I Sing the Body Eclectic

No doubt Walt Whitman would have sounded his barbaric yawp from the steaming rooftop pool of Spa Castle in Queens, had the multi-level Korean day spa been around the corner from his Brooklyn stomping grounds as it is today.

I’m not saying he would have retitled “Song of Myself” to “Song of Ourselves,” but I like to think that he might have been so inclined upon entering the ground-level indoor spa for the first time, onto a wondrous tiled cavern of heated pools, a sauna, steam room and cold plunge, open showers, a dousing shower, and sitting stations to shave or brush one’s teeth—with all manner of naked men roaming from one rite to the next.

(Women have their own identical spa on the ground level, the rest of the floors are unisex and require the oversized, undersexy shirt-and-shorts uniform found in the locker rooms.)

The first time I entered, before I even dipped my toe in the jasmine pool to test the temperature, I was already refreshed by the raw physical diversity that meets the eyes like a democratic antidote to the idolatrous fetishization of body type in today’s culture. Here was every shape and size, from tall to short and skinny to fat, from the comparatively hairless to bearlike monstrosities with throw rugs on their backs and big bushels of pubic hair; from those genetically endowed with a windsock for a penis, to those with a cigar stub.

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My Dinners with Philip Levine

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” W.H. Auden famously claimed—famously and perhaps disingenuously, for if nothing else poetry makes people poets.

In the fall of 1991, in my junior year at Stanford, I happened to see a flyer on campus for a reading by Philip Levine. My only brush with poetry before college had been the ill-fated impetus to answer an essay question on my application for early acceptance to Harvard with rhyming couplets.

“Needless to say, that hopeless bard / never walked to class through Harvard Yard.”

Fortunately, my vain experiment in verse hadn’t stopped me from taking a workshop my sophomore year at Stanford, which left me with just enough of a bite from the poetry bug to want to continue.

But then a permanent infection set in thanks to Philip Levine. Having never heard of him before that night in Kresge Auditorium, I was riveted by the voice in his National Book Award-winning What Work Is, his New Selected Poems sharing the stage for having been published that same year.

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Her and Him: Digital Love and Divine Analogues

Sunday at the Oscars, Spike Jonze deservedly won Best Original Screenplay for Her, his dystopian love story for the cybernetic age. In an alternative world, the kind that Jonze likes us to inhabit in his films—strange but relatable, infinitely ironic—I’m pretty sure that he also took home the award for Best Parable.

Or, in keeping with Jonze’s boyish persona that seems to shrug at his own brilliance, perhaps it was Best Parable In Spite of Itself.

Why in spite of itself? Because while Jonze obviously set out to write a screenplay, and then direct a film, I suspect that he did not task himself with the conscious making of a cinematic parable in the same gospel vein employed by Jesus of Nazareth.

But he did, and to no unimpressive end. (Not surprisingly, after all, this being the director whose precocious dexterity in his early films like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation felt like effortless deliveries of gemstones on a skateboard.)

Just put on your inner Jonze and imagine that Jesus hailed from Nazareth, Pennsylvania in our day and age. You can almost hear him begin the parable of Her to a street crowd in Philadelphia, many of whom must remove their earbuds and headphones to listen:

“There was a man who fell in love with an operating system…”

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My Valentine

Only after I hung up the first time we spoke on the phone did it hit me. I had called her the day before and left a message, but in keeping with pride or protocol Tracy waited the conventional twenty-four hours before calling me back.

Soon enough I would realize the timing was more in keeping with a happy combination of providence and happenstance.

Technically speaking, we had spoken on the phone for the first time six months before, when mutual friends put me in touch with her before my departure for travels in China. Tracy had lived there for three years as a teacher, naturally leading Robin and Declan to think she would have some good advice and helpful tips for me.

She most definitely did not. Her advice on China amounted to the recommendation of a book about Tibet, and her distracted air made me wonder if she was more involved in an email on the other end. Later I would learn about the family drama she was steeped in at the time; but suffice it to say that I hardly hung up thinking will you marry me? A book about Tibet? That was helpful was more like it.  

But when I walked into Robin and Declan’s birthday party back in New York several months later, and picked her out in the crowd even before we were introduced, it didn’t take long to forgive her subpar travel advice. That’s Tracy? I thought. Whoa!

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Media Matrimony for Better for Worse, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I began to explore the questions posed to me by W. David O. Taylor about why marriage is often treated in such an unseemly light in much of current TV and film.

Having addressed the divide between what is being pitched or written in Hollywood and what is being made there, a divide whose numbers alone would likely assure Taylor that more redeeming efforts of the kind he describes are being made than meet the screen, I now come to the heart of his inquiry.

Is there any reason why the complexities and tensions as well as pleasures and inherent “goods” of traditional marriage no longer capture the imaginations of producers and writers? Is it a dramatically uninteresting subject matter? Is the fact that over 50% of today’s marriages end in divorce a reason why writers cannot imagine it any other way? Is it a matter of a “trend”?

It’s hard not to hear each successive question for its rhetorical effect. My first response was to add one of my own to the list: is a generally disenchanted picture of marriage in our entertainment climate an unconscious, cultural form of collective self-amelioration, by which we come away feeling better about our own marriages in comparison?

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