Daniel Nester is the best professor I never had.
Wait… That sounds inappropriate.
What I mean is this. While I have enjoyed Nestor’s poetic events (and our visit to a thrift store back room where a hushed voice asking “Do you like kitsch?” prompted the purchase of this), I have never taken his class. As if that weren’t disappointment enough, Nester and I have had other unfinished business lingering too, until now.
In his new book, How to be Inappropriate (Soft Skull Press, Nov 2009), Nester includes a story about foot licking. When I first heard it read aloud, my laughter caused petechial hemorrhaging when, in a violent fight for oxygen, forceful inhalation sent a snack chip straight down my throat. Having left the room in a choking fit prior to the story’s conclusion, I can finally learn how it ends. Consider this a cautionary tale. Beware the deadly humor.
And now, it is with great pleasure I introduce journalist, essayist, poet, editor, and teacher, Mr. Daniel Nester, as he talks about How to Be Inappropriate.
DN: A writer friend of mine, the super Denise Duhamel, put out word to me that she was guest-editing an issue on humor and poetry in a peer-reviewed, scholarly-type article called HUMOR: The International Journal for Humor Studies. And as I thought through ideas for what I might write and submit, the notion of doing a straightforward, close reading survey of instances of references to and depictions of the fart and the act of farting in English language poetry. So I put out word to my email friends and lists, got some on my own, and put together a sort of “fartspotter’s guide to poetry.”
BD: Fabulous. And is it safe to say that you are an expert in poetic farts? Have you encountered strong competition in this area and, if so, has it been credible? (My husband would swear that I’m an expert – even in my sleep – but don’t you believe it.)
DN: I don’t know if I am an expert, but I can rattle off a few for you. Here’s Alexander Pope’s, from the fourth book of his Dunciad:
And now had Fame’s posterior Trumpet blown
And all the Nation’s summon’d to the Throne
That one was from a tip from Doug Butler, my colleague at Saint Rose. Here’s another from W.H. Auden’s “Doggerel by a Senior Citizen“:
Then Speech was mannerly, an Art
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.
There’s just so many good ones. A couple in the piece in the book are stretches references to wind breaking, windows rattling but they all seem to be fart references, at least to my mind.
BD: I’m curious about another area of your experience: medical writing. Do you find that this type of professional writing has suppressed your penchant for silly bodily functions, thus leading to an outpouring of biological fetishism – as in the buildup of methane gas within the lower intestine – if only expressed in books?
DN: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t say I was the best medical writer, but I when I was doing it a lot, I was OK. And what kept me going were those times there was a reference to bodily functions or just plain medical strangeness. The closest my medical writing and my so-called creative writing meet was a piece I wrote about ExtenZe, a so-called “male enhancement” pill that affects that certain part of the male anatomy. I tried to see if any of the science held up, or if there were any references to the pill’s efficacy in peer-reviewed medical journals. There were none, of course: the pills are bunk. But it was cool to conduct my own little patient reported outcome thingie.
BD: So, can you describe one of the more touching moments in How to Be Inappropriate? Is there inappropriate touching, perhaps?
DN: I think there’s probably inappropriate touching, sure. One piece talks about how my wife and I went through some trials and tribulations in the fertility/IVF world to have our first kid. There’s a lot of references to the “collection rooms” there. It’s largely sincere and, I suppose, touching. I also write with a straight face about leaving New York and leaving the New York poetry world, which are comedic unto themselves, but my account is told with an acidic tone.
BD: As you know, I used your 2008 foot licking reading here to prove Foucault’s theory, that in all the ways we try to avoid talking about sexual behavior or fetishism, a discourse is thus created. This post earns thousands of hits from fans of foot licking, licking feet, sex foot, sex feet, feet sex, foot sex, footsex and so on, making obvious that foot licking is alive, well and openly discussed. Do you find Foucault’s therory to be true in your own writing, or do you feel you often take a direct approach?
BD: How much inappropriate behavior do you encourage in your creative non-fiction classes? Do you have any particularly inappropriate assignments planned for the upcoming semester?
DN: It’s not that I encourage inappropriate behavior in either myself or other writers or my students. It’s that I teach and encourage others that we shouldn’t shy away from it. I am of the mind that the most embarassing details in a story or poem or what have you are often the most interesting and honest. So I guess I’ve talked myself into a circle, that I do encourage others write inappropriately. But it’s not being inappropriate for the sake of it.
BD: If you could write your own interview question, what would it be and how would you answer it?
Me#1: Hey, Dan, what?s up?
Me#2: Call me Daniel.
Me#1: What, do you have a stick up your ass?? Why are you so formal?
Me#2: It’s not like that. I hate the way the familiar form of Dan melds into Nester, thus making it one word. Like Dannester.
Me#2: It’s also, like, my “writing name.” People don’t say “Davey Sedaris” or “Johnny Keats” or “Bill O’Reilly,” do they??
Me#1: They do say “Bill O’Reilly.” That’s what he goes by.
BD: One last question, Daniel. When Maisie, your wife, allowed you to lick her feet for the video teaser above, did her toes curl because it tickled? Was there another reason, perhaps? Or is this line of questioning simply inappropriate since Maisie isn’t here to speak for herself?
DN: It did tickle her, yes. She’s very tickling. The sound on that footage is riddled with giggles. She wouldn’t mind me saying this.
A lot of people, I think, would be grossed-out by that footage, but for me, it was about how my lovely wife was willing to have her feet licked on film in order to promote my book. That’s love.
BD: Thank you so much for visiting, Daniel, and for talking about your exquisitely inappropriate book. It has been a sincere pleasure.
DN: Thanks a lot for talking.
How to Be Inappropriate can be ordered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere. Release is set for November 2009.
Author photo by Gregory Cherin, suitable for framing or rubbing against denim.
Daniel Nester’s first two books, God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His third, The History of My World Tonight (BlazeVOX, 2006), is a collection of poems.
For more information (or T.M.I.) about Daniel’s full body of work, visit www.DanielNester.com. Also, be sure to catch his book tour readings at a city near you. (Just leave the snacks at home unless accompanied by a friend trained in the Heimlich Maneuver.)
Have you ever analyzed what blogging means to you and how it influences what you write??You could learn a lot.?Recently, I did just that for Esther Prokopienko, a grad student at the College of Saint Rose. Researching both the act and platform of blogging, she incorporated the following answers into her research and posted the resulting paper, The Scholarly Writer/Blogger: A New Discursive Space,?on her own blog, Esther’s Space.
1. How long have you been blogging? Why did you choose to begin? Do you notice any changes in your writing/thinking process from before you were a blogger to now, as an active blogger? Do you use blogging as a way of thinking through ideas? How do you use the different mediums (journals, blogs, livejournals, etc) for thinking and writing?
While spending a great deal of time overseas as a flight attendant (1997-2001), I had begun a blog of sorts, The Lincoln Street Chronicles,?to keep friends and family updated on my personal activities and observations. I?d also share pre-digital, scanned photos of my layovers. That primitive HTML site was hosted by Geocities and I would add entries to the top of a free, single and static web page. There was no mechanism for readers to enter comments, but I sometimes posted interesting email replies under the main post. I certainly wasn?t the only person doing this, but I suspect that blogs, as they are known today, stemmed from this type of ?web logging.?
In memory of the day that marked the end of life as I knew it and my flight attendant career , I offer an adaptation (pulled from frantic writings) of my personal account. This was written to reassure family and friends of my safety, to reach out to those I hadn’t heard from, and to process the day’s events in some way that made sense, if only chronologically.
September 13, 2001
Tuesday and Beyond
On Tuesday I arrived at the Continental Training Center across the river from lower Manhattan at 8:30 a.m. My three hour drive from Albany that morning was basked in sunlight. Bands of fog, like webs of spun gold, stretched between the trees. By the time I reached the skyline of New York, it shimmered with the warm hues of sunrise against a crisp blue sky. I cursed myself for leaving my camera on the kitchen counter.
Upon my arrival, I sat in the Continental Training Center’s cafe reviewing for the FAA’s annual training. As I tried to recall things not published in our manual, things like weapons identification and hijacking procedures, people approached the windows with urgency saying, “You can’t see it from here.” I asked what they were looking for and couldn’t believe what I was told.
Hello?my fellow lit, film and social justice?heads,
I am off to the small village of Have, Ghana to volunteer for four weeks and won’t be updating this blog while I’m away. I do hope to share my daily experiences at my travel blog, Alfajiri: Destination Africa, electricity permitting. Stop by and say hello. It’ll be nice to?converse with familiar folks from home.
See you in August!
I learned last week through the WordPress pingback feature that?a substantial?number?of Brain Drain posts had been mentioned?on another site. As any blogger would probably agree, to see a pingback to what you’ve written?is an honor of sorts, a hat tip to your brilliance or at least a?mockery of?something quirky you’ve said. You smile,?feel full of yourself?for a minute (sometimes two)?and move on.?Instead, this?list of pingbacks aroused suspicion. This is a partial view:
- literature linked here saying, “Silence Speaks Louder In response to Richard Barsa …”
- literature linked here saying, “Anne Finch: Creating Her Own Space The poem ?The …”
- literature linked here saying, “Quills: Voyeur as the Voice of Reason The Voyeur a …”
- literature linked here saying, “Objectivity: A Question of Perspective In referenc …”
Although I’d like to think I’m that important, nobody is worthy of?being legitimately quoted?twelve times in a single day.
I followed the pings to?their source. There, a solid,?orange banner bore the photo of a young woman-child. She wore a skimpy, green silk halter and?cowboy hat. Her long, blonde highlights were?seductively fanned by some off-screen electronic device yet there was an innocence about her that threw me.?The small image was cocked to one side and framed as if it were a film negative but?that?didn’t produce the?negative feeling in my gut as much as the?title?”literature” in bold letters (with a?lower case?L and quotes included) under which were all my latest posts. Only one, Aisha in Rwanda: In Need of Humanity,?had been?offered up for redistribution, NOT?MY WHOLE DAMN BLOG.
Manipulation in film, not only of the objects within the frame but of the audience as well, has been the practice of film makers for decades. In Philip Kaufman?s Quills (2000), a biopic loosely based on the last years of life for the18th century author, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), the audience becomes not just an observer but an active participant in particular sexual acts through overtly suggested voyeurism. For what purpose does Kaufman so conspicuously manipulate the audience into committing these acts? In an ambitious argument for uncensored art, even when pitted against the utmost controversial fiction of the Marquis de Sade (a man who RollingStone.com calls ?one sick twist? (Travers)) Kaufman wants his audience to actively lust for things they cannot have. For this reason, I examine the transition from the experience of fictional freedom in the first scene involving Mademoiselle Renard (Diana Morrison) with the oppression of that freedom within the rest of the film. By beginning the story here, Kaufman demonstrates that in order to understand what can be lost through censorship, one must understand, first hand, what exists prior to that loss.
The poem ?The Critick and The Writer of Fables? published in 1713 by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, is an ambitious attempt at a satirical play on gendered and formal limitations of Augustan poetry. The critick is representative of a male poetic society, and yet by acquiring a voice from Finch within the poem, it appears to represent one side of Finch?s own internal debate in deciding where her writing belongs. She makes a case for a new style of writing by satirizing the forms already in existence. The poem, at once, exemplifies an Augustan commentary about poetic definition while it inserts the thinly veiled female object of Finch, the fable writer, as the subject in the style of the Romantic poets. Finch carves a place for her own poetry between the satirical, warring poet and the pastoral, peaceful muse, making room for her various resulting combinations. Finch?s poetry resides somewhere between two chronological, poetic traditions, as well as a gender division, without fully occupying any one more than another. It is in her displacement that she finds her own space.
From the beginning of Berman and Pulcini?s American Splendor (2003), we are presented with many versions of Harvey Pekar:
- A comic strip frames Harvey Pekar (Daniel Tay), an uncostumed kid on Halloween in 1950. When asked what he?s dressed as, we learn that this kid is no super hero. He cranks off, ?I?m Harvey Pekar. I?m just a kid from the neighborhood? and storms off with the voices of kids mocking his name in fading echos.
- If memory serves correctly, we hold that same external comic frame and fade the content to actor Paul Giamatti walking that same street?playing the film?s character “all grown up.”
- A voiceover of the real Pekar tells us Harvey Pekar is also a real guy and we eventually meet that guy in a sound studio being interviewed, documentary style, by Shari Springer Berman.
- Interspersed are comic renditions of the character talking to us in bubbles, telling us about who he is.
- Giamatti thinks in bubble text at the supermarket where the idea for American Splendor was born.
- We meet?the comic renditions?of Pekar again at the the train station when Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) arrives for the first time.
- Later, we get clips of the real Pekar on ?Late Night with David Letterman.?
- Giamatti?also stages Pekar?s volatile GE/NBC blast on the same show.
- Last but not least, we see one more permutation when Giamatti acts repulsed while watching a play about Pekar played by Donal Logue when the voiceover adds that he, the real Pekar, wonders how he?ll feel seeing Giamatti play him in this movie.
The genious mix of reality and fiction is?enough to make my head spin…
Taking stock, a reflective exercise often assigned at the end of a class, is also a graduation requirement. This is my first draft. Tweaking to follow… although?references to?”navel gazing” and “mental masturbation” are definitely keepers.
The Collegiate Experience and My Intellectual Cosmos
This reflective essay has been assigned to help connect my Senior Seminar experience, with its focus on pre-romantic poetry, to the greater Saint Rose experience and thus my intellectual cosmos. To be honest, I find this task rather difficult. My trouble stems from the Senior Seminar portion of this ponderance. Let me first say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual, in-depth conversation every class has offered and that I find significant value in the exploration of early literary theory and the ability to measure today?s ideas by comparison. Still, I struggle to kindle some sort of greater passion for the subject matter in a present-day application that brings new awareness to light.
In my ideal world, Senior Seminar should be more than an entertaining intellectual exercise. I had hoped for a topic that would engage my passion, inspire me to action in righting some contemporary wrong and raise my own awareness as well as the awareness of those who read what new discoveries my research has to offer. Instead, I am reminded time and again, as we jest about the many ways in which poets have continually pondered their navels, that the struggle of the human experience merely shifts at a snail?s pace. Looking to history offers little more than greater historical knowledge of humanity?s slowly morphing circumstances, faulty attempts at understanding through overly general categorization, and constant repetition of these mistakes. While history is a fantastic place to begin, traveling back in time is not necessarily the best place to finish, at least in the opinion of this Saint Rose senior.
Having selected Philip Kaufman’s Quills (2000) as my ?Writers in Motion? film of choice, I watched it twice, first to take in the entire story and again to take notes. For further insight, I watched the DVD extras on screenplay writer Doug Wright’s commentary, costuming, setting and casting, searched for the text of the screenplay to read for sheer literary value, and hit JSTOR for some scholarly direction. I also found accounts of the Marquis de Sade?s real life on the Time Warner True Crime site and discovered another devoted to PVC fetish wear designed in the Marquis? name. Before I knew it, I had shoved so much material into my feeble little brain that my ability to create a single thesis ground to a screeching halt. I screamed, ?TOO MUCH INFORMATION!? and took a break. This is how I roll.
Reading Barsam?s last chapter of Looking at Movies offers the perfect springboard for this paper I have yet to begin. With graduation looming just 15 days away, that?s what I call salvation in print. One method Barsam suggests is a tracing of dualisms or binary oppositions. In Quills, that could include things such as:
- freedom of speech/censorship