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Against Entertainment

I get wary when artists start talking about themselves as “special people.” You know, the kind with sensitive constitutions, consumed with Serious Life Questions, floating a few feet over the earth, their toes grazing the scalps of normal men and women.

There was one adjunct professor at Columbia, from whom I learned nothing, who’d get all starry-eyed and dreamy-voiced when she talked to our class about Being an Artist. One of her hands would touch the scarf knotted at her throat while the other would play with her hair. I swear that every time she spoke to us, she imagined herself being interviewed by Vanity Fair.

On our last day of class this past spring, she asked us about our writerly aspirations. As per usual, I broke the five-minute silence.

“I’d like to make a living doing what I love,” I offered.

She looked offended. “Don’t you want to explore the human condition? Don’t you want to make a statement with your art?”

“Of course I do…” I began.

She slit her eyes. “Is it really all about money?”

“That’s not what I meant-”

“I would think that an artist-”

“Look,” I said, “I’ve worked a string of shitty, dead-end jobs my whole life, while working on my ‘art.’ It would be nice to pay the rent with writing for a change.” I looked around at my classmates for moral support. Unfortunately they had all given up on the class midway through the semester, and were simply occupying their chairs. My voice got a little tight. “As long as we’re dreaming big.”

She rolled her eyes, glanced down at her watch, and with that my final class at Columbia came to an end.

Afterwards, in the hall, a girl from class pulled me aside. “Of course we all agreed with you,” she said. “Besides, that woman comes from money.”

“She does?” I said.

“Totally. God, that patrician accent! Old money, honey. Plenty of free time to weigh the human condition.”

But then, the opposite argument, that artists are just like everyone else, seems a little false as well. Yesterday I read a profile on Doonsebury creator, Garry Trudeau, in which he muses over his former life as a graphic designer:

‘I had more flow as a designer,’ Trudeau explains. ‘I could just drop down into the zone and stay there for hours. With cartooning, I’m constantly coming up for air, procrastinating, looking for reasons not to be doing it. I spend all day granting myself special dispensation, with “creative process” as my cover story. Carpenters and deli countermen can’t do that, so I think they may feel better about themselves at the end of the day.’

Frankly I found some comfort imagining Trudeau procrastinating before every deadline. If someone so successful still goes through that on a weekly basis, then I’m not alone, pacing my bedroom floor, standing in blank silence at the window.

I confess: I’m not writing the book.

That’s hardly new.

What’s new is that I’ve spent the past four months on a diligent mission to find out why. Over time, chasing down false leads, engaged in a meticulous process of elimination, I finally identified the culprit.

I blame you, the American people. And it’s time you took responsibility for the pain you’re causing me. Nothing in your culture feeds my artistic process. Nothing!

Your television shows murder my imagination. Fuck your “Heroes,” your “Grey’s Anatomy,” your “Law and Order” marathons! Outside of a dream sequence or two on “The Soprano’s,” everything on television thwacks the fragile voice of imagination that whispers words to me, that supplies me with a lovely turn of phrase, a stunning metaphor, a book-length theme.

Damn you, for making me justify Project Runway with But it’s really creative!

Playstation 3, Tomb Raider, Warcraft: all just slow death!

Fuck your hybrid Hondas, your knitting circles, your YouTube! Fuck your animated donkeys that talk like Eddie Murphy! Fuck Anderson Cooper’s tears!

And you gay boys, with your trance music, decline bench presses, and bareback porn; leave me in peace!

Big Muscle Bear contributes nothing to Art!

The Da Vince Code is not literature!

Stop making me worry; Jennifer Aniston is going to be fine!

Please, turn off your computers. Kill your televisions. Buy a book. Talk to me about character development, narrative arcs, and postmodern structure. Tiptoe around me as I engage in my “creative process.” Hold my calls. Fix my coffee. Do my laundry. I’ve got a Master’s degree to finish.


It was time for a change. I wanted greater creative autonomy and a more convenient program for maintaining my site, and chose to sacrifice looking good under someone else’s design. It may not look as pretty, but it’s a little more mine. I took a WordPress template, made a bunch of modifications, and after much tedious labor (Dogpoet, completely flummoxed by Photoshop for Dummies, throws the book across the room), designed a couple of defiantly amateurish images, too. Hope you’ll update your links and bookmarks, as I need constant validation in order to get out of bed in the morning.

The transition wasn’t exactly smooth. I bet the “Import-all-five-years-of-your-archives-from-Blogger” button is amazing, when it works.

Then again, my understanding of HTML and CSS and PHP is sort of like a roll of duct tape holding a house together. Feel free to let me know what’s not working (the sidebar wasn’t appearing last night on my Manly Fireplug’s PC) as I tinker around. I’ll do my best to care. Update: the sidebar still isn’t appearing correctly on PC’s; can someone tell me what to do?

Oh, and my dog is recovering very nicely. Thanks for the well-wishes.

Special Care for a Blue Flower

Of all the things to be told over the phone, “Your dog has collapsed and is on the way to the hospital,” ranks up there as one of the least appealing, if not the most memorable. Especially when those words are expressed through tears and with a tone of outright despair.

“I”ll meet you there,” I told my Ex, who’d had custody of Louie last week. I pressed “End,” laced up my shoes, threw on a baseball cap, and drove down to the SPCA, all the while gently putting the idea of my dog’s mortality “on hold,” if only for the next ten minutes.

Four hours, two vet clinics, a couple of waiting rooms, no food, and one thousand dollars later, Louie had an appointment with a surgeon first thing Monday. Over time my little rugrat had apparently developed larangeal paralysis, in which the two little flaps at his voicebox, which open and close with normal breathing, had closed up and stubbornly refused to open again. Which meant he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. My poor boy had been slowly, silently suffocating while I sat slack-jawed in front of the television, watching yet another Project Runway marathon.

We left Louie with the vets for observation. At home I crashed. Sitting in the two waiting rooms, nursing a dangerously low, breakfast-free blood sugar level, had worn me out, and reminded me uncomfortably of my waiting room experiences during my mother’s illness, as did the surgeon’s too-casual mention of a tracheostomy, in the event the surgery didn’t go as planned. The odds of having two family members with holes in their throats were preposterous, and I decided not to dwell there.

Forty-four hours and two thousand dollars later, Louie came home. Getting him there was a bit of an ordeal, as my 70-pound ball of furry love was heavily sedated. The cute vet tech with the bullet plug earrings, who’d told me Louie was anxious to go home, walked him out on a leash, with a sort of padded sling holding up Louie’s wobbly back end. The leash crossed over Louie’s chest, in order to protect his throat, which was shaved and heavily bandaged. His front right leg was wrapped in a purple bandage which covered his IV incision. His back left leg was wrapped in a white bandage which covered a patch of transdermal pain medication.

“You look like a Flashdance casualty,” I told him.

He regarded me groggily from the back seat, and tried to pull himself up into a seated position.

“Lie down, you’re not missing anything” I said, and turned my attention back to the road. I took the corners at 3 mph.

My Ex, who actually works for a living, agreed that I’d be a better candidate for home nurse, what with my rather flexible schedule. I carried Louie from the car to my bed, where he promptly passed out for the rest of the day.

“How’s he doing?” The Ex asked when he called.

I described the various medications and instructions he’d been sent home with. “He’s got one of those lampshades.”

“What’s that?”

“You know, the E-collar.”

“What’s an E-collar?”

“Elizabethan. Keeps him from licking at his wounds.”

“Oh!” the Ex said. “One of those lampshades.”

“Right,” I said. “He got the ghetto version. It’s made out of floppy blue vinyl.”

“Sounds pretty.”

“Very. I’m thinking of wearing it as a skirt. With a pair of saucy slingbacks.”


“There’s something wrong with you,” the Ex said.

But Louie, as it turned out, needed the lampshade. The next night, after I’d left him alone for a couple of hours, I came home to find that the purple bandage around his front leg was missing. As in, nowhere to be seen.

“Where did you put it?” I asked him. He gave me a blank look. “Did you eat it?”

My dog, just as sensitive as his daddy, bowed his head in shame.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at your illness.”

He’d also scratched at his scar; his throat bandage hung open, and I could see for the first time the dozen staples holding his skin together. “Shit.” I sighed and looked away, surveying my room. “Oh my God,” I said. “You’ve been eating my jade plant. You’re delirious,” I sat down next to him. “And I’m a horrible father.”

The white bandage on his back leg was coming unglued as well. I searched through my closet and pulled out a roll of duct tape. “Good boy,” I said, as I gently wrapped his leg. He gave me a look of vulnerability and absolute trust, and at that moment the sense of tenderness and responsibility I felt for him nearly broke my heart. I understood then the difference between my mother’s illness and my dog’s illness. With my mother I felt no sense of control; her disease decided the course of events, and the various minor surgeries (the tracheostomy, the stomach feeding tube) were merely speed bumps on the road to the inevitable end.

Louie was different. I’d had him for eleven years, since he was twelve weeks old, and he wasn’t a puppy anymore. Someday I’d have to make a decision of enormous power; and the power felt like both a burden and a gift. I couldn’t keep him alive, but I could spare him pain: a lopsided compromise with fate.

And like every other time I’d imagined that day, I quickly put the thought out of my head. The only decision to make that night was when to fasten the lampshade around his neck, which I did before lights out.

“I know,” I said. “It’s a pain in the ass.”

He sulked while I stroked his head and murmured in his ear, “I love you, Jennifer Beals.”