Archive for November, 2012

And My Pride

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

Nellies, it has been a week of bloggable events. Two books, four movies, three calling birds, a spa visit, Thanksgiving here with friends, and a highly objectionable episode of Radiolab (not that all of them aren’t, in some way, objectionable) that I’d love to publicly upbraid.

However. Time is limited. And as le topic plus preferré at this blog is “Funny Conversations with John,” I’m going to open with that.

We were driving—and not merely driving but navigating the highways en route to our pre-holiday destination, our favorite spa in Calistoga. We hadn’t made this drive in a couple of years, as last year at this time we were enduring the final, harrowing hours of the most grueling escrow period on historical record, so we were a bit rusty on the specifics.

Now, I am normally extremely attentive to detail. But because I ride lying down in the back of our car, for reasons that most of you understand and which future clients (let me assure you) do not need to worry about, I often give over navigation to John. In this case, before we left I said, “You remember how to get there, right?” And he got a look of intense concentration on his face as he said, “Yeah. I’m running through all of the exits right now.”

Cue an hour later, when we’ve exited 80E.

J: Crap. I think I just took the wrong exit.

M: Yeah?

J: I think so. The construction got in the way.

M: Okay.

J: I couldn’t tell what was happening.

M: Well, we’ll just turn around, right?

J: I guess. Wait, is this the right exit?

M: I don’t know.

J: That’s the Jelly Belly factory, over there. I think I got confused because we used to exit there all the time.

[Editor's note: We used to go for the free jellies, but then they hosted a major campaign speech by Rick Santorum.]

M: Huh. Well, I guess we’ll just turn around.

We turn around.

J: This could be right, actually.

M: Okay, great!

J: I’m not sure, though.

M: Well, we’ll see, I guess.

J: Maybe it’s not right.

M: Either way, I kind of have to use the bathroom. So if we’ve exited anyway . . .

J: I’ll know in a minute whether this is right.

M: Okay, sounds good.

J: Darn it! I just exited in the wrong place.

M: Oops.

J: I think I got off too early to find you a bathroom.

M: Oh, well, let’s find a bathroom then.

J: But this doesn’t look like a good exit.

M: Bummer. There should be something, though.

J: Oh, there’s a gas station up there.

M: Great! When we get there, let’s ask for directions.

J: No, let’s not.

M: No, let’s. Because it’d be really nice to actually know what we’re supposed to be doing instead of just guessing.

J: I don’t want to. We don’t need to.

M: Well, I want to. It can’t hurt, anyway.

J: Yes, it can.

M: It can?

J: It hurts me, a little.

M: Oh. I’m sorry, Sweetie. I’m not trying to hurt you.

J: Okay.

We pull into the gas station and get gas, and then I head inside to go to the rest room.

J: Are you going to ask for directions?

M: I was hoping you would, since you understand better what’s happening.

J: Well, do you just want me to ask for directions, or are you actually interested in the truth?

M: [Cracking up.] Wow, Sweetie. You sound angry.

J: I guess I am, a little. I feel like you want me to ask for directions just because, but I have a map that will give us the answers.

M: You do realize that we’re reading from a script called Marriage right now?

J: [Almost inaudible chuckle.]

M: Okay, let’s look at the map.

We look at the map. It seems pretty clear. Then we go inside and use the rest room, buy some gummy snakes (They were called Hissy Fits!), and get back in the car. As soon as we pull out of the gas station, John curses.

J: I can’t turn the way I want, because of the median.

M: Sorry.

J: And now it’s going to take us all the way in the other direction.

M: That sucks. Maybe there’s a better way to do this. Why don’t we go back inside and ask for directions?

J: No.

M: But we could just get the answer so easily. They must have the answer.

J: No. I’m pretty sure I know where we are! I do not want to ask for directions!

M: Okay, but directions can be really helpful.

J: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES I HAVE ASKED FOR DIRECTIONS AND GOTTEN BOGUS ANSWERS? BECAUSE PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT! AND THEY WILL TELL YOU ANYTHING! AND THEN YOU WILL BE EVEN MORE LOST THAN YOU WERE BEFORE! BECAUSE OF THAT, and my pride, I DO NOT WANT TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS!

M:  [Hysterics.]

J: [Silence.]

M:  [Hysterics.]

J: [Silence.]

M: Oh my God, Sweetie. Oh my God, that was genius.

J: [Little chuckle.]

M: You heard that, right? About the pride?

J: Yeah.

M: That was really, really good.

J: Yeah.

M: I love you. And your pride.

J: Thank you. I’m getting back on the road now. And taking us to Calistoga.

M: Sounds good.

This Week (or Two) in Books

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

First I read the charmingly titled That’s Not a Feeling, a novel I found on a table at Bookshop Santa Cruz (fave store!), and then I read Too Good To Be True, which Amazon correctly told me I would like, and then I skim-read the soundly reasoned but redundant Punished by Rewards. Meanwhile, John’s been reading (well, listening to) The Mill on the Floss. Which is one of the books I wrote my college thesis on!

Here’s the report:

1) That’s Not a Feeling is surprisingly low-key and non-climactic, given the setting, an emotionally manipulative school for “troubled” (i.e., labeled) kids. But that’s part of the point—i.e., that the casual cruelty is no big deal, that nobody is ever held accountable, and that nobody even attempts to oust the twistedly corrupt founder, even as he dies and passes control over the another (unwitting?) sadist. So the book creeps its way into you and lingers, appropriately enough—but surprisingly, since when was the last time you read a book that didn’t build so much as pervade? For me, it’s been a while.

2) Too Good To Be True is smartly written and extremely compelling. I tore through it, appreciative of Anastas’s skill with a sentence as well as his rawness and aching heart. It’s a strong, tight, pulsing story of the most difficult period of his life, and I’m glad to have read it. I did experience a few lapses in empathy, probably more my issue than his, but  at least in interviews (a bit less so in the book), he seems to agree with me. Anyway, the book is deft, and I’ll likely read it again, mostly to look more closely at the structure.

3) Punished by Rewards. I love Unconditional Parenting, Kohn’s better-known book about, basically, treating your kids like people (connect, don’t correct; work with your child instead of on your child, etc.). Rewards is a more academic work, looking at study after study showing that incentives, awards, grades, and bribes are damaging to people in the long run. Moral of the story: Behaviorism works in the short term, which is why it’s so (so, so, so) pervasive in our culture. In the long run, it’s bad for everyone. Don’t do it.

4) Our conversation this morning:

J: I’m surprised by how much I like Mill on the Floss.

M: But Sweetie, it’s George Eliot! She’s brilliant!

J: I know, but I’m just so resistant to the canon, even though I know that she’s kind of marginal in it.

M: The Victorian women writers invented interiority!

J: Yeah?

M: They’re the reason that characters have emotional lives—your favorite thing!

J: Yeah?

M: All of that brooding on the moors and throwing yourself on the floor in anguish—that’s all them!

J: Yeah. It’s pretty awesome.

M: Agreed.

Two Movies Worth Seeing

Monday, November 5th, 2012

1) The Sessions. Funny, sweet, sad, and copiously humane, with a remarkably brave performance by Helen Hunt. John Hawkes and William H. Macy are also fantastic—particularly William H. Macy as a Berkeley priest in the 80s. Love the hair. And the track suit. And the compassion. This one earns a Highly Recommended!

2) Smashed. I wouldn’t have pegged this for a winner from the description, but it’s all in the execution. The script is so smart and tight and original and the acting is so precise that everything comes together beautifully. It’s less about alcoholism than it is about relationships, but of course it is also very much about alcoholism. Recommended, but only for peeps who like to dig in to the hard stuff.