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 ... 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.