If I had $1000...

It is pretty obvious what we'd all do if we had a million dollars, but here's a more realistic gedankenexperiment (gezundheit!): what would you do with a thousand?

A cool G is, well, cool, except when my retail paralysis sets in and I realize that if I spend a thousand bucks on a thing (or a set of things), it's most likely a one-time spree. A painfully beautiful purse would be awesome, but it's not like I can drop another thousand in a year when this one gets grody. A vacation (omg Iceland?) could be awesome, but I've always had a tough time spending money on experiences as opposed to objects. I totally covet this covetworthy dresser, and have for ages, but if I bought it I'd have to rearrange my furniture in a way that would actually require spending more money, which might bring the total above a thousand, and ultimately no one really sees my bedroom.

None of this is to say I actually have a thousand dollars to spend on anything. It is more to illustrate that my formidable powers of overanalysis can render joyless even the most inherently painless hypothetical.

like, for example, when I get faced with the "well seriously, what if I did have a million dollars?" question, I get sort of huffy because god, after all, a million bucks is like basically a studio apartment in Manhattan, and I wouldn't be able to afford the maintenance payments or the property taxes anyway.

seriously high fashion

Oh, goodness, I keep forgetting to mention this: Jetblue, which is my favorite airline because it is as pretentiously lowbrow/highbrow as I myself aspire to be, has this in-flight channel of New York Times writers interviewing Very Important People, so that when one is thirty thousand feet above the ground one can be enhancing one's intellect. And among such inspired interview subjects as Chuck Close and Actual Real Life CSI Agents, there is also a 5-minute clip of style editors Cathy Horyn and Stefano Pilati interviewing Karl Lagerfeld, and it is the greatest thing ever in the world, because he is simultaneously brilliant and bonkers.

Also I saw him on the street once.

C'est fin.


Happy Thanksgiving from my bottom.

Thanksgiving with my family varies little from year to year. It reliably involves several cases of wine, several cutthroat games of Scrabble, an extraordinary quantity of pig-derived meat products, and my mother commenting on the visibility of my ass.

(To be fair, this describes most time spent with my family. It is identifiable as Thanksgiving because there is a turkey in the middle of the table.)

This year I decided to be proactive about my mother's commentary on my ass. Due to the particular contours of my body (extraordinarily short torso, phenomenally high waist), my pants like to fall down and expose what we will euphemistically refer to as "butt cleavage."

I generally compensate for this by attempting to wear longer shirts, avoiding thong underwear, and frequently hiking my pants up in what is probably an extremely unsexy way. My mother would like me to compensate for this by wearing my pants extremely high up, aided by a belt. I asked her once to show me where on my body the top of my pants should hit and she literally indicated an area above the bottom of my bra. Clearly my mother has not read Vogue for a while. Or, perhaps, given the new trend for extremely high-waisted pants, she is reading Vogue far more closely than I give her credit for.

Suffice to say I do not really take my mom's advice on this matter. (Though I did succumb to sartorial pressure and bought a pair of high-waisted jeans a month ago; unsurprisingly for my particular proportions, they weren't high-waisted enough, and after about 10 minutes my ass was, again, visible.) But while I might disagree with her methods, I do, for the sake of decency, acknowledge her point.

About twenty minutes ago I was crouched over on the floor at my parents' house trying to plug something in. This is not, like, a regular position for me. It is sort of the posture one strikes when one is trying to console a crying toddler who is hiding under a chair, or maybe when one is wearing a nice skirt but the only sitting-down option is the ground and one doesn't want to get grass stains on silk chiffon. It was a squat, basically, but it involved certain machinations that caused my pants to fall down a little and I could tell, thanks to cold air where three seconds previous there had been no cold air, that I was channeling a plumber.

My mom walked into the room. "Helen," she said.

"Don't say it," I said.
"Say what?"
"Don't say anything about my butt."
"How do you know that's what I was going to say?"
"I know. I just know."
"I just need to tell you something, that's all, just one thing."
Here she made a crab-claw gesture. "This much. This much of your butt. Is this considered attractive back in New York?"

I sighed and plugged in whatever it was I was plugging in.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.



i haven't posted for like four billion days. or, more accurately, four. i fail at NaBloPoMo, but i'll see what i can do to see the rest of it out. i was busy being a bridesmaid at The World's Most Fun Wedding, and learning how to wear six pounds of false eyelashes.


today's brilliant idea

via eric:

StupidFilter, an in-progress open-source filter software designed to identify and block rampant retardation in written English, as specifically denoted by excessive caps lock and use of LOL. From their FAQ:

Isn't filtering stupidity elitist?
Yes. Yes, it is. That's sort of the whole point.



My boyfriend and I met online. Not, we are quick to point out, on a dating site, even though certain friends of ours persist in a tautological assessment of the matter: Did you meet on a website? Yes. Are you dating? Yes. Well then it's a dating website! Sigh. Okay. Whatever.

But this lady might protest too much. I am, after all, an enthusiastic fan of online matchmaking, not least for its astonishing properties as a kick in the ass to get a lovelorn singleton out of her incestuous postcollege friend group and make her aware of a slightly different, although quite possibly demographically parallel, milieu.

In fact, back before we knew of each other's existence, Mr B and I were both members of actual-for-real dating site Nerve.com. A few months ago, mushily talking about how happy we were to have found one another, we wondered if we would have wound up together had we found one another's Nerve profiles.

The short answer, after firing up the computer and remembering ancient logons and passwords, was Absolutely Not. Even looking past the fact that I was below his minimum age range and he was above my maximum, he thought my profile made me out to be a childish, hipper-than-thou ditz and I thought his made him sound like an overeducated, vaguely creepy, generic dude-bro. And, for what it's worth, while we might each be not entirely unlike our profiles, we agreed that the people we saw when we looked at each other were not the people we saw when we read our profiles.

I suppose the real gist of it is that the one thing a dating profile is sure to broadcast is the product of (a) how you perceive yourself, and (b) how effectively you are able to portray that perception. (Mr B assures me that he was not intentionally trying to come off as the kind of dude with a basement apartment and a second-life account.) But for all that, odds seem high that your potential coffee date doesn't actually care what your self-perception is. And she'll only be able to assess how well you've conveyed it after she's gotten to know you well enough to identify the places where self-perception and reality differ.

This is all an extraordinarily circumloquacious way of getting to Crazy Blind Date, which almost - almost - makes me wish I were single. Here is how it works: you don't make a profile. You don't get to pick who you go out with. You verify that you are a real human being by replying to a text message, you say what time this evening you are free for a drink, you narrow down the neighborhoods in which you'd be willing to have that drink, and the algorithm hands you a date. Tonight. With a complete stranger.

If Mr. B and I had found each other on Nerve, we wouldn't have given each other a second look. But if we'd had a randomly-generated blind date, which in effect is actually quite similar to how we did meet, though in real life as opposed to online, things would have probably turned out quite differently. In the good way. Which is to say, single people who live in Austin, Boston, New York, and San Francisco: Do this! Meet people! Bring an open mind! And probably pepper spray!

Report back!


fun fact: Japan!

"I want you to cook me miso for the rest of my life" is, apparently, a traditional Japanese way of asking a woman to marry you.


I feel just fine

Due to NaBloPoMo, I'm finding my creative reserves being drained quite quickly. To that end I am just going to turn to my most fertile topic, grammar and usage, knowing full well that while you can sustain your interest over two posts on the matter, asking for a third (and, as the month progresses, quite possibly a fourth or seventeenth) is a lot. For this, I am mildly apologetic. Only mildly, though.

ANYWAY. My current pet peeve is when people use adverbs to describe how they feel, as in "I feel badly for Philippe," when Philippe has just lost his job or perhaps has acquired pneumonia. Or "I feel sickly" if you yourself have just acquired pneumonia. Or "are you feeling poorly?" when inquiring about the pneumonia status of a friend or coworker.

It is a pet peeve of mine because I value truth, and because when you say this, you are lying. Unless, of course, you have some sort of nerve degeneration or sociopathic emotional void, and it is on Philippe's behalf. But I would guess that, in fact, your ability to feel is just fine, darling, and you are not feeling badly at all. No sir. But, as it happens, the guilt or sympathy that Philippe's tragic state inspires in you might, you know, cause you to feel bad.

BUT WAIT, I hear certain people, like maybe Marcin (except not actually Marcin because he and I have already hashed this out over Google Chat, and he conceded my point by saying "your powers are strong today") revving up to say. Of course it is acceptable to say "I feel poorly," because don't we say - in an opposite, pneumonia-free scenario - "I feel well"?

Alas, no. "Well" is a clever little syllable, which can function as either an adverb or - dundundunnnn - an adjective! When you say "I don't feel well," you are indicating - adjectivally - that you are not experiencing wellness, or health. You don't feel badly, you feel bad. The opposite of an adjective (well) is an adjective (unwell, bad, sick).

Of course, if you have been badly burned in a fire and lost sensation, and are intending to adverbially refer to your unfortunately diminished ability to experience sensation, then by all means continue to tell us how you cried while at the petting zoo because you feel badly, and thus could not truly experience the sensational kickassery of a handful of wriggling fluffy duckling.


It's-a me!

I have a total thing for Marios. Batali. Lopez. But my numero uno Mario is the ur-Mario, the Mario, Mario the plumber-slash-Nintendo spokespixel.

His theme song was my cell phone ringtone (plus I can play it on the piano! Mostly by having listened to The Video Game Pianist ad infinitum while sitting near a keyboard.) And I've played virtually every Mario storyline game, from 8-bit sidescroll through a (quite possibly completely inaccurate) illegal preview of the Wii's Mario Galaxy. And I love them all. (Though my favorite, at least right now, is Paper Mario for GameCube. Whoo-ee is that a kickass game!) That is, I've played virtually every storyline game but one.

Nintendoids know that when Mario originally came out -- Super Mario Bros., the sidescroll classic that we all know and love, that came bundled with Duck Hunt for the 8-bit NES -- it was such a blockbuster that Nintendo rushed production on a sequel, designed by My Personal Hero, designer of the original game (plus, like, every other Nintendo franchise I have known and loved), Shigeru Miyamoto.

And then the sequel disappeared. And was replaced, in the US, by a crappy RPG with the Super Mario Bros. characters haphazardly swapped in for the folks originally designed into the game. The Miyamoto Mario 2 had been deemed too difficult, too weird, and too frustrating for the wussy American gaming audience, and was sent to the wayside. (Rumor is that Miyamoto designed it while he was massively depressed, hence its almost existential unpredictability and self-defeating elements.)

The game was finally released stateside in a collection of all the NES/SNES Mario games, which I completely managed to miss. But now - oh now! - the original, frustrating, difficult, fucked-up, agitating, classic Mario 2 has been released for the Nintendo Wii! And my boyfriend owns a Wii! And I am going to download this game to his Wii and I am going to play it and my life is going to be awesome and I am SO PSYCHED OH MY GOD.

If you own a Wii, you should get it too. If you don't, you are a giant loser. That is all. Thank you.

edit: Bill points out that I do not own a Wii, therefore I am a loser. Forgive me, I was unclear: If you own a Wii, but do not download Mario 2, you are a loser. If you do not own a Wii, you are simply completely out of touch with the current state of world awesomeness.


cry for help

It's come to pass that I somehow lost the red bar stretching from side to side of the banner up top there. I've got no idea how it happened, or how to fix it. Can anyone help me?

update! c'est fixed. hurrah!

cookie update update

Just got back from the post office! Uberchocolate chip, this batch. The secret? Thin, wide tiles of chocolate, which layer and melt and spread and, well, you'll see.

PS. Basically they are 100% butter, so you will probably die.

mea culpa

God, I can barely last a week. In my defense, yesterday I was away from the computer all day, being smushy and romantic in celebration of the official first anniversary of the Helen/boyfriend union.

Before I work my way up to some interesting, insightful post for today, I'm going to count today's apology for yesterday's failure as, um, yesterday's post. C'est la vie.

edit! the oh-my-god-i-cannot-sleep post from 2 days ago is technically from yesterday! I WIN. But I am going to fail anyway when I go to Florida next week for a wedding in which holy crap I am a bridesmaid.


Oh my god I cannot sleep.


vignette: hot literary action

Mr Phipps: No, really.
me: oh wait
me: okay
Mr Phipps: lol.. oh dear god.
Mr Phipps: take a japanese pop culture reference and shoehorn in an american writer
me: john donne and shakespeare both being notably american
Mr Phipps: tentacle-rape hp lovecraft.
me: lovecraft really takes to tentacle-rape actually
me: no! cthulhu! no!
me: yesssssssss


Grammar Judgment II: Son of Grammar

Holy hell, the definition of "grammar" seems to get more people excited than I thought it would. I love you guys, seriously. In junior high my mom always told me that when I got out into the real world I would find more people like me, by which she very specifically meant "people who get completely agitated by issues of grammar and usage," and it really warms my heart that the existence of the internet has proved her right.

I'd like to clarify what was apparently a too-brief discussion of the difference between the adjectives "grammatical" and "ungrammatical," and why the existence of those two words precludes the existence of a particular type of qualified version of the noun "grammar." It is totally okay if you don't care about this and just skip on down to the comments in order to call me a fat bitch.

A friend (who wishes to remain anonymous due to the fact that I freaking schooled him when we were arguing this over google chat) went at the matter from the easiest point of entry: the analogy.

"Look," he said. "If you have a math test, and you get 30/100, it is fine to say 'poor math skills.' Even though the errors are not math, given that they're simply wrong: 2 + 7 = 10 is as much 'not math' as 'I is hungry' is 'not grammar.' When you say 'poor grammar' you mean that the person makes frequent grammar errors, and his overall language skill is poor."

Ah. Except that saying "poor math skills" is not analogous to saying "poor grammar." It is analogous to saying "poor grammar skills" - which is perfectly fine. In this case, "poor" and "grammar" are both modifying "skills," which is a noun that can take as many qualifying adjectives as you'd care to throw at it.

"Using grammar," on the other hand, is a lot like "being pregnant." Either there is a little parasitic clone chilling out in your uterus, or there is not. Either your verb agrees with your noun, or it does not. You can be happily pregnant. You can be exuberantly grammatical. But you can't have "partial pregnancy" the same way you can't have "poor grammar." For that matter, you also can't have "incorrect grammar," because grammar is – definitionally – correct.

But my friend kept pushing:
"I continue to think you are not just pedantic, but wrong. Using poor grammar strikes me as a perfectly acceptable way of saying 'makes many grammar errors.'" I unapologetically use this construction regularly."

As it happens, so do I (though I feel a little twinge whenever I do, so maybe it's not totally unapologetic usage). But that isn't the point. The point is that, despite its frequent use, it remains incorrect. Of course, odds are that it will probably evolve into correctness, but you know what? "Irregardless" is now an actual word in the dictionary. So the evolution of language doesn’t always go down the happy path towards sunshine. Saying something is correct merely because it is ubiquitous is the sort of thing that a blogger a bit more prone to straw-manning than I am might say leads us down a path towards genocide and Crocs as acceptable footwear and horribly ineffective democratically-chosen presidents. Oh wait.

"You are like the people who say SPLIT INFINITIVES ARE ALWAYS WRONG," said my friend, and I resisted the urge to quote the guy who inspired Dead Poets Society, and also the urge to point out that an infinitive, properly, is a single verb despite being two words, and splitting it is like saying "absofuckinglutely," and instead let him continue down his path.

"Your binary construction of 'grammatical' and 'ungrammatical' assumes that there are a fixed set of grammatical rules. That is not true; there are many rules that people disagree on."

He's right, of course. Issues of grammar, like issues of law or tennis or anything else for which there is a codified set of rules, are always up for dispute. But the existence of disputes doesn't render the entire system unsound, and doesn't disallow the possibility of saying of an action "that is illegal" the same way one says of a sentence "that is ungrammatical." I suppose it's worth noting at this point that my friend is a lawyer, so the point wasn't lost on him.

Beside being a lawyer, though, he is also a really smart guy. So he started from a new direction:

"Okay. If I say 'poor grammar,' you know what I'm talking about. If the concept of poor grammar exists, then there's no problem with the construction 'poor grammar,' right?"

Well, yes and no. Here we get into interesting Frege-trailblazed territory. (Fun fact: I used to have a t-shirt that said "Gottlob is my boyfriend." Then an actual boyfriend borrowed it, and broke up with me, so the status of my relationship with Gottlob is currently in question.)

If a concept exists, it can be given a name. Let's call the concept "poor grammar," which - regardless of its grammaticality - we all comprehend, "P."

"P" can be replaced with anything. "Thistle." "Uskvald the Hirsute." "Asdgsdds25sd." "Poor grammar." It's simply a name applied to a concept - a handle which, when said or written, immediately allows all of us to conjure its concept in our minds.

The problem with calling "P" "poor grammar" is that "grammar" is not a word devoid of connotation, and so using it in the name of another thing creates reference to its own meaning. And, going back to the pregnancy analogy, "poor grammar" is simply not a meaningful phrase. Not "not meaningful" in the sense of "incomprehensible"; rather, "not meaningful" in the sense of "a computer given the rules of English would be unable to parse this sentence successfully."

"Fine," said my friend. "Disregard that argument. I am suggesting that grammar is subjective and therefore that it is coherent to refer to 'poor grammar' in the same sense as it is coherent to refer to 'poor art'"

Well as it happens, I actually think there is a case to be made for "poor art" also being a meaningless concept. But that’s another issue for another time.

The final point of all this, I think, is that I was really making a quite trivial point. I don't believe anyone would contradict that a given sentence is either grammatical or ungrammatical. The extension of this notion that's getting everyone's undies in bunches is the truthful fact that given a binary situation, you can't express middle ground and allow the expression to remain binary.

You may now proceed with calling me a fat bitch. Thank you.

cookie update

I've been getting delighted emails from some cookie recipients over the last few days, and I'm so pleased that your baked goods have arrived without incident.

Poor RW's cookie has met a less happy fate: I got a machine-chewed package returned to me today, sans cookie, with a big "return to sender" sticker on it. He'll be benefiting from tonight's rematch of Helen vs. The Oven, though it might not again be oatmeal chocolate chip due to the fact that I used up all the oats last time.

Let us have a moment of silence for our fallen cookie brethren.


I judge you when you are ungrammatical

A few weeks ago there was an article in the New York Times about grammar. Specifically, how young people these days are really holding high the banner of the tradition of our language and isn't amazing how that facebook thing has a group that is devoted to grammar, and why don't these whippersnappers stay off my lawn and in my day we walked uphill to pay half a penny for a piece of lint etc.

The gist: Grammar is hip among the youth! Who'da thunk?

But the thing is this: these phrases appear in the article:

good grammar (3x)
poor grammar (2x)

They are used in the following contexts: quoted individuals, names of pro-grammar organizations, and the author himself discussing grammar.

Bob Morris, you seem like a smart enough dude. New York Times copyediting team, I would not imagine that you are any sort of collection of fools at all. So tell me, please please please please, how is it possible that none of you know that "grammar" is not a word that can be qualitatively modified?!?

A quick lesson. This sentence

Most writers for the New York Times is not morons.

is incorrect. It is ungrammatical. It does not use "poor grammar" or "bad grammar." It does not use grammar at all.

Let's say you are playing tennis with your butler. Let's say your butler responds to your second serve (you faulted on the first by stepping over the line) by placing his racquet on the clay and then brewing you a cup of tea, which he serves you with butter cookies. Is your butler using the rules of tennis? No. He might be doing something quite lovely, you might be very thirsty for tea, but he is not using the rules of tennis. He is not using poor rules of tennis. He is just not using the rules at all.

"Grammar" is the word we assign to the set of rules that governs the placement and interaction of words in a language, much like we say "the rules of tennis" to refer to, well, the rules of tennis. In either speech or tennis, you are either playing by the rules, or you're not.

In summary:
You cannot use poor grammar. You can only be ungrammatical.

In further summary:
"Poor grammar" is, itself, ungrammatical.

In final summary:
You are probably sitting here thinking "Helen, holy crap, you are an obnoxious and sanctimonious person." Okay. Those are probably true. But as the facebook group (of which, despite its titular [hee hee "titular"] flaws, I am a member) says: I judge you when you use poor grammar. Consider yourself warned.

Update: The argument continues...


in my room

I have two little plastic bunnies on the window ledge next to the bed. One looks like Frankenstein and the other is schoolbus yellow and his ass says "I LOVE L.A."

Every sheet, pillowcase, or comforter that I own is either white, pale yellow, or this particular middle shade of blue. These also comprise the colors of the walls of every bedroom I have ever lived in (though not all at once). They are totally NOT my favorite colors, and clash horribly with my bright green dresser. I'm not sure why I keep buying these colors. It's a major source of WTF in my life.

My bed would be incredibly comfortable if it were not on a pronounced angle that slopes down to the left.

I once dated a guy who was supremely freaked out by birds. My bedside table is painted with images of birds. We basically lasted two days.

On a related note:
Seriously - weekend posting? This NaBloPoWriMoYoMom is killing me. Tomorrow, for real, you are probably just going to get an annotated photograph of my closet interior.


vignette: faux foer

me: i am pretty sure i saw jonathan safran foer yesterday
C: really? where?
me: on 6th avenue
me: the manhattan 6th ave, not the brooklyn one, so perhaps unlikely
me: but if it wasn't him, there is a Fake Jonathan Safran Foer among us
C: maybe he hires fake JSFs to wander around and confuse people
C: like they do with the presidential motorcades
me: or saddam hussein
C: maybe JSF is the same person as saddam hussein
me: that adds some seriously weird textual levels to Everything Is Illuminated

this vignette brought to you by NaBloPoWriMo, and my laziness



Welcome to NaBloPoWriMo, broadcasting from TriBeCa, via ParSuGo, formerly of SoHa. (While drinking a SoBe? Nah. Totes SoLaYe.)

The conceit: a blog post a day, every day for the conveniently-thirty-dayed month of November, for no discernable reason except to be the hypertext-driven new-media sibling to faux-literary juggernaut NaNoWriMo, in which one fulfills one's lifelong dream of writing a novel by forcing out 50,000 words in thirty days, despite the fact that most novels run closer to 200,000 words and it will probably take you longer to edit and rewrite and insert coherence into a 50k-word hastily-written novel than it would be to write a well-outlined, researched 200k-word one.

Leila's the one who put me up to this, and by golly, I'm gonna stick to it. Thank heaven for the vignettes.

As long as we're discussing ourselves, there are some exciting new people to check out over there in the links: Angela, previously noted in this space for her extraordinary investigations of the Philip Roth/Benjamin Kunkel prime-time soap opera, and Gregory Levey, who has the distinction of being a person who actually holds down real, interesting jobs that have purpose and meaning and somewhat intimidating authority, and yet remains convincingly ensouled.

Be a dear and see what they have to say.