It’s been 159 days since my family started quarantine.

The litany of events we have experienced in that short amount of time, both domestic and world-wide, resembles a ludicrously bad disaster movie plot.

A late-nite, after the bars have closed, watch it in the dark while eating cold cereal out of the box kind of movie. That you have a hard time remember all the plot points the next day because – was I drunk?!?

Was there really a firenado *and* an in-land hurricane? Thousands and thousands of people marching in the streets during a pandemic? Paramilitary guys with American flags stapled to sticks that they then used as weapons against counter-protesters?

Hang on, did they also close post offices and take away mail boxes to keep people from voting? That can’t be a thing. Can it?

And empty store shelves, the hoarding of toilet paper, pandemic-deniers refusing to mask, and businesses closing and the economy collapsing … totally unrealistic.

Who green-lighted this mess?  Wait, it was that Snakes on a Plane guy wasn’t it?

Coping with stress (#CovidCoping) has become a sub-genre of advertising, marketing, blogging and every other medium. There are whole categories of hashtags devoted to #CovidBaking, #CovidCrafting, #CovidPuzzles, coloring, yoga, cooking, work from home (which is now WFH), and managing children.

And of course wine, wine, and more craft cocktails/fancy beer than is probably healthy.

We are not big TV watching people over here at Bougie Central (didnt even own a TV for 20 years or so), but movies are a bit of an obsession. More so now during quarantine.

In between the expected foreign movies and obscure B&W content on the Criterion Channel, lives a movie genre that truly sustains me, rejuvenates me and gives me hope.

The dance movie.

The Washington Post had an article about dance movies with an apologetic title of “Best Bad Dance Movies”. No such thing in my book.

I will watch any and all dance movies from old classics like White Christmas and  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to the “Honey” series (4 total) and the Step up franchise (6 movies!)

Watching dance movies is all about pleasure. No guilt. No apologies.

I know I am forever “that white girl” as much as want to be a Fly Girl, and I don’t care. I’m a lousy dancer and a lousy singer and it doesn’t interfere with my fun one bit.

“Dance like no ones looking” implies there is something to be ashamed of. Nope.

Dance because you can.

Dance because everyday above ground is a good day.

Or at least watch a dance movie.

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PS:  I have been neglecting writing for pleasure, this blog & my ever-under-construction book, even before coronavirus in some misguided attempt to “focus seriously on work”. The reality is all the ways we express ourselves contribute to “our work”.

So.

I am going to dance more, sing more, and write more. No guilt.

female hip hop dancer in front of speakers

This weekend I had to tell my husband that I don’t like James Brown. We decided to go to a movie the other night and he proposed the bio-pic “Get On Up” and I said something along the lines of “You can go to that one by yourself!”

It’s not like I was hiding the fact that I didn’t like James Brown, the topic just hadn’t come up in the 20 years we’ve been together. He was shocked.

Funk is one constant in the fluid musical landscape of my life. A thread that connects everyone from Sly to P-Funk, to Gap Band to Cameo and Prince. But the Godfather of Soul never did it for me.

Usually my husband and I share many of the same eclectic musical tastes diverging around the likes of Kraftwerk (him) and The Roaches (me). And up to the James Brown reveal we only had one other serious musical bone of contention – I can’t stand to listen to Bob Dylan.

I love Bob Dylan songs as long as someone else is singing them, I just can’t listen to Dylan sing more than three songs in a row. After the third song his signature sing-song whine sounds absurd and I start to laugh.

My family very kindly listens to Dylan albums when I am out of the house, for which I am grateful. I don’t want to ruin their enjoyment just because I can’t appreciate the vocal stylings of “the poet laureate of rock and roll.”

After “Get On Up” was proposed the other night I countered with “The Hundred Foot Journey.” This got me a counter offer of “X-Men” or “Guardians of the Galaxy”.  All three of us want to see “Boyhood”, but since the kid had other plans we opted for the popcorn movie.

I’m usually a big fan of sci-fi, action hero, gratuitous, stylized violence in the name of conquering evil but this story was unnecessarily complex as well as trite and unbelievable even in the world of sci-fi fantasy, so it was a dud. My husband tolerates some sci-fi for me but isn’t a big fan, so by the end of the movie he was both bored and irritated.

I used the opportunity to equated his complaints about futuristic, gobbledygook (Nebula, tool of the evil Kree Ronan!) with my lack of appreciation for Dylan. It’s just a matter of taste.

Here’s a song (and a Band) we both agree on musically. And a great movie too.

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Not many successful directors emerged from my film school class. Certainly I didn’t go on to direct, but maybe I would have if I had come from a broken home. That seems to be one of the secrets to success shared in the cultural artifact that I wish to discuss today: The Wes Anderson Collection, a new coffee table book by the film critic Matt Zoller Seitz.

I am an unabashed fan of Wes Anderson, and this book makes me swell with an even greater affection for him and his work. Literally, my chest gets bigger as I flip through the pages of this book, composed with as much care and attention as any shot from any Wes Anderson film, and my eyes gets wet from the remembered emotions I feel when I watch Anderson’s movies. There is not a great deal of biographical detail in this wonderful book, one fact sheds much light onto Anderson’s directorial perspective: the fact that he continues to grapple with his parents’ divorce, when he was a young boy. Knowing this helps explain the dense emotion and strict control in Anderson’s films, and knowing this personal aspect makes me admire him, and his work, all the more.

Wes Anderson is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I think he deserves every criticism aimed at him.

His cinematic style is mannered, and only gets more so with every film. There aren’t enough people of color in his movies, and he’s still struggling how to successfully represent female characters. None of that matters to me. I love him for his faults, not despite them, because as much as he is devoted to the look and style of his films, as much as he pays attention to composition and color, he is also emotionally true and committed to his characters. He loves his characters, and does not distance himself from them (unlike, say, the Coen Brothers, film makers I enjoy and admire, but rarely love).

Anderson’s films invariably make me cry, and they contain some incredibly fragile and heartbreaking moments of emotional honesty. The scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, when Chas tearfully tells his father, “Dad, I’m having a hard year.” The shot of the Whitman brothers in the back of a limo, riding to their fathers funeral, in The Darjeeling Limited. Mr. Fox’s frustration that his is not being true to his nature, as though he were a vulpine George Bailey, in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. These moments come to me during the day as I go about my business. They speak to me deeply. And the fact that they are nestled in beautifully composed, fully realized cinematic creations just ices it for me.

I could go on about these scenes, and perhaps will in a future post, but for now I want to recommend this amazing book that captures these moments, evokes them, and provides insight into the obsessions and influences of the artist who created them. The book also takes the form of multiple interviews between Anderson and Seitz, and I love interviews. There is nothing like being witness to a great conversation, and I could happily read interviews for days and days.

So: there it is. I look forward to future Riffs on the things I love. For now, I’ll leave you with this.

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We saw a bad movie last night.

Actually it wasn’t “bad” in so much as it was poorly conceived, written and executed. There were however some nice details and the director wasn’t completely without skill. We saw this particular film because it’s the annual international film festival where we live. The 37th. This film fest gets bigger and better every year, breaks attendance records and is slowly getting recognized for being more than just a “regional” film festival. And its tremendous fun. We have dragged our daughter to inappropriate movies this way for years.

The good thing about a bad movie is that there is so much more to dissect. A good movie sticks in your mind, and a great movie may blow you away, but I often have to see great or innovative movies more than once to appreciate a lot of detail. Please note the switching between the usage of “film” and “movie” is completely arbitrary and not linked to any judgment as to high or low art form.

Last nights film almost sent me into hysterics at one point. It was slow and boring and it kept not ending. You know what I mean.

The director cued the sappy closing music, sentimental statements were made, and then it kept going. More sappy music, more sentimental statements, and it just kept going. Each time this happened I started to giggle until by the sixth time I was shaking so hard with silent laughter tears were leaking out of my eyes. My stomach hurt afterward from laughing so hard.

It was such a self-indulgent mess the three of us talked for hours about what made it so bad. And that is what is good about a bad movie. It helps you hone your criticism skills and clarify your expectations of pace, acting, cinematography and directing. Most especially directing. Its easier (IMHO) in a documentary to separate the choices made by a director, editor and cinematographer, than it is when the water is muddied by acting, sets & costumes.

Watching the bad movie for some reason reminded me of one of the best novels I’ve read about films & their power. It’s called Flicker. Its fiction but if you like movies at all, boy will it grab you. And increase your appreciation for the art form.

Three more movies to see before this festival is over. There are dozens of screenings left, but we can only fit three more into our joint schedules. Usually there is only one bad one a year so I anticipate the rest to be anywhere from good to outstanding, meaning, perhaps, a little less to write about.

Another good thing that came out of the bad movie: we agreed as a family that if we think a movie is bad that we will ask politely if the others are enjoying it or not. Because we all hated it and we could have left half way through if one of us had spoken up. Lesson learned!

We went to see Argo the other night at the dollar movie, except its now the $2 movie, which, while still insanely cheap, doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “dollar movie” does.

I thought it would be too violent and scary for my 14 year old daughter. Turns out it was too violent and scary for me. About one minute into the movie I realized that I really didn’t want to see it and should leave and go watch “Wreck it Ralph” or something.  The take over of the embassy was very stressful and I was experiencing some very real desire to flee the movie theater. Point for Ben Affleck.

My stomach hurt for the entire two hours. And I already knew how it would turn out. This is history, we know the ending. But it was still very hard to watch.

On the way home in the car we started talking about the earliest historical events we could remember. Mine was watching the Watergate hearings. I specifically remember watching the televised vote to authorize the investigation for impeachment. Of course I didn’t remember it that way, I had to look up what the actual vote was that I remembered.  Why it stuck with me was because I remarked to my parents as we watched that the people who were against it were loud, and the people for it were sad.

I remember the Iran hostage crisis from when I was a kid. It was a very big deal and constantly on the news. My husband is five years younger than I am and didn’t really know what the crisis was about, it was just always there in the background. The first national event he remembers clearly is John Lennon being shot. That was pretty awful. I heard it on the radio as I was getting ready for school.

My daughter said her earliest memory of a national event is of the Bush/Kerry election in 2004 and how sad everyone was the day after. Her next national memory is the Bush/Obama election. I think I am seeing a trend here.

It’s difficult for me to put myself into this kind of historical context as I have discovered over the years as my daughters various school projects demanded answers from parents like “What world changing events have happened in  your lifetime?”

I never thought about the Iran Hostage Crisis or Soviet War in Afghanistan, both of which helped lay the ground work for current problems in the middle east. Or Iran Contra and the spectacle that was Ollie North. Or when someone I knew first died of the new gay disease called A.I.D.S. 

History is complicated, and no less so when its fictionalized. At least ARGO didn’t make the CIA or revolution look like any fun. The glory was saving lives not getting the credit or shooting the gun sideways.

Couples and families often have in jokes & catch phrases that turn into short hand too obscure for outsiders even when explained. Lemon difficult is one between me and my husband.

Long ago my friends and I worked to get our hipster cred by slogging through lots of lousy sketches on Saturday Night Live to get the one insider gem that would be all anyone could talk about the following week. Now I pay $7.99 a month for Hulu on Roku so I get the best bits vetted and watch them on my phone over lunch. I digress. Or not.

A while back we saw the most tense, disturbing, political movie I’ve ever watched called “In The Loop”. Beside the fact that it should have been named “Capaldi Live: Cursing as Art Form”, I thought I was going to pass out because I kept holding my breath. There was one deeply funny moment however, that made me laugh until I cried. I still have a hard time repeating the words without cracking up. An idiotic politician tells his staffer to do a profoundly impossible thing at a UN meeting in the middle of a situation that is beyond crisis. He blithely says it will be “Easy peasy, lemon squeezy” and the staffer hisses at him “No it wont, it will be difficult, difficult lemon difficult.”

Things that are currently “Lemon Difficult”:

  • Recommitting to the house we live in. Because, in anticipation of a pending move that was subsequently canceled, many hundreds of books are boxed up. Which makes this the perfect time to paint, rearrange, re-purpose rooms, areas, furniture etc., also known as “The Great Cascade of Work”.
  • Trying to determine the criteria for the project management for “The Great Cascade of Work”. Possibilities include: what do I /we need out of boxes, what room is most annoying to have in chaos, what would be the easiest project to accomplish, what would be the fastest project to accomplish.
  • Writing my annual performance review and objectives. Just this side of torture, this chore takes an inordinate amount of my time because it is all self-assessment which I absolutely suck at.  Hey maybe I will make that Objective II: Suck less at self-assessment. I wish I could do a Survey Monkey with a 5 point Likert Scale…
  • The pending homework for my certification. I am being such a slacker lately what with all the paralyzed staring at walls that I am a bit behind. Where to start.
  • The pending paper that I have not been writing for two solid months (see wall staring above)

The law of Amanda writing would indicate that since I am writing about it, Lemon Difficult must be on its way out. Had the impulse here to launch into a discussion on law v. theory but I really do need to read a few more articles today.

I think I will spend some time this weekend making a Meyer Lemon simple syrup for a Lemon Difficult Cocktail. Much more satisfying than lemonade don’t you think?

My daughter and her friends use the slang “Tots obvi” [toe-tz ahb-vee], no doubt derived from texting abbreviations, that has replaced “I know, right?” as conversational agreement. Many things are obvi when you are 14.

I was reminded of my own “obvi” behavior the other day in a team building exercise where I was supposed to talk about myself in a stream of consciousness way with a partner.  My partner knows a few things about me and the prompts were designed to try and make deeper connections between us. Most people over 18 in the western world have experienced some similar exercise in school, college or in the workplace. 

Being familiar with this variation on a theme, when it was my turn to speak I had a Keyser Söze moment. I looked at my partner and anything in my field of vision became the content of my conversation. If you haven’t seen the movie The Usual Suspects I won’t spoil it for you. It’s fairly old, 1995, and an excellent twisty, mystery story with a slew of great actors. Highly recommend. 

What the exercise reminded me of – and why I called it a Keyser Söze moment – was it was one of those times when my hyper observation made me casually state the solution to the mystery 20 minutes into the movie. This made my husband furious. 

He had already seen it and when it came out on VHS (remember those?), and then we watched it together at home. There was something one of the characters did not too far into the movie that made me say “Oh, so-and-so is Keyser Söze” and sure enough I was right. I think the real problem was that not long before we watched Citizen Cain and I immediately put together that (spoiler alert) Rose Bud was the stupid sled. I don’t know how I missed seeing Citizen Cain for all those years, I guess we all have cinematic lacuna, but when I did I was all “meh”.

My point is that with most movies the clues are usually tots obvi so the audience can weave it all together at the end. I just weave faster than most. I can’t tolerate movies or books where there is a big reveal at the end and its something that was hidden from the audience all along. Not fair play and I won’t play with that author or director twice. 

Puzzles for me have to be in the shape of people, stories or narrative. Then I will happily engage in puzzling and teasing apart. Crossword (my husbands favorite), or other brain teasers, keep my attention for the 30 seconds it takes me to determine I don’t know the answers. 

Something I try to remember – We all bring different skills and perspectives to the problems & puzzles of life. Tots obvi.

This has to be a quick and dirty post as I have 5 minutes before I will be late leaving for a meeting, so pardon any typos as this is my brain talking.

Someone made a remark the other day “My father’s comment pushed every button he had installed” and I thought that’s a brilliant way to look at it. Some assembly required. Your “family of origin”, to use the vernacular, assembles you with all the magic buttons that they can later push to control you. Talk about an elegant system.

I have removed my self from immediate family for the most part, or they have removed themselves from me, so the distance is too great for them to access my buttons. However. As we do not exist in human silos, I was thinking of the ways that I let (or get) my buttons pushed by strangers, acquaintances and friends and suddenly remembered this odd movie I saw a while back.

My husband and I often watch Indi movies, international movies, documentaries and so on. Partly a carry over from his film school days, but mostly because we have quirky tastes. The movie – the title escapes me – was about a sex therapist who was in her words, “pre-orgasmic”, meaning she had never experienced an orgasm, and she counseled couples about improving their sex lives. Various story lines crissed and crossed to good or ill effect, but in one section the sex therapist she hired (an S&M dominatrix of course) gave her a remote control vibrator for her to wear and her husband to control to try and solve her problem.

No sooner do they enter the sex club where the experiment is to take place, when the husband is distracted and loses the remote control in the couch cushions. The woman is endlessly being zapped by strangers sitting down, getting up and doing various other athletic things on the couch. Hijinks ensue.

This made me think that there are probably an infinite number of remote control units floating in the world with my name on them. Without all the hijinks of course. Shocks and zaps from unexpected corners to all those buttons that have been so carefully disconnected from the family issued remote controls mean its time to get out the tool box and find the wire cutters.

We went to see Moonrise Kingdom the new Wes Anderson movie yesterday. It was a lovely movie. A vast improvement on the usual young love, Romeo & Juliet story line. Based on overheard comments as we left the theatre, I think you either love Wes Anderson movies or you don’t get them at all.

Our daughter was with us as she is also a big fan of Anderson movies. She is a great person to see a movie with because she suspends belief, gets totally into the story and doesn’t hide her reactions. She will laugh uninhibitedly, cry at the oddest moments and unashamedly cover her face during scary parts. And I can’t reliably predict any of those reactions. Continue reading

I have an unfortunate habit of internalizing other peoples bad behavior. I witness an objectionable, selfish act and it immediately triggers a full body/behavior scan to evaluate if I am guilty of said behavior.

I am very easily embarrassed on behalf of others – strangers, acquaintances, TV actors – doesn’t matter. For years I couldn’t watch an episode of Happy Days because the characters embarrassed themselves every other minute and it killed me. I would get up and leave the room. Continue reading