Thursday, December 31, 2015

Movies of the year, 2015.

The time has come for a roundup of movies I saw this year, and what I thought of them. I know, your excitement can barely be contained.

I use this idiosyncratic rating system:

* a movie I quite enjoyed, or thought was worthy. A * does not mean it was a bad movie. In fact, no asterisks whatsoever may not mean that I didn't enjoy the movie, only that it wasn't one of the special, most memorable movies for me.

** a movie I thought was very good.

*** a movie I thought was one of the best of the year.

Okay! that out of the way, let us recount our cinematic experiences and wax reviewerish:

Paddington: I viewed this with a grandson and his dad (my son) and the historian. On our bed. On Netflix. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. An adorable animatronic bear, and Ben Whishaw was his voice. All to the good.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: I won't say that I didn't enjoy this. I saw it with my son purely for entertainment value. We had fun. Too much mayhem and gunplay, however, for my taste. I enjoyed but I did not approve of my own enjoyment.

What we do in the shadows *: Well, on the other hand, there was plenty of vampirish blood and biting galore in this movie. I totally enjoyed it and I approved of my enjoyment. I guess I have a vampire double standard. Well, a comic vampire double standard. All involved were excellent.

McFarland, U.S.A. *: There is no good reason that this movie should get even one star, but it does, because it had the decency to note that for some kids, the fact that the high school was quite literally next door to the prison is more than a trope, and its runners make a good story that was damned inspiring. Also, I love running movies and Kevin Costner in sports movies and sports movies in general. I.e., your mileage--ha ha!--may vary.

Maps to the Stars *: Cronenberg, very acidic. Mia Wasikowska shows her uncanny ability to make you very uncomfortable. Julianne Moore plays a terrifyingly narcissistic actress. Robert Pattinson is ambitious, young, appalling. John Cusack plays a life coach with a chilling secret in his own past. All of these characters buzz around Hollywood. I wasn't compelled, exactly, by this--I liked, actually, Cronenberg's Cosmopolis more--but it was really well made, at times thrillingly so.

Cinderella: Ho hum, beautiful blue dress.

Kumiko Treasure Hunter *: I kind of find myself treasuring the oddball and truly weird, movie-wise. This film falls into that category, hardcore. A young Japanese woman acquires a VHS copy of Fargo, decides that she should go there and find the money that dumb, venal Steve Buscemi buries in the snow, then dies (horribly) before he can retrieve it. The young woman is played by Rinko Kikuchi, and she is, as always, fantastic and indelible. This is not a happy movie, but it is highly original, and thus, I recommend it.

Home: Rihanna as the young protagonist, trying to find her mom. Jim Parsons as the alien who accompanies her. Hijinks, etc. We saw this with grandsons and what can I say? we had a fine time. 

While We’re Young **: This was one of my favorites of the year. Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts as a married couple--he's a documentarian who is stuck on a years-long, acres of footage project; her dad is a famous and decorated documentarian. They meet a young couple, Amanda Seyfried and the feckless, winning, cunning, devious Adam Driver (I heart him so hard). The two couples, in essence, become infatuated with each other, and everyone's life changes. This was beautiful and witty and fluid and aching. So good.

The Clouds of Sils Maria **: A beauty. A French actress (Juliette Binoche) is going to appear in a restaging of a play that made her famous when she was young, but this time she's not playing the ingenue--she's playing the older woman who's made a fool by the ingenue (who's going to be played by Chloe Grace Moretz). Her assistant, a terrific and very sharp Kristen Stewart, helps her read lines, etcetera. This is a wonderful movie that is so smart and beautiful it's hard to describe. Directed by Olivier Assayas.

Ex Machina *: My friend said, I don't think I need to see an Asian sex-bot, when I said how good I thought this movie was. And I was all, there's no...oh, wait. But I think I would argue that this cyborg, one of a whole bunch of cyborgs, is a function of the mad scientist's warped imagination, and thus (maybe) legitimate (?) in the film. Be warned. I found this movie to be smart and unsettling and super-engaging. And there's an amazing dance sequence in it, and it stars Oscar Isaac, who makes any film, just about, at this point an almost inarguable gotta-see recommendation for me. Plus an Asian cyborg/sexbot.  

Welcome to Me **: At his point, I think Kristen Wiig is maybe a genius. This movie is strange, funny, and sad. Wiig plays a woman who's mentally ill, who wins the lottery and decides to self-fund the production of a television show featuring herself as the subject. She reenacts scenes from her own past as a form of retribution for those who have wronged her, spending the lottery winnings at a frightening speed. The film has a heart, but it's not entirely predictable, and it felt almost entirely unique. 

Hot Pursuit: How I wished for this movie to be better than it was--Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara, Witherspoon as a by-the-books cop, Vergara as the widow of a drug boss. Bad cops and other bad guys chase them. Etcetera. I'm sure I laughed, and probably a lot. But that's because I'm easy. I own that. Luckily, I saw it with my aunt Sal, and we had a good time.

The Salt of the Earth **: Wim Wenders' documentary about Sebastiao Salgado, also directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado. A fairly comprehensive look at the work of Salgado pere, with many insights peeking around the edges of what it would have been like to be connected to this brilliant and peripatetic man. His wife, Lelia, seems to me to be a fantastic person. The restoration they are currently doing of his family's farm in Brazil, which has turned into the Instituto Terra, was one of the most beautiful parts. I really loved this film. 

I’ll See You In My Dreams *: lovely. Blythe Danner plays a widow who's at something of loose ends, who meets a guy (Sam Elliott) and sings a song at karaoke and makes a friendship with another, younger guy (her pool guy, Martin Starr). It's a small film, but it is, in its way, beautiful, and Danner has what it takes to make you wish she were at the center of many more films.

Pitch Perfect 2: Not as good as Pitch Perfect 1. Readers of this blog know that I have seen Pitch Perfect 1 approximately a billion times, but I see no need to re-see Pitch Perfect 2. Except for all the scenes with Keegan-Michael Key as the entrepreneur who is running the record company where Beca is interning. Okay, I might need to see it again. No stars, though.

Tomorrowland: I enjoyed this movie, although I can hardly tell you what it was actually about. George Clooney was in it, playing a jaded and maybe secretly sad former boy inventor who is now a recluse. And also Hugh Laurie. A young girl comes to find him and they go to Tomorrowland, where they try to right wrongs and make the world better, I think. Anyway. I can't exactly recommend this. But if I had kids who were, like, eight or older, I might rent it and have a lot of fun.

Aloha: Everyone hated this. I can see why. I remember reading a critical conversation in which the several critics were clearly have a lot of fun remembering what they saw as the most egregious parts. Yes, sure, definitely. I saw this film in a theater by myself--literally--one summer afternoon. I so enjoyed it, and I cannot say exactly why, but all the acting was fantastic, including a great Bill Murray part, and also an almost mesmerizing Bradley Cooper, Rachel MacAdams whom I always adore, Alec Baldwin playing a general in a perfect performance, etcetera. Not good, I know. I still don't think it was as bad as the people who savaged it said. (see: I'm easy.)

Love and Mercy ***: One of the most lovely, heartbreaking films I saw this year. The score of this film is one of the most wonderful parts--the way it picked up and wove together motifs from Wilson's music. Both Paul Dano and John Cusack were splendid, and Elizabeth Banks was wonderful, and Paul Giamatti as Eugene Landy, Wilson's terrible therapist, was horrifying and perfect. So good.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl **: I laughed, cried, admired this movie--some of the best stuff included the film parodies that Greg, the protagonist, and Earl, his friend, make (The 400 Bros; Senior Citizen Kane; My Dinner with Andre the Giant). But mostly it felt heartfelt, and moving, as a young person learns how to be a better person, and I appreciated it for its wit and its heart.

The Wolfpack *: One of the handful of documentaries we saw this year, this one is about the group of brothers who were, essentially, quarantined from the outside world in an apartment in New York by their monomaniacal father. They were, however, allowed to watch and then reenact films of all sorts. A filmmaker happened to run into them when they had finally defied their father and begun going out, and she received permission to make the film. Amazing, disturbing, and also hopeful.

Inside/Out **: I felt lucky to see this with my grandchildren--so wonderful, original, smart, moving. As a poet, I appreciated that sadness ultimately had a role to play, something I have been arguing (to myself, mostly) all along. 

Dope **: This was great. Saw it during the summer. It's a buddy movie, where the kids (one of whom also played the Lobby Boy in Grand Budapest Hotel!) accidentally end up with a drug dealer's stash, and have to figure out how to get rid of it without getting beaten up by the various parties who want it. The kids are all excellent. Great 90s hip hop music.

Eden **: Another movie I saw in the summer time. I loved the story of the main character's desire to keep making music, even as the life of DJ-ing took its toll. The electronic music gave the film an energy, and there was beautiful, original, entrancing filmwork throughout. One of my favorites of the year.

A Little Chaos: I wanted to love this. Alan Rickman as the French king Louis XIV who wants original, gorgeous gardens for Versailles, and Matthieu Schoenaerts as the head gardener, with Kate Winslet as a free-spirited gardener contracted to work on a particular section. Sadly a little blah blah blah, even though gorgeous persons such as Schoenaerts and Winslet should have been compelling enough, especially naked. But no.

A Poem is a Naked Person *: Rather thrilling to see this, featuring the weirdest--truly!--filmwork by Les Blank, but masses of live music from Leon Russell, whom I adored from my youth. Blank and Russell fell out over the film, so it was never shown until after Blank's death, i.e., now. 

Amy **: Although I found this film almost unbearably sad, I was so glad to get to see it for the sake of hearing and seeing Amy Winehouse's beauty, originality, and ferocious talent. A treasure, in my opinion.

Jimmy’s Hall: An Irish movie with a socialist hero, set in County Leitrim in the 1930s. We had to see it, obviously. By Ken Loach. Worth a watch, although perhaps a little preachy? 

Mr. Holmes: I certainly am not sorry to have seen this, and Ian McKellen makes most things watchable. Some reviewer I read carped about having Laura Linney play a relatively uneducated housekeeper. Okay. Because actresses shouldn't play parts that they wouldn't occupy in real life, I guess? It was entertaining and it was enjoyable.

Trainwreck ***: one of my favorites of the year. Amy Schumer was perfect and awful and wonderful in her role, and the film was filled with wonderful performances: Bill Hader is loose and lovable as her romantic foil; John Cena is hilarious and touching as her just-a-little-too-dumb boyfriend; Brie Larson as her sister; Colin Quinn as her racist, awful dad; Tilda Swinton as an incredibly funny and truly terrible boss; and most of all, LeBron James as himself. Magnificent. 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation *: Super entertaining. Tom Cruise as a special effect. That is all.

Spy **: Although I thought MI:RN was pretty great, I will say that my favorite international spy movie of the year by far was Spy, Paul Feig's send up and love letter--send up of the genre, love letter to women actresses, Melissa McCarthy specifically. She is wonderful indeed as a CIA analyst who becomes a field agent, as is Miranda Hart as her friend/sidekick. Alison Janney also has a splendid role as the CIA unit boss--so hilarious--and Rose Byrne plays international (Bulgarian) baddie. They are all so incredibly funny, but it would seem churlish (and insubordinate) not to mention Jason Statham as, well, a parody of himself, one of the funniest things I have seen this year or maybe ever. And rounding it out, Jude Law also plays on his own pretty boyishness in a great way. I've seen this movie three times and I am pretty sure it will be funny forever.

Ricki and the Flash *: I will not apologize (the sure sign of an impending apology) for loving this movie. I cried all over myself at it. Oh how I loved it. Meryl Streep as a neglectful mom who tries to make up for it. She's made a life for herself, sort of, playing in a bar band. Her boyfriend is Rick Springfield (!) and their bar band is--true story!--pretty legit. 

Mistress America **: Noah Baumbach gave us a twofer this year, with While We're Young and this. The great thing about this film is that it has Greta Gerwig, playing an erratic but compulsively charming young woman pretty much barely making it in New York City, and the friendship she strikes up with another young woman--their parents are going to marry one another, apparently. Both the actresses are terrific (Lola Kirke plays the other young woman, a college student), and the pace was zippy and lively. Comedies that last less than ninety minutes are optimal. I'm not saying I gave the stars on that basis, but, you know, it didn't hurt.

The Gift: Jason Bateman plays a jerk who doesn't know he's a jerk and who has to find out that he's a jerk. Joel Edgerton directs and also plays his antagonist. Creepy and pretty sharp.

Grandma **: This was a really good one. Lily Tomlin plays a poet who is called upon to help her granddaughter, who finds herself pregnant. All sorts of encounters ensue during the day they drive around L.A., trying to scrape together money for an abortion. Sam Elliott is indelible as a former lover of Tomlin's. 

Sicario **: I was glad I got to see this for the great performances from Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin. Emily Blunt was not bad either. Set at the border between the U.S. and Mexico, where what increasingly appears to be an extra-governmental task force works at the escalating drug wars. Super intense. 

99 Homes **: This, along with The Big Short and The Wolf of Wall Street, make a small curriculum on the economic meltdown. I was really glad to have seen this, with several terrific performances, including those by Andrew Garfield, Michael Shannon (whom I adore), and Laura Dern. 

The Intern: Okay, okay. You can see I didn't give stars here. But I did see this, and I did like it, and that's enough out of you, there, just pipe down.

The Martian *: Super enjoyable and entertaining. We saw this after a long week, and I really felt the deep, deep pleasure of being told a story, of good acting, especially Matt Damon's, of generally sharp filmmaking. Good job, all concerned! Keep up the good work!

Burnt: No reason this movie shouldn't have been better than it was. But it was basically a placeholder for that better movie, Bradley Cooper and Daniel Bruhl notwithstanding. 

Suffragette *: This movie was pedagogical, but it was also stirring, smart, emotionally compelling. I do not always love Carey Mulligan--or maybe it's just the idea of her that I resist, because I can think of several pretty strong performances by her--I did think she was great in this, as was Helena Bonham Carter. Ben Whishaw as the ultimately unsympathetic husband of our Carey. I always love seeing him. 

Peanuts Movie: I saw this with grandchildren. It was quite lovely, even in CG-animation. Charming.

Spectre: Daniel Craig as Bond and Christof Walz as the nemesis. Perfectly fine. It was exactly 30 minutes too long.

Spotlight ***: This movie is, perhaps, perfect. It is, perhaps, better than All the President's Men at showing journalism as a team sport, and why it is so important. A morally compelling story, too, and it's one worth attending to, about the ways that powerful interests, aligned, can lead to tremendous abuses against ordinary people. Everyone is so good, I can't even really talk about who is good, because it's everyone.

The Night Before *: My son and I were going to church, which was for no good reason not being held. So we decided to go to a movie, which ended up being this one. Want to see The Night Before? he asked. I had no idea. He queued up the trailer which I watched while he assembled his lunch. I totally laughed, and off we went. I submit to you that Seth Rogen's performance in this film is a comic tour de force, and I suggest that you see it for yourselves. Michael Shannon, as the film's equivalent of Jacob Marley, is superb.

Mockingjay 2: This was part deux of our break-the-Sabbath moviethon. I was disappointed in it. I liked the previous Hunger Games installment a lot. This felt sluggish and sloggish and I wasn't happy with it. I preferred The Night Before greatly. Just for your information.

Brooklyn *: This was lovely. I don't think it was transcendent. But it was good. Saoirse Ronan is, as always, sublime. 

Creed **: I loved this almost as much as I loved the first Rocky. Two reasons: (a) Michael B. Jordan is a wonderful actor. Wonderful. (b) Sylvester Stallone has given three great performances in his career: the first Rocky; his sheriff in Copland; and this. He is soulful and great. All right, three reasons: (c) the fight scenes are awesome.

Sisters **: We saw this the night before my daughter's wedding, which was perfect. It was funny and raunchy and really funny. In conclusion, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. And Maya Rudolph. Equals comedy miracles. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens *: Yes--totally. A fantastic girl heroine and Oscar Isaac as a pilot and another new character, Finn. Entirely pleasurable. I liked Adam Driver as Kilo Ren, the tortured wielder of the dark side of the Force.  

Miss You Already: so much crying. My daughter and I saw this together, basically for the purpose of crying. It did the job nicely. Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette as friends for life, even when one of them gets very very sick.

Room **: Brie Larson as the woman kidnapped, who has a son by her captor. Her love for him keeps her sane, and when she concocts a daring and terrifically dangerous plan of escape, which works, then she has to recover in the bigger world. So good, moving and upsetting and powerful.

The Big Short **: I found the design of this film--its assemblage of tones, imagery, strategies--to be the only possible response to the subject matter, which is the internal workings of the housing market collapse. So intelligent and so full of outrage. Great performances uniformly. So very smart.

Joy **: Despite the reviews, which seemed not to be so enthusiastic, I quite loved this. I loved the thought of this woman making good. A. O. Scott thought that David O. Russell deliberately played up the elements of Joy Mangano's story that felt fairy tale-ish, emphasizing the obstacles against her and the ways she summoned her powers to overcome them. I thought it mostly worked, and I loved Jennifer Lawrence in it, a lot.

These were actually 2014 movies I saw in 2015: 

Into the Woods: so much singing. I love music--I'm not quite sure why I don't really love musicals, especially recent ones. I wasn't sorry to have seen this, but it felt long and also strange. (I am apparently a philistine.)

Big Eyes: Fine. Wish it had felt more compelling, honestly, even though I love Amy Adams, and Christoph Walz made a perfectly great creepy husband.

Top Five **: Who's brilliant? Chris Rock, that's who. Also Rosario Dawson. And Cedric the Entertainer is terrific as Jazzy Dee in an unforgettable, and unforgettably funny, scene of debauchery. 

A Most Violent Year *: A very good, very straightforward drama set in New York City in the early 1980s. Oscar Isaac is a businessman plagued by the historically-documented crime wave of that era. His wife, Jessica Chastain, is from a crime family. The ways they navigate the challenges to their business, and the trust that is, or isn't, present in their marriage, makes for a compelling and grave film. 

Foxcatcher *: I didn't think this was an amazing film as a whole, but I did think that the scenes with Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as wrestlers and brothers were all so beautiful, they took my breath away. It's entirely worth seeing for those scenes alone. 

Inherent Vice ***: a brilliant film, in my view. So gorgeous and spooky and scary and funny and sad. Paul Thomas Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix make a fine team, and there are nothing but great performances here. The feeling of paranoia but also corruption work to make this feel, to me, like L.A. in the 70s, and I loved that about it. I loved everything about it, honestly.

I missed a lot of really good films this year--Mad Max: Fury Road among them--but I am hereby committing myself to find those films and see them somehow, without also compromising my plans to see all of this year's good movies, plus, probably, a bunch that are merely passable and some that are really inexcusable. Because movies, c'est moi, and that's it, America, over and out. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

in the meanwhile:

I'm writing my list of films, along with trenchant, witty, and highly useful commentary. It's not ready yet. Maybe tomorrow.

However, I have, since my last post, done the following:

1. had breakfast with a bunch of grandsons and their parents at the historian's daughter's house
2. had linguine and sauce with a bunch of grandchildren and their parents at my house
3. drew with Will and Van
4. painted with Gwen
5. built block houses with all and sundry
6. watched a Jazz game
7. had a wretched finger cut on my mandoline, which is healing but damn, annoying!
8. had pizza at my daughter's house
9. had some poems featured here

and so forth--your general holiday post-Christmas flurry of visiting and delight and exhaustion.

Making new year's plans. Making resolutions. Hoping for Mexican food and a chance to take a look at my manuscript before sending it off to several places before midnight on 12/31. And another movie.

Stay tuned for the movie roundup!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Boxing Day.

Just like the day after the wedding, today was a quiet day. I got up/woke up at nine. Before I threw back the covers and stood up, I thought, waffles. Because there were still people in the house who might find waffles to be a fitting and restorative breakfast, the day after Christmas. I made the Waffle of Insane Greatness (shared with me by my oldest and best friend), including letting the batter rest, and made with both butter and buttermilk, and they were everything a waffle should be--possibly even more.

Then, time passed. Things happened. Rests were taken. The internet was surfed.

Then we went to have a late pizza lunch before taking Abbey and Michael to the airport. The day was beautiful and bitter cold, so, over hot melted cheese, we had to talk about that, and movies, and television, and my youngest son's impending move across America.

Thus filled with cheese, we drove to the airport. They would be going home, where their little dog and cat awaited them, and their lives and their work. Still, I really hated to see them go.

This morning, my son asked my daughter, So are you going to help Mom take the tree down? and I said, Don't be ridiculous. It's not February yet. That's how I feel about this whole last several weeks--the wedding preparations, the day itself, Christmas, getting all the GD grading done and the relief associated with all that, the baking in the new oven, the shopping...the wedding flowers--white roses and stocks and hydrangeas--have just about had it. We have spent so much wonderful time together in every possible festive configuration. We have unwrapped all the presents. And still, I hate to see it go.

The night is cold, very cold.  My daughter made it home safely. We took Bruiser on a shorter than usual walk, out of consideration for his paws. I turned the lights on the tree for what is--however long it lasts--one of a finite number of times. We still have some holiday left in us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Or, as Caesar said, I graded, I graded, I graded. And now my butt is sore. And also my wrists.

I wish I could say that I feel better. What I feel is beaten into submission. By numbers. Just FYI, Canvas gives me several numbers I can choose among when administering grades. Don't think they aren't swimming in front of my eyes right now. Don't think that my soul is not suffused in an anxious, dread-marinated state, made of numbers that are close but not exactly the same, any one of which could translate into a grade.

Did I succumb to easy grading? Sure. Did I nonetheless give plenty of grades that people might bicker with me about? Hells yes I did.

Will I be able to sleep tonight?

Well, will I?

And will the oven-installer guy come tomorrow to my very kitchen and install me a double wall oven? He damn well better.

That is all, America. Students: if you wanted a better grade, you should have done the work. You know what I'm talking about.

Monday, December 21, 2015

My so-called grading day, part 1.

America: things have come between me and my grading. Things like

  • arrival of Scotland daughter
  • intermittent and stubborn illness
  • arrival of The Bride
  • family gatherings
  • the Wedding Fitting Ordeal
  • flurries of last-minute purchases, to wit: more Mucinex; StaticGuard; mints; emergency luminizer; &c&c
  • the gathering of sisters (and mom) for the night before festivities
and so forth.

Also, and not to be forgotten:
  • the WEDDING. Which was glorious.
But now comes the reckoning, because grades are due, as in: there is an actual deadline, tomorrow night at midnight. Alas! the portfolios, as they say, will not grade themselves. And so I set to work.

Luckily, before most of the above ensued, I had
  • initiated the ritual of the Preparation of the Rubrics, and
  • organized the URLs.
Thank God. That meant that today I could just start reading and commenting.

DIGRESSION: Comments? Anyone? 

Two days ago, in a discussion with my son, I was moaning about the grading, and he said, predictably, 'Just give 'em all As.' And I said, also predictably, 'The thing is, I feel like I need to give comments.' And he said, 'Just say, Good job.' To which I am thinking, not a bad strategy, sonny. I'm thinking right now: three things you did right, three things you should keep working on, is my new comment template. We'll see how it goes.

RETURN TO POST: But before I could start reading and commenting, I had to wake up.

DIGRESSION: Last night, we had a lovely party at our house because my brother and sister-in-law are in town and they're not usually in town. So I made two kinds of soup--three, because I made two kinds of chowder plus one kind of green soup--and bought bread (Xref: still no oven) and cheese and cut up two pineapples and put pistachios in a bowl. And so forth. Other people brought fruit and snacks and more bread and desserts galore. It was a fine affair. We have loads of white flowers in square vases from the wedding, and we lit all the Christmas lights and my brother got out his guitar and my son his ukulele, and it was just lovely. But, as you may surmise, I did no grading yesterday. Also, this morning I had a we-had-a-party hangover. 

RETURN TO POST: So I lolled about in bed until my eyes felt sort of alert, and then I worked out, and then my sister came over to retrieve her purse that she left hanging on the bannister at the party last night. Then I bought some milk and made oatmeal. And ate it, while reading the paper, etc. 

Anyway, you can see that I got a late start. Then, because of all the wedding shenanigans of the week before, my laptop felt a strong urge to back itself up which slowed the internets down to approximately the speed of something super slow, which made clicking on URLs too annoying until the backing up was completed. So I did some laundry.

DIGRESSION. I know, this post is all about me procrastinating AGAIN. I KNOW. 

RETURN TO POST:  In the end--I am fast forwarding--I got all the group projects graded. In the end, I just have to grade the reflections tomorrow, then look at the totals, then cry about it, and then submit the final grades. In the end, it will have been worth it, after all.


And will it have been worth it, after all, Will it have been worth while, After the slow internet and the snack breaks and the broken oven, After the laundry, after the pistachio shells, after the Facebook breaks— And this, and so much more?—
RETURN TO POST:  No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. I mean, I'm only human. In the end, there has to be an end, and I have to reach it, and submit my grades, and move on. Which will happen tomorrow, come hell or high water, where I will hear the mermaids sing each to each, &c &c, and on Wednesday, i.e., the day after grades are due, the oven installing man will come to my house. And then there will be a celebration that involves butter and sugar and no more portfolios for a month.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The event.

Yesterday was a big day. A glorious day, a momentous day, an emotional day. A beautiful day. And today, like the days after big, glorious, momentous, beautiful days should be, was a quiet day. We talked about everything--how wonderful it was that Abbey loved it, every part of it. How beautiful everything and everyone was. How splendid it felt to have so many people who love Abbey there. How much fun it was to dance together.

I have a picture of my mother helping me on my wedding day,
just like this.

So many great moments: helping Abbey get dressed. Watching the flower girl (Gwen) and the ring bearer (Van) do their excellent work. Listening to Abbey and Michael exchange vows. Listening to the music by Isaac and Rob. Having the pleasure of getting to know the groom's family a little bit better. Watching my kids all come together for their sister. Sophia's toast. And everyone, everyone dancing.

ring bearer, bride, flower girl
the happy couple.

these are my children. they are the BEST.
Isaac and Rob did the beautiful music.
A big family--not even all of us--from the bride's side.

Lesley took this fantastic dancing selfie!

Cousin of the bride Diane took this fantastic dancing action shot!

end of the night. party's over. lights in the trees, banks of snow.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Monday, December 14, 2015

I would like to make a few statements. (Snow Day Edition)

1. Our analysts here at hightouchmegastore have determined that last night's bout of insomnia was caused by equal proportions of snow light (it was snowing and it was going to snow), The List (which is endless), and the grading.

diagram of the causes of my insomnia.

2. Insomnia has a deleterious effect on one's get up and go.

To wit: I woke up at 7:30. Then I woke up at 8:30. Then I began consulting my will to live. I considered the fact that my eyes still felt tired. Also my arms.

Then I woke up again at 9:45. I felt hungry. But if I am going to work out, I thought, I should work out before I eat. But I felt hungry! But the workout! This went on for quite some time, and all from a prone position.

In the end, after taking the pulse of my will to live every five minutes or so, I got up and worked out, and then I made pancakes. And thus my will to live was revived.

diagram of my will to live, vis a vis
not enough sleep (xref: deleterious effects).

3. Snow day without an oven is possibly a little bit pointless. I mean, why bother.

4. EXCEPT: you can snug up and do your laundry and fake-grade and eat toast and make tea. And wear a wooly sweater. And tidy up. And turn on every Christmas light in the house. So, not entirely pointless.

5. Speaking of grading: I totally meant to grade all day today. But grading made my tired eyes feel extra-tired. Also, grading threatened to set back my revived will to live. So I made a couple of passes at it. I feinted and dodged it. I looked at it from a great distance. I made a charcoal sketch of it. I came up with metaphors for it. And made some more toast and drank some more tea, and changed the sheets on my bed.

diagram of how I evaded actual grading.

6. Tonight, on Bruiser's walk, the snow came down thick and soft. The prints his paws made on the snowy walk were lovely.

7. I will grade tomorrow, by Grabthar's hammer. By Grabthar's hammer, tomorrow I will grade!

insomnia part 7000: 99 reasons.

(1:56 a.m.)

Is it because it is snowing?

Is it because of The List?

Is it because I don't know if I'll ever finish my grading?

Is it because I have no oven and therefore no cookies? and when will I ever?

Is it because of that rejection I got today while I was in church?

Is it because of the Diet Coke I drank with dinner?

Is it because of a corrosive self-doubt?

Is it because of the funny little I-don't-know-what (not to say je ne sais quoi) in my throat?

Is it because tomorrow is Monday?

Is it because there's a wedding in five days?

(to be continued)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The wind-down wind-up.

Last night at midnight, all my students' work was due. So today, Saturday, my intentions were to:
  • get up,
  • grade, then
  • meet my daughters for a little pre-wedding shopping.
What I did was:
  • got up super early. At 10 a.m. I still don't quite know how that happened, but it was so choice.
  • ate breakfast and read through the whole paper, including the sports pages' admiration of Kevin Durant, who was the means by which Oklahoma City prevailed last night against the Jazz, alas.
  • got myself to my laptop where I prepared myself to grade by figuring out which student groups were missing what, sending messages, and preparing the rubrics. Then,
  • I graded one student project.
  • and then I went to the mall, which--surprise!--was a madhouse because--surprise!--Christmas.
Never mind. Two of my three daughters and I had our way, sort of, with Nordstrom and selected other stores. Then we sat down and had a restorative repast in the Nordstrom cafe, which involved the wolfing down of sundry french fries and salads and diet Cokes. The bride herself--Abbey--has not yet arrived in town. Those of us who are in town at the moment had this and that to look for--shoes and dresses and tights for the baby. You know, wedding stuff.

At the end of that, which was lovely, I was exhausted.

'Shopping can be exhausting,' said the historian.

'It can,' I had to agree.

'I find shopping exhausting,' he clarified.

'Listen, if I, whose shopping capabilities are considerable, found the shopping exhausting, it was totally exhausting,' I said, taking off my shoes and lying upon the bed and perhaps also under the covers.

We considered our movie options. Although there are a few we want to see, or sort of want to see, that we haven't seen, none of them moved us to arise and go, and go to the multiplex or the art house.

'Let's get some soup,' I said.

'Okay,' said the historian.

'Pho,' I clarified.

'Okay,' said the historian. Soup makes everyone agreeable.

So we tried a new pho place that had the great cultural advantage of being in our neighborhood. It was vegan pho, and it was quite good. We also had a coconut and pandan leaf waffle for dessert, with sweetened condensed milk to dip it in. Because it was our first time at the restaurant, and it's one of their specialties. It smelled like a sweet, baked thing as it arrived, pale green on the plate. It was lovely. And then, we came home and I put a few more ornaments on the tree, and then we watched A Very Murray Christmas and laughed. 

I predict that over the next few days, as we get closer and closer to the wedding, we'll have more and more to do, but I hope we can treat the more and more as special sweet things that are happening--our daughter's wedding, her happiness, the festivities, the joy, and all the lights and shining things gleaming.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Short notes to the very last students.

Dear ante-penultimate student,

Thank you for showing up for your appointment, and thanks for really trying hard all semester long--I observed it, your effort, and it was, in its persistent way, impressive. Inspiring, even. Thank you for saying that the course was 'amazing.' Maybe I needed to hear that, with no matter how many little mental caveats. Maybe I took a little snapshot of that bit of praise, mentally. Okay, maybe an actual snapshot. With my iPhone.

I'm so glad I was your teacher,



Dear penultimate student,

Thank you for being willing to attempt so many different kinds of writing this semester. Thank you, truly, for using the word 'genre' in such a way that I felt you understood what it means. Thank you for appreciating the library databases: it's true, they are a veritable miracle. (My words, but I think that's what you were getting at.)

You are the very reason that teaching feels--at the end of the semester--worthwhile,


k k

Dear last student,

I know that you had an appointment at 8:40 p.m. But that appointment was, actually, for last Wednesday night. A week ago. This is why I wasn't in the chatroom tonight.

I think you see the conundrum, right?

Not holding it against you (much),


k k

Dear very last student,

I know it wasn't your fault--not remotely--that you had the very last appointment. The very last appointment on the very last day. It's true, then, that I was running on the very last drops of consultational fuel. Fumes, actually, if you want to know the fact of the matter.

So when you didn't show up at the appointed hour, should I feel bad that I felt sneakingly relieved? I was alone in my office. Alone in the chatroom. And I watched the digital timekeeper in the upper right hand corner of my screen tick the minutes off. I watched for new entrants into the chatroom. Nope. And...nope.

Is it wrong that I lifted my arms like Rocky Balboa, after he reached the top of those Philadelphia stairs, and gave a silent cheer?

Well, is it?



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