Sunday, October 22, 2006

Another unfortunate Merkin experience

My first mistake was clicking the Beauty Fall 2006 link on the home page of I almost never read any of the style/beauty articles in the Times, but I was curious to see what the deal was with the woman in the photo. OK, so that was dumb, but my next mistake was inexcusable. I clicked on the Daphne Merkin byline link.

I long ago vowed to avoid anything with a Merkin byline, since reading Merkin never failed to provide me with minutes of intense irritation. But alas, back in February, Amanda at Pandagon mentioned her, causing me to blog about her. As a result, I got a nasty email from someone claiming to be Merkin herself. I demanded proof of identification, but never got any, but concluded that it probably really was Merkin, since it seemed unlikely that anybody could capture her supremely annoying style so perfectly in a brief email.

Merkin typically combines pretentious highbrow celebrity name-dropping with shallow subjects (fashion, herself) and world-class cluelessness. Her latest piece, "Against Lip Gloss, or New Notes on Camp" is a perfect specimen:

Seems hard to believe now that there was ever an age before ironic appropriation, before John Currin and Vic Muniz. Did Rembrandt think of himself in quotes, as “Rembrandt”? And is there any chance that we will ever know, buried as we are beneath the rubble of postmodern rhetoric, attuned to the chipmunk chirps of vituperative bloggers and smug talk show hosts (I say this without ever having had the patience to watch more than five minutes of Jon Stewart)?

She doesn't have the patience to watch Jon Stewart, who is not actually smug, and at times verges on genius, but was able to sit through a four-hour documentary about Andy Warhol. But of course the rabble and hoi polloi and bloggers watch Jon Stewart, so Merkin will have none of it. You get no East 79th Street cred from admitting you watch Jon Stewart.

Mean old vituperative bloggers have crushed the petals of Merkin's delicate psyche because they have criticized her. But it isn't like Merkin can't give as good as she gets - in response to my unflattering blog post about her she retorted:
" sound like a generally unreflective and overly self-regarding person. >From glancing quickly at your bio, I gather your own "feminist" credentials are less than wonderful, since you seem to have abandoned one early putative interest (illustrating) for another ( playacting) on the basis of meeting a "beautiful young man." Your blog makes me fshudder on behalf of bloggerdom, seething as it is with envy and bravado and received wisdom."

Sounds like the barking of a prairie dog to me.

And just as Merkin can't distinguish Jon Stewart from, say, Bill Maher, she can't tell the difference between lip balm and lip gloss:

I eavesdropped raptly, being myself the dissatisfied owner of many tubes and pots of said product — from the lowly Blistex and ChapStick versions to the designer jobs that can go for as much as $50 — as well as of a mouth that always insists on returning to type, which is a recalcitrant state of matte dryness. The potential staying power of cosmetics is an inherently unsettling concept, suggestive as it is of a kind of Viagra principle of female enhancement — indeed, of a core confusion between the messy imperatives of reality and the contrivances of theater, which is at the heart of everything that is problematic, if not unbearable, about the way we live now. It is, all the same, a concept that has been picked up with alacrity by gay male commentators on the E! channel who espouse the need for cosmetic “fixatives.”

I've called Merkin a whiner in the past, but this whine gets a 99 point best buy rating. Merkin has somehow made the leap from a beneficial and guileless product that prevents lips from chapping or becoming sunburnt - ChapStick's web site makes no mention at all of lip gloss - to the galloping reality dissonance of The Way We Live Now.

Do NYTimes writers live on the same planet as the rest of us? And what kind of ninny would spend 50 bucks for lip balm or lip gloss anyway? The kind that gets paid too much by the NYTimes to make a career out of whining.

Merkin accused me of envy because I said I didn't think she should get paid for writing whiny banal semi-reactionary personal observations, since you can get that - and much BETTER than that on many blogs for free. But I don't envy her. I'd rather get paid to do honest technical writing than get my knickers in a public twist over the imaginary Triumph of Camp.

In fact, I am a technical writer so that I don't have to worry about earning a living writing about that kind of stupid shit. I can write whatever content I want both in plays and on blog posts. Not that Merkin believes she's writing stupid shit. I'm sure she believes she's writing extremely important shit.

In general I'd say that Daphne Merkin and I are very different people, and boy does that make me glad. Self-regarding even.

One of my more favorite differences between Merkin and me is her belief that by admitting that I was lured from an old area of interest into a new area of interest due to sexual desire, I displayed faulty feminist credentials. How DOES she figure that? Is this the result of her faith in the guiding principle of evolutionary psychology, which is that men and women are opposite beings, especially when it comes to sexual desire? Men admit to doing things out of sexual desire all the time - brag about it even. Why can't I admit it? Does she think that androphilia betrays feminism? That sexual desire itself is anti-feminist?

As always, the mechanisms behind the Merkin leaps of logic are shrouded in mystery.

She admits to only glancing quickly at my bio, so maybe she missed the part where I said that even though things did not work out with me and that guy, I kept with the playwriting. If I gave up the playwriting because it no longer helped me get the guy, she MIGHT have a point. But that's not what happened.

Thinking about that guy though, reminds me of another Merkin topic - women over 50. She wrote a column for the Times back in February in which she claimed that while men over 45 were living large with barely legal babes, women over 45 got nothing - extrapolating as usual from her own dolor to the rest of the world. At one time I too bought into one of the most pernicious myths of the patriarchy, like Merkin does.

That guy, who I'll call Keith, was a phenomenon. He was the sexiest person I have ever known, even sexier than my friend Earl, which coworkers who knew Earl (but never met Keith) could not believe when I told them. It blows my mind that I met the two sexiest men on Earth - and shared an office with each one - in the span of three years. How did I survive so much unrequitedness?

Keith was twenty-five when I met him, and looked like a cross between Michaelangelo's David and a young Harrison Ford with a soupcon of Chris Isaak. But with a personality closer to John Goodman's. I still have erotic dreams about him, and it's over ten years since I've last seen him. Time may not have been kind to his beauty. I once heard him say that he enjoyed eating more than having sex, and that's not a helpful attitude once you get past 30 - he quite possibly looks like John Goodman at this point. But I doubt I will ever see him again, and so I will always think of him as an absolutely stunning 20-something.

I was introduced to Keith in late August 1991 when I was hired to work as a temp doing computer graphics - I was going to assist Keith, since I knew more than most people about desktop publishing in those days. I still remember the exact moment when I first saw him, standing in the doorway of our manager Renee's office. I was stunned by his exquisiteness. And I guessed that every woman in the office was in love, or at least in lust with him, including Renee. I was right.

Even so, it came as a surprise to me when I realized that Joan the receptionist wanted him. Because she was over 50. I had completely bought into the idea that women only desired men their own age, or older. And this was before evolutionary psychology came along to claim this was part of our Darwinian natures. But there was no mistaking Joan's smile or the way her eyes lit up when Keith stopped by her desk to banter with her.

I had to spend every weekday for six months in a small office with Keith, and it was a kind of exquisite torture. I was involved in a long-term relationship at the time, and Keith was dating the woman that he would eventually marry but that didn't matter. I wanted him. From the moment I saw him. At night after work. On the weekends, waiting impatiently for Monday. But especially when I was with him in the office. I would spend all day in a state of arousal and go home at night with blue ovaries - which feel like mild persistent menstrual cramps, in case you're wondering.

When my temp assigment ended, I was both relieved and dismayed. It's rough living with intense but unfulfillable desire, but I still wanted a daily weekday fix. I was totally high on the endorphins much of the time, even after I got a new job and had no reason to see him again. And I was thrilled/tortured by constant fantasies about him, elaborate, detailed fantasies.

During my brief time working with Keith, he was involved in community theatre, and was in a production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, performing as Audrey II (that would be the giant man-eating plant, if you haven't seen it) which required him to wear a skin-tight black bodystocking while in the plant, and which was the only thing he wore during the curtain call at the performance I attended, that sadistic teasing bastard.

I still have no idea if he had any feelings for me. He did once invite me to his apartment and like an idiot I didn't go because I had a meeting (and also out of guilt because of my boyfriend.) But maybe he just wanted to get my reaction to the invitation, so he could enjoy the power that gorgeous people have over the rest of us.

A few months after I left the job working with Keith I saw that the community theatre he was involved in was holding a playwriting contest. I wrote my first play in hopes that it would be selected and I would see him at the theatre. It was selected, but I did not see him at the theatre. He wasn't all that involved in the theatre, and except for playing the role of Two Bit in their production of THE OUTSIDERS, I don't think he had anything else to do with the theatre. He was too busy starting up his own graphics business. But writing the play had been theraputic - I was able to express feelings in the context of a play that I could not through visual arts (not counting the erotic pictures I drew from imagination of Keith.) And so I kept at writing plays.

Being a playwright will not get you laid if you are a hetero woman. It could be claimed that straight men become writers to get laid, because women are attracted to writers. I don't know if this is social or biological, but it sure makes it regrettable that I'm not a straight man or a lesbian.

Once Keith married his girlfriend I gave up all hopes of him. Through a little innocuous cyber-stalking it appears that he and his wife are still together (and anyway he probably looks like John Goodman now so hah hah hah.) But I'm still a playwright. So I don't know what that crazy-ass Daphne Merkin is on about my "less than wonderful" feminist credentials. I was turned on by a hot hot man. That lead to my becoming a playwright. Oh the horror. I can feel myself mind-melding with Phyllis Schlafly.

But damn was he hot. This song dedication goes out to Keith - Chris Isaak's "Cant Do A Thing (To Stop Me)":

Here I go again, dreaming, here I go again.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)

Having a good time baby, wish you were here.
Thinking about you baby, it feels like you're near,
And you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
No you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)

Days can be lonely, nights dreams come true.
Making love with somebody, exactly like you.
And you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
No you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
Oh try.

(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
Can't do a thing to stop me
(Can't do a thing to stop me now) Oh.
(Can't do a thing to stop me)

Couldn't stop myself if I tried.
Because I got you too deep inside.

And you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)
No you can't do a thing, to stop me.
(Can't do a thing to stop me now)