itinerant mitten

The Office of Non-Iceland-Related Affairs, she browns my time and eats it on toast points with her pinky in the air. here's an itinerant reykjavik mitten, and a second installment of off-topic passages i've recently enjoyed (first installment here).
Having the [harp seal] pup at their house changed the Sieswerdas permanently. Mrs. Sieswerda fed it a mixture of cottage cheese and cream supplied gratis by a local dairy. The seal ate five baby bottles full, five feedings a day. Paul Sieswerda did the disagreeable work of cleanup. (Seals are known for their carelessness about hygiene.) The pup spent much of his time in a kiddie pool in the Sieswerdas' back yard, where their two young children played with it. It had a starring role at one of their birthday parties. The children named it Cecil, and the family made up a rhyme that went, "Cecil, the seal, who came from the sea,/Lives at the Sieswerdas', just like me."


For people to react emotionally to an animal, it can't have little, piggy eyes, and seals don't. They are what environmentalists call "charismatic megafauna"; staring with big brown eyes into a camera lens proved to be a survival advantage for them.

(ian frazier in "back to the harbor," on how seals have returned to new york)

"He's writing his name in water," I said.
"What's that?"
It was the half-regretful term--borrowed from the headstone of John Keats--that Crabtree used to describe his own and others' failure to express a literary gift through any actual writing on paper. Some of them, he said, just told lies; others wove plots out of the gnarls and elf knots of their lives and then followed them through to resolution. That had always been Crabtree's chosen genre--thinking his way into an attractive disaster and then attempting to talk his way out, leaving no record and nothing to show for his efforts but a reckless reputation and a small dossier in the files of the Berkeley and New York City police departments.


Crabtree's snoring was loud enough to rattle the glass of water on the nightstand, to ruin his love affairs, to cause violent confrontations with neighbors in cheap motels. It was loud enough to kill bacteria and loosen centuries of dirt from the face of a cathedral.

(michael chabon in wonder boys*)

It's not so much a problem of Art—David Foster Wallace took himself out of the conversation about what David Foster Wallace wanted, after all—as a problem of craft. [DFW's posthumous unfinished novel] The Pale King is not a finished object. Reviewing it as a novel is like eating whatever was in a dead person's fridge and calling it a dinner party and comparing it to the dinner parties the deceased gave in the past.

(from tom scocca's slate post, "david foster wallace wrote two novels, and the pale king is not one of them," on michiko kakutani's new york times review)

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 would you foster a baby seal? where would you keep it? what would you name it?

02 are you charismatic megafauna?

03 are you writing your name in water? do you know anyone who is?**

04 if you snore, what could your snoring accomplish?

05 was it fair play for ol' michiko to review the pale king as a novel? is it fair play for ol' michiko to review the pale king at all?

06 where's the other mitten?

*the most chandleresque book i've picked up in months; bet carefully on its eventual THUNDERTOME appearance.

**i'd happily accuse myself, but i'm quite safe from having literary gifts; my undergraduate fiction class was a bloodbath.


g said...

01  yes.  the roof outside my bedroom window.  harold.
02  obviously.

04 i suspect this may be one of the reasons i frequently wake during the night.
05  no.
06  bermuda, enjoying the entirety of the inheritance.

kidchamp said...

george, did you answer 03 in water? 

mittens are such bitches.

jacob said...

01 i would not subject a seal to the chlorinated agricultural runoff water we've got here in cornhogland.

04 apparently, the baby and i were softly snoring together the other day. so i guess my snoring is contagious and/or hereditary.

05 you and tom got me all worked up about that kakutani review, since she rarely likes anything experimental, but then i read the review and thought it was...pretty fair? she focused on the writing and the characters, mentioned that it was unfinished and not the place for beginners to start, and gave a generally positive review. i just don't think i have any beef with it. it wasn't kakutani's decision to publish it as "an unfinished novel." if we need to hand out blame for the expectations around the book, look to the publisher.

06 i'd say gryla has it.

Rachel (heart of light) said...

01. Only if I wanted to get out of my relationship (D hates seals with the undying passion of a surfer who is frequently stuck downwind of them).

03. Sadly, no. I would like to write if only I had ideas. Now that I'm thinking of it, I think I could happily be a ghost writer for some soapy series. How do you get that job? Besides being an actual writer, which involves too much agonizing.

05. NOOOOOO. I don't even think it's very fair of us to publish books the author didn't finish, although the temptation is unbearable.

kidchamp said...

i have a friend who writes tween books for one of those publishing houses which gives you an outline and key characters and then, like, a month to bang out a rough draft for them for a lump sum. she's gotten quite good at it, and it's very amusing to see facebook updates that say, like, "would vampires c. 1850 live in luxembourg or monaco?" i believe she connected with said publishing house via a blind posting on craigslist, but i could be misremembering. 

along those lines, the publishing house plot thread in scarlett thomas's our tragic universe is pretty entertaining. 

LPC said...

01 A pretend one, yes.
02 I pray to be so, every night, on my knees.
03 That's what I do when I am not on my knees.
04 Mask the meaning of all that sleep-talking.
05 All's fair in love and war.
06 In a children's book, working for non-Equity rates.

holli. said...

1. yes. my place of work, where i'd feed her a certain few species of fish with shitty personalities that i wish death upon each day. ce-seal-ia

2. we called them "cute and fluffys" at the university. i'm more ruffled and boistrous, not for everyone... like a moluccan cockatoo

3. if i was a boy i could... in the snow

4. a youtube piece that's now a hit amongst the fiance's pals

5. no and NO

6. steve hid it.

.....kitten mitten.

uncle paul said...

Fun fact: Keats probably had in mind the fifth act of Philaster, by Beaumont and Fletcher.

PHI.  Sir, let me speak next; 
And let my dying words be better with you 
Than my dull living actions. If you aim 
At the dear life of this sweet innocent, 
You are a tyrant and a savage monster, 
That feeds upon the blood you gave a life to; 
Your memory shall be as foul behind you, 
As you are living; all your better deeds 
Shall be in water writ, but this in marble; 
No chronicle shall speak you, though your own, 
But for the shame of men. No monument, 
Though high and big as Pelion, shall be able 
To cover this base murder: make it rich 
With brass, with purest gold and shining jasper, 
Like the Pyramides; lay on epitaphs 
Such as make great men gods; my little marble 
That only clothes my ashes, not my faults, 
Shall far outshine it. 

Not too bad, huh? Some people just have the luck to get Shakespeare as the co-worker/competition.

kidchamp said...

the notion that this water-writing is a thing to avoid is troubling me. for shakey's contemporaries permanence is of course the thing, but...can wilde's angle be a retort, here?
chabon's narrator doesn't make it sound wholly negative:
I asked myself what I would do if my doctor pronounced some fatal diagnosis over me and then sent me back out into the weaselly old world. Would I throw aside my work and concentrate instead on writing my name in water--picking up transvestites on airplanes, seducing sexually ambivalent virgins, driving around Pittsburgh in a borrowed convertible at four o'clock in the morning, looking for trouble? It pleased me for a moment to believe that I would; but in the very next instant I knew that with death in my body my only desire would be to curl up on the Honor Bilt with half a kilo of Afghan Butthair, roll numbers, and watch reruns of The Rockford Files until the girl in the black kimono came to take me away.
i could be projecting.

Amanda said...

01 Certainly not.
02 The deli guys seem to think so.
03 I prefer writing my name in acorns. Well, lavender ink.
04 I mostly talk in my sleep. It has accomplished many things, though none particularly useful.
05 Life's not fair.

kidchamp said...

amanda, you are my lit crit mercenary. 

uncle paul said...

When Wilde went to Rome, he in fact prostrated himself before that very gravestone of Keats, so one wonders how different it works out to be... but I think you're right that it's set up as a countering. Or those scandalous words of Walter Pater, Wilde's other idol:  
"Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us, — for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy? To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life."  
Seriously - _that_ is success in life! What a claim! It was so radical that Pater had to take it out of the second edition.

uncle paul said...

Rid of the world's injustice, and his pain,
He rests at last beneath God's veil of blue:
Taken from life when life and love were new
The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,
Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.
No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,
But gentle violets weeping with the dew
Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.
O proudest heart that broke for misery!
O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!
O poet-painter of our English Land!
Thy name was writ in water--it shall stand:
And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,
As Isabella did her Basil-tree.

kidchamp said...

reading this in drawstring pants at home on a friday night is breaking me. 

wabes said...

I am late to this party, but that "charismatic megafauna" idea stuck with me for a good long while.  What interesting names the seal watchers had, too.