Saturday, October 31, 2009

A FAVORITE FILM: "Psycho"

Here's the first in a new series highlighting my all-time favorite films....

Scary movies are to Halloween like carols are to Christmas.  Each year, the classics are trotted out and are played repeatedly. 

To me, nothing has ever surpassed the perfectly delicious thrills of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 shocker, "Psycho".

It's hard to imagine the film's original impact.  In the film's first release, audiences were forbidden to enter theaters ten minutes after the film began.  After the excitement of the famous credit sequence by Saul Bass, viewers were then presented with a languid opening scene of sexual frankness that was new to American movie screens. Immediately, expectations were thwarted and audiences were thrown off balance.  As the storyline followed Marion Crane's desperate attempts to escape her mundane life to run off with her lover, viewers were led in one direction, only to be detoured again with the introduction of the soft-spoken, iconic Norman Bates, and his enigmatic Mother....

"Psycho" contains, still, one of the most surprising sequences of suspense and terror ever committed to film...afterward, the horror sets in when we realize that we have lost a familiar character, who was about to salvage her life from a terrible mistake, and now must shift our focus, and our identification, with an unstable, dangerous Norman.

All the while we are teased by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann score, composed for, and played ONLY on, strings.....

Hitchcock styled this film on the look of his Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, using the same crew and equipment.  (For trivia buffs, look for the episode called "An Unlocked Window"  ..about an old house, a thunderstorm, and a murderer stalking nurses.)

For her role, Janet Leigh received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress...and an Oscar nomination.  Hitchcock received a Directing nod as well.

The experience of "Psycho" is akin to wrapping up in a blanket while a storm rages outside.  You relish the chill but appreciate the safety...in this case, of Hitchkock's sure touch.

Maggie: Digging, and the Kibble-Toss



When Maggie was a puppy she used to dig a little in the back yard. She would have part of an uneaten rawhide bone, find a loamy spot in the garden,  scratch the soil back with her paws, drop in her treasure, and cover it with her nose.  After only a few minutes of surveying the yard, she would dig it up again. 

She outgrew this behavior after a while, because she knew she could always count on us for treats, and so she never needed to develop that instinct for hoarding and hiding.

Once in a while she would take a piece of kibble from her bowl and toss it around the room, often following it as it scuttled down the hall, or into the living room, or another nearby part of the house.

One night, she lay in front of the couch, sniffing under it and whining urgently.  Not knowing what else to do, we heaved the couch away, and found a piece of kibble she must have lost...maybe WEEKS before.  This would occur every so often...in front of the refrigerator, or the clothes washer.... I am still trying to learn if it was the scent of the food that attracted her...or if she actually remembered losing it there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Maggie: Coming Home---a Prologue

"...How can I make you know her the way we did?  She was a simple creature, yet I am afraid I won't do her justice....  These stories allow me me to forget that I can no longer place my hand on her head...feel her warm breath on my neck as she jumps on me in play... spoil her with treats...watch her tail spin like a propellor when Mark lets go of the leash and she happily barrels into me when I come home... Almost two years later, and I still refuse to accept her absence..........  I understand why mankind created the concept of heaven.....  It's not possible that one so loving just stops being ......"

Sorry for the somber stream of consciousness...in fact, if she had the ability to read, she would never apporve....She would say....."just tell me the way I was...and I will come through"....then she would daintily squat and pee on her throw rug, and I would gladly launder it again, for the fifth time in a week.....

(More later on the hilarious challenges presented by her training....)

It was in October when Maggie and we first encountered each other.  I hate to say it but we purchased her from a pet store......but then, I like to think of it as a resuce...Yes, we did rescue her, from a horrific infancy, from a dirty birthing area, born one of many offspring to an exhausted hound whose fate it was to breed,  rescued from the memory of a trip to Illinois on a truck (we believe), with cages stacked above and below her, so frightening to her tiny sensibility that for a year she would cower whenever a truck went by....

All of that occurred to me soon, as my awareness was raised about puppy mills, and it produced in me a fierce protectiveness I had not known before, and have not felt since....

But that Saturday, we walked into the pet store in a suburban strip mall "just to look"...Mark and I, among our other similarities, shared a love for dogs, especially bassett hounds.  The minute we saw, in a cage across the store, a pair of large ears comically flapping as she romped with a cage-mate who was twice her size, we looked no more.

First there were the ears...So soft!...they came full-sized at birth, I think, attached to a tiny head and sly sad eyes that seemed always to be thinking of her next round of mischief, but still managed to be convincingly innocent, and alert, and melancholy even in her most frolicking moments.   

Then there was her belly, smooth, pink and round, which Mark said smelled like a newborn baby; he loved to gently press his face into that soft flesh and inhale. She responded with a tail wag and a delighted jerk of her small twisted legs.

The legs, especially the front ones, caused concern at first....Bassets typically have turned-out front paws, with stocky legs. Maggie's legs were spindly and twisted in a dramatic way...almost everyone who met her asked if she was crippled...until they saw her run.....Maggie loved when I massaged her tired legs, sighing as she lay on her side next to me on the living room carpet...or on the bed. 


I honestly don't remember how we named her...the shop tagged her as "Droopy"....somehow, Maggie just fit....

That first night  I didn't attend to anything else.....I could not believe we had this creature in our care.  I fell in love hearing the first sounds of her tongue dipping in her water bowl, seeing the white tip of her tail that spun whenever she saw us, watching her stumble in the back yard for the first time as she sniffed and searched and made it her world, praising her for "finding her spot" (code word for doing her duty) and settling on the corner of the lawn that we would forever dub "her corner".

Her first night, she unleashed a repertoire of sounds---howls, yips, barks, whines, hums, hymns---intended to break our wills and get her out of the laundry room (where we had set up a warm comfortable bed crate).  Her intended destination was wherever we were---specifically the bed.  We lasted one night....just to get some sleep!

She liked the warmth of the laundry room most days.  One time soon after she came home, all was quiet...did we forget to bring her inside?  We walked into the laundry room...and she managed to climb inside the dirty-clothes basket, curl up, and sleep as silently as a church mouse.....

Readers....I'm happy to introduce you to the ambassador of my "neighorhood",  Maggie Johnson......and I hope you enjoy her stories in the days ahead, and share some of your own.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Journal for Wednesday October 28: Public Option with Opt Out?

Phrases like "Public Option", and "Opt-Out", and "Single Payer", and "Government-Run Health-Care", and "Socialized Medicine", produce emotional reactions, yet I'll bet most  people don't really understand them.  Still, many are either fiercely in support or steadfastly opposed.. and vocally so!

One needs to read a LOT of different articles on this topic to create any semblance of a complete picture.

So it goes with the proposed Health Care Bill that includes a Public Option opt-out by state.

On its surface it makes no sense to me that we may allow states to prevent their residents from CHOOSING to participate in the government plan. 

Others report that the criteria for a state to opt out will be so prohibitive, that most states, if any, won't really be able to do so.  Other stories reveal that anyone who is already covered, by an employer for example, won't be able to participate in the government-run program anyway.

Some argue that those who oppose any kind of government plan should agree that police protection, fire protection, or road maintenance should, likewise, not be available to those who cannot afford to pay for them.  The flip side would counter that doctors and insurance companies are private businesses, not government services, which is why we all must pay for health care.

Apparently, insurance premiums will also pay the cost of the Public Option, not tax dollars.....

Those dreaded taxes.....

Is it any wonder there's confusion all around?

Still, I mistrust the motives of anyone backing a plan to allow a state ot "opt out" of a government health care option to allow uninsured residents to get coverage.  How can I support a law that is potentially exclusionary? 

What happened to the courage of one's convictions....  If something is right, how far should it be compromised to win votes and score political points?

Ah well, that's political reality.....don't like it, and fortunately I can still speak out against it.

Living in a state that prohibits me, for example, from chosing to marry my partner, I guess I'm sensitive to exclusionary laws of any kind, especially one as essential as health-care coverage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A New Dog--Daydreaming

Yes, perhaps I am on the verge of significant changes, ones of my own making and choosing, not the result of failing health or getting old.  Sometimes, I do think about putting it all on hold for the chance to bring another dog into my life. 


I have resisted the temptation to visit shelters and adoption events at local pet stores.  I know that one look into the sad eyes of a loving hound (especially a hound), while placing my hand on her smooth and vulnerable head, will change the course of my life in a big way.....  And halt me in my tracks.


Mark and I have discussed this...We want to travel...prepare for a change in residence....and not create an unstable and unfair environment for a new animal....


But we cannot deny that our caregiving instincts, and our great love for dogs, is a strong temptation.


I guess it's time to write some anecdotes about our ten crazy years with our unforgettable Basset Hound....


"Maggie Johnson"

Journal October 27---Accidental Invention

Some inventions that changed the world were accidental: the microwave oven, Krazy Glue, vulcanized rubber, safety glass, and penicillin were discovered by those who were in the process of creating something entirely different.


People make efforts to fashion themselves in one way and often discover something more remarkable.  Me?  I went off to college to try my hand at filmmaking. (In the '70's, film as art was a more popular and respected field of study.) To pay my way, I interviewed for a job as a Resident Assistant in my dorm.  On my second try, I got the position... And I was sort of a natural.  The University recognized this, and I was invited upon graduation (the early 80's when there was a horrible recession and few jobs available) to remain as Hall Director of another dorm on campus.


I stayed four more years, full-time!


Life has moved me in crazy and surprising ways ever since.  


Now, I am actively pursuing the writer's life.....and a life of more artistic opportunities with my partner.  In addition to the creative process, I am getting ready to sell my condo, transition out of my current career (even if retirement comes first!), and visualize the places I want to settle, all the time negotiating my current relationships, forming new ones, and moving in tandem with Mark to make it work for us both.


Along the way, it is possible I will find a new "invention" in myself.....so far, I have surprised myself by maintaining this journal...mastering the (admittedly rather easy) technology alone was the greatest accomplishment!


And the nice by-products of my effort  are the really terrific folks who I am meeting---and reconnecting with--through this effort. I thank you all....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Daily Journal...Part 2--What I'm reading

"Taking Woodstock" by Elliott Tiber--a great story about the colorful life of the guy who opened his run-down motel to a group of music promoters, and the Woodstock festival of 1969 was born.

Just finished "Land's End" by Michael Cunningham, a wonderful little book, an extended essay about all things Provincetown.

FutureReads: Ted Kennedy's memoirs;  The biography of Vincent Minnelli; Wally Lamb's Columbine novel "The Hour I First Believed"; "That Old Cape Magic" by Pulitzer winner Richard Russo; and, if he will allow me, the recently published Thesis of my colleague and good friend who just earned his Doctorate!

Daily Journal October 26: Reading--I Love Readers!

Whether absorbed by a great novel...or just a menu in a Tempe Arizona Vegetarian sidewalk cafe...reading is all good!!


Although my profile claims I am an avid reader, my pace has slowed recently.  Travel, work, writing a lot more (including here) have swallowed time that I used to devote to consuming at least a book a week. 

I have neglected another web site devoted to reading called GoodReadsI mean to get involved again, and update my personal reading list and take in more writing as well as produce it.

I will post my reviews here in the not-too-distant future.

Good reading, I think, is a quietly underrated skill. It's more than merely understanding the words on a page...it's thinking while reading, recognizing various levels of meaning, and being able to have a kind of simultaneous conversation with the author.  Often it's good to hone our skills by reading good books about reading.  One of my favorites is "How to Read Literature Like a Profesor.", by Thomas Foster.

I am a good reader, I think. We need more good readers. Isn't that what we writers live for?

Film Review: "A Serious Man"

"A Serious Man"...An ironic title for a movie by the Coen Brothers, who are known for mocking their characters, for whom they create impossible dilemmas. I want the Coens to get out of the way of their own stories, and allow us to be absorbed by the unusual situations of their characters, without the filmmakers' self-reflexive nihilism.

In "A Serious Man", our protagonist is a Physics professor who is: about to be blackmailed by a failing student; thrown out of the house by his unfaithful wife; overcome by temptation for a neighbor who sunbathes in the nude; and harassed by his soon-to-be bar mitzvah'd son and by his shrewish daughter.  We watch the painful disintegration of this man's life, but we are meant to find it all humorous because, as the Coen's make clear over and again, nothing really matters...actions have unintended consequences....good actions are punished and transgressions are rewarded.  Not groundbreaking stuff, despite the religious mythology.

The mantra here is "I didn't DO anything"...that is, anything to deserve the horrible dilemmas that befall us. Not even faith can provide answers (Rabbis here are portrayed as buffoons).  There is a good film buried here somewhere, but it is undone by a  throwaway tone that lightens the movie to the point of frivolity....so that by the end, when things sort of work themselves out, and then for no reason start to fall apart again, you might have to pinch yourself to remind yourself that this is a Serious Work. 

The Coens are playing to an inside audience, using re-tooled legends and obscure ethnic humor, and references to their own films, so that in-the-know film-buffs will nod in smug recognition at the references to North Dakota ("Fargo") and the absurdity of fate (the film's randomness brings to mind the tossed coin in "No Country for Old Men").

I don't exactly know why the film was set in the late '60s, except perhaps to get laughs from the unfortunate clothing, style and culture of the day---the TV series "F-Troop", for instance, forms a running gag, as do the lyrics of Airplane's "Somebody to Love"--but my guess is that this is a way for the Coens to reconcile their Bar-Mitzvah-age life stories, and to wreak revenge on friends and family members who made their lives hell.  (And, since there are no consequences for any actions, they conveniently relinquish all responsibility....)

Sloppy storytelling disappointed me as well.  After a horrendous car accident (well, the one in which no one was hurt, anyway) our hero seems to have no trouble getting all over town as before.
I guess some will eschew logic and defend the film as some kind of comic poem....but really, this movie is a challenge to sit through without some emotional or intellectual payoff...or even a punchline.

Credit is due to the performers, many of whom are unfamiliar to me...and to some interesting photography, which brought to mind the sun-drenched suburban landscapes of Lynch's "Blue Velvet", or at times a psychedelic "Ice Storm".

NOTE:  My appreciation for any film tends to increase with more preparation going in.  We intended to see "An Education" with Peter Sarsgaard", and chose "Serious Man" as a reluctant fallback.  Had we chosen this film at the start, having made the necessary emotional commitment, it might have been an easier experience.....but, in this case, that chance is slim.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Journal October 25: Looking Back..An Iowa City Recollection

A friend of mine is attending Graduate School on the north side of Chicago.  Until yesterday he worked at the local suburban Coffee Shop, and  is transferring to a new shop closer to his school and home, in the heart of what is known as Chicago's "Boys Town".

We will miss him a lot in Mt. Prospect, Mark and I... Despite some kidding from his colleagues, he is comfortable with the move....and secure in himself.  Perhaps he is availing himself of that first golden moment of self-exploration which is crucial to the education of a counselor/teacher; or, at the very least, he is ready to immerse himself in a culture that may have been unfamiliar to him.  Either way, I am impressed by his maturity and at his non-judgmental acceptance of  Mark and me as a couple during our visits to the suburban shop.

After bidding my friend good luck in his new endeavor, I thought of a time in my own life when I felt inhibited from self-exploration.  That almost changed during a year-long and fleeting contact with someone with whom I could have felt safe, if I wasn't so afraid of being honest with myself.

In the late 1970's while attending the University of Iowa, I knew a student who was one of my charges on the dorm floor where I was a Resident Assistant. He was a wispy, slightly built blonde, and was handsome yet feminine in a beautiful, ethereal way.  I was secretly fascinated,.  He was rarely around the hall, remaining cordial but mostly absent, involved in musical and artistic pursuits.   I took vicarious satisfaction from imagining myself as his talented colleague, spending time with artists, writing and discussing plays, attending or playing in orchestras, and having the appreciation of talented and attractive people who were comfortable being who they were.

I was better able to talk to him by virtue of the fact that I was the floor staff member. I never took advantage of my position and, he was always friendly if remote.  He seemed to like me well enough, and was comfortable with me, more than with others on the floor, with whom he formed no attachments.... It was, honestly, not a sexual attraction on my part, even though I was drawn to him; it was, rather. an attraction to a way of life that I wanted to experience.

On those infrequent occasions when I did see him, a great calm settled over me, as though by his example it was all right for me to relax and be artistic and fastidious and gay. He seemed perfecly confident in following his own path....but I was not ready to risk scorn and uncertainty....I had to live life as a straight man...I was, unbeknownst to me, re-inventing myself in a misguided way...like so many misguided guys back then...

I wished I had followed the path that felt comfortable instead of insisting that I would assimilate into a safe and traditional life.

Now I am at that crossroads...and the stakes for moving away from a safe path are even higher....but that calm that I feel in re-invention is drawing me forward....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do Film Critics matter?

What's wrong with film criticism today? 
Do film critics matter?  According to a post by film critic and author Marshall Fine on his web blog "Hollywood and Fine", the answer is, in general, no.  
But then he instructs us to ask a different question: When do critics matter?  Here's my opinion, on a topic I have mused about for a long while now, as I look at the listings for my local 12-plex theater and can find not one film of great interest to me:

Lately I have been thinking about the role of film critics and film criticism in general, and the conclusions I’ve drawn are somewhat parallel those expressed by Fine. But there is more to it, I think.~

Interesting you mentioned “Bonnie and Clyde”, and later Pauline Kael. Actually, Ms. Kael was as central to the salvation of “Bonnie and Clyde” as to the demise of the Bosley-Crowther-style lockstep conservatism.~ As a young film-goer and aspiring fimmaker and critic, I was inspired by Kael’s forthrighness and style. She had the knack of making you feel you were actually experiencing the film she was reviewing, whether or not it was a positive review, and whether you agreed or not.~
Kael, Vincent Canby, John Simon, Stanley Kauffman, and my hometown Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, formed my own personal film school.  They created their own esthetic through their writing about film, writing that stood on its own artistically. Now, we seem to be back in the pre-1960’s era of film reviewing, the function being merely to assist the studios in promotion.~

What we need is a movement like the French new Wave of the late 1950’s, with a manifesto, a collection of edgy and intelligent artists, and a publication (on-line or hard copy) that stirs the imaginations of those who care about film as a human art. Too often now, film and its use is relegated to amusement-park-style thrills and mind-numbing pyrotechnics. I assert that the artistic breakthroughs that occurred in movies in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s were attributable to the philosophy of that group of infuential critics.~
It could be that the “magic demographic” is hungry for movies that speak to their emotions and reflect the eternal challenges of human interaction, and they just don’t know it.~

There seems to be a strange-bedfellows relationship between film criticism and popular filmmaking that is ruining the experience of theatergoing for the rest of us; many critics now seem to be culled from the ranks of video-gamers and techno-geeks that studios are playing favor to. Many of todays reviewers lack background in other arts like literature, music, philosophy, and so their writing remains shallow.  Studios “feed” mainstream critics with favored “quotes” in return for having their reviews excerpted in the movie ads.~
It is as though, now Bergman and Antonioni are gone (both dead on the same day!), and without the likes of Pauline Kael to call studios out for their shrillness and dishonesty, anything goes, and the few films with even a bit of artistic merit to play in the popular movie houses are those that are made with an eye toward year-end awards.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dogs...and "Racist" Halloween Costumes

I am interested in hearing comments about today's Huffington Post concerning racist Halloween costumes:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/disgrasian/racist-halloween-costumes_b_330853.html

My comment has been posted.....You'll find it under the name Bassetthound... or, you can read it here (although it makes sense to see the pictures, found on the link, first:)

Well, now that I have caught my breath from laughing so hard.....
Yes, many of the costumes WOULD be appalling on humans, but then a lot of things dogs do are unbecoming, if not downright shocking (not to mention impolite) if we humans behave the same way. You know what I mean....

Sure, some of the costumes may be inherently offensive..the illiegal alien, for example (even with the space-creature mask), and certainly the "black" pimp, and the braids on the "indian" costume....
...but some of them are not... The prayer shawls on the two sober-faced canines are not, in themselves, racist....just humorous, on the dogs, on whom they don't even seem particularly blasphemous. Some costumes are offensive in description only, like the "geisha", but otherwise it's merely colorful.
I would of course object if the costumed dogs were used as a socially acceptable way of expressing hateful views.... But somehow the costumes' absurdity, and the innnocent simplicity in the dogs' expressions, render the get-ups toothless, as it were.
As a member of a demographic that is accustomed to being misrepresented and stereotyped, (and I can think of lots of "gay" dog costumes...) I've learned that I have to pick my battles, and sometimes just find humor in some situations....



Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/disgrasian/racist-halloween-costumes_b_330853.html

Journal October 21: Re-invention--A Summary--Overcoming Discouragement

Is reinvention always a conscious process?
Can one reinvent in ways only noticeable later, with the right self-reflection?

I'm looking back as I began my posts several weeks ago.
In that time, I have:
-- more or less faithfully kept this blog...a new phase and significant change for me for sure!  Just learning the technology was a great stride.
--traveled and kept a writer's journal of the experience....as a writer, this has provided me with material I need to possibly go further with my craft, and art..
--had my kitchen re-done.  Sounds silly, but if re-invention involves changing residences, it is a logical step
--have met a few fine people through this journal.  I am happy they are sharing their lives and ideas with me.
Especially http://tgoette-sophisticatedlunacy.blogspot.com/  and  http://torqopia.blogspot.com/   And welcome to new followers, Walter Holliman, Kevin Atteridge, and http://plainolebob.blogspot.com/.   And of course, a special nod to Doug.


But am I doing enough to make changes? Significant ones?  Is it time to step back and re-evaluate what it is I want to achieve, and decide on the necessary steps?  Has my process been too unfocused? as has my blog-journal?


Well, I have decided that the journal is a personal record...and when I become a well-read, respected artist/writer, these musings will be valuable tools for study!  (how modest). So, it's ok to go in many directions....perhaps, in time, my readers will help direct my efforts, based on what they find most compelling.


On the other hand, I guess I HAVE identified the artists/writer's life as my ultimate goal, the final product of my attempts at reinvention.  Also, Mark and I have a goal to change our residence (Evanston?) in order to feed our creativity, feel a sense of belonging in a more liberal community, and fuel the engine for making real positive changes for us and, in our world, through us.


So now, like the boulders on the Provincetown breakwater, it's time to take the steps, one at a time....

Pictorial: Dogs of New York

Back from a brief hiatus...

Walking through New York I said to myself how difficult a city it must be for dogs.  It's often difficult for people to make their way, dodging other people, stepping over puddles after rain, avoiding the plastic bags of trash on the curbs..... I remembered then how resilient dogs are.....

A few photos of the canines we met.... Some photos we got have identifiable images of people,and I didn't get their blessings to be here...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

FILM REVIEW: "New York, I Love You"

A disarming and surprising little gem, "New York, I Love You" unfolds like a book of riveting short stories.  I had heard very little about the film before its limited release this weekend in Chicago, and I had not seen "Paris, je t'aime", another anthology film in an apparent series ("Shanghai, I Love You" is next up in 2011). The producer, Emmanuel Benbihy, deserves much credit for taking ten stories from different writers and directors and blending them seamlessly in style and tone.


Based on what I knew, I expected ten short films, loosely connected, with New York as the major star.  Having just returned from my first trip to New York (see my posts last week), I was conflicted by my hope of recognizing places I had just been, and by my dread of this being simply another travelogue.


Actually, the film eschews panoramas and iconic cliches in favor of intimate human stories about the connections made (often romantic) between unlikely couples.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how many of the stories strongly connect to each other, with characters recurring in delightful ways.  This is not a representation of New York, but an impressionist's view of how the city allows for these connections to occur.


(Even so, I was thrilled to see a scene shot in Central Park's Strawberry Fields....the third occurrence of "Imagine" in my life in three weeks....Synchronicity!)


I won't try to recap all of the various stories here.  In one of my favorites, a mysterious opera diva (the classy Julie Christie) checks into a Park Avenue hotel she may have stayed in once, long ago, and develops a fondness for a crippled young attendant (Shia LaBeouf) who might or might not perform miracles...or who himself may be a fantasy.... It is a sad story, and watching it, one may feel like the tragic hero of one's own lost youth....


On another note completely, James Caan plays a druggist who "saves" a young man who is stood up by his prom date.  Caan's daughter, who agrees to be the young man's new date, has some surprises of her own...one or two more than expected....and the story unfolds sweetly, like a teen film with a wise and benevolent soul.....Edgy and lots of fun! O'Henry would be proud...


The large cast also includes Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as a hilariously bickering couple on their 63rd anniversary; Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci as a musician and a book-lover who fall in love on the phone; Hayden Christiansen and the late Andy Garcia as two thieves with more surprises for each other; Robin Wright and Chris Cooper as a couple who "meet" on the street; Ethan Hawke, who makes a play for a  woman using incredibly sexy schtick...and gets a shocking revelation; and Natalie Portman as an Orthodox Jew on the eve of her wedding, who discovers an abiding love for her Indian jeweler, which is reciprocated in a lovely image of their embrace.....


One might say that New York is loved for its surprises....and the unifying thread, the thing that makes it a prototypically New York experience, is that  life takes these characters, unlikely as they are to be connected like nowhere else but in New York, and moves them in unexpected directions....  In much the same way, I would assert, the process of reinventing one's self requires openness to surprise.
See this film!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Journal, October 16: Chicago's Art Institute

No one knows a city like a tourist.  In a short space of time, a visitor can go from untutored novice to something close to expert, all out of the necessity of finding one's way, and taking in as much as possible....taking in what many residents take for granted.


I told Mark I want to start to visit the city of Chicago as a tourist...to learn it that well... and to eventually conquer it!


Last night, I took the train in after work to meet him at the Art Institute of Chicago.


The Art Institute engulfed us for a good three hours last night.....we would have stayed longer, but we were bound by the commuter train schedules...



Having now seen the two major Art Museums in Boston and New York, I would say that Chicago is a worthy contender to the title of finest in the country.....


The Modern Wing occupied our entire evening. The westward-facing windows of the all-white Terzo Piano Dining Room on the fourth floor offer views of the spectacular architecture of South Michigan Avenue from a perspective difficult to see from that elevation from the Lake, looking back to the skyline from that point.


The galleries ran a complete gamut from the utterly captivating to the bizarre. I hated the dreadful video work "Clown Torture";.... but the portraits of Alex Katz, especially "Vincent and Tony", were quite satisfying. I am unfamiliar with much of the "modern" movement and philosophy; the political and social statements that support many of the works (printed on cards next to them) are usually TOO immediate, and have no timely or universal appeal...many pieces seem like petulant children, demanding attention, and on their own terms....


But I am happy I experienced it, and I am sure I'll be back to test my impressions again, and learn a little more, even as I gravitate to the European Paintings, Decorative Arts, and the wonderful Miniature Rooms, which are among my more traditional favorites. There were a couple of Jackson Pollocks and Andy Warhols that I enjoyed as well, being more familiar to me.


One remarkable piece confronted me that I can't stop remembering: one oil that grabbed me--- Lucien Freud's "Sunny Morning--Eight Legs"   Yes, the dog grabbed my attention,  ....but aside from that, it is a haunting and sinister piece.... And sad, in a way....with brush strokes so emphatic (you have to see it up close) that it appeared to be the work of someone having a psychotic episode.... the legs under the bed give it a violence, an eroticism....
 
Another step along the way...another rock in the breakwater of reinvention...the end is still too far on the horizon to see...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Gay March and My New York Journey: Mystical Connections!

" 'Synchronicity' is the experience of two or more events that are causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance..." (from Wikipedia)

...Reinvention requires inspiration...

I have had two sets of wonderful, unexplained pairs of events occur meaningfully recently!-- connecting our whirling, indelible trip to New York, and this past weekend's Equality March for Gay Rights and the Human Rights Campaign Dinner.


I now feel that I have been a part of something.....  And I can't shake that mysterious "imponderable" that there just might be meaning in the universe....

First:  As I wrote last week (Oct. 7), our attendance at the Broadway revival of Hair was a pinnacle of our visit to New York:
            
"BEST OF ALL: Yours truly and my Mark accepted the invitation to join the cast onstage for the curtain-call, along with dozens of others from the audience..........While we sang, and looked upon the audience fogged by the brilliance of the spotlights in our faces, the crew lifted a banner to promote the National Equality March in Washington DC this Sunday (October 11.)"
Then yesterday, I read an article about Sunday's March in Associated Press:

"Joining the march were 20 cast members from the musical, "Hair." They chose to let a Broadway matinee show go dark to come march and were led by the show's star, Gavin Creel.  "I take him at his word," the 33-year-old Creel said of Obama afterward. "This is just the beginning."

I am so glad we saw the show a week before!  Although I could not be in Washington DC, the fact that we attended this magnificent show a week prior, with a cast that was sympathetic to the cause, deepened the experience for me....as though I had committed an altruistic act by being there...

Second: I watched Mr. Obama's speech to the Human Rights Campaign, and read more later.  He amused the crowd by stating that he was there only as an opening act to performer Lady Gaga.  I found a video of her performance that evening, in which she sang a special version of John Lennon's "Imagine"...(click here for video)

Just a week before, on our last morning in New York, we strolled through a sunny Central park, and stopped at Strawberry Fields......John Lennon's Peace Park......and Mark took this photo of your correspondent in reflection................................

Coincidence?  I prefer to think it as "mystic crystal revelation...."!

Naive? Sure, probably....but that innocent feeling is as close to childlike inspiration as I have felt in a while..

Be well everyone....


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Film Review: "Captialism: A Love Story"

I admire Michael Moore's courage.  He fearlessly goes after what most would consider fairly dangerous subject matter: gun control, health care,"socialized medicine", a stolen election, and the unanswered, hushed-up questions left in the wake of 9/11.  Now, in "Capitalism: A Love Story", he has the balls to reveal the underhanded dealings of Congress and Wall Street and how, hand in hand, they engineered a near collapse of the financial system, in the process ensuring the enrichment of the nation's wealthiest 5% while imperiling the other 95%.  Moore has the audacity to demonstrate that propagandists for capitalism convinced most of us that an evil system was godly, that Jimmy Carter's honest warning about consumerism and greed was ignored in favor of the damaging deregulation allowed by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, and that a system touted as the best in the world almost destroyed us. (By the way, the Constitution does not sanction a capitalist system---it's not even mentioned.)

Moore's tone is ironic and measured, and the film is at turns highly entertaining and deeply disturbing.  He playfully compares the Fall of Rome with modern American society, using good old-fashioned montage and juxtaposing images.  In one sequence he re-edits an old Hollywood Biblical tale, re-dubbing Jesus the miracle-healer as a modern-day health-care provider ("I can't cure this man...he has a preexisting condition..."); seeking to alleviate the possible discomfort such hilarious blashpemy may cause some viewers, Moore reminds us of his own Catholic upbringing. 

As far as the disturbing material goes, some incredible images and ideas emerge.....How the best minds in the top Universities are snapped up by Wall Street to create exotic loan formulas and derivatives that few can understand let alone explain....How the bailout, that was originally successfully blocked by the voice of the people, was ultimately passed after backroom dealings by Congress...How companies take out life insurance policies on employees, with the company as beneficiary, in effect betting on when employees will die....How airline pilots are often paid less than managers at Taco Bell....How some members of congress became special clients of Countrywide Home Mortgage while vast numbers of borrowers were victimized in the subprime scheme....The incredible memo from Citibank to its largest investors, building a case for an eventual "plutonomy", which was a calculated plan to divert all power into the wealthiest 1% .....and Wall Street's nightmare with the Obama election....and on and on....

Most compelling is a newsreel of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, (apparently found in an archive somewhere after being presumed lost for decades), stating his desire for a second Bill of Rights, guaranteeing all Americans the right to a good education, universal health care, jobs with sustainable incomes for necessities AND recreation, and security in retirement. All of these rights, by the way, are now enjoyed by our former World War II adversaries, whose countries America helped rebuild after the war (Germany, Italy, Japan.)

Moore calls us to action, and I was proud to see his coverage of the Chicago company Republic Windows. When the employees were told last winter that  the company was out of business and they had three days to leave without getting paid, these employees staged a successful sit-in to fight for the money that was owed them by the bailout-fortified Bank of America.  This is a small gem of a story encased in a wide mosaic of greed and arrogance, outrage and heartbreak.  Moore uses this tale brilliantly to seal his argument that we can, and must, act, and not accept whatever comes down to us simply because we are comfortable today. Any one of us could be in the position of the Repulic employees tomorrow.

There are those who will dismiss Moore's arguments outright...but he's hard to overlook, with his common-sense advocacy of regular people.  He combines the plain-speaking and intelligent populism of a Will Rogers with a Swiftian sense of social satire.  Go see this movie.....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Obama's Speech to the Human Rights Campaign

I caught the President's speech to the Human Rights Campaign on a number of web sites.  It was similar in rhetoric to speeches made during the campaign to garner support from LGBT constituents.  While the hope has begun to pale a little, like bright paint exposed to too much sun, I take comfort in Mark's assertion of the fact that our President is at least still discussing the issue.  Now, if he could just make this speech to Congress...) 

I mentioned earlier to a fellow blogger (http://torqopia.blogspot.com/) that I wished it were possible for me to attend the rally and march in Washington DC tomorrow (Sunday, October 11).
I mentioned, too, my hope that press coverage would be substantial......at least as much as was received by the more contentious healthcare "tea parties".
My fear is that, because the rally will be reasoned and respectable, because there will be no racist placards, or wingnuts carrying guns to intimidate others into accepting their points of view, the event may not be "sensational" enough to warrant more than a cursory glance...
But I hope I'm wrong...I hope it gets a lot of attention....that tomorrow is a real turning point......

Friday, October 9, 2009

Journal October 9: New York Stories--Wealth, The Met, and Robert Frank

                                 
A more philosophical musing on my travels to New York..... A darker view, perhaps, which I have since reconciled, to leave me with a more realistic love for the city.....

On Saturday just before noon, we emerged from Central Park on the east side, after a photogenic stroll under low gray skies, and walked ten blocks north to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or, The Met for short).

I was reminded of a phrase I created after experiencing Times Square, (the world's biggest commercial, I think) the night before:
"NEW YORK SHOUTS AT YOU"

I was feeling ambiguous...not unusual, as I was in a process of LEARNING, about the city, how it works, and whether there was a place for someone like me in it....Here's an excerpt from my journal...and it is important to note that I penned this BEFORE our afternoon at the Museum and my encounter with the photographs of Robert Frank:

"Everything about New York is big and ostentatious--the business of New York seems to be self-promotion.  New York yells at you for attention, or begs you for it in more subtle ways.  As we walk up Park Avenue, I see never-ending rows of high-end stone apartment buildings; some are very old and stately, and are festooned with intricate carvings, gargoyles, and facades; these contrast with minimalist structures with contemporary windows.  This concentration of wealth went on and on.....One image spoke to me:  I noticed that many residents of these buildings use their window sills to display what appear to be fine artifacts.  In one window I saw a row of sculpted busts (marble, perhaps) that were situated with their backs to the street, yet the curtains were drawn over their faces, so no one had the opportunity to enjoy them as they were intended to be.  It was as if the occupant's thought was, 'I am so surrounded by art that I can afford to ignore some of it, and while no one else is allowed to enjoy it, either, yet I want the world to know that I am in possession of it.'

Later that afternoon in the Museum, after a really fun and informative examination of the Impressionist and post-Impressionist gallery (Jillian knew a lot about these artists...Mark liked the Rembrandt portraits,  especially the masterful rendering of human eyes and expression) we entered the exhibit from Robert Frank's book of black-and-white photographs taken in the late 1950's, "The Americans", with a forward by Jack Kerouac.

The book and its photos contrasted the lives of a cross section of Americans of every conceivable social stratum, and juxtaposed  the disparity between the powerful and the dispossessed, the wealthy and the broken.  The posted text next to the pictures unsettled me, and gave me pause to ponder with my earlier struggle, on Park Avenue, to understand the city itself....here are a couple brief samples of that text:

"...the dress, demeanor, and environment...a sense of insecurity and despair that results from a lack of wealth as well as the insensitivity--even arrogance--that can stem from excess...."

"The American political system drowns out the voices of average citizens...Americans worship false icons (cowboys, movie stars)...American work is restrictive and unsatisfactory...The rich are arrogant...the poor, meek....and the middle class is lulled into quiet submission by consumer culture..."

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace Prize 2009

"for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"
 
Earlier in the day, I had heard unusual criticism for this selection...so I went to the Nobel Web site to read the official statement (bottom of page). It is an unconventional choice, but I don't think an unreasonable one. Reuters reported (in Crain's Chicago Business) contrary views from the Middle East:


The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and opposes a peace treaty with Israel, said the award was premature at best. "Obama has a long way to go still and lots of work to do before he can deserve a reward," said Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri. "Obama only made promises and did not contribute any substance to world peace. And he has not done anything to ensure justice for the sake of Arab and Muslim causes." .... Liaqat Baluch, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative religious party in Pakistan, called the award an embarrassing "joke."

......and, conservative pundits will be highly critical, and also in the unusual position of appearing to be aligning with adversaries in the middle east. Look at this incredible excerpt from a Huffington Post piece:

UPDATE: Either sensing an opening to cast the Republican Party as actively rooting against America, or just fed up with the stream of negative responses, the Democratic National Committee put out an unusually blunt statement Friday morning. The gist: that the GOP sides with the terrorists.

"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."

Here's the statement from the Nobel Web Site:

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."


Oslo, October 9, 2009




Thursday, October 8, 2009

Journal, October 8: New York Stories--Travel Anecdotes

Tomorrow I will have more about the Metropolitan museum of Art, and some strong impressions it made on me which I recorded in my journal..  For now, something lighter.....
(And check out the following post, below, about Americans wanting to write books...)

Our trip was filled with small anecdotes and incidents that I will never forget:



--For example, after Mark and I checked in to the hotel (across from Madison Square Garden) we had not eaten for hours, and looked for a cafe or other non-chain eatery. We headed toward Times Square and Broadway, and finally found Juniors, in the heart of the theater district after walking for about an hour. I knew it was the right spot when, over the loudspeakers on the patio, I heard---you guessed it---Joni Mitchell, my musical idol, singing her hit, "Help Me". [Outstanding sandwiches, too.]



--The Naked Cowboy...what's his story? He entertained the crowds on Friday night, in Times Square...




--The Chelsea Market, with wonderful creative foods, pastries, and Jillian's passion, cupcakes.
--A Rice Pudding shop in Little Italy, where Max regaled us with stories about his work in theater and film

--All the GERMANS! Even for an international city, I encountered a surprisingly large number of individuals or small groups from Germany (I even delighted one woman by saying something in her language)... and especially Dominic, a student visiting his sister on holiday, who offered to take our group photo, and engaged us in conversation for agood 20 minutes..

--Saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance off one of the renovated piers at Hudson River Park; then walked on the High Line, a new park constructed on an old freight-train platform....awesome atmosphere, and views.


--Walked by the Stonewall Inn, and in the window was the first issue of the Advocate magazine, with a cover photo of a naked Jon Voight from "Midnight Cowboy".

--The Tick Tock Cafe...Bourbon Street.....Fresco... Places we found and liked a lot...


--Laughing, exhausted, on the subway with Mark.....






82% Of Americans Want to Write a Book

Arielle Ford, book publicist and author, posted an intriguing article on today's Huffington PostFord examined the reasons why a vast majority of Americans have literary ambitions. A poll found that 82% of Americans believe they have a book in them, (while another survey found only 15% actually buy books.)
My reluctance to start blogging at first was rooted in my suspicion that few people are reading, yet everyone wants to write.....as though many are talking, but few are listening.  Yet, the reasons I had for overcoming my misgivings were similar to why I am among the 82%, as noted in my response to Ford's post:
"I am one of the 15% who enjoys buying books....and reading them, too. I am also one of the 82% with a dream to write and publish.
When I get the chance to browse my favorite bookstores, (the ones that are still open), I notice how much junk manages to actually get published. For a serious reader it requires care, and research, to know what to look for, what might be a worthy read, and what deserves the support of the book-buying dollar. One thinks, "Certainly I can do better..." And yet, even terrible books can require a lot of effort to write...
I have loved books and reading for a long time. My first impulse as a young writer of fiction ,my preferred genre, was to imitate my literary heroes...not to claim my "smartness", not really....but to feel that I belonged to an exclusive club of well-respected people with great ideas and the ability to express them.
Don't most of us imitate our heroes at some time or another? I admire those who contribute to the world conversation, who discuss their craft at book festivals, who get their plays produced, and even who win literary awards. Those are the things that inspire me to keep trying!"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Journal Oct. 7: New York Stories--Broadway!



Attending theater was a focus of our trip....Mark and I both love performing arts.... the following are some notes about my very first visit to Broadway (actually, 45th street!!)


Mark and I decided as soon as we arrived to try to secure tickets for a show that very night, and invite our friends Jillian and Max. We managed to get excellent Orchestra seats, 4 together, for Tracy Letts' "Superior Donuts" at the Music Box.   An ironic choice, since it was written by a Chicagoan, and first produced at Steppenwolf... the play takes place in a run-down donut shop in a Chicago neighborhood. I am sure that Mark and Jillian and I understood the subtle Chicago references, in the set design and manner of speech, more than some in the audience....


It's all about lost dreams, and youthful enthusiasm, men who live in the past, and kids trying to escape their present...about writers and poets, cops, loan sharks, the resignation of the Midwesterner in wintertime, and a protagonist who was an ex-hippie, a man who could have been one of the idealists from the cast of "Hair" 41-odd years ago. It was unexpectedly moving; I really became fond of that donut shop! A fitting first Broadway experience, which I enjoyed very much.


Saturday we got in the TKTS line on Times Square and Jillian treated us to "39 Steps", a 4-actor play with about a dozen different characters. Using much physical humor, voices, costume changes, and sly musical cues, this show pleased everyone, even those who were not familiar with the original film with Robert Donat, or with Hitchcock's oeuvre. Performed at the Helen Hayes, a charming little theater, next to Sardi's where we stopped afterward for dessert, and to look at the caricatures.....


Sunday afternoon...the explosive high of our trip.... "Hair"   "Hair" was a definite high point; the show was brilliantly staged, with effective use of the entire theater to bring the audience into the play.......characters mingled with the audience....a young theatergoer, about 8 years old, was lifted and twirled by the protagonist, unforgettable for the boy, and delightful for the rest of us.....
BEST OF ALL: Yours truly and my Mark accepted the invitation to join the cast onstage for the curtain-call, along with dozens of others from the audience. It was the pinnacle of the event, and I was overcome, by the joy of the play, and by its tragedy, and by the beauty and playfulness of the music, and by the rarity of that moment..........
While we sang, and looked upon the audience fogged by the brilliance of the spotlights in our faces, the crew lifted a banner to promote the National Equality March in Washington DC this Sunday (October 11.)
I know some will want to chide me a little....but I stand by my love for the show, its naivete, its energy, its incredible music a reminder of the tangible enthusiasm that helped lots of people through a sick and uncertain period of time...and gave boys like me the inspiration to pursue life in unconventional ways.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Daily Journal October 6: New York Stories, Prologue

                                                                      

I just returned from my very first trip to New York City with Mark.  As some of our friends say, what better place is there to reinvent yourself?
We arrived Friday afternoon, and left Monday afternoon.
While there, we joined up with our friend Jillian, who loves the city and who traveled there especially to spend time with us; and her friend and resident New Yorker, Max.
What a time we had! ...Decidedly un-tourist-y, but not nearly long enough for more than a faint taste, akin to dipping a finger in a mile-long buffet table, and discerning the quality of the whole banquet by one lick....
Nevertheless, strong impressions, opinions, and connections were formed....and I am completing a lengthy journal of the days and nights' activities.....I have written freely and at great length, to capture what I could....and explore my attitudes, and outlook for the future..... by the time its finished I may well have filled over 70 pages....
For the next few days I will include some photos and excerpts from the journal.
I can tell you that we managed 3 shows.....spent some hours at the Metropolitan Art Museum.... Had rain Friday and Saturday, but pleasant skies Sunday, and yesterday...explored a respectable portion of Central Park....had iconic moments in the Village, and Chelsea, and Hudson River park.... experienced Times Square....Little Italy....and mastered the subway...mostly we walked.....
I encountered a few dogs along the way...
Ate well but not to excess....
...and, as promised, I will provide an accountof the highlight of our trip...the Broadway musical revival, "Hair".....magical, explosive!
Travel, even very short and local trips, can be inspiring.......






                                                                            

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Afghanistan...Vietnam...and "Hair"

NPR's All Things Considered tonight featured an interview with Stanley Karnow, a jounralist who wrote perhaps the best book I have ever read about the Vietnam War....


In his interview, Karnow argues that our policy in Afghanistan would benefit from the lessons learned during our involvememt in Vietnam.  Karnow spoke to General McChrystal and expressed his opinion that Vietnam was the most avoidable war we ever fought, and that one of the biggest lessons we should not forget is to keep questioning assumptions.  Alll of Southeast Asia did not fall to communism, as was vehemently assumed. Will the Taliban become a radical force if not defeated in Afghanistan, and lead to another US attack on the magnitude of  9/11? 
One difference, it is argued, is that the Vietcong did not pose a threat on American soil, but not so Al Qaeda, which was provided safe haven by the Taliban.  The talk of escalation, or troop hike, has resurrected one of Vietnam's biggest buzzwords: quagmire.  Obama states, correctly, that we cannot step in the same river twice. This is his way of separating the two conflicts into their unique circumstances; but the interview invites us to listen carefully to his words, and he does tacitly allow that a comparison between Afghanistan and Vietnam is not to be avoided.
On Sunday, I am attending my first Broadway show: the revival of the 1968 musical, "Hair", which was nothing if not inspired by the Vietnam war.  It was a pop musical protest against the war and the culture that created it.  I have a friend who kids me about my fascination with a show which he labels "prehistoric" (he was not yet born in the late 1960's). I have a feeling, aside from the now-classic music and clothing and language which fixes the play firmly in period, that "Hair" might be as relevant now as it ever was.
I will have a review on Wednesday of next week, along with items from my travel journal.  Have a great week, readers!