Archive for July, 2006

The Misery Cup Theory of Life

Monday, July 31st, 2006


Many years ago, I formulated the Misery Cup Theory of Life, and while it is only one Nobel Prize worthy idea among many I have conceived, I think it is safe to share it while those Swedish guys are reviewing my work.

The Misery Cup Theory is related to the principle that “water seeks its own level”; only swap the word Misery for water. Every person is born with his/her own Misery Level, which will actually remain static, even though it may give the illusion of volatility. Think of your life as a measuring cup. Your Misery Level has a set-point, much like your body’s metabolism. Your own level may be lower than average (i.e. sunny outlook), or right at the top (i.e. excruciating anguish). But it is unlikely to change, at least without the big guns of psychopharmacology or a severe blow to the head.

Here is some empirical proof: Let’s say you get a flat tire. Shit! You’re really pissed off, your day is ruined, godammit. You feel your Misery Level rise. But later on, your level will have returned to exactly where it was. Now, let’s say you find the boots you always wanted, at a huge discount! You Rule! Your Misery Level plummets, as you rejoice that your life is now perfect! By the next day, though, where is your Misery Level? Right back to where it was.

This theory is not necessarily a negative view of personality or psychology. It should be comforting to know that no matter how many awful ordeals you must suffer through, in the end you will not be more miserable than you were already. Your Misery Level will shoot up temporarily, but it will find its own level.

My own Misery Level is set quite high, obviously, but I think this allows me to tolerate misfortune without falling apart. I’d probably be more fun to be around with a lower Misery Level, but those are the breaks.   I once read about some scientist who had worked out a Misery Index of some kind, which I find completely delightful! Since I can’t remember how he did it, I may have to devise one myself. Then, you could simply combine the Miserable Event with your Misery Level to predict how miserable you will feel, until things settle down to normal.

If a bad haircut equals a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, and your ML is set at 8, you won’t even register any pain. If your ML is a 5 however, you will experience a surge of level 7 Misery, but only until the event is absorbed. Then: Right back to 5, until you catch your spouse cheating on you (8) or you get fired (8) or you lose a toe in a hunting accident (9) or you see your butt in a three-way mirror at Bloomingdales (10).

Philanthropy, dude.

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006



Ben Goldhirsh, 26, is the son of self-made millionaire philanthropist Bernard Goldhirsh, who tried to raise Ben with as little sense of entitlement as possible. But when Bernie was diagnosed with brain cancer, he began to consider Ben’s aptitude for running a philanthropic organization. He endowed the new Goldhirsh Foundation and set up a trust fund for Ben, who could only access his money to make investments or start companies. Ben recalls the party he had on the eve of his father’s funeral. His old friends came to cheer him up. In fact, notes Ben, “I got laid in the yard that night under the stars.”

Good to know, and yet…not. One has to wonder at Ben’s argument with his sister Elizabeth, who wants to fund brain cancer research. The siblings argued about this issue for a year, with Ben complaining that brain cancer isn’t very common, so “why throw money at it”? Well, Ben is not a sentimentalist, except when talking about himself. He recounts a story about a realtor showing him slick Beverly Hills mansions with marble fountains. “I was like, dude, you are gonna get fired. Think dirty fingernails and calluses.” Instead, Ben found a rambling property on five acres of Beverly Hills, where he can hike with his cool friends.

Impatient at film school, Ben told his professor “I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve got loot”. He engaged the professor to help get a film company off the ground, dedicated to making “relevent films”. At the last minute, Ben balked about investing 30 million in an “old guy”. Instead he rounded up his pals to start Reason Pictures, where he will make a few films a year. Then he thought of starting a magazine called Good. “I was like, that’s dope.” It will offer a hipster take on the world of energy, politics, indie culture and green living.

Meanwhile, Ben wants to do good in other areas. He gave several thousand dollars to a refugee camp in Ghana. “I just gave that gift, and booked. I didn’t really stay in touch,” Ben confesses. Now Ben has been approached to sponsor a refugee teenager to study in the US. “The girl is so cool” Ben says. “But does it make sense to spend $20,000 on one kid,” or should he invest it in the Ghana school system?

What a mess! Ben even had to miss Coldplay at Coachella. Dude! As Ben explains though, “Sometimes you have a limited bandwidth for helping out.”

Is it me? Somehow I feel this guy has a limited bandwidth, period. Hugely wealthy, hugely ambitious, too lazy to finish film school, but hey, now he’s really putting his nose to the grindstone. “I’m working on having a comfort with money that my father or grandfather never did.” Maybe that starts with getting your fingernails dirty or tampering with other people’s scripts down at Reason Pictures.

I’m wondering: How is Angelina looking to you now? Personally, I like her bandwidth.





Monday, July 24th, 2006


When I was 11 years old, my dad used to take me out on a fishing boat that left early in the morning and returned in the afternoon. The fishermen all put money into a pool, as a prize for catching the biggest fish of the day. The day I won the pool, the fishing must’ve been pretty crappy. I won with a 15 pound Bonita.

I was so proud! It was a real moment of glory in a childhood that I only remember in snapshots, most of them unpleasant. I loved the fish, so I put it in the garage on some newspaper. One day, my mom told me to go and throw the fish away. When I went to get it, it was swarming with maggots. And I mean MAGGOTS. I ran back inside shrieking. I remember my mom telling me that it was my fault for leaving the fish there, so too bad, I had to throw it out. To this day, I can’t remember what happened next.

But a few days ago, I opened the trashcan in my kitchen, and guess what? Fucking maggots! I screamed and ran in a little circle. My kid asked what was wrong and I told him: MAGGOTS! He disappeared into his room. My neighbor Alec is my go-to person for Man Stuff when my husband isn’t there. Alec has thrown out dead possums, has drilled holes and once even cut down a tree for me. Alec is out of town, so I called Bruce, and left a message. Then I called my adopted son Chris (the Ex-Anton) who told me to get rubber gloves and some pesticide. Bruce called back and told me to take the trashcan outside for the extermination project.

I bought some elbow-length bright yellow gloves that made me feel ready to kill anything. I sprayed some bug spray into the can with my eyes closed. After a while, I carried the can outside and blasted it with spray from every angle. Finally, I felt that the maggots were dead. “Not only really dead, but really most sincerely dead!”

I really fucking hate maggots. The moral of this story is: Make sure you have plenty of friends for Man Stuff, and don’t leave your fish in the garage.

Gilles Trehin: Another Beautiful Mind

Friday, July 21st, 2006

Gilles Trehin is a 34 year old Frenchman who has created a city in his mind  called Urville. In more that 200 drawings, he has crafted a city with an elaborate history reaching back to before the Middle Ages, complete with an entire culture that includes religious, political, and economic records. The city’s life is mapped out with information about its universities, industries, and cultural events. Gilles, who has been diagnosed as autistic but probably has an autistic spectrum condition called Asperger’s Syndrome, is an angelic looking man who hopes to make a living as an artist. He also has perfect pitch and an interest in prime numbers. His first word, at three years old, was “airplane.”

Earlier stories about Gilles have focused on his autism, making him sound like an inordinately gifted chimp. After watching this video of him, I see that he is an intelligent but somewhat otherworldly young man with a truly beautiful spirit. His drawings are awe-inspiring, and his prodigious intelligence is very moving to behold — for me, anyway. Rather than being a poster-boy for the disabled, Gilles Trehin is a multi-gifted genius who should be celebrated as such. You can see some of drawings here  at the Kircher Society, (whose dedication to “the wondrous” makes it a delightful website to visit.)

Gilles Trehin’s book, Urville, published by Jessica Kingsley, is available from and directly from the publisher.

My Girlie Brain

Saturday, July 15th, 2006


In their efforts to understand autism, researchers have found that not only is autism a predominantly male condition, but a type of autism called Aspergers Syndrome seems to reflect a sort of extreme male brain. Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen’s theory is that the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, and   the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems. He calls it the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory.

Empathizing is the drive to identify another person’s emotions and thoughts, and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. The empathizer intuitively figures out how people are feeling, and how to treat people with care and sensitivity.

Systemizing is the drive to analyze and explore a system, to extract underlying rules that govern the behavior of a system; and the drive to construct systems.

A key feature of this theory is that your sex cannot tell you which type of brain you have. Not all men have the male brain, and not all women have the female brain. The central claim of this new theory is only that on average, more males than females have a brain of type S, and more females than males have a brain of type E.

This has been great news for me personally!   I used to joke that I had only one brain lobe, and now my test scores reveal the truth: I have Extreme Girlie Brain! My female brain quotient is nearly off the chart. My male brain quotient is a dismal 4 on a scale of 1 to 80. (The average female score here is between 20 and 30.) No wonder I can’t read maps or work the remote!   Baron-Cohen believes that his theory predicts the existence of an extreme female brain, but he notes that such a condition would not be easily recognized as a disability. Women who are impaired at systemizing but gifted at empathizing could attract males to set up a home theater system, for example…

Such has been my life. I am smart in one way but retarded in another. I’ve been able to get by via my superior Girlie Brain. I don’t know how to open the hood of my car, but I can tell if you need cheering up. I can save your marriage by directing you to drop the fight and give your spouse oral sex, ASAP. I can also tell Lancome Roulette Red from Holiday Red, which I believe has served to put a roof over my head and a computer in front of me.

Read more here.

Take the tests here.

I would love to hear how you score!

Morbid Interest

Monday, July 10th, 2006

I have come to think of Joel-Peter Witkin as the embodiment of a certain brand of Hipsterism that really bothers me. I guess it’s a sort of celebration of morbidness that strikes me as pretentious, not to mention annoyingly predictable. What Hipster worth his or her Nick Cave CD’s doesn’t love Joel-Peter Witkin?   Once you tell me you love Joel-Peter Witkin, you’ve told me everything I need to know about you. (e.g., you love Nosferatu, Freaks, Quay Brothers, Bunuel, zombie movies, etc.)   I have tried to discuss this idea with my husband, who is usually adept at nipping such conversations in the bud by exclaiming “Why do you ask me these things!â€? This time, I persisted. I knew he knew what I was talking about, even though he pretended not to.

I posed the question as something like: “Why do Hipsters have to like Joel-Peter Witkin?â€? But he forced me to rephrase it several times, until it became: “Why do Hipsters love things that are either morbid or shocking?â€? Finally, after relentlessly badgering him, he explained it. “Hipsters are supposed to be sort of an outlaw element, so they like anything that smacks of outlaw culture.â€? Well, bingo. I didn’t marry him just for the one thing, you know.

So today, while continuing to ponder the Joel-Peter Witkin thing, I looked at some of his photos online, and sure enough I was annoyed, repelled, somewhat intrigued, but mostly disgusted. I read an interview with Witkin, where he describes his search for a nice male corpse, somewhere in Mexico. He spoke of love and redemption and mortality. Good themes, all of them. Then he spoke of humor: He thought it was funny how in complaining about his photograph of someone putting a penis into an empty eye socket, some outraged letter-writer had mistaken the penis for a potato. Ha ha! Good one, Joel-Peter! Still further down the page, you could click on a nice ad from Witkin, who is seeking a young blind woman with cloudy eyes, as well as a young armless woman to model for him. He offers in return a free print from the photo session.

You know what’s next. My personal message to Mr. Witkin: “Joel-Peter, go fuck yourself!â€?   I know he would, if only he were deformed in some way and could photograph it.

Beyond this attack on one perpetrator is a larger issue I found articulated by an editor of Photovision magazine. In the last quarter century, he notes, the world has moved from the “absurd ageâ€? to the “horror age.â€? For all I know, this has been stated already in the New Yorker and everywhere else; but for me it’s kind of a fresh idea. It feels true. After September 11, the tsunami, Katrina, and the freely available videos of people getting their heads chopped off, we are all traumatized, whether we think so or not. We have been exposed to horror non-stop now, and it’s harder every day to shock us. Darfur, child soldiers, child amputees, sobbing earthquake victims, teen sex-slaves, prison torture, reality TV, it never ends.

I’m still capable of being shocked. And I don’t want to be exposed to any more horror than is necessary. I don’t know where the age of horror will lead. I can’t blame it on Joel-Peter Witkin, but I can cite him as a poster boy for the era. And I can turn in my Hipster card if that’s what it takes to renounce him.

The Artist as Fucker

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

I always have a problem separating the art from the artist, (i.e. the artist from his life.) This has come up for years now when the subject is Woody Allen. I was so pissed off with him after the Soon-Yi Incident that for Christmas that year, my husband sent me a card “from” Woody Allen, with a personal apology. I haven’t forgiven Woody, because that would be shallow (see Never Give up a Grudge, Nigress, 2007) but I find I am able to enjoy Annie Hall without feeling too much moral indignation.

One school of thought is to accept and appreciate the art (or of course disappreciate it) independently from any judgment on the artist himself. In other words, Joni Mitchell has written some beautiful songs, even though she is a complete asshole. It makes perfect sense! But I can’t seem to do it. Ever since I read an interview with her in Rolling Stone, around 500 years ago, in which she heaps praise upon herself as a brilliant visual artist, she has made me sick. Just a few months ago, in Starbucks, I picked up the Joni Mitchell edition of their CD series dedicated to an artist’s selection of musical influences. Joni Mitchell is the only artist who has had the temerity to include one of her own songs! What an asshole!!!   She is ruined for me forever. Sorry!

What about Roald Dahl? As a child, I loved his short stories. They were so creepy! Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl for god sake? But years ago, when a biography revealed him to have been a horrible father, among other failings, I could never extinguish this image of him. Same story with R. Crumb. Seeing the movie “Crumb” the first time, I cried at the tragedy of his crazy brothers. The second time, I couldn’t avoid cringing at R’s coldness toward his son: He says openly that the only person he’s every truly loved is his little daughter, Sophie. Where does that leave your son, you fucking bastard, is my feeling toward Crumb. Yeah, yeah, great cartoons, but what a waste as a human being. He won’t even let his son touch his stupid records.

Today, I read a horrifying account of the life of Bertrand Russell. The least of his crimes against his family members is that he decided to make his 4 year old son John learn to swim by repeatedly throwing him into the ice cold sea. He did this until the child learned that his sobbing was pointless. John later developed schizophrenia. It only gets worse. If you really like Bertrand Russell, don’t even consider reading any recent biographies.

I am so grateful that Patti Smith continues to hold her own as a person. Thank you Patti for living a life that measures up to your art….maybe even surpasses it! Neil Young has done pretty well too, until this afternoon. “He” posted a bulletin on mySpace that on its surface is a noble anti-war entreaty, but turns out to be an effort to sell tickets for his tour with Crosby Stills and Nash. It’s not the worst thing, but it’s not something I wanted to see, either.   If you’re reading this Neil, please watch yourself! Don’t screw things up for me like your friend Joni did!


Let’s Talk About Books!

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

There are books I’ve read that entertained me, enriched me, educated me, annoyed me, and enraged me. Some haven’t done shit to me. And a few, to some degree, have changed my life. If this gets pretentious, just scream “eeoow!” and click Back. I’ll try not to be sickening, but who knows.

Charlotte’s Web — Wasn’t that a great book?!   I’ve read it to each of my kids, and it was as great as ever. I think this book made me fall in love with reading, and with words. And I still cry at the end.

Naked Lunch — I was 14 when I read it, and I remember feeling euphoric when I read the dialogue out loud to my best friend. The prose style opened up a whole world to me: you could be brilliant and crude and erudite and dark and hilarious all at the same time! William Burroughs could, anyway.

Gormenghast — I was around 17. I don’t think I’ve ever come upon a literary universe this vivid, imaginative, engrossing and affecting. It reinforced my love of language.

Middlemarch — The most perfect novel in the English language. And proof that a woman could write as intelligently and commandingly,   and with as broad a scope as any of the great masters, without a hint of girliness. A masterpiece, godammit!

Confederacy of Dunces — I was 28 and worked in a book store. Someone urged me to read it, and to ignore the stupid lurid cover it had in this paperback edition. Thank you, Jim, wherever your crazy ass is!   This book articulated the horror and comedy of being smart and useless. A perfect tragicomedy that you can read a million times. It just gets more funny and poignant with each reading.

White Noise — This novel encapsulates the modern condition so brilliantly that I knew there was no point in trying to write fiction any more. Nothing could live up to Don de Lillo. I remember feeling grief that I wasn’t Don di Lillo. But even Don di Lillo isn’t happy with being himself, it turns out.

Prisoners of Childhood — Everyone who has read this book by Alice Miller tries to force it on other people, saying it will change the way they view their kids and their own childhood. It actually does do that!   Upsetting at first, but worth it. It almost   proves that the truth will set you free.

Neurotic Conflicts — Karen Horney has a funny name but she knew how to discuss the most difficult concepts in simple, eloquent language that even an idiot could understand, if only idiots would pursue psychology books.

Moby Dick — I cannot read Moby Dick. I’m sorry, I tried and I just can’t do it. It is not readable to me. But when my son read it one summer, for pleasure, not school, I realized how much smarter he is than I am. If you’re not a mom, you might not know how fantastic this feels. I admire his huge brain, and he can tell me about Moby Dick if I ever need to know.

Okay, that’s nine. Would anybody like to offer one from their own list, or even their whole list? Or make fun of my list? Or pretend to have finished Being and Nothingness? I’m here for you.