Monday, December 31, 2012

The Blogging Every Day In the Year 2012 project: a letter to my readers.

Dear reader of hightouchmegastore,

Today is the last day of the Blogging Every Day In The Year 2012 project. I have blogged 362 times up to this point. Assuming that the world does not end before I publish this post, I will have blogged 363 times. That's only three days missing, if I'm counting right--2012 was, as you may or may not remember, a leap year. (I had to go back and check.) In any case, I feel satisfied that I have fulfilled the spirit of my project, if not the precise letter.

...(363) as soon as I publish this.

I worried, at a certain moment, that I would reach a saturation point--that there wouldn't be enough topics. Well, not that there wouldn't be enough topics, but that the genre of the blog post would become tedious. Well, not even that. I worried, I think, that I would reach the limits of my own inventiveness. That's probably the nature of a project like this--it's not enough to just do it, one wants to do it well. One wants not to say, at the end of a day, "Actually, I don't have anything to say. Also, my dinner was boring, and also my lunch, so I can't write about that. Also, my character is shallow and materialistic and perhaps I am a narcissist? Also, I am annoyed with myself for having promised...who, exactly? a post a day. Unreasonable. I'm a bad person. Blah. No more!"

But now, having finished it, I admit that I feel proud of this project.  I admit that I liked saying, "I'm blogging every day in the year 2012." As the year went on, I liked saying it more and more.

And I like the blog as a form of writing. People have said that blogs are over, and I can see that they might be, in some sense. But I like that the blog post is more elastic than the tweet or the status update. I like that it invites a little more exploration, that it can contain more than one link, that it can reach out to other sources in more expansive ways. I like what I've learned about writing from writing a blog.

The nice thing is that I can and will still keep writing here. I might not write every day, but I do like knowing I could if I wanted to. And I really am grateful--truly--to you, dear reader, for reading what I write here, regularly or intermittently. I think of you as my friend.  I find that I like writing for my friends.

Happy New Year to you! I hope to be reading your blogs, status updates, tweets, comments, and other writing in all genres in the bright new year 2013.

love, htms

p.s.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The last party.

We are having a party on New Year's Day, a dinner party, and a big group of family are invited. We started trying to have our dinner after Christmas, because the number of events multiplied by the enormous number of family connections multiplied by a factor of divorces/remarriages would knock the breath out of you if you tried to have a dinner before Christmas. At least that's what we've found.

This means, though, that after having baked myself unconscious, practically, I needed to dig deep within and contemplate making food for around thirty five adults and children. Come up with something to make, then a plan for making it. Shop for the food. Find a place to put it. Then cook it.

Truthfully, I love doing it. I've really enjoyed learning how to cook for a big party, making everything festive and delicious, and it's fun to have an occasion for trying things I've not tried before. Simultaneously, I've tried to figure out how to scale back a little--how to cook a lot because we need a lot, but not so many things, and not so many complicated things. This simplifying goes pretty well in theory, but in actual execution, simple tends to flower into fancy pretty quickly. Here's what I mean.

Awhile ago, whilst roaming the aisles of Target, I came across an adorable teacake pan:
It was marked down for some unknown reason, and is everything a person might want in a teacake pan and more. Of course I bought it. Have I made teacakes? No, of course not. This pan belongs to a parallel life, the same parallel life occupied by the several sets of teacups and saucers (and matching tiny versions, demitasse size) I also happen to own, i.e., a life I do not actually lead, but imagine myself leading with great vividness. It is a fine life, with leisure in it, and friends who also have leisure, because they come over for tea and cakes. Adorable little cakes, baked in a teacake pan.

Well, be that as may be. As I was thinking about what to make for our holiday dinner--perusing my previous menus, feeling generally uninspired, contemplating a menu of sandwiches and potato chips--I thought, well, at least I know what I'll make for dessert. Petits fours, that's what! That's right: I imagined anchoring my festive post-holiday meal, to which three dozen people were coming, with tiny little, labor-intensive cakes, for which I would need not only to identify a foolproof recipe (doesn't exist), but also master a number of techniques (not going to happen).

In my thoughts, I carried around the petits fours version of this dinner, with a hazy, vague entree and ill-defined side-dishes hovering around the tiny, unbearably cute dessert portion of the meal, for a few days. But shit, as they say, got real when I started trying to find a recipe, a made recipe, vouched for by other bakers, one that would not result in tears when the cakes came out of the pan, or when I attempted to cover them with a suave ganache. Petits fours, as it happens, are a pain in the ass. This is a truth universally agreed upon by all who have ever tried to make them. I myself tried to make them once, prior to the acquisition of the adorable pan, and they were a pain in the ass at that time, and a pain in the ass they remain, apparently.

Fine. I said to myself. I will make petits fours another day, when so much is not at stake. When I have leisure, and my friends will have leisure. And we will sit in the back yard under the cherry tree, and drink tea and eat cakes, and life will be beautiful. I.e., never.  Scratch that 25%-of-a-menu-plan. What next?

I Googled "New Year's Day dinner" and "New Year's Day buffet" and "festive holiday dinner" and came up with these two ideas: Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagne, and Tuscan Roast Turkey Breast. That led inevitable to this plan: two entrees, a lovely salad, fruit, roasted vegetables, and dessert, whatever it might be. I plotted out the shopping list and a basic scheme for cooking the food. I invited my daughter to come food shopping with me.

"What are we having for the party?" she asked.

"Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagne and Tuscan Roast Turkey Breast," I said. As soon as I said the words "Butternut Squash" and "lasagne," I knew it would not do. I knew that half the people coming to the party would eat it. But I knew that the other half of the people would find it repellent and vile, in large part because half the people were children. Why should I make a dish that I knew children would hate? Why?

"That sounds..." my daughter hesitated.

"...awful, right?" I knew it. I knew it.

"Yeah, I tried, but I can't find a way to say that sounds good," she said. Menu revised: vegetarian lasagne of the more traditional kind.

Does this menu sound simplified? Well, maybe not. I am cooking parts of it on three successive days. For instance, I have made a cake today already. I've also made the lemon curd that goes into another dessert. Tomorrow I will make yet another dessert. That's right: there will be three desserts. In my defense, I believe they will be delicious. And at the end of the affair, that will be the last of the holiday cooking, and we will begin the rigors of the new year. The end.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Free.

Today, my daughter, son, a friend, her daughter and I went to the dollar movie to see Pitch Perfect.  Somehow, I had missed seeing this movie which is entirely up my street, with a cappella choirs singing competitively. It was shot partially at LSU, where my daughter is studying, so she actually saw some of the action, including running into the ultra-tiny Anna Kendrick on campus.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie so, so much. My son, the soccer coach, gave it an 8 out of 10, which seems about right, but my enjoyment was pretty much maximum. It was funny, which was a bonus, but the singing and the music were just wonderful. So that was a good way to spend the afternoon, we all agreed.

We drove home to find the historian having spent a satisfying afternoon reading, napping, and taking the dog for a walk, all in the blessed, blessed calm of a house where almost everyone but himself was gone. He and I had a date planned--we were going to get Mexican food and then go to the Tower, where they were showing City Lights. This seemed both delightful and also virtuous, City Lights being a film I had never seen before, a venerable film, part of the history of film, and entirely worthy.

But as we were talking at dinner about all sorts of things, including Pitch Perfect, I said, "I would see it again in a heartbeat."

"Maybe we should do that," he suggested.

I paused. If the pause had been shot in slow motion, it would have been a really really really really long pause, my fork suspended between my enchilada and my mouth, my mind filled with the history of my relationship with the historian, with the many, many moments when he said or did something sweet that he knew might make me happy. The pause would also have included the full extent of the ethical dilemma: should I see a film that would fill in a gap in my knowledge, and thus take the dutiful path of obligation and seriousness? should I instead see a film that was, in all honesty, sort of a throwaway, and for a second time? in the same day? and would the historian enjoy it? and would I be selfish if I said yes? well, would I?

So I said, "Really? Wouldn't you prefer to see City Lights?" ( . . . and all that choosing that film implies, I thought, fleetingly.)

"Not necessarily," he said. He looked like he meant it too.

So that's what we did. And the people, I did enjoy Perfect Pitch for a second time on the same day, and very much indeed.

After we got home from walking the dog, running son (on crutches--the running is existential, not actual, at least not at the moment) was upstairs, rummaging in the refrigerator. "How was City Lights?" he asked.

I told him what we had done. "On the same day?" he said, shaking his head. (Literally: he shook his head at me.) "Did you enjoy it, John?"

"I did," said the historian. He sounded like he meant it.

"Seeing a movie twice in one day makes you feel free," I said to the historian, putting on my robe. "Because you just do it because you want to, and you don't feel like you should go see this or that film, just because you haven't seen it yet."

Yep, the people: these are the lengths we go to around here--and by "we" I mean "me"--not to let things be the boss of us. Like Charlie Chaplin. Or movies we haven't seen. (But for real, I did love Pitch Perfect:)


Friday, December 28, 2012

My year at the movies.

Not in order. See "*" indicators for movies I especially liked or valued.

A Dangerous Method: ** Against all the tides of opinion, I loved this film. I'm not quite sure I should have, but maybe that's why I did. Viggo Mortensen is Freud, Michael Fassbender is Jung, and Keira Knightly is Sabina Spielrein. It's about the systems of psychotherapeutic thought, and the uses to which psychotherapy may be put. It's vivid and sexual and heartbreaking.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: * I also thoroughly enjoyed this. When I say this in knowing company, they always point out that the third MI is the good one. I'll take your word for it, knowing company. But I still had a good time, and the shots of the action were incredible. So there. (Maybe a bit long? And: if you didn't see it in the theater, never mind. There's really no point on a small screen.)

Tintin: I think they should have made this into eight little fifteen minute shorts, with cliffhangers at the end of each. As a full length film, it was cool-looking but tedious.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: * We both quite enjoyed this. I thought Gary Oldman as Smiley was splendid. It was a quiet, quiet movie. I found myself literally leaning forward to catch every breath.

Big Miracle: * Here's what I said about this movie when we saw it: "Last night, the historian and I saw Big Miracle because we were in the mood for a movie that would not (a) trouble us with its flaws, (b) make us mad at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or whatever it's actually called, because the movie in question was (1) nominated, and (2) undeserving, or (c) make us feel sad or depressed or downtrodden. I think we can all agree, there are times when the offerings in the theaters all exhibit one or more of these negative traits (Shame, Albert Nobbs, and War Horse, I am looking at you). So we saw the whales in jeopardy movie, and surprise, it was quite a bit better than we thought it would be without beating us over the head by being a Major Work of Art. It had a fair amount to recommend it, though: a good cast, all doing swell work in small roles; a more complex-than-you'd-think take on the whole (mostly true) story; interesting observations about politics and conflicting/coinciding interests; and whales. Entirely satisfying, and that was without popcorn. Just think if I had had popcorn!"

The Vow: Schmaltzy nonsense. Which we saw on our anniversary, so sue me. The leads were appealing. Appealing-ish. Oh whatever. Can't really recommend it at all.

The Secret World of Arrietty: ** Loved. Here's what I said about it when we saw it: "It's not quite Spirited Away, but it was so delicate and beautiful and moving, I just loved it."

Wanderlust: * Enjoyed thoroughly. Everyone was funny and there was a lot to love: Paul Rudd is always great as a handsome-but-not-too-handsome guy. Jennifer Aniston: also charming and funny, reminding me yet again that she deserves many more and much better comedic roles. Justin Theroux as a way chilled out hippie dude on the make--very, very funny. Worth your time if you're looking for a laugh.

Lorax: Fine. Took lots of grandchildren. Loud, as these things are now wont to be.

Friends with kids: I read someone put this on their worst of the year list. Really? I didn't think it was great, but also interesting enough, well-performed, both funny and poignant...? Well, anyway, it wasn't on my worst of the year list.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: This movie is sentimental and improbable and has the excellent good sense to have Emily Blunt and the ever-wonderful Ewan McGregor. See if you like sentimental and improbable movies with very attractive stars and gorgeous scenery, and mostly decent and even very good acting. I liked it, but I won't say I should have.

Footnote: *** One of the very best movies I saw this year. Completely indelible and utterly original. A father and a son, both Israeli Talmudic scholars, are in a mixup as to who is going to be awarded a prestigious prize. There is a scene with one of these two characters arguing with a tiny, crowded roomful of academics that is one of the most riveting scenes I have ever seen. See it, see it!

Jeff Who Lives At Home: *  Purty darn good. Someone put this film on his best of the year list. Nope. Not really. But it was good. The two brothers, played by Ed Helms and Jason Segal, are just great. And Susan Sarandon as their mom--terrific. The movie is small. The ending, ultimately, is improbable. Still, I liked it.

21 Jump Street: Boy, I wanted to like this. My kids all loved it and I read all sorts of reviews that said it was surprisingly funny/sharp/other adjectives that were adjacent to "good." But I did not like it, and that's that. This fact, that I did not like it, has led to an intermittent and ongoing argument with my kids ever since about how wrong I am. Well, take that, my kids: no stars for this movie on my blog.

The Hunger Games: ** I thought this was terrific. Saw it twice, and found it great both times. It had most of the complexity of the book, was visually satisfying as a representation of that world, had terrific acting throughout, and created an emotional experience that mirrored the spectacle-craving of our own culture. Well done, all involved!

Mirror Mirror: Directed by Tarsem Singh, who also directed The Fall, one of my all-time faves. This was jokier and bouncier in its tone, but visually a joy, and plenty of fun.

Damsels in Distress: ** I really, really enjoyed this. One, I love Greta Gerwig, and she was absolutely charming in this. Two, I have enjoyed the films of Whit Stillman, and this did not disappoint. Three, it had hilarious little subplot/jokes, like the vaguely invoked sexual practices of the Cathar religion (?!) that make you think, what now? in the best possible way. Four, it had terrific little cameos by Audrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat. And five, it involved dancing! Including the great ambition of its heroine to start an international dance craze. I saw this movie twice, once at the dollar theater with some kids, and the fact that they found it weirdly enjoyable speaks, I believe, for the sheer enjoyment to be obtained from this little gem.

The Five Year Engagement: Yes. Good. Solid but not masterful. Having the following to recommend it: Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Rhys Ifans, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, and a few other fine players. Having the following to somewhat dampen the whole affair: a ridiculous ending. Now, I generally don't hold a happy ending against a film, but this one features a wedding that made me feel grouchy. Just bear it in mind, is all I'm saying.

Bernie: * Odd and good. A treat to see Jack Black mostly play down his outsize self, singing like an angel, being sweet to one and all until things get ugly. Better: Shirley MacLaine as a tough old bird. Better still: Matthew McConaughey as the town sheriff. Most of the other characters are played by townspeople from the actual town wherein the true-life events of the film transpired.

The Avengers: * Thoroughly enjoyed, except for the lethal amount of popcorn I accidentally ate. Here's what I said: "I will eat no more popcorn forever, is what I told my son this afternoon. "Yeah, you will," he said. And he's probably right. Luckily, the popcorn-of-death syndrome did not strike until after the movie, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Mark Ruffalo plays my all-time favorite The Hulk, which heretofore was Bill "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" Bixby, of the television show. Seriously, that was some fine family entertainment."

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: * This movie can take all the knocks you'd like to say it has--possible hackneyed plot, sentimental...hmm, I'm not sure I can think of what any more of the knocks should be, since what I mostly remember is a radiant performance by Judi Dench, an agreeably acid Penelope Wilton, and sweet (not cloying) turns by Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy. Also, Judi Dench's clothes are what I want to wear when I get old (-er).

Moonrise Kingdom: ** I saw this twice, once with the historian after the Great Avengers Popcorn-Eating Debacle, and once with my daughter later in the summer. The first time, I was not at my best and I may have even dozed off a couple of times. The second time, I loved it. Full of delight and texture and tender humor. I loved the beautiful Benjamin Britten Noye's Fludde that laced through the film. I recommend this film, and it bears rewatching. May I also just note that Jason Schwartzman, of Rushmore fame, almost never disappoints, and his performance in this film is no exception. It is superb.

MIB3: * Not sure why I enjoyed this so much, but I really, really did. Maybe it was the Josh Brolin business--that he made such a perfect young Tommy Lee Jones. Maybe it was the lost father thing. Maybe the bad guy was awesomely, creepily bad. Maybe the little lessons that Will Smith preached before flashing the flashy thingie. Anyway, I did. I enjoyed it.

Snow White and the Huntsman: * Liked quite a bit. I liked all the main players, and I especially enjoyed Charlize Theron as a really really really bad queen. Here's what I said when I saw it: "Today, after my writing, or "writing," as the case may or may not have been today, I put on my red shoes and my red scarf and my sunglasses and went to the movies, by myself. So that was awesome, right from the get-go. Basically, my criterion for the movie was: it had to be on my list of movies I wanted to see (obviously, I guess, but I can't say that all the movies I've ever seen even fit this one, very basic, criterion. That's how crucial it can be to see a movie, is all I'm saying). Okay: it had to be on the list. It had to be a movie that the historian probably wouldn't want to see. And it had to be at a theater near me and at a time when I would have finished my writing/"writing."

This movie fit all those criteria. How was it? It was pretty good, actually. My daughter's friend Hazel says it was "a rental," and that's probably justified. However: this was a movie with plenty of big-screen goodness--color and some effects and whatnot--and Kristen Stewart looked ravishingly lovely a lot of the time, and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) was very hunky as the Huntsman. Charlize Theron fulfilled her destiny in playing an evil queen like a boss.

An aside on Kristen Stewart: what's with all the Kristen Stewart hate? I can name several movies in which I thought she was swell. Hating on Twilight shouldn't mean hating on the K-Stew. She's an all right actress, and sometimes better than that. Don't be unfair, the people. Don't hate.

In conclusion: good vs. evil, ever satisfying, am I right? Right?"

Prometheus: Cool and absurd. Don't bother, though, if you didn't see it on a big screen--films like this exist for their effects and their images, and there's really nothing in here that will translate, I don't think. Except Stringer Bell. He's good on any screen.

Brave: ** Truly loved this. I loved the ferocity of the bears, the fact that the film was about a mother-daughter relationship, and about female power and agency. And I loved that it was set in Scotland. Love loved it.

To Rome with Love: Boo. There was 25% of this movie that was quite good, and 25% of it that was passably good (Judy Davis wore an amazing jacket that I would like to replicate in a dozen different fabrics), and that is all. How does he (Woody Allen) get away with this?

Ted: It was the middle of the summer. It was hot. There was a movie theater called Brewvies, with a film called Ted that had been playing for what seemed like half a year. There were the several weeks prior to this point when we had said, "What about Ted?" and concluded, naaa. And then we gave in. We laughed. That is all.

Magic Mike: I saw this in the summer time, during the day, by myself. I felt like a perv, paying for the movie, because that's the way people represented this film. Well, that's not why I saw it (she says defensively). I saw it because it was Soderbergh. And it was pretty good.

people like us: A weepie, and a completely implausible plot (my daughter insisted, because I usually will give in to implausible plots, when the movie's a weepie). The acting wasn't bad, though, I said, and she would not allow even this. So there. Hammy, implausible plot. Still, neither of us was sorry to have seen it.

the dark knight rises: * Good. My family maintains that this is the best of the Christopher Nolan Batmans. I think the second one, The Dark Knight, is best, but this was pretty good. I am not down with the ending, in which a city is saved because the hydrogen (?) bomb doesn't explode in the city itself, rather in the sea surrounding Gotham. Right. HOWEVER. This movie was engrossing and compelling.

step up revolution: * So awesome, I saw it twice. Wait, let me back up. ONE. Dance movie. TWO. From the thrilling Step Up series. THREE. With an "Occupy X" theme. FOUR. Public dancing as a form of social protest? BAM I even took the historian.

celeste and jesse forever:  Pretty good. Would have loved it to be more amazing. In reviewing the plot on Wikipedia, though, several truly funny scenes came to mind. So, y'know, if you like a romantic comedy with serious undertones and Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, you might like this movie.

hope springs: This is entirely a middle-aged person's movie, and you have to put up with some terrible music in it, i.e. the score. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep have been married a long time and she thinks they need to re-engage with their marriage. Guess what? He doesn't want to. So they go to a couples therapist. In Maine. And try. But for all the reductio ad absurdum of that plot summary, it pretty much works, and is moving. Steve Carell is excellent as their therapist.

cosmopolis: * Had to see this because (a) Don Delillo (author of the novel), and (b) David Cronenberg, that big weirdo. Well, it was weird, just like the book, and quite good, just like the book. Paul Giamatti has an excellent part right at the end.

paranorman: It was this or Frankenweenie. We chose this. Kind of scary for kids. Luckily, we aren't kids. The historian liked but did not love. Actually, same for me. Cool looking, though.

premium rush: * Super fun. Swift and breathtaking. Probably my favorite action movie of the year.

the master: *** Possibly a masterpiece. I think this is the best movie I saw this year. Mysterious and not entirely explicable, but riveting and compelling. Every actor is perfect. I was especially glad to see Joaquin Phoenix back, and in fine, fine form. Go, go go!

the perks of being a wallflower: * I read the book, then we went to see the movie. It was a lovely little thing. The sweet faces of those kids.

looper: * I liked this movie quite a bit, though it was (as nearly everyone I've talked to and read has said) more violent than I expected. But there were so many satisfactions to it--nifty visual turns, exemplifying the plot, a great rural setting plopped in the middle of an urban dystopic movie, terrific performances, including a very good one by Emily Blunt. I will never turn down a great Bruce Willis performance, and there are plenty of them, despite the plenty that aren't great. And Joseph Gordon Leavitt's not bad either. Well, never bad. Well, pretty much always good.

argo: * Sharp and well-made. I did think it was hilarious when there was a gratuitous shirtless shot of Ben Affleck. Nice work out, dude. Still: why does it please me, and plenty of others, so much that B.A. is making a nice career turn in directing? This isn't the best of his three movies, but it's good, and very enjoyable. Alan Arkin and John Goodman give a beautiful little duo-cameo that is entirely worthwhile.

your sister's sister: Another of the implausible plots of the year, in which Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt play sisters who get entangled with the same man. And there's a pregnancy. And so on and so forth, gads. Well, they're all good actors (Mark DuPlassis being the man). I paid to watch this movie in a hotel room--I wasn't sorry, exactly, but I didn't exactly think it was money well spent, either.

safety not guaranteed: ** Loved this little movie about a guy who thinks he's built a machine for time travel. A band of merry/dissolute/rookie journalists go to do a story about him. So it's a story about belief and doubt, essentially, about cynicism and faith, etc. It's all good, full of interesting locations and characters and good writing, and very odd. This will translate well to watching on a small screen, so make sure you see it.

cloud atlas: * What a whacked out movie that I loved. I have not read the novel, so I have nothing to compare it to except other people's descriptions of the novel. But I found it fascinating and thoroughly engrossing and weird and great, especially in great swaths of the movie. I loved the relationship between Ben Whishaw, whom I adore, and James D'Arcy especially, but I found the entire thing, even in its more cracked-out moments, to be ambitious and, for much of it, pretty successful. I would see it again.

flight: Fairly predictable movie with a terrific Denzel Washington performance. John Goodman hamming it up as the fixer/dealer. The whole first twenty or so minutes are riveting and sickeningly thrilling.

skyfall: I haven't seen a James Bond in literally decades, I think, and I quite enjoyed this for what it was. Good stunts and action sequences. The ever-perfect Judi Dench; the spectacularly amusing and menacing Javier Bardem.

red tails: My dad loved this as a piece of aviation history, and for that it was pretty darned interesting. Tells the story of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen as a rousing, broad good-and-evil tale--but with some killer aerial dogfights. One interesting fact: author Aaron McGruder (Boondocks) co-wrote.

rampart: Good, but freaking depressing. For my brief essay on this and other cop movies, go here.

extremely loud and incredible close: I liked this quite a bit more than I thought I would. Here's what I said when I saw it: "Today, I bought eggs from Chad, went to the Roasting Co. to work on a poem (why do I have to go to another place to write a poem? another post for another day), ate lady fingers (but not really--they were actually langues des chats, and they were both darling and delicious), and cried my head off at a movie (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close--you will have to decide for yourself if a movie that insists that you cry this much is your poison, but I expected to pity and perhaps despise it [the movie], and did neither, really)."

ruby sparks: Guy--a novelist--finds himself on a roll and writes a true-life girlfriend for himself. Girl of his dreams, more or less. While I thought the film got at some truths about the ways that we project our own desires on those we love, or "love," the whole scenario was creepy and got increasingly so as the movie had to more or less punch its way out of the corner its premises had boxed itself into. (I'll wait while you finish putting that image together.) So...not really.

the intouchables: Reviews of this movie that I read said it was yet another example of how a black guy will bring healing to a white guy. Maybe so. The white guy in this case is a genuine aristocrat with genuine old money and is French and also a quadriplegic. The black guy is hired to be his personal aide. There may or may not be dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire by the black guy. He's from Africa, living with his extended family in Paris. The aristocrat needs to meet the woman with whom he's been exchanging poetic and formal letters of love, but he is afraid. The aide helps him. See? This is where plot summaries get you. They show you what's hackneyed and formulaic, but they don't show the texture and vividness of the details. So I will tell you that the details are what made this formulaic film work, and that if its aims and charms are modest, they are nonetheless there in the film. I liked it.

the kid with the bike: ** This film, on the other hand, was pretty close to brilliant. Starring Cecile de France as a woman who takes in a kid whose father has abandoned him. It's terrible and heartrending and hopeful, which seems miraculous. Directed by those Belgians, the Dardenne brothers, who seem to specialize in terrible and heartrending; the hopeful seems like a bonus.

take this waltz: * At least one of my friends found this film unbearably tedious. I loved it. It did not feel remotely predictable to me. It has Seth Rogen in a serious role--quite good--and the luminous Michelle Williams as a married couple. Then this guy comes on the scene. I loved the way the film made you feel the rough surfaces of every day life.

Sleepwalk with me: Mike Birbiglia half-tells the story of a period of sleepwalking in his life, a story which also takes in a long-term relationship and the growth, or not, of his career as a stand-up comedian. Sometimes pretty interesting, sometimes only mildly so.

beasts of the southern wild: ** Visually glorious. I worried about that little girl for every minute of that movie. Felt entirely original.

the sessions: * Told in a kind of square way, but emotionally very affecting nonetheless. John Hawkes is splendid, as usual, playing a real-life guy, Mark O'Brien, who has lived most of his life in an iron lung and who wants to experience sex. But I was very very pleased to see Helen Hunt and I thought she was wonderful and very moving. I recommend this movie. There is plenty of sex in it and lots of sex talk, because it's a movie about sex. Just so you know, in case you didn't.

silver linings playbook: *** One of my favorites of the year, as you can see. The protagonist, played by Bradley Cooper, is a previously undiagnosed bipolar man who has been in a mental hospital as a part of his plea bargain with the court--he doesn't go to jail for severely beating a man with whom his wife was having an affair. He hopes to win her back, but in the meantime meets a woman in his neighborhood who has lost her husband and is emotionally wounded herself. There is a great dance sequence in this film, and it just felt wonderful, beautifully observed, compassionate, funny, and real all at the same time. I just loved it. I saw it again yesterday with my daughter and loved it again for the second time, where it was just as good as the first time.

wreck it ralph: * I love the conceit of this movie--that the "Wreck It" character gets sick of his bad-guy role and tries to escape it. Lots of fun throughout.

Lincoln: ** There was sap at the beginning and noble sap at the end. There was a perhaps too-eager score. As one friend said, there was an ostentatiously good supporting cast. And yet, I found the film in the middle of the two rather brief sappy parts at the beginning and the end to be absolutely riveting and engaging and very intelligent. Gorgeous visually. And Daniel Day Lewis was really splendid as Lincoln.

Anna Karenina: * Gorgeous again. I loved everything about this movie except: (one) I thought the guy who played Vronsky was too soft, too pretty. No, is what I thought when he came on the scene. No, do not go with him, Anna Karenina! Not worth it!, and (two) I thought the staginess of the narrative frame both worked and didn't work. It made the tacit argument that Russian society, for upper class people, was like a stage, a constant spectacle; but it created too much distance between the viewer and the pathos of the story. I would say the movie was successful on its own terms, despite (one) above; but I longed for it to break my heart, and it did not. Special note that Jude Law was splendid as Karenin, and Keira Knightley was likewise wonderful.

Hitchcock:  Why not? It's Helen Mirren as Alma Hitchcock, and she is perfection, looking dishy in her clothes, and delivering a tart, sharp rebuke to her husband when he needed it. Not sure how consequential it felt. But it was fun. Scarlett Johanssen making a credible Janet Leigh.

Life of Pi: **  Loved the visual splendor of this film. Entrancing. Again, make sure to see it on a big screen, or there will be no point. It would be like moving Star Wars action figures around and acting out the movie script instead of seeing the movie. You want to see the tiger. You probably want to see it in 3D, although we didn't.

Les Miserables:  Okay. I have not read Hugo, nor have I seen the stage musical, nor have I ever listened to the music, except here and there. So, although I was basically familiar with the plot, I was hazy on the particulars, and thus this was effectively my first time with Les Miserables. Yes: I was a Les Miz virgin. So here's what I thought: (a) long. pretty long. (b) so much singing! (c) some of the singing seemed kind of not great. On the other hand, (d) some of the singing was surprisingly good! (e) I'm not sure I even liked the songs all that much, or not all of them. (f) I did cry several times. (g) the spectacle of Russell Crowe in his various uniforms was delicious. (h) Anne Hathaway made me cry on cue--really amazing. (i) the kid singers were great. (j) Eddie Redmayne was great. (k) war is stupid. The end. Did I pass?

This is 40: ** Just the antidote to, well, everything. We saw it this very night! I loved this movie and I laughed and cried through the lot of it. A zillion great things in it--it's loose and shambly, and the structure is ramshackle, but the performances are all vivid and lively and idiosyncratic. I loved Albert Brooks as Paul Rudd's dad, John Lithgow as Leslie Mann's dad, Chris O'Dowd as Paul Rudd's co-worker, Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi as Leslie Mann's employees, and Jason Segal as a personal trainer. AND Melissa McCarthy as a really, really angry mom at the Mann/Rudd kids' school. Raunchy and funny and great.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In progress...

I am busily writing my Movies of 2013 Wrap-Up. But I am not finished with it:















Should I stay up (like a madwoman) and finish it? or go to bed (like a sensible person) and finish it tomorrow?



Tomorrow it is, then. Stay tuned! and good night.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Status updates: Boxing Day edition.

Weather: snowy and snowier, especially as we drove south and then turned around. Because: too snowy.

Music: Fred Hersch, Alive at the Vanguard (played at home on the stereo).

Plans: to drive south and see the historian's son's family in Lehi. Denied (see: Weather.)

Viewing: Les Miz (with my daughters. Full of singing?). Rerun of Modern Family (with the historian. Still funny). The Jazz game (WOE.).

Comestibles: leftovers: spinach and fontina strata, Chinese food, fruit salad, green salad. Cookies of all stripes. Frosted Mini-Wheats.


After the fact: baked the rest of the cookie dough still chilling out in my fridge--date-nut pinwheels and sugar cookies, cut into stars and holly leaves and Christmas trees. Even though Christmas is over and we opened all the presents.

Contemplating: the family dinner we have planned for New Years Day. What will I make? I kind of feel like it should just be sandwiches. And maybe potato chips. Would that be wrong?

Thought about, but did not: stop in at Target on my way home from the movie.

Shocking: how tired I am and how I could not fall asleep last night.

Mood: a little sleep deprived, frankly.

Footwear: slippers. socks. work boots for the late-night dog walk.

note: it is almost the end of 2012, so I owe the readers of this blog
  1. a list of the movies I saw this year, along with my big important opinions on them.
  2. possible other lists.
  3. a short reflective essay on the "Blogging Every Day in the Year 2012" project.
Just want you to know I haven't forgotten.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The day.

This doesn't cover all the things we did, but it covers a lot:



Near the end of it all, my dad pointed out that we ought to be able to see the moon and Jupiter. And when we went outside, we could.

I hope your day was happy and joyful.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Candy, music, fun.

Tonight, we went to my aunt's house for the annual Christmas musicale. It was grand. There was trumpet playing by my niece, my son and I sang In the bleak midwinter, my nephew was pressed into service, playing Apologize on the piano, the kids joined in on all sorts of carol singing, and we joined together in a fantastic rendition of Bacon Pancakes (led by my son). Super-festive, in other words. Maybe the most fun ever?

In related matters: I made a bunch of candy over the last couple of days:


















Listen. I don't know if people even like brittle anymore. I, however, will say this about it:
  1. way easier than you'd think.
  2. fast--if you've got your ingredients organized, it's like 15 minutes tops per batch.
  3. makes you feel like a genius despite 1 & 2 above.
Also:

     4. it looks super cute in a box when you give it to your neighbors. AND
     5.  it must be said: when you make it yourself, it tastes dang fresh and damn good.

(The link above is what got me started. It is the most stripped down, essential version. Here's one that gives you a little foam in the candy at the last minute, which is different and also good.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Good things: children singing.












This week, we went to the school where my son is the general music teacher;  it was evening, and the choirs, bands and orchestras were holding their Winter Musical Extravaganza.  The bands and orchestras played holiday music; the Honors Choir and the Rock & Roll History choirs sang songs loosely tied together by the theme of dreams. The choir music was drawn from the popular canon, both current and past--the kids helped to choose it. Lifted up by those young voices, piercing and sweet--the music moved us and sweetened our season. I wish I could play some of it for you. Frankly, I wish I could listen to it over and over again. So beautiful.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A tiny Christmas present.

It's been a wonderful day--breakfast with some kids and grandkids, my writing group, a movie with my aunt, cousin, and the historian, and making some awesome Rice Krispie treats for my son.

But I am tired. So I am offering something I heard yesterday:


 (Remixing the Holidays with Run-DMC, on The Takeaway, Dec. 20, 2012)

 and here's an awesome throwback that I believe you're going to enjoy:






Hope this tickles you and lifts your spirits as it did mine.

p.s. just moments after I posted this, I heard "Christmas in Hollis" on a Honda commercial. Not going to think very much about what that means.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the world day.

Currently, I am making boiled cider syrup, which is, apparently, a grand New England cookery tradition. The recipe said it might take forever, or that it would seem like it was taking forever. And it does seem like it's taking forever. It's time to go for a walk. Also, I have to go to the store. But not until that damned cider thickens.

Me: The world might end tonight.

The historian: That's right. (pauses:) Have you picked out an outfit?






Today I made pumpkin seed brittle, infused some honey with spices, wrapped some caramels, bought Christmas presents for a passel of grandkids, held my granddaughter, made little gifs with my grandson, chatted with my daughters, watched halves of two episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond with my son, discussed the merits of Lebron James, and boiled some cider. Which I am still doing. That's the end of the world, if it comes, in a nutshell. Hope I see you all tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Planning for the shopping for the baking.

The shopping list I composed last night when I was too elated from having finished grading to sleep:



And this is the actual haul:



















And here is the first step in the dance we'll call "The Christmas Baking Rhumba":


















The baking/candymaking plan (this is the plan of an optimist/overachieving baker who is high on finishing her grading):

  1. caramels.
  2. brittle: pecan, almond, and pumpkin seed
  3. date pinwheels
  4. sugar cookies
  5. probably those little treasure cookies with a cherry or a gumdrop inside, because I heart them
  6. almond bread
  7. butterscotch crescent rolls (the dough starts with cooked butterscotch pudding and gets richer from there)
  8. fruitcake!
  9. two new things: cardamom-and-cinnamon infused honey, and boiled cider syrup, which sound exotic and time-consuming and perfect.
  10. probably some other European-style baked goods from a Martha Stewart Living magazine that is sitting around, waiting to be baked from.
Too much?   I am not now, nor have I ever been, a minimalist. And I will be baking, candy-making, honey-infusing, and cider-reducing my head off until Christmas, and possibly beyond.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How close is it? A theme and variations.



I might be talking about the end of the world, or I might be talking about the darkest, darkest, darkest day of the year. These might be close to the same thing.

*

Only fourteen hours, give or take, till my son can talk again to the surgeon. Get the big wad of dressings taken off. Then just another week or so before he can shelve the crutches.

**

The window of student aggrievedness may be about to commence.

***

Colder? Or coldest? Or the very coldest?

****

The baking begins...tomorrow. Or at least the shopping for the baking. The planning for the shopping for the baking.

*****

How many movies will I see over the break? All the movies. And when does the movie-viewing begin? Soon, very soon.

******

The gift-buying? Not even remotely.

*******

--but the hour draweth nigh

Monday, December 17, 2012

Supermathematicophilosophication.

You've heard of Zeno's Paradoxes?


Yeah, me too. Although I only thought there was one. And I didn't remember that it had belonged to "Zeno," whoever he was. Actually, what I did was search for this:


Because that is how grading is right now. Zeno is a rat bastard.

I am super, super, super, super close. But the closer I get, the more infinitessimal the tasks get. Like: I have ten more exams to grade. (EXAMS. Didn't I become an English teacher so I wouldn't have to give exams? And of course I'm giving the type of exam where I have to be like Solomon and make judgement calls, instead of making a Scantronic-robofied (TM) test, where the Scantron reader would spit out the remark: 'HA! That is no f*@$ing object complement!')

Right: just ten more exams. But then I have to manually and delicately feed in the scores because I didn't set it up quite right in Canvas...and the comments that must be given to the people...I can see the end, I can see it, but I can only get halfway there with each step I take.

Right, that was a fun little escapade. Well, the grades will be in on time come hell or high water, as we say around here: so there may be a tiny bit of slapdashery involved. Slapdashery may be inevitable. But it will be infinitessimal slapdashery. No one will be able to see it, except me.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

What was beautiful today?

Making breakfast after waking up to snowlight.
Watching Revenge of the Sith with my son, agreeing that we both love this much-reviled film, agreeing on what our favorite parts are.

Reading my students' work slowly. Thinking about how to respond.

The snow.

Seeing baby Gwenyth, all swaddled in pink.

Chatting with my daughter while she folded the laundry.

Doing a hologram-ic puzzle of The Avengers, which was hella difficult and nonetheless sort of satisfying to noodle around with.

Taking Deacon on an outing. Listening to him whistle in the back seat.

Coming home. Texting my son (downstairs): "Home. Need anything?" His reply: "A hello and a Gatorade."

Watching the Jazz blow a 10 point lead to Memphis, and lose, pleasurable because of the company.

A walk in the clear night, the snow lining the trees, the snow everywhere.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Enough.

If you haven't read these things already, and you can bring yourself to read, they're all good.

James Fallows
ProPublica
Roger Ebert, reviewing Elephant
Harvard Injury Control Research Center

Too sad for anything more.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

happy birthday.

Today is my youngest son's birthday.

And also the day when he had ACL reconstruction surgery.

So he, the historian, and I spent today at a hospital in Park City, where his surgeon prefers to do this particular surgery. As days spent in hospitals go, it wasn't bad. Of course the historian and I weren't the ones getting surgery.

We drove up the mountain first thing in the morning, got him checked in, then had conversations with many, many medical personnel, all of whom seemed smart and competent and great. All of us agreed that it was the left knee that had the ACL problem, an agreement that was cemented by the surgeon writing "yes" on that knee. It's kind of amazing what's possible these days, surgery-wise. I myself have never had any surgery of any kind, so I'm just an observer, but the fact is, there are splendid techniques and technologies in pain management, anesthesia, surgery, and recovery. I appreciated these techniques and technologies as we sat in a consulting room with my son, laying on a gurney in a hospital gown, cracking jokes, as one after another medical person came in to discuss this and that aspect of his ACL, the surgery, and the upcoming recovery.

And then, his knee thoroughly shaven and scribbled upon, the anesthesiologist wheeled him out, and we set about waiting.

We had some food in the cafeteria. We sat by a roaring fire (only one of several lovely amenities at this hospital, including a harpist in the main lobby, which was both lovely and possibly a little hilarious?). I had imagined that I might grade while I was waiting, a notion I should have dismissed from the outset. I did read a few e-mails. Tried not to worry. But of course, I worried.

We were called back into the consulting room to talk with the doctor. He showed us this:

[knee cap]

[knee cap/femur]

[medial]

[lateral]

These are pictures taken by the scope, I guess, various views of the pristine parts of his knee--all the parts, in fact, except for the Anterior Cruciate Ligament. To me, they look like views of far-off moons, or planets. 

When the nurses wheeled him back in, they had already sung him "Happy Birthday," and he was making everyone laugh. "Hello, party people," he called to us from the hall, before we could even see him. He's downstairs right now with friends, holding court, his knee in a massive brace and elevated on pillows, so that it's higher than his heart.

Happy birthday, Walker. Wishing you a great year and a speedy recovery, and full use of your knee in a basketball league by next fall.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Today,

I answered a few more panicky student e-mails ("HTMS! I haven't heard from [group member] and I am FREAKING OUT!")(I may be exaggerating a little, but only the all-caps--the rest is verbatim). Then I gather'd my wits about me 'fore assembling my wherewithal and inner resources and whatnot to grade.

In other words, I am not yet actually grading. But by golly I am almost ready to grade.

Instead, today I read more manuscripts for the competition (for which I'm a first reader). I put some envelopes in the actual post at the post office. I took a long walk. I spoke soothingly to Bruiser. And I went back over to my daughter's, where both a little boy and a very little girl (my grandchildren) were available for a visit.

I held the little girl, whom I had inexpertly swaddled (but never mind, she was as cozy as a little bunny in her blanket), and played various games with the little boy. We played Superhero Memory. He beat me once, we tied the second game. He did some puzzles on the iPad, and then we made a little animated movie.

In the app for the animation, you can actually draw characters of your own, and scenes. Which is fun, and also a little humbling.

This figure below is a robot. I actually did this animation with another grandson on another day. He  demonstrated to me, several times, the kind of robot he wanted: it had an arm that would reach up to touch its head, and then its neck would swivel to the side. He was not well-pleased with this robot, but I think you can see the reach and swivel. Can't you?



This is a screenshot from today's animation:


We agreed we would draw a character and also a scene (moon surface, obvs).

"An octopus," he stipulated.

I started drawing arms galore. "How many arms is that?" We had six, added two more.

"It's a vampire," he said. I drew fangs. (I'm particularly proud of those fangs.)

"Put sleeves on him," he said.

"Sleeves but no shirt? On all eight arms?"

"No, just sleeves. Long ones. That's enough," he said, while I drew and undid and re-drew and erased, and we ended up with the outfit you see on the vampire octopus: long-ish sleeves on three arms.
After the visit, which was quiet and sweet, and productive on account of the animation and octopus-drawing, I went to Costco with my son-in-law and grandson, and bought twelve pounds of ham, sliced, for a dinner for homeless men. I took the mighty weight of meat over to my son's house, because they're some of the shepherds of this monthly dinner at The Road Home. They were having dinner, and invited me to have a little with them.

So I put the ham down, and ate a bit of supper with my son's family. We talked about Christmas, and skeletons, and I watched the boys do the skeleton dance, because the older one has a little bit of a skeleton thing going.

As I drove home--it was 6:30, very dark in this darkest part of the year, the Christmas lights blooming on either side of the road--I felt calm. I still have a lot to do. I'm not worried about it, though. I'll get it done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Notes to panicky students.

TO: Panicky Student

FROM: HTMS

DATE: the day after the deadline

SUBJECT: Your work

Yes, it's true: the deadline has passed. The deadline for everything, including the peer reviews for the position paper, which you did not do. Perhaps you remember that those peer reviews were due in October. As I understand it, you're asking me if you can do those peer reviews now, now that everything is due--past due, even. Peer reviews, which are intended to aid your peers. In revising their work. Which has all been turned in.

There is an absurdity inherent in your request. It's an absurdity that has now infected my own thinking about everything. Why peer reviews? Why points? Why not? What the hell?

I do not appreciate thinking these thoughts right now. I just want you to know that I am in a non-appreciative state as I approach grading. Grading your work, as it turns out. I hope you can see the paradox. It's an elegant one.

__________

TO: Panicky Student, another one

FROM: HTMS

DATE: the day after the deadline

SUBJECT: Your opinion of how my class was organized

I totally appreciate that you took the time to tell me that my class was disorganized. I have been contemplating this view of yours ever since I read it, a couple of days ago, when you were also asking for my help in finishing the culminating project of the course. Believe me, I think about the possibility all the time--your comment was not the first time I have wondered this about my course. I weigh your note seriously in the balance with the fact that most of the students in the class have already finished the assignment you are finding so puzzling, that you see as an indicator of my failures.

Perhaps you might like a short refresher in the ancient art of asking for help, which generally relies upon good will all around. I know, I'm your professor. It's my job to help you, and I want to help you, I really do. I admit though, that I felt infinitessimally grouchier when you asked, after having pronounced your judgment. Infinitessimally, yet measurably. Yep, when I think of you, I will always remember, s/he was the one who told me my class was disorganized. The one who reminded me of my failures. In fact, I'll probably never forget you, dear student. Ever.

___________

TO: Panicky Student, yet another one

FROM: HTMS

DATE: the day after the deadline

SUBJECT: what should be your priorities at this point.

That's easy: your priority should be the assignment with the most points.

Let me rephrase: that assignment which, without its associated points, will be the death of you and your hopes for a passing grade--that's the one, that's your priority.

To be clear: do not, as you attempt to glean last late points from failures to post replies to at least two peers in small-potatoes discussions, fail to remember the big-ass assignment weighing down the point distribution. The assignment sitting there, heavy and weighty and significant, worth 30% of your grade: don't neglect that one!


Monday, December 10, 2012

Target: another view.

I arrive home from an outing. It's 10 p.m. The historian is not home. He stomps the snow off his shoes about ten minutes later. He's been shopping for a birthday present for our now-2-year-old grandson:

Me: Hi there. Where've you been?

The historian: I went to Target. Lemme tell you, that was an ordeal.

Me: Yeah? (uncomprehending. But on second thought:)

The historian: I walked through aisle after aisle of . . . it was just full of wreck 'em sock 'em knock 'em fight 'em hit 'em . . .

Me: (thinking: if I had been there, I would have known how to lead him directly to all the gentle organic toys:) So what did you get?

The historian: This. (produces an enormous plush toy, a lion cub, pretty much as big as the kid in question.)

Me: Perfect.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Saturday, December 08, 2012

A little bit abed.

I've seen a lot of my own bedroom, from a more or less prone position, lately. Yes, still the sick. But I can tell I'm getting better. I know this, because I was able to grade today. My eyes felt hot, but not as hot. My head hurt, but I wasn't sneezing my head off. I haven't seen the new baby yet except in photos, but I will tomorrow. So: better.

I am feeling hopeful about the grading. I can only foresee a few little glitches. And I have made up my mind that I will not be running after them, figuratively, begging them to give me the work they forgot, or decided to bail on, or are withholding, just for the fun of seeing me freak out about it. (That last part might not be literally true, ever. But it sure feels that way sometimes.) NO. I will not. They will have to take the grade I give them if their work isn't complete, and we will discuss it in the new year.



(don't hesitate to turn up the volume, if it's too quiet.)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Ill Christmas.

Man.

I hate getting sick at the ends of semesters. However, it appears that it is the way of my life. Via dolorosa de mi casa, as it were. I remember one time, I was so sick at the end of the semester, my first husband and I took to our beds for what seemed like days. We arose from our bed of affliction to go to the mall the day before Christmas, so we would have a present for each other. When I saw some people dressed up like reindeer (can that be right? I was delirious), and I thought, I wish I had brought Prudence (our cat)--she would have loved this.

I'm not that sick this time. But I am all DayQuil'd up and trying to overlap the doses so there's no complete experience of how sick I really am at any time. Because that would be horrible. I can't even bear to contemplate it.

I'm almost done whining about it, hang on.

I did have to go into school to "teach" my last class. Then there was a meeting I chaired. By the end, I basically was walking around like The Empress of Contagion. I considered, briefly, stopping at a store on the way home, but the last shred of reason still firing in my brain told me NO.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

It's the end of the semester, so

it must be time for a cold. Christmas lights spectacular and other festivities resume tomorrow, but in the meantime:

Open letter to the word "gift" used as a verb.

Dear the word "gift" used as a verb:

Nope. You are a noun. As in, "My mother gave me a gift on my birthday. It was a fluffy new scarf!"

Or "Here's a gift! It's for your birthday! It's a fluffy new scarf!"

Or even, metaphorically, "My gift is the ability to be catankerous about practically anything."

But not: "I plan to gift him with a fluffy scarf."

Or "He gifted me with a bucket of crawdads."

(Yes) "He is a highly gifted singer." (adjective)

(No) "He gifted me with a song." (verb)

(Yes) "He gave me a song for my birthday." (via iTunes, or else he's a song writer--either way. The verb is give.)

(No! Not remotely!) "Why don't you gift your best friend with a fluffy new song?"

(Yes! By all means) "Why don't you give your best friend a song-y new fluff?"

Don't you even, the word "gift" used as a verb. Just quit it. You make me want to stop giving people fluffy new stuff altogether.

--and that would be unChristmaslike,

htms.

Monday, December 03, 2012

All I want for Christmas

...is for everyone to blog more. Is that too much to ask?

I was talking about this with my Scotland daughter today. Well, chatting about it:

me: they're dead to me, the blog-giver-uppers.  But that doesn't seem very Christmas-y. So I turned it into a wish. I just want a daily or almost daily shot of your stories, your images, your errant thoughts. Like this morning, I woke up and the sun was coming up. Even from a horizontal, prone position, I could see the warmth of the colors in the sky.

"It's glowing," said the historian, his first words of the day.

I got up and looked. Across the horse field the cars were on their various ways, to work, school, all and sundry. And in the horse field was an actual horse, just standing in the field, as they do:




(I exempt from this Christmas wish list all the people who do blog regularly or semi-regularly. You guys are good, and I sincerely do appreciate you. Carry on.)


Sunday, December 02, 2012

What to do with everything in your pantry.

If you have
  • various, slightly shabby-shabby looking farmer's market potatoes
  • some still virtuous greens, but looking back upon their day of sale from far away
  • garlic
  • leftover grated pecorino from a Thanksgiving day salad
  • a red grapefruit
  • some grapes
  • pomegranates whose skins are leathery
 you can make
  •  mashed potatoes with the skins still on, garlic (cooked with the boiling potatoes), and the pecorino
  • greens, cooked at a rather high heat in the oven with olive oil and garlic and salt and pepper
  • a lovely wintry fruit salad of the grapefruit, grapes, and pomegranates.
You will, however, have to gather the pomegranate seeds from hither and yon, and wipe up the juice from the floor and counter and yourself--it's possible you may have let those pomegranates sit on the counter a week too long.

Day Two, the Lights of Christmas Video Cavalcade!


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Writing notes.

Today, I went down to the Salt Lake Roasting Co. for some magic writing time. I say "magic," because the Roasting Co. has been, heretofore, a location in which I have been able to wring drafts from dross, revise like a wizard, and even develop new material. Something about sitting upstairs in that building, looking down onto the street, makes me feel free of ordinary obligations and more focused, more intent, on writing itself.

Here are today's results.

First, yet again, I wish I were a person who wrote everyday. I always think, at the beginning of the academic year, that this will be the year I am a person who writes at least a few times a week--by which I mean that I would move my attention to writing that many times, and write some things down. However: I am not that writer, at least not at this moment in my life. Paul Lisicky observed that his once-partner, Mark Doty, considered to be a prolific writer, usually wrote in a couple of big bursts a year, and otherwise wrote only sporadically. That's me, too. So when I say, as I did a few weeks ago, I'm going to find some time to write for a few hours before the end of the year, it means either that I'm hoping for that kind of burst of writing (not likely), or that I'll be looking at things I've already written, hoping to add more to them, or transform them in some way, and maybe along the way I'll jot down a note or two that might become a freewrite that might become a draft that might become a poem. We live in hope.

Second, my friend Kim often says that for a poet, everything is writing. That fetishizing the sitting down at your desk part is just about the same as equating typing with writing. I think this is a healthy way to look at things. All the same, I do sort of believe that regularly experiencing the turn to write (or type), and acting on it, tends to prime the pump. Maybe. I sat down today and looked at the last set of notes I made. They were about a rabbit. And not much more than the word "rabbit." I keep thinking that if I were writing more often (typing), I might have more than this furry little word.

Third, there was a time when I felt moved to write a poem--a draft--often. That is not how it is these days, except for the lucky times when there's a burst. I had such a time this past summer. It was awesome. Now, though, I feel like I write in layers: I have a piece that I turn into a draft, and then the draft takes a long, long time to realize itself. I take the poem out and see if I can identify what it needs, and then I try to write in that direction. Or I've taken the draft to my writing group, and I have their notes, and I meditate on what those notes might say to me that I can use, and then I try to write or revise in that direction. The process is additive for a long time. And then it might be subtractive. Another poet friend talks about having the patience to stay in the writing moment when a poem presents itself. I get that. I'm impatient a lot these days. Sometimes I think, I'll just write the quick notes down and come back to it. But if a poem is on its way, that occasion warrants some patience. Not that any of this happened today at all.

Fourthly, sometimes you have to just feel the revulsion about your work. Just feel it, let it have its moment. And then get back to work.

Fifthly, sometimes your magic writing place won't really do the trick. You're just going to have to live with that.

In other news, I have decided that this month, each day until Christmas, I am going to post a short video of Christmas lights in my neighborhood. With comment. Sometimes my comment, perhaps occasionally the voices of others, and occasionally music. Here is Day 1 of the Lights Of Christmas Video Cavalcade:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Checklist.

This weekend I am going to do the following:

submit my manuscript six times!
contemplate how many times my manuscript has been declined
admire the shine on the street from the rain
admire the moon in the moody sky
see Lincoln
WRITE
grade
read
sleep
buy a Christmas tree!

--and I am already checking stuff off this list like it is my job.

See you in December, suckers!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear guy who spoke directly to me while walking past:

You were walking in from the parking lot. I was walking toward the building where I would teach my class.You looked right at me and said something. Because you were looking right at me, I thought you were speaking to me.

I thought, "I don't know you. Do I?" And then I thought and thought about whether I did, in fact, know you. And concluded, no, no, I did not know you. And then I realized you were talking on your cell phone, with a headset, a headset that I could not see.

It might have been this that you said: "That is not a flattering outfit." Or "Aren't you going to be late to class?" or "You are not making the most of your talents and gifts." You didn't actually say any of these things. You said something I can't remember now--nothing personal, but whatever it was, it was direct, it was specific enough. And you were looking right at me. I cannot emphasize this enough: right at me.

On the one hand, you startled me out of my fervid little plan-walk.  That's not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, it disturbed me that you seemed to speak right to me. Who were you, and who might I be, if you knew me well enough to speak to me, interrupt my planning on the way to class, where I was to talk about clarity of form?

The form of your utterance, you looking directly at me while speaking to someone else, did not have clarity to recommend it. In the future, please take your phone out of your pocket and hold it up to your ear, like people do.

Writing a letter expressly for you from the olden days, evidently,

htms

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stuff I am not sorry I bought.

Lately, I have been going through (endlessly, forever) my belongings to give things away. I have too much stuff. I know it. And it's hard not to keep getting stuff, because: they keep making new stuff! That I want!

Sigh.

Occasionally, I make a solemn vow--a solemn, fleeting vow--that I will not buy anything new for [x] amount of time. This really only works if you are in a coma. Because there is evidence of new stuff all around you! Do you watch television? read a newspaper? look at the internet? Basically all vehicles for new-stuff-info, which seeps into your brain like a vapor until you want it! you want all the stuff!

Alas and alack.

There are, however, some kind of expensive things I've bought that I do not regret. In fact, I'm glad I bought these things, for they have improved and enlarged my life.

For instance: these shoes are possibly the most wonderful shoes I have ever had. Are they plain looking? Sensible? Comfortable? Yes, all these cozy adjectives and more. I tromped through fields and valleys in them in Scotland and the north of England. They make me feel like a timeless English gentleman. Or perhaps an early 20th century suffragette. Either way, these shoes are like time travel, globetrotting, big-idea-mongering, and badassery all rolled up in an American-made shoe. They are worth every penny I paid for them and more.

This perfume I first smelled in a museum store in L.A., that's how fancy its provenance is. The store way almost about to close, but I gathered my courage to ask the very hip, slightly haughty counterperson to bring it out so I could put it on my wrist. It's part of a series of incense-based scents made by the madly avant-garde Comme des Garcons fashion house. All the way back to our hotel, I sniffed my wrist. I smelled like the entire history of the Catholic church, like a grand cathedral after mass. I smelled like the French pope. I smelled like a hierarchy. Not all of those things are necessarily good things. But I liked how it didn't smell friendly: it smelled mysterious and a little bit forbidding. At that point in my life, I kind of needed something that was mysterious and forbidding. It was like a secret weapon. On days when I knew I needed a little bit of backup, I wore this scent. I still wear it to this day. And it was worth every penny I paid for it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ars bloggica.

We're home from walking the dog.

Me: I gotta blog. I gotta think of something to blog about.

The historian: . . . right--

Me: I don't think you understand how hard that is! Pulling a topic out of thin air.

TH: --I do get it. Because I never do it.  Whereas I, when I write, I just have to rely on . . . (rustling--he's in the kitchen, looking for an article in the paper. Or something.) . . .

Me: [what? facts? research?]

TH: (faintly)...things.

Me: [--and there it is.]

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ideal Bookshelf.

The Guardian wants to know: what books would be on your ideal bookshelf?

I love this game, naming the top five things you'd take with you to some remote place, therefore the things you'd have to live with forever, or for a really really long time.

For me, I think the books would be, probably, and with no The Collected Works of, which I think would be cheating:
  1. Leaves of Grass
  2. Underworld (Don Delillo)
  3. Housekeeping (Marilynne Robinson)

  4. --let me pause to note, putting your list on display is like inviting people to your house and hoping against hope that your house is in order and that people won't judge you for your lapses of taste.

  5. Harriet the Spy  (Louise Fitzhugh)
  6. The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)
  7. King Lear or maybe The Tempest 
  8. King James Bible
  9.  Perdido Street Station (China Mieville)
  10. maybe Coming Into the Country (John McPhee)
  11. Family Happiness (Laurie Colwin) or maybe Another Marvelous Thing
  12. Winter Stars (Larry Levis)
  13. One Hundred Years of Solitude  (Garcia Marquez) 
I picked books that feel large enough to use for purposes of imagination--that contain more than their own stories, if that's possible. But the truth is, and I am telling you the truth here, I think I would miss all the Harry Potter books. And even though The Big Sleep is an L.A. story, I should probably substitute a volume by Anne Carson or Yeats or Eliot. I would miss them too.

What would be on your ideal bookshelf? The historian says that on his shelf would reside American Minds by Stow Persons, The Communist Manifesto, Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel, the biography of Thelonious Monk by Robin D. G. Kelly, and The Making of the English Working Class (E. P. Thompson). He also said my book, but we agreed it was so slim it shouldn't count against the total.

For more ideas, you should click on the link and see what others said. It's a really interesting discussion. I wanted to take notes.

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