Monday, September 28, 2009


I created a Twitter account. And in four days I deleted it. Twittercide. RIP Twitterme!

Day 1: The optimism of youth. It's like I can follow Tom Lenk around! And there are so many people tweeting all the time!

Day 2: Ambition. Maybe Tom Lenk will reply to my tweet if it's clever. There's a cute flutist who also likes Tom Lenk! I asked him about the piece he was practicing; now I want him to write to me.

Day 3: Disillusionment. If no one's following me, I'm basically talking to myself. Ok, it's not surprising that Tom Lenk didn't reply. The flutist has a lot of Twitterfriends.

Day 4: Clarity. So I suppose Tom Lenk and I are not going to strike up an unlikely but lively Twitterbanter and then have a meet-cute in Times Square. And I don't even play the flute anymore. This is kind of like subjecting myself to a party where there's no one to talk to. Why am I here again?

Bonus misreading: One person tweeted to an under-the-weather Tom Lenk, "Oh my god, get better!" Took me a bit to realize she wasn't commenting on the quality of his performances.

Bonus pun: Name for a Tom Lenk social network: Lenked In. Follow that link (lenk?)--I've made it into a new blog.

Bonus vow: I'm moving on. The show he's in doesn't really interest me, and it's kind of pathetic of me to hang out on Twitter.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My Twilight Fan Fiction: Its Title and Epigraph

(See the earlier post on my Twilight fan fiction here.)

Stephenie Meyer names her books after celestial phenomena (Twilight, New Moon, etc., etc.), and I will do the same. Eric Yorkie's narrative is entitled Sunspot, a "spot or patch appearing from time to time on the sun's surface, appearing dark by contrast with its surroundings." The title is also a mean allusion to Eric's acne.

I've been saving up similar terms for the chapters, the more recherché the better: parhelion, iridule, alchochoden, fogbow. It's only fair to admit that I got that last one from playing Free Rice, but "alchochoden" I encountered in situ in John Gardner's Jason and Medeia.

Meyer starts each novel with an epigraph, biblical or Shakespearian. I have mine ready:
For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. (Matthew 25:29)
It's the end of the Parable of the Talents: Before going on a trip, a master entrusts each of his servants with some money; two of them use their shares to make more money, but the third buries his share in the ground; when the master returns, he scolds the third servant, takes his money, enunciates the enduring truth quoted above. And in the next verse that third servant gets cast "into the outer darkness: in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

"The outer darkness." What a great phrase.

Niftily enough, "talent" is a Greek word and properly denotes a unit of weight or value, "two talents of gold" or some such. The more familiar sense of the word comes precisely from an allegorical reading of the passage from Matthew, because the talents of money that the servants ought to make good use of are like the aptitudes and abilities bestowed upon us, metaphorically our "talents." Biblical exegesis embodied in a deceptively plain and simple vocab item!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


It isn't just other people. As a friend has hellpfully (ahem) informed me, it's also a place you can visit. In Michigan.

Fear of hell and eternal damnation is pretty much the only thing that moves me toward religion; otherwise I barely even think of god, much less believe in him. Maybe this is what Charles Simic was getting at when he wrote:
God's refuted but the devil's not.
("The Scarecrow," The Book of Gods and Devils)
Oh look, the entire poem is quoted here by someone who uses phrases like "portentously self-indulgent" to characterize Simic's work and cites this poem as an example of the poet's faux profundity. So that once again I've chosen the wrong poem to like. Fuck the universe. And don't send me to hell.

Chartres, south facade

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tom Lenk

Tom Lenk, ca. 2008

Aho rūpam! (="oh beauty!" in Sanskrit)

Oh how we love you. We have loved you ever since we saw you on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (you turned us on to that series because we were turned on by you). We love you so much that we need to refer to ourselves in the plural when discussing you. We love you so much that we love you even more than we love Doogie Howser.

You are just a few days older than we are. You look younger than we do. You are almost the same height as we are. You are openly gay. (We cannot decide whether to be amused or resentful that the article attached to that last link says you are "average-looking.")

After Buffy finished, we worried about you because pictures like this one suggested you were letting yourself go a bit. It surprises us that you are susceptible to gaining weight. More recent pictures like the one above reassure us that you are back to your archly winsome self.

We are not sure if we want to meet you or see you perform live. We prefer to talk about you in blog posts and append the haiku that you inspired us to write:
Tom Lenk's not a wuss,
But he plays one on TV.
Delectable boy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grecian Variants: The Counterattack and the Counter-counterattack

(This will make sense only if you've read this post.)

1. It's suspicious that both my syllabic -eds occur in participles that end in -ied. Maybe that was the only spelling available for this sort of participle: I mean, it would look strange to write "unweari'd" or "empti'd." I still think we need "unwearied" with four syllables, but maybe -ied could represent both a monosyllabic and a disyllabic pronunciation. Then we can have disyllabic "emptied" and no need for emendation.

2. Besides, if an interpolator added a syllable to the "emptied" line to fix it, why didn't he do the same thing to the "unwearied" line?

3. And does it really make a difference to the meaning whether we have "this folk" or "its folk" or just "folk"?

1. Plug just "unweari'd" and "empti'd" into Google! You'll find that poets did use such spellings, and the implication is obviously that there'd be an extra syllable if the e were included.

2. Interpolation is a haphazard business. Maybe the metrical "problem" wasn't as noticeable with "unwearied" at the end of its line. And maybe there are variants for this line too: we'd have to check a critical edition.
[Here's my own badly interpolated variant, just for fun: "And, happy melodist, unwearied and." Notice how I "repaired" the meter by repeating a word already in the line, just as in the case of the "this folk, this pious morn" variant.]

3. Oh come on. It's worth establishing what Keats actually wrote, and it's kind of surprising that so famous a poem has an unstable text. The variants would be relevant to someone studying Keats's versification (hmm, do English lit people even care about things like that anymore?).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lexical Letdown

Well, you may remember that a few weeks back I got all worked up over a mystery word I'd discovered while reading H.P. Lovecraft. In the best of all possible worlds, "scyptic" would have turned out to be some bizarre Lovecraftian neologism complete with its own pseudo-etymology. But this is not a perfect world, reader.

I turned to the relevant passage in Joshi's carefully prepared edition and found that the word "cryptic" had displaced my rare butterfly. Just a misprint after all, and not even concealing something particularly interesting.

Rather than take my letdown lying down, I propose to define "scyptic" myself:
scyptic ('skiptik) adj. proceeding from or produced by an unknown source
The misprint that gave birth to the word is itself scyptic, for Joshi offers no note to explain how it came about or persisted for so long.

[The saga continues here.]

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Grecian Variants

I've stumbled on something strange in the fourth stanza of Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn. Here's the text:
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.
An 1884 edition of Keats's poems by one F.T. Palgrave has a note that offers a variant reading in the seventh line: "Is emptied of its folk, this pious morn?" This alternative ("its" instead of "this"), he says, "has less improbability than the great majority of the alterations which the ordinary editions present."

So here's the funny thing. "this folk, this pious morn" returns 5480 hits in Google; "its folk, this pious morn" returns 4610. I can't find anyone who discusses the difference. In Google Books (now we're dealing with published material), "this folk,"&c. gets 628 hits, "its folk,"&c. 612. "This folk" seems to turn up more often in modern work on Keats, though I can find "its folk" in a book from 1998. If you search for a book that has both phrases together, you get no hits. [Now you get one.]

Bear with me, for I'm about to make an unconscionable proposal! The 1884 edition writes most of the poem's past participles with the e elided: "unravish'd" rather than "unravished" in the first line, for example. I suppose this is to make sure we don't pronounce the -ed as an extra syllable. A glance at the earliest manuscript of the poem (of which I can find only the first page) shows that this practice corresponds to the original orthography.

The poem has just two participles with the -ed written in full. One is in our line; the other is in the third line of the third stanza. Here are the first four lines of that stanza:
Ah, happy, happy boughs! That cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
and, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
Aha! This is iambic pentameter, but the third line will be missing a beat if "unwearied" has only three syllables. It needs to be four, "un-wear-i-ed," with that -ed distinctly pronounced. (All the other lines can be scanned as ten syllables, as required by the meter.) So -ed, when written out, is meant to be spoken.

Back to the line we started with. My argument suggests that "emptied," the other participle with its -ed intact, should be three syllables (emp-ti-ed). But then the line is one syllable too long! The solution is:
  1. to note that something screwy is going on with "this" versus "its";
  2. to realize that someone who didn't understand about trisyllabic "emptied" might have stuck in an extra word to heal the meter;
  3. to remember that such intrusions often give themselves away because they vary from version to version (different people stuck in different words); and finally
  4. to knock out the word entirely as being not what Keats wrote! Huzzah!
So my indecent proposal is to read (pronouncing "emptied" as a trisyllable):
Is emptièd of folk, this pious morn
That version of the line turns up a grand total of one hit apiece in Google and Google Books: the former is obviously just someone who's misquoting the standard version; the latter seems a genuine attestation, but Google doesn't give access to the full text.

I suppose most people would think my version sounds unnatural. I'll just say that even if that manuscript I mentioned above has "this" or "its" in the fourth stanza, my case is not disproved: Keats's autograph manuscript is lost; the earliest one is a transcription by his brother (who, according to my theory, is perhaps the poem's first interpolator).

(PS: I think it's bad that modern editions alter Keats's spellings without telling you.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Twilight Fan Fiction

I know a teacher who asks her students in each class to formulate a thesis for a term paper, do the research, draw up an outline...and then not write the paper itself. They turn in the preliminary work instead.

I'm going to take my cue from this humane and generous impulse to avoid the production of material that no one wants to write or read. I will not write a piece of fan fiction based on the Twilight series, but I am going to write about my ideas for one. There's quite a bit to talk about.

My concept is to retell the story of the first novel from a minor character's point of view. This is a pretty standard way of taking a well-known story and writing into it perspectives and identities that may have been occluded or denied in the original. Here's my narrator: Eric Yorkie, "a gangly boy with skin problems and hair black as an oil slick....He looked like the overly helpful, chess club type" (Twilight, ch.1).

Our heroine Bella dismisses him out of hand just after he introduces himself, and so does the narrative. He barely turns up again, this awkward, unattractive boy skulking in the margins of a story where everyone who matters is muscled and beautiful. What would it be like to tell the story in the voice of the character who is dispensable, who isn't really part of the story, of any story?

Meyer's books would provide the settings, characters and events, the storyworld's reality. I'd have a lot of freedom to invent details about Eric's external and internal life, since none of these gets filled in. The only constraint is that I must not contradict anything Meyer writes in the novels (that last modifier is crucial--more on that later).

Eric as narrator is going to sound rather different from Bella, but I do want him to obey the same narrative rules. For instance: Bella uses the first person, so Eric will use the first person. In preparation for this fan fiction, then, I need to establish a narrative grammar for the series, the set of rules that will allow Eric to speak in a way that fully respects the literary conventions of the Twilight universe. Only in this way can Eric subvert that universe from within.

More to come...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nabokov Hate Catalogue, 2

(Picking up from last time)
My credit card denied when I had made
Certain they knew that I'd be on a trip;
The faulty drainage in the sink; the lip
Of fat over my waistband when I lean
Forward; the dishes I don't want to clean;
Closets too small for clothing to be hung;
The effortlessly beautiful and young
("In youth is beauty and in beauty youth,"
Is not what Keats said, but it is the truth.);

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


You may remember that a few days back I became very excited at the prospect of purchasing XXS (extra extra small)-sized clothing from American Apparel. The clothing has arrived, and oh good lord it's better than I could ever have hoped.

Plot my previous clothing purchases on a graph with Time as one axis and Tightness (of clothing, ahem) as the other, and you will see that the points form a curve drawing ever closer to the Asymptote of Tightness, that theoretically extant but practically unrealizable limit at which the outfit converges with your skin. Here is what the graph would look like:

Graph: Time vs. Tight

And just remember that this clothing will shrink after the first washing! A singularity may well be achieved.

There's a question as to whether I can wear these new garments anywhere outside of the bar. Or whether they will cut off circulation to my extremities. In the latter case, I could console myself with the thought that all the admirers I'm undoubtedly now going to attract will hold my hand at the hospital while I'm being treated for necrosis. Provided my hand is still attached.