Archive for October, 2009

Morning, Chez Nous

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

J: Last night I dreamed that two of our three acorn squash were missing.

M: Really? I dreamed I was back at Yale, and everyone hated me.

J: I just couldn’t figure out where they went. Like, did we eat them? Did someone come and take them away?

M: And I was in the Yale post office, and they wouldn’t let me get my mail. They were like, “No mail for you!”

[Pause.]

M: So, what are you doing tonight?

J: I’m coming straight home from work, and I’m doing chores.

M: Cool.

J: What are you doing?

M: I was thinking I’d lie around and complain.

J: [Face lighting up.] That sounds awesome!

M: Yeah, well. My plans got canceled. So. It’s the logical next step.

J: [Face beaming love.] See you tonight!

M: Okay.

J: I love you! SO much!

Projection: A Love Story

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Every Thanksgiving, we spend a few days at our favorite spa in Calistoga. And every year, as we bask in the warm mineral pools beneath a chilly, starry sky, we enter anew a discussion of snow monkeys, a.k.a. Japanese Macaques.

These heart-breakingly adorable primates live in frigid climates and, to warm themselves, spend the lion’s portion of their days soaking in mineral baths. Of course, dudes have to eat. And there’s no food in them there pools. So survival requires that the super-relaxo monkeys exit the steamy soak-zone, dripping wet, to search for food. In the snow.

In one nature documentary I saw, the narrator ventured that snow monkeys must be “miserably cold” as they leave the water. To illustrate the point, the film cut to a shot of a big, hairy, senior monkey, hanging his head and shivering as he gathered himself on the rocks.

Every time John and I have to pull ourselves from a mineral pool in Calistoga, venturing a treacherous ten yards or so to a still warmer pool, I think of that monkey.

M: Wouldn’t it be better if they just never went in the pools? Because God, getting out. They must be in so much pain.

J: No, they’re not in pain. They’re really warm!

M: No, they’re not! They’re freezing!

J: They’re so not! They’re really warm and cozy!

M: But the documentary said—

J: But that was speculation! After I get out of the hot tub, it takes me hours to cool down.

M: Yeah, well I’m freezing, immediately. And the snow monkeys aren’t in Northern California. They’re in snow.

And so it goes. Every year.

This, we have noticed, is a global tendency. When I see an animal or an object that can’t express its feelings in English, I imagine that it’s suffering. John imagines that it’s doing great. Not merely fine—great.

Fast-forward to a few days ago. John was frying some Tofurky sausage in a skillet, and he had turned his attention away from the stove. I could see that the oil was getting hot enough to burn and the sausages badly needed to be turned.

M: Ow! Ow! Your sausages are in pain!

J: No, they’re not. They’re really happy and warm.

M: Pain! Pain! Pain! Turn me over! Turn me over!

J: Whee! Whee! Whee! I feel so good! And a gentle roll will make me feel even better!

Eventually I had to put my hands over my ears and start humming. Because merely by joining me in endowing the tofu with feelings, John had succeeded in reifying my sense that it was suffering.

Sigh.

One month until we return to snow monkeys!

I Got a Haircut

Monday, October 26th, 2009

And it’s too short. Now, I must pick up the pieces of my life and move on.

The Compulsively Readable Jokey Memoir

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Is a genre I can’t resist. Except sometimes it makes me feel a little dirty, i.e., when there’s too much joking over the pain.

In this case, the humor is balanced pretty well with the suffering.

Tiny Kushner

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Last night we saw the new Berkeley Rep play, a series of five shorts by Tony Kushner. Three of them—including one that reproduced a real-life incidence of tax fraud in New York City, to no apparent point—were amusing enough, but not particularly inspired. The first and last, however, were vintage Kushner: riveting, wildly imaginative, politically searing, and funny.

Most memorable was the final one-act, which was very high concept, such that I could almost see the thought bubble popping up over Kushner’s head: Laura Bush arrives to read to three Iraqi children. The twist: they’re dead. Killed by American bombs, and not even during either war: between the wars (i.e., all the more galling). What does she read to them? “The Grand Inquisitor,” from The Brothers Karamozov. What is her position on their deaths—and on her husband’s policies? That is the point of the play. Kushner makes her sympathetic, if not blameless, and I left the theater with a lot of feeling for her. (Fantastic fantastic acting, too, by Kate Eifrig.)

My only wish for the script, and this is admittedly a ridiculous wish for a Kushner play, was that it be a little less partisan. In other words, I didn’t want Kushner’s position to be so obvious, and I didn’t want Laura Bush to be quite so simple.

Example: While I can believe that, against her public persona, Laura Bush might feel that she personally will have to pay for the deaths of Iraqi children, I find it much harder to believe that she would be repulsed by her husband. It should be both: She should both love and support her husband and also find the deaths of Iraqi children impossible to bear. That is the world I can imagine her living in, and that is a fascinating and very human place to be.

Instead, Kushner gives us a woman who secretly despises her husband—the ears, the smug self-satisfaction, the learning disabilities—in precisely the ways that liberals do. And that’s more wish fulfillment than provocative theater.

Where the Wild Things Are

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Gorgeous, lugubrious movie. Wise and wondrous. Deep, knowing, wounded, weird.

We loved it.

We’re seeing it again, first chance we can.

Unfortunately, when we got home, we read David Denby’s review in The New Yorker.

Sigh.

What a colossal mis-reading. Denby can write beautiful sentences, but he is also an expert point-misser. Half the time when I read his reviews, I want to hurl the magazine across the room. Before I explain in what way he missed the point of WTWTA, allow me to relate an anecdote.

A while back, Denby wrote a book called American Sucker, about his misadventures in investing. (He lost $800,000—before the recession.) While on a press tour, Denby did an interview with Terry Gross (by now, loyal reader, you have gleaned that I take in only three sources of news: NPR, The New Yorker, and The New York Times, although this last one only online, sadly), in which he was asked about the dissolution of his marriage.

Denby’s wife had left him for a woman, and Terry asked whether he was angry. I can’t remember his exact words, but the gist was this: “That wouldn’t be very politic of me, would it?” He made the case that if he wanted to be a supportive man, of both his wife and women in general, he couldn’t get angry about his wife’s leaving him for a woman.

Bam. He lost my trust. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but feelings don’t work like that. Feelings just happen, regardless of whose political position they may seem to support—and let me digress within a digression to say that feminism is NOT about erasing feelings, either for men or women—and if Denby didn’t get pissed at his wife for leaving him, I have to assume that he forgot to check in with his soul. If you love someone and they leave you for someone else, you get pissed. Right? Tell me I’m wrong, and I will try to understand your position before probably failing to.

At any rate. Back to the review. Denby’s complaint about WTWTA is that the monsters are sad, lonely, and human, not at all like the wild things in the book. He can’t make sense of what happens to Max on the island and believes that the movie goes off-course. But what happens to Max on the island is the genius of the film, and of Jonze and Eggers’ script.

What they have done is make the monsters into an oversized version of a human family, with huge, wounded feelings and complicated relationships, and the lessons learned are both subtle and important: 1) Families can’t be “solved” so that everyone is always happy; 2) There is no single person who can rule a family, but kids need present, loving parents; 3) What looks like a game, or even art, can be an acting out of painful wounds and therefore wound even further. The film is one of the most sorrowful, and artful, I have seen in a long time.

That said: Not a kids’ movie. I wouldn’t take anyone under 10, and perhaps not anyone under 13.

Checker and the Derailleurs

Monday, October 19th, 2009

I read another Lionel Shriver novel. I plead trickery! It was a trade paperback, set on a “Recommended” table at an indie book store, and I took it for a recent release. It was, instead, a reissue. I should have known.

At any rate, I plan to make my way through Shriver’s entire oeuvre (a pretentious word I use in her honor) sooner or later, so this was simply sooner. Shriver is like Coetzee in that I find I have to take breaks between her novels—to breathe, lick my novel-induced wounds, and remember that love exists.

Checker and the Derailleurs: an early work about a teenaged rock band, telltale Shriver, managing to simultaneously seem both very knowing and almost shockingly ignorant about romance (even teenaged romance). I don’t recommend it, although she did what she always does: create indelible, deeply drawn characters. She grooves them into the page, almost as though she were raking the paper with a thick-nibbed pen, hand balled in a fist. So, for better or worse (often worse, as Shriver loves the Highly Defended Assholes of the world), her characters stay with me.

Shriver’s dedication: To someone who doesn’t deserve it, as he very well knows.

Speaking of indelible, Saturday’s Selected Shorts featured a reading of “The Bees,” by Dan Chaon. I missed the first few minutes, in which, I hope and pray, Isaiah Sheffer informed the listening audience that this was a “Tale of Terror” (so labeled on the website). So as I listened I was under the impression that it was a smart, deft story of addiction and relationship, only to be shaken to the bones by the super-freakin’-horrifying ending. Holy mother of hideousness! Holy heart-whipped Melissa! I dove into John’s arms and whimpered.

Great story, though.

Media Melange

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

If I knew how to insert an accent aigu on the “e” in the title, I would.

Lots of media consumed since my last post. Here’s the rundown:

1. Jim and Pam got married. I have been in mad love with those two since Season 2, so this was An Event for me. I nearly sent out invites. As an ep, I thought it was handled well—balancing, as Linda Holmes has noticed, the elements of absurd cringe humor with the very real, sane, and heart-melting love between two sympathetic characters. (I cry.)

The writers of The Office can be pretty genius, and one of the things I worship them for is the way they skirt the expected, particularly w/r/t Jim and Pam. Example: They spend nearly a season building to the marriage proposal, which doesn’t happen in the final moments of the season finale but instead in a random ep  slightly into the beginning of the next season, at a highway rest stop, in the pouring rain. Similar thing with the wedding. And in each case, when they do deliver, they deliver just enough to make an emotional impact, and then—whoosh—cut to silly. So we’re always wanting more.

Damn you, writers. You have me on a leash.

2. Whip It. Pretty much what you’d expect, in a good way. Ellen Page is so, totally, watchable. Drew Barrymore the Actress seems to be trying a smidge too hard, but DB the First-Time-Director does well. The dialogue is refreshingly un-Juno-ized. And kudos to writer Shauna Cross, or whoever made the decision about the romantic subplot, which is satisfyingly empowering. No dating boys who might possibly cheat! Even if they are heroin-chic,  Emo-haired, hotty rockers! Sigh.

3. The Boys Are Back. A sad, well made movie. Worth seeing. I was particularly impressed with how quickly it amps up into facing tragedy head-on. And Clive Owen = good actor. Deep eyes. Does he maybe look like a cross between Nicholas Cage and Russell Crowe?

4. The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Richard Dawkins came to Berkeley, and we went to hear him speak. I was delighted by his elegant and hilarious prose, which made me want to read his book, almost as much as I was struck by his class-A assholishness, which I had known was coming, I think from hearing interviews re: his previous book, The God Delusion. Our friend Doug noticed how riled up the crowd was, gunning for the blood of creationists. For Doug, it wasn’t so much that Dawkins is a science fundamentalist (though that put him on the defensive) as that the crowd seemed ready to take up arms. Yeah. There’s a lot of anger and self-righteousness out there. On both sides.

It is kind of wonderful that Dawkins is willing to say exactly what he thinks.

5. Top Chef. I’m a little behind on eps, because I get them hand-delivered via stork (i.e., my excellent friend Vicky tapes all necessary cable shows for me). But I’m going to put in for the leprechaun, a.k.a. Kevin. Humble, adorable, and obviously a huge talent. (Plus, such milky skin!) I also like Jen, who is both hard-core and absent of any bullshit, especially since she cried when Ashley got eliminated. Before that, I thought she might not have feelings.

6. Project Runway. Same as above w/r/t timing. Lots of talent this year, but nobody to love. Where is my Korto? Or even Leanne?

7. Best American Essays: 2009. Edited by Mary Oliver. Therefore, focusing on topics that interest her, which dovetail nicely with topics that interest me: dogs, words, spirit. There’s a particularly striking essay by a writer for Vanity Fair about the $13,000/mo. mansion he rented in New Orleans. He means to make a point about houses as embodiment of status anxiety in America, but I was transfixed by his personal story, or rather his psyche: By what calculus did he ever imagine that he could afford such a house? I kept needing to know and not finding out.

8. Have you noticed how many must-see movies are coming down the pike? We’re going to have to get busy. Good Hair. Passing Strange. (Yeah, Spike Lee, but try to look past that: It’s the fantastic Stew musical that opened in Berkeley!) Where the Wild Things Are. (Did you catch the Spike Jonze interview on Terry Gross?) And, I don’t know, 9? Maybe? I can’t tell.

Dwell: For Rich People

Friday, October 9th, 2009

I have this problem with Dwell magazine, also known as My Monthly Dose of Covetousness. I want nearly everything in it, especially the sleekly modern, architecturally inventive homes with soaring glass, rich wood, and minimalist furniture. (They always have clever nooks, too. I am a sucker for clever nooks.) Problem: I am not a rich person.

This month as I was paging through the issue, I had this thought: They should have warnings in this magazine. Every few pages, there should be some sort of caveat. Example: This home is for rich people. Following page: You are not a rich person. Next one: It is not wise for you to imagine owning this home. A few pages later: That will only cause you pain. Tear-out insert: Sorry, but it’s true. Couple of pages later: Really. Totally true. Inside of back cover: No matter what you are currently thinking.

Those warnings wouldn’t work, though. For whatever reason, I persist in the fantasy that I will some day design and build (with the help of an architect and, you know, John) a custom modern home in a lush green landscape. For this reason, I have every issue of Dwell I’ve received stacked in a bookcase in the entryway of our home. For ideas.

Help.

Nobel? Oh, Well

Friday, October 9th, 2009

On this odd and perhaps bewildering day for our president, I offer this: Chia Obama. It looks like an SNL spoof-commercial, right? It’s for reals. And maybe racist. With the hair.

Wonder if you can get chia-heads of any other Nobel Peace Prize Winners. Chia Mother Teresa? Chia Dalai Lama? Chia International Atomic Energy Agency? I’m thinking no.