Archive for May, 2011

With All Due Respect

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

John had a skin thing recently, involving multiple trips to the doctor. John rarely goes to the doctor, but when he does, I always learn something. Like, how to respectfully disagree. Or how to . . . seem like you’re respectfully disagreeing? Here:

J: You know that word “notwithstanding,” and how you taught me that it actually kind of means the opposite?

M: Yup. It means “withstanding.”

J: Yeah. So I was thinking about how the phrase “with all due respect” is kind of like that.

M: As in?

J: As in, when the dermatologist told me it was eczema, I said, “With all due respect, I’m going to continue treating it as a fungus.”

M: And you didn’t mean it?

J: No. I mean, in that moment, I didn’t respect him.

M: Because he was wrong.

J: Yeah, basically.

M: With all due respect.

J: With all due respect.

M: Which is, like, none.

J: No respect is due!

M: Because you, Herr Doctor, are wrong!

J: Pretty much!

M: God. That is genius.

J: [Smiles.]

M: I’m loving you so hard right now.

Michael Pollan, You Can Die Now

Monday, May 30th, 2011

I just achieved what has to be a personal record in single-day plant consumption. Check this out:

Breakfast: Raw müesli with fruit and nuts

Whole plant foods consumed: Oats, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, apples, pecans, walnuts

Lunch: Quinoa, kale, and tempeh salad; black-eyed peas; sides of carrot-cabbage slaw and cukes and hummus

WPFs consumed: Quinoa, kale, garlic, flax seeds, soy beans, black-eyed peas, onions, carrots, cabbage, almond butter, cucumbers, chick peas, sesame seeds

Snack: Black bean salad

WPFs consumed: black beans, corn, red onion, red pepper, jicama, cilantro, spring onion

Dinner: Fava bean sauté, Moroccan olives, coconut-chia smoothie, and a few cashews and peanuts for dessert

WPFs consumed: fava beans, chia seeds, banana, pineapple, cherries, coconut water, cashews, peanuts


Seriously, Michael Pollan. Go take a nap. I win.

Big Fun

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Just a quick note to say that:

a) Bridesmaids is solid good fun; please may its box-office success green-light more movies with female casts; and

b) I am in fierce love with the Topp twins, whose documentary opened in Berkeley this weekend.

And whom we saw! Last night! After the screening!

They sang us a song.

And yodeled a little.

And answered questions.

And then they showered us in the glitter dust of their fucking awesome personal and political bravery, which we wore sparkling home.

Opening Sequences

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Last night I watched The Fighter for the second time, this time with John, who is a lover of David O. Russell. It is, simply, a great film. I continue to fail to understand why it wasn’t more beloved.

Also, I would like to nominate its almost-opening sequence—the one in which the camera follows Micky as he sweeps the asphalt, then loops in Dicky as the two re-enact Dicky’s Sugar Ray fight, and then leaves them both to recede backward down the street, and then follows their dance-walk through the neighborhood—as required watching for Screenwriting 101 classes everywhere.

Because, a) I have never seen that done before, and b) it sets up the entire movie. It establishes the Sugar Ray obsession, the fraternal relationship, the tightness of the working-class neighborhood together with its ills (drug deals, etc.), the local celebrity of Dicky and Micky, and the swagger of the first and tenderness of the second.

Additionally, the fantastic music establishes the mood—funky, raw, percussive, and wild.

To add to this list: Little Miss Sunshine‘s near-opening sequence, also known as the dinner scene. Because it is not only one of the funniest scenes in my movie memory (“Chicken? Fucking chicken? Again? All we ever have is fucking chicken!”), but because it, too, sets up every character, relationship, and theme in the movie. When the scene is over, we know exactly who these people are and exactly how vexed their relationships are. What we don’t know is what will happen next.

Any others you can think of? I’m looking for films that do a fantastic job of setting themselves up in the first 15 minutes or so—without, obviously, giving too much away.

Malcolm Gladwell

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Has anyone else been reading the “Innovation” issue of The New Yorker? And has anyone else developed the wee-est smidge of resistance toward Malcolm Gladwell?

I have to say, first, that I’ve been a Gladwell fan for a long time. I’ve read most of his books, and they’re fascinating. He has such a gift for telling a story, and also for putting together a clear case based on surprising research. I love the way he builds suspense. And didn’t he sort of invent a genre—the lay person’s academic survey? Over the years, Gladwell has connected me with all kinds of ideas that I’ve been happy to investigate.

But . . . he keeps doing the same. Exact. Thing. Maybe once you’ve invented a literary form, which is by no means easy or common, you get to keep doing that thing forever. But it has come to feel smug and formulaic. As in:

1) Open with story.

(Optional 1a): Surprise! Hero of story is a famous person.

2) Pan back to show more to the story than first presented, including childhood or past experience of hero.

3) Cite example of something else working in the same way.

4) Name paradigm.

5) Return to story anew, this time applying the paradigm we have just learned and named to hero’s story.

6) Where is hero now?

7) Clever ending.

In this most recent article, I absolutely knew what his surprise final line was going to be, at least 5 paragraphs back.

I’ve also come to suspect Gladwell’s work, because I’ve seen more than a few cogent responses to it, including a discrediting of John Gottman’s work (in Laurie Abraham’s lovely book), on which much of Blink is based. In other words, Gladwell’s arguments can sometimes be based on faulty research—we don’t know, after all, how closely he’s looking at the science. You could argue that so long as he’s using basic standards to evaluate research (peer review, university support, etc.), we have to give him the benefit of the doubt, and I agree. Yet more and more I tend to feel that Gladwell isn’t providing the entire picture.

So when I read his recent piece in The New Yorker, on the invention and evolution of the computer mouse, I didn’t quite trust it. It made sense to me, sure. And I liked the ultimate point about how hard it can be to fish the truly promising ideas out of a sea of inventions—though isn’t that kind of obvious? But I just kept thinking, is this the entire story?

I suppose I have lost my Gladwell innocence.

Or maybe, in the words of G.B. Shaw, I have learned something, which always feels like losing something.

Chicken a la Brave

Monday, May 9th, 2011

What do you call someone who’s afraid of the world but does stuff anyway? Brave Chicken!

Also known as What John Calls Me. Sometimes.

(For the record, he is Crazy Monkey, and that is what I’m going to [attempt to] felt next. Once the brown wool gets here.)

(Also for the record, if you are the type of person who is nauseated when cutesy personal endearments are used by adults in love, I apologize. I also wonder if maybe you are possibly not having enough fun.)

And with that, here she is:

Brave Chicken, with Hat

Brave Chicken, with Hat

In honor of the season, and because she seemed to need something jaunty, I added a pillbox hat. I do wonder about eyelids or lashes. In short, I think she could use them, but I’m scared to mess up. It can be hard to undo felting.

Top o' the World

Top o' the World

Here’s a broader view, so you can get a better sense of her size. Leetle. All of my felt creations thus far are pretty small, because it’s a lot of work to build the basic shape.

Kitchen Scale

Kitchen Scale

No, Brave Chicken, we would never cook you! No! No! A million times no!

But you look pretty cute up there.

Little Chicken, Big Dreams

Little Chicken, Big Dreams

I think what Brave Chicken wants most in life is a personal chef, a chic modernist house, and universal adulation. Ha! No, actually, she’s done enough therapy, bodywork, and meditation to know that she has all the wealth and love she needs already. Particularly when Crazy Monkey’s around.

Which he will be! In a month or two!

I Gots Me Some Rats

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

It’s been a while, so I know you’re craving a rat update. And today: photo shoot with Michelle!

What's that pink square thing in front of your face?

What's that pink rectangle in front of your face?

It’s not easy to capture a rat head-on, as they scamper quickly and aren’t interested in vogue-ing. Plus, that annoying digital delay renders intention pretty much irrelevant. You point, click, and hope. Also, sometimes they freeze in fear. Yay!

I'll perch here and have a little lookout.

I'll perch here and have a little lookout.

Like other rodents, rats like to hide behind things. Also like other rodents, their curiosity pulls them out of their hiding places and into the unsafe open. Again, yay!

How far down?

How far down?

Rats are excellent acrobats, far more agile than hamsters or gerbils. They can jump to and from great heights. Happily, this book case is a little too high for a free-fall.

How's the view over here?

How's the view over here?

Which doesn’t stop Michelle from looking and wishing, looking and wishing.

She’s cute, huh? I’m pretty fond of her.

In other rat news, Melanie is a nipper. I’m pretty sure it’s food-related, so I have various strategies in mind, but my favorite right now is denial. Wheeeee!

Black Swan

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

We finally saw Black Swan. And while I know it’s stylized and expressionistic and even fauvist, and while it could not be clearer that we’re not meant to take it literally, I couldn’t help wishing that it had been more literal, or at least more real.

Like, for example, Aronofsky’s previous film, The Wrestler. That film manages to be deeply meaningful without resorting to camp, even though its protagonist is a man whose Happy Place is the schlockfest of minor-league wrestling. With profoundly moving compassion, Aronofsky transforms Mickey Rourke—an actor who has proven rather hard to take seriously—into the opposite of a joke.

But almost everything in Black Swan is laughable, from the outré French ballet master to the terrifyingly boundary-free mother. And nobody is sympathetic. Yes, we see everything through Nina’s eyes, and she’s spinning in a vortex of self-annihilating perfectionism, which isn’t exactly a relationship-builder. (In plainer words: She can’t connect with other people.) But the audience has to have an experience. And having the experience of a person caught in obsessive madness is not merely suffocating; it’s actually kind of boring.

The idea of Nina’s transformation into the black swan could be interesting, if it meant that she traveled inward, into her darkness. But she doesn’t. We never see who she is, and she never seems to know.  Instead, we see symbol after symbol of black-swannishness, all of it externalized, but externalized what? Anger? Envy? Hatred? Lust? And about what, toward whom, and why?

When I could keep my eyes from rolling away from the screen, I kept wondering what it might have been like if the film were  truly about an ambitious dancer in a competitive company. She could have a needy mother. She could be subject to the whims of an assholish, inappropriate ballet master. But she would also have a self, and a journey into that self, which would uncover something.

Maybe it’s just an anti-madness bias. I think a descent into insanity (particularly in the service of art) is not actually a difficult thing to portray, despite the Academy’s perennial need to reward it. And I think we’ve seen it many, many times. But an exploration of messy, challenged sanity: That is something I want to see.

After a Long Day of Work and No Sugar

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Me: So as you’ve probably gathered, I’m feeling pretty put-upon.

John: I’m right there with you, Sweetie.

M: Really? You feel put-upon, too?

J: No. I’m just right there with you.

Playin’ It

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

There was a wedding last week. Some people watched it on television.

I didn’t need to get particularly involved, but I did need to see photos. So once John and I were settled comfortably* in our Santa Cruz motel room, I flipped on the telly.

*Comfort is a relative concept at the University Inn and Conference Center, which we wholeheartedly do NOT recommend. But where else is there in Santa Cruz? I plead.

It was kind of perfect, actually. Katie Couric was there waiting for us, with an hour-long recap that included only the most pertinent (read: salacious) highlights. We watched. And I wondered:

1) Did nobody point out the obvious 50’s influence in Kate’s dress? The silhouette was echt Barbara Billingsly, no?

2) Kate Middleton/Katie Holmes. Erie likeness.

3) And then there was this. About halfway through the program, when we reached the 2007 William/Kate split (cue shudders of horror), whichever inane commentator they pulled out of the pre-feminism crypt to say stupid things said a very stupid  thing. (Which I guess was her job!)

And it was this: that Kate “played” the split “very well” by losing weight and “being seen on the arm of eligible bachelors” such as [can’t remember] and [also can’t remember].

John instantly snorted, because he actually respects women, and also people. And because he’s aware that a) what Kate did may or may not have been purposeful manipulation; b) assuming that it was purposeful manipulation is unkind and unfair; c) championing the practice of losing weight to win back a romantic partner is bull-crap; d) as is championing the practice of flaunting new dates; and e) if Kate was “playing” William, that’s bad news for both of them, because manipulation is not a good foundation for intimacy.


I hate the major news networks.

Also many of the minor ones.

In other breaking news, our movie options were limited, so we saw Rio in 3D. No, really. We did. Us, and six or seven four-year-olds. I won’t bore you with complaints about the pace, stereotypes, or violence. But—okay, just this—when did the picaresque become the only acceptable narrative model for kids’ entertainment? Because I vote that we ditch it for something a lot less painful.