high colonic

faithful rsgo reader ian lovett left me a really wonderful note just now, and i think both it and my response are worthy of being dragged screaming out of the perdition that is "comments: 4" and granted the pinnochiatic pleasure of becoming a real post.

dear helen,

first off, let me (re)-introduce myself. my name is ian lovett. I'm a senior at amherst college who should have graduated already and on-again-off-again boyfriend of one neda maghbouleh. according to neda, you and i have met. sadly, this meeting supposedly happened 3 years ago, the same day i met 9878798987 other friends of hers, so i don't remember you (or anyone else i met that day) specifically. sorry.

i any case, i have been a fan of your blog for quite a while now, and i'm glad to see you're back in the swing of things after that long hiatus. the mcewan v. visiwanathan post was particularly excellent.

however, there is one incredibly minor tendency in your writing that continues to bug me: your use of colons after verbs. the wonderful thing about the colon is that it can mean just about anything you want it to mean: it can signify an elaboration is forthcoming, or a list, or simply a restatement or explanation.

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition. so the sentencce "This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21" is actually stuck in some grammatical state of nature. (also, two colons in the same sentence just. looks. weird). if you eliminated the first colon altogether (it has no reason to be there), and left out the "is" after "novel" (as you do in the following sentence) that would solve the problem. or you could replace the colon with an ellipsis. but the ellipsis is lame, i know.

you write far too well to keep making this simple mistake. apologies if this is the stupidest, most annoying post you've ever gotten. my thesis is due in a week, i just finished a full draft, and now i have only editing left to do. so, naturally, i am editing writing for people who don't want/need my help instead of editing my own.



my dear ian,

your comment is far from the stupidest, most annoying post i've ever gotten. on the contrary: your attention to the nuances of punctuation warms the cockles (or are cockles lifted?) of my sly little heart.

you're correct that there are restrictions on the usage of a colon; however, you're incorrect that they're defined by the role of the preceding word. if i remember correctly, according to CMS a colon cannot be used in the following instances:

1. in a list, when the antecedent clause comprises the first portion of what, when coupled with any item from the list, creates a full sentence.

2. when nominatively addressing an audience ("my dear companions"), in such times when the remarks following the address are greater than one sentence.

The former of these two is likely the one you're referring to as regards prepositions and verbs, since these sorts of lists in question tend to fill in either the predicate or the prepositional phrase of a sentence. So you're correct, yes, that my use of "on the grounds of:" is incorrect, since the list that follows (a one-item list, but a list nonetheless) relies upon its introducing clause to make sense.

my tendency to insert colons hither and thither, though, is not so much a manifestation of any lack of punctuational knowledge on my part; rather, it's simply a quirk of the tone of thought in which i blog. it's well documented that the internet is the grammatical equivalent of uncharted territory: run-on sentences, the disgusting habit of using "u" for "you," the TWOP-propagated elision of verbs of potentiality ("which? gross."), entire missives written sans capitalization, &c. in fact, perhaps the most exciting grammatical evolution engendered by the internet is an increasing acceptance of irregular - yet logical - punctuation, as illustrated here:

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition.

that second sentence really ought to be preceded by a comma, oughtn't it? but nonetheless the sentence fragment parses smoothly. never mind that the first comma ought to be a semicolon.

i suppose what i'm trying to say here is: half the time when i use colons incorrectly, i do it because i'm not thinking about the rules. the other half of the time? i don't care.

yours, warmly,


fucking for virginity

please insert your own joke about flyover country, conservative america, and white people {here}.

a perfectly lovely couple in Colorado have put a large peace-sign-shaped wreath up on the side of their house, and are being fined 25 bucks a day by the desperate-suburban-grasp-for-power homeowner's association of their neighborhood. the draconian overlords are citing a rule that prohibits "signs, billboards, or advertising structures of any kind," which in my opinion raises a fascinating semiotic issue about what, precisely, a peace sign indicates (my guess: peace), and whether it is made more or less okay by virtue of being expressed via coniferous tree branches hung vertically on a home, rather than, say, flaming gasoline poured on someone's lawn.

apparently residents in this neighborhood have a history of being irked by this whole notion of "peace," though - they find it offensive to display the symbol "while our country is at war." Okay, this i can sort of grudgingly wrap my brain around, in a stupid-americans kind of way: Fine, whatever, it's demoralizing to our troops to be in favor of not currently being in a state of war. Hello, soldiers in the US Military. God forbid we achieve some sort of diplomatic balance in the world and put y'all out of a job. No peace! Not ever! Obviously this is a moronic stance to take towards a circle with some lines in it, but I am willing to allow that these individuals are, in fact, morons.

But then we enter the really amazing explanations: the head of the homeowner's association claims that "the peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it ... It's also an anti-Christ sign. That's how it started." Mmm-hm. Yes. The peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it. And is a sign of opposition to this very famous dude who preached peace.

For serious? For serious. Apparently the lines inside the circle look like - ready? - an upside-down cross with broken arms. Alternately, like the semaphore sign for the letter D inside a circle meant to acknowledge nuclear disarmament. I would imagine that if you squint your mind enough it also looks like the very top of a mountain seen through a split-lens camera viewfinder, as well as a stick figure doing a headstand as viewed through a telescope.Me? I've always been told that the peace sign looks like a youknowwhat being inserted into a downthere. Which I prefer to all the other explanations, so I'm going to run with it.


deathmatch: ian vs. kaavya

Ian McEwan, venerated author and reigning king of the highfalutin end of the British literary scene, has been accused of lifting passages from the memoir of Lucilla Andrews for inclusion in his good-god-everyone-is-going-swoony-over-this novel Atonement.*

Wait - what's that I hear? Why it's an echo from plagiarisms past! The news-cycle ghost of Kaavya Viswanathan, disgraced bajillionaire child-author, pissy that McEwan's receiving less scathingly caustic treatment for his accused literary cheating. (Please note that Kaavya is not actually speaking up here, I am merely dragging her out of her self- and other-imposed obscurity, mostly because I am a bastard.)

Shall we pit them against each other? Why yes! Let's! (read that in a gleeful voice, please)

Ian McEwan

"one of Britain's best-known and most lauded authors" - the new york times

number of books written
like, a million. okay, 19.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
2: the current tempest in a teapot, as well as his first novel, The Cement Garden, for a percentage total of 10.5.

won the Booker prize for Amsterdam
won the Somerset Maugham prize for Last Rites

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
"discourteous" - used by both Andrews' agent and some British journalist

who was plagiarized
Lucilla Andrews, WWII nurse and romance author, who died a few months ago and whose memoir (from which the lines are lifted) has been out of print for nearly a decade.

severity of plagiarism
minor. some medically descriptive passages:
“In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut and painted lead lotion on a bruise.”
“Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violent on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains.”

how the plagiarized author feels
she's dead. but people like her literary agent and other such folks figure she wouldn't really have cared.
For example: “I think it’s quite clear that her response was ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ” - said by the chairwoman of Britain's Romantic Novelist Association (to which i now crave membership)

preemptive head-nods given by McEwan to the plagiarized author
mentioned as a research source in the acknowledgments of the book, as well as cited as an inspiration in radio interviews.

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
pointing out that, yo, everyone, he ADMITTED to using her book as a source. and, hello, the lifted passages are ridiculously minor.
Kaavya Viswanathan

pretty much any combination of the words and phrases "harvard sophomore" "obscenely overpaid" "wunderkind" "book packaging" and "nauseatingly obnoxious." (kind of like joshua foer, but sub in "yale" for "harvard.")

number of books written
though her ludicrously lucrative book deal was actually for two novels. i have a feeling the second has been shelved. just a hunch.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
mathtime: that's 100%

"whoa, she's young!"
the hatred and schadenfreude of a whole huge massive lot of people. (note: not officially an award)

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
it's a tie among "irresponsible" and "reprehensible" and "hilariously poorly-handled"

who was plagiarized
Megan McCafferty, author of a series of young-adult chick-lit novels which are still in print and quite popular.

severity of plagiarism
severe. whole paragraphs. many many. see my earlier post (linked above) for some enumeration.

how the plagiarized author feels
pissed as shit. understandably. and she made some gleefully bitter comments.

preemptive head-nods given by Viswanathan to the plagiarized author

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
ex post plagiarismo, Viswanathan admitted to having "read and loved" McCafferty's books, and pulled the whole "i have an AMAZING memory!" card when saying that maybe some passages from McCafferty's books embedded themselves in her brilliant, amazing, juvenile-genius brain and spewed forth on the page. PLUS there was this gem of a passive-aggressive apology:

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

Winner? Hands-down, McEwan. This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21
the total number of words used in the title of Viswanathan's ONE novel: 11.

Word economy for the win.

*I hated it. Well I loved the first chapter. Then I hated everything else.


identity onanism

i stayed up until 3 last night reading my old blog cover to cover (archive-end to archive-end?). when i was writing it back in 2002, i remember thinking that it was just sort of an outlet, no coherent themes or real /point/ in the blogosphere, just another person's personal journal. but upon reread it's actually hugely thematic: i used to be so aware of the world and so indignant and so articulate about my indignance, especially in my criticisms of the hyperliberalism at Smith. some anonymous person stumbling upon thousandships.com would actually find a lot to hang a hat on, and maybe that's why i picked up the slightly-more-than-average readership that i did.

i think i'd like to return to my indignant world-awareness, or at least community-awareness (since that's what it really was - it wasn't politics, it was me responding to a microcosm), but that seems to require immersing myself in a community, and identifying enough with it to generate indignance when it represents itself (both internally and externally) in a way i find unappealing.

then of course this becomes a question of community indentification in the first place - while I was at Smith, the community identity was handed to me. I was, by choice and by inertia, a Smithie. The environment of the campus was my environment, the acts of the sudents were - to a public eye - my actions, and so my investment of time and words in criticizing the environment was an exercise (though one of questionable success) in both self-defense and community betterment. I could be so critical sans guilt because, on a very real level, i criticized out of what essentially amounted to love.

But here I am now, ostensibly a grown-up, living in a city with the population of a small European nation, working at a company with hundreds of employees, flittering around among a handful of social circles and extracurricular activities. I don't have a community identification the way I used to - I'm not deeply invested enough in civis, in my job environment, even in a community of ethnic or cultural affiliation. I'm not in a "scene" and I'm not politically active.

Still, I remain critical and indignant and ranty. This is because i am critical and indignant and ranty, i enjoy being that way. But now I'm those things about small matters - matters that don't resonate in the Deep Philosophical way that my rants about Smith mattered.

Is it awful to want to take on an invested community identity so that I can have something meaningful to criticize? Yes. It probably is.

I would say "watch this space" here, anticipating more seriousness and perhaps some scathing criticisms of the status quo in upcoming posts. But in reality, I'm not going to bank on it. Odds are good that we will return, immediately and without backward glance, to our regularly scheduled snark.


i am thankful for my family

Words played in Scrabble after Thanksgiving dinner

Drinking games played by the entire table during Thanksgiving dinner
1 vodka shot for every mention of the holocaust

Number of rounds of shots taken

Occupations, the pros and cons of which were discussed by the entire table during Thanksgiving dinner
Editorial assistant
Makeout slut


monday morning moments in personal awkwardness

in which i learn to never actually express opinions, due to the incredibly high risk of revealed retardation.

helen: [person] is creepy.
helen: creeeeeeeepy.
friend1: um.
friend1: he's my boyfriend.
helen: seriously?
friend1: since september.


helen: the behnaz sarafpour collection at target is AWFUL.
helen: it's just total crap.
friend2: actually i already bought a shirt, a skirt, and pants.
helen: by total crap i mean incredibly awesome?


hey, you look kind of familiar.

a few weeks ago, my office moved from the east village to the west village. this isn't particularly notable for any reasonsave that i now get to ogle a new crop of whichever moronic celebrities are out and about during the plebians-on-the-streets times, which are: 8-9am, 12-1pm, and 6-7pm. instead of marc jacobs trudging his cankles-and-white-gym-shoe-attired self home from the gym, or britney spears leaving her apartment building, or jared leto wearing eyeliner at the pizza place, i now get to keep my eyes peeled for hilary swank or julianne moore or (holy of holies!) anna wintour.

this is not the important thing, though. the important thing is that on halloween evening, i was routed far far away from my usual subway stop thanks to the stupid greenwich village halloween parade, and wound up outside of Babbo. Babbo, of course, is my favoreenie restaurant in new york, and for a couple of years there i was nursing a pretty huge celeb i-want-to-be-you-not-do-you crush on Mario Batali, its chef/owner/mascot. In fact, i almost dressed up as him for halloween last year. And this is how my thoughts went:

yo, how incredibly awesome would it be to run into someone who i almost dressed up as for halloween, on halloween?!?!?!
you can see how the mind might boggle.*

Anyway i didn't run into Mario, because he is inconsiderate of my narrative requirements. BUT. But but but but but. the next day i was wandering around on my lunch break and I saw sleazy mustachioed photographer Terry Richardson sitting on a park bench. And i have dressed as him for halloween. So, you know, mission accomplished.

*stop making fun of me now.