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14
Dec

Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention, suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..

29
Nov

Gillian Flynn

So, the first of her novels I read was Gone Girl, about 6 months ago, well in advance of the movie’s release.  I thought it was a page-turner, abundantly mean, interesting characters — Nick Flynn, who as we all know is accused of his wife’s murder (Amy Flynn, Amazing Amy) when she disappears, Amy herself, Amy’s parents, Nick’s sister Margo.  All sorts of evidence keeps turning up that makes it look as though Nick (who’s a bit of a snob, a sexist, and a pig, as well as a bit of a drunk) probably murdered Amy and disappeared her body.

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Won’t say anything more, ’cause maybe some of you haven’t read the book or seen the movie.  BTW, I eagerly awaited the movie’s release, since I’d enjoyed the book and since David Fincher (of Fight ClubSeven and Panic Room, among others) directed, and Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike starred.

I next read Flynn’s Dark Places, or at least I started it — had to put it down about 70 pages in, because I found it just too grim (which is sort of a compliment, really).  It’s about the survivor of a serial murder — Lily was a small child when her family was murdered, and she managed to hide in a closet.  Her brother Ben is in prison for the murder, but she’s doubtful about whether or not he did it — but also strapped for cash and therefore willing to take money from a group of weirdos obsessed with the murder for making a speech and answering questions, for handing over family pictures and other artifacts.  Yuck.

Just too grim, but I picked it up and finished soon.  In her acknowledgments, Flynn thanks her husband, whom (she notes) still sleeps with her every night “even though he knows how my mind works.”  Funny, in an arch and somewhat mournful way, huh?

A couple of weeks ago my friend Sam passed on Flynn’s Sharp Objects to me, and it’s my favorite of the three Flynn novels — it’s protagonist and narrator, Camille Preaker, is a reporter in Chicago.  Her editor assigns her to go back to her hometown, Wind Gap, Missouri, and rustle up a story on the murders of two young girls there.  Stephen King, known for his generous book jacket blurbs and forewords, says that he “dreaded” the book’s final 30 pages but couldn’t stop turning them.  He notes that afterward, the book “coiled in my mind like a snake.”  Exactly.  Camille Preaker is in just about every significant way a mess, and returning to her hometown and her mother’s house to investigate the murders doesn’t mitigate her unhappiness one bit.

Recommend all three books and the Gone Girl movie.  Hope someone decides to make a movie of Sharp Objects.  Camille’s mom, Adora, would be a great role — Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, are you listening?

14
Nov

Begin Again

Does it sometimes seem as if Mark Ruffalo is in every movie?  Well, he has done 30 movies in the past 10 years, according to Internet Movie Database (imdb.com).  But I like him, it seems as if he’s always good, he gets award nominations, and he’s especially good in last year’s Begin Again, a movie also starring Keira Knightley, about music and written\directed by John Carney, who wrote and directed Once.

 

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley

Knightley plays Greta, an aspiring singer\songwriter, and Ruffalo plays Dan, a “de-frocked” record company executive and music producer.  He’s “de-frocked” because he’s a drunk, and he’s mis-behaved his way out of a job and a marriage (Hallie Steinfeld plays his daughter, and Catherine Keener is his ex-wife).  Greta is from England, and she’s 90% out of a relationship to the musician who’s come with her to New York (played by Adam Levine, the frontman for Maroon 5).

“Begin Again” might be a musical instruction — to start over and play the piece one more time from the beginning. But of course it has more global connotations related to relationships and starting over, and so it is here.  There’s a magical scene early in the movie in which Greta is performing in a bar, and Dan is in the audience.  She’s clearly not a polished performer and is a little tentative, but as Dan watches you can see him come alive — he’s taken with the strength of the song, and she (being Keira Knightley) is truly quite beautiful.  As he watches, suddenly there’s a drumkit and drummer behind her, then a bass player, then a violinist.  At first I was confused — is this really happening?– but quickly I realized that Dan, being a music producer, is mentally supplying the song with the other instruments it needs for a realized production.  As in Once, Carney is interested in how music works, how a song is composed and put together, and shows us just how that might be done with Greta’s song.

If you’ve seen a few movies, you can easily see where this is going — Dan and Greta “meet cute” (as the expression goes), experience a little conflict, but ultimately agree to work together, recording her songs in a number of New York City locations.  Dan rustles up backup musicians (including his daughter Violet, who surprises him by requesting to play guitar on a song, a skill he, absentee dad that he is, doesn’t realize she has.

Thoroughly charming, and Knightley can really sing — as I noted, she’s a little tentative in that early song, but she gets better, becomes more assured as she goes on.

So both Greta and Dan get to begin again.

13
Nov

Somerset Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge”

I’ve been reading and very much enjoying Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, recommended to me by Jesse Kornbluth, who provides a service called Head Butler (headbutler.com), where he makes weekly recommendations of books, movies, music, and occasionally products ranging from hair dryers to stereos.

Maugham’s book is about the 1920’s, mostly in Europe, a period that’s been interesting me more and more in the last year, which puts me in range of the cultural zeitgeist (another movie version of The Great Gatsby was out recently).  It started when Head Butler sent me  Harold J. Arlen’s Exiles and Amanda Vaill’s Everybody Was So Young.  The latter is a brilliant book, about American expatriates in Europe in the 1920’s, especially Gerald and Sara Murphy, the prototypes for Dick and Nichole Diver  in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book Tender Is the Night (which I read for the first time actually in Paris in 1972 and reread last summer).

The Razor's Edge book cover

The Razor’s Edge book cover

When I mentioned The Razor’s Edge to my friend Doug at lunch yesterday, he noted that it was the film that almost sunk Bill Murray’s career — he was in a weak and not-so-popular remake of it in the 90’s (it was made in 1946 starring Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney).  I can’t remember if I ever saw it — hardly a recommendation if I did.

The novel is about equally divided among Elliott Templeton, his cousin Isabel, and her temporary fiance Larry Darrell.  Elliott is a socialite, a guy who gives great parties, flies from Paris to London when he needs new suits, and would rather die than miss a party where “important” people in society will show up.  I don’t find him very likable, but he’s amazingly generous to his friends.  Isabel is a Mid-Western girl trying to find herself in life, and when Larry and she break up, marries stockbroker Gray Maturin (who manages to lost just about everything in the Crash of 1929.

Larry Darrell is a seeker, something of a mystic, a 1920’s prototype of the hippies we’re more familiar with from the 1960’s.  He has a small income and no inclination to work, instead reading books, studying languages, traveling to India, etc.

Pretty sure I read The Razor’s Edge when I was in college, don’t  much remember doing it, but glad to re-discover it and enjoy how well-written and entertaining it is, even though there have been times I wanted to reach into the pages and slap Larry, or slap Elliott.

15
Oct

Why I Love “Clueless”

Well, is it because I love Jane Austen, and Clueless (1995) is an insanely-dead-on riff on Jane Austen’s Emma?  Yeah, in part, but mostly because I’m a huge fan of Amy Heckerling’s movies (she directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Making Mr. Right), and Clueless is a brilliant addition to the Heckerling oeuvre.

And it’s so funny.  Austen is the patron saint of funny, but Clueless takes it a step further, imagining Austen’s heroine (Emma) as a Beverly Hills teen named Cher, obsessed with clothes, shopping, hanging out at high school, and (especially) re-arranging everyone’s love lifes.

Cher re-negiates her grades, helping teacher after teacher understand how the grade she was originally given wasn’t the actual grade she deserved — and receives plaudits from her father (a lawyer, a litigator, played by the always-solid Dan Hedaya) –“You re-negotiated your grades?  Well done!”  And she successfully match-makes one of her teachers, played by Wallace Shawn.

Clueless2

But finally, as it happens in Emma, Cher is dreadfully wrong in her matchmaking career — she fails to notice how Travis Birkenstock (love that name!) is the perfect match for her friend Tai, played  by Brittany Murphy (now sadly deceased).  They’re party girls, thinks Cher, and will match up best with the glittery boys, the most popular guys in the school.  Cher’s other BFF, Dionne, is played by Stacey Dash.

Truth is, Cher is snobbish and class-conscious, and her politics are less than admirable.  She thinks that Travis, who’s a skater and overall a bit of a hippy, is below her friend Tai, who like Cher is a rich girl, mostly interested in shopping.  And Cher completely overlooks her stepbrother, Josh (played by the admirable Paul Rudd) — after all, he’s a bit of an environmentalist and a supporter of liberal political causes (but he’s also a lawyer and does some work for her father).

Like Emma, though, in the end Cher wises up and actively promotes that Tai\Travis alliance — and hooks up with Josh, whom she has had comfortable conversation after comfortable conversation with throughout the movie without realizing that she’s in love with him.

As the title has it, clueless.

 

 

 

13
Oct

Post Secret

It’s a Website, one I look at regularly, described as follows by its founder, Frank Warren:

PostSecret is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren, in whch people mail their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Selected secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or museum exhibits.  Frank also tours, doing live PostSecret shows all over the country.  He shares secrets from the site on a large screen that enables the audience to see them, and answers questions.  (Videos online of the shows are worth a look.)

New secrets are posted on Sunday, and I usually look at them on Sunday.  Sometimes the secrets speak of, or reveal, severe mental health issues, and thankfully the site has a suicide prevention aspect, a link to suicide hotlines, etc.

That’s not where the fascination is for me, though; it’s the sharing of secrets that are, first, something never shared before, and second, true (no way of assessing either of these, but for me and I imagine, most Post Secret fans, if it’s plausible, then it’s true, and as far as never been shared before, who knows?)

The address is http://postsecret.com, and here’s a picture:

Post Secret

Post Secret

6
Oct

Thornebrook Arts Festival

In the medium-sized city in which I live (Gainesville, FL, about 85,000 people, plus 65,000 college students), there are 3 art festivals each year.  The biggest one, the Spring Arts Festival sponsored by Santa Fe College, is difficult for artists to enter (they have to submit slides, and the entry fee is around $200), happens in early March, and typically draws a crowd of around 100,000.  The next-biggest one, the Downtown Arts Festival, happens in the Fall and takes place in the Downtown area, as its name suggests.  Easier to get in for artists, but a very high-quality show, garnering awards from whatever organization rates shows.

The smallest festival, the newest one, and the one I attended yesterday as well as today, is the Thornebrook Arts Festival.  Thornebrook is a collection of shops and restaurants, just a few blocks from my house, and I frequent it a good bit (breakfast at Bageland with my group on Fridays, my framing done by Thornebrook Gallery, ice cream cones from TCBY, etc.).

So I went to the arts festival yesterday.  Here is a picture:

Thornebrook Arts Festival

Thornebrook Arts Festival

There are artists’ booths, live music, food trucks, and lots of people (some of whom I know, some of whom I see once a year at the Thornebrook Arts Festival).  I talked to my friend Julie, with whom I went to grad school and worked with many years at Santa Fe College.  I bought a painting from her at last year’s festival.  She also writes novels, including one in progress that I did some editing on last year.

And I bought a painting from my friend Roxanne, a sample of whose work is here:

 

Green French Woman

Green French Woman

If you look hard at the bottom right, you see a “Sold” sign.  Well, Roxanne sold something on

the order of 20 paintings, an amazing number.  No one sells 20 paintings at a

festival, but somehow she did.  Part of it is that her paintings are fun, but another part of it

is her $25-40 pricing.  Festival-goers wander around looking to buy something, seeing all

sorts of things they’d like to have, but the prices are $250-2,000.  So when they see

something they like for an affordable price, they’re all over it.

 

I’ve worked as a volunteer for the Spring Arts Festival many times over the years, and that’s

what I base the observations above on.   Jewelry makers benefit also from their relatively

low prices — can’t buy that beautiful $800 painting, but I can afford that $75 necklace.

 

Here’s a picture of the Roxanne painting I actually bought, gardenias in a vase, which now graces my

living room.

Gardenias

Gardenias

3
Oct

Gone Girl — the Movie

There are a few spoilers here, so be alert (but if you’ve read the book, you already know them).  Went to see Gone Girl this afternoon at its opening performance in my local cineplex, and it did not disappoint the hi expectations I had for it, based on the excellent novel by Gillian Flynn (read it twice!), who also wrote the screenplay. I’m a big fan of Gone Girl director David Fincher, who has Fight Club, Seven, The Panic Room, and Zodiac among his credits.

First off, the movie is visually beautiful, not that such a thing is important, but anyway.  And Flynn\Fincher handle the various stories and different times\places very smoothly.  We start with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, very good) talking to his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon, pretty unknown in movies but excellent) about his 5th wedding anniversary and what do do for his wife.  Nick goes home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike– remember her name) gone and impossible to locate, which leads to a massive search and much police attention on the less-than-suitably-distraught husband, Nick.  (One of my movie favorites, Kim Dickens, expertly plays the detective who’s investigating the Dunne disappearance (or is it homicide?)).

Black Widow

Black Widow

Rosamund Pike gives one of the great Black Widow performances in my recollection, and there have been many, with plans in the works for Scarlett Johanssen to play the Avengers Black Widow character in an upcoming movie.   In the movies, a black widow character is a woman who kills, betrays, or otherwise engages in illegal\immoral\unpalatable behavior to advance her nefarious ends.  Pike essentially has to play two characters, the Amy who is married to Nick and fiendishly plans both her disappearance as well as the appearance that Nick had all sorts of motives to kill her; and she also plays the disguised Amy character who goes on the run the day she becomes “gone girl.”

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

A lot has been written about both book and movie, with likely more to come, as we parse whether or not the book\movie are misogynist, misandrist, or other.  My view is that Nick deserves to get his life pretty much ruined by Amy, though the last part of the movie (like the book) leaves in doubt what the new terms of their arrangement will be.  Best comment I’ve read noted that the movies shows just how close “marital detente” is to “homicidal rage.”   I predict Oscar nominations for Pike and Fincher, and it seems to me that Gillian Flynn is a mortal lock for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar- – but who knows what I’ve missed and what will happen in movies by the end of 2014?

1
Oct

Program Jargon (Jargon & Buzzwords in General)

I spent much of my teaching career doing Technical Communication, which is a rather non-theoretical discipline — very nuts-and-bolts, the specifics of workplace writing.  The take-home message is, we’re busy people here at BigCorp (for instance), so tell us what you need to tell us clearly and simply, with no extra words.  And please, no buzzwords or jargon.  (We often referred to a book called Why Business People Talk Like Idiots: and How To Stop Them.  There’s a Website by Ranker, here: http://www.ranker.com/list/the-most-annoying-corporate-buzzwords/analise.dubner.)
Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

Why Business People Speak Like Idiots

 On the subject of my longstanding and ongoing war against jargon, a meeting the other day sort of vexed me (SORT OF!  I
   was punching walls and swearing all afternoon, but I got over it.)
   I was vexed because:
     1. We had a speaker, who was good for the first 15-20 minutes but then rambled on for maybe 15-20 more.  I wish people
     who agree to be speakers would have a little respect and prepare themselves.  (This is off the topic of buzzwords and
     jargon, but one important thing about buzzwords and jargon is that it’s lazy to use them, in the sense that the speaker or
     writer can’t be bothered to be clear and speak in a language we all share.  And can’t be bothered to be a good steward of
     other people’s time and attention.
     2. In the discussion that followed (brief — speaker went on too long), the jargon was flying.  For instance, people said “went out,” “picked up,”
      or “took my will back.”  The first two are vague and euphemistic — don’t say “picked up” to me; say, “drank” or “got drunk.”  (I can pick up all
      day, but there’s no problem until I drink it.)
Don’t say “went out”; say “drank,” “got drunk,” or even “relapsed.”
And please please please don’t say “took my will back”;  tell me specifically what happened– “took my will back” could mean about 19 things (maybe 20, maybe 200).
OK, that was the ranting portion of the evening; now it’s time for serenity and compassion.  Yes, I get it why people pick up the jargon of groups they’re a part of — people want to be comfortable, want to be part of something, and using group jargon is a way to achieve those things.  To an extent it’s not deliberate, just automatic — seems as if the group jargon is the way things like, say, drinking or relapsing are expressed.  So it’s not malicious or stupid to use jargon.   However, jargon can move people away from speaking the truth in their own words, which to me is always what we’re looking for in communication.
At last Friday’s Free To Be meeting, a friend of mine told us that she’d had a bad and stressful week, and added, “I drank last Sunday.”  Four words, no jargon (she didn’t “take my will back” or “pick up”); we all knew exactly what she meant.  I was so proud of her.

 

25
Sep

New Kayak

I needed a new kayak — my chipped, dented, and leak-repaired 9-foot Heritage was no longer doing the job.

Rhythm 11

Rhythm 11

So I went to the nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods (love any sporting goods store!) and purchased  a Perception Rhythm 11 (it’s 11 feet long), pictured here:

Drove down to Ocala (about 40 miles) on Tuesday and found the boat.  But it was raining heavily, and Dick’s Sporting Goods doesn’t have a warehouse or any kind of overhang, so I left the boat there for later.  Which later turned out to be Wednesday (yesterday).  When I got home, however, I took a better look at the boat and started to have the sinking feeling that I’d been given the wrong boat — it looked just like the boat at the left, but it was 13 feet long, not 11 (and had an additional storage bin in the front).

So, lucky me!  I got 2 feet more boat than I’d paid for.  But that wasn’t going to work since there were reasons I wanted to 11-foot boat — it’s that much lighter and easier for me to get on and off the roof racks by myself.  Probably the 13-foot boat would have been too much for a geezer like me.

So this morning I woke up and about 4:30 A.M. and realized that I had to drive back down to Dick’s and see about switching boats.  So I did, arriving right around 9:00 A.A. when they opened.  No problem, they switched them right out, and by 9:20 I was back on the road.

Can’t wait to get my new boat wet — maybe tomorrow, though the weather report (just watched Mr. Weather Guy Bill Quinlan on the local news) calls for drastic rainstorms, maybe starting before it gets light.  So Saturday?  No, busy busy day.  Maybe the usual kayak day, next Wednesday, when Sam and I typically visit the Santa Fe River, or Lake Santa Fe, or maybe in future the Suwannee River.

A new boat is major excitement for me.

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