Sunday, April 29, 2018

Today's Reading

Today I read "Japan's Rent-a-Family Industry" by Elif Bautman, one of my favorite New Yorker writers.
The article is great, very long and in-depth, which is one of the reasons why I love the NYer. They commit to a lot of journalism that takes time.
This industry is so fascinating and causes Bautman to meditate on the nature of relationships and why money seems to alienate our thinking about relationships.
For me, the article made me think about several aspects of this industry that are curious. One, is there something uniquely Japanese about this phenomenon? Bautman makes the argument that, for example, many cultures have had or currently have "rental mourners" for funerals. I'm not sure that's enough to make me think there isn't something uniquely Japanese about this trend.
That said, for a time in graduate school I thought it was a funny idea to have a "Rent a Boyfriend," not for any sexual purpose, but someone to bring you kleenex and chicken soup when you were sick, maybe someone to come over and wash your dishes or bring you a movie to watch (this was pre-streaming, obviously).
Bautman discusses the many tasks we already pay others to do, such as taking care of our children, or cleaning our houses, or cooking. We have disentangled those tasks from the relationship with the person who performs it (usually a mother/woman). But other tasks, such as the nurturing which might accompany those chores, seems diminished when coupled with pay.
The concepts are so interesting. She discusses Marx or course and Gilman, along with other theorists.
But the whole scene raises interesting questions about how difficult it is for us to initiate, maintain, have relationships in cultures where we are increasingly alienated from ourselves and each other. What's the alternative to rent-a-family?
I guess we have to work hard to make and maintain close relationships. I am lucky in that I am close to my parents and my sisters, but I know that is not the case for everyone. I think our increasing separation from others contributes to the growing depression in our midst. (Well, that and politics.)
But I think if we can get together, whether it's for lunch or coffee or parties or dinners, and just sit down and relax and be and feel, I am confident that we will be happier.
To that end, I'm going to try this idea I heard about on The Splendid Table. I really love this idea of a weekly supper, but to be realistic, maybe once a month. I'm only human!
And now I have to get back to my regular Sunday, which involves swimming and, today, a whole lot of grading. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Hello World!

Since I have given up the FB, I am going to try to blog instead.
I look back on our blogging heyday (yes, OUR) with great nostalgia. I feel like I can be long-winded and go on and on and also I can say whatever I want. And also there is less snark on the blog, perhaps because there are fewer comments?
In any case, as soon as the insanity that is the last few weeks of class is OVER, then I will be blogging with wild abandon.
say it with me....

Monday, June 12, 2017

Iceland: the first

I am newly returned from Iceland.
I am trying to remember what I did and how I did it, but oye! I think I was sleep deprived for 95% of the time I was there. I may very well still be sleep deprived. We shall see.

So, I always have this idea that I will follow these very exact rules for how not to get jet lag, but first, I can't really sleep on planes. So that. The main rule is to start eating according to the time where you are going the day you leave. So, I didn't do that, and then when they offered me free salad and free wine on the flight, I took it! Yeah!

Then I maybe got two or three head-jerking, superficial hours of "sleep," and then arrived at Reykjavik! I had already booked a shuttle to town, which takes about 45 minutes. Then I transferred to another bus that dropped me off about a ten minute walk from the place I was staying.

The place, basically the lower floor of a house, was awesome, and right next to the University of Iceland, where my conference was. After consulting a map, I figured out which way I was going and found the place. I dropped off my extremely too heavy back pack, and got my bearings. I believe this was when I walked around the neighborhood, found a grocery store but was too confused to do much except buy coffee and a banana. I took the long way home and got a bit lost, but saw some cool stuff. I went back to our flat, dropped off the stuff and headed over to the University.

I couldn't register for the conference yet, so I bought a salad, which was not too expensive, in the student center. Then I registered for the conference, ran into some friends, and went to a roundtable with one of them, Laura. She was presenting, but there were so many people that each person just read for about 5 minutes. Overall it was pretty amazing, and one woman played a song she had written on her fiddle. She had an amazing Scottish accent. During this panel, I felt like my face was melting.

After this panel, there was free wine! Always drink free wine! So I drank some wine and talked to people I knew, all the while feeling like my head was a balloon being blown about by some invisible wind. I was going to go back to the flat, have a handful of trail mix and crash, but Brenda, my flatmate, convinced me that I should eat dinner.

We went to the Nordic House and I had fish, I think it was cod, with a rhubarb reduction and roasted vegetables. It was delicious and $40!! Then I went home and crashed, and I had a great night's sleep, with my eye mask and my ear plugs!

top: my adorable flat!
bottom: view from my walk around the neighborhood

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Small Dose of Nothing

Because in all things I want to be like Hightouch, I am blogging, though I have no breaking news. But, hey, even I can write a list, if the list is the thing to write. Which, apparently, it is.

  1. Every day, I think, "This is it! It's all going to come crashing down!" And by "it" I mean, the end, how can we go on this way? But, apparently, we can, go on this way, I mean, so it goes on and we go with it, like a child being dragged by a very strong dog. But hey, it can't go on like this forever. CAN IT???
  2. I finished a draft of one novel (regular, literary fiction); am now making chapter outline for almost finished novel (written before other novel, mystery!!). My other novel (yes, that makes three) is out with some small publishers who have been silent, so that probably means no. But I have almost three manuscripts, so that can't be bad...can it?
  3. Meditating on the nature of empathy and sympathy. You don't want to hear about it, but it involves an argument with Middlebrow and the idea that some of us should just "buck up." Hey, I'm all for bucking, but sometimes isn't feeling bad justified? And can't we empathize with those who are feeling bad and even, maybe, feel bad on their behalf even if they are feeling bad about first world problems? Empathy can't be a bad thing, can it?
  4. So there's the theme...can it? The rhetorical question that actually, right now, from me, requires an answer. What is one to do in such perilous times?
  5. I find myself turning away from news, reading books about alternate universes, fantasizing about living in a cabin right by a lake where there is no internet service but there is a canoe. That's my mental state right now. 
  6. I think the answer is NO. As in no, it can't go on forever; no, it's not bad that you have three unpublished manuscripts; no, empathy isn't bad. And no, there's nothing wrong about indulging my escape fantasies.
  7. The end. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

20th Century Women

Ever since the Oscar nominations came out, I have been obsessed with the idea of seeing all the movies. Have I actually seen any? I said. Obsessed. Idea.
But today I drove myself downtown to the little theater to see a movie by myself. Seeing a movie by myself during the day feels like even more of an indulgence than just seeing a movie. I should say that I did, in fact, see a Sundance movie during the day about two weeks ago, but that's ancient history now. On with the Oscars!!
So I should just say that, before today, I had seen Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea, and La La Land. Of those, Moonlight is my favorite. I love the look of it, and the acting, and the emotional melancholy of it. Also, it felt real and emotional without being sappy or trite. (Also, aside, am I the only one who thinks Andre Holland should star in a Prince biopic? I mean, eyelashes!!) I liked Manchester by the Sea, I think Casey Affleck was amazing in it (but he's also an asshole?), but it's all white people all the time. La La Land was good, but ultimately disappointing (sorry!!).

Which brings me to 20th Century Women. Oh. My. God. I love it so much that I'm probably not being completely honest about its flaws (it must have flaws, right?). But I LOVE the form of it, and I LOVE Annette Bening, and I LOVE the kid who plays Jamie. I love Greta Gerwig more than I have loved her in other things and holy shit, Billy Crudup. I mean, I can't believe it didn't get nominated for Best Picture.  I think the script is better than La La Land for sure. Oh well.
This movie is especially powerful/heartbreaking for those of us with sons, and maybe particularly with sons who are the exact age as the son in the movie, Jamie.
The movie is witty and wry and smart and sad. If you haven't yet, you should read this profile of Mike Mills from The New Yorker. Once I read it, I became obsessed with seeing the movie. I found his comments in the profile interesting, especially about making art and his relationship with his wife, Miranda July. For some reason, he thinks she is more of an artist than he is, but I would disagree. I thought her movie was flat and self-indulgent. His movie, I think, is transcendent and emotional and real, as well as being formally innovative and interesting. 

It is just so, so good that I would see it again if I weren't so obsessed with the idea that I can see nine movies in 19 days. Oh, that's totally doable. Except that I'm rather ho-hum at the prospect of seeing Hacksaw Ridge, so I might not see that. But I would totally see the rest, but I might not get to.
What is your favorite movie of the year?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Sundance: First Weekend

This is my second year volunteering at Sundance, at the Grand Theater on the SLCC-South City campus. It's a huge (huge!) venue, 1100 seats!, so I see a lot of people during the two movies that play during my volunteer shifts.
This year I am part of the "inside theater" team, which means I do a variety of things. On the first day, Saturday, I worked re-entry on the balcony. On Sunday, I handed out and collected ballots for the first movie, and ushered for the second.
Saturday was pretty easy. It had snowed over night, so the first movie was pretty slow. Overall, all of that day was pretty calm.
I'll run down the movies in order and give you my reviews!
"Novitiate": This movie was set in the '60s. It was about a young woman, Kathleen, who grows up and decides to become a nun. Most of the movie was set in the convent and followed the young women as they take their first vows, confess to their flaws (yikes!), and then go through the changes as a result of Vatican 2. This movie was interesting. It dragged in parts, but I certainly learned a lot about convents and nuns. I anticipated the obligatory lesbian love scene, but was disappointed when it actually happened. I'm sure it's accurate, but it feels cliched. In any case, I'm glad I saw it as it wasn't a movie I would ever have chosen. And I learned a lot. I'd give it TWO stars (out of five).

"Their Finest": This movie follows a young woman during WWII as she becomes a writer for a propaganda feature film that is supposed to increase morale. This movie was occasionally heavy, but overall it was a comedy, based on a true story, or true stories. I thought this one was very good. All the actors were great, especially Bill Nighy. He's always great. Parts seemed heavy handed, but all in all, I would recommend it. THREE stars.

On Sunday, I worked as a balloteer. This meant handing out ballots as people went in, then collecting them in a ballot box as they left. Crazy town!! People going in were very serious about rushing in and getting the absolute best seats. It was so hard to hand out ballots quickly. My co-balloteer said, "That was the worst ten minutes of my life."
I got to see the movie "Chasing Coral" which was probably the MOST beautiful movie I have ever seen. When I heard it was about coral, I thought it would be boring. First, they have the most amazing footage of underwater scenery I have ever seen. Sea Dragons!
Also, they have amazing scientists, etc. But the main character, besides coral, turns out to be Zack, this adorable young man (he's probably in his 20s) who LOVES coral. So some of the movie follows him as he documents coral bleaching.
The whole thing is incredibly heartbreaking. Basically, global warming causes the water temperature to rise which kills coral, which kills all the other life forms that live on coral.
Also, you probably knew already, but coral IS AN ANIMAL.  I still can't get my mind around that. It seems like a plant. It is not a plant.
This movie is excellent. Everyone should see it. Warning: you will cry. About coral. Yep, you definitely will. FIVE stars!!

Luckily, the second movie was not balloted. But it had Robert Redford in it. Sadly, he was not there. But people were crazy for this movie and the theater was pretty packed! I worked as an usher. Basically this means hovering around seats that have magazines draped over them and trying to enforce the "no seat saving" rule.
"The Discovery": Basically, RR is a scientist who discovers proof of the afterlife. People start killing themselves in droves. The movie centers on Jason Segal and Rooney Mara and what happens to them. I liked much about this movie. It kind of seemed like an extended thought problem. A lot of it worked. I liked the visual representations of the afterlife. As in any movie like this, at the end, there were many questions! I had to explain parts of it to a woman sitting next to me. But it made a certain amount of sense to me. I agreed with a co-worker who said the main couple didn't really have chemistry. Agreed! I like both of them, so it was hard to see that when they spark. But, that said, I still liked the movie and would recommend it, especially if you like the premise. FOUR stars.

I'm excited to see some movies this week, but also exhausted!! It's fun to volunteer and see movies. I also get some tickets, but last year I didn't use them all. So, I probably won't this year either. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Writing

Now that I am trying to be more regimented about my sabbatical writing, I sat down and wrote out a few things, long hand, in a notebook.
Later, I discovered a few stories I had written last summer, and I "fell in a hole" by which I mean I read them and that took some time.
But then, then!, I started a new story with these same characters and I wrote quite a bit on that.

All this to say that I should be/want to work on my non-fiction project, but I find it much easier to work on the novel, because I can just write whatever.

But! part of my research was looking up hit songs from my past, and so I give you this list:
Dancing Queen, ABBA
My Sharona,The Knack
TUSK, Fleetwood Mac
Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield
Jack & Diane, John Cougar
Missing You, John Waite
Careless Whisper, Wham!
Broken Wings, Mr. Mister

I look forward to see what writing might be inspired by this titles....