Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Disturbance in the Force.

I know I'm way behind, but I actually thought the new Star Wars was good, and really good in some passages. The fight between Windu and Palpatin was thrilling and emotional, and that showdown between Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin was actually heartbreaking, I thought. I know I'm an easy cry, but seriously, I felt unexpectedly kind of undone by that scene.

Reasons why I shouldn't feel this way: George Lucas is a terrible, terrible writer; there's plenty of clunky staging; those crazy dissolves; there's agonistic music playing all through the tragic scenes, telling you the scenes are tragic; apparently they gave Padme a gradual lobotomy. Still.

I find myself wanting to watch the whole series (somebody stop me) just to follow its argument. I probably won't, but I have now reconstructed my earlier appraisal of Episode 2, and its whole thing about democracy and empire. I think now that this latest film is also offering a critique, if nascent, of such cabal-like organizations as the Jedi Council, the failure of which is total here.

Okay, I'll say no more, as I'm pretty sure this topic is exhausted for lots of people. But I'm on record. I'd rather see this one, flaws and all, than any of episodes 4, 5, and 6.

Go to sleep beat, wake up still beat (beater?).

Just taking my pulse this a.m. I have already been to the Driver License division for a points judgement (not mine, my daughter's--see earlier car accident post). She is on probation, which means that she has one year from the accident in which she must have no moving violation. Why does this make me feel jumpy?

The computer at home--since I'm operating away from home at the moment, perhaps the computer will not hear me when I say it is a sorry git of an information technology delivery device--is frozen. None of our home remedies--ctrl/alt/del, cursing, pushing the on-off button for longer and more vigorous periods of time--work. Sledgehammer, anyone?

I'm about to see Star Wars, which I haven't yet seen because my kids went with other, cooler people, and my husband, with eminent good taste and good sense, doesn't really care to see it. So said accident-prone, darling daughter will be my companion.

Hope your day feels a little less errand-y, frustrate-y, doldrum-y. Hope I feel some Aristotelian satisfaction in watching Anakin turn into pure evil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Eighties Synchronicity.

I drove with my daughter up to Logan today for a freshman orientation. Since it was her day (with the exception of five minutes, when I scoured the Utah State University Bookstore for a kind of binder with a spring clip that all the cool poets use for readings, to no avail), I let her choose the driving music from her folio of CDs, which happened to include my very own copy of The Immaculate Collection (Madonna, duh). She was kind enough to let me choose the playlist, which included my nomination for one great dance song, "Into the Groove." In the middle of the song, hearing these lines

At night I lock the door where no one else can see.
I'm tired of dancing here all by myself,
Tonight, I wanna dance with someone else.

I realized in a blinding flash that there were at least two other eighties songs that had the protagonist dancing by him/herself: Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," and Billy Idol's
"Dancing With Myself."

Any speculations on the meaning of this?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Karaoke and Writing Group.

Right now, on Family Guy, Peter Griffin and friends are doing karaoke--that song by Journey that starts "Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world." Reminds me of last weekend, when I was down at my parents with all my sibs. My youngest sister acquired a karaoke machine (as did my daughter) awhile ago. My mom liked it so much that she got one for herself, so she could sing the gospel songs of her youth with cheesy accompaniment, evidently. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyhoo, we all got into it. For my mom (and who am I kidding? I loved it, too) I sang "Moon River," as an homage to my childhood, when my brother and I were relegated to the back of the station wagon at the drive-in, after the kid movie (Born Free?) was over and Breakfast at Tiffany's had started. And, in an eerie synchronicity thing, there happened to be a Carpenter's disk, so we all sang "I'm On Top of the World" and "We've Only Just Begun" (but left "It's Yesterday Once More" alone, because that song is just wrong). However, the best karaoke moments of the evening included "Break Another Little Piece of My Heart," "We Belong" (Pat Benatar, with awesome hand-clapping action), and "Time Warp" from Rocky Horror (my sisters were disturbingly good at the dance for this). On another occasion, my son-in-law did an excellent "I Ran," though without the Flock of Seagulls hairdo, it was missing something. (He does a very good Fred Schneider on "Love Shack," as well, though he insists that he has retired this performance, a loss for us all.)

I'd be interested in hearing the best karaoke experiences of anyone who cares to offer one up. For one thing, it seems like a new karaoke disk would be a great gift for pretty much any occasion, so I want to be able to make an informed decision about which songs rock the most, or whatever.

Poetry Writing Group: Apparently no one in my writing group is worried about the death of poetry, because we all keep showing up with new poems. Today the group was at my house, which meant that last night, as I told my husband, I realized that not only did I need to clean up the house, make delicious and writing group-appropriate food, and decide what to do with Bruiser during the group--he is, shall I say, not poet-appropriate--I also had to write a poem. All of this and more I accomplished, with the assistance of the best husband on the planet. Here's the poem I brought to the group, revised as they suggested.

At least an aperture

We used to spiral past the tower house,
someone's fancy, visible only from the winding drive.
A single stroke of stone by another stroke incised:
crenellated head, a long slit eye as for arrows,
it seemed to be guuarding something,
but kept only its own counsel. I think that even
simple forms contain some little shutter,
some hinge, a pinhole out of which to peer.
The window, so fine a fissure from outside,
must rustle with homely draperies, some resident
with book or candle seeing the bright shifting blur
of peninsula cypress, road flurry. Was there glass?
I think the labor and whoosh of engine,
of tree-stir, tide would pierce that vestibule.
I think it was an opening cut in bone.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Charles Barkley Said.

At moments like these, I become philosophical, remembering the words of that sage, C.B., who said, "In a seven game series, the best team always wins."

I'm referring, of course, to the Pistons' loss to the Spurs. As I lay, desolate, in bed this morning, I told my husband that I thought that ultimately, the Spurs were just a little better than the Pistons. Duncan showed his true mettle, and I will acknowledge that Ginobli was pretty much revelatory. I love the Pistons--their no-star team ethos, for instance. I could go on, but I won't.

[Anyone who was rooting for the Spurs--you know who you are!--who's tempted to gloat about their triumph had better not, at least not around me, or our friendship will be over. OVER!]

Okay, so now the long winter until basketball starts again. In the meantime, my writing has been going well, so well that now I actually can conceptualize this rather lengthy piece of writing, so well, in fact, that I look forward to writing, that I actually believe, for the first time in a long time, that it's within my power to do this thing. Just so you know. Thanks to middlebrow for his research on behalf of my question, which is still open, by the way. You don't have to be an expert--in fact, I'd rather you weren't--to tell me your anecdotal evidence about whether poetry thrives or withers at the present cultural moment. So tell me, for the love of God and for the sake of science: what do you know?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Poetry: Dead or Alive?

I've been "working" on my "dissertation" today and yesterday and the day before that and, basically, for my whole freaking life. [Sorry, the total futility of it just spun me round (right round, like a record, baby, right round round round . . .).]

Anyway! I just (re) read Dana Gioia's uneven yet touched-a-nerve-until-we-jumped-up-screaming essay "Can Poetry Matter?" I'm asking myself about the general health of poetry, especially not as practiced/read by college professors or creative writing students. Can the readers of the megastore please help me by passing along any anecdotal information they may brew up?

Also, if you have actual social scientific data, we'd take that at the megastore, as well. We'd pay for it, in fact.

New purchases at the megastore: Frank Lentriccia's The Edge of the Night: a Confession ($0.88, plus shipping)

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Year of the Bat.

In the company of two of my sons, I saw Batman Begins this weekend. Both of them agree that it is the best of all Batmans so far.

Myself, I liked the comic-gothic Tim Burton Batman--great Danny Elfman score, for one; Jack Nicholson, sure; but I also liked Michael Keaton as Batman. A lot. Really, his portrayal is very much of a piece with Christian Bale's--I could see the two portraits sort of merging. What I like about a somewhat effaced Batman is that his heroic gesture is always somewhat compromised: he has no superpowers, only excellent equipment. His judgment and instincts about how to deploy the equipment are the only things he has going for him. I like a Batman where the restraint seems rooted in the personality.

This Batman also gives us a sort of renunciatory quality: the sense that, because of his restraint, his judgements, his instincts, and his secrecy, he is also somehow stunted, operating emotionally at a remove. This film explains the trauma (to get Freudian) that initiates the removal. It also gives that trauma a history. I loved the part of this film that has Bruce Wayne somewhere in the Himalayas (that's how I read it, anyway), abasing himself, then submitting to the quasi-spiritual discipline of the Shadow Brotherhood. Eerie connections with Kill Bill, featuring a similarly brutal discipline/disciplehood in the martial arts. What is it about the East? Once he comes back, all that zen seems to evaporate into tanks and body armor.

The last question the film raises for me is this: why do so many filmmakers want to take a crack at material like this?

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Sitcoms and the Sublime.

Middlebrow's recent posting which discussed WKRP in Cincinnati got me thinking about sitcoms. Friends and family have no doubt heard me opine (more than once--very sorry, friends and fam!) that there is little in life as rewarding as a good sitcom. For one, it's a reliable source of laughter in a world where laughter is necessary for survival. For another, it comes around every week! What a gift from the media gods.

As it turns out, WKRP was once a favorite of mine. There are bits from that show that I still fondly recall. I'm tempted to try to theorize what makes a great sitcom, but perhaps instead I will, in the tradition of Burke, Schiller, and Longinus, try to define what makes a sitcom of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth, not to be excelled, supreme:
  • a verbal virtuoso (which WKRP had--two times: Dr. Johnny Fever, in the manic vein, and Venus Flytrap, in the smooth vein. Add also the tightass Les Nessman performance, and you've got a triple threat going.)
  • a pompous blowhard (viz., Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Diane Chambers on Cheers, or, in the Alien Blowhard category, Dr. Dick Solomon on Third Rock from the Sun)
  • an amoral pleasure hound (extra points if it's a woman, like Karen on Will and Grace or Nina Van Horn on Just Shoot Me--which also featured a pretty consistently hilarious David Spade as Dennis Finch, who also belongs in this category)
  • sparkling repartee (Frasier, Cheers, Mary Tyler Moore)

There are other things that don't fit systematically, at least not for me. For instance, most family sitcoms leave me cold--but Malcolm in the Middle has been unbelievably funny sometimes, and some episodes are indelible. Ditto Everybody Loves Raymond. I will acknowledge the conceptual greatness of Seinfeld, and also confess that it largely left me cold. I found Friends absorbing, but I felt it undid its contract with the viewer in the last two seasons, so much so that I somehow failed to watch it during that period (exception: the always great Lisa Kudrow, esp. the episode wherein she channelled Kathryn Hepburn, apparently involuntarily, to her boyfriend's snooty folks).

Lastly, a shout-out to The Simpsons, and, more recently, Family Guy, both of which I watch only in the company of teenagers, a strategy which vastly enhances the aura of their greatness.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The 3 Rs, According to Phil Jackson.

On rejoining the Lakers: "It's a story about reconcilation, redemption. It's a story about reuniting."


Thank you to the Pistons for that excellent performance last night. I'm choosing to ignore the first two games of the series, especially rubber-man-flop-artist Manu Ginobli (okay, so he's great).

Monday, June 13, 2005

Over and over.

I have just finished re-viewing an episode of Without a Trace, a show I got into because I watched it with my daughter and her brand new baby (my granddaughter!) in Scotland last summer. It was a good episode, guest-starring Charles Dutton as a father whose son was kidnapped several years earlier who couldn't give up looking, even though the search was ruining his life--marriage, job, etc. Even though I knew how it ended, and that it ended in tears, I watched it again, just the same.

My first husband couldn't believe that I like to do stuff like this, especially with regard to movies. His philosophy was, there are so many things to do/see/read, repeating something is effectively choosing not to do something new, and thus constricting rather than expanding your horizon. This is certainly a legitimate point of view (although repeating the experience of some things, like recordings you love, seems more the norm. Plus, I believe that seeing a great movie is like looking at a wonderful painting more than once, except you sit in the dark and can opt to eat popcorn.). I, however, have been a repeater since my tender years. Here is a partial list of things I like just as much, and maybe better, upon repeating:

1. Re-reading certain novels--Harriet the Spy, Underworld, Housekeeping
2. Eating again and again at the same good restaurant (Thai Delight, Trio).
3. Eating the same thing at the same good restaurant (such as kung pao shrimp).
4. Eating the same thing at every restaurant in a certain category (such as kung pao shrimp at every Chinese restaurant I ate at during a certain era. Okay, let's not kid ourselves--I ate kung pao shrimp until I got sick of it, and then stopped eating at Chinese restaurants altogether, for the most part. I switched to Thai, where now I eat papaya salad).
5. Certain movies: Raising Arizona, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, French Kiss (really, there are too many to list in this category.).
6. Seeing certain movies in a theater repeatedly (I saw Cabaret eight times in various theaters, I think, and also The Way We Were and O Brother Where Art Thou?, though not quite that many times).

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Farmer's Market.

Despite the wet spring-into-summer we've had going on here in SLC, today was the first day of the farmer's market. I have been excited about the first day of the farmer's market since, like, January. I woke up this a.m. at 6:30 because Bruiser wanted to go out to check on the progress of the sleepover in the shed (2 teenage boys, Zoolander, bag of Doritos, massive amounts of Coca-Cola). When I got back in bed, I thought, how much longer do I get to sleep? an hour? oooh, the Farmer's Market! before I drifted off for another hour.

So, we got there about 8:30. It was already crowded beyond belief. Some of my favorite vendors weren't there today, which was both disappointing and alarming. What will I do if the herb lady's not there this year? Like an idiot, I let all my scented geraniums die because I didn't bring them indoors. How will I replace them? Etc. Still, we got: a bag of salad greens, a bag of arugula, a bunch of scallions and a bunch of garlic scapes (a very cool vegetable, excellent in stir-fry), a bunch of parsley.

There's a whole socio-economic-demographic thing going on with these types of occasions, obviously Lots of Tevas, dogs, outdoorsy clothing, a few infants in fancy infant carriers, etc. We saw a lot of people we know there, which says something, I guess. The fancy produce store that dr-write calls "Libert Heist" was there, selling figs. However, the guy who's, if not homeless, only marginally housed, who plays a cello with no spindle at the bottom outside the movie theater where we always go--he was there,playing beautifully, as always. Also the aging Utah Phillips type playing folk music on the guitar. Plus the west-siders who grow herbs and make furniture and other wood items--definitely not in the demographic, but they were there. I love the farmer's market. Once a week, it's all about beautiful, fresh green food, the various people who grow it, and people like me, who buy it and eat it.

Friday, June 10, 2005

My Awesome Kung Fu Moves.

Saw Kung Fu Hustle tonight, and have been contemplating what my kung fu moves would be if I were a kung fu master. The best thing about this movie is that all the masters are middle-aged people with bellies, and they often don't get out of their pajamas. So there's a guy whose kung fu signature is that he can basically go floppy and swerve without moving his feet. Also, there's landlady who wanders around with curlers in her hair, wearing a nightie, a cigarette hanging from her mouth, whose move is the Lion's Roar--which is essentially yelling really, really loud. (If I were a yelling mom, I would be in fighting trim, in other words. But I'm not. A yelling mom, I mean. Or in fighting trim, for that matter.)

I would like to be the kind of kung fu master who could fight from a supine position on a couch. Maybe I'd use a remote control as my secret weapon. (Some people have poles, some have axes, some have bands of steel on their wrists. I would wield a wicked remote.) Maybe also I could perform a lightning quick channel change to Fear Factor, a show I find really, really scary, to deal any necessary death blows.

Anyone? Signature kung fu moves?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Blog Lag and Retro Tea.

Blogs are for narcissists--this we know. Beneath all the quirky, opinionated observations and comments lies the obsessive heart of a raging egotist, checking for comments. (I won't say anything about how frequently I check, because what if I check more frequently than you do, and that makes me even more of an narcissist? Yikes.)

Just had to get that out of the way.

This afternoon, I met a friend for tea at the Beehive Tearoom downtown. This place aims squarely for quaint and hits the bullseye: little round tables, bent cane chairs, furniture that looks like your grandma's, walls painted the colors they painted walls in the forties, old forties-style jazz, lace curtains. And they've nailed the tea part, as well--you can have almost any kind of tea you can imagine (I noted that they've added the trendy bubble teas to their repertoire since the last time I was there). Also, dainty, very lady-like food, served in lady-like portions. The tearoom doubles as a wedding library, which means there's a wall o' books and mags about weddings that you could use, presumably, to get fantastic and very over-priced ideas about planning your wedding.

The proprietor also has a retro look. She's a young woman, but she wears vintage clothing, retro eyeware, and extremely buttoned-down hairdos.

I admit, I find this place charming. The clientele most days I've been there is women--young, middle-aged, old. I saw, for instance, another friend of mine there with her great aunt and other older female relations.

I suppose this is in contrast to the steam-spewing, noisy, burnt-smelling hustle of coffee houses. It's genteel, feminine, refined . . . Anyhow, among other things, it made me wonder what it is about retro. What, exactly, is the appeal of the throwback, the reconstituted, the slightly finicky evocation of the past?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

From whence the blog?

I am in a policy meeting at my place of employment at the moment (sample of the discussion: "what is a 'mission-critical asset'?"). Is this wrong?

On another note, I'm glad that the Pistons emerged victorious. When the Suns lost, and it looked like the Heat might actually win last night's game, I had a sinking feeling. Now I can enjoy watching the finals, with Tim Duncan (my son-in-law refers to Duncan's "evil genius"), Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, and so forth as the worthy opponent.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Oldies Radio.

Because my teenage children prefer music on the car radio (Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys, and, incongruously, Tupac and Fifty, in the case of the 18-year-old daughter; a mix of appropriately cool and oddly named bands for my 16-year-old son--the Zutons, the Postal Service), and because television news and even the local newspaper do such a thoroughly lame job of reporting, and because I'm driving a new used car, and have not yet transferred my mix tapes from the old wrecked one, when I have control of the radio--i.e., when I'm driving alone--I usually listen to NPR. But today, I turned my radio dial (metaphorically--it's all digital now) away from my local NPR affiliate and landed on oldies radio.

First of all, there are often great moments to be had on oldies radio--a song you haven't heard in five hundred years that gives you a feeling of great relief, as if you had been waiting to hear "Rocket Man" but didn't quite know it. Also, there are unbelievably serendipitous moments, where you think, I wish I could hear "Blackbird," and then the radio gives you what you asked for--or something pretty damn close, like "Here Comes the Sun." Also, old Rolling Stones loses pretty much nothing with the years ("Start Me Up").

However, there are disturbing moments, moments in which you realize that even music you despised at the time (the seventies), you may have listened to enough to be able to sing along (that Carpenter's song that has this chorus: "Every sha-la-la-la/ every whoa whoa-o/ still shines"). No thought I have summoned up--such as the revelation that many ultra-cool rock stars love Karen Carpenter's voice--has alleviated the frightening dimension of that unconscious and unbidden sing-along, which has brought on a sobering reconsideration of all the happy memories I cherish of my youth.

I'm going back to my old policy, for the time being, of listening to music only under controlled circumstances. It's not safe to drive when you're that weirded out, for one thing.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Taste: An Essay.

De gustibus non disputandam est, some Roman is said to have said. Roughly translated, this means, no matter how bad your taste is, nothing I can say will change it. Presumably, the Roman thought he had pretty good taste—he just threw up his hands at other people’s taste.

Discriminating is the best kind of taste—preferring only what is the most refined and excellent; discerning and selecting from among the dross the most beautiful, the most shapely, the rarest, the uncommon. For instance, in the world of art, someone with discriminating and discerning taste would be able to tell that the Picassos at the Milwaukee Art Museum aren’t the good ones. In the world of cinema, if you had discerning taste, you’d know that Ron Howard is a talented schlock-meister; that Sean Penn hams it up in Mystic River; that 21 Grams’ narrative contortions are gratuitous and not scintillating.

Discrimination is the essence of taste, in fact. And while I call the discriminator who called out the inferior Picassos in Beer-Town a snob, in fact, I make my own discriminations. I love my little independent music store, Orion’s, in the hip little strip of Sugarhouse. Sure, they have more interesting music than, whatever, Borders; but every CD I buy there has the cachet of having been purchased at a little independent music store, where the manager is hipper than thou, especially since younger than thou. Ditto my beautiful obsession with organic food. I pay a lot for the prestige of my cleaner-than-thine food.

Most of what we call principle shares a thin, permeable border with taste. Don’t eat meat, because you don’t want to be party to the slaughter? Are you sure you’re not just expressing a more refined judgment about what is proper to like and do? Doesn’t eschewing the actual dead pig to its soy simulacrum make you a better, more refined person? I think so, as I eat my delicious Boca Italian Sausage-like entity, pan-grilled and served in a toasted bun with organic ketchup and mustard (yeah, really) and a side of really good organic potato chips. You’ll have to try it.

[anyone who can find out who originally said the Latin proverb above wins a prize. Okay, mention of her/his name in this blog.]


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