq. The economy remains in the toilet. Bush’s approval figures are now the lowest ever in his presidency. And now Bush wants more troops while remaining in firm denial about the consequences of our actions: “The actions of our enemies over the last few weeks have been brutal, calculating and instructive. It reveals a fanaticism that was not caused by any action of ours and would not be appeased by any concession.”

This should be a slam dunk, a moment that the Democrats should be seizing with momentum and mobilization. This should be a time in which John Kerry is galvanizing the nation with the same fire he showed protesting Vietnam.

Pollster John Zogby himself is on record stating that John Kerry will win, but only if he, and he alone, will screw it up. And from where I’m standing, I see a tepid man and an ineffectual leader. I see a man playing it far too safe for the present time. I see a man who doesn’t have the guts to fight the good underdog fight and act like a goddam President, a man who believes that Bush’s extra spending before the Republican National Convention will somehow buy the faith of the American people — this even as Tom Clancy almost came to blows with Richard Perle..

Kerry’s hands may be admittedly tied by current campaign finance and a colossal Republican-to-Democrat spending gap. But the real question here is whether postponing the nomination until the Republican National Convention so that Kerry can spend his own money is worth sacrificing the general morale of the country.

It would be one thing if Kerry managed to express public consternation over our current unwillingness to accept responsibility for the horrors that we sow. But whether he’s officially the Democratic candidate or not, the time has come for Kerry to start acting like our next President, which means sacrificing something in the process.

John Kerry needs to show us that he’s Superman.

The Power of Denial

The Guardian: “[Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt] insisted there were ‘no decorations, no musical instruments found, no large quantities of food or leftover servings one would expect from a wedding celebration’. However, the video obtained by APTN – which lasts for several hours – shows a large wedding party, and separate footage shot by AP cameramen the following day shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly coloured beddings used for celebrations scattered around a bombed-out tent. There were also fragments of ordnance that appeared to have US markings.”

The Dangers of Opening Twix

Until now, only ten important people were aware of their existence. The Tupperware people knew of similar creatures for sealed pies and pastries, but they recognized that the specific conditions beneath the seal, combined with certain sugary textures, created the necessary living variables, much as carbon does for the silly homo sapien race. But since Tupperware does not in fact mass-produce the contents within, their legal team has a clear defensible position which places them in the clear for endangering lives. They escape culpability.

twix.gifTwix, on the other hand, does create conditional material — specifically, gooey candy bars within sealed packages that allow life to evolve. Thousands of tiny environments, in fact. Sets of two. And until now, the horrible secret has remained tightly kept.

The men inside spin spanned steel twixt twain chocolate sticks. Micromen clanging miniscule hammers, breaking tiny flakes of chocolate for plinth, suspension, so long as the package is unopened. They live happy lives. The chasm beneath these nimble worker bees is a giant reservoir of air, the silt bottom reflecting the shimmering sky of plastic protecting them from the elements. This small working class microcosm hopes that ants and other assorted insects will not use their mandibles and destroy the plastic seal of their happy little gated community.

There are many of these candy bars circulating throughout the world, finding their way into stores and eventually into the hands of consumers, sometimes opened immediately and, other times, opened after being momentarily put into a freezer, where the workers within the candy bar housing shiver and freeze, often dying cold and painful deaths.

But this tragic hypothermia pales in comparison to the micromen’s vampire-like evaporation when exposed to light. When a customer rips open a package, the light instanteneously destroys not only the wondrous bridges, homemade bowers and glorious chocolate Quonset huts that these beatific micromen construct, but also the very micromen themselves. The only trace of their existence is the ridge, which forms as the microman stands happily on chocolate terrain, only to disintegrate into nothingness, his footprints the only remainder. While most people believe that the machines create those glorious ridges, found on the topmost texture of all Twix bars, it is actually the small, barely perceptible conflagrations of a suddenly opened package which cause this tiny subtlety.

Despite the presence of an expiration date signaling the time that the community will transmute into moldy, melty or otherwise unedible form, the process of opening a Twix bar, which thousands of people enact every day, is, in short, genocide. Millions of micromen are destroyed on a daily basis. On a tiny, basic level, the sudden tear of a candy bar package has produced a veritable Rwanda 365 times a year.

I ask those who would dare open a candy bar how they can sleep a night. How can they willingly disregard this tiny life form, who has done nothing save construct bridges of chocolate? And where, pray tell, are the archeologists and zoologists? Why does the mysterious life of the Twix Microman remain a secret?

I have much more to say about these and other ethical questions at a later time. But for the moment, the immediate solution is to get the candy-eating public to stop eating, let alone opening Twix bars. Respect these small creatures. They have the potential to be your friends.

Diana Abu-Jaber

The Chronicle talks with Diana Abu-Jaber about Arab-American identity. She notes that since there are so few literary depictions of Arab life in America that she receives highly scrutinizing letters from readers niggling over the details. Abu-Jaber also points out that people consider her work highly politicized when it is not. According to Laila, she’s also a grand reader. Abu-Jaber has also recently launched a website, which will contain information on future appearances. There’s also an interview with Terry Gross up from March 2003.

Virulent Developments

Graham has a spiffy new layout, with a decided Kottke influence. But thanks to the colors, his integration of remaindered link content is something a lot easier to follow after a few beers. Which reminds me: the plan is to tinker with WordPress for the soon-to-emerge Wrestling an Alligator production blog. If all goes well, then I may switch over to WordPress for Reluctant. This comes at a time when I was planning a major overhaul of this place anyway. For anyone else looking for a smooth MT to WP transition, here’s the skinny.