Saturday, January 30, 2010


Man, how did this happen? January's almost gone! Which is to say, we're well into 2010, and I never did get around to compiling that list of Favorite Films Of The Decade I planned in conjunction with my list of Favorite Films Of 2009. (And about that previous list--it somehow failed to include a 2009 release that makes it on here as one of my favorites of the past ten years! Weird, huh?)

Anyway, here at long last is that list, accompanied by the usual caveats: I didn't see as many movies as I would have liked in the past ten years (real life tends to get in the way), I'm sorry so many of these are commercial American releases, and, most of all, my attempt to keep this at a reasonable length meant sacrificing some expected titles. I would certainly have expected Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or Capturing The Friedmans or L'Enfant or American Splendor to be here, but they're not. Of course, if I had compiled this list on a different day, in a different mood, it might have had a whole other bunch of titles.

But for now, let's go with these:

10. Sideways.

When I think about this movie, I have several different thoughts. First of all, it's undeniably uneven. Sometimes the comedy drifts a little too far into wackiness, some of the pathos is laid on a little thick. I thought that at the time, I still think that. But hey, no movie is perfect.

Also, at the time of its release in 2004, it seemed to mark writer/director Alexander Payne as potentially the comedy director of his generation, a new-style Billy Wilder, giving the feeling that this film, good as it was, would ultimately be seen as the warm-up to the masterpiece he surely had in him. Six years later, Payne has yet to release another movie. Bummer.

But none of this matters, because Sideways hit me where I live as very few movies ever have. Plot specifics aside, it's essentially Me, The Motion Picture, and its portrait of a follically-challenged failed writer stuck in a job he hates, and so hung up on his failed marriage that he lets his obsession with his ex-wife color every potential new relationship inspired me in a way no other movie ever has: After seeing it, I came home and grabbed a pen and paper, inspired to write again for the first time in far too many years.

9. Up.

When we first meet Carl Fredericksen, he's a fresh-faced boy dreaming of exotic adventures. In the space of a few minutes, director Pete Docter tells us all we need to know about the course Carl's life took, and when the film proper begins, he's an embittered 78-year old man.

But he will finally live his exotic adventure. Two adventures, in fact: One involves a trip to a faraway land, a flying house, a zeppelin, a pack of crazed dogs and so much more. But his greater adventure will involve discovering a friendship he didn't think he was capable of, and becoming the man he was meant to be.

The minions at Pixar have done much to advance the cause of computer animation over the past decade and a half, and all their films are worthwhile, but Up features some of the best character animation I've ever seen in the digital realm, and a crackerjack sense of comic timing, and is simply matchless as pure entertainment. But it also has a huge heart, and if it's maybe a little sentimental, well, I'm a sentimental guy.

8. Flags Of Our Fathers.

Clint Eastwood's profoundly sad portrait of heroism and its costs is one of the best films ever made about men and war. It's neither a simple anti-military screed, or a patriotic flag-waver; it never questions the necessity of war, but shows its cost on a small group of men who were at their best under pressure and would spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to them.

As long as I'm here, I might as well take the opportunity to point out that I'm a shameless Clint Eastwood fan, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of his efforts this past decade as director and, sometimes, star. (Yes, I even liked Blood Work!) Even when they left me a little cold (I never did understand all the love for Million Dollar Baby), his work is always perfectly cast and precisely shot, the continuing life's work of a grand master, a classicist in the great tradition.

7. A Serious Man.

Joel and Ethan Coen will never be George Lucas or Michael Bay, but they do occasionally display the instincts of showmen, and alternate films meant as pure entertainment with stranger offerings that seem to be taking place mostly in their own heads. Of course, being the Coens, there's very little practical difference, because even their would-be commercial efforts are incredibly oddball. (Who else would include a running gag about Tenzing Norgay in a romantic comedy, as they did in Intolerable Cruelty?) And A Serious Man, a defiantly personal drama about a college professor beset by unimaginable and incomprehensible hardships, is also one of the funniest movies of the last ten years. The Coens had a great run this past decade; we'll be visiting them again later.

6. The Company.

Robert Altman, one of the greatest damned filmmakers who ever lived, died this past decade, after years of failing health. But it's not like he went out quietly--Gosford Park and A Prarie Home Companion rank among his best (though with Altman, something in all his films ranks among his best), but the year-in-a-life ballet docudrama The Company is my favorite late-period Altman film. It's discursive and fixated on odd details in the usual Altman manner, and finds moments of truth where we least expect them. But I loved it because it showcases an aspect of Altman's work I would never have suspected: It features several dance pieces, and all are magnificently shot. Even in his twilight years, working on his penultimate film, he seemed to be discovering new aspects of his talent. Damn, he is missed.

5. Where The Wild Things Are.

Spike Jonez's expansion of Maurice Sendak's beloved picture book renders all other movies about childhood utterly unnecessary. Nothing could ever capture the whiplash extremes of giddiness and crushing despair better than this, a tear-wrenching melodrama that is nonetheless utterly unsentimental. I'd write about this a bit more but I seem to have tears in my eyes...

4. Pan's Labyrinth.

You could reasonably say, "Hey, what gives? Isn't Pan's Labyrinth a movie about childhood that you're championing after just saying Where The Wild Things Are makes any other movies about that topic unnecessary?"

And I could say, Well, yes, but this is less about Childhood-with-a-capital-C than it is about a character who happens to be a child.

And still you might say, "Yeah, but it's very much about how childhood innocence is corrupted by the cruel ways of the larger world, and how kids sometimes create their own dream worlds to escape a more unpleasant reality, and isn't that exactly what Where The Wild Things Are is about?"

And I'd say, no, no, you're missing the whole point, but look, can we agree to disagree? And better yet, can we agree that Guillermo del Toro made what is unquestionably the finest fantasy film of the decade, and that it's thematic elements are best interpreted by each viewer individually?

And you, wisely, would say, "Yes."

3. Ghost World.

Terry Zwigoff's pitch-perfect adaptation of Daniel Clowes' classic graphic novel masterfully captures the moment when adolescence warps into something else, when we either accept our place in the world or question it. It's also a great comedy, an insightful study of lives lived on the fringes of society, an illustration of perfect casting down to the bit parts, and a showcase for the best performance of the decade, by Thora Birch, whose overwhelming hotness has in no way influenced my judgment. I wouldn't necessarily want to oversell this--it's a very modest film--but it's easily one of my favorite movies ever.

2. The Incredibles.

Pixar again, of course, but director Brad Bird had been proposing this script for years as a hand-animated project before Pixar finally agreed to produce it in the digital realm. And indeed, it has a harder edge than anything the studio has done before or since, both emotionally and stylistically.

I absolutely love this movie for so many reasons, but probably mostly because it is so wildly ambitious, and it pulls off everything it tries to do with astonishing ease. (There are passages of visual comedy that are truly worthy of Buster Keaton or Chuck Jones.) But honestly, this movie had my heart simply by the sheer number of Jonny Quest shout-outs. Brad Bird, as they say, rules.

1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

This represented Joel And Ethan Coen in pure entertainer mode, as they not unreasonably assumed what audiences really wanted was a Depression-set retelling of The Odyssey cast as a bluegrass musical. (This is what I mean when I say there's no difference between their personal films and their attempts at commercialism.) George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson (as Delmar--yes, this is the movie that inspired the name of My Beloved Psychokitty) are fugitives from a chain gang who encounter a blind seer, a trio of sirens, a terrifying cyclops...and score a hit record in the process.

Here's the thing about this movie: It is one of the greatest things ever committed to film. It is a thing of pure joy, a tonic for anything that ails you, a guaranteed lifter of the foulest mood. I have watched it repeatedly when I have been is some very, very dark places, and it has always been the best life preserver imaginable. And if that doesn't convince you, come over to my place sometime. We don't need to actually watch the movie; I have committed every wonderfully cracked line of dialogue to memory.

I won't sing, though. Maybe we should just watch the movie.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Anyway I could try to express my feelings about the death of J.D. Salinger at the age of 91 is bound to come off as self-conscious, some lame, half-hearted attempt to recreate the voice of his famous protagonist, Holden Caulfield. And cliched, too: Of course The Cather In The Rye had a profound impact on me, as a writer and as a human being. Is there a white male with literary aspirations who escaped its influence?

No, there's not, because Salinger influenced everybody. Catcher may be the most famous item in his slim output, but Nine Stories is the one to study to appreciate Salinger's greatness. He pretty much single-handedly made the short story a great art form unto itself. Yeah, yeah, there had been great short story authors before him, but that's just it: they wrote, you know, stories, with a clearly-defined beginning, middle and end. Salinger's stories were a whole other thing, sometimes just extended scenes or character studies or back-and-forth dialogs. He could set down in a few pages what novelists ordinarily spent whole forests trying to convey. Whole generations of authors, from John Cheever to Raymond Carver to Lorrie Moore, would in Salinger's wake largely eschew the heavy literary lifting of book writing to glimpse their character's lives in passing, in shorter form that convey characterization and isolated incident, not laborious plots.

Of course, with their recurring tales of the Family Glass, all of Salinger's short fiction essentially loops into a longer format, an insanely detailed study of one willfully eccentric family. Some critics have complained that Salinger's talents never quite bloomed, that his entire reputation rests on one short novel and a handful of stories. But that one novel is so iconic, and those stories are so good, it hardly matters what he was writing in all those decades since he withdrew from public life.

The Catcher In The Rye will echo in the work of every author who writes a semi-autobiographical first novel, and his other works will continue to serve as inspiration to so many. (Not just in the literary world--what are the protagonists of Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums if not the Glasses under different names?) Including here; you think I arrived at my literary persona and stylistic tics by accident? Every self-conscious digression and heavy-handed parenthetical aside you encounter here would never have happened if my mother hadn't given me two Salinger books for Christmas in 1979. I didn't ask for them; she just knew.

And after reading them, so did I.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Am I too cynical?

Surely John Travolta's intentions are pure and noble, personally flying desperately-needed food and medical supplies to Haiti in his private plane. He was motivated entirely by a call to do good, to help those who need it most.

Right? I mean, there's no way he could be using this apocalyptic tragedy as an excuse to burnish his image, is there? Nobody would sink so low, would they? And the fact that he's also dropping off a bunch of Scientology missionaries, well, that's...odd. But surely they're there to good work whatever it is Scientologists do, which is...almost certainly not what the people of Haiti need right now, but, um...

Because, y'know, it sure looks for all the world like the high muckety-mucks at Scientology Headquarters gave marching orders to Travolta, who had reportedly been considering a break with the organization in the wake of his son's death a year ago, to show his solidarity with Hubbard's minions by performing a high-profile act of charity. But again, I'm just being cynical.

Aren't I?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


To get the backstory out of the way first: I've been miserably sick the last two days, spending most of my time asleep, or zoned out in front of the TV. Last night I nodded off in my recliner, TV still on, which is how I happened to catch the Encore Western Channel's middle-of-the-night broadcast of the 1957 Randolph Scott Western Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend.

This was a minor programmer cranked out by Warner Bros.' "B" unit, one of approximately ten thousand Westerns made in the fifties. Scott made quite a few at Warners, some of them directed by esteemed second-tier auteur Andre De Toth, even as his own production company made a series of highly-regarded, even lower-budgeted oaters under the masterful direction of Budd Boetticher.

Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend
, on the other hand, is not written up much by cineastes. Most of the production staff came from the numerous TV Westerns of the era, and it was directed by Richard L. Bare, who had made a series of successful comedy shorts for Warners and would spend most of his career in TV. He's best known as the guy who directed virtually every episode of Green Acres, and one of his few subsequent theatrical films was the deathless masterwork I Sailed To Tahiti With An All-Girl Crew. (I mention this mostly because I love typing the words I Sailed To Tahiti With An All-Girl Crew.)

So not a movie with any pretensions, and not exactly an undiscovered gem. I only started watching because I was awake (and heavily medicated) and it was on, and I figured with a cast including Angie Dickinson, James Garner and Z-movie stalwart Myron Healey, how bad could it be?

Not bad at all, as it happens. It has just enough story to get you hooked, and while that story may not have any real surprises, it at least has a few novel twists, and the whole thing is told with ruthless efficiency. It opens with Scott, accompanied by two army buddies (Garner, in an early, surprisingly bland appearance, and mercilessly unfunny comedy relief Gordon Jones), coming home to his brother's homestead. Quick cut to said homestead, under attack by Indians (a nicely staged sequence), as the brother, his wife and kids attempt to fight back. But the ammo in their guns misfires, the brother is killed, and Scott determines to ride into the nearby town of Medicine Bend, to determine who is selling such shoddy goods. You'd think there'd be some time taken to mourn the brother/husband/father, but his memory is dismissed with a shrug. With a running time of less than ninety minutes, the plot has to keep moving forward.

The whole movie is like that. No inessential characters are introduced, nothing happens unless it advances the story. And Bare sure as hell doesn't waste time with such fency-schmency notions as subtext or moral ambiguity or even simple pictorial value. This is an exercise in competence, nothing more. Yet it works like a charm, because it remembers it has a story to tell, and by God it sucks you in.

What a pleasure it is to see something like that now, when American popcorn movies have forgotten such simple virtues. These days even the dumbest genre movies are bloated beyond all reason, determined to show off their production values and overpaid casts, and unfailingly stretch the thinnest premises to the snapping point. Shoot-Out At Medicine Bend (which, oddly enough, climaxes with a fistfight, not a shoot-out) may lack frills but it is also blessedly aware of just what it means to do. I wouldn't necessarily go so far as to call it a good movie, but it is certainly watchable, and coming off a particularly dire season of Big Studio Christmas releases, it reminds us that used to be the bare minimum we'd expect from our entertainment, and how much less we've learned to accept.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Haven't had any updates around here lately because...well, in no small part because I feel words are useless to even attempt to grapple with the situation in Haiti, but at the same time, anything else I might write about seems trivial compared to that apocalyptic reality.

And yet, to come right out and say such a thing seems so smarmy, so--what's the word?--privileged. After all, I'm a white guy in the United States. Sure, there are times when my paycheck barely covers my bills, but I can't even begin to imagine the dire existence so many Haitians led even before their world was literally torn to pieces. I can't imagine it at all.

Very few people in this country could, which probably explains the flood of donations. Not to sound cynical, but do George Clooney and Sandra Bullock really care about the people of Haiti, or are they sending money out of a sense of guilt, or as an attempt to restore some sort of karmic balance, or just because they're glad it's not them? The last one seems most likely, and it's a perfectly understandable reaction. Death on this scale is a reminder to all of us of our mortality.

But I said I didn't feel like writing about all that, so let's avert our eyes and desperately pretend we don't know what's going on in the wider world. Let's turn on some music and relax. Well, "relax" may be the wrong word. St Vincent needs some H-E-L-P, after all, as she explains in Marrow.

This space frequently threatens to turn into a Roger Miller fan site, so here he is again, but don't expect him to keep loving you when he's found someone better. Or different, at least. What can you expect? His soul is restless and the moon is bright.

And because why the hell not? The terrifyingly bronzed Joey Heatherton wants you to get a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It's not easy to link the death of the great filmmaker Eric Rohmer at the age of 89 to the decision by Sony Pictures to cancel production on Spider-Man 4 but here goes.

A key aspect of Rohmer's work is, simply, that he and his films were French. I'm not just speaking of the wonderfully discursive, vitally alive accomplishments of his work, but the actual physical existence of the films themselves. That is to say, they were produced in a country in which financing for modestly-budgeted work is relatively easy to come by, and the role of the artist is creating his own work is seldom questioned.

I tried thinking of an American equivalent to Rohmer, not in actual content, of course, but sensibility, a director who could be counted on to trust character over story every time. And I couldn't really come up with anyone. The contemporary filmmakers who immediately came to mind, like Alexander Payne and David O. Russell and Richard Linklater, are, to varying degrees, still slaves to...well, I was going to say "formula" but that wouldn't be fair. It's a different sensibility we have in America. Even our finest artists still have commercial instincts. It's bred into us.

But no matter how diligently one tries to blend art and commerce, commerce always wins. Consider poor Sam Raimi. Those of us who admired--Did I say "admired"? I meant "loved with an unreasonable passion"--his modestly-budgeted Evil Dead films couldn't wait for Raimi to hit the big time, to be given the time and budget to follow his muse wherever it would take him. We endured the for-hire crap he turned out for the big studios, like the Kevin Costner vehicle For The Love Of The Game, assuming somehow he'd be allowed to speak in his own voice.

So when Raimi was given the Spider-Man franchise at the start of the decade, it seemed like a dream come true, a perfect match of director with pulpy, slightly goofy material. And Spider-Man was a decent enough movie, if a little overly cautious. But with Spider-Man 2 Raimi knocked it out of the park, creating a nearly perfect example of big-budget commercial craftsmanship that was also infused with his own off-kilter sensibility.

Naturally, both of these movies were smash hits, and should have had studios eagerly lining up to give Raimi his head, to let him make whatever he wanted to make. That didn't happen, though; instead, he agreed to make Spider-Man 3, by all accounts an unhappy experience for everyone involved, and a movie that was clearly marked by corporate interference on every level. (Can we get some more conflict in here? Can we have a bit less emotion? We need more action! And can it be dark and, you know, edgy? Because the Hot Topic demo likes edgy. But not too dark--we don't want to lose the kiddie market...) When released, following a promo campaign that reportedly cost as much as the film itself, Spider-Man 3 had a record-breaking opening weekend, but it fell off pretty quickly after that, because audiences mostly were indifferent.

But despite Sony's shabby treatment of him, Raimi soldiered on, signing on board for Spider-Man 4, and immediately encountering the same corporate mindset. Raimi's notion was to tell an interesting story involving compelling characters, but the studio again only wanted to cram in as many marketable elements as possible. The studio won, of course: The film was shut down, Raimi was off the franchise, along with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and all the actors and creative personnel who had spent the last decade filling Sony's coffers. The franchise will be, in annoying Hollywood-ese, rebooted--a younger, "edgier" Spider-Man for a new generation, or some such.

And yes, we're talking about movies featuring a guy swinging through Manhattan on webs, which are about as far removed, aesthetically and intellectually, from Eric Rohmer's exquisite dissections of the human heart as it's possible to get. But it's also the difference between America and France: In this country, Rohmer would probably get fired from his own movie.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


1) Honestly, I don't know how or why I started using random Larry King quotes as a signifier of a Random Thoughts post. It's kinda like Larry's presence on TV: We don't understand, we don't even like it, but we somehow accept it.

2) Rudy Giuliani, having apparently accepted that even Republicans no longer see him as a viable candidate for anything, helped solidify his pundit credentials by appearing on Good Morning America and offering this observation: "We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We've had one under Obama."

The most interesting thing about this isn't Giuliani's blatant lie. (I mean, the guy actually used to promote himself as "Mr. 9/11." Does he not remember who was president at the time?) No, far more fascinating is that the statement was uttered in the middle of an interview being conducted by George Stephanopoulos, the new co-host of Good Morning America, and the guy who previously had taken over David Brinkley's mantle on This Week. Stephanopoulos is, by the increasingly weak standards our media overlords use to describe such things, a journalist, and yet he let Giuliani make this statement without bothering to follow up, without asking, "What the hell are you talking about?" which is the bare minimum we might reasonably expect from any real journalist.

Of course, Stephanopoulos isn't a journalist, he's a professional hack who used the aura of power bestowed upon him as Chief Apologist for Bill Clinton as a ticket to a media career. Journalists ask questions and try to determine the truth; Stephanopoulos could care less about the truth. If he did, he wouldn't have taken over the spot on Good Morning America formerly inhabited by Diane Sawyer. She left to take over as full-time anchor for ABC's evening newscast. The notion that Sawyer, the patrician former lackey for unindicted crook and noted anti-Semite Richard Nixon, could be trusted to parse out facts is laughable, but she and Stephanopouos represent the journalistic credo of the new century: The facts are what we say they are.

3) Remember a week or two ago when I did that list of my favorite movies of 2009? And remember how I said I'd be following soon with a list of favorite movies of the decade? Well, it's not that I've abandoned the idea or anything, it's just taking a whole lot longer than expected.

Not to ruin the suspense, but I always assumed Brad Bird's unfailingly awesome The Incredibles would take top spot in any such survey, but then I realized O Brother Where Art Thou? was actually released in the Aughts, and might deserve the spot instead. But where would that leave Ghost World? And...well, it kinda keeps going like that. I like a lot of movies, is what I'm saying.

4) The world of comedy, much like the mafia, is morally dubious, but there's still a generally accepted code of honor. And the main rule is, Don't stab a guy in the back.

Jay Leno, though, is such a self-regarding scumbag that he couldn't care less. Having spent a decade and a half trashing the legacy of Johnny Carson as the host of the mind-bendingly awful The Tonight Show--a gig he got by knowingly stabbing his former friend David Letterman repeatedly in the back, then blaming all the bloodletting on his former manager--he had known since 2004 that NBC planned to promote Conan O'Brien as host of The Tonight Show in 2009. Presumably, Leno signed off on this. If he was displeased, he never made it known.

Until it was time for O'Brien to take over, at which point Leno did what Bostonians do best, whining like a baby that it just wasn't fair, what with his show doing so well with its target audience of shut-ins and morons, and threatening to take his sub-mediocrity to an unspecified other network. NBC executives, displaying the programming acumen that has allowed Heroes to remain on the air all these years, gave in and handed Leno an unprecedented five-nights-a-week showcase in prime time, which they trumpeted endlessly, even as O'Brien's makeover of The Tonight Show barely got a promo.

Not surprisingly, when not serving as a sleepy-time send-off to the feeble-minded, Leno's show tanked, actually getting buried in the ratings by basic cable reruns. It's not clear whether it was NBC or Leno himself who suggested giving the talentless hack his old gig back, but that's the idea on the table now, and the only choice O'Brien is being given is to accept it or walk. Even if he didn't devise the current plan, Leno has enthusiastically signed off on it, clearly not giving a shit about O'Brien's professional reputation. Then again, it has long been obvious that Jay Leno really doesn't care about anything other than himself.

5) Speaking of Conan O'Brien, here's a joke from a recent monologue: "According to a recent study, scientists have concluded that dogs make better pets than cats. To reach this conclusion, researchers didn't spend any time studying dogs. They just spent half a day with a cat."

OK, I laughed at that. And I get it: Lots of people just don't like cats.

Consider Delmar, for instance. He's standoffish, he gets into things, he's determined to be wherever I don't want him. He's fastidious and sloppy simultaneously, he scratches at everything, he seemingly has no capacity to learn. And he's somehow unknowable, always a little distant, always in his own little world. Plus the rage issues. Also, he's kind of creepy. Did I mention he once tried to gouge my eye out?

But. He greets me at the door every time I come home, and won't settle down until I've hugged him. If you call his name while he's giving himself a bath, he does this adorable doubletake in which he looks at you, goes back to bathing then abruptly looks at you again, frequently accompanied by an inquisitive little meow. He'll walk up to me sometimes for no reason and bury his face in my leg, always accompanied by the loudest purr imaginable. And he scampers around the house like a kitten, and dammit, it's adorable.

No, he's not for everybody. (Or anybody but me--he doesn't like other people.) But in his own way, he's sweet and loving, and I realize "in his own way" sounds like a bullshit qualifier, and maybe it is, but he's my buddy, and I love him.

Still, sometimes I think how nice it would be to have a dog...

Thursday, January 07, 2010


I abruptly woke during the night to the sound Jean Sibelius' Valse Triste drifting from the radio. This is, of course, one of the most depressing pieces of music ever written. I think my subconscious heard it as I slept, and immediately roused me from sleep so the thing wouldn't provide accompaniment to my dreams. That could have led to some pretty dark places.

But likely no darker than Bruno Bozzetto's interpretation of Sibelius' work from his film Allegro Non Troppo, an intermittently jokey tribute to Fantasia. It's very uneven, but the whole thing is beautifully animated, and the good stuff is very good indeed. And this segment...I mean, the music and the settings would be enough for a melancholy mood piece, but throw in a sad, big-eyed kitty and...Look, I'm gonna be over in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


When the decade started, I was married.

No, no, this isn't another rhapsodic, overwritten dirge to that thing that might have been. If you're a regular here, you've heard that song before, and are likely sick of it. Besides, I no longer spend every morning waking up to mourn its failure, mostly because I'm spending too much time despairing the failure of a more recent relationship. Funny how that works, isn't it? And...two paragraphs in, and I'm already badly off track. (And also wondering if a rhapsodic dirge is even theoretically possible.)

Let me begin again:

At the dawn of the decade, at the start of a new century, I was married. And that marriage wasn't perfect, but it was the state I was in, and I was as satisfied with it as I was likely to be. My wife and I lived in a picturesque college town, had decent if unspectacular jobs and had settled into a comforting routine.

Or so I thought. Turns out she wasn't comfortable at all, and within a year and a half, I found myself far from the Midwestern state I'd always known, living on the east coast . Whatever took us there was the thing that had unsettled my wife, something unknowable, at least to me. The marriage was slowly failing, but I was powerless to stop it. Powerless, or simply hapless.

And while living in suburban D.C., that city, like New York, was attacked from outside, which allows me, Dear Reader, to deploy the most jaw-droppingly self-absorbed metaphor imaginable as I compare the failure of my marriage to 9/11.

Yeah, I know, but think about it: The events of September 11th, 2001 supposedly Changed Everything, and we were told repeatedly that Things Would Never Be The Same. But life went on, and the tragedy was largely dealt with by kind of ignoring it, and focusing on the distraction of the moment, and we all went back to being exactly like we were, doing the same stupid things. The only difference is, maybe our capacity for joy has lessened, and we're all a little more numb.

You see where I'm going, right? For much of my life I couldn't even imagine myself married, but once it happened, it was the be all and end all of my existence. So, that wasn't possible. It Changed Everything, and after that, Things Would Never Be The Same. I found myself--to continue, somewhat half-heartedly, the metaphor--at Ground Zero, sleeping in an apartment in my mom's garage, hating every minute of it, vowing that once I got out of there, my life would be radically different.

And in the sense that I found myself living in a different city than I ever had before, it was different. But the rituals were the same, and I did the same things, and the same old barriers were erected to keep myself from fully enjoying life. I tarried and I dallied and I had some fun along the way, and when something finally came along that felt like actual love, it was a shock, and I didn't know how to respond. I barely responded at all, in any meaningful way. So it ended. And maybe it wouldn't have ultimately mattered how I responded, but maybe it would have, and...There's no way to know. Only the winners get to rewrite the past, after all.

The only difference is the reaction. The capacity for shock, for pain so deep it feels as though it will never go away, diminishes eventually. Then there's only numbness, a feeling that life is being viewed, not experienced, and even then through a heavily-Xanaxed haze. It's been a terrible decade for the wider world, but it's been absolutely devastating for me: My oldest brother died, my mom died--Mom! My closest friend in the world, the person who understood me more than anyone else ever could!--and so many cultural heroes lost: Warren Zevon, Hubert Selby, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Altman, Johnny Freakin Cash. Yet I mustered more numbness than tears. I didn't want to hurt anymore, so I chose to feel nothing at all.

And yet, I'm crying as I write this, because the sound of Mom's voice is in my ears, and I look at the picture of my beloved cat Monika next to my monitor, and although it seems silly to miss a cat as much as my mother, I miss them both, dammit, and I realize I'm not quite as numb as I think. And the decade ended with me buying a house, something I've never done before, and something I probably never would have done without the urging of the very person who tore out my heart, so something of lasting value came out of that relationship. (Plus, I get to dog-sit for her!)

Perhaps I've been spending all this time without quite realizing what has actually been happening. This is the life most people lead, with day-to-day responsibilities and no time for starry-eyed dreaming or prolonged bouts of sorrow. This is not a daze. This is not numbness. This is maturity.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


There's absolutely no reason why this song from the 1948 Disney feature Melody Time has been floating through my head for the last few days, but it seems to have moved in with no intention of leaving, so I thought I'd share it with you. Though I likely had heard the song previously, I first became consciously aware of it via Syd Straw's lovely cover version from the compilation album Stay Awake, which came out in 1988, a fact that makes me feel really, really old.

But this is the original version, featuring the awesome harmonies of The Sons Of The Pioneers, and showcasing some truly gorgeous work by Disney's Effects Animation department, under the leadership of the great Joshua Meador. The lonesome, slightly melancholy tone to the song and the visuals nicely convey my emotional landscape as we come to the end of a decade which was marked by profound personal loss and a sense of resignation. And wow...I really only meant to showcase this song, and started to go off and get depressing. Sorry, folks. Just enjoy.