On Eating Whatever I Want and Throwing Up A Lot

On Eating Whatever I Want and Throwing Up A Lot

I’m trying out Medium. I just posted a short essay there:

The stories start when I’m young, thinner than I think, but with jiggly thighs and a round belly, incontrovertible as my red hair and freckles. In flashes: the time that my mom told me to get “something sensible” from the pool snack bar, then fixed me with a look when she saw me tucking into an ice cream cone. When I think about that Drumstick, I feel the wet elastic of my swimsuit,like coils around my hips and thighs.The time that my cousin slept over, and we stayed up late watching movies and eating oranges. There’s nothing wrong with oranges, but we each put away more than half a dozen. I remember my mother’s face, again, nonplussed. My appetite was somehow inexplicable. When she’d leave the house to go for a run, I’d grab a handful of Club crackers and wrap them in a napkin, with a ready hiding place in case she came back early.


Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”: Who imprints, and why?

Arcade+Fire+375185I’ve been obsessed with basic questions ever since I read Sheila Heti’s “novel from life” (a cheap designation? Maybe.) How Should A Person Be? The question haunts me, not just in its simplicity, but in how its simplicity raises other questions. “Who are you?” I ask my boyfriend. “What am I?” I am a person—that much I can agree to, even day to day as my mood changes.

The best and worst thing about feeling like an artist is how other work forces feelings of obsolescence. Why do I keep writing when Arcade Fire keeps making music? Can I ever tell a story about rebellion and love and underground tunnels? Will my ruminating on the falseness of my first romantic relationship ever touch anyone emotionally as deeply as that sax solo in the first powerhouse single off 2013’s upcoming Arcade Fire double album, “Reflektors.”

Among my many claims to maturity is a commitment to no longer tweet song lyrics. But I could go on a tear with “Reflektor”: “I thought I found a way to enter, but it’s just a reflector. I thought I found a connector, but it’s just a reflector.”

What reaches people better is a video—some mix of music and images that matches the evocation of the song, something that both builds and demolishes mysteries.

Arcade Fire is a band that might not have existed without the Internet—something you can say about practically anyone these days. But I remember, living in New York in late 2003 and early 2004, Arcade Fire was a whisper on lips, a name that you were supposed to know if you wanted to be one of those people who knows things, a true Brooklyn Vegan reader and all that.

My sister Erin saw Arcade Fire years before me—in a living room of a bar in Lawrence, Kansas, the college town for KU and historical abolitionist hotspot. The New York shows sold out before I had a chance to see them. I wasn’t there when they set up shop in the 14th street subway station a handful of years ago, just like I wasn’t at their salsa gigs in Montreal last week.

I first saw the YouTube video for “Reflektor,” and was instantly transfixed by the mirror man, the papier mache bobbleheads, even Win Butler’s eye makeup. Feeling stymied by Halloween costume options, I leaned into the obvious: two days after “Reflektors” drops, I’m going to be a reflector. I always like the abstract costumes anyway.

Later that day, I looked up the Google Chrome customized video. I spent the same effort for 2010’s “We Used to Wait” experience—plugging my hometown address into the website for a suburban journey that especially reflected my own.

The two videos for “Reflektor” are vastly different. The YouTube video trades in grayscale, following persona changes and light variations. If you were an Arcade Fire fan—one who has been following along for, say, four or five albums—you got to saw yourself reflected back on the screen.

Not literally. Because if you have been following along with Arcade Fire for several years, they have imprinted on you. Their songs, the lyrics and chord changes, the way they drum on football helmets, the sometimes off-putting otherworldliness of Regine Chassagne’s voice, are as much a part of you as anything else. They are your reflektors.

The second video plays off the familiarity of the first. When you watch the video, allowing webcam access through Google Chrome, you are transported to Haiti. The band does not appear, and we follow a dancer through the streets. The dancer is abstracted by light play, enhanced by digital animation.

The webcam comes up when a tablet is offered to the dancer, and she rejects it. The viewer sees her own image in the broken screen.

The Atlantic discusses the anti-Internet indications of the song, and especially the personalized video. For me, the dual videos are no more performance art than any of Arcade Fire’s projects. Especially with the song “Reflektor,” the band is interrogating the origins of meanings. Who, or what, imprints on you, and why? Did you feel more connected to the band in masks or the Haitian dancer? Which one made you feel more? Which one made you want to dance?

#BreakingBad s05e10, “Buried,” review, analysis, links round-up, etc.

Last week, the estimable Todd VanDerWerff wrote about Breaking Bad’s season five (part two) opener in an essay for the Los Angeles Times titled “Walter’s New, Old Disguise”:

Walter White is in beige again.

In the pilot for “Breaking Bad,” creator Vince Gilligan famously put his protagonist in an endless succession of beige clothing items. He even painted the man’s Pontiac Aztek beige, all the better to underline just how little influence Walter had on the world around him. As the series continued, however, Walter’s wardrobe and world began to shift to reflect the new life he had built for himself. The colors became darker and sharper, and he stood out more from his surroundings. He might still drive a pitch-black car, but in “Blood Money,” the first episode of the second half of “Breaking Bad’s” final season, he’s back in beige.

Endings have the power to ultimately define a story, and the most powerful endings generally harken back to their beginnings. The end of “The Wire” acknowledged the cyclical nature of the show’s systems and institutions: the schools, the cops, the pushers, the politicians through a time-lapse montage. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” explicitly made its seventh and final season about going “back to the beginning,” by re-setting its scene at the newly reopened Sunnydale High and pitting the slayer against The First evil.

“Breaking Bad” is also a show explicitly about change, but more than that, about MEASURING change. Walt is a scientist, a chemist, and so part of the fun of “Breaking Bad” is about more than cataloging Walt’s sins: it is quantifying and qualifying them.

It’s fitting that “Breaking Bad” used an episode structure that explicitly set us up to make these comparisons. While audiences waited a full year between the two halves of season five, the arc is one looping story. For our final look at Walter White–our last chance to truly judge him for his sins–we see all his selves at once. He is the bumbling chemistry teacher, the absent (or soon-to-be absent) husband, the “small, out of focus figure,” the cancer patient, the hubristic monster.

The splicing of scenes in these past two episodes has also been extraordinary. There is a palpable tension, especially as the flash-forwards make clear that not all is well in Who-ville, but we can’t ascertain exactly why. Each scene begins with a thrilling sense of “Where are we?” – whether following an old townie picking up stacks of cash in Albuquerque, or lazily panning through the White bedroom to the closed bathroom door.

And the elements, too, are shockingly reminiscent of the start of the series. In this episode, we have the same elements: a beige Walt fumbling due to impatience, a terrified but active Skylar, the pressure of family and pride and a bunch of money.

The series subverts viewer desire. If all you’ve been wanting is for Hank to finally catch Walt, how much does your stomach sink when Hank cluelessly slides his tape recorder onto that diner table?

The most striking element of “Breaking Bad” has always been how it’s used Heisenberg’s theatrics as a foil to Walt’s personal, domestic manipulation. The most explosive scenes in the past two episodes have been – to an outside viewer – almost mundane family moments. Walt’s confrontation with Hank was a simple fistfight and shouting match in a closed garage. Marie slapped Skylar in the face, and that hit caused a bigger commotion than a “Crazy Handful of Nothin.”

And, of course, the episode underlined the moment, and how far we’ve come since Walt’s initial diagnosis, by placing him external to the scene. While Skylar deals with Hank and Marie, Walt is off literally digging a grave to hold the money that was supposed to save his doomed family.

There are big firefights happening elsewhere in the episode, but the continued machinations of the global drug war are not nearly as interesting as what’s going to happen to the Whites and Schraders.