Townhouse Tribulations

This Wednesday I have a severe case of writer's block. I blame it on summer city stench, humidity, and preoccupation with my friends' weddings. These distractions, both welcome and unwelcome, make concentrating on something like foreign policy very difficult. I find myself on looking for summer party dresses instead of reading up on Clinton's grand strategy, and spend hours contemplating vegetarianism after reading articles like this one. Writer's block means I print lots of things to read -- as if collating and stapling is the same thing as being productive -- take frequent snack breaks, drink many glasses of wine, run my fingers crazily through my hair, watch Mad Men on repeat, rewrite over and over, and order Thai fried rice. I hope it ends soon.

Another case of distraction comes from the elephantine footsteps of my upstairs neighbor that came, unbeknownst to me, part and parcel with the idyllic charm of my 1920's townhouse apartment. The neighbor is about my age, medium build, Midwestern (or so he seems), and perfectly normal. He removes his shoes when he gets home and has carpet over 70% of his apartment floor (as stipulated in the lease). Aside from asking him not to walk in his apartment at all, there's not much I can do. I have, however, drafted a note that asks him politely to "please, walk more gently". I have a feeling it will find its way under his door very soon.

In an effort to clear my head, I took a train ride out to Queens and my old stomping grounds in the evening. Kew Gardens is home to a small independent cinema, a good friend from university, and some of the best pizza I've ever had in New York. I kept running into memories around every corner, and might have become unbearably nostalgic if not for the bizarre two hour film we decided to see. Most of the script is whispered to evoke drama and spirituality, and the whole film is shot as a choppy retrospective, giving the impression that the story is never getting underway. The strangest part was a nearly twenty minute segment in the middle of the film that is simultaneously the iTunes visualizer and a segment of National Geographic on earth, wind, and sky. As we watched the screen turn from pulsing, swooping, colorful graphics to a journey through the core of the earth, I leaned over to my friend and told her I'd have to be high to enjoy it. Clearly an account of creation, this New Yorker passage describes it more elegantly than it is portrayed in the film:

We see glimmers of unfathomable light, vast interstellar conflagrations, drifting throngs of stars, planets in their formless infancy, sun and moon occluded by dark storms, energizing jolts of lightning, gulping primordial pools, early plants, early creatures, slow-dancing jellyfish, hammerhead sharks, a dinosaur lounging on the shore, an embryo’s eye, and, last but not least, a child being born—to a white-clad mother who neither sweats nor shouts—in postwar suburban Texas. Now, you can call this entire passage overblown, or diversionary, but what it is not is incoherent or mad. It strikes me as a straightforward account of creation, Malick’s Genesis, ending in the Eden of Jack’s childhood; everything else in the film dramatizes the loss of that prelapsarian grace and the rare, Proustian instants at which it is remembered afresh.

If you see The Tree of Life, leave a comment. Maybe I cannot educate myself to his purposes, and that's why it looks like nonsense. (From the New Yorker article: “If we cannot educate ourselves to his purposes, then clearly his work will look like nonsense.” That is Malick, writing of Heidegger, and introducing his own translation of Heidegger’s “The Essence of Reasons,” in 1969. He refers to the philosopher’s “peculiar language,” and “The Tree of Life” is no less odd, yet its purposes are clear: it is a grief-powered movie, triggered by the revelation, near the start, that Jack’s brother R.L. died at the age of nineteen.)