Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Where the Top Ten Films of the Year Are

I was initially skeptical about Where the Wild Things Are. I am apparently part of .002% of the population who did not love! adore! oh-my-god-it-was-soooooooo-special! the picture book on which the film is based. I mean, people. It's a picture book. Like, how amazing can it actually be? Going crazy over a picture book strikes me as kind of like going crazy over a piece of chocolate. It could very well be one of the best pieces of chocolate you'll ever have, but it's so small, in the scheme of things. However, I am fully aware that 99.998% of the population does not feel the way I do about Where the Wild Things Are, because I worked at Borders. So I know. Perhaps the only picture book talked about with more fervent reminiscence is Goodnight, Moon. Which, um, I don't really get that obsession either. The way some people talk about these books, it's enough to make you wonder if they've read anything else since, or if they just stopped reading at the picture books level and thought that's all there was.

Anyway, so I was skeptical. Then I read a bunch of articles and reviews in EW and stuff and came around to the idea that it was actually, apparently, a great movie. So it made my to-see list. However, it did not make the top of my list, and so we just got around to seeing it last night, at the $3.99 cinema. As awards season has started, Where the Wild Things Are has remained on my radar, earning nominations mostly for its music but also making a critic or two's Top 10 of 2009 lists, and even one best of the decade mention. I know, wow!

Well, guess what? It's REALLY good. As A.O. Scott says in that decade's best review, rarely has a film so exquisitely mixed realism and fantasy, and so honestly captured both childhood and humanity in general. Hie thee to your local cheap-o theater where you can still catch it, or at the very least add it to your Netflix queue. It is truly inventive, and I would say quietly revolutionary. Spike Jonze should absolutely get a nomination for Best Directing. Honestly, the visionary way he crafted this film pretty much defines what exemplary directing is. Where the Wild Things Are is fantastic -- and not because it is based on the picture book.

And this is still awesome!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Road, trips, and buzz

This week I've seen two movies based on books, The Road and Up in the Air. They are quite different but each in its own way makes you think about what is important in life. I actually saw someone online comment that Up in the Air was "depressing." Now, granted, I rarely agree with that word when it's applied to any film (I'm told it was odd that I found The Hours inspiring and uplifting), but Up in the Air? Shite, man, if that's what depresses you, I imagine you'd best stay far, far away from most things I like, both cinematic and literary.

The book The Road was one of the best of the past decade, in my opinion. Like many others, I was late to the Cormac McCarthy party, and have only read these last two of his, The Road and No Country for Old Men, inspired to do so prior to seeing the film adaptations. The great thing about The Road is that it sneaks up on you. When I read it, it went fairly quickly, and I was floating along, mesmerized, by his eerie apocalyptic vision, and then all of a sudden the awesomeness crashed down and I realized I was reading a masterpiece. My take on Up in the Air, on the other hand, is that it reads very light and frothy while being deceptively clever and deep.

Up in the Air is getting way more Oscar buzz. It has already won a bunch of critics' awards and is contending in almost all the big categories: best pic, director, adapted screenplay, actor for George Clooney, and also not one but two supporting actress possibilities, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. I personally don't know which of the two actresses I'd prefer to get the nomination - I'm thinking Kendrick. I am still mulling over my Oscar choices. But George Clooney was great.

It's funny that I like the screenplay, because Jason Reitman (who also directed) and Sheldon Turner completely and totally changed the book. I have major issues with that when it's unfaithful to the story. My take is, go write your own screenplay, then, if that's what you want to do, instead of buying the film rights for some book and then messing it all up. But there are a few times - including The Hours and Dolores Claiborne, two of my favorite films of all time - where I am OK with what is changed for the flick, and this may be one of those cases. Reitman updates the story, adds a character, gets rid of others, leaves out a whole bunch of stuff, and alters the ending, but somehow remains true to what the book got across. I really, really liked this movie.

The Road, on the other hand, remained incredibly faithful to the book throughout almost the entire thing. I enjoyed it and I recommend that people watch it, although I kind of understand the criticism of it that it doesn't do anything surprising. But the story itself is so compelling, and it's well-acted, too. If you thought Up in the Air was depressing though - whoever you are - you might die if you go see The Road. That's what bums me out - that people are avoiding The Road because all they know about it is that it is dreary and dark. When really, it's about "carrying the fire." I would love to see Viggo Mortensen and/or Kodi Smit-McPhee get Oscar nominations. I would love to see The Road stun the naysayers and get a Best Picture nomination.

The Lovely Bones buzz is all but gone, but I'll weigh in once I see it (speaking of fabulous books adapted into film!) The Hurt Locker has received so many critics' awards that I'm sure it will get a best picture nomination; the main question is whether Kathryn Bigelow will get a directing nomination and/or Jeremy Renner will be nominated for Best Actor. I liked The Hurt Locker, but don't think it was the best film of the year. I heard it called "the Iraq war movie for people who don't like Iraq war movies." But that's not me - so then maybe it's not meant to be my movie.

What do I think are the best films of the year? So far - and please understand that I'm still compiling and editing my list - I am thinking: Inglorious Basterds, In the Loop, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Food Inc., and now, maybe, Up in the Air.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh

I owe a blog entry, it's been a while, I've been busy working on stuff, and there is lots going on. But it's late and I need to go to sleep now or Santa won't come! So I'm just popping in to say Merry Christmas, blogosphere. I have some stories coming up for you that I will - it is hoped - have time to post in the next few days.

Even though we are in a weird in-between living situation right now, it's so great to be able to tap into the Christmas spirit of so many people I know in all kinds of different places around the world, mostly via Facebook, blogs, and other online things where I am seeing posted pictures, and hearing last-minute shopping woes, and reports of eating, drinking, and being merry. How e-festive of us all!

Ho ho ho, then. Enjoy Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A S______ Man

Have you seen that film A Serious Man yet? No, wait, A Single Man. I mean A Solitary Man. Aaargh! Yes, three films are hitting us right now with remarkably similar titles. Let's differentiate them, shall we? We'll go alphabetically - which also will likely end up being the order I see them.

A Serious Man - This is the Coen brothers' latest. For a memory trick, just think, "Seriously, Coens?!" It's a Midwestern setting circa 1970: a professor and his life fall apart amid the swirl of his son's approaching bar mitzvah, his tenure review, and his wife leaving him. It has all kinds of really in-your-face Jewish things going on, but the "otherness" of them and the questions of identity, whether Jewish, Korean, or WASPy Midwest hunter, were totally the point. It is a blackly comedic and yet also quite serious film. I am so happy we attended John Serba's "My 2 Cents" discussion about it at Celebration! Cinema, because the discussers kept pointing out layer after layer that deserve consideration. It's quite the blend of physics, Jefferson Airplane, bureaucracy, religion, interpersonal relationships, mysticism, and so forth. I really think it's one of Joel and Ethan's best. Seriously.

A Single Man - This one's generating Oscar buzz for Colin Firth. Just think, "Is Colin Firth single?" which is a question on the mind of many a lady from time to time, right? (Answer: Sorry, ladies!) He plays a professor who tries to cope after the sudden death of his partner. Haven't seen it yet, and I want to first read the Christopher Isherwood novel on which it's based. I will probably have time to do so while I wait for the film to arrive in Grand Rapids.

A Solitary Man - This is the creepy one, with Michael Douglas getting together with a twentysomething. Just think: solitary = creepy, as in creepy solitary confinement. Honestly, I watched the trailer and thought, "Um - wow." It has quite the cast - Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary Louise-Parker ... but we all make mistakes sometimes. I think it might be coming out in January? The release date appears to be up in the air. (Much like the wide release date of Up in the Air!) I read that Michael Douglas' performance is the only good thing about the film, and he plays a complete and total jerk. So there you go.

Well, I hope that clears up the confusion about A Serious/Single/Solitary Man. Because Awards Season is no time to be confused. And today is Golden Globes nominations day!!! I will weigh in later on what I think -- overall, there were few surprises -- but for the record, A Serious Man (Coens) got one GG nomination, for Best Actor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and A Single Man (Firth) got three, for him, Julianne Moore supporting, and original score.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good Feelings

Does this sound familiar?

"A unity all the more prized since it had so nearly been destroyed during the war by internal divisions and external threats. The President, who was aware of this vague and unspecific aspiration, sought to harness it to broad national aims. He hoped that this new sense of 'oneness' would operate as a useful force in leading the nation to a full utilization of its resources and that it would also serve as means of reconciling party animosities...An agreement had to be forged among the differing interests within the community to achieve a program which would be generally accepted without requiring one group to suffer unduly in order to provide an advantage for another element..."

That's from Harry Ammon's James Monroe: A Quest for National Identity (pp. 366-367): my boy Monroe, coming to the presidency right after the War of 1812, starting the so-called "Era of Good Feelings" where these pesky parties of Federalists and (Jeffersonian) Republicans were going to put aside their differences and all get along forever.

Instead, despite Monroe's integrity, everyone around him in Washington was out for personal gain. A lot of good stuff did happen - but unfortunately the "Era of Good Feelings" was probably never destined to last very long.

Read more Monroe thoughts on my Literary Supplement.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Critics are a-Pickin'

Today was a big day in Awards Season news. (Um - you know. If you're into that kind of thing. Ahem.) The Boston Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics, and the AFI all announced their picks for the best films of the year. There weren't all that many surprises, in my opinion, despite all the complaints I've read that Avatar was left off of the AFI's list of the ten outstanding films of the year. My response was, "oh well." Then again, The Hangover made the AFI list, so maybe the Avatar devotees have a point.

As for the critics' lists, there was a lot of love for The Hurt Locker. Both cities' critics gave it Best Pic and Best Director to Kathryn Bigelow, plus a few other awards. Tomorrow we'll see if the New York critics agree. Boston and L.A. also made the same choices for supporting acting: Mo'Nique in Precious and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds. I haven't seen Precious yet, although it is on this week's agenda, so no comment there. But Christoph Waltz is fabulous! I personally loved Inglourious Basterds but if for some reason you were thinking of not seeing it, his performance alone is worth it.

The other thing making me really happy is that the Los Angeles critics gave a couple of runner-up shout-outs to In the Loop, which also totally cleaned up at the British Independent Film awards a week or so ago. In the Loop is, so far, my favorite film of the year. It is monstrously funny, razor sharp, and dead-on about how screwed up our politicians are, although the public they serve is certainly no better. I can't tell you how refreshing and mind-blowing and wonderful it was. It is fast paced with a kind of observant handheld camera feel going on, sort of like The Office, but with the dialogue flying at you and just never letting up as it absolutely rips apart the hypocrisy and nonsense that goes on in government. It goes back and forth between England and the U.S. as officials try to prevent/not prevent a war, mostly for their own selfish reasons. Oh, I adore this film. I cannot even tell you how much I adore it.

Tomorrow, we shall discuss the SSS Men and clear up that confusion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vice Versa

I would just like to state once again for the record that I have never, ever heard anyone from/in Los Angeles who has never been to New York say that they hate New York.

Am I implying that the reverse can be heard? Why, yes. Yes I am.

And every time it happens, my respect for New Yorkers goes down a little bit. I guess it's like any wackjob extremist; you bring dishonor on your whole group when you say and do dumb stuff.

If someone told us they like a city where they have never been, we would think they were delusional. Why the hell isn't that true for dislike?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Michigan Blows!

Why, I mean snow and leaves, of course! In the midst of this great and mighty blizzard -- well, OK, so really during a moment of calm, but after many inches of snow had fallen -- I went for a walk in the piles of snow. Since this Grand Rapids neighborhood has many cute and charming houses, which are necessarily cuter and more charming when decorated with Christmas lights and covered/surrounded by snow, my walk had all the makings of a lovely wintry early evening stroll. EXCEPT, there were neighbors about who were taking advantage of the lull in the snowfall to clear driveways and sidewalks. With snow blowers.

I mean, the whole snow blowing thing looks cool and all, with the spray of snow shooting up and out, but it's just not, well, pleasant. Noisy, and polluting, too, yes? And, on my walk, at one point I had to deviate from the sidewalk -- which, though covered in snow, you could tell was the sidewalk because its snow was slightly lower than the foot-high piles to the left (yard) and right (strip of grass between sidewalk and street). I had to leave the sidewalk because a man was blowing snow from his sidewalk, a loud little machine growling its way through the snow, straight at me. I walked into the road, also covered in snow, but snow that was flattened by cars of course. And right across the street, there was a neighbor clearing her sidewalk, but with a shovel. I smiled. I think I made a political choice to walk on her shovel-cleared sidewalk rather than his machine-blown.

This bugged me all fall with the leaves, too. There I would be on a happy midday run, the autumn sun twinkling through the spaces between the red and golden leaves, and then I'd hear it, the roaring whine of the leaf blowers. Rake! Rake! Rake! I wanted to shout.

Do I think people are lazy? Why yes, yes I do. Now, I know what you'll say. We're busy. We have so many things to do, like spoil our kids and drive them everywhere, and order take-out, and watch television. We don't have time to rake leaves and shovel snow. Boooo! Besides, one-fifth of Michigan is unemployed, so there should be plenty of people with free time. Ha! Even when there's no recession, though, I am dismayed by the nasty polluting snow blowing and especially the leaf blowers. Furthermore, I don't really remember seeing, or rather hearing, them in Boston ever. I suppose there was less driveway and yard space where I lived in Medford, with older New England homes closer together, than here in this tree-y/grassy modern neighborhood. But all I saw there were shovelers. So, ugh. We are a sedentary society, we are unhealthy, and we are fat. Turn off your television and go shovel some snow, people. And if you are too old/sick/frail, then pay someone who is unemployed ten dollars to do it. Or whatever the going rate is. Or don't live in Michigan in the first place, there's an idea. Besides, that woman was shoveling the snow from her sidewalk while the man across the street blew his from his sidewalk, so who's got the upper body strength now, huh?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Yeah, what he said

Now that it is Awards Season and all, I have been spending some time perusing the various nominees and winners as they trickle in, little awards tributaries that they are, headed to the great river of Academy nominations that takes us to the Oscar Night Sea. Last night I was reading comments about the British Independent Film Awards winners. (Yes, reading online comments can be a dicey proposition, but these weren't bad.) Some people were happy that Tom Hardy won Best Actor in a British Independent Film for Bronson, and sad that he is getting little to no Oscar buzz especially compared to one George Clooney and a little flick called Up in the Air. So then an apparently British bloke had this to say:

"Someone blame those critics who didn't fully see all, or at least try to see all, movies out there. That seems to be the yearly problem with those supposed Oscar voters. You guys and girls get such a cool responsibility, and you all piss it away because you're too busy? Seriously no excuse at all. Unless you're a fireman, then I could let it go."

I find that so amusing. I don't even necessarily agree with him about the precise cause of the problem -- there are definitely other Awards Season issues -- but I just like the way he thinks about the whole thing.

Can I get an amen?! Or was that a "jolly good!"

Monday, December 07, 2009

Seasons change, but animated chickens are constant

I know, I know, I haven't been blogging. Where have I been? Probably off trying to get warm somewhere. It's not that I don't like winter (Boston world, I miss you!) and snow. I love the snow! For example right now I am sitting in a Biggby Coffee shop working on freelance stuff, and I am right by a big window through which I can gaze at the wintry view of white-gray sky, bare branch silhouettes, and little snow bits swirling about without sticking. To my right is a fireplace, and people are scattered in here sipping their coffee and working on their laptops. This I love. It's just the whole living in a cold house thing that hurts my bones. Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. Not blogging. But you know I will have to ramp up the bloggage soon, because a new season is upon us, and that is of course AWARDS SEASON!

Ahhhhh, film. Can you believe it is already December? The National Board of Review has announced its top 2009 films, the Gotham Independent Film Awards have been awarded, the British Independent Film Awards have chosen nominees and winners, and the always-a-good-time Independent Spirit Award nominees are here. And boy do I have some moviegoing to do!

I have been trying my best. We are particularly fond of the $3.99 Celebration! Cinema down the street, and we also go to the only AMC in Grand Rapids of course. (Yes, I said the only AMC. I know, it's as if I had only one Starbucks or something! But the Celebration! Cinema chain here has an awards program too, so I manage.) There are good films -- like, good good, you know, independent or offbeat or arthousy -- at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts every week, and we frequent that theater as well.

But the bottom line is, I am in Grand Rapids. Middle America. Not a coast for miles. And all the films just aren't playing here yet! Example? You want an example? I'll give you an example. The Road, I tell you. I read the book last year, and it moved me. I've devoured news about the film. I long for it. Some nights I watch the trailer online again just to keep myself going. I read my trusty Entertainment Weekly reviews that assure me it's here -- only it's not here here. Not yet. And so I wait.

Sure, sure, I've been spoiled by years of living in Boston, New York, and of course Los Angeles. There was my long dark Oscar winter in Korea to prepare me for this. But Korea was different. I basically just saw whatever was playing in English, one or maybe two movies per week, and then waited for another poster to appear announcing a movie that I could understand. Here in Grand Rapids, there are other movies playing, but I just don't want to see them, because they are stupid. (Or they are not stupid and we have already seen them.) I had truly forgotten what this is like.

Maybe those of you who haven't had the privilege of living in one of those Select Cities find this normal and see nothing wrong with my plight. Those of you in Select Cities, have pity on me. You know the ones. Besides L.A. and New York, they are the cities you see on that list in your magazine ads: "If you live in one of these cities, enter to win passes to an advance screening..." Boston, of course, is often on there. San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, you know, all the places I want to live. Not so much the G Rap. Sigh. I'm just not about going to see Planet 51, or Ninja Assassin (speaking of Korea, eh), or god forbid Old Dogs. We went to The Blind Side and that fabulous comedy 2012, what more can you ask of me?

And don't even talk to me about The Twilight Saga: New Moon on two screens at my local AMC. Seriously. Don't. Don't even suggest it. I don't think I would have stooped to that, even in Daegu. Sure, when I lived in Asia I was desperate enough to hear English dialogue that I indulged in Harry Potter and the Quittich Tournament or whatever it was (Goblet of Fire, I believe), and yes, I may have paid my 6,000 won to see Chicken Little. But the animated chicken is as low as I go. It is still many steps above the shoegazing swan with her sparkly vampire and Lamanite werewolf.

Never fear. I am making the most of it, and really I'm being melodramatic for the purposes of this blog entry, of course. Recently we have had the pleasure of attending truly awesome films: A Serious Man and The Men Who Stare at Goats. You must not heed EW's shamefully off-base review of TMWSaG for a second. That flick is satirical, philosophical, and sarcastic, with a lot of brilliance just under the surface, so you have to pay attention.

But the Oscars are coming! The Oscars are coming! We are less than two months from the nominations. (February 2nd) We are one week from the Golden Globe nominations. One week, people!!!

Citizens of Grand Rapids, unite! We demanded Paranormal Activity -- now why can't we demand the good stuff?!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The moment I saw the article on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press that Sarah Palin('s team) had chosen to kick off her book signing tour at the Barnes & Noble down the street from us, I knew I would head to the hootenanny to observe the fun. I worked during the day on Wednesday, so Brian and I didn't head to the mall until the extravaganza had started, but people had been camped out OVERNIGHT to get wristbands to wait in line to see her. There were a few rows of parking lot blocked off, a slew of media including TV vans with satellites, and most prominent of all, the tour bus, its sides covered with the picture from her book cover, way larger than life. It's like she's a rock star!

And really, isn't she though? What would Madison, Jefferson and Adams make of such a spectacle as this, masquerading as politics? I've been thinking about the early presidents a lot because I am reading a bio of each president, in order, to see where we went wrong. (I'm on Monroe.) Well, speaking of presidents, the most astonishing thing to me about the legions of Sarah Palin fans is how many of them seem to suffer from the delusion that she should be the next president.

The line of fans filled the inner corridor of the mall, snaking its way past the stores, and then back the other way, a few people wide. Stanchions were everywhere. B&N employees let a certain number of wristbanded people at a time up the escalator and took their bags/coats/belongings, which were reclaimed after having the book signed. Sarah herself sat behind a curtain-like screen, blocked from view by the masses. No one without a wristband was allowed upstairs. After getting the autograph, the fans reclaimed their checked bag/coat and came down the other escalator. Police and mall cops stood around. Fans stood around. And I stood around, loving it all.

I mean, president? Really? A lot of people wore buttons that said "Palin 2012," although not the majority. Part of me wants to ask these people what on earth makes them think she should be the president - after quitting her job in which she held an executive office mid-term. But maybe they would just make me sad, like the bubbly girl around age 18 who came down the signing-exit escalator with her friends, glowing. "She's, like, seriously, so genuinely sweet," the girl was emphasizing. "She's literally so nice. I would totally vote for her if she runs for president." It gets better, though. The girl continued, "I mean, I don't usually do that, I don't vote for women in like high positions, but I would vote for her."

I don't want to blame the heavily Christian aspect of the community of Grand Rapids for raising a girl to say something so insipid, but what else can I blame? What sort of position, do tell, is too "high" for women, ordinarily? Is student council president ok? Church youth group? But nothing too high? And what precisely makes Sarah Palin transcend it, this foolish rule of yours?

There were other fascinating people coming down the stairs. That's where I spent a lot of time hanging out, drinking my latte and sipping magazines, to watch the afterglow. A bunch of people wore "Tea Party of West Michigan" t-shirts or sweatshirts, which had some "common sense" rules for government on the back. Because there were so many people decked out in Palin and other related attire, a woman who walked by in Obama/Biden shirt and hat stood out. "Hey, there's one of our people," I said to Brian. The Obama/Biden fan heard me and turned around, offering up her hand for a high five, which I returned. "Are you just here to watch the spectacle, too?" I asked. She said yes, and told me she was thinking of moving some of the Palin book to the humor section. I laughed, and we went our separate ways.

Of course, this whole exchange took place in front of a bunch of devotees in line. I guess Brian saw the looks on their faces more than I did -- I was just talking with the woman for a second and then moved on. Apparently the Palin fans were shocked, or mad, while watching us. But they were trapped in their line of followers, and I was moving freely along.

I did notice as we walked around observing the hundreds in line that there was far more Michigan (as in University of) gear than Michigan State. I mentioned this to Brian, proud of his Spartan school for not being as widely represented. He then introduced me to the concept of the "Walmart Wovlerines," a subset of society whose name immediately tells me so much, and also makes me eager to learn more about them.

Naturally there were a few "heroes" present. By that I mean people in uniform of course! At the very end, when she stopped signing at 9, the event was winding down, but a lot of people were still hanging around to watch Palin exit. I noticed one reporter with notepad talking to a hero in a blue uniform about how they had let her in -- even though it was the 9 o'clock cut-off and the signing was over, and no one else was to be let up the stairs -- because she was wearing a uniform. Gag!

Sure enough, we got to watch Sarah stride away, out from behind her signing curtain toward her exit behind another screen, taking a moment in between to wave at the masses assembled below. They clapped. I loved watching them. They were so happy to have had a moment with their hero. I enthusiastically support that. I love devotion, being a fan, and heck, I love book signings. But wow, do I want these people to explain to me what it is about this woman that inspires in them thoughts of "reclaiming America." I remain fascinated by this, and I saw no indication of getting an answer any time soon from these huddled masses.

Outside, another throng thronged by the tour bus, waiting for one last glimpse. Brian and I were headed to a movie at our down-the-street theater, conveniently located about eighteen seconds from the Barnes & Noble entrance, resulting in a perfect evening plan for us. We looked at the crowd and I saw that someone had actually brought a flag. Not a little hand-held flapping plastic-like flag, but a big ol' star-spangled banner, held high on a mast, like you would carry marching at the front of a regiment or something. It waved above the heads of the crowd in the glare of the media lights. When Palin left the building to get on her tour bus, a cheer erupted. Brian and I walked into the Celebration Cinema, where I got an unexpected popcorn coupon. That was another highlight of the evening.

I love that I fortuitously was in Grand Rapids for her book tour debut. Sarah herself I find totally innocuous, just as I did during the 2008 campaign, when people were freaking out trying to get me to SEE that she is DANGEROUS why can't you SEE THAT LINDA oh my gawwwwwwwwd! Whatever, Sarah Palin. But who are these people that flock to her? They mystify me so.

The next night, we went to a 9:30 showing of The Men Who Stare at Goats (awesome) and then when we exited that, watched for a few minutes the assembled hordes who were there for the midnight showing of Twilight II. Basically, this week has provided a lot of free entertainment in the form of other people camping out to be entertained. It's so derivative, and I love it. Turns out the werewolf from Twilight is, unlike me, From Around Here, so there is actually a western Michigan connection and a reason to feature him in newspaper articles about how the local Hudsonville boy has found big success as an actor in the terrible films.

It's so great that things like this can bring us together as a nation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So, Taylor Swift is kind of like Barack Obama. This is how I figured it out. Last night I asked Brian to briefly flip from the basketball game to the CMA (Country Music Association) Awards so I could see if Taylor Swift won Entertainer of the Year. I wasn't particularly interested in watching the whole show -- hello, there is only one awards show to which I must devote my time and energy -- but I remain fascinated by Taylor Swift, as do many people. I also follow country music happenings, sort of. More than most people I know, anyway, from my post-Arizona life, if not as much as many people in my Arizona life. I like country music for the most part, although it's not my favorite genre, and I listen to it when I am driving around on my visits to Phoenix, but what I cannot stand is the "God-told-me-to-go-to-war-in-Iraq" crap. That's when I change the station back to NPR.

The thing about Taylor Swift is that she has an eerily precise talent, kind of like Dakota Fanning in her earlier flicks. Taylor Swift writes these really well-crafted pop songs that are about love, heartbreak, high school, and other things with which teens and adults must grapple in life. Taylor is young, talented, charming, poised, and has not messed up yet, so that draws people in even if they aren't grooving on her easily relatable country-pop songs.

So, last night, she was up for Entertainer of the Year, nominated along with the big boys, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, and George Strait, who must have been nominated for this one like twenty times by now. Brian, who unlike me doesn't care for the country music scene, asked, basically, "What is the big deal?" So I told him.

My version of the big deal basically comes down to: 1)Taylor Swift is interesting to me, for the aforementioned reasons of talent and poise and also because she is basically conquering the world with said talent and poise right now 2)The CMAs are interesting to me (although I still don't need to watch them), unlike other music "niche" award shows, because Nashville is sort of the successful opposite pole in the music industry world, or at least the music industry world as we knew it, besides just country being a genre 3)The Entertainer of the Year award, specifically, is a pretty big deal in these awards, and tends to be won by a biggie. You'd recognize the names of most of the winners even if you aren't a country fan: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Garth Brooks about a million times, and so on. A nineteen-year-old girl winning it is pretty awesome, is what I'm saying.

And she did win. I think it's deserved. She has definitely entertained me more than, say, Keith Urban has this year. And when "no one" is buying CDs anymore, her album continues to do a hopping business, staying on the charts for 50 weeks or something.

But it did beg the question of whether the award recognizes more than just a year's achievement. Is it a reward for these big country stars' larger-than-life presence and fame? I think Taylor Swift does have that worldwide fame right now, thanks in part to social media and her crossover demographic pleasing. Is the award a kind of vote of confidence in the future, too? Is part of what actually makes Taylor so great the fact that she is bursting with potential and we are eager to see what she will do?

Therefore, she is like Barack Obama. And that, my friends, is how Nashville teaches us to understand the Swedes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blatant racism lives on

From the "You Must Be Kidding Me" files, I share with you a review of Pieces of April posted on Netflix by user "DH 1531296" of Alexandria, VA:

"Just a warning, If you do not approve of interracial relationships do not rent this film. The review by NF said nothing of her 'new' boyfriend being black, therefore making it a wasted rental for us. Turned it off after 2 minutes."

I am astonished. My mind has been 100% blown here today, folks.

And lest you think this person is a naive, sheltered soul who just emerged from the cult compound into reality, I clicked on DH 1531296's profile. He has rated 1130 movies, giving FIVE stars to, among others, The Silence of the Lambs, A History of Violence, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and he wrote a four-star review of last year's Swedish vampire critical favorite Let the Right One In. Obviously, I can't dismiss him as someone who never recognizes quality, or watches only insipid films, or anything like that. I mean, he did give five stars to Gone With the Wind. Is that also where he learned all his lessons about race?

And the thing is, there are SO MANY movies that depict killing, Satanic possession, heists and other crimes, slavery, and so forth on this person's viewing list. Obviously - so painfully obviously - when you watch things in movies it doesn't mean that you like/respect/do them. Thus, even if it were acceptable to oppose interracial dating, which I daresay is not just racist and antiquated but also seriously impractical and limiting in a world whre more and more people are of mixed race, why would your personal dating habits prevent you from watching a film anyway? Unless you were so thoroughly stupid that you also had to take your immoral opposition to the next level.

I still can't figure out if I'm more astonished that someone feels that way or that he would so matter-of-factly post it on Netflix, as if he is doing others a favor by offering up the "warning" about Katie Holmes' character dating Derek Luke's.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Another great writer named Linda

There are lots of things to do in and around Grand Rapids. This, of course, fits with my firm belief that there are lots of things to do everywhere, and it's your own fault if the only one you can think of is going to Walmart. (Grotesque!) Sure, sometimes, the fact that there is stuff to do can get lost because the people with whom one can do the things are not so interesting (*cough* Long Island *ahem*) but trust me, there is stuff to do everywhere. Why do you think I had so much fun living in Provo, Utah? I skied twice a week (fifteeen minutes away) throughout the winter and biked/hiked all summer. There is mad artsy/cultural/musical stuff on and around the BYU campus, not the least of which was International Cinema. I found fabulous bookstores and a vegetarian cooking class, and I discovered my love for cheese fries in Provo (mmm, Training Table). If I hadn't come to the undeniable realization that I could no longer give one penny of support to the repressive, politically objectionable BYU, I might have stuck around to graduate. There was even a decent Mexican restaurant!

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, right, Grand Rapids. So I have been trying to discover the stuff around here, in between my writing, working on projects, and seeking freelance gigs. One of the advantages of this small city is that there are quite a few colleges, which automatically translates into Events, many of which are free and open to the public. A little over a week ago, I went to Aquinas College to hear Linda Hogan speak to a packed ballroom. For those who don't know, she is a Chickasaw writer, feminist, poet, Pulitzer finalist, etc. and not to be confused with the wrestler's ex-wife of the same name. I'm sure some of the 18-year-olds who showed up because they were assigned to imagined they would hear a boring lecture about activism and writing, but I think they were pleasantly surprised because in addition to being a serious poet and writing books like People of the Whale, Ms. Hogan is actually quite funny.

She spoke about how we relate to land. To illustrate the difference in point of view, she mentioned the Snowbowl recreation area in Flagstaff (woo-hoo Arizona represent!), which is built on a mountain sacred to the Navajo people. (That's my old stomping grounds! We lived on the edge of the Navajo reservation when I was a wee little tyke.) Apparently the U.S. Forest Service folks, in their own way trying to solve the problem or at least compromise, asked the Navajo about the sacred mountain, "Well, where is the line where it stops being sacred?"

Ms. Hogan also talked about Oklahoma, where she lives. I have long since known that Oklahoma is the state with the highest Native American population, but I didn't exactly know that like most United Statesian things, there is a shady oil story involved. Back in the day, when white men forced Native peoples off their lands, basically shoving everyone into Oklahoma, the whites were ready to be done with the whole thing, build a wall around Oklahoma, and just say, OK, you all live there, and let's carry on. But then - and I should have remembered this from reading Cimarron and watching the Oscar-winning movie -- the white man realized there was oil under the Oklahoma ground. Not so fast, then! Maybe the white man wants this land after all!

While Linda Hogan was talking about how she works for the Chickasaw nation, I started making sense of the bizarrely high percentages of votes for Dubya in Oklahoma. Wasn't it 95% or something in 2004? I remember being astonished at the time, wondering how any population could vote for Dubya in such high numbers, let alone a group of people who respect the Earth and are environmentally sensible. Listening to her, I thought, oh! Are a lot of the Native Americans there more involved with the politics of their own tribal government and their own nations, and maybe not even voting in U.S. presidential elections? So all that's left is jackass oil votes. Which, obviously, would go 95% for a Bush.

Speaking of nasty Bush administration tactics, Linda Hogan read some of her poetry, and one line from a poem called "History" jumped out at me, vis-a-vis torture: "We try to discover who is guilty by becoming guilty..."

All in all it was a good evening. And don't forget that she was funny, like when she first started to read she looked around the podium for the water (which, if you've been to author events, you know there is always a bottle or glass of water for them) and because she didn't spot it at first, asked, "Is there any water?" The event host college staff people pointed it out, and she thanked them and then said, "Is there any cappuccino?" The crowd was pleased. She also made fun - but only a little - of the students later, when a bunch of them took advantage of the break between her talk and the Q&A period to exit - noisily. "Poor students, such a rough life," she quipped.

Good times in Grand Rapids! Even if Linda Hogan had met earlier with a group of Michigan people discussing some written history of the Grand Rapids area and "unfortunately it starts with the French traders," she said. The crowd laughed. "Well, you know how history is."

I used to search for reservations, and native lands
before I realized everywhere I stand
there have been tribal feet running wild as fire
some past life sister, my desire...
I'm not ready for the dead to show its face.
Whose turn is it anyway?

-- indigo girls, 'jonas and ezekial'

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Annoying Group of People #3: Long Islanders

Sure, sure, we knew that. But who knew just how long they've been annoying? Get this. I'm currently reading James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham. I've been reading it for a month because it's so long and detailed and plus I'm busy, but it really is historically fascinating and I have plunged into the world of ol' JM and all his peeps, such as Washington, Jefferson, and Monroe (they were all Virginia buddies) and eventually Dolley (whose Quaker parents are totally righteous, by the way!) and so forth.

One of Madison's pals from the "College of New Jersey at Princeton" was Philip Freneau, who by the way became quite the poet of their generation, so you know he's awesome, and literary. After college, Madison and his crew totally kept in touch while they all tried to figure out what to do with their lives. (Yes, another president in my bio-reading quest who at first had no clue what he should do with his life. Four for four.)

Madison was hanging out back at the farm plantation in Virginia, and friend Freneau was trying his hand at a teaching career, which he later abandoned. Freneau wrote a letter about how school teaching sucked. He had taught in Long Island for only a couple weeks, but loathed it because his pupils were "a brutish brainless crew...void of reason and of grace."

Ha! That's my boy, Freneau! I was ready to leave the brainless crew of Long Island after two weeks as well. Perhaps we poets just don't belong there.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Rose Bowl

Well, I certainly got to experience something frightening on Halloween night: the USC game. Goodness, my Trojans, what has happened? The sad thing is, I kind of dreaded and expected (sorry!) the loss to Oregon. We just haven't been great this year. We have been OK. Sometimes we have been good. We have not been great, and most of all we have not been consistently great. And you know, if someone like Oregon wants to go and do something perfectly logical such as score every single time they touch the football, well, we apparently won't have much in the way of a response to that.

Of course, I was hanging out with Michigan peeps watching the football, so maybe there was something to console us over on Brian's Michigan State game...uh, no. And Sam's Michigan game we watched earlier in the day? Yeah, not that either. Let's not even mention Purdue. Once again, Iowa comes through where few others can. See, I am kind of on the Iowa bandwagon, but for reasons totally unrelated to the bandwagon. I just happen to want a certain Master's degree from a certain graduate program at Iowa very much, and now that law school's done I can apply for it, so I totally have Iowa on my mind this year even more than usual. Plus we are in Michigan this fall so Brian and I have the distinct pleasure of watching the Big Ten Network's Friday Night Tailgate, and the first time we watched the show it made me so happy as they ran around Iowa City and the campus doing their quirky Friday Night Tailgate things, and I have all this opportunity to think about Iowa and imagine getting a degree from there while it just so happens that they are undefeated and totally awesome. What can I say, I have my finger on the pulse. It's like I needed a ride for other reasons and the bandwagon happened to drive by with an empty seat.

Back to the Pac-10, USC now has two losses in conference while Oregon is 5-0 there (their one loss was to Boise State). Besides the Ducks, hey, maybe U of A will go to the Rose Bowl. Yes, the Wildcats are what we normally like to think of as a basketball school. But they are playing football this year! Although they did lose to Iowa...

USC is just kind of sad to watch. You just sit there wanting them to be better. The Notre Dame game the other week gave me fits. Oh well. It was Halloweeen yesterday, so we threw on some costumes and went out into a frenzy of dancing and weirdos and that took my mind off of football things. We were in Chicago this weekend, which was great fun. I have spent very little time there, and I seriously feel like I need to live there next, to keep on with my habit of living in major U.S. cities. I like the vibe, the lake, the restaurants, and so on. Also, I have never lived in the Central Time Zone. Of course, what else is in the Central Time Zone? Iowa. I think I need to stop watching depressing football games and just go take the GRE. And don't panic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Annoying Group of People #2: Susan Linn and her supporters

Ho-ly crap. That was my basic response to reading the New York Times headline about refunds being offered to parents who bought Baby Einstein videos. Baby Einstein and its friends, as you may know, were acquired by Disney a while back. Disney will issue refunds for up to four DVDs per household for the videos which - gasp! - may not have been "educational." We'll talk about the lawsuit against deep pockets in a second, but first let's look at the complete and utter stupidity of one Susan Linn.

Susan Linn, you see, is the head of an organization that protests marketing to children. Fair enough. She is quoted in the NY Times article. She sees the refund as an admission that the baby videos are not educational. Of course what the refund really is, as the article goes on to point out, is a product guarantee and a way out of a threatened class-action lawsuit. I am super-proud of Disney for puting a stop to this nonsense before it got to court. I mean sure, it sucks to "have" to settle on somethng like that, because lunatics like Linn will say a lot of crap as they seek more and more publicity, and will say that Disney and Baby Einstein are "admitting" something, when in reality they're just picking the cheaper way to make her go away.

But wait! She said something even more stupid!

You see, when she instigated this nonsense, it was after complaining to the FTC about the word "educational" being used in the marketing of the videos. So, Disney and another company called Brainy Baby dropped "educational" from their marketing. But that wasn't good enough for her (as I'm sure she was frustrated thinking about those deep pockets into which she hadn't yet plunged her hands) so she went to some public health lawyers.

Like the public health lawyer that serves on the board of her organization? Maybe. Public health lawyers? Yeah, I'm sure there's no better issue to take up their time. Health insurance reform? Pollution? WTC 9/11 clean-up claims? H1N1? Nah.... So of course these lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit -- against Disney! Money, money, money. Oh, but I'm sorry, this was all done on behalf of the children, right? We don't want to market to them, wasn't that the whole point? Although the only marketing I ever saw on a Baby Einstein video was "and we also have these other videos," but that's too logical for Susan Linn. No, she had this to say:

Before the refunds, "Disney was never held accountable and parents were never given any compensation," she said. Oh - right. Because she is all about the children, and yet, let's compensate those parents. Who were apparently dumb enough to think some video was magically going to transform their child into a genius? Ms Thang thinks Disney should be held "accountable" for that not happening. Accountable? Hello! Accountability is for misdeeds. We should be holding the Bush Administration and military accountable for torture. And for stealing Florida's election. We should be holding the media accountable for enthusiastically promoting the war in Iraq. We should be holding our senators accountable for handing over money to Goldman Sachs in a bailout. We do not hold a company "accountable" for selling you a video for your kid.

How dare she? Who does she think she is? Would she have threatened a class-action lawsuit against little ol' Julie Aigner-Clark if the company hadn't been sold to Disney? I doubt it!

And I don't care if there are parents who can't face up to their own addictions to television who bought a video only because they thought it was miraculous and different and it's all their kids ever needed to learn. That just means their kids have far bigger problems than a video that doesn't "work." And for the record? I was totally impressed that my nephew was able to discourse with me about Vincent Van Gogh and "Starry Night" at age three because he had watched the "Vincent Van Goat" character in Baby Van Gogh.

Shame on you, Susan Linn.

Read the truth behind Baby Einstein's refund action!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Annoying Group of People #1: Airline Passengers

Not that this hasn't been said before (by me), but people have way too much sense of entitlement when they fly. Whine about this, demand that, and oh by the way don't charge me more than $200. Continuous ugh. Recently, I read the following question to travel expert Tim Winship that seems to epitomize the selfish stupidity of those who fly:

"Dear Tim—I have a few miles in an American Airlines account that I would like to move into my United Airlines account. Is this possible?"

Now, Tim humors this person a great deal in his answer, along the wouldn't-it-be-nice lines, and he even explains a third-party-exchange possibility (in which you take a loss of miles). But I think he's way too nice as he "explains" why the passenger's wish would not be to the airlines' advantage. I wish he would have just said, "What kind of an idiot are you? Do you even understand the concept of a loyalty program? It's to keep you buying that brand. Your miles don't mean that you frequently fly, you monstrously stupid attempt at a human. Your miles mean that you frequently fly on the airline that gives them to you. While you're at it, why don't you take your Borders rewards card to Barnes & Noble and your Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf drink-punch card to Starbucks? I'm sure they won't mind."

God, I hate airline passengers. But for my pacifism, I would want to hit almost everyone who ever surrounds me on a plane. "You are being transported across the country in five hours!" I want to scream at them. "It would have taken previous generations five days, five weeks, or five months to traverse that distance. SHUT IT with the whining!"

I would also like to point out that the only thing the airlines do that really frosts my gizzard can be traced directly back to said passenger whining. I refer, of course, to the insane charges added these last couple years, particularly for checked bags. Not to mention soft drinks...but about those bags. As if we didn't already have enough trouble with carry-ons due to dumb-ass whiny passengers who have ZERO concept of using space efficiently in the overhead bins and, what's worse, will not get out their stupid bag from the bin while we all stand around doing nothing waiting to deplane, meaning they have zero concept of efficient use of time as well.

Of course, we already know they have no concept of time and space because they feel entitled to be in New York from L.A. five hours from now. Anyway, the reason the airlines of late invented all these retarded checked-bag charges that you can't really entirely avoid forever is that it cost them more money (fuel, oil, Bush lies, etc.) to transport the whiny passengers, but instead of, say, raising airfare $40 bucks per ticket on the average, they pretended to be charging for something else, and I can't really blame them, because I know all too well what the whiny passengers would say if their flights cost $40 more - which, hello, they cost more anyway, oh ye who are too dumb to realize this.

What the whiny passengers would do is whine and scream and bitch even more than they already do, and all the airlines had to do was shift the fee from one column to another to shut them up for a while, which I can see is kind of worth it. God, I really hate airline passengers. When I used to work for The Savvy Traveler, I answered listeners' questions. I read their e-mails and checked the show's voice-mail for listener inquiries that we'd want to put on the air with Rudy Maxa. When there were "189 new messages," I never felt overwhelmed by the selection, because undoubtedly a hundred of them were whining pleas, "Ruuuuuu-dy, how can I get a cheap airfare from ____ to ___?" How? You shop around, people. That's how. And, "Ruuuu-dy, is there any airfare cheaper than $200 from City X to City Y?" No! No there is not! At least, not for you, because it has already been snatched up by someone who was busy booking a ticket and comparison shopping while you were whining to Rudy's voice-mail to magically make flying cheaper for you. GO AWAY.

Remember that episode of Designing Women when Imogene visits Sugarbakers' and says all sorts of offensive things about AIDS and gays and drug addicts, and finishes with, "This disease has one thing going for it, it's killing all the right people!" and then Dixie Carter's Julia gets to make an awesome speech telling Imogene to go far far away and stop being a hypocrite? Well, let's just say this. Be glad that I am a pacifist and a Julia-type, and that I like pilots and flight attendants, or I might have made a super-offensive allusive joke here. That's all I'm saying.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Games and children

Go Dodgers! Best to get that out of the way at the beginning, lest you think I'm doing something insane like rooting for the Skankees or the Anaheim California Angels of Los Angeles Orange County. And if the Phillies beat the Dodgers? Then, sigh. Because it's still the World Series, so even if it's two teams that don't really do it for me, who cares? It's the World Series, people! I just love the baseball.

I have had lots of time this week to lie around watching baseball and runaway balloons that may or may not contain a Falcon, because I have been sick for six ugly days. I have chosen to blame this on the fact that I worked a couple days surrounded by small children last week as a substitute at a Montessori day care. I don't think you're actually supposed to call it "day care" in Montessori-world, but you know what I mean. The "Children's House," that's what they call it. I personally don't find the term "day care" offensive, but then, I don't find classrooms and desks and math books offensive either.

At any rate, small Montessori children cough like other children, and I have had the sorest of throats! I even went to a doctor here in the G Rap, who ruled out both strep throat and swine flu. I was very amused that the doctor and nurse rolled their eyes upon hearing the C-word ("Cigna"). Poor Cigna. Why do they suck so much? Why can't they just, you know, pay for things and provide reasonable answers when you call them and update their web site and ... oh, never mind. When are we turning socialist again? I keep waiting!

In other sporting news, you may know that tomorrow my Trojans head to South Bend to beat the Irish into smithereens. The longstanding USC-Notre Dame rivalry is one of the greatest in college sports, or at least that's what some announcer will say at some point tomorrow. I just like to see my victorious Trojans do their thang, and one thing Brian and I can agree on is rooting against Notre Dame. Tomorrow we shall do just that. The only shame is being so close to South Bend - but not having tickets to the game. You don't have two tickets lying around you meant to offer to me, do you?

Happy sixth birthday to my nephew!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Easily amused, easily outraged

So I somehow find it amusing when, randomly, atop the e-mail inbox the first subject line (from a newspaper e-newsletter) says "Morning News: 4 arrested in illegal alien scheme" and the very next subject line right below (from a social networking site) is "4 people awaiting your response." It looks like some kind of cosmic sign or direction from the universe, instead of a coincidence.

Now, about the Oscars. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, the illustrious Academy has expanded the field this year, allowing ten nominees for the Best Picture Oscar instead of five. This is dumb for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are 1)it capitulates to money-grubbing studios who are grubbing money instead of making quality films and 2)everyone needs to just chill the f out for a second about The Dark Knight, which was not in fact the greatest film ever. However, I have just recently realized why it is not only a stupid move, but an outrageous one, and that is...

What about AMC Theatres' Best Picture Nominee showcase?!?!? AMC, the theater chain which I adore, has been annually showing all five best picture nominees in one whopping all-day marathon on Saturday the day before the Oscars. Which is a totally awesome thing for them to do and for you to attend. Especially those of you who, unlike me, have not long since seen the five best pic nominees when Oscars weekend rolls around. And now?! What? Will they still do it? Will they do it on Friday and Saturday, the two days before the Oscars? Will they do it for two Saturdays, including the previous week's? Will they do it the two days of the previous weekend? Or will they (gasp!) be unable to do it and fewer people able to attend it anyway because of the dumb Academy's dumb change in the number of dumb nominees?

Before, I was mad. Now, on behalf of AMC and all the cool people who went to the all-day nominees showcase, I am livid!!!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Did you hear Brett Favre plays his old team tonight?

Tonight's drinking game that I'm not playing is sure to have you wasted within minutes: Brett Favre! There he is, playing with Minnesota like the talented if a bit wishy-washy pile of awesome that he is, but tonight it is even more dramatic, as the Vikings take on the Green Bay Packers. His old team! The team he - left? betrayed? misses? should still be helping? Blah blah blah. Whatever your opinion is, tonight is your chance to go hog-wild, so I hope you are watching and taking a drink every time an announcer says "Brett Favre." In fact, if you started during the pre-game show, you may not have even been sober for the first drive. Don't forget to take a shot whenever they needlessly show Favre on the sideline. You know how during a football game there are always those shots of the coaches, the team, the Gatorade, and so forth in between plays? Tonight I think they had to bring an extra camera man to get the Brett Favre Reaction Shot to every random moment.

If you're too wasted to follow the football action after playing this for a while, you can always flip to Hoarders on A&E. This could be my new favorite show! It features people who keep too much junk in their homes. And I do not mean people like me, who keep a fair amount of stuff, or have too many books, or desperately need to go through a pile of old bills and other mail. These people can't see the floor in any room in their houses. They can't see the furniture in any room in their houses. Also, they sometimes keep things like pizza boxes. They can't throw ANYthing away. Furthermore, they don't WANT to throw anything away.

But even if you're not grotesquely fascinated by the actual hoarding or the dramatic shots of piles of junk on stairways, coffee tables, and in bathtubs, or by the stories of people who are threatened with eviction or have their children taken away because their homes are a mess, you might be fascinated, as I am, by the sheer human drama of it. It is really psychologically interesting. The offspring are usually there, too, and they are usually a combination of frustrated, resentful, and horrified by their parents' resistance to the professional help. That is what blows me away the most -- here they have a TV crew, the 1-800-Got-Junk trucks, and teams of people who will help them get rid of all the stuff, but they don't want the help because it's taking away a part of them. I wish someone wanted to clean out my closet for me! I would be stoked. On the show, everyone talks about their issues. Like, the hoarding is clearly about something more than stuff, in the same way anorexia is not about the food, and so on.

Hmmm...these people can't seem to let go of things, and are woefully indecisive, and are fraught with all kinds of esteem problems that seem to block what's really important to them. Do you think Brett Favre is a hoarder?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Writers killing selves

So, I've just about finished reading Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, as noted on my Literary Supplement, and tonight I started thinking about just exactly WHY I am so mad at David Foster Wallace for killing himself.

I suppose that one should respond with sadness and compassion to the tragedy of suicide, or maybe be galvanized to do something to try to alleviate such suffering that would drive another to that desperation. Well, I do feel sad, but I have also been furious at DFW since that day last September when Brian and I, sitting on the couch in our Greenpoint apartment, first saw the news as it scrolled across the bottom of the television screen one quiet Sunday morning.

As I have stated, I get angry because DFW was so smart, and I felt like no one that smart should succumb to something so desperate. Plus, he had so ably deconstructed the whole thing: depression, medication, therapy, despair, drug addiction and countless other demons, and, well, life itself. He, if anyone, seemed to have triumphed over whatever the world could throw at us because he could throw back. Harder. And smarter. But no - he hung himself. AND he was married. That hurt my brain then, and it hurts my brain again now, as I read Brief Interviews.... and relive all that Infinite Jest-like deconstruction of abject human misery and what psychotherapy does with said misery.

Tonight, I thought about why it pisses me off a little bit more clearly. I was feeling a little cranky and dejected earlier this evening; my self-pity party went something like this: no one wants to publish me, no one wants to hire me/us, I can't afford to travel anywhere, we're trapped in Grand Rapids, no good movies play here (including John Krasinki's film adaptation of Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, which opens this week), this sucks, it's cold, and so on. After only a few minutes of that, I got annoyed with myself. However, I did think about the fact that years ago I had a much harder time snapping out of depression. (Or possibly "depression.") Tonight, it was fairly easy: I reminded myself that half of my current problems are almost entirely my own fault, and the other half just need to continue to be tackled, and that there is always Netflix.

And that's when I started thinking about one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite movies ever, The Hours, when Meryl Streep frantically and fiercely argues to her ailing friend Richard, "Well, that's what people DO. They stay alive for each other." I love when she says that. (I love every second of her in that film, but that is beside the point.) Life is hard, but we just keep going, because we should. And goddamn those who give up. In a way, I decided, they are giving up on all of us. Maybe that is what resonates with us as so profoundly unfair. When DFW hangs himself in the middle of a life of brilliance and acclaim, those feeling slightly less brilliant and acclaimed (not to mention less published) might stand here thinking, "Oh. Well, then. Thanks a lot."

And then, lest the irony should be lost, it hit me that I was thinking about The Hours, beloved The Hours, creation of Michael Cunningham channeling Mrs. Dalloway and Virginia Woolf -- Virginia Woolf the writer who experimented with fiction and was crazy intelligent and wrestled with madness and then killed herself. Yikes. And as Virginia Woolf says in the film when asked why a character in her book has to die, "Someone has to die, that the rest of us should value life more."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Abbie Cornish rising

So, I really like Abbie Cornish. If you don't (yet) know who she is, you're not alone, but you do have a major flaw, which is that you did not see last year's film Stop-Loss, in which she starred with Ryan Phillippe. Many people made the mistake of ignoring Stop-Loss because for some reason the so-called "movie-going public" has largely refused to see films that make statements about the Iraq war. Besides the zero respect I have for such a refusal, I pity you for missing out on Stop-Loss, if that is in fact why you missed out on it, because it is a quiet, heart-breaking, and extremely well-acted drama about how messed up all the returning Iraq vets are. And, how trapped they are: the title of course refers to the neat trick of not letting people get out of the military when they are supposed to, which kept Bush's crap wars going and kept forcing soldiers back into them.

Abbie Cornish's performance in that film really impressed me. I mean, part of what I liked so much about the film was how it studied "average people" in the U.S., and specifically military families, without either condescending to "middle America" or going all nutsy praising the "heroes." She exemplified that essence of real person-ness, and by that I of course mean real-person-not-in-L.A.-and-New-York-ness. She was also in Elizabeth: The Golden Age. But the latest and greatest is that she stars in the upcoming Bright Star, which is about poet John Keats' tragic romance and is directed by Jane Campion. The movie has been getting some very good press, critical acclaim, and - wait for it - Oscar buzz! for my girl Abbie. How terribly exciting. Besides The Road, I am probably most looking forward in the next few weeks to seeing Bright Star. Granted, I am a literary snob (so they tell me), but by all accounts you don't have to be one or even like poetry to enjoy the film.

But you will get to see Abbie Cornish! So, go Netflix Stop-Loss and then hie thee to a theater to watch Bright Star. And when she's all Oscar-nominated and stuff, you can remember that I told you so. Bright bright bright, indeed!

Friday, September 18, 2009

God and Dinosaurs II: Blame Canada

So, I'm not entirely sure, but I'm starting to think this whole humans-coexisted-with-dinosaurs thing is much bigger among crazy Canadian evangelicals than among crazy United States evangelicals. I mean, sure, this is just anecdotal evidence, but... first of all, the first time I heard someone comment on the issue, it was a Canadian. I was thinking about this because I was just reading some article and through a series of clicked links I ended up on some Canadian Christianity site, reading a piece about a Canadian politician who "stood up for" Christianity a while back and ticked off a list of "beliefs" which he "defended": The earth is 6000 years old. Adam and Eve are (were?) real people. Humans lived alongside dinosaurs. And, maybe there was another belief, I forget.

I don't know, but I keep seeing Canadians spouting off about this, while U.S. evangelicals are concentrating on good old-fashioned pursuits like killing abortion doctors and stealing elections for Bush/Cheney. I did hear about that creation museum in Kentucky the other week, but since I haven't been there, how do I know the dinosaur you can ride with a saddle isn't in the Canadian wing? I'm just sayin' ...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The very next thing you should do ...

...is watch American Blackout. EVERYONE should see this film. It's available on DVD, and you basically have no excuse for not watching it. While it is about disenfranchisement of black voters, it is also about much more. Namely, it will remind you of all the horrible things that were done to steal the 2000 and 2004 elections for Bush and Cheney. Of course, some of us paid attention over the last decade, and have been talking about these issues for years. But I know that many of you either did not pay attention, or heard only the usual chorus of U.S. media that refused to fact-check, or ask questions, or stand up to the lies.

Florida, September 11th, the war, Ohio, the voting machines, and all sorts of other insidious nonsense -- this is a good summary of all the crap that for some reason U.S. citizens and media were happy to endure. I never understood it -- any of you who have known me since 1999 know I never understood it!

That smarmy bow-tie dude -- what is it, Tucker Carlson? -- is in the documentary. He railed against Cynthia McKinney, in particular that she called for an investigation into the September 11th attacks and demanded answers from the people in our government who stood to profit from the whole mess (which became the whole Bush Mess Administration). He said:

"Here you have Cynthia McKinney accusing, essentially, the president of being an accessory to mass murder, and doing it for profit."

I don't see the problem with that. The only inaccuracy in the statement is that Dubya wasn't the president -- he was a usurper who stole the election.

Three cheers for American Blackout!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Did you hear Kim Clijsters had a baby?!

Last night I made up a drinking game during the women's final of the U.S. Open. In my game, you take a drink every time a commentator mentions Kim Clijsters' daughter. When they show the daughter in the stands? Two shots!

I have watched a lot of the U.S. Open this year, or been around while Brian had it on TV in the background, and I tell you they have not tired of talking about Clijsters' motherhood. While they may be briefly distracted by bright young star Melanie Oudin or Serena's rant, as soon as Ms. Clijsters is mentioned, it is all about the motherhood.

In case you haven't heard -- incessantly -- she took time off from tennis and had a baby, who is now 18 months old. The toddler attended the match last night. They pushed her nap later than usual that day. I know all that because it was mentioned approximately three hundred and eighty-two times in the U.S. Open coverage. I suppose it is endlessly fascinating for some people that a woman could have a baby and then go back to playing professional tennis and win the U.S. Open. But is it really just an admiration of her physical ability to get back in shape? Is it a general fascination with women who have a child and a career? Or is it that many sports commentators spend a great deal of their time talking when they have nothing noteworthy to say? I suspect some combination of the three.

The only problem with my drinking game is that I wasn't playing it. After the big festive wedding of one of Brian's college friends up at the Otsego Resort in Gaylord, Michigan on Saturday, Sunday was my recovery day filled with water and iced coffee. I was relaxing on the couch after a brief evening walk, and my only refreshments during the match were two cookies. Even so, it was the best U.S. Open drinking game ever. I so should have told you about it sooner.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whatever Wilson

I agreed with absolutely nobody on Thursday, September 10th. Here were the two things I thought: 1. I was not really bothered by Representative Wilson shouting "You lie!" during President Obama's speech and 2. I have no problem with "illegal" non-citizens receiving health care under a reform plan. We'll tackle these one at a time.

Representative Joe Wilson shouted what I think he believes: that Obama's plans for health care overhaul as well as proposed legislation in Congress pay lip service to denying benefits to "illegals" but will ultimately be unable to prevent "illegals" from receiving benefits. This may be true. Undocumented aliens do all sorts of things that the government does not allow them to do, such as cross the border and work without authorization. Wilson, and apparently many others, are extremely concerned with whether the health care reform is going to make it easier for them to start/continue receiving health care at government/taxpayer expense.

I personally find it interesting, amusing, and a little bit exciting that Wilson not only feels so strongly about this but also did not keep silent about his belief. Shortly before the outburst happened, I was dining in a restaurant/brewery which had several TV screens silently broadcasting different sporting contests: Melanie Oudin to my left, a baseball game behind me, and to the far right, Obama vs. the World. When we saw the assembled crowd rising and clapping, my tablemates and I wondered if this would be like the State of the Union, where we always find it tiring and hypocritical that the audience stands and claps. Not only is it a waste of time, but it's hypocritical posturing, a kind of showmanship of enthusiastic, schmoozing "support" for a "good point" the "President" makes. It became most tiresome of all (and led me to use that last set of quotation marks around President) during the George W. Bush Administration, when I was routinely sickened by any Senators or Representatives standing and applauding, let alone the supposed opposition party. How I wish that a Democrat -- any Democrat -- would have had the guts to shout "You lie!" to that liar of liars, surrounded by his lying vice-president and lying cabinet.

I couldn't believe that the next day these same dinner companions of mine were as outraged as the rest of the Obama supporters around the country at Rep. Wilson. One minute they were with me decrying the sycophantic posturing, the next they were morally outraged at the shouting of two heartfelt words which I considered a welcome relief from said posturing.

Besides, I said, what is the big deal? I was thinking about the House of Lords and House of Commons in England, or even the U.S. Continental Congress, where one finds the assembly shouting insults and pounding canes on the floor in protest. It's a healthy debate. Who cares?

And the whole idea of donating to Wilson's opponent's campaign the next day was even more laughable. While I admire the cheekiness of it, along the same lines as the campaign last fall to make donations to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin's name, I think it is sad that all these do-gooders were willing to do that when they have never even researched or contributed to the candidates running in their own congressional districts. Nor have they financially rewarded the opponents of the many political figures who have done far worse, such as allowing torture and war to continue unchecked.

As for the underlying issue itself, health care for undocumented aliens, I think there should be a way for everyone to get health care, every day, no matter what country they live in/are visiting/come from. I learned in law school how racist and flawed U.S. immigration law is. Anyone who understands it would think the same thing, to the extent the morass of complicated laws is understandable at all. I think the people who are going to be denied benefits should have been allowed to come here legally in the first place. There is a popular misconception that everyone who has entered the country illegally could have just come legally but were too lazy/criminal -- and this is absolutely not so.

This is what finally bothers me most about the Representative Wilson outrage. Everyone is irrationally mad at him for challenging Obama (Hillary can probably sympathize with him on that), but do these angry people want health care for "illegal immigrants"? I see Republicans AND Democrats falling all over themselves to ensure that the so-called "illegals" won't be covered. So where do they get off criticizing someone who stands up for that principle?

Gail Collins wrote in The New York Times that she "would have been willing to bet that we had a national consensus on the undesirability of a Congressman yelling out 'You lie!' during an address by the President of the United States. But no. It turns out there are quite a few people who think this is a good idea." She then talks about anti-Obama Taxpayer Marchers, Tea Party Patriots, and birthers. Sorry, Ms. Collins -- I am none of those things. Instead, I am a more-liberal-than-not person, I have never listened to Rush Limbaugh, I thought schoolchildren should hear Obama's speech, and I am very much for health care reform and a public option. But I am capable of thinking critically and not getting caught up in the latest viral Gobama firestorm. Also, I have no racist anti-immigrant sentiments that need to be hidden behind my pro-Obama blather.

Monday, September 07, 2009

No-Labor-Whatsoever Day

Enjoying this holiday weekend in Michigan, where we will be for the next month or two, maybe longer, who knows? The autumn is a blank and mysterious slate just waiting for Brian and me to write upon it with new jobs and adventures. Meanwhile, we have kicked off said autumn with a fabulous holiday weekend that included my first on-campus Michigan State tailgate, Brian's high-school reunion, bowling, very little sleep (at least during normal sleeping hours), and ridiculous amounts of beer. Ridiculous, I say.

I decided that I like the Michigan State campus a lot. Perhaps it was all the build-up of hanging out with so many Spartans in Blondie's in New York for the last two years -- but seriously, it's a great campus. I like the vibe. I like to think about college campuses. I am always fascinated by that choice of where to go to college. Most people making that all-important choice are, like, 16. Maybe 17, if they're lucky. And where to even begin?

I recall the brochures that started flooding my Phoenix mailbox back when I was in high school from universities around the nation, after we took the PSAT. Every new brochure that came intrigued me, but without visiting multiple schools, how is someone to know which is the right place for her? Most people default to their parents' schools or other family schools, as well as the local universities and the big ones in their home state, because those colleges are necessarily on their radars. It was this strong parental pressure that found me with a scholarship to BYU, but I was clearly not meant to be there, and ended up transferring away. Who knows if I was any more "meant" to be at USC ... it was stupidly expensive, but I had amazing journalism faculty and made a life for myself in Los Angeles because I went there.

I do stick by my original criterion that, all things being equal, it is a better idea to go to college out of state than in-state, and for god's sake at least leave the town/city in which you grew up. That is something I knew deep within myself even at the time, so maybe the 16-year-old self does know something about picking what one wants/needs from a university, even if it took me a couple of tries. I do not under any circumstances (NOT. ANY.) support going to the school down the street. I don't care who you are and what street the school is down. I don't care if you already think you're in the greatest city in the world. Get the f out and explore something new for four years. I was painfully reminded of this every day at Hofstra by all the Long Islanders who were so clueless about the world outside that little piece of land. Scary stuff.

I also think about travel ... if my kids ever want to take a year off and travel before university I will support that so strongly. If not, and they do go directly to college, then they are sure as hell going to study abroad while in school. And then I am going to come visit them wherever they are.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

On the Mountain

One of my favorite things -- no, who am I kidding? my absolute favorite thing -- to do when in Phoenix is climb my little mountains. These are, of course, "hills" in the eyes of many, often including the eyes of myself, but that's being snobby, isn't it? I mean, does The Corrections cease to be a novel just because you start thinking about how War and Peace is twice as long? I think not. Even the U.S. Geological Survey says there is no clear distinction between a hill and a mountain, although various geographic boards have used 1,000 feet as a line of demarcation in the past, like in The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain. That definition is not used now, though, so you have no official basis on which to be hatin' on my Phoenix mountains. But I digress.

I've been climbing North Mountain a lot these past few weeks, usually by myself, because Brian has been either sick or at work (or both). On my most recent trip, this past Thursday, I went around 5 p.m., a bit earlier than usual. As I pulled into the little Secret Parking Lot For Those in the Know, I saw a moving clump of teenagers, running in sync Chariots of Fire style as they came down 7th Street, turned into the Secret Lot, and began to run up the path.

Now, I have seen loads of people running up North Mountain, because every time I go to walk it, there is always a runner. Sometimes two or three. It's a wide asphalt path so it's a good place to go get a steep jogging workout, if you have the strength to do so. But watching some high-school's cross-country team was different from there being a lone runner who leaves you in the dust and then you forget about him. With the high-school team, I became intimately involved.

Of course, their clump began to spread out as the mountain (yeah, tell them it's only a "hill") wreaked havoc on their steady group pace. They had two coaches who were strategically placed, one about halfway up who shouted encouragement and also turned them around to run back up a SECOND time, and one at the top who made sure they reached and stuff. By the time I had walked all the way up, many of them were on their second way back down and the coach at the top was just sort of waiting for those last few. Since there was nothing else for him to do as he stood there, he chatted to me as I strolled by him, turning around to make my way back down: "Well, ya made it" or something to that effect.

"Yeah," I rolled my eyes, using my best sardonic voice with a touch of bitter, "but these kids running are putting me to shame."

He laughed and said, "Nah, you went to the top, that's the important thing." Needless to say, for most of my walk down, I thought about these high school runners and thought about running North Mountain before we leave Phoenix. I mean, here I was supposed to be getting in shape this summer. I ought to be pushing myself more. And so on along that train of thought. But besides thinking about myself, I also admired more than just the running prowess of the teens. I liked how they were supportive of one another, and had good attitudes. I liked how it was one kid's first day of practice (I found out from the mid-point coach) and he was giving it his all and basically in third place. I liked their vibe.

All that and a beautiful sunset, too! I am really going to miss my hiking in the Phoenix mountains. Again.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday in Phoenix

It's Friday of the week, but it also feels like Friday of the summer. If the summer were a week. You know? Like those educational timelines where they imagine if the Earth's existence were a week, and then the dinosaurs appear on Saturday afternoon or whatever...although I best not start blogging about dinosaurs and the age of the Earth again, gets me into trouble. (Kidding! As if I would ever blog/not blog to avoid trouble!)

So, about Friday. This summer we have done a lot, and I am happy to say that I think I have achieved my goal of decompressing from law school, so much so that I sometimes forget it exists, which is perfect. I have got some writing done, although if this really were the summer's "Friday" then I would definitely have to work over the weekend.

In a week and a half, Brian and I are leaving Phoenix. I would like to think this will put an end to the endless, oh-so-clever, "You're spending the SUMMER in Phoenix? Well THAT sure doesn't make any sense - ha ha ha!" remarks that everyone thinks s/he is the first to make. We are headed to Michigan to figure out what's next. What have I learned from my time in Phoenix? And, the question on everyone's mind, would I ever move back here?

You know...no. I don't want to move back here, but it's not for any dislike of Phoenix. If I were to move back here, I would be able to do my desert hikelets and eat at Valle Luna every day. I would always be able to go to bars with cheap beer, and I would swim outside. A lot. I would routinely see sky, sun, sunsets, and lizards. I would be able to go to my childhood dentist (at least until he retires). All of these things make me happy, and are part of my being. I have been doing them all summer.

And it's not even because of the mentality behind the bumper stickers, such as "I'll keep my guns, money, and freedom -- you can keep the change!" People in the Northeast misunderstand entirely what it is like to live in any political climate that is not that of their own state. They think they know what Arizona is like. They haven't got a clue. I am sad for their limited worldviews. As Green as I am, I have many a Libertarian sensibility. As much as I like Massachusetts politics in general, I felt most "among my own people" when I lived in California. So no, it's not the Arizona politics, even though I understand them and many of my blog readers do not.

One reason I would not move here now is that I would need to buy a car. And since I don't have a clunker to trade in, and I don't have an income right now, that's kind of out of the picture for the moment. I won't even say it's impossible to use public transportation and car sharing and biking here -- which of course is what people think -- again, I've been doing it all summer. But I do wish the buses ran later. 24-hour bus service is the key to modern civilization, I'm convinced. Or at least late-night bus service. I just would need a car for the exploring lifestyle I need to live right now.

In short, the main reasons I would not want to move back to Phoenix at the moment are the same ones I had at the beginning of the summer: 1)I don't need to -- my family is here, so I can come here whenever I want and 2)I want to try something new.

I remain fascinated by the people from high school who still live here and have never left. I can't imagine what it would be like to construct an entire adult life in the place where I was a child. Whether it's the photos of taking children to school in their own former school district, finding happy hour specials when you used to be finding someone to buy for you at the Circle K, or just generally standing still while you mature, I stand on the outside of that world looking in. And then I hop on the bus to my next destination.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

God and Dinosaurs

I am terribly confused. If someone could explain this one to me, I would much appreciate it.

I recently read about a book called Idiot America, which asks "how a country founded on intellectual curiosity has somehow deteriorated into a nation of simpletons." According to Goodreads, the author had a "defining moment" at the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where he saw a dinosaur with a saddle and a museum proprietor who said, "We are taking the dinosaurs back from the Evolutionists!"

Now, this obviously leads to all sorts of questions. Not only "Why does anyone feel the need for a Creation Museum?" but also "HOW does one make a Creation Museum?" seeing as a museum is generally put together by gathering information and historical items .... however, these questions can probably be answered by a visit to the Creation Museum next time I am in Kentucky, so I won't burden you with them here.

The question about which I am terribly confused, with which I would like your assistance, is the following: when and why did it become anyone's Christian duty to insist that dinosaurs and humans lived together?

I was raised to be Christian and I do not remember anyone ever telling me anything other than that there used to be dinosaurs, they died out long before humans, and you can see some pretend ones on the train at Disneyland. I mean, hello, what kid didn't go digging once or twice in her backyard for dinosaur fossils?

So, I'm confused. Now, I do know that there are people out there who firmly believe in a false dichotomy between Evolution versus Creation. These people, big believers in polarizing issues, have pretty much made this invented debate a part of the fabric of our society. I never used to understand, when I contemplated the whole God-created-Adam story, just exactly how it supposedly conflicted with Darwin's theory. I mean, have people (on "both" "sides") read the creation accounts in Genesis? It's all kinds of flowery literature, like any society's creation myths, with lines like, "God raised up man out of the dust of the earth" and stuff. So, that could be a very poetic way to describe the process of life evolving into human beings.

I can see where some logical people might have an issue with the line if the "God" part implies a personage, and they wonder on what basis anyone believes in an omnipotent personage, and so on. But the other way? Why would anyone who thinks there's a God creating life not think that building species up out of the dust of the earth is a perfectly fine way to do so? I never understood their issues.

All that aside, however, this dinosaur-human co-existence thing is really throwing me. I have heard of the idea of a Bible-believer wondering if dinosaurs existed at all, since they are not mentioned in the Bible. That just shows a remarkably limited view and lack of comprehension of anything. I mean, even if you use the Bible as your spiritual guide, where does it say it's the only account of history? Uh, that's right nowhere. That would be like taking your geometry book and only your geometry book to ever learn math, ever. What about algebra? What about addition? It's stupid to say that only one book is all you need, and as someone who loves to read and write I am personally offended by the notion.

But when did questioning dinosaurs and questioning evolution, however silly those things are separately, however easy they are to dismiss separately, combine into an idea that dinosaurs existed at the same time as humans? What does that even mean? Like, I read where someone was arguing there must have been dinosaurs on the ark with Noah. But why? Again, it doesn't make sense even in terms of their own beliefs. Even if you thought the Bible was the literal and only history of all early humankind, why wouldn't you think the dinosaurs just missed the boat?

So, to sum up: Even if someone for whatever absurd reason thinks that evolution is a bad thing to mention, and also thinks that a father figure created humans the way a painter creates a portrait (we'll save the using-what-materials question for another day), the question remains what on earth does that have to do with humans and dinosaurs living together?

Please advise.