Saturday, December 30, 2017

Back to work, but not yet.

It has been nine days since I last wrote an elected official, although it has been about ten minutes since I retweeted something political. About nine days, probably, since I last checked the learning management system for messages from students. Just one day, truthfully, since I received an email pertaining to next semester, but that same amount of time is how long I have been ignoring it. Both the email and next semester, also truthfully.

During this holiday I have seen my family and gone to movies and out to dinner. I have admired the lights in my house and out on the streets. I have delivered baked goods and wrapped presents, tied ribbons around packages (and harvested the ribbon to hoard again at home). I have begun to make my plans for the new year, and I have hung up my clothes. This sounds ordinary but is actually momentous, as every time I hang up my clothes I reckon with the whole of my life.

I have eaten a lot of peanut brittle.

A friend recently wrote that she had waited 'till the last possible minute' to plan for her next semester's class. I thought, this can't be the last possible minute, what about next week? And resumed scrolling through Twitter with a piece of peanut brittle in hand and possible in my mouth. I am having just a little bit of a tricky time keeping track of the day of the week. The days feel a little slide-y.

my calendar is currently wide open.

The solstice has come and gone. Supposedly, each day has a little bit more light in it. Supposedly. For me, as I imagine for many of you, it still feels pretty dark.

Well, I was out for the afternoon, and came back home. We'd planned to go to a movie, one of two movies that looked a little bit mainstream, a little bit heavy, possibly a little dark. I said to the historian, Honestly, both of these movies feel a little bit heavy and a little bit dark. I left out the part about a little bit mainstream, because I sometimes, even often, like a mainstream movie, especially during the last part of the year, and I don't want to cede the mainstream just yet.

The historian agreed. Probably, mentally, he added and a little bit mainstream to the list of reasons why we should just go out to dinner, then come home. Currently, he is watching the Jazz eke out a possible, improbably victory (I hope!), and then we will watch some more of the end of Veronica Mars, second season, for the zillionth time, because even though Veronica Mars is a little bit mainstream, a little bit heavy, a little bit dark, somehow it comforts me in these dark times.

However: in the new year, I plan to do the following things to jolt me out of my doom cocoon:

  •  read books, as opposed to the infinitely charactered, herky jerky narrative that is Twitter. I have a list.
  • listen to new music every day.
This is a very small excerpt of my new year plan. Some things you just need to keep to yourself for awhile. Possibly, we will watch the mainstream/heavy/dark films we skipped this weekend, just not right now. Just like, I will probably go into my office and fetch items that will help me come up with a plan for my next semester's class. Just not right now. And maybe not tomorrow either. When does next week start, even?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Good things: a current list.

(1) tiny little art piece by Naomi, posted in my office.

(2) progress on layout for the 2e SLCC Community Anthology.

(3) quiet weekend, mostly at home, getting stuff done.

(4) eating leftover sausage pizza in my office--getting a little hit of fennel.

(5) this pumpkin pie, gussied up with secret additions and revisions. (pro tip: roast your own sugar pumpkin.)

(6) two GREAT films at the SLFS this weekend:

(7) FYI, it is a holiday week, and I could not be happier.

(8) this apple I am currently eating.

[NOTE: a lot of my good things are food, and is there anything I need to investigate on that front? probably not. But to wit:]

(9) a thing called 'sipping chocolate' at Trader Joe's, which may be life-altering? it's seasonal, though, so you should (a) buy it now, and possibly (b) stock up?

And now, I am diving back into InDesign, which, weirdly, has become a kind of homey place to hang out, what is wrong with me? NOTHING, that's what. I am just fine, and now I can apply paragraph styles to content I have put into pages I have applied master pages to, what is WRONG WITH ME.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Wall of Truth.

This year is the year I have dubbed Mortality Lessons. I've joked that I think I'm ready to take the quiz now, I'm ready to stop immersive study practices and show I've learned the material, maybe even mastered it, I think I will ace it, enough already.


I'm not sure that's how Mortality Lessons actually works.

My sister E had not one, but two strokes this summer. She has been recovering ever since, doing all sorts of therapy, and making impressive strides. Her friends and family are ardent supporters. My sisters--there are three of us--were and are the squad (SQUAD!) for my dad as he has recovered from his own brain events.

At the moment, though, E has to make getting better, recovering, her main focus. This is one of the statements on her Wall of Truth. The Wall of Truth is my younger sister's invention, and it is genius. These statements are written on pieces of white paper in Sharpie, and taped to the wall opposite the bed and chair. Other statements include the dates of her brain events; the location of her two daughters, and the fact that they are all right; and other pertinent facts about E's here and now, which can feel a little elusive sometimes. The Wall of Truth is supposed to help in making the here and now a little bit more stable. More confirmable. Look up, and there are the bare facts of the case, the incontrovertible, the inarguable.
Truth: the inarguable here and now are sometimes unbearable. 
Truth: the people who love us are infinitely precious. 
Truth: the burdens we bear cannot, for the most part, be made easier to bear through better thinking or better organizing. We just have to bear them. 
Truth: still, sometimes we can use a little help.
Some of the sweetest conversations of my life I've had this year, with my mother, my father, my sisters, my brother. My therapist pointed out that one of the reasons the sweetness, and the grief, both feel so sharp is that these conversations--these circumstances--are sacred. That rang true to me. The sacredness--the way this year has felt set apart, a steep swerve into another realm--intensifies both the grief and the grace.

Today I came home from a long but good day, feeling like I had done a pretty good job at all the job things that were on my agenda. I told the historian so, and he offered a kind word, affirming what I felt. It's my habit to simultaneously hold this kind of praise, and to demur.

"Thanks for saying that," I said to him.

"Well, it's true," he said. "Maybe you need a Wall of Truth."
Truth: the end of the day Friday is the sweetest moment of the week. 
Truth: I really, really love my family, all of them, in an infinity of times and places. There will never be enough words for this. 
Truth: there is also never enough time. 
Truth: I need to arrange to get a CT Angio, stat.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Dear Robert Mueller,

Dear Robert Mueller,

I figure that, between your crack legal mind, your impeccable sense of timing and narrative drama, and your unimpeachable moral character, you might need to hear a story or two, so, because I have secretly or maybe not so secretly put you on a pedestal, nay, in a shrine, even though I know how problematic this all is, of COURSE I DO, I offer the following:


On Indictment Monday, I woke up, finally, from a not so great night of sleep, to my alarm going off at an indecent hour. Barely cracking open an eye, I reached for my phone to turn off the alarm, flicked to see my notifications, to find the one from the NYTimes:

"Manafort," I said to my husband, his sweet head still on the sweet, sweet pillow of early morning.


Last night, I had the strangest dream.
Last night, a night when the cable box inexplicably shone its blue light forEVer, even though I knew I  had turned it off, and my mouth felt icky and also my shoulders hurt but I hoped maybe I would be able to go back to sleep and give it a rest already, but no: last night, after I woke up to stomp over to the freaking cable box and turn it off, and stomped out to the hall to see if we had turned down the heat, and we had, but why was it going, then? and why did my mouth feel so gross? and maybe I should just take some ibuprofen already: last night, after I finally fell asleep again after all the previous drama--are you with me, Robert? I know, that was some serious narrative circuitousness--I had this dream: 
I was traveling, and it was complicated. (Maybe I couldn't choose between my three U.S. passports with different numbers--I think maybe that was it.) Anyway, while I was traveling, things turned into a plan to help America heal its political divides. The historian was with me, I think. Also some of my kids, and maybe a few other people. And also John Boehner, with whom I was prosecuting a very intense argument. 
"You liberals don't have any respect for any conservatives," scoffed John Boehner. 
This is patent nonsense. I derive from a family tree of conservatives, and I have maintained, lo unto this very dark hour, that there are still (a few) conservative public servants who are honorable people, or at least who strive to be honorable. (The evidence for this position being slimmer and less and less tenable as the years go by, I acknowledge, and with some sorrow.) 
"That's patent nonsense," I rejoined. "I drive from a family tree of conservatives. I respect John McCain, for instance, even though I disagree with him on most policy matters." 
"McCain!" scoffed John Boehner, implying in his scoffery that this is a too-easy answer, that everyone likes to say they respect John McCain.  
"Well, what about you, John Boehner?" I said. "Who on the left do you admire or respect?" 
This brought him up short. If he'd been on his game (although, to be fair, it was MY dream), he might have said Joe Biden, since it's clear that almost everyone likes Joe Biden, perhaps in excess of his pre-Obama record, but still. But he didn't. Instead, he reached into the pre-modern era.  
This is where my dream-memory gets sketchy. 
He named a founders-era person, and I said, no, come on, John Boehner, it has to be someone closer to the present. 
He paused again. "Grover Cleveland," he proffered.*

Robert Mueller, when I told this story to the historian this morning, he snort-laughed. I hope that you will be amused, although to be honest, I don't expect you to actually laugh. You're too serious for that kind of nonsense. And sir, I thank you for it. I thank you for your seriousness, and for all those indictments.

Please carry on,


*Grover Cleveland, you may or may not remember, was a Democrat, but obviously before the shift of the Democrats away from its southern constituency. So, John Boehner, Grover Cleveland is not an acceptable answer whatsoever.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Away, and yet I am still my very own self, Episode Infinity.

 I am in a hotel in another city. Okay, D.C. It’s early, because even in another time zone in my own country, I’m a little bit thrown off. I heard what seemed like a knock at my door and I thought, ack I’ve overslept, which is a new “thing I’m doing,” I guess, part of the “everything has changed and probably for the worse” tour of my own life. But no, I had not overslept, there was no knock, it was still early. But, you know, the windows are light, or lightening, and so now I’m up in the gray quiet, alone.

What is there to do in a hotel room but take gratuitous selfies? Or blog, which maybe amounts to the same thing?

I told my friend that I would have a hotel room to myself:

I realized when I woke up that I had just spent the last 12 hours, almost, in the total quiet, my time belonging only to myself. And what did I do with this precious commodity, quiet and time alone? Well, I slept, of course. But also, I did much of what I always do—finding stuff on the internet. Answering email. Because I tried to leave town with lots of work already done, though, I didn’t find myself feeling torn by how much there was to do. When you’re in another city, a lot of what you usually have to do, you can’t do. My colleague and I ate a wonderful dinner before I encelled myself in my narrow chamber. Actually, it’s pretty swank. So, you know, monastic, but with really nice towels and a king size bed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Dear guy in the white Ford ahead of me at the Del Taco drive thru,

Dear guy in the white Ford ahead of me at the Del Taco drive thru,

I've lately been having a talk with myself about anger. About rage, really. About grief and rage, which are twins, obverse and reverse of the same coin, aren't they? I could say that my grief/rage is national, but really, it's international and national and local and personal. Things are messed up. They are awry, askew, they are going sour and turning violent, and the losses--psychic, human, animal, civic--are at this point past counting.

Yes, I thought about all these things as I watched your broad backside, white Ford ahead of me in the Del Taco drive thru, brake lights aflare, as the driver--that's you, guy in the white Ford--leaned on an elbow out the window, apparently having a tete a tete with the person whose voice I could faintly hear through my own window, as I waited to order my two fish tacos and a Diet Coke.

Of course I was in a time crunch. Don't be ridiculous, of course I was.

What could you have been discussing? On NPR, they were discussing whether the Las Vegas shooter was somehow affiliated with the Islamic State, which the Islamic State claimed he was. Could he have acted on his own, and Islamic State still somehow claim it, in some legitimate sense? What is a legitimate claim from Islamic State, vis a vis this particular crime? &c &c &c, and the brake lights were still lit up and you, guy in the white Ford, still leaned out your window, and you were still, apparently, talking about something taco or burrito related? What could this be?

I admit I felt a tiny ignition of anger. I was under a time crunch, you see, a meeting that was to begin in fifteen minutes, and those fish tacos weren't going to eat themselves.

Finally, finally, you inched ahead in tiny, infinitesimal inches. And, following you, I crept forward to the drive thru kiosk to say, Two fish tacos and a diet Coke, and Del Scorcho. Because they always want to know if you want sauce, and Del Scorcho is what my son once ordered, ergo: Del Scorcho is my sauce.

I raced into my building, sack of tacos in one hand and the Diet Coke in the other. I managed one bite of one taco before I dashed to my meeting.

And now, having wolfed my tacos like a wolf, I'm thinking to myself: what could you have been discussing at the drive thru ordering kiosk, facing that tinny little speaker as if it were the person speaking through it? Was yours a terribly complicated order? Did you find yourself in need of a rundown of all the possible sauces? Were you ordering for a starving militia? Who are you, guy in the white Ford ahead of me in the Del Taco drive thru? And what hunger brought you to this drive thru, where you tarried, and, let's face it, kind of messed with my crack timing?

But that's okay, because I don't have a rage/grief problem, so we're cool,


Monday, October 02, 2017

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?

Remember when we used to have Walkmans and listen to Prince while we took a giant walk around the perimeter of the neighborhood? Remember when, in childhood, we briefly had a cat? Remember when we had a tetherball court in our backyard, and we practiced and practiced so that we could beat Diane S., who was the best tetherball champion in the sixth grade? Remember when we had a yellow ten-speed, and rode it to the beach before the fog had burned off? Remember when we had delphinium, cosmos, asters, roses, baby's breath all blooming in our garden? Remember when we had a Great Dane that ate the tomatoes off the vine, and the peaches off the tree?

Remember when everyone had a blog?

Well, I remember all of this. Mostly because all of it happened to me, but you can substitute your own events, and you'll, all of a sudden, remember when you were younger, too. And when you blogged, maybe. Well, maybe you never blogged, but I did. I blogged a lot. There were a couple of years when I blogged almost every day.

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I'm in my office, and I should do a little grading before 11 a.m., when I have a commitment. So I will, but before I do so, I want you to know that I have the following before me:
  • a stack of bookmaking books.
  • a copy of Anne Carson's NOX.
  • a copy of Ander Monson's Letters to a Future Lover.
  • a certificate of tax exemption for the next time I buy a passel of fancy paper for the Publication Center.
  • My lunch. 
  • a postcard of Hovenweep. 
  • broadsides galore.
  • a copy of the Eduardo Corral itinerary.
  • a kaleidoscope.
  • an opalescent glass globe.
  • Dayanita Singh's Museum Bhavan.
  • India ink.
  • a David Hockney print of his acrylic painting of Mulholland Drive.
  • a photo of the crowded Beijing Metro.
With everything happening in the world, I want to try--try--to keep choosing love, beauty, and joy, while also still flooding my congresspeople's offices with strongly worded faxes. I want to try.

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To Autumn, worth reading every autumn.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Middle of the middle.

Here we are, just past the Fourth of July, with its blaze and hot dogs, its smoke and ambivalence. At least that's how it was for me. Luckily, I got to see my dad during the day, and we--the historian and I--went downtown to see a movie in total spontaneity. Also, ate pizza. The fireworks in my neighborhood went on well after midnight. Bruiser is an old man now, and is not a fan of the neighborhood fireworks. We postponed our walk till we thought it was all over, but no: one family had their entire ranks huddled in the dark on their parking strip, and set off a few rockets in the street. Green and white sparks fountaining up. We were maybe a hundred yards away. Bruiser drew up short, and looked back at us, as if to say, Really? REALLY? And we were all, I KNOW. When the family saw us, they held up their next conflagration until we had passed. Which was nice of them.

In my current roster of democratic (small d) actions, I include the following:

  • Writing to my senators all the damn time.
  • Reading prescient and pertinent articles out loud to the historian, who is a mensch and a champ.
  • Taking small comfort in good things.
  • Despairing, and at some volume, and then rallying. 

Small comforts: 
  1. the historian was working at a coffee shop, and saw a guy wearing an ACLU tee shirt. The guy was teaching his daughter, about ten, to play chess. The guy told the historian that he'd got the shirt at some ACLU event. So, you know, fellow traveler. Comrade.
  2. All those Secretaries of State, telling Kris Kobach to shove it, one way or another. 
  3. Talking to my dad and mom so often, hearing their stories, observing their responses to challenges. 
  4. Listening to an amazing podcast yesterday, with Danez Smith and Franny Choi interviewing Eve Ewing. 
  5. Writing, at least a little bit, every day. Thinking about writing. 

Eve Ewing talked in that podcast about 'desire-based narratives'--rather than writing about oppression and focusing only on what's terrible, thinking about, listening to, what the people involved want, what they long for. That seems small d democratic to me. An idea to conjure with.

It seems like our current predicament--what Danez Smith said called for them, all of us, to pack the apocalypse backpack every day (what's in yours?)--is going to last for awhile. I admit that I hoped that the appointment of a special prosecutor would be a hero on a horse situation, and even though I knew better, I hoped it would come quickly. But nope. (Or, in my favorite Twitter hashtag, which I think I personally devised, but maybe not: #NOPE.)

Anyway, the fire, and the fireworks, are ongoing, and we--I--must figure out not only how to endure, but how to engage, in a way that might possibly be productive. And that's how I'm spending my summer. Also: packing my apocalypse backpack. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blame-mongering, or how I am spending my summer.

On the one hand, I'm pretty enamored of the Resist-bot. Because of it, I could fax my senators whilst on the road. I could practically stand in an ancient monument with my cell phone in hand, wave the phone in the air to catch a whiff of cellular network, then speak my truth to my senators in voice-to-text. Or, you know, yell my truth. And then, of course, carefully proofread, because voice-to-text, whew, so many misunderstandings.

Of course, I did not stand in the middle of an ancient monument and do this. But don't think I didn't consider it. Because of the rage, which leads inexorably to the rage-fax. It's a whole new genre, I think. Obviously, I blame DJT. Alternatively, and depending on the day: the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the afore-mentioned senators, that one representative who is standing down after having been reelected, which, on the one hand, phew, and on the other hand, who the hell does he think he is?

Emergent genre: the rage-blog-post.

All this rage isn't good for a person, I know this. I blame DJT and also all the above, and also my poor character which is, which must be, the reason I am not sleeping well, or enough, which throws all the rest of my carefully made plans into havoc. Carefully made plans: get enough sleep. Relax. Get into a writing routine. Creativity galore! Also, enough exercise. A calm and centered spirit. Etc. If there's not enough sleep, none of this will work. I also blame Bruiser, who has begun an occupation of our bed that shows no sign of abating. He is a sleep-space tyrant. Also, a sweet old dog, and who doesn't want to indulge a sweet old dog? I would never be so cruel, although I have recently purchased a memory foam dog bed that I am hoping will serve as an enticing bait-and-switch for said sweet old dog, because by God, I need more sleep, else the infrastructure of my summer plan crumble and I am left in the dust, for which I will blame, obviously, DJT. &c &c &c.

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Well, anyway, here we are at nearly the end of June. So far I have spent many sweet hours with my parents and sisters, walked where the ancestral Puebloans walked, smelled the sweet blooming desert flowers of Santa Fe, begun distributing copies of my book (my book!) to people. Booked one reading, am working on a second (and third, fourth, etc.). Reveled in the glorious mess that is our garden. Slept like a champion, mostly, whilst on our epic road trip. Read some really good books and some really enjoyable ones. Talked myself, several times, down from the ledge of anxiety that is the life of a writer (shouldn't I have my next manuscript ready RIGHT NOW? and if I don't have all the poems ready RIGHT NOW what will become of me? deadlines are passing right and left!). Found myself engaged in work projects that seem like they should wait till September, but no, they have to get started now. Seen many friends. Seen lots of family. Seen many more movies than I would have predicted, including Wonder Woman, which is a wonder.

I'd like to cordon off my rage-generator and its motive forces and its discontents from my ordinary (and extraordinary) joys with, oh, let's say, a hedge of dog roses and tea roses and floribunda roses and wild roses. Roses, in other words, thorny and sweet-smelling and petal-laden and high on blooms. It would be better for me, and better for everyone around me. It seems like, though, the world is whole, and everything is (as Lauren Hill says) everything, for good and ill. Here's hoping that dog bed strategy works, and all my rage-faxes join in a great river of resistance, and I--and you, too--wake up each morning having slept well, to greet the day and get to work.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Short notes.

Dear "May is my writing month,"

I find it so touching now, this declaration, which I based upon analytics that were (a) too literal minded, and (b) just wrong.

As I write the above, I can hear my friend Kim say, "writing is not typing." And she is correct. Today, for instance, I looked into my notes, and I spent some time thinking about a new poem I think I'm writing. For now, the "writing" means "looking into my notes" and "looking up etymologies" and "chasing down medical details" and "conjuring up connections that may or may not be 'real'" and so forth.

Also: fetching and eating snacks, and doing the laundry, and contemplating a nap which I did not, ultimately, take.

So, okay, "May is my writing month," I guess May is my writing month.




Dear flaky buttermilk biscuit recipe,

I get it. You're super exacting, and you have "data" about how important buttermilk is, and your technique, of folding the dough into thirds like a letter, and doing that a second time, and letting the dough rest, etcetera and so forth and what not, is, like, science.

So when I skipped that part about letting the dough sit in the refrigerator before I began the folding and the thirds and the ins and outs and what have yous, I should have known. I should have known that you would turn into super buttery hockey puck-shaped baked items, and would not rise to the heavenly heights of my previous flaky buttermilk biscuits. So it's on me. I own that. I own it real hard.

Still, would it have killed you to just rise already, into the afore-mentioned heavenly heights? I feel like you were just being super literal-minded.

It's shaking my baking confidence, is all,



Dear even more flowers,

So, I know I have just finished planting the last of the previous more flowers, all hundreds of dollars' worth. And the splendor of these previous more flowers is not lost on me. I like going out and admiring them in the first of the morning cool, and in the late morning light, and even in the mid-afternoon. Evening also.

However, the fact remains that somehow my evening primroses and pincushion flowers of yesteryear have disappeared, perhaps displaced by some especially aggressive lemon balm. And no garden of mine is going to scrape by without evening primrose and pincushion flower, as God is my witness.

Also, I needed to buy all the basil. And one pineapple mint.

Also, just two little creeping thymes, and I swear that is it,



Dear productivity,

What are you, anyway?

Here's what I accomplished today:

  • clean sheets on the bed
  • read the entire New York Times except for the sports and the business section
  • made a lovely soup and some subpar biscuits (which were, to be exact, architecturally subpar, but aced the flavor bracket)
  • made a good breakfast
  • talked to my daughter in Scotland
  • fretted over the state of the republic
  • gave the historian some helpful feedback on the revision of an essay he's working on
  • sat in front of some notes and thought about a poem and so forth
  • etcetera
That is nine bullets. I'm calling that productive, I don't care what you say.

I mean it: I just don't care,


Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Writing Life, update number one billion.

Is 'one billion' an exaggeration? It feels real.

This weekend I managed to set aside some time in a private place to look at the writing I have done over the past couple of years to see what's there. I know that I am very lucky that I can do this: that I could secure that private place for a couple of days and nights, that the people I love support me in this.

I printed out several swaths of poems--for the last year, I've written a poem a day for several months--five different months--and of course, there's April (the cruelest month) and the poem a day I've written with Dr. Write. All of this. I printed it all. Trees quaked at the prospect.

I read through all these poems. All of them. I made notes on the poems themselves and I made notes about what I saw--what connected the poem, what threads and strands there were. I had had some intuitions prior to this retreat, and I tested them, to see if those ideas of what an arrangement of these poems might add up to were borne out by what I had.

I thought about big revisions, and smaller ones. I identified what poems were close to being finished (a handful) and which ones needed work (most) and which ones would require architectural overhaul (another handful).

And then I assembled an order.

All of this is a draft.

Now, I can work through this draft manuscript poem by poem. And then I will see what I have when I'm through.

I'm optimistic that I might be able to work through what I have, poem by poem, by mid-summer. And then I'm hoping to look at the sequence I've made again.

This process felt, and feels, entirely methodical to me. Procedural, even. Although there's a part of putting something like this together that feels alchemical and intuitive, there's another part that is compositional and even rhetorical. Thinking about how the terms of an argument--made by poetic means, but an argument--work themselves out over a sequence of texts. Thinking about sequencing. Thinking about balance. Thinking about emphasis and transitions. This is why the quiet was so important to me--why I needed to be undistracted. I don't like thinking about how easily I feel distracted by the ordinary components of my life. That's something I'd like to work on. Maybe I'll get it right when I'm dead.

I love the moments, when I write, when I can feel something coming together in a way that feels magical--when I feel the small thrill of gathering the threads of metaphor and image and they add up, they do something more. This is, in fact, not the biggest part of writing for me, at least not usually. Obviously, I love it when it happens. But I also love this methodical part. I love the thinking part and the considering part. It is deeply satisfying to me, even when I know--as I know now--that there's nothing whatsoever final about this stage of the work. That this is, in fact, an entirely provisional moment in the composition of what I hope will be, sometime, a new book.

A couple of days ago, I reminded myself that I don't need to be in a panic about this. That I can take my time. This idea--that I have time, that I can take my time--comes in and out of focus. Because, really, no one knows how much time she really has. (We're all going to die.) But I'd like to do everything--everything!--in less of a panic than I have been doing things as of late. Because doing everything in a panic is a terrible way to live. To make art, to make dinner, to visit one's family, to work, to write: panic is a terrible atmosphere for any of this.

Panic, I renounce you. Get thee behind me, panic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Breaking news.

1. I made that new header more than two weeks ago in a fit of optimism.

2. Today, I came to my office to start sifting through a hundred poems to see what's there, but first I stopped at Target, obviously, to buy ibuprofen and a teacup with pansies on it and glitter markers and ginger tea and a thing of yogurt and three little pouches to organize my purse. Also, fyi, there are four flavors of Tim Tams currently on the shelves at Target, in case that's a thing you are interested in.

3. My youngest son steered me to Carrie & Lowell Live, which is pretty amazing. Of course Carrie & Lowell, the studio recording, was pretty much the best thing ever, so.

4. What of the republic?

5. Twitter has me by the throat.

6. I recently said to my older son that my loathing of Mitch McConnell was unChristlike. And yet, I persist.

7. Roses are about to bloom their heads off in our yard.

8. In short order, we have installed a new refrigerator, which, through various ins, outs, and what have yous, resulted in a small but steady leak, which resulted in some of the ceiling in our basement falling, sodden, to the floor, which resulted in a plumber coming to do a whole bunch of other stuff, including fixing the leak, and currently there are giant heating devices beaming heat at the location of the fallen ceiling. In other words: disaster! But also: new refrigerator, which actually keeps food cold!

9. I had a lovely mother's day, thank you, including one of my favorite compliments of all time, from grandson William, who said that I thought I was "pretty as a deer." He explained that he didn't think I looked like a deer, more like Lily Potter's patronus, a doe. I am seizing on all of that. All of it.

10. Okay, onward: I have made the first cull of poems, and now I need to start theorizing the potential intimate dialogue that the remaining poems may have with each other.

Or not. Maybe nothing means anything and everything is stupid. Just spitballing.

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

A post shared by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I have a few announcements.

Things have been a little hectic around here:

1. I confess that the following things have been done in a half-assed manner. By me. I have done the following things, possibly, in a half-assed manner:
  • possibly teaching
  • possibly grading
  • cleaning my house (understatement of the millennium!)
  • cooking dinners (see parenthetical above)
  • movie-going
  • being a good friend
  • service on two non-profit boards
  • everything else
2. I have been to various locations in Utah County approximately fifty times in the last two months or so. 

3. On every one of those days, I saw my father and mother and usually one of my sisters and/or my brother, which makes those drives feel worthwhile.

4. My book is now at the printer's, which means I feel like every single one of my line breaks is specious and I left out one thank you and there are two words in my bio that make the whole thing feel pretentious and everything is stupid and I am a hack.

5. (On the other hand: my book. My book!)

6. What does anything mean anymore? Is the world on fire, or is it just burning? 

7. I feel so, so lucky in my family right now. My father made a tiny hilarious joke at my expense today and it was the sweetest thing ever. My brother brought me a doughnut. My sister and I cheered my dad on while he was walking with a walker. Time, the body, love, presence, it's all entirely precious and to be cherished. Cherished above everything.

8. My mom asked me to make a bunch of photo prints for my dad, to put on the wall, so he could lift his eyes up and see them. I found a place that made these little square prints, which arrived today:

this is only half of them.

I love them so much. They're like saint cards or a tarot, full of meaning which arises from their juxtapositions and adjacencies. And of course, I forgot a few people, which just means making more. The sense I've had for years, an urgency, that these beloveds will not be with me forever, is my new now.

9. Flip side of all of the above: melancholy. Petals on the windshield, sheets of rain. More light but with heavy clouds.

10. Soon it will be April. That's right, the cruelest month. I will write a poem a day--Dr. Write, are you with me? A poem a day will be, if not a saving grace, a grace tout court. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

On priorities.

A photo posted by Lisa Bickmore (@megastore) on

Since we last spoke, America, things have been tumultuous, I don't think there's any other possible word. I would cite the list of public things that have come down in the form of tweets and executive orders--not issued by me in either case. It's a bummer of a list, no two ways about it. So I'm not going to list it. It's my privilege as an author. The author of this blog post. Back to the tumult, in the form of the not-listed list: every day, more headlines, hardly any of them good. How many alerts for immediate urgent action have I signed up for? A lot. A lot of alerts and alarms coming my way. I wake up in the morning, open my eyes while my head is still on the pillow, and wonder: is it real? Did that actually happen? When I ascertain that it is real, that it did actually happen, I sigh, get up, check my phone for the first alerts.

This is no way to live, America. I have friends who have noted that they are taking social media fasts for their own sanity. I think we both know that a social media fast--and, not coincidentally, care of my own sanity--are not in my repertoire. So I make my calls, send my online faxes, email, etc. Donate a probably undisciplined amount of money to estimable organizations. Engage in an unhealthy amount of rage chatter.

Of course I teach my classes and go to meetings and fill out paperwork and read books, some of which are excellent and some of which do their jobs and some of which are books about activism (some of which are excellent and some of which do their jobs, and some of which are/do both). I have a massive to do list, and I cross things off of it regularly. This week, I went to a conference of creative writers. I ate a rice bowl and tacos and wore blazers. I bought a billion books.

A couple of weeks ago, my dad found out there was a tumor in his brain, necessitating brain surgery. My family came together--my brother flying in from Oregon, my sisters and I spending nights before the surgery at the house to help my mother and dad. Aside from the conference, I've been down to the hospital in the next county every day, I think, watching my dad as he puts forth the effort of a superhero in his various therapies, to strengthen the weak side that's the result of the events in his brain. Watching my mother, her tender, attentive presence. Their strength, the two of them. Being with my beloved siblings as we try, in our various ways, to be of aid.

Analogies fail, but of course they present themselves: a really scary journey. A marathon, not a sprint. A radical reordering of what seems important. A surrendering.

I love America, I loathe so many of its leaders right now, I am trying to come to terms with the true character of my country, which goes in and out of focus, its sun covered by clouds, its blue skies occluded by particulates. Its beautiful idea seeming, at least sometimes, so faint. I love my father and my mother and my family. I want nothing to fail them, I want not to fail them myself. America, forgive me if I forget to call upon occasion. I have not forgotten you. I'm just responding to what cannot help but be a more urgent alert.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Five things. #thesick

1. I've been sick since the new year. It's been, like, a big heavy gloomy visitor sitting on my head. Picture that, if you will. Here are things I have missed: working out with my daughter. Working out, period. The flow of new year energy into new good habits (or at least that's how I imagine it would have been, had I not been sick). Cooking actual food instead of foraging for edibles. A jazz concert. Movies out. Back to school meetings (you decide if that was a plus or a minus). On the other hand, I have had some really serious naps. Naps galore. It's as if my body basically put its foot down (picture that if you will) and said: listen here you have not had enough sleep for a decade and I am putting my foot down, in a manner of speaking, and you are slowing doing right here and now and take that nap dammit fore I smite thee with a cough! and sick sneezing and all manner of congestion! And lo, it was so.

2. Things we've done while we were sick (of course, in the way of the unjust universe, the historian caught a bit of the sick with me): watched Stranger Things. Watched The OA. And now we're watching Schitt's Creek. I have finished Patti Smith's The M Train and am now reading Tana French, The Trespasser. That's when I'm not falling asleep for a giant nap again.

3. Having watched The OA and thus having been trapped into its weird and compelling story world, there was one whole day when I woke up, feeling I had dreamed The OA  dreams, and my day was thus The OA inflected. This was after we had finished The OA, so I would have had to start watching it over again. Which I might do, honestly.

4. Things that are hard to do when you're this sick: make a plan. Cook. Revise a poem. Write a syllabus. Get out of bed. Call a congressman or senator. Move from room to room without finding a place to lie down. I am not joking, America: this illness has been epic.

5. Today I put on my fox sweater and went to class to teach for the first time. I croaked out the key activities of the course and my enthusiasm for the course and how much I love teaching and so forth. I demonstrated key features of the Canvas site. I memorized their names. Then I went back to my office, fetched my coat and keys, and drove home. And took a three hour nap.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2016, the year in movies.

Here it is, the list of movies I saw in 2016. They are out of order, because I had to assemble this list through research and memory and correction and more memory. I have starred the movies I thought were worthwhile. I am not sorry I saw any of these movies. Your mileage may vary, probably because you have more demanding and exacting critical faculties than I do.

We saw fewer movies this year than we have in the past, partly because it has been a crazy year. I am committed to more movies in 2017, however, because more movies makes things better. I stand by this.

The list:

How to Be Single: This is not an auspicious beginning to the list, and it might actually be the first 2016 movie I saw in 2016 (I saw some 2015 movies that were released very late in that year early on in 2016 as well--are you keeping up with all the year-slinging I'm doing?) Anyway: I'm not quite sure why I saw this except that it appeared to be acceptable (see: low standards) and possibly amusing. Dakota Johnson plays the woman who needs to learn to be single after an unceremonious breakup. Her mentor is Rebel Wilson. Hijinks ensue. I will not recommend this movie to you, but I do like Dakota Johnson, and Rebel Wilson. This is the kind of movie that makes you wonder why there are not more good comic roles for women. Why, movie makers of the world? Why?

Hail, Caesar!: This was one of my favorites of the year, in part because it's set in a 50s era Hollywood studio, with a big ensemble cast, and although there are big stars in it, lots of actors and actresses get good bits in it, including Tilda Swinton playing two gossip-columnist sisters, George Clooney as a lunk-headed actor, Scarlett Johanssen as a mermaid-tail-wearing starlet, Alden Ehrenreich as a cowboy star who needs to transition to drawing room comedy, Ralph Fiennes as an extremely refined director of said comedies, and more. I will never forget the amazing song and dance number featuring Channing Tatum, "No Dames." And Josh Brolin crushes it as per usual, as the studio fixer. Some of my people find this a lesser effort by the Coens, but I don't even think that matters. It's effervescent and delightful and full of smarts as well.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: I wanted more from this film, in which Tina Fey plays a journalist on assignment in Afghanistan. The idea is, I think, to show something about the American misadventure in Afghanistan, the situation of women there, the situation of American female journalists vis a vis male journalists, etc. There was some sharp analysis and I always like Tina Fey, but in the end it felt weighted too much on the 'trials of the American woman' side of things--a side I am sympathetic to, of course--and making apologetic gestures toward the 'war is hell' side. Not successful, sorry to say.

Zootopia: I was lucky enough to see this movie twice, once with one set of grandchildren and once with another set of grandchildren, and each time I enjoyed it immensely. Jason Bateman is a treasure, here as the voice of a fox (foxes are the best). A story about the social compact and the tendency to fear the other. My son feels that the film's logic falls short when it comes to the predators who live in Zootopia. 'What do they eat? No, I'm serious!' This is a good question. However, I am leaving it alone, because the pleasures of this film are many--the DMV in Zootopia, for instance, is staffed by sloths. 

Everybody Wants Some!!: We had an argument about this film the other night. My son and son-in-law thought it was limp and forgettable. My daughter and I enjoyed it immensely. 'It's like an updated Dazed and Confused," I said, since Richard Linklater directed both films. 'There's no way it is anywhere NEAR as good as Dazed and Confused," said my son. I think that's possibly a fair point. However: I found this film lovely and enjoyable, loose and made to please. That's not nothing, in these dark times.

The Boss: Yes, yes, everyone made fun of me because I saw this movie. Tough darts, farmers. I saw it alone because (a) I love Melissa McCarthy and (b) I really, really love Kristen Bell, and (c) I'm not going to inflict this sort of thing on unwilling others. This is not a movie for the ages, it hardly needs saying. But it made me laugh and Kristen Bell gets a nice guy at the end, and Melissa McCarthy shapes up as a human being by getting in touch with her feelings and, oh well, I can't defend it. It was the movie product I needed to get by, and I got by, the end. I'm not starring it, I hope you can see that I'm trying to be honest.

Keanu: I watched this film with my son whilst he was recovering from a surgical procedure. It was on Netflix. It stars Key & Peele. It made me laugh a lot of the time, and also there were some stupid stretches. The basic premise is that these two middle class men get balled up somehow in a drug lord's enterprises, all to rescue a tiny kitten that has been stolen. Hijinks ensue, obviously. Because it's a drug lord, the gunplay is fairly extensive. Only you know whether this will amuse or exhaust you. I was about fifty-fifty.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping: We saw this film at a dollar movie in the summertime, a period of recovery and difficulty, and becaus it was pretty freaking amusing, it was perfect. It's a mockumentary about a pop star who becomes a solo act, extracting himself from the boy group that grounded him. The pop star is Andy Samberg. The solo act is full of hilarious (for the most part) excesses, and the songs are pretty funny. Afterwards we had pizza. I regard this as a successful date, the movie being imperfect as most comedies are, but with lots of laughs in it, thus meeting the standard for comedies (Standard One: A Comedy Must Make You Laugh). Good enough.

The Secret Life of Pets: OR, the time grandma took the kids, just the kids, not their mom, to the movies. It is an epic tale, that involves popcorn and the theater with the recliner seats and (in the actual movie plot) the adoption of a dog, which upsets the dog who happened to be there first, so the first dog runs away and everything goes to hell until all the animals in the apartment building unite to find the runaway dog and phew. There is a gang of alley cats and other street animals that complicate things. Anyway: this day of going to the movies with grandma will live on in legend and lore despite, or because of, the movie, who cares? It was the best.

Ghostbusters: Let me say that I straight up loved this movie. I saw it twice, then again over the holidays with my son. I love that it was a movie about friendship, it was a movie about loyalty, it was a movie that starred four fantastic female characters, and their arsenal of ghost busting weapons. Also a crazy lab and some excellent dancing. I love the original for sure, but I'll be proud to watch both with my grandkids. 

A Hologram for the King: This was a not bad at all movie that I enjoyed a lot. Stars Tom Hanks as a guy who is selling--literally--a hologram teleconferencing system to the Saudi government. He and his team are taken out to a city being built in a remote area--evidently a version of King Abdullah Economic City--and then they wait. And wait, and wait, and wait for a representative of the government to show up. He also meets a woman, and a tentative romance ensues. It's directed by Tom Tykwer, of Run Lola Run, which is the main reason I thought this could be good. It is good, if a bit amble-y.

Jason Bourne: I hoped and planned and hoped and planned to see this movie from the moment it was released, all summering. It became, for probably no good reason, the emblem of 'summer action movie' for me. No one wanted to see it with me, or they'd already seen it. In the end, I saw it by myself. It fit rather precisely the 'summer action movie' criteria. It was sturdy, and pleasurable in its sturdiness, except for an absurd vehicular chase scene near the very end, which ended in the two antagonists fighting in hand to hand combat anyway. Jeez, guys, just save yourself the trouble. I have a policy--no movies where all manner of shit gets blown up, only to have the hero walk away, the background lurid with sheets of flame, while a power ballad plays. Subtract the power ballad and the sheets of flame, and that was the end of this movie. That's my takeaway, sorry Jason B.

The Light Between Oceans: Big sobs. Baby lost at sea, found by miserable isolated couple who live on an island, who take it as their own, and then havoc ensues because the birth mother is still alive and grief-stricken. It's beautifully shot and well acted, handsomely designed, etc. It's an emotional story, very sad, but I felt removed from it, in part because the character of the slightly unhinged wife, the lonely one on the island, was both sort of appalling and also, probably, a little too close for comfort. This is a very old-fashioned story, told very straightforwardly. I didn't love it, but it was good.

Sully: I know others might disagree with me, but I thought this was solid. Solid performances, compelling narrative. It got a little bit expository near the end, and also didactic. But the procedural elements of it--how people arrive at their judgments, how we interpret data to make a coherent element--that was fascinating to me, and so I valued this film.

The Magnificent Seven: Denzel Washington on a horse is the main reason to see this. Plus Ethan Hawke as a morally unsteady sharpshooter. Also Chris Pratt. Fine, I admit the tipping point for me in seeing this film was a lordly and enormous Vincent D'Onofrio, one of the seven, who is splendid beyond measure. Peter Sarsgaard plays a villain suffused with ennui, because, you know, imposing your will on the land and the people so that you can wreak profit is so exhausting. The ending was way too bullet-ridden, but till then I was pretty happy with this film.

Arrival: This was quite wonderful, I thought. An alien visitation to earth, in the form of giant pods hovering in the sky at several locations all over the world, throws everything on earth into chaos. There are sounds, and intelligence officials think they might be language, a message. So they go to fetch a linguist, who is Amy Adams. All the thinking and processing that is represented in the film is one of the wonderful things about it. Adams gives a beautiful performance--radiant with emotion and intelligence. The way the aliens themselves are depicted is also wonderful, and their visual communication. The logic of the film's endgame would bear rewatching--I don't know, maybe it's a little hokey. The most powerful and lingering effects of the film for me were its searching energies, the desire of its protagonist to communicate over the most difficult barriers.  

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them: I saw this twice, once with my son in a Massachusetts theater, once with the historian, who wanted to see it to be able to discuss it with grandsons. Some people have suggested that it was basically a world-building exercise, with a not fully compelling story of its own, preparatory to future installments. I can see that. Yet I found myself enjoying the world-building, enjoying it greatly, and the four central characters--Newt Scamander himself; a scapegrace American wizarding official former aurora Tina; her sister Queenie; and a non-mag--that's Muggle to you--baker named Jacob--were completely delightful to me. Of course the wizarding world is in turmoil over what its relationship to the non magical world should be, and that's the source of the plot's energy--that, and a bunch of magical creatures who escape Newt's enchanted valise. Ezra Miller plays a rather heartbreaking magical youth. I really liked this film--you will know yourself whether it's your cup of tea, I'm sure.

The Edge of Seventeen: I wish movies like this were always in theaters--character driven, acted with verve and wit, well written, domestic comedy dramas, starring Hailey Steinfeld. I'm serious--I might want to specifically require Ms. Steinfeld, because she was wonderful in this--spiteful, smart, funny. But everyone is great in this film, and that's the joy of it, that and the writing, which gives them all wonderful things to say and do. Special shout out to Blake Jenner, who, in this film and in Everybody Wants Some!!, beautifully impersonates feckless but benign young manhood.

Sing Street: I saw this movie at least four times in the theater, possibly five, and another time on DVD when we were in Scotland. That's because it is absolutely wonderful and impossible to entirely capture. I recognized precisely one actor in it, Aiden Gillen, who plays the father of a falling-apart Irish family. Everyone else was entirely unknown to me, which made what came of the movie all the more delightful. The youngest son, Conor, of the falling-apart family decides to form a band to impress a girl, and under the tutelage of his brother and in partnership with his bunny- (the rabbit) loving mate, writes songs that cover a spectrum of 80s style pop. The songs get progressively more wonderful and there's an undecidability in the performances--is the band as good as it thinks it is becoming, or is this filtered through Conor's longing to have a way to make a mark in the world? It. Is. So. Good. If I could see it in a theater again right now, I would rush to do so. 

Certain Women: Another of Kelly Reichardt's taciturn masterpieces. (See: Wendy and Lucy.) Set in Montana, this one has three very loosely interwoven stories, each featuring an independent and difficult woman. My favorite was the one featuring Kristen Stewart, playing a new lawyer who signs up to do community service, presentations on educational law to a small cohort of teachers in a far away town. She meets a lonely farmhand who happens into the first presentation, a young woman who becomes smitten with Stewart. It's all done with such delicacy and beauty. The farmhand, played by (to me) unknown Lily Gladstone, is indelible. This movie is deliberate--some would say slow--but I loved it.

Moonlight: I saw this film twice--once with the historian at the SLFS, once with my son back in Amherst at the Amherst Cinema. Each time it was revelatory. Three actors play the same character--once as a grade schooler, once as a high schooler, once as a grown but still young man. The boy's circumstances are dire, and he suffers, particularly in the middle section, at the hands of bullying peers. It's a film about identity and naming and friendship. It is surpassingly beautiful. There are scenes in it that I will never forget, simply because of their beauty, which matches the subtle and humane representation of emotion. One of my all time favorites, and certainly one of the very best this year.

Hell or High Water: This was my choice for a birthday movie, and let me say, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. A, Jeff Bridges. Second of all, caper/heist movie with a (more or less) morally serious point. D, Chris Pine and Ben Foster as brother bank robbers. It was un-flashy and solid, so not, for instance, No Country for Old Men--not brilliant like that, but good. Really good, and totally worth your time. If there were one movie, at any given time, that met these criteria--Jeff Bridges, caper/heist, variable other up and comers, solid, good--I would be ecstatic. 

Finding Dory: Just lovely. Beautiful animation and a moving story. 

Love & Friendship: How come I never thought of Whit Stillman, assiduous documenter of the mores of a certain, possibly slightly fictitious, class, as a Jane Austen adaptor? Well, here it is, and it's quite wonderful. Kate Beckinsale plays a grasping widow, Lady Susan, who seeks a husband for herself, and, if she can manage it, her daughter. It is effervescent and sharp and very funny. Chloe Sevigny plays one of Lady Susan's confidantes and is perfect as well. 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: We saw three movies about boys right in a row, all of them quite wonderful. This was one of them. Set in New Zealand, it focuses on a boy who has been identified as a delinquent (abandoned by his mother), Ricky Baker, who is placed in a foster home, where he thrives until the maternal figure dies, leaving him with a curmudgeonly Hector who wants only to be left alone. They go into the bush and a manhunt ensues. It's grittier than you'd think, but also charming, and not in a lightweight kind of way. I loved it.

Little Men: Another of the boy trifecta, an excellent, quietly observed film about two boys who become friends, even as their parents struggle to resolve a consequential conflict. Everyone is excellent, but especially Pauline Garcia (of Gloria) and Greg Kinnear, one of the boys' fathers. Poignant, without a hint of overreaching.

Morris from America: The third of the boy trifecta, this was probably my favorite. Morris lives with his father in Heidelberg, where the dad, played by Craig Robinson, is coaching a soccer team for a European club. The mother has died. Morris is an adolescent, so he and his father struggle to communicate, leaving the boy sometimes to fend for himself emotionally. He wants to be a rapper, meets a beautiful German girl who finds him exotic (he is black), gets a shot at rapping at a club, and in general does the things that boys do in coming of age films--break rules, scare their parents, keep things to themselves. What makes this film beautiful is the attention to its details of environment and character, and a truly beautiful performance by Robinson as the father. In a just world, this role would be a total game changer for him.

April and the Extraordinary World: Animated *and* sci-fi/steampunk *and* French. The world is running on coal power--so it's an alternative history of science, also--and scientists are disappearing and the world is on the verge of war, etc. The plot is too complicated to summarize, in my opinion. In other news, I may be sick right now. Nonetheless! This was worth seeing and enjoyable and certainly not dumb--I hope my adjectives give you a sense of whether it's up your alley or not.

Queen of Katwe: This film might seem to have been built entirely of cliches: a poor child in a poor part of a big city in an African nation struggles, then learns to read and to play chess and in turn makes a better life for herself and her family. Except it lives and breathes in the details--in the barely-a-shelter in which the family first makes its home, in the hairs' breadth between making it and not that is their economic circumstance, in the matter of fact decision that's barely even a decision about who gets educated and who does not. All these details make a vivid world for the characters--who portray a version of a true story--to live in and to bloom into view. Phiona, the main character, the girl who learns chess, is a wonderful character, but so is her mother, played by Lupita Nyong'o, and her teacher, played by David Oyelowo. I loved that this world was barely peopled by whites. I saw this movie twice and I stand by it.

A Bigger Splash: I looked forward to this movie so much: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson, in a little intrigue menage a quatre, set on an Italian island. Swinton plays a rock star, as is clearly only appropriate, and Schoenaerts is her boyfriend. Fiennes shows up with Johnson--he is her ex, and Johnson is his daughter. Everything gets twisty and emotionally complicated from here. I loved it, even though I'm not quite sure what it added up to, partly because of the earthy, European decadence of it all. It was like a delicious treat with a bitter element in it. The director also made I Am Love with Swinton a few years ago. 

Loving: Directed by Jeff Nichols, who has fast become one of my favorite directors. He plays it entirely straight here, which works perfectly, since his strategy is to emphasize the ordinary lives of Mildred and Richard Loving, and the fact that what they want is also ordinary: to raise their children where they want to, and to be with each other. The movie has a deliberate pace, and I think it works perfectly. The two lead performances, by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Nega, are things of beauty. 

Born to be Blue: Based loosely on the life of Chet Baker, the jazz trumpeter and singer. There are some controversies about parts of the story that are simply made up, and bear no relation to Baker's biography. Evidently, the director and writer did this deliberately, calling the film 'semi-factual, semi fictional.' What works best in the film is Ethan Hawke's performance, which is beautiful and improvisatory. That and the music, which is, as ever, ineffable.  

Midnight Special: A Jeff Nichols film. It is fantastic until, maybe, the end, but maybe that ending is okay. You'll have to decide for yourself.  The parents of a child who has telekinetic powers are collaborating with a friend to spirit the child away from a religious cult, and the cult wants the kid back. That's the backbone of the plot, and the movie is about, I think, love and the desire for transcendence, with a dark and a light-filled version of each, and both are scary and imperiled. Starring the incredible, ineffable Michael Shannon, who is a treasure and also is maybe my movie star boyfriend, shh don't tell. Sam Shepard as the creepy cult daddy. Superb. This was one of the highlights of my year.

Maggie’s Plan: In Maggie's Plan, Ethan Hawke plays the part you'd have predicted he'd be playing forever ago, when he was young and insufferable. I mean that in a good way. I find that nearly always these days, Ethan Hawke is a pleasure as an actor. Maybe he's embraced his general insufferability and now has made it part of his actorly toolkit. All I'm saying is, he is great in this, he was great in The Magnificent Seven, and really really good in Born to be Blue. Having dispensed with that: Ethan Hawke is not even the main thing in this movie. He is the man who is husband to a sexy European economist, played delightfully by Julianne Moore; he becomes Greta Gerwig's husband and they have a child together. After awhile, Greta decides that Ethan--a ficto-critical anthropologist, and yes, that is really a thing--is not in love with her and she tries to set him and Julianne back on the path to love. It is hilarious and a little bit like a Midsummer Night's Dream, and I loved this movie a lot. I saw it twice--once with my oldest best friend in NoCal, once with the historian. I would see it again, and that's the truth. Special note: Julianne Moore wears the most fabulous collection of skins and pelts that it can't even be adequately described. She is magnificent.

Anomalisa: This film was released in 2015 but I saw it in 2016. It is a stop motion animated sad comedy. It might be hard to reckon that a movie featuring puppets having sex would have anything serious to say, but it does. It's a tricky one, but it's also literally like no other thing I have ever seen. Directed and written by Charlie Kaufman. 

⭑The Hateful Eight: Another film released late in 2015 that I saw in 2016. It's maybe two thirds of a pretty great Tarantino film, which I think by now should explain everything. It's gorgeous cinematically, and features super talky performances by some of Tarantino's favorites--Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen--and Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins (who was basically born to do this), Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern. Great performances to a person. It's a fantasia about race and violence and dominance. I suppose that, by now, I ought to be more than agnostic on the question of whether Tarantino's style and method of inquiry add up to anything. I turned to my son, whom I saw this film with, when the gore launched full force. He shrugged, which I took to mean, "What'd you expect?" and he was right. 

Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle in a superb performance as Miles Davis. Evidently, the addition of the Ewan McGregor character was prerequisite to getting the film made--McGregor plays a journalist (fictional) who wants to write about Davis during a period in the 1970s when he wasn't recording or performing much, if at all.  The news, as you might predict, is Cheadle's performance. It's gorgeous and nuanced and scary and transcendent. Music's not bad either.

Hello my name is Doris: This is a film with many charms, including a really wonderful performance by Sally Fields as Doris, a shy woman who falls for a much younger co-worker--Max Greenfield, another of the charms of this film (very cute!). Tyne Daly plays Doris's good friend Roz. I love movies where friendship is a crucial element for how people live their lives. This film is not a big deal, but it is good, solid, funny, and sweet, and worth seeing.

Intervention: This is kind of like The Big Chill, in that it's a big ensemble movie where long-time friends get together for a long weekend, in this case, in order to confront their unhappily married friends and tell them to split up for the sake of their happiness. Not everyone is on board, though. Melanie Lynskey gives a vivid performance as the chief instigator of the titular intervention. It never feels like enough is at stake in this film for it to matter, or for a viewer to remember. 

The Mermaid: Totally odd eco-sic-fi-fantasy-romance from China. A mermaid assassin is sent to kill a mega-businessman, because his company is destroying mermaid habitat with their use of sonar. Instead, though, they fall in love. Terrible complications and intrigue. In the end, the sonar gets turned off and there's a weird but happy ending. I'm assuming that there's an audience for this film. Well, actually, I went to it, so.

La la land: I found this film perfectly delightful and will probably go see it again. I've heard people suggest that maybe it's too trivial for these times, and other critiques along those lines. I can appreciate that. What I loved in this film was the sense that dancing and singing could just be a part of life--I guess in a way that's the inherent possibility of a musical. The dancing in particular I loved--it seemed to arise from the natural style of movement of the leads, both of whom are excellent. Anyway, I loved it, it's one of my favorites of the year.

Nocturnal Animals: I didn't love the ending of this, but I loved pretty much everything else about it--its formal qualities, the look, the great beauty of the style. I thought the two male leads--Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon--were pretty much superb, and Aaron Taylor Johnson made a truly scary bad guy (the actor I thought of as too pretty in Anna Karenina a few years ago--pretty impressive here). I loved the story within the story especially. This isn't a perfect film, although it has a perfect sheen--I felt the Amy Adams character was too lax a construction, too passive--but it was worthwhile and engrossing. 

Moana: We got to see this with kids and grandkids the day after Christmas and man, did I ever love it. Moana is a chief who has to figure out why things are going wrong on her island. Her dad is very firm on the point that no one should voyage beyond the reef, but beyond the reef is where the solution to the problems apparently lies. She finds the demigod Maui, and after some chicanery, they team up to restore the heart to the mother (you'll just have to see the movie--it's some mythological business), which turns everything around. Some beautiful songs and an inspiring female character. I would happily watch this with grandchildren again and again.

Rogue One: This was an epic cinematic event for us, because the historian decided that he wanted to see it so he could talk to grandchildren about it. I thought this film was interesting within the Star Wars universe--its war was more like a Star Wars Meets Saving Private Ryan, the war being fought as a land war. More brutal and prolonged, less aerial, less full of daring dives and swoops. Even so, the band of soldiers was moving to me, in particular Donny Yen as a blind monk and Chiang Wen as his friend. But really, they were all very good. I loved K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, mordant and sarcastic--my favorite droid ever, I think. Afterward, the historian noted that this sort of film is really 'not his thing,' but we went out afterward with said grandchildren and ate Greek food and discussed the film, and that really is his thing, big time.

Manchester by the Sea: I thought this was beautiful and heartbreaking. Casey Affleck, of course, gives a great performance as Lee, the broken man called upon after his brother's death to be his nephew's guardian. But one performance was, I thought, nearly as crucial, and that was Kyle Chandler's, as the older brother. We see him only in flashbacks, but the flashbacks are represented as seamless with the present--the past is as vivid, torturously so, for Lee, as the present, and perhaps more so. The film is naturalistic, raw, suffused with the necessity and power of the ordinary. I loved this film.

Sing: Like American Idol, but in Zootopia. This movie so exceeded my hopes for it--it was funny and smart and full of heart. Saw it with children and grandchildren. I'll be glad to see it again, in a heartbeat.

Dr. Strange: I would never have seen this film if my son hadn't been in town--we snagged a late show and I'm so glad we did. I enjoyed it tremendously--it's trippy and philosophical and it has Tilda Swinton as an ancient sorceror/mystic. Benedict Cumberbatch speaks in a grating American accent, which, I think, suits his grating, narcissistic character. He comes around, though, at least a little bit, saves the world, etc. Just FYI, it turns out that the world can be turned into an Escher puzzle when the bad sorcerers are in town, so watch out for that. 

City of Gold: This documentary about the food writer and critic Jonathan Gold was wonderful and moving. The film makes the case that writing about food is, essentially, writing about culture itself; that eating the foods in cafes and strip mall restaurants all over the Los Angeles valley is, in essence, to take in the fantastic diversity of its cultures and peoples who live there. You get a sense of how a narrow focus--food and restaurants--gives one the opportunity for a glory of a perspective. 

Captain Fantastic: A film about certainty and doubt in the practice of parenting. Or maybe it's a film about how people should live their lives. But maybe the most important thing is that it's a story of one family, where the parents have decided to remove the family from mass culture, living on the side of a mountain where the kids learn by reading and by discourse with their dad, and also learn survival skills, like killing and dressing game. The mother is absent because she's in a facility for a mental illness--news comes that she has died. From there, the family goes back into society to deal with a funeral, the mother's conservative family, and all manner of repercussions. I thought the film was beautiful and thought provoking and, of course, heartbreaking--as is, you know, raising a family, no matter where you do it.


Mad Max Fury Road: Another 2015 movie I saw in 2016. I forgot that I totally saw this this summer when my youngest son was here and basically bullied me into it. Wow, so much better than I thought--which is to say, I thought it would probably have redeeming parts but too much violence, but the whole of it, spectacle and noise and all, added up to so much more. I loved this movie. Grannies with rifles, Charlize Theron as Furiosa, Tom Hardy as Max, Nicholas Hoult as Nux--so great.

The Dressmaker: We saw this slightly hot mess in the early fall and quite loved it. It was all the movies rolled into one: a revenge drama, a romance, a comedy, a melodrama, all held together by two vivid performances from Kate Winslet, who plays the dressmaker of the title, and Judy Davis as her mother. Liam Hemsworth plays a big handsome fellow so convincingly, it's almost as if he were a big handsome...oh, right. Hugo Weaving has a good part as the cross-dressing constable.

Deaf Jam: This movie was part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival that was sponsored by the CWC this year. This was a great documentary, about Aneta, a teen who is deaf, who learns about ASL poetry, who then enters the slam poetry scene, partnering up with a Palestinian spoken word poet who is hearing. How they figure out the meshing of their two styles into a new kind of performance is mesmerizing and galvanizing. So glad I saw this! 

Carol: Another 2015-er I saw in 2016. I wanted to but did not love this film. I think the director, Todd Haynes, is amazing, and I truly adored Far from Heaven. This felt more decorous than passionate to me, despite the heaving of bosoms. The clothes are exquisite. 

Movies I missed, or that I still want to see: 

Louder than bombs
The Lobster
Embrace of the Serpent
The Fits
Miss Sloane
Other People
Don’t Think Twice
The Nice Guys
American Honey
20th Century Women
Hidden Figures
Toni Erdmann

Tell me: what were your favorite movies this year? 


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