Thursday, January 31, 2008

Responses to the Chronicle's "mixed-use" anniversary article

The Chronicle today had a really interesting article today about the major neighborhoods' reactions, thus far, to vertical mixed-use development. If you care at all whether or not Austin becomes a vibrant, dense, urban city with a liveable future, or if it becomes the suburban nightmare of Houston, you might want to check it out.

Each neighborhood in Austin, as I understand it, was given the option of analyzing and scrutinizing each VMU development, and possible location on each of the commercial corridors, and either approving them, partially approving them, or totally opting out.

I don't really understand this stuff enough to be able to comment too much, but this guy has an excellent and articulate analysis, and then this guy posted a pretty great letter that he emailed to city council about it.

It seems that some of the more predictable neighborhoods opted out entirely of the VMU process: Hyde Park, namely, which doesn't surprise me. Hyde Park used to be my favorite neighborhood in town, and now I kind of hate it. For some reason, it feels like people there are waiting to die. Allandale, another one that opted out, not suprising, given their vehement resistance to Wal-Mart's development of Northcross (though it seems that some developers have some pretty exciting sounding ideas for the Village on Anderson Lane, including building tons of apartments, filling it up with business, and keeping the Alamo Drafthouse as an anchor). Bring it on, I say. Cuz, you know, I hate parking lots more than almost anything. Allandale, at least to my novice ears, had a good reason, though:

A primary Allandale concern was how density increases would translate to traffic congestion: failed roads and intersections, spillover traffic clogging neighborhood streets, slow emergency-response times, slowed buses. As residents rightly point out, without linking new transit to VMU, congested streets are the inevitable result of densification. The new Cap Metro Red Line will stop at North Lamar and Justin Lane; that transit station is spawning Crestview Station (a VMU project) but currently offers no circulators to Allandale.

"We believe that insufficient time has been allowed to adequately determine the interrelated impacts of VMU on the neighborhoods of Austin," Allandale objected. "A complex new process requires neighborhoods to respond with a well-thought-out plan, yet we are given only the power of suggestion and a 'one shot deal' without the power of determination."

It sounds good; at least in theory. Maybe it's bullshit, I don't know. At the very least, at least they're talking about public transportation, parking and congestion. All legitimate concerns.

West Austin, predictably, has also been very resistant to the change, and I know for a fact has shot down multiple proposals for multi-family units to go up in the area (primarily in Tarrytown, if I'm not mistaken). It frustrates me.

Part of this I think is classic classism ("If we allow an apartment complex in the neighborhood, lower income people might live here!"), but I also think a lot of it is just an unwillingness to acknowledge that Austin is a big city now. It's no longer the quaint little college town of the 1960's and it never will be again. Sorry, folks, but that's the breaks. The more you resist the change and try to keep things as they are (were), the more you're going to make Austin into exactly what you don't want it to be: Houston. Or Dallas. Or wherever. It seems to me that Austin has an historic opportunity here, and an extremely small window in which to either make or break it. We have to decide right now what kind of city we want to grow into: something progressive, dense, walkable, more eco-friendly, vibrant, exciting, attractive, and habitable; or a sprawling, land-consuming, faceless, boring, plastic, congested, polluted (and still expensive, no matter how you slice it), dead suburb upon suburb?

You can't stop the growth, despite what certain overrated local celebrities might think. But you can decide how that growth is going to occur and help do it right. If you still want suburbs, there's always West Texas.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What do your favorite films say about you?

Two Los Angeles-based film buffs, friends and cognitive behavioral therapists have just written a new book determing your personality type and corresponding cinematic hero based on your ten favorite films.

That’s according to “Cinescopes” (Quirk Books), a book out this month that blends the cinematic savvy of Roger Ebert with the psychological models of Carl Jung.

The book determines your personality type — and an equivalent cinematic hero — based on your list of Top 10 Favorite Movies of All Time.

What we love to watch on the big screen provides a window to our psyches, the the two authors of “Cinescopes” contend.

Your favorite films “reveal both what you are, and what you want to be,” co-author Risa Williams says. “If you’re a Vivacious Romantic, you’re definitely looking for love. But it’s also a glamorized view — how you hope to see yourself.”

It began as a web site where people could submit their lists and get an analysis, but after awhile, the therapists started noticing patterns (of course they did), and with some Joseph Campbell archetype referencing going on, they developed 16 personality models.

I'm not sure exactly how the book works, exactly, but it lets you run your own lists and determine the results. That would be fun.

Now the only problem is coming up with my definitive top 10 films; that's a lot of pressure.

You can submit your own list at the Cinescopes web site. As soon as I figure out my 10, I'll let you know what my results are. I'm excited!

But we're not supposed to be happy...are we?

The other day at work, one of my co-workers told me I was hateful and bitter, to which I laughed heartily. She actually is one of my favorite co-workers and we get along really well, and she was mostly teasing me, but I think there was some truth in her condemnation. Then the other day she asked me if I considered myself a happy person. When I asked her why she was asking, she told me she found it disturbing how miserable and bitter so many of the people that worked there seemed to be. And since she considered herself to be mostly pretty happy, and since so many of the people that work there are so young, she just wondered why so many people seemed so unhappy.

Aside from the fact that I think working retail just brings that out of you (particularly where we work, where it's pretty much written in the rule book that customers are allowed to abuse you however they see fit, because a sense of entitlement is something the company wants to foster among the customers), I also think sometimes that's a byproduct of being young. As one gets older, I think maybe they learn to appreciate the small things more. After a certain age, I think people start getting broken down into accepting that mostly everything sucks and that's just the way it is, so they stop expecting things to be different, which is what causes so much misery among the young and idealistic.

Well, okay, maybe that's the just case with me. Once I realized that pretty much nothing works out the way you want it to, that relationships are always gonna fall apart, that most things are gonna hurt, that anything worth having takes an enormous struggle, and that nobody owes you shit, I was much happier. Or, at the very least, I kind of stopped having expectations. Which in turn made me happier. Or more accepting. I stopped fighting so much. As my mother told me after my last wretched breakup when I was crying on the phone to her, I had to learn to accept things as they are, and stop trying to force everything all the time.

All of which is to say, even though I haven't yet read the book, this guy might be my new hero.

He's mentioned in an article on Salon this morning about the quiet rebellion of psychologists and therapists against our pill-crazed culture.

To that end, Eric Wilson's "Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy" is a loopy, feeble blow against the empire. The new book is a heartfelt defense of being bummed out. The chairman of the Wake Forest University English department, Wilson is Hamlet-mad for sadness. He extols depression the way 19th-century aesthetes swooned over tuberculosis because it made them fashionably pale and broody.

Life means pain and death, Wilson repeatedly reminds us, and we must embrace these to find our "sorrowful joy." But most people are too harried and hollow to grasp this, too distracted by happy pills and shopping malls. We've probably never taken the time to walk through "autumn's multihued lustrousness ... with hearts irreparably ripped." Nor have we "stared for an hour at the sparrow lying stiff on the soiled snow."

I was on antidepressants once, briefly, and they helped me tremendously, but it wasn't the kind of help I needed. I could get out of bed in the morning; I could hold down a job and still get good grades at school; I could go out with my friends and laugh and have a good time and be engaged; I could still take care of myself and eat right and shave. I also didn't realize they helped so much until I stopped taking them, and then started feeling like hell again and not sleeping. But what I didn't need was a pill; what I needed was to learn adequate methods of handling my emotions so they didn't feel so fucking overwhelming to me. I'm a lot better now than I used to be, but I still sometimes feel myself facing the options of either being totally overwhelmed, or just shutting down. Lately I've been finding it much easier to shut down. When I really need to feel something, I go to bed.

One unintended consequence of defining depression downward has been an inability to distinguish -- with any accuracy -- severe depression from garden-variety glumness. Drug companies and doctors started a cascade, a blurring of categories between depression and anxiety, anger, laziness or low self-esteem. Treating them represented a huge market expansion into "lifestyle issues." As a result, millions of people have been prescribed pills -- that is, treated as if they were ill -- when they were just feeling, well, sad.

I'm glad the Salon article goes on to extol the virtues of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and the statistics that it works (reports as high a success rate with clients) as well as taking antidepressants. But yes, it takes time, and it's painful, two things Americans are vastly opposed to as a group.

Ironically, it was CBT that really enabled me to grasp that concept, to love my pain and misery and welcome it whenever it knocked. I haven't been the most gracious host, admittedly, but I know what I need to do, and that's half the battle, right? I'm trying. My misery and I have formed a tenuous friendship, a light give-and-take, that sometimes is kind of comforting in a twisted way.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Never read, indeed....

So, Tom wrote an interesting post today about the Modern Library's list of the top 100 novels of all time. While he openly disparages himself for having only read twelve of the books on the list, I've only read eleven-and-a-half. The half is because one of them (Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin) I've only read about half of, even though I've read that half, like, 3 times, and for some reason just can't finish the rest of it.

Also, the authors of my two favorite books (James Baldwin and Graham Greene) are represented on the list (and side by side!), but not for the books that I love the most, which, therefore, makes the list stupid. And predictable.

As far as the reader's list goes, I've read 17 of those, but I also think that list is bullshit, because the top 10 consists of nothing by Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard, and they aren't even real writers. I mean, I've read 3 of the Ayn Rand books (and enjoyed them all very much), but they're not novels, they're propaganda. Was this list put together by Republicans and Scientologists? But I was delighted to see Wise Blood by Flannery 'O Connor on the readers' list. But no mention of Capote on either list? Maybe they're just mad because In Cold Blood was responsible for starting the true-crime novel phenomenon. Elitists.

(Apropos to this post, which I failed to mention at the time, was that I told George he was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and he looked at me incredulously and said, "That's the meanest thing you've ever said to me." Which, I think might be the funniest thing he's ever said to me.)

How do you fare?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

40 vulvas

I go to school with a young gentleman named Joe who is very wealthy, very Republican, and extraordinarily conservative (though honestly I think some of this is reactionary), but somehow he and I get along famously and really like each other. We've had at least 4 classes together now, and we always sit by each other (most of the classrooms have tables instead of desks, each of which sits 2 people) and make a lot of off-color jokes and make fun of people just between ourselves. He's in my sex class, too, so naturally we sat by each other in that class.

Anyway, yesterday in said sex class we started studying the female anatomy. At the beginning of class, the professors passed out sheets of construction paper to everyone and instructed us all to draw pictures of what we think the female and male anatomy both look like. With the caveat that no one is allowed to have 2 sheets of paper to draw the male anatomy. One 8x11 was plenty of room, we were instructed.

As Joe and I both sat there, staring at our blank papers trying to figure out where to start, I said, "I've never even seen a vagina in real life." (The one time I had sex with a girl it was dark and I didn't go exploring.)

Joe looked at me funny and then said, "Oh yeah. You're gay. I forgot."

Just as he said, "I forgot," one of my professors walked by our table and exclaimed, "You forgot??!?" referring, of course, to the anatomy drawings, not our conversation.

As Joe started to explain himself to the professor, she walked away laughing. He turned to me and said, "You bastard."

"You set yourself up for that one," I replied.

"Yeah, I guess I did. But you're still a bastard. Just because."

"Fair enough."

Okay, so maybe this story isn't very funny, but it was at the time.

Incidentally, the profs posted all the drawings in the classroom and we all had to get up and go around and look at them. Ironically, my vulva drawing was one of the more accurate. And just in case you're curious, the females tended to draw the interior of the female anatomy, like the fallopian tubes and uterus, etc, while, predictably, the boys drew the outside. Which was the professors' whole point in having us draw it.

Also, most of the girls drew flaccid weiners, while most of the boys drew big, giant hard ons. Go figure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My first grad school interview!!

On March 7th I will board a plane for Berkeley, California to go to my first grad school interview with The Wright Institute! So far, this is one of only 2 doctoral programs I applied to.

I never expected to hear from them so soon; I just sent the application in, like, 3 weeks ago. When I got the email today I screamed out loud and jumped so high out of my chair I hit my hand on the light fixture hanging from the ceiling.

Needless to say, I'm very excited. And scared.

It's real.

My actual interview is on Saturday, the 8th, at 10am. They have a whole day planned for me. They really like me!

It feels very surreal. But I like it. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Most of the time Emily was used to disappointment. Still, when the stars fell from the sky, it startled her. She schooled herself against all expectations, but went right on wildly jumping into the arms of hope, then jumping back into herself - rocking herself alone in the night while the leaves spoke summer words and cars went by. Their tires made a splashing sound on the empty street and little bugs splashed on the screen. Emily was used to bitter disappointment, and knew already, even before her wish was formed into words, it was no use to wish for what she wanted. Emily remembered walking in her bare feet in the park one day. The wet grass under her feet hid a shard of broken glass, well no, not really, she saw it before she stepped on it, and then, pain, of course, but also her wish - that someone would look a look of kindness upon her today, because of the glass - an accident. But she knew better, and bandaged the foot by herself, then huddled over the pain, savored it for herself. It was of no use, to wish, forget it! She was used to it, before her wish shaped itself, the leaves whispered, stars fell, little bugs splashed - rocking, she sought the wish itself - no, it was not going to happen.

* The oldest meanings of the word affliction include a vision or spiritual sight that follows upon a time of darkness and torment.

I wrote about Dr. Rogers' other book here.

Monday, January 14, 2008



If I'd seen Cruising when I was a teenager, I'm pretty sure I would have stayed in the closet another 10 years and never left the relative safety of my small hometown. For a movie so filled with such nastiness, such brutality, such wanton disregard for life, humanity, or even fun, charges that it's homophobic are just lazy. And dumb. I concede that I may be a bit more liberal in this arena than your average gay: I have a pretty high tolerance for various representations of how to live in the name of "freedom of expression." Which is one reason I fucking hate groups like GLAAD. In the past they have actively called for boycotts of writers (gay ones!) because they didn't feel that their work accurately represented the "gay community" in a positive enough light to suit their political agenda. (In fact, back when I fancied myself a filmmaker, one of my major career goals, I shit you not, was to someday be boycotted by GLAAD; that's when I would have known I'd made it.) Which I guess is why politics and art shouldn't mix.

In Cruising, William Friedkin makes no attempt whatsoever to accurately portray the whole of the gay community. It could even be argued that he makes the argument that repression of your true self (i.e., your gayness) can turn you into a self-hating murderer of other gays. Perhaps the film should be subtitled: Free To Be You and Me: Don't Hate! As he explains in the vignettes on the recently re-released DVD (which has a crystal-clear screen image, and lightens up a whole lot of that "background action" that was supposedly darkened for the release almost 30 years ago), to him it is simply a murder mystery, that just happens to be set in this realy extreme underground culture of gay S&M in New York City. Maybe that's a cop-out, but he also admits to understanding where the protestors are coming from, and why a lot of gay people feel maligned by the film. It is, however, as he also points out, a subculture that really existed at the time, and was going strong. He didn't make it up. By no means was every gay person participating in it, but a lot were, and if nothing else, it just looks terribly boring. I totally understand the euphoric thrill of anonymous sex, but when you're laid out in a sling, your legs in the air, and three guys are standing around taking turns fisting you (as is portrayed fairly explicitly in the film), one wonders where exactly the pleasure is. A prominent hallmark of genuine sexual addiction is the loss of enjoyment associated with actually having sex: it all becomes about the chase, about the procurement, about the bigger and bolder risks. The actual sex ends up being beside the point. All addictions are degenerative, and behavioral addictions are certainly no exception.

More than anything, though, Cruising is just depressing. Despite the killer being caught (sort of), it ends on a vague and unsettling note implying multiple things (SPOILER ALERT!): that Al Pacino has possibly been "turned" gay by his undercover research, and that Al Pacino is possibly a hideous murderer, preying on the most innocent among us and committing one of the most brutal crimes throughout the entire film.

It's an open-ended, dubious, and ambiguous movie through and through. But despite how unpleasant it is, it's also kind of brilliant, for a lot of the reasons I just mentioned. It has a lot to say about identity and how society can shape a person, particularly at a time when homosexuality was still very scary and/or exotic to most of the population. Whether or not William Friedkin really understood what was going on in the gay world at this point in time is left unanswered. I wonder if he knew that this explosion of sexual activity and obsession was a result of having been repressed for so long, and finally going insane with feelings of liberation? Is it possible that the characters in the film have so much sex simply because they can, and not even because they want to, or get any pleasure out of of it? Maybe Friedkin is actually a total genius and is making a prophetic comment about the ravages of unchecked decadence and hedonism. After he slaughters each of his victims, the killer says to each one in a deadpan purr, "You made me do that." Is Friedkin calling out the gay community for self-destructing?

Eh, it's definitely a stretch, but an interpretation I kind of like.

On a related note, I decided a couple of months ago that I thought it would be fun to try to watch as many movies as possible set in NYC during the 70's, back when it was still dark, ugly, dangerous, and only crazy people wanted to live there. Before the Disneyfication and Sex and the City turned it into a sunny, pastel playground of nice restaurants and martinis. As luck would have it, Scott Heim, author of the novel Mysterious Skin, had a post on his blog recently about that very subject, and his top-10 favorite films set in New York City from the 70's, which includes Cruising and The Warriors, which I've seen, but not any of the others. Maniac looks

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sexy Pages

Yes, it's been almost 2 weeks since I've posted anything, and maybe someone's noticed...maybe not. I guess I'm not feeling too motivated lately. In the last few months, this blog has taken (at least what appears to me) a decidely less personal turn from what it used to be. This was somewhat deliberate and somewhat not. I guess at some point I got a little uncomfortable with how much I was really revealing about myself on here (even though some people told me that's why they liked it) and made a decision to write about things other than myself. Like urbanism or food. Neither of which I really know anything about, they're just interests and I like to share little things that I learn, despite having pretty much zero original thoughts of my own on either subject.

But lucky you guys: I've been feeling the itch again lately to write, to get stuff out there, to express myself if you will. (Or even if you won't.) I still have absolutely nothing to write about except the fact that I have nothing to write about, which really isn't very interesting, is it?

I started back to school again today, and I've found that being in school always keeps my juices going. Obviously I have far less time to write, but have many more thoughts always swirling because my brain is always being exercised. I hate every class this semester already, save my last psychology elective, Human Sexuality (my other 3 courses are cores I haven't yet taken, and my senior thesis class). It's the first semester the class is being taught, and apparently took quite a lot of cajoling to get off the ground. It's the baby of my advisor, actually, who is also the professor I took all of my child and adolescent development courses from, and she's co-teaching it with my neuroscience prof from last semester. It should be a lot of fun, and everybody already seems really excited about having some lively discussions. We're going to have panels come in and speak (such as a transgender panel, LGB panel, HIV panel, and Planned Parenthood panel, and the owner of Forbidden Fruit is going to come talk about sex toys and "double-ended dongs," as one of my professors put it today) along with lots of videos, "debates," research projects, and (get this....) a "stretch yourself" paper (oh boy, don't let me make the obvious joke), described in the syllabus as thus:

to stretch you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to experience facets of sexuality that you would not experience otherwise.

Unfortunately, most (or, okay, all) of the examples they give of things you can do, I've, uh, already done:

- if you've never been, go to a gay bar and stay for 2 hours. Check.

- go to a club where people of the same gender are stripping. Check.

- go to a club where people of the opposite gender are stripping. Check.

- go buy condoms or some form of birth control. Check.

- buy a sex toy, or at the very least, go to where sex toys are sold, and browse the products long enough (30 minutes) to be able to describe them. Check.

- get tested for STD's, including HIV. Check.

- go to a nudist area and stay naked. Check.

- overcome an area of inhibition you have been wanting to overcome, such as masturbating or undressing in front of others. Check.

- go to a meeting or group therapy session where issues of sex and sexual orientation will be openly discussed. Check.

(Those are all seriously suggestions. They're in the syllabus if you don't believe me.)

At this rate, I'll have to do something so extreme in order to write a paper that it will have to be illegal, or really overtly sexual. Like, have a threesome, or go to a sex club, or take dirty pictures. Or have sex with a girl!

Oh, wait. Check. Check. Check. Check.

So I can only imagine how the conversation with the professors will go.

"Uh, yeah, I'm not so much anymore, but in my past, I've been a big ole slut and done a lot of experimenting, including with women, so that's out, and I just can't even think of anything to write a paper about. Maybe I've done it all."

Do you think I'd fail or get an A? Maybe they'll just let me teach the class.