Sunday, December 21, 2014

wintry

Today is the first day of winter (so I hear). I think one of my winter projects might be to design myself a course in Tove Jansson. I love the Moomins of course (who doesn't) and have read and loved one or two of her other books (The Summer Book is classic and the best-known; I read it this summer, in fact, in Sweden, getting ready to visit the archipelago with my dad - but it would be an excellent thing to read in the mean old winter, too). But now there's a new biography out and a bunch of reissues of her stories and novels, so I think I might dive into that.

This essay is reinforcing my inclination.
Much of both Art in Nature and Travelling Light deals with the problem of art, and more specifically, with the problems of artists. Jansson’s characters are cursed to carry the same two souls within their breasts that she carried within hers: they desperately want to be alone, but equally desperately want to experience human connection. 
I didn't see anyone all weekend and it was great. You can't do that all the time but now and then it's nice to have a few days to tunnel in to whatever it is you want to tunnel into. (Not that I'm pretending to be any kind of artist, I didn't mean it that way; basically I just don't have a job.) I like time alone. I don't get lonely unless there's a specific person I'm lonely about. (And then I see people and realize how much I've missed them and how weird I am in company, suddenly.) Plus I've been reading a lot, several books all at once, and it feels like being wrapped up in blankets of words. Very cozy. The weather is hideous but it's ideal for that.

I'm cat-sitting at a friend's house, which I love to do: you get a lot of the fun of travel without the inconvenience of actually being away from home. It's just a slight displacement, same view different angle. (This friend happens to live in the middle of Portland's Sandwich Heaven, or one of them, so apologies if pictures of food appear here in the future. I'll try not to.) It also always makes me tidy up and rearrange my whole apartment. There. That's better!

Anyway, the thing I like most about Tove Jansson is the glorious rage of her tiniest people, and how she never allows it to be mocked, at least not in a mean way. That - the solemn respect for unnameable, ineffectual, absurdly childish but profoundly real fury - complemented by the supernatural calm and wisdom of the people who are a little more grown, that's what I like best. The territory between Little My and Snufkin is vast, and I'm pretty happy at either end.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

bad behavior/good excuses

A possibly relevant thing from this article / interview with Kelly Link in Gigantic, which is great in its entirety and might even get me to watch The Vampire Diaries one day:

Look, think about how gossip works. What are the best stories? When you're telling stories, you're telling stories about people who have made a really poor choice, who do or say the kind of thing we all know you shouldn't. In fiction, at least, there's a kind of cathartic, discomfiting joy—a pain/pleasure—in people behaving badly. 
So I don't know, maybe I just want to be a good story one day. It's healthier, though, and longer-lasting, to let the girl in the story do all the bad things, and for me just to write them down from here, where it's safe.

(I just finished reading Kelly Link's new book of short stories, is what brought that up. She's one of my favorites.)

In very closely related news, I watched a little movie called Happy Christmas recently. The trailer makes it seem bleaker than it is, as if everyone in it is kind of horrible, or too flawed to pull for. Like Young Adult (which I loved, but oof, harsh). But it's not, really; it's very sweet. Sad, but realistic, and not conclusively sad in the end. I used to hate Joe Swanberg's movies because nothing ever happened in them; my theory is that he was trying to show the way young people these days avoid conflict or confrontation of any kind, squirming away from it at all costs. Admirable mission, but frustrating to watch (for me, anyway). But he no longer avoids painful discussions, he dives right in and it turns out he's great at that.

Anyway. Fun for the holidays!




Also the other night I saw this crazy thing, which - OMG. Why Don't You Play in Hell?, it's called. It's pretty fantastic. A crazy love song to film and art and the urge to die to make something meaningful, and what a waste that is (or is it?), or, alternatively, what a badass way to live forever. Plenty of ultraviolence, great screen faces, and extremely fabulous costumes all around.



And an unrelated side note: my friend David Walker had a release party yesterday for his kick-ass new comic book about Shaft (you know, the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks), and along with that, he screened Shaft's Big Score (1972), and I'm like 95% sure that at one point in the movie, the sexy race-car driver named Rita said, "Anything with a stick shift is my meat." And that wasn't even close to the best line. Good stuff, and I totally plan on bringing back "it's my meat" as an expression of enthusiasm/proficiency.

But now I'm back in reading mode, so I might talk about something other than movies here next time, in case you all were getting bored (Karl). :)


Sunday, December 14, 2014

spooky action at a distance

Everyone's doing their Top 7 movies of the year, etc., but to save time I'll just tell you my very favorite, the movie that made me the most swoony and obsessive: Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. I would live in it.



And it's not even the only movie this year in which dancing saves the day!

There were lots of others I loved, same as anyone: Edge of Tomorrow, Under the Skin (!), Guardians of the Galaxy. Locke. Interstellar. A screening of The Darjeeling Limited at the NW Film Center. But I didn't see much this year, for whatever reason. Picky, busy, gone a lot. Anyhow, if you like music or Detroit or romance or luscious fabric of any kind, or Tom Hiddleston or Tilda Swinton, or dancing, you'll want to see Only Lovers.

(This song just came on, which is what reminded me)



Another thing I loved that has a great soundtrack: The Knick. Check that out too.

p.s. Oh and Snowpiercer and Grand Budapest Hotel. :)

p.p.s. AND I can't believe I forgot about this one! Most fun movie in ages:





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

misc

I meant to write something half-serious today, but then I got distracted by Tom Hardy-on-a-stick:



Looks like it might require beer. :)

Anyhow, now that I'm distracted, here's another one I'm pretty excited to see:



Lot going on there.

[deleted scene]

I should go. No doubt I'll have something more interesting to say on Sunday, if I keep to the schedule which BY THE WAY is not likely, let alone obligatory, god forbid expected. Don't get your hopes up. Imagine a life consisting mostly of disappointments, with occasional misleading breaks for either treats or total disasters. This here glob won't seem so bad, in context. It's, like, preparing you for the future, for what's in store. Unreliability. What's your favorite pop song? Imagine waking up next to someone. Over and over. Even just the one time, actually. That's the whole thing. It's what we think we want. Do we want it though really? What happens then?

Well, I should go.

p.s. It might be useful to know that I've been reading a book of monster love stories - you know, people falling in love with monsters, and vice versa. Kind of in a weird headspace. :)

Sunday, December 07, 2014

lagom

The other night I told somebody that if I had my way, from Halloween to Valentine's Day I would probably curl up and hide. It's the cheerful party season. I'd like to stay home but I don't want to wake up in the spring with no friends. Also whenever I do venture out, I have a nice time. So I'm not really complaining. But to work as well as play requires an unsexy strategy: moderation. 

"Lagom" is a Swedish word meaning just the right amount - not too much, not too little. A national character summarized in one word of advice. If it's written on my hand I can't claim to forget about it. (Not such a big deal with coffee, maybe, but you get the idea.) Sticking with lagom is important because otherwise, very quickly, the situation slides over into all play and no work. I mean, who wouldn't rather just chill?

Icky winter is the best time of year for writing, but it's also the hardest in which to crawl out from under the covers if nobody is making you do that. This Chuck Wendig thing is a few weeks old but pretty fun, and useful. Mainly, for me, it's just a question of doing what you say you want to do. I think I'll unplug my Netflix account this week, just for a little while; it's so much easier to watch something than to make something. One of my favorite kids' books was a Frog & Toad story in which they experiment with the concept of "willpower," which in this case meant wrapping up the extra cookies in a box inside a box inside a box, tying the box up with string and stashing it way up high on the very top of the fridge, hard to reach without a step-ladder.

I think it might work.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

reading

One of the 15 different books I'm currently half-reading is Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit. I've just started, but already I have to quote a few passages for you:

Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors -- home, car, gym, office, shops -- disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.

Nice, right? Here's another one:

As a member of the self-employed whose time saved by technology can be lavished on daydreams and meanders, I know these things have their uses, and use them -- a truck, a computer, a modem -- myself, but I fear their false urgency, their call to speed, their insistence that travel is less important than arrival. I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.
Of course, there is such a thing as too slow. This time of year I have a huge appetite for reading, but I read so slowly, it's agonizing. And I sleep too much. Can't get anything done. I just keep making lists of new books I want to read. :)



Sunday, November 30, 2014

glamour and revenge

"It came to me then that dressing badly could be seen, in a way, as a form of disinformation, a form, almost, of psychological weapon." - Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise

Man, Lydia Millet gets me. :)

(My interview with her went up earlier this month - she was extremely cool.) 

Anyhow. Alert readers may recall our noble mission from last week: 
The new Plan begins as a laser-focused deprogramming regime, to be enacted thus: you (I) must watch all of the Very Worst of the Romantic movies offered through Netflix instant streaming, or as many as you can until you barf.
Well, it went swimmingly, right down to the barf. I didn't make it through very many movies, but I learned a thing or two about love. (Can't remember any of it, sad to report, except that for best results you should probably be called Jennifer.) The irritating thing is that these movies, even the very bad ones, have full access to the little marionette strings attached to my emotions. Girl and boy meet; exit brain stage left. All the movie-love myths bleed over into real life, too, even though they are mostly really gross myths and I obviously know better than to believe in them. It's embarrassing, like finding out that someone has secretly gotten you hooked on some weird drug and is now using it to control your behavior.

(This is nothing new, of course: movies rely on emotional manipulation; it's one of the things we like best about them. But the bad ones operate more like those old AT&T commercials, and when you succumb to a thing like that, against your will, you feel icky and weak.)

Anyhow, I'm sure I didn't manage to deprogram myself in a single evening, but I might have become annoyed enough to embrace and enjoy Winter Hermit Mode for the next month or so while I finish writing this frustrating thing I've been writing forever and ever.

Fingers crossed.

Best part of the whole deal might be the mean, scoldy tone Netflix has adopted: Because you were silly enough to watch '13 Going on 30,' you will be punished and mocked by the following suggestions...'Revenge of the Bridesmaids'...'Beauty & the Briefcase'....etc.

So. Onward!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Well, I didn't say *which* Wednesday, now did I?

(Or wait. Actually I guess I said every Wednesday. And Sunday. Well, that proves my point, though, still.)

Anyway. Further efforts toward a comforting routine. Which really is an effort to seize time, grab it and stop it, to prevent important things from slipping through your fingertips - whether they're things you want to do or make or things you need to know, see, read, hear, etc. I have felt recently that I miss a lot. Also that I'm incredibly slow as a reader, and also as a viewer of dumb TV and as an absorber generally of facts and truths about the world. There is just so much more of everything. (Do you remember Antonia's Line? when they're riding that fat horse, and the kid - under the spell of the old nihilist, The Finger - says something like, Isn't it a pity that nothing exists, and the mom says Well, that's why there's so much. It's Schopenhauer, somehow, I think.) (Although I saw that movie a very long time ago and am notoriously unreliable on philosophy.)

On the other hand, this is a holiday, or rather, a holiday weekend, or week, I guess, technically, and I have now become distracted about movies. So now there's a new Plan.

The new Plan begins as a laser-focused deprogramming regime, to be enacted thus: you (I) must watch all of the Very Worst of the Romantic movies offered through Netflix instant streaming, or as many as you can until you barf.

(It's only how the Plan starts. After a while, you can forget, and watch whatever you want.)

Fingers crossed, everyone! :)

With any luck, I'll survive to report on the results here later.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

a routine check

I love reading about people's daily routines. Maybe all self-employed people have this feeling. It's almost a fetish, for me, and I assume its power comes at least in part from the fun fact that when you've imagined yourself doing something, your brain is pretty well convinced you did it. So reading about other people's routines can give you the satisfaction of having established a routine of your own without having to actually, you know, stick to a routine. Because that's hard.

Or maybe not. But for whatever reason, the day-in-the-life thing is catnip to me. I once subscribed to Harper's Bazaar strictly because of those hilarious, fantastical hour-by-hour reckonings they did with famous people. ("At 10am my assistant brings me a green smoothie from Balthazar for lunch...at 2pm I nap with my pug, Narciso, before we each get an organic diamond-powder facial and a toe rub, then it's off to another branding meeting....")

But mostly I like to hear about what other writers do. (Joe Hill wrote a good one recently - and he seems to get an awful lot of work done. I'm just saying.) (Also somewhere not long ago I read a quote from David Mitchell saying the trick for him is to rush to the writing, first thing in the morning.)

When I hear authors and normal people say things like "On Tuesdays I do this," or "Every Saturday we go here," or "Thursdays we have pea soup with ham and pancakes," what I feel is almost indistinguishable from romantic longing. Ohhhhh. Pea soup, every Thursday. *sigh*

What's behind this, I wonder? Maybe it's a grass-is-greener scenario; when everything is scripted, you want spontaneity, and as ever the reverse is equally true. It's very satisfying as a freelancer to be working on something and not have that usually-constant nagging feeling that you should really be working on something else. Also, order itself is pleasing. Expectations met.

But most days what I feel like instead is a bankrupt or amnesiac painter facing a blank white canvas.

It's so freeing! You can put anything on there.

ANYTHING. Wherever.

Take your time.

Oh that line, between freeing and paralyzing. It's such a faint little line.

Last month I was in Colorado, and for about two weeks I was in charge of my parents' little homestead, and as you might imagine, the caretaking of the homestead dictates a certain daily routine. (They wrote it down for me.)

I woke up early, wrote nonsense until it got light out, then bundled up and went outside.




Let the squawky chickens out, check for eggs, throw last night's scraps at them and fill their feeder.

(One of the little thrills every day was that the stupid chickens were just so damn happy to get out of their hutch in the morning, exactly as happy as they were to go back into it at night.)

Then you walk over to the barn and turn on the water pump for the horses' water tank. (There's a series of hoses already puzzled together.) Open the barn doors, feed the wild kitties (who are at least as ecstatic to see me as the chickens were), check their water. Throw some hay to the fat furry ponies (ditto).



Call the horses in from the field and put hay cubes into their feeders, six cubes per horse plus one extra helping because they fight and play musical chairs. Pet them just because, and peek at their legs to make sure the clumsy ones haven't walked through any barbed-wire fencing or anything.


Go back up and turn off the water pump before their tank overflows. (Except for that one time.) Open the door to the greenhouse, dodge the wasps and pick whatever tomatoes are ready. Feed the dogs, then take them for a walk out back.



In the evening, close up all the open doors and feed everybody again.

It's soothing, right? Knowing just what to do and when and what's at stake. I like it and long for it on some weird primal level. It's why I like being on deadline. Partly because it's easier: the massive relief of not having to figure out what you ought to be doing every damn minute of every day. So nice to have that already decided and laid out for you. Following instructions can be quite relaxing.

I think I'm starting to repeat myself. So anyway, here's the part where I should say, OK folks (hi Karl!), with that in mind, I will now be updating this glob every Sunday and Wednesday forever, like clockwork.

But that will probably not come true, because as much as I love the idea of order and routine, in fact the charm of a rigorous schedule for me is mainly abstract. Like ten percent of my day is predictable almost all of the time. And I am super dedicated! to that ten percent. The rest is ?

But hey maybe! Check back on Wednesday. :)





Wednesday, August 27, 2014

update!

Well, here's one of the things I've been up to lately: a long interview with David Mitchell, about his new book, The Bone Clocks. BookPage even let me have extra room (!) but still there were a few things that didn't fit - for example, Mitchell talked about what goes into naming his characters. "Synesthetically, names have colors and their own musicalities," he explained, and you wouldn't want "too many blue names next to each other." So if, say, "Michael is blue, Peter is red, David’s green, William’s yellow - they need to be spaced out, otherwise they sort of blend into each other." And then on top of that, "For my immortal characters, they kind of need a name that they might’ve chosen or that is in a way a miniature poem. Some names stick to the eyeball well. Benedict sticks, it’s stickier than Ben. You won’t be forgetting that character. These are all factors that come into play when christening a character. And I was really grateful for the 'replace' facility on my Mac."

Most of our conversation, though, was about aging and death and how much fun those are.

(For my next trick I get to interview Lydia Millet!)

In other news, it is 90 degrees here. So there isn't much other news.

Also I'm writing about Sweden (still!) for Lonely Planet. And a sizable hunk of the book is due Friday, so I'd better get back to that. But hey, there you go: an update.

(Hi Karl!)


Friday, July 11, 2014

I promise I'm updating this thing, behind the scenes, for reals. Stay alert!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

olden tymes

Wow, time flies, y'all. My very first motorcycle race was seven years ago today: April Fool's, 2007. (I crashed.)

It isn't even "Throwback Thursday" but what the heck: how about a brief episode of gazing toward the past in wonderment and/or confusion. Motorcycle racing! What a weird thing to do. Lately I've been pondering whether to keep my tiny vintage racebike for possible future use or just go ahead and admit that I'm not really a racy gal.

(Sort of a moot point this year, due to current lack of steady income. But - never say never, etc.)

The thing is, I am not fast; I started out slow that first year and have never kept at it consistently enough to improve much. The last time I competed was in 2011, and I think I only did two races that year.

And -- like everyone, probably -- I don't really like being bad at things in public, unless it's funny.

But it could be funny! Maybe. Or it could just embarrass everyone. Or I could get better at it! Hard to say.

Racing is very exciting; it's an excellent way to improve your riding; and best of all, it works as kind of a laboratory for testing yourself against your own fear and bad habits.

But to do it properly requires dedication. It costs money (not tons, but some). It helps if you're mechanically inclined (I am the opposite). And I'm kind of a chicken, which as I've mentioned makes me slow, which means that my standard role on the track is "obstacle to dodge."

(I also know it doesn't help to go around talking about how slow you are if you want to go faster. I do not embrace my chicken identity! It's just kind of a nervous tic at this point, another bad habit.)

Anyhow. For olde tymes' sake I dug up from the archives a couple of race-day reports, just for fun. Also found these two blog posts I wrote for WW back when that sort of thing was still happening.


(obstacle being very politely dodged)


Anyhow. The first race at PIR this season is April 12 & 13. You should go! It's fun to watch. Lots of my pals and clubmates will be on the track.

Now back to work. Stay tuned!

Monday, February 10, 2014

mini-update

Working on a thing. This might be relevant, or at least probably useful to keep in mind:

The hipster represents what can happen to middle class whites, particularly, and to all elites, generally, when they focus on the struggles for their own pleasures and luxuries -- seeing these as daring and confrontational -- rather than asking what makes their sort of people entitled to them, who else suffers for their pleasures, and where their "rebellion" adjoins social struggles that should obligate anybody who hates authority.
-- from the excellent and now kind of old n+1 book What Was the Hipster?, which I'm finally getting around to reading, along with a whole bunch of other stuff I've been meaning to read for ages...

Also working on a makeover of this here glob, because I am also now kind of old, and reading the tiny white-on-black type hurts my tired eyes. More news to come. Stay alert!




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

THE GREATEST MOVIES OF 2013, CONTINUED!

First, I should mention that I haven't seen any of the following yet, and my guess is some of them will throw this whole ordered list out of whack:

Inside Llewyn Davis
The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle
Computer Chess
Stoker
Leviathan
Much Ado About Nothing
Before Midnight
Pain and Gain
Gravity
Blue Is the Warmest Color
12 Years a Slave
The Motel Life
Nebraska
Her
and practically anything foreign. :(

Not that I had a ton of credibility to start with.

OK. Moving on!

6. Sightseers
Ben Wheatley directed Kill List, which means I will watch any and every movie he makes from now on. Sightseers is crazy and hilarious and brutal and very disturbing -- like all love stories, I guess. It glorifies the small and shabby, and repays the mildest of insults with explosions of way-disproportionate violence. You will never again consider littering in a national park in Yorkshire, believe me. Great stuff.




7. Spring Breakers
I keep trying and failing to write something coherent about the way pop culture today packages its wealthy/greedy/money-focused characters, as opposed to the way it did in say the mid-'80s. Maybe something about the crappy economy makes wanting lots of nice things more forgivable. When I was a kid it was self-evident that a lust for wealth meant you were a villain - "greed is good" was clearly bad. (Ugh. Am I accidentally getting nostalgic for hardcore capitalism? Great.) Anyway. This is no longer taken for granted. In terms of storytelling, it's no longer the case that a naked desire to have lots of things signifies a lack of soul. Now greedy types are just empty, listless kids, taking things because it's easy and they're slightly bored. (I didn't see The Bling Ring, either. Oops.) All in all I find it depressing but that's probably just a personal bias.

Anyway -- I did not expect to like this movie and I doubt I've sold it to anyone based on the above nonsense. ("No seriously, it totally clarified how the shifting economic climate and our habitual abuse of credit for instant gratification has complicated basic narrative structure, morally speaking! You'll love it!") ("Plus guns! and bikinis!") But it really surprised me. It turned out to be hilarious and terrifying and multi-layered, not to mention just weird as all get-out, and it cast a gloomy, heartbreaking light on some of those awful, presumably soulless, grasping kids.

Also James Franco's teeth, I mean sweet jesus, how can you not love that. So shiny!



I'm not picking #s 8, 9 and 10 because I can't decide, and it doesn't matter. Ask me next week and my whole list will be different anyhow. Women are fickle. Here's a bunch of other stuff I saw:

The World's End - Fun and sad. Mostly fun. Makes a compelling argument that the losers will be winners after the apocalypse. Extra points for the Wild Angels reference. Disturbingly anti-beer, though. (As a corrective, every time you spot a Ben Wheatley crossover: drink.)

Enough Said - Really lovely. Can't decide if it made me slightly encouraged on the topic of dating or dead-certain that I never want to date again. ("Date" - who even does that?)

The Visitor - What do we say about this one...I'll just -- well, here:

THE VISITOR [Trailer] - Now In Theaters from Drafthouse Films on Vimeo.

I mean, Sam Peckinpah! Come on!

Side Effects
If we're dividing Soderbergh's work into Hot and Cold (Out of Sight = Hot; Haywire = Cold), this one is decidedly the latter. I admired it without really liking it. Does that make sense?

Behind the Candelabra - Soderbergh again. I saw this very late at night, and need to rewatch it, but I can tell you the ghoulish physical transformations alone are astounding. All the men look like Barbies. (This is by far the closest Matt Damon has come to resembling himself as he appeared in Team America: World Police.) But you can see everyone's ragged hearts right below the horrorshow surface. It might be campy in certain aspects but it's very far from silly.

The Great Gatsby
I guess nobody else liked this. It totally worked on me, though. Saw it with my mom. We swooned.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Got talked into this one by a guy after a couple of drinks. Good dumb fun. The diabetes thing was funny.

Welcome to the Punch - see above (but no diabetes).

To the Wonder
Yes yes, way too much twirling. But come on: who else is asking the kinds of questions Terrence Malick asks in movies? It's no Tree of Life, but what is?

Warm Bodies - would've been 90 billion times better without that zombie-learns-to-drive scene. Very sweet, though.

Byzantium - Gemma Arterton's boobs are amazing! OMG. There's one hilarious scene in which, after having tried really hard to establish this as a feminist empowered-vampire thing, the filmmakers kick back and watch Gemma luxuriate in a shower of fake blood against a cliff, and suddenly it's an ad for Axe body spray. Loved it! Also featuring the kid who played Banshee in X-Men; Sickboy/Sherlock; and Saoirse Ronan.

Pacific Rim - Tried to get into it but could not, for some reason. Too big? Don't like robots? I dunno.

Also caught a couple of ... I guess we call them miniseries. I don't watch much TV because I lack self-control, so I'll start on something just to check it out and then sort of "come to" several days later, very hungry, my life in tatters around me -- but these are very short:

Top of the Lake - dark and ultra-creepy Jane Campion crime thriller. Faramir!

The Fall - if Gillian Anderson's face in the mirror in the first minute or so doesn't gut you, then you are probably not female and/or aging. The whole thing's really good, though; she plays a totally scary, unapologetic (most likely sociopathic) hard-ass, and it's great.

Sherlock - the BBC one, starring my boyfriend, Martin Freeman. I have one episode left to watch and really hope they're making more.

SO anyway. Go watch Upstream Color already.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

THE GREATEST MOVIES OF 2013!

This year's top-10 list will be super-easy to do, because I've only seen about 17 movies that came out in 2013. (Hey, I've been busy.) Pretty sure I caught most of the good ones, though. So here we go, more or less in order: the Greatest Movies of 2013 According to Me, So Far.

I'm only putting the top five here for now, because it turns out I'm blabbing on and on about some of them, so we'll probably all need a break halfway through. Watch this space for movies 5 though 10, plus bonus items!

1. Upstream Color

I've never understood precisely how people get into relationships. I know they meet; I've seen it happen. And then later at some point they are a couple. But what goes on in between is completely obscure to me. The mechanism offered in Shane Carruth's second feature -- in which, to put it simply, two people are drawn together because they've both had a weird flower-eating-grub-based hypnotism/brainwashing experience that resulted in their animating spirits being relocated (via worm) into two pigs on a farm -- seems as likely as any other, really.

"I hate even the idea of a synopsis," Carruth told Dennis Lim in a NYT interview awhile back. He's right to, of course. The story operates on an emotional logic that squirms and blurs when examined closely but feels exactly right, entirely reasonable and lovely and poetic, if you just go with it. When Upstream Color came out everyone said it was "cerebral," but although it's very strange and often startling, and contains Big Ideas, it's not confusing or difficult. And on top of being supersmart it's also terrifying, gross, funny, and swooningly romantic.

It's partly about how people react to having their strings pulled by unseen hands with mysterious agendas. Also partly about identity: once together, the lovers are confused about the weird forces that move them (internal? external? we sort of know, but they don't), and they bicker about whose memories belong to whom, fighting for possession of bits and pieces of character, assigning ownership to certain traits, making distinctions and reserving little territories even as they merge their lives. How much of you is you? Who are you when you adjust yourself to someone else? (Does being inspired by another person add to and change you, or simply enhance what was already there?) None of this is even directly addressed in the movie, but a story like this tends to provoke a long, crooked line of questions afterward.

Really you just have to see it. But if you do, I command you to watch it with your full attention, not halfheartedly while thinking of something else or, like, doing the laundry. It demands and rewards total absorption.

(Did you guys see Primer? At the moment they are both available on Netflix. Recommended!)

It's so good. Here's the trailer:



2. The Grandmaster
The combination of Tony Leung and Wong Kar-Wai leads always to perfection. I've gone on and on about one or both of these guys in this glob enough already so I'll refrain for now, but I urge anybody interested in The Grandmaster or in WKW generally to read David Bordwell's essay. Thorough (long), but well worth the time. It walks you through the which-version-am-I-watching question nicely, too, if you're into that.

The US-market trailer is godawful, so here:



3. Frances Ha
Probably a movie that I shouldn't be quite so able to relate to at age 42, but whatever. It's great. I love Noah Baumbach. I love the soundtrack. I love Frances. She's a little lost puppy in a china shop, an utter disaster in every situation, but she's trying so hard to figure out what to do. I mean, it isn't easy, right? You imagine it'll get easier later but it never does. (Sidenote: this movie does what I think that Sheila Heti book wanted to do but with the advantages of craft and care and rigor.) And the whole thing just looks beautiful. Actually I think I'll watch it again right now.




4. Only God Forgives
Did you like Drive? This is weirder! How about Valhalla Rising? That is more like it.



Maybe I'll just go with a general "Um, not for everyone, but WHOA," and leave it at that.

5. All Is Lost
Never go yachting alone.




Stay tuned for deep thoughts on the other five movies I saw this year! : )

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Monday, October 07, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

track day report

Been pondering the general shortage of time lately -- winter coming, birthdays, looming mortality etc. As we know, I probably won't die of mad cow disease, or bird flu, or even a motorcycle accident, but rather from sitting in chairs. The modern, slow-motion violence of just having a sedentary day job year after year -- odds are, that's what'll do me in.

You'd think this understanding, with all its accompanying despair and/or calmness of mind (depending on the day of the week), would allow me to throw myself headlong into dangerous pursuits. Occasionally it does. But usually, no. I am still a chicken, pretty often. Example: this weekend, I hitched a ride up to Shelton, Wash., to do a track day with a bunch of fellow SFRCers at the Ridge. (The Ridge is the track about which famed Isle of Man champ Dave Roper said: "maybe my favorite race track in the universe.") We left work early Friday and drove up that afternoon in Travis's new old truck.

Three bikes in back, with room for a mini or two!

I was stomach-ache nervous starting about Wednesday. Woke up Friday morning before the alarm went off, packed up, headed to the office, failed to concentrate at all on the job, and just basically performed deep breathing exercises until it was time to leave.

The drive was adventuresome enough to distract me from impending doom. After I got us lost a couple of times (no smartphone can help you if you can't tell left from right), we found our way to the track and set up camp in the parking lot. (Sounds grim but it was actually very comfortable - thank you, REI sleeping pad!) At this point I reverted back to panic because when you pull into the parking lot, what you see is this. Which looks terrifying from below, mainly because it is bloody terrifying.

But once we unloaded the bikes and set up camp, and the other guys arrived, I relaxed. Patrick's been racing and winning trophies practically every weekend all summer, and he mentioned how much he was looking forward to a fun, relaxing track day where you could hang out and ride with your friends and not get stressed out about trying to go full-blast, so I decided to aim for that stance. Also, I had some beer.

That worked until morning.

When I woke up the whole parking lot and surrounding area was socked in under a pea-soup fog. (But not green, though. Just thick like that. You could barely see!) After the rider's meeting, where they reminded us what the various flags meant (adding that it wouldn't matter because the flags would be invisible through the fog), those of us new to the track hopped into a trailer and were driven around for a one-lap tour, narrated by an ace rider with a charming Canadian accent. He kept saying stuff like "I sure wish we could see that cone there because that's where you'll want to tip in to this corner." From the back of the trailer, we could not see at all -- but we knew there were many hilly bits, because we kept all falling into each other. The narrating Canadian said, "If this fog doesn't burn off before your first session, I'd recommend skipping it, because this track with zero visibility is....ooof." So that was super comforting to hear.

Then it was time for our first classroom session. The only thing I remember from this is that the instructor advised us to take very deep breaths if nervous. I tried to focus on how attractive he was, and on my breathing, rather than all the trembling and various regrets about how little I'd had time to accomplish in my (soon to be) sadly abbreviated life. It kind of worked.

We left the classroom, got on our bikes, and lined up behind instructors for the first session. Within 30 seconds it was clear I would be totally blind the whole time. The fog congregated on my visor, and instead of just peering through it like a sensible person I tried to wipe it off with a glove, which made a big opaque smear across my field of vision. Visor up! OK. What was that he'd said about breathing? Oh right -- we should try to. Yes. OK. Wait, where did everyone go? Shit -- I'm holding up the entire operation. Zoom, catch up. Eeek, slow down! Repeat for 20 minutes. Breathe twice. End session 1.

After that the fog lifted and everything was much better.

A few illustrations:

Here's me looking basically just annoyed to be there. And another similar one.

Later in the day, one of PSSR's several awesome instructors followed me around to observe and coach. This was pretty fun and extremely helpful -- although the only time I actually felt comfortable on the track was when I followed one of them. The track has 16 turns, which is a lot to memorize in a day, and some of the lines are really weird -- but they make perfect sense when someone leads you through them. Here's a handy map:

 

Turns 13 and 14 are the ones that look scary from the parking lot, but in fact 15 and 16 worried me more, because passing (or, in my case, being passed) right there is super-hairball: you have to go pretty much all the way across the width of the track, far right to far left and back to far right, while trying to build speed for the front straight, all of which potentially cuts off anyone trying to get around you, so - kablammo, maybe? Luckily I couldn't see behind me ever. Who knows what went on back there.

Anyway...here's Patrick demonstrating how this sort of thing ought to be done.

Getting back to my pondering of mortality and whatnot, here is the complete list of injuries accumulated at the track day:

1. Stung by wasp, crook of elbow, left arm (the stinger is still in there and it really hurts!)
2. Pinkie finger pinched during pre-coffee tent-disassembly mishap (all better now)
3. Heart-attack diet, exclusively
4. Touch more sun than is probably healthy

That's it. (Now don't I feel silly.)

Anyway, I had a blast (as soon as I could see) and somehow my back tire got melty all the way to the edge, even though I'm pretty sure I was only going about 35mph the whole time. Look at it!


No chicken strips!

In perhaps the weekend's most humbling development, several people noticed (but politely did not mention, until I brought it up) that my bike is actually somehow dirtier than Patrick's. I don't know how this happened, and at first I wasn't sure whether to feel incredibly guilty about it or kind of proud. But the reactions of others led me to believe it was not something to be proud of, so today I washed the bike. It looks much better and might have dropped five or 10 pounds.

After the track day, Travis and Courtney and I continued on to the Isle of Vashon TT -- an enormous vintage-bike rally thing basically designed for strolling along gazing at cool and rare motorcycles, aka mantiquing, and a bit of riding around the beautiful island. We saw a lot of amazing bikes I won't even attempt to describe because I'll probably get them wrong. Travis competed in the field games and beat the old dudes in most categories (except the slow-bike race, which is fine because there's no glory in being slower than a dude on a harley anyway, even on purpose).

(Photo by Courtney)

All in all not a bad weekend.




Friday, July 05, 2013

L-I-V-I-N



Via DK Holm, from a book I am suddenly pretty excited to read:
"Just living," said Barbara as we lay in bed that night, "just rotten old living, I've always hated that, it makes me want to puke. Kids, school, smells, Dad working for the council, regular meals, telly in the evening—who needs it? Where's your time for living gone? Well, it's gone, but by the time you realize it you're nothing but a worn-out knitting and washing machine. Then when it's too late and you're fifty and you've got the menopause, you take off your woolly one night and see there's fuck-all left of you except a pair of flabby old tits that no one wants to know about and bulges all over. Even your kids don't want to know you by then; they're grown up, swinging, they've got their own thing going. As for Dad, he's ogling the teenage slag down at the boozer, drinking up, getting all ready to make a scene when he comes in because he feels cheated—of course he feels cheated, the silly old bastard."

--Derek Raymond, He Died with His Eyes Open

Thursday, July 04, 2013

the good, the bad, the weird

Last weekend was the annual SFRC Goldrush ride, in which 30-40-odd (very odd) souls ride the best roads in the state to cause drunken mischief in a demi-ghost town called Sumpter in eastern Oregon.



The roads really are the main draw, but once you get to town, things get weird. We set up camp this year in someone's field more or less behind the Elkhorn Saloon, which is in (well, is) the center of town. (No restrooms at the campsite, but there was an antique Tri-Met bus parked there for some reason, with a tarp over it and the windows taped over (not creepy at all) so I just peed behind that.) Typically, you roll into town hot and dirty anywhere between 5 and 7pm on Saturday night, and Alpha Mike hands you his flask to sip, and then you set up your tent and go to the Elkhorn for a cool beverage. Alpha Mike is always the first person I see on arrival, for some reason. Wouldn't have it any other way. 



The Elkhorn is an old-fashioned saloon in that it demands to be courted. Having your way with it is not easy. The Elkhorn will not simply serve you. Time moves at its own pace inside, and it may feel like days before you get that beer you ordered. (Did you order it, actually? Can you even remember? When was that?) There are 42 kinds of burgers on the menu, each more elusive than the last. There's even a Ghost Burger. (Invisible.) 

The Elkhorn is mad with power. Dinner ends at 6.45pm. What are you going to do about it? Nothing. Drink your beer. Shut your mouth. You're in Sumpter. Three people in a row just bought a round for the house.



Eventually you stagger up the hill to where the current SFRC president (shown above in magical power hat) has a cabin. This is the site of the Isle of Stan, in which the younger, harder-headed fellows take spins around a makeshift dirt track in total darkness on a minibike. It's pretty fun (to watch). On my way up there from the bar, Alpha Mike gave me his knife - or more precisely (I later learned), a knife he'd stolen earlier in the evening from some toothless local in order to cut the sleeves off his t-shirt - for protection (as I am a lady and all). I still have the knife and will treasure it always. 

I'd just arrived and been handed a beer when my buddy Hole had a sudden vision from a TV commercial, one of the ones where they smash a stack of styrofoam coolers via bodyslam, or something (?). Unable to communicate this vision in words, he picked me up and threw me at the coolers (we're pretty close to the same size). Light wrestling ensued. We were all holding giant glass bottles of beer this whole time, which in hindsight seems like a terrible idea, but I'm proud to say I did not spill any beer during the whole 20 minutes or so that I was being used as a tool to smash a pair of coolers into bits. (Eventually the heroic John Graeter swooped in and rescued my beer so I could use both hands, which was very helpful.) 

The minibike racing continued throughout. Around midnight it stopped running and there was a break for emergency carb repair, then more racing. At some point there were four people on the bike (briefly). Then it was back to the Elkhorn for a while, our path down the hill lit by styrofoam debris glowing in the moonlight. 

Next day, we had breakfast at the community center, thanks to the Sumpter Breakfast Club's charity community fundraising breakfast. (Really.) Civic duty done, we hauled ourselves to the lake for a swim (well, some of us went on a day ride, but it was about a hundred degrees that day, so I opted for swimming). 

That evening's activity: the Western Olympics. Sumpter was a frontier town, and settling here required many and varied skills. The boys (Zach and Patrick and Peter) had devised a way of reenacting those olden days, but with more tequila and a minibike. 

This was a competitive, timed event, with several stations. First you play cowboy: the time starts and you quickly don an Eastwood-style poncho and sombrero, head to the "bar," slug back some tequila, mount your steed (the minibike, with a stuffed-toy horse strapped to its back in a very undignified manner), and race a lap around the parking lot of the Depot Inn. Ten-second penalty for losing your hat; a man's hat is like his woman. 

Back at the bar, you tie up your steed (or just drop it - easier than finding the kickstand through your poncho) and race across town to the barbershop. Here you shave your customer, which is a balloon, with shaving cream and a straight razor. Ten-second penalty for killing the customer. (I slit mine's throat like Sweeney Todd. I had spent longer than strictly necessary at the tequila bar - ten seconds extra wouldn't hurt.) Racing back across town, you change allegiances, ditching your hat and poncho for a feathered headdress, and take a shot at the target with a bow and arrow. ("Kill whitey," the crowd chanted. Whitey was a stuffed shirt with a cantaloupe for a head.) And done. 



We are seldom bored. 

Other shenanigans followed; one guy got trapped inside the haunted Sumpter Dredge and had to swim to safety through probably radioactive slime or at least industrial ooze; he returned to the bar in his undies, perfectly happy. I got the hiccups and was cured by being held upside-down for like the eighth time that night. Everyone tried on a Joe Dirt mullet wig, even the bartenders. Every mosquito in the valley got hammered on our toxic blood. They must look forward to this all year, like Mardi Gras. 

Next morning I somehow woke up early and mostly free of hangover - my theory is that the Jager canceled out the tequila. Or the mosquitoes drank it all, I guess. Anyhow, the ride out of town is glorious: you go over the mountains on a narrow, winding road that cuts through "the burn," scene of a massive forest fire several years ago. At the summit is where, evidence suggests, every depressed chipmunk in America comes to end it all. Just dozens of the poor little things, flinging themselves at your tires in utter despair. It's sad but you can't focus on it. The scenery's gorgeous and the road takes a fair amount of concentration to ride. 

The rest of the route home was deathly hot but fantastic; I had two ice cream bars and a milkshake, plus one quick swim and a number of buckets of cold water dumped on my head (by request). Back in town, it was Club 21 for burgers and debriefing, then home to unload and take a shower I really, really needed. Good times, can't wait to do it again!