“Mamet Speak”

Last night before turning in for bed, I watched the film Heist (2001) , written/directed by David Mamet and starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito. Actors Sam Rockwell (who was great in Moon, 2009), Delroy Lindo, and Mamet’s wife Rebecca Pidgeon have strong supporting roles.

Gene Hackman plays a smart robber who has all the tricks figured out, supported by a faithful pair of old friends and thieves. Pidgeon plays his incongruously young wife (they have zero chemistry, by the way) who sometimes helps out with his various heists. DeVito plays the fence who helps Hackman’s character pick out jobs, with Rockwell as his hot-headed nephew who variously bungles things up throughout the film. Things go awry between Hackman and DeVito, and Hackman has to pull a heist within a heist within a heist to get out with his money and life.

The premise seemed sound, but turned out to be utterly unconvincing. I thought this film was incredibly “bad.” Unwatchable to the point of elegance. What had me GLUED to the screen was the “Mamet Speak” rampaging all through the script. “Mamet speak,” that ostensibly witty, sharply crafted street-wise way of speaking that characterizes most of his work…in Glengarry Glenn Ross it was pitch perfect. In Heist, I wanted to hold my hands up over my ears.

Jimmy: How long has he been with that girl?
Pinky: What girl is that?
Jimmy: His wife.
Pinky: How long is a Chinaman’s name?

Most of the time the actors delivered their lines with the emotional intensity of high school students trying to get through their lines. I was floored by how such “good” actors could be so flat, empty, and colorless. It was riveting.

Jimmy: Excuse me. Excuse me, Mr. Bergman asked you a question.
Bobby Blane: Uh-huh.
Jimmy: Excuse me. Excuse me, my, my uncle asked you a question.
Bobby Blane: Hey, fuck your uncle.
Jimmy: Fuck my uncle? You’re the help.
[Blane punches Jimmy in the stomach]
Bobby Blane: I’m the help? Yeah, I’m the help, motherfucker.

Those LINES.  Riff after riff after riff of this stuff. I felt like I was being slapped around the face by a Vulcan with bad carpal tunnel disease. Emotionless, a bit feeble. Whack. Whack. Whack.

I hate this film, but I now love it, too. Strange, strange, strange.

I will now be teaching in the Fortress of Solitude and I started a new blog

Great news! I was offered a Visiting Assistant Professorship in the MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh for the spring semester. I’ll also be teaching there this fall as a composition instructor. I’m looking forward to getting to know about the students, having a schedule, trying out some new methods/ideas.

I finally had the chance to check out the building where I’ll be teaching…

This building has its own wikipedia page. The Cathedral of Learning is “the tallest educational building in the western hemisphere.” It is immense. This picture PERHAPS does some justice to the sheer size of the building…note the various strata of cloud cover it seemingly penetrates.

However, rather than feeling awestruck, I was initially anxious when I realized that I’d be teaching somewhere inside it. I had problems before with “sick building syndrome”-like symptoms when teaching in the high rise at Temple University. BUT, the good news is that this building was constructed BEFORE such toxic materials came into play–during the 20s and 30s.  Inside, it’s a true cathedral with vaulted windows, and pew-like seating in the main atrium area.

I appreciate the intentions that went into this building. It announces to us that learning is sacred, helps us commune with the larger, vaster possibilities of the world. It’s rather mysterious. Things unfold, turn in on themselves, offer holy insights. A ray.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been blogging about superheroes over at my new blog project SPECULASIANS (a collaborative study of representations of Asian-ness in the future), but this building reminded me of the Fortress of Solitude.

Will I commune with ancestral spirits in these halls? Will I learn to make peace with my inner demons, doubts, and impossible abilities? What massive forces of creation and destruction will be unleashed? More importantly, will I see MARLON BRANDO’S GIGANTIC FLOATING HEAD?

Craziest Anxiety Dream Yet

I’m cast in a play, but don’t know my lines for the second half of the script. It’s a community production and rather modest in set design and costuming. There isn’t a stage, and the performance shares the same floor with the audience,  a simple curtain delineating the backstage.

It’s opening night, and the play has already begun. I’m meant to go on stage in a few scenes. I am trying to get a hold of the script so I can cram my lines for the second half. I know this is futile, but I persist. I rummage through my bags and ask my castmates to look at their copies. However, I don’t want to raise any alarms, so am doing my best to seem nonchalant. Inside, though, my heart is pounding. My mouth tastes like metal. I have to speak in a whisper so that I don’t interrupt the play.

When I do get a copy of the script, my fears grow exponentially. I’m cast in a sci-fi/horror piece, and my character undergoes some fantastical transformation in the second act. I become a transsexual were-beast with a new name. In fact, all the characters transform and take on new identities. From skimming, I have no way of telling which character I am portraying and which lines to learn. To make matters worse, there are cartoon panels throughout the script. I’m not sure how we are meant to portray these moments on stage. I don’t know what to do.

As I’m trying to cope with all of this, another castmate that is backtage keeps speaking in a loud voice, disrupting the play. I keep trying to get her to quiet down, but she’s oblivious. It’s almost time for my cue.

May-lee wrote a review of the reading and I had a crazy dream

Back from San Francisco–wanted to post a link to a wonderfully generous and thoughtful review May-lee Chai wrote of the event at Small Press Traffic.

Also, I’ve been having some incredibly vivid dreams. I thought I’d write the most recent (what I can remember of it, at any rate) down. It’s definitely an anxiety dream.

I’m driving in a borrowed/stolen mini-van. It’s incredibly rainy, the sky is a dull gray, everything is gray and brown. The road I am driving on is as steep as a ski-slope. Cars zoom past and towards me from the other lanes. I am trying very hard to maintain control of the vehicle. There’s a slight taste of sharp panic in the back of my throat, in my fingertips. My fingertips can almost taste; they have a particular acuity, an electricity about them.

The steering wheel is frustratingly small. In fact, it is something like a game-controller, a small track-wheel on a flat pad affixed to the dashboard. It takes all my focus/energy to make sure I am turning with the steep curves of the road. The trackpad is lazy. It refuses to turn with the necessary fluency I require. I drive over a small ramp separating my lane from the oncoming traffic.

The road falls away beneath me. It’s no longer a road, anyway, but a stream of rain and mud. I feel the car leap into the air. Everything freezes in time. I am suspended like this–eternally falling, dashing, just losing ground–until I wake up.

In another recent dream, I attempted to strangle something called a “blue tongued skink.” The one in my dream looked nothing like the creature in actuality. My dream skink (!) was half alligator, half very smooth lizard. As smooth as a newt. And it was literally in half–the right side was scaly alligator, the left side was smooth newt. And it was about 4 feet long. And had a neon green/blue belly.

What monsters have you tried to murder in your dreams?

A human line

The horizon is flawless, a new way of stating that the stars mean nothing to me now that my eyes are locked to land.

The formerly deadly sky, less than ominous now without teeth or eyes, holds nothing for me. Not a vestige of a name or laden glance.

Night is absolute. Daylight a condition of some presences that turn regardless where you look.

The blue sky is as endless as my consideration. I choose to fold myself away from you, your highness. I choose to pull myself deeply into the parched ground. Count me among the refuse lining the old trolley tracks. Not even a roach deigns lift its head among such a wreck.

This is a form of mercy, of self ablution. The sky churns overhead, regardless the season, negligent of human failures, shrapnel, curses.

The lesson is to truly be mortal. To see with yellowed eyes the earth that issues forth from what we build. Human hands. Human ardor. Human waste.

not in perfect circles, but a series of s-shaped curves

How best to reproduce daylight within a semi-porous, organic system.

A question of sustenance emerges out of air: to strive, break towards. A concupiscence characterized by watery overflows, another version of rapture set against a bent willow frond, reading nook, cloud-cover of eyelashes you cannot make out through a high-def screen.

The sun’s strophe = a stronger self-portrait set sail in a translation quickened from fingertip to breath.

Sun blinded-ness. To tremble in the semaphore that is this effort of communicating. Of angles without hips. A jointed venture.

The impossible how you go again and relapses.

I made this without thinking of you.

The day they catch up to you, they’ll be sorry.

Progress. What is the shape of this idea, its space and outline. Where does it sit in the endless body we share? Cunningly, an edge. A forgotten stream, that howling dog. The sun behind a cloud, there. And that cloud again, the very same one. I told you about its minutes, every moment that pulled it into day. He said that this is an ineffable gesture, this art. I make invisible sand castles, I make invisible sand.

Forgive me my indiscretions. As a child, a something then and what was it, she. As such a child, I mentioned myself to you and moved gropingly across the floor. I pulled myself into a knot. The same one here, and here.

Strangers say you are beautiful. Strangers walk towards me on the street. I don’t have any money to give them, and they stay put. Somewhere in New Orleans I got lost and stayed. Indolent, of no matter. That city made me ultimately go forward they seem to think. A variety of upward velocities converging ==> a pulse. And what does that progress towards? Dear flat emergence. This is not an address. Not a call. Dear flat emergence. Dear renegade activism. Dear suffering shoe.

Whose endeavors call you there? My own. And the shape of your voice? A rock that was thrown. Where is it consequential? At the place where the sea divides. What time is it? You’ve already commanded it. It took place? Eventually. Without effort. Like a cry.

To the limit.

The very most thing that you aren’t capable of extending. Where? A bumpy carapace under which you slowly erase what you had come to believe about yourself…

To. Approach it. A forelonging. I forelong this understanding. Capture it. I forelong the blank space of erasure. Meaningfully.

The urge, the motivation for it. There is little I desire in that there is little I lack. And under the stars, what sky. The force of it astounds me but I have become mountainous, swallowed by my meager “human profanity.”

Don’t tell me I encourage you. I swallow you. The world conspires to slurp you up, a stumpy pulp. My words were a token of their designs. Don’t buy them. They flower in the cavernous silence of your total failure.

It’s all the things I think to write down.

I was biking up Cecil B with my friends Caro and Stan when this woman shouted at us–“Michael Jackson’s dead!”

We didn’t know what to think. I sat with Caro on the bus for 45 minutes as we headed up to Germantown. Some people were talking about it in front of us. We were exhausted and sweaty. It turned out to be true. So long, Michael! Some people seem like they’ll never die, but keep going on and on into a strange eternity.

Thinking: chicken wings. No no.

About to read: Race and the Avant Garde by Timothy Yu. Waiting for Chris and Melanie to show up. Concocted some sangria with cinnamon sticks and vanilla bean.

Foot status: heels still hurt. Grrrrr.