Saturday, October 15, 2011

Michael took this picture when we visited the Chicago Botanical Garden a week or so ago.

It's raining right now.  It's getting colder.  And I say hurrah.

We've had ten days of startlingly perfect weather.  A mid-western Indian summer, warm dry days and cool nights.

And yet, a small voice inside me has been yearning for cold and wet.  I think the outdoors (in which I walk for at least an hour a day) is a place simultaneously stimulating, invigorating, and then, possibly, overwhelming.

I've read that Catholics distrust nature, and maybe a bit of that seeped into me.

However, when it's cold and wet, suddenly, the inside of my house is much, much cozier.  There's a reason to stay inside.  There's a reason to go to the basement and watch a movie, or read a book by a fire in the living room.  When thinking of wet, cold, or snowy weather, my instant physical sensation is: relief.

Maybe part of it is that to brave inclement weather, a greater effort is required.   Walking my dog, Arden (still alive, coughing incessantly, but active and tail-waggingly-enthusiastic for each day) in rain and snow is simultaneously more of a chore and more enjoyable.  When I come in the door I feel I've accomplished something. And it's something not everyone would do!  Ha.   So, you see, my need to feel superior is massaged by an arduous walk.

My husband might note that the dominant force is more accurately an overly-active martyr complex. Hmmm... touche.  Yes, and that's perhaps another vestige of my Catholicism.

What is true: martyr complexes emulsify nicely with a feeling of superiority.

On to other things:

I am grudgingly and yet hopefully back to my usual support of Obama.  I think I might have been too hard on him last month.  I like the jobs bill.  I wonder if our government is too broken for anything substantive to get passed given this Senate and House.  I am watching the Occupy Movement with a thrill.  If I weren't so damn happy to stay inside, I would be there.  It's very exciting.

But let's get to the books and movies of Sept. 2011, shall we?

Movies first!

1. Daisy Kenyon, 1947, dir by Otto Preminger  saw it twice
2. 3 Godfathers, 1948, dir by John Ford
3. The Invention of Lying, 2009, dir by Ricky Gervais & Mathew Robinson
4. Marely & Me, 2008, dir by David Frankel
5. Shine A Light, 2008, dir by Martin Scorcese
6. Cyrus, 2010, dir by Jay & Mark Duplass
7. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, 1949, dir by John Ford
8. Seeing Other People, 2004, dir by Wallace Wolodarsky
9. Gates of Heaven, 1978, dir by Errol Morris
10. Out of Africa, 1985, dir by Sydney Pollack
11. Rope, 1948, dir by Alfred Hitchcock
12. Harold & Kumar go to Whitecastle, 2004, dir by Danny Leiner
13. The Secret Garden, 1993, dir by Agnieszka Holland
14. Dr. Zhivago, 1965, dir by David Lean
15. Fiddler On The Roof, 1971, dir by Norman Jewison
16. Wagon Master, 1950, dir by John Ford
17. Heat Lightning, 1934, dir by Mervyn LeRoy
18. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, 2003, dir. by Errol Morris
19. The Tom Lehrer Collection, various dates, TV footage

Wow. I saw more movies in September than I thought.  Here, already halfway through October, I can predict I won't get the time for as many.  Poop.

September was a great month for movies.

Top of the list: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Wagon Master.  I am an uneducated fan of John Ford, and my friend Richard T. Jameson (RTJ) keeps sending me DVDs to watch, and this month I was completely knocked out.  Yes, I did appreciate and enjoy 3 Godfathers, but I was so deeply moved by She Wore - I actually cried - and then seeing Wagon Master - my mind was blown.   Wagon Master is so much like a Coen Bros. movie - very existential. The movie wanders with the characters who are all wandering!  It's simultaneously focused and unfocused.   And it really works: hallucinatory and riveting.

Daisy Kenyon was another surprise.  It was another movie RTJ sent me.  This film so easily could've been a superficial soap-opera, and it wasn't AT ALL.  Henry Fonda, and Joan Crawford in a great role, and Dana Andrews, all three wonderful actors in a romantic triangle.   I loved it so much, that a couple of weeks later, when I had some friends over for dinner, I suggested we watch it.  They all thought it was great.   I highly recommend it.

I really enjoyed hypnotic Shine a Light - the Rolling Stones concert doc by Scorcese.  Wowza, it's really been a Rolling Stones year for me.  And ohmygod, Harold & Kumar!  I laughed so hard - really really hard.  So hard that I think Michael became slightly disturbed by how funny I thought that movie was.  I have Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanomo from Netflix and will watch it this month some time.

Seeing Other People was another lovely, surprising movie.  It stars Jay Mohr and Julianne Nicholson and they play a very funny couple, they give very realistic, nuanced performances that are also highly comedic.  I thought it would be too broad for me but it was not too broad, it was delightful, ahead of it's time in my opinion. I wish Mohr and Nicholson would get together again and play a couple, they are perfect together.  Some of the reviews, which I try to read only after I see a film, claimed it was too sit-com-y.  I dunno, I laughed a lot. 

Didn't like Dr. Zhivago at all.  I'd seen it a million years ago.  Thought it was all style and no substance, but of course Omar Sharif is always sweet to look at.

I thought Cyrus was a perfect movie.  Pitch perfect. Yes, I did.  I loved every frame of that film.  I loved the tone, especially.  I was constantly surprised and I felt people behaved just like people do.   And yet the story had great suspense and movement and best of all the film was delightfully ambiguous.  I felt it was up there with An Education for me in my personal hierarchy of great films that I think I could possibly try to emulate in my own writing. Anyway, Cyrus, I really tickled by that film.  Jonah Hill was great - in fact the whole cast was exactly right.

Rope is a failure, but still great to watch. The interview with Arthur Laurentz - which is on the extras on the DVD - is very insightful.  It caused me to buy two of Laurentz's memoirs, which I hope to get to this month or next.  Laurentz mentions that the dream casting had been James Mason in the Jimmy Stewart role, and Montgomery Clift in the John Dall role.  I thought Dall was perfect - and was hankering to see Rope ever since I watched Gun Crazy.  On the other hand, Rope REALLY would have been a much better movie if it had had Mason and Clift and if Hitchcock had not insisted on basically stunt shooting the thing in long takes, which I could see deeply constrained the performances and the sense of movement.  Laurentz says Stewart is sexless, like a dopey oblivious uncle, and not the character he had envisioned for the professor.  Once he said this I realized immediately how right he was and how far the film had fallen by casting Stewart in the part - who apparently was completely unaware of the gay themes in the film.

Errol Morris is such a genius. I really loved Fog of War - very disturbing, that film.  We go to war for the such silly reasons which are sold by only a few people, people who are usually acquiescing to some paranoid fear raging inside of a couple of other people.   And it's going to happen again.   It's happening now.   OOOOkay....   Not going there.   Oh, I loved Gates of Heaven too.  Michael and Mulan and I visited a pet cemetery (the film is all about a pet cemetery in California) in San Francisco this past summer.  A pet cemetery is simultaneously poignant and ridiculous.  Morris got that combination of feelings perfectly, I thought.

Books read in Sept. 2011

1. The Myth of Free Will, Revised and Expanded Edition, written by Cris Evatt
2. The Givers & the Takers, written by Cris Evatt
3. The Wizard of Lies, written by Diana B. Henriques
4. One Good Turn: A Novel, written by Kate Atkinson
5. When God is Gone, Everything is Holy, written by Chet Raymo

Well, where to begin...  The Myth of Free Will was pretty good. I am just beginning my deeper reading on the subject of free will.  I guess I'm convinced that we don't have it, but I'm unsure - so far - how this acceptance effects my behavior and judgement. It's a tricky thing.  How do you parent when you don't believe in free will?  Surprisingly, it makes me much more compassionate.  Also, it makes me more accepting of my own attempts to shape my child.  This is what I keep thinking: new information is an event, like any other event.  It has effects, like weather, war and strokes of great luck and serendipitous random occurrences.  Therefore understanding that I have no free will is also an event. I guess what I'm saying is that I realize my own actions, driven unconsciously by forces I have no control over, still - obviously - have an effect on the world around me.  Those effects also drive unconscious forces in other people who will respond whatever way or however way they are going to respond.  It's simultaneously empowering and dis-empowering.  Okay, I'm not explaining this properly - partly because I have only a limited grasp of the concepts myself and how I digest them into my own psyche.  So, I will stop for now, but this is an ongoing idea that I continually turn over in my thoughts.  Evatt's book is a breezy, and dare I say light?, a summary of the leading thoughts on the subject of free will.  I read another one of her books too, The Givers & The Takers, which divides the people of the world into one or the other.   It's over-simplifying things, to be sure, but there were some good take-aways from it.  For example, "Give to givers and take from takers."  I've kept that in mind and it's been helpful.

I enjoy Kate Atkinson's books.  There are three books in this mystery series, and One Good Turn is the second in the series.  She's such a delightful, funny, surprising writer.  I'm in love with her protagonist, Jackson Brodie - an ex-cop, ex-detective, divorced-dad who is so endearing and hapless and intelligent.  I often laugh out loud while reading Atkinson.

Now, I must say the Bernie Madoff book, The Wizard of Lies, was FANTASTIC.  Ohmygod, you must read this book.  Diana Henriques is a fair and exacting writer.  I never really understood exactly what was going on with the Madoff case. I mean, I understood it was a big ponzi scheme, but I didn't pay close attention to the details.  It's heartbreaking.  I want to see the movie. I want Aaron Sorkin to write the script.  The whole story is mind-boggingly compelling.  I drove Michael crazy, after every page I had to tell him what was happening.

Lastly, and I feel bad that I'm running out of gas here because I have so much feeling for these books - I love Chet Raymo.  I want to meet this man.  We are so similar - Catholic, appreciative of the culture - or at least parts of the culture, but ultimately non-believers.  When God is Gone, Everything is Holy was like a meal I'd been waiting to devour.  The book is mostly chapters musing on this and that.  My criticism is that the book should have added up to more, but it's meant to be written in a non-linear and wandering fashion.  On the other hand, I agreed with almost everything he wrote and felt so similarly.  I love this guy. I really appreciated this book. I want to read his other books, now.

Well, today I'm heading over to Space, to do the first of eight workshop performances for the book I'm writing: If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother. I'm going to read three chapters I've written, and riff on three story ideas I may write up.  I'm going to tell stories I could not tell in my book, and it's going to be very casual and I hope fun.  I also hope there are a few people there.  This is what I did when I began the process of writing Letting Go of God.  I went to the Knitting Factory (a club in L.A. that was supposed to be like the one in NYC) on a late afternoon every week for several weeks and just plowed through what I was working on at the moment.  It was extremely helpful.

I have a new assistant and she just started this week.  I haven't had a helper in a long, long time.  Her name is Pam.  I'm looking forward to working with her, we are really clicking.  She'll be there today at the show.

Well, for this month (sadly, two weeks overdue) that's all folks!