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Via another blog, I happened upon this trailer for a new movie streaming or showing somewhere. It stars Justin Timberlake and it’s about this ex-con who returns to his southern (of course) hometown and somehow ends up taking care of a young boy who’s having troubles because (you know it) he wants to wear dresses.

Justin Timberlake Stars as in 'Palmer' Trailer - Rolling Stone

It’s the next step from the Magical Negro and the Magical Gay – the Magical Non-Gender-Conforming-Minor (not creepy at all) , who showers wisdom, self-understanding and tolerance upon all in his now very Magic Circle.

And yes, the trailer enraged me. But not, perhaps for the reasons you expect. It enraged me, not for the boys, who can and will do whatever they want and then profit while the rest of the world praises them for it, whether starting wars or wearing dresses, for that’s the way of the world – no, not so much for the boys.

But for the girls.

I’ve only watched the trailer, and that’s all I’ll ever watch, and perhaps I’m off base, and perhaps the movie tells a different, more subtle story, but this is what I got from the trailer.

This boy-child is outcast and bullied because he:

  • Spends times with the girls, affecting dance moves like a drag queen
  • Plays with a Barbie
  • Joyfully imitates the moves of girl cheerleaders
  • Viewing some Disney-type princess cartoon declares that not only can he be one of them, he can be the first like him to be one of them.

It’s unclear from the trailer whether the issue is that the boy wants to become a girl or if he wants to remain a boy but be free! to do “girl things” and present in “girl ways.”

I don’t care. Any or all of those choices are repulsive, and again, it’s not because the story presents the (stupid) story of a boy who wants to do them.

It’s repulsive because of what it all says about girls.

I’m going to keep repeating this until I drop. The transgender moment is a war against females. It is built on rigid gender stereotypes and ultimately communicates that women are better off as men and men make the best women.

This, the trailer implies, is Girl World: A world of young human beings defined by fey, coy, sexualized dance moves, of cheering on males in athletic combat, of dressing up dolls with unrealizable physiques and, of course, ruled by wide-eyed, curvaceous (but not too curvaceous) princesses.

And oh! Let us pity and cheer on the brave, misunderstood person with a penis who simply seeks to enter this enchanting and fun Land of Cute!

Screw this. I am so tired of this. Exhausted. Confounded. As I’ve written before. Absolutely confounded.

Come on, little boy, do you want to learn about Girl World? Here. Listen up. Look. Watch.

Girl World is a place where there’s blood, and pain and, more often than you would expect, fear.

It’s a place where most of us, for most of our lives, bleed and cramp and are emotionally tossed up and plunged downward regularly, once a month, for days. I once had to leave a final exam in college – right in the middle – the pain was unendurable. And that, my young friend, was a normal month, a regular, bloody, body-bending part of life.

And when the time of bleeding stops, in Girl World, it’s a time of heat and racing hearts and depression and dryness and more, different kinds of pain.

What else happens in Girl World? We grow people inside of us, and through history, have died in great numbers as we strove to push those people through our bodies. When we survive, we spend years giving suck to those people we’ve grown and birthed, but not at leisure, but hours every day while keeping at the hard work of our life in the world, whether that be in fields or at the hearth or the office. All day, every day. And night.

Oh, Girl World. That place where human beings called girls and women can’t walk down a street, can’t sit in a café or bar alone without being catcalled, bothered or worse.

So no, little boy, you can never be a part of that, even if you wear a dress, and I suspect, knowing the truth, you probably don’t want to. You just want to play, to perform, to act, to act out – something. Some loss, some desire, some yearning.

But damn the culture and society that lets you believe that this imaginary Girl World of Cute and Princesses and Cheering on the Boys, wiggling asses, jiggling breasts and shiny clothes is the place for you – or for anyone – to live and pretend.

So yes, the Girl World of this kind of garbage infuriates me because it’s not about the real lives of girls and women, but about fantasies that serve other, more nefarious ends – economically, culturally, and personally.

But it infuriates me for the real girls of the very real Girl World, not only because it devalues their unique experience, but also because it reinforces that insidious, horrendous definition of femaleness that I thought we had killed off, but has resurrected, so bizarrely, over the past two decades, it seems.

I like swiveling my hips, playing with dolls, cheerleading and princesses – it’s my ticket to Girl World!

I’ll give you your ticket to Girl World. Here you go. And now, what do you see? The young female human beings who actually do have tickets to the real Girl World – don’t be fooled. Don’t get off at the Potemkin village they’re selling you. Wait a little longer. You’ll see who lives here.

Where do we start?

Athletes, astronauts, governors, senators, vice-presidents, prime ministers, colonels, captains and generals,

EPSON MFP image

scientists, CEOS and plant managers, engineers, attorneys, nurses, doctors, surgeons, homemakers, ministers, teachers, farmers, cashiers, archaeologists, pilots, chefs, coaches, nuns and artists….and that’s only the beginning.

These females – these real, biological females who live in this Girl World – the real one – are just like you. They’re short, tall, thin, heavy, have high voices or speak in low tones, giggle or guffaw, laugh a lot or just when something is really darkly funny, think princesses are wonderful or think they’re silly or never think about them all, love cheering, love playing on the field or even both, want to have kids, can’t stand kids, wear makeup and go without, spend time on their hair or get it cut twice a year, wear dresses sometimes, all the time or never, maybe want to be cute or maybe don’t give a damn.

So sorry, young dude. Affecting a cute demeanor doesn’t get you into Girl World. And a culture that encourages you is telling you a lie. But of course, those hurt the worst by the bizarre, insistent lie of the performative, superficialities of this supercute, glittery, hip-swiveling, chest-thrusting, pouty-lipped land of cheering, dancing pink-encased princesses are, of course, as always.…girls.

But not if we don’t want to be….

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Another repeat – still on the road, hither and yon.

Yesterday,  brought you the Immaculate Conception via the Monkees, today, it’s St. Juan Diego (whose feast is today, even though we won’t celebrate it because it’s, well..Sunday)  via a literary dog.

Perhaps some of you remember the 1990’s PBS series, Wishbone. My older kids grew up with it, and I confess, I loved it. The conceit? A dog daydreams about being a character in various works of literature. It was kind of crazy, but it actually worked.

And believe it or not, the show actually dramatized a religious narrative in Viva, Wishbone!  – which involved Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which our friend Wishbone portrays, yes, Juan Diego.

Now, the story deviates. I just watched a bit of the climax, and the whole roses/tilma thing is not presented as the traditional narrative would have it. So you might not want to use it as a catechetical tool.  But take a look on YouTube, and just remember a time – not so long ago – when even PBS portrayed religion as something other than the Opium of Particularly Stupid Bigots.

Access parts 2 & 3 via this link.

wishbone guadalupe

More seriously, here are some photos from our 2018 trip to the shrine:

Your eyes are not deceiving you and it’s not bad camerawork – in the photo on the far left, the old church – the original shrine – is indeed tilting. Earthquakes, of course.

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Noreen: Camus says knowin’ we’re gonna die makes life absurd.

Betsy : Well, I don’t know who that is. But I’m guessing he doesn’t have a 6-year-old girl.

Noreen : He’s French

Betsy : Ugh, I don’t care if he’s from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We’re put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord… Well, you try tellin’ Him it was all some Frenchman’s joke.

We just finished watching season 2 of Fargo. 

I’d watched seasons 1 and 3 a while back by myself. But they’re both old enough to appreciate it now, so when Better Call Saul ended and the lockdown continued, I thought it might be a good choice to fill some time. It’s rough, and Coenesque and violent, so perhaps it’s not your cup of tea. Lots of exploding heads. Sorry. Know that going forward. I don’t “recommend.”  People are just too different, with varying tastes. I mean. Don’t watch it. You’ll hate it. There.

Anyway, as I said, I’d watched the bookend seasons, but never season 2, for some reason. So this was my first-go through, and I’ll say that I enjoyed it very much. I’m torn about ranking the seasons , though. Perhaps a rewatch will change my mind, but I still think I like season 3 the most, although what season 2 has going for it is a far, far bigger heart than either of the other two. All of the characteristic Noah Hawley/CoenesqueVision aspects are there – extreme violence, weirdness, randomness, chance – but this one has a greater number of sympathetic characters that provide more of an anchor in goodness than the usual almost solitary-figure in the others.

Hanzee Dent - Wikipedia

The cast is amazing – from Patrick Wilson to Jean Smart to Ted Danson to Zahn McLarnon (above) to Bokeem Woodbine (below).

Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan in Fargo's Season 2 | Mike ...

I wrote at length about season 3 here, but was surprised to see that I seem to have never written about season 1. Well, I won’t begin now. Let’s just move on to two.

As per usual, what we have here is a battle between good and evil in the upper Midwest. Here, with the added attraction of evil v. evil driving a great deal of the action as well.

It’s 1979. The big picture here is that the Kansas City mafia – modern, business-oriented and efficient – wants to take over the Gerhardt family mob that runs the northern territories, rooted in their German heritage, out of the rambling family farmhouse.

Jean Smart on 'Fargo': Performance in Season 1 | TVLine

Getting things in motion, as usual, is an accident. The most hapless Gerhardt son, in order to prove himself, puts out a hit on a judge in a waffle restaurant, but on his escape, distracted by (yes) a UFO, he pauses, and in that moment, is struck by a car driven by local beautician Peggy Blumquist, played by Kirsten Dunst. Who’s married to local butcher Ed, played by Jess Plemons, which means that for most of the series, I called him “Todd.” 

The resultant mess and attempt to clean up the mess and avoid trouble gets the Blumquists deeper and deeper into trouble and, without their knowledge, also brings the Kansas City and Fargo sides closer and closer to outright war.

There are lots of fantastic lines in this season of Fargo, but the best probably go to the Blumquists who say things like:

Hon, you got to stop stabbing him.

and

It’s just a flyin’ saucer, Ed. We gotta go.

Well, I guess you had to be there, huh?

Trying to figure all of this out and somehow stay the bloodshed and dig out justice are local law enforcement, some of whom are fools, but two of whom – Lou Solverson and his father-in-law Hank (played by Ted Danson) – are rocks of integrity, humanity and courage. Lou’s wife and Hank’s daughter – Betsy, featured in the scene at the top of this post – is suffering from cancer. During most of the course of the show, she’s part of a clinical trial, taking pills which may or may not be the real thing – or may just be a placebo.

Everyone, it seems, is fighting a battle.

The primary link between seasons 1 and 2 here is, of course that Lou Solverson is the father of Molly – the good cop with sharp intelligence and sound instincts at the center of season 1.

As one expects, the Fargo world is sharply drawn, hilarious, bloody, tragic and ultimately, even in its crazy absurdity and outlandishness, about an important reality: the reality of goodness and the reality of evil.

In season 1, evil was personified in Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who may not be the devil himself, but could also be a close relation. He wreaks havoc and destruction on his own, certainly, but his diabolical nature is expressed most powerfully in his role as Tempter. He tempts every single person he encounters, and that temptation takes a particular form: the temptation to see other people as less than human – as no more than animals. Prey, if that’s what you’re into and that’s what you need them to be. Why not?

Evil here is not so individuated. It’s widespread, although it’s just as senseless. The only check against this evil is the goodness and courage of people like Lou, Betsy and Hank, who refuse to objectify human beings, who are content with the beauty and simplicity of human life on earth, instead of lusting for more just because.

Lots of folks have written about this season, but I just want to take a quick look at the setting. I think it’s very important.

The show is set in 1979, and this is about more than simply situating our season 1 characters properly. For the social, political and economic setting is mentioned constantly and is a vital part of the mix.

What’s at hand are first, the repercussions of war – mostly Vietnam, but World War II as well. Most of the male characters served in one capacity or another, and suffered because of it – although one describes a moment of grace he experienced as well. But mostly, this is a time, and these are people who are in a way shellshocked. Some have been desensitized to brutality and violence by what they experienced, others made more determined than ever to right wrongs when they encounter them.

Secondly, there’s the tail end of that Carter-era malaise and the glimmers of Reaganism – Reagan as an actor and as a candidate plays a part in the show, offering, it seems hope (
The first episode is called “Waiting for Dutch.”) – but, as it turns out – false hope.

Third – you have the bumping up of the new, late 20th century all-business ethos up against family and small town.

Fourth- and you won’t be surprised to know that this is my favorite aspect of the show’s 1979 setting – there’s the drive for self-actualization and personal growth that’s in the air, personified here in Peggy Blumquist’s quest to be someone. She lives in a sea of beauty and travel magazines. She’s committed to going to a self-help seminar with her boss. She endlessly jabbers on about being “actualized” and “realized” all the while being absolutely clueless to the reality of the situation around her. Dunst is fantastic in the role – aggravating and heartbreaking all at once.

Why Kirsten Dunst Could Be TV's New Style Icon (With images ...

I had that sweater. I HAD THAT SWEATER. 

The world, it seems, is a brutal place. Life is short and hard and random and even kind of weird (hence the UFOS). Evil is actually real. How do we respond to that? Do we give into the temptation to just try to get more of what doesn’t last anyway? Do we try to make ourselves feel more alive by dehumanizing and objectifying others? Do we deny our own suffering? How do we face the randomness and the chance? Do we pay attention, own up and try to grow – or do we deny, close our eyes and shut our ears?  Do we try to fabricate an alternative reality for ourselves, ignoring the ground under our feet at the moment?

Do we look at this strange mess and just declare it meaningless?

Or, as sick as we are, do we accept why we’ve been put on earth, hold the six-year old all the more tightly, and keep carrying her?

 

 

 

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Who are you?

How did you become that person?

Did you have a choice?

Better Call Saul JMM Review – /Film

 

****

Well, now, Better Call Saul. That was a neat hat trick.

We were all fixated on the the moment and…that’s when Jimmy became Saul… 

…when all along we should have been looking for…that’s when Kim became…

well, not Saul, because she’s her own person. But…someone. 

SPOILERS. Don’t read if you don’t want to be spoiled. Although it was almost two weeks ago, and if you wanted to watch it, you’d have done so by now.

It wasn’t a shock though. Whether or not the creators had an end game in mind since the beginning, to their credit,  the seeds have been there: Kim might have been an ethical rock in Jimmy’s life, but face it – she was also Giselle, and she was very, very turned on by that particular game.

There’s no reason for me to do a complete run-down and analysis here. You can get that elsewhere –like here. I also won’t spend much time weighing in on the is it better than Breaking Bad question. At this point, I’d say no. They are very different shows, and BCS is fantastic, but I still think there is a thrill-ride edginess to Breaking Bad that makes it all the more delectable. BCS is more of a slow burn and careful character study, and it’s great, but I think, at this point, BB still wins in my book. We’ll see, though. One more season to go. Sadly.

This has been an interesting season because, at least on the surface, Jimmy’s major foil is no longer a part of the picture – Chuck, his brother. Even last season, when Chuck was dead, his presence loomed large. I think for that reason, the dynamic is a little looser, less tightly focused this season, and therefore, Kim’s change edges onto center stage.

I love this show for what it is, but I’m also fascinated by it from a creative perspective. The creators of this had a “problem” – not in a bad sense, just in terms of a situation. We know Saul Goodman (we think) from Breaking Bad. We know what he’s like in that world, we know what happens to him by the end of that timeline. The question BCS explored was – how did he get that way? Where did Saul Goodman come from? They could have approached it from a million different directions, but they went with this particular storyline of character origin and transformation, and it’s just been fascinating to watch. And no, we’re not there yet. The Jimmy/Saul we now know at the end of season 5 of BCS is still not the Saul Goodman who casually suggests to Walt and Jesse…why not just kill Badger? And, furthermore, hits on…Francesca. I confess, of all the distinctions in the character between shows…that is the one that strikes me as the knottiest. Will they just ignore it? Or will they come up with some ingenious explanation? I’m betting on the latter.

Which brings me back to Kim. All along – really, from the beginning, up until the second-to-the last episode of this season, I’ve been one with most of the rest of you viewers, dreading Kim’s fate. Something terrible must happen to her we said – it’s the only explanation for how Jimmy became Saul. 

Er…well…maybe not?

A completely different scenario flashed through my head during that confrontation with Lalo in the penultimate episode. What if…I wondered…during the Breaking Bad timeline…Kim’s not dead or in witness protection…or left Jimmy in disgust…what if she’s actually become some super-successful attorney working for some part of the cartel? And what Jimmy/Saul is doing is…related to her work, a cover for it or even in reaction to it? 

The possibilities are endless, and intriguing, and, from the perspective of creativity and art, quite suggestive.

And note a theme – the theme that dominates both shows. Both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul focus us on broken, hurting human beings who might, indeed, have reason to blame their troubles on external factors – sickness, other people, family dynamics, threats – and who make a choice, ultimately, to go with that blame and let it control their decisions. Pride drives Walter White, and to some extent, Jimmy McGill. Jimmy’s trajectory is all the more painful because he really does mean well, and he really does try – while Walter White is pretty terrible from the beginning (something viewers tend to forget). But Jimmy is ultimately driven just as much by pride as Walt is.

Further, both shows are also about how that original sin, as it were, spreads. It’s like Genesis 1-11 brought to life in New Mexico, but with lawyers, drugs and money instead of forbidden fruit, grain sacrifices and ziggurats.

It was the great, overarching theme of Breaking Bad and while less dominant here in Better Call Saul, it still plays a part, especially, we now see, in the dynamic between Kim (magnificently played by Rhea Seehorn, perhaps one of the best female characters on any television show, ever) and Jimmy/Saul.

Who is Kim? We don’t know all about her, but we do know that she has worked very, very hard – to a fault. She is driven and meticulous with a ethical core – that is, however, sorely tempted and tried by the satisfaction of being Giselle, and all that means.  She can also justify the scams and deceit up to a point, since sometimes what she gets into is for the sake of a greater good. Ends justifies the means, and all that.

It’s about the difficulty of doing the right thing and the pull of doing the wrong thing.

So how do we become who we are? And who are we, anyway? Internal, external forces, innate factors, genetics, circumstances, emotions, reactions. Whoever we are at any given moment emerges from all of that muck – just as these characters and who they are emerge from the the muck of their fictional lives and the muck of the creative process.

It’s messy. But here’s the thing:  in the end, someone has to make a choice.

(From season 3)

Kim: I could have killed someone, Jimmy.

Jimmy: Yeah, yourself.

Kim: I worked most of last week on maybe six hours of sleep and then I crossed three lanes of traffic and I don’t remember any of it.

Jimmy: Look, you were just doing what you thought you had to do because of me.

Kim: You didn’t make me get in that car. It was all me. I’m an adult. I made a choice.

 

Yes, Jimmy McGill had an overbearing jerk of a brother.  Yes, he’s got a skill for manipulation and an attraction to showmanship. Yes, Kim Wexler (apparently) had an insecure childhood and is attracted to the power of dramatic exaggeration herself. Yes, Mike and his son, Nacho and his dad.  Yes, Walter White got lung cancer and was ripped off by his former friends and partners.

But I think what’s clear from both Better Call Saul is the persistent power of the reality and value of free will. We really do believe in it. And we believe that there are right and wrong uses of that free will. It’s why we watch shows and read books like this with such engagement and, at times, anxiety. That engagement shows that no, we really don’t believe everything is relative or all choices are equally valid and your truth is as good as my truth. We can be amused at the highjinks and gasp in dread and admiration and at the audacious moves, but most of us, despite the entertainment value of all that, stick with it because we really do want these pretend people to figure out how to use their pretend powers for good and stop, you know, helping the other pretend people get away with murder.

And we’re into it because we’re in it. Rising from muck ourselves every day, we’re pushed and pulled too. We’ve got our skills and our gifts and tragedies, our opportunities, our curses and we’ve got something else that the pretend people have, but ours are too real because this is real life:

Choices. 

 

Better Call Saul Season 5 Finale: Peter Gould Interview

Am I bad for you?

 

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—1 —

Apologies for the earlier, incomplete version of this post that a few of you were confused by. I had scheduled it, then gotten too tired to finish writing it…then forgot I’d scheduled it. It’s gone. You’ll never see that again.

— 2 —

Secondly,  welcome Catholic Herald readers and thanks to the Herald for the link to my Young Pope ramblings! Come back on Monday (probably – in the evening) for thoughts on the first three episodes of The New Pope. 

Check out my St. Francis de Sales post from today. 

— 3 —

We’re here in the Ham, as we call it, while Son #4 is up on his March for Life #3 – the first as a college student. What? No dire-threats-not-to-break them curfews? I can head into DC on Saturday…without a chaperone? What is this new life I’m leading?!

Very pleased and proud that he’s there, along with a huge group from his (Catholic) college.

— 4 —

From First Things: The Myth of Medieval Paganism:

When we encounter “pagan-­seeming” images or practices in ­medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in ­medieval Western Europe. Once we accept that most culturally alien practices in popular Christianity were products of imperfectly catechized Christian cultures rather than pockets of pagan resistance, we can begin to ask the interesting questions about why popular Christianity developed in the ways it did. Rejecting the myth of the pagan Middle Ages opens up the vista of medieval popular Christianity in all its inventiveness and eccentricity. After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.

— 5 –

In my earlier post this week, I focused on things I’ve been wasting my life watching lately.

I forgot one, though:

My 15-year old is a music guy and a fan of odd humor, so I figured it was time to introduce him to these geniuses. Yes, there will be a few moments that we’ll skip over, but for the most part it’s just fine, content-wise. And has prompted one of those much-beloved teachable moments , this one about the difference between New Zealand and Australian accents.

And yes, this particular video has been on replay constantly for the past few days and prompted other teachable moments about French – which was the main language I studied in school (besides Latin) but which he (Spanish and Latin guy) has little understanding of. So those have been decent conversations, too, that end up comparing these two romance languages, with the original, and then with the Craziness that is English…

Another watch, for trip prep, has been the PBS American Experience  – The Swamp– about the Everglades. Running at almost two hours, it’s about thirty minutes too long, but other than that, it’s worth your time if you’re interested in the subject – it’s a history of the conflicts and problems surrounding the Everglades since the late 19th century when people actually started living down in South Florida – both the Seminoles, driven there as they attempted to escape US government forces -and white settlers, followed in the 20’s and 30’s by substantial migrant populations, mostly black from the deep south or the Caribbean.

So yes, that’s where we’re heading soon – a part of the state I’ve never been to. Looking forward to a quick adventure in warmer climes – son is disappointed we’ll probably miss the falling iguanas though – although he’d rather have warmer weather, as well.

— 6 —

Coming tomorrow  – the Conversion of St. Paul.
The event is included in The Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories and The Loyola Kids’ Book of Heroes. 

 

— 7 —

It’s coming…

Ashwednesday

 

(Feel free to take the graphic and use where ever.)

Next week – some suggestions on resources from my end.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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So much important stuff to talk about, so let’s chat about…a movie. Shall we?

My brain and energies are a bit fried at the moment from being at a church all morning where Son #5 had a run-through of the music for his debut accompanying Mass at this parish, when then turned into an organ-rep practice session which then turned into a piano-practice session (because they have a Steinway that he enjoys playing…).

So I need to expend some of my creative energy…

So?

What do you think?

Here are my Deep Thoughts:

  • YES
  • I’m very, very excited about this. I thought Breaking Bad ended perfectly, but neither have I been averse to seeing Jesse’s story continue. Like many others, I basically want to see Jesse find this, for real:

  • Or, as one wag on Reddit or something opined, when rumors of this project first started flying, something like “I’d be content to watch Jesse sitting on a beach with a Corona and a lady friend for two hours.”
  • Bottom line: I trust Vince Gilligan and team like I trust no other contemporary Big Creative Mind.  Gilligan, it seems to me has the self-confidence required to put his stories out there, but is also not a weird egomaniac – which means he doesn’t let his own stuff get in the way of the stories. Plus, he has a Catholic background which shows, not in angsty-ways (Scorsese, looking at you), but in healthy ways connecting his stories to deeply-felt tradition, even subtly. I’ve always said that Breaking Bad was essentially a series about Original Sin – it’s about what sin does to a person and how that impact spreads – cf. Genesis 1-11. And, per Gn. 3 – the root of that sin is  – always  – pride.
  • I’m optimistic that there’s going to be some intriguing BB – BCS crossover happening, laying groundwork for whatever’s coming with Better Call Saul in 2020.
  • So yes, I’m very glad to see this happening, and have purchased my tickets to see it in the theater in Atlanta!
  • I’m also just very, very curious about some things. I mean – the essence of great drama is conflict, and there has to be more to this story than Jesse running from the Law – if that’s what he’s going to be doing. There just has to be more. But…I keep thinking – with whom? Who’s left for him to conflict with at a deep level that has a lot of stakes?

So. Who’s still alive? Let’s see:

  • Skyler
  • Walt Jr.
  • Holly
  • Marie
  • Elliot and Gretchen
  • Skinny Pete
  • Badger
  • Saul
  • Francesca
  • Brock
  • Lydia (*maybe*)
  • Jesse’s parents/brother
  • Jane’s father (maybe – he attempted suicide, we’re never told the outcome)
  • Guy in the junkyard

And then there may be characters from the Better Call Saul universe who may be around:

  • Kim
  • Howard
  • Nacho
  • Lalo

Various other cartel people, I suppose, although the cartel had dropped out of the BB storyline by the end of the series.

All of this leaves me quite curious as to what this conflict and tension is going to be about. My partial theory, apart from any individuals who might pop up with a stake in the matter:

El Camino is a genius title. It’s a vehicle, of course – the vehicle Jesse escapes in. But it also means, of course the road. The way, the journey. We’re going to see, I’m assuming, Jesse’s road – somewhere. Where? Everything that we know about this character up to this point moves us to root for that journey being to a place of freedom and peace, for we’ve seen that Jesse has a conscience – he’s capable of seeing to the other side and reaching for another way.  But what does that mean?  Is this going to be about Jesse battling his dueling desires for revenge or reconciliation? But then, again – revenge against WHO? All the neo-Nazis are dead. Walter White is dead (and yes, I think he’s dead – and if he weren’t, he’d be in prison, so….)

I’m very intrigued about how this is going to play out. Not because I labor under the delusion that Jesse Pinkman is a real person, but more because I’m interested to see how a talented creative mind works with the themes he’s laid out so carefully – themes that are universal and true and humane – and also how it plays out creatively. I’m fascinated by the creative process, period. We see a piece of art and we think that it sprang fully-formed from the mind of the creator, but of course that’s not the way it is at all – and that’s what makes the creative process so terrifying. You set out to create something, and sure, what you create might be wonderful, but odds are the final product is quite different from your original vision.  The character of Jesse Pinkman was supposed to be killed off early on – but he lived, and as such, embodied this theme of sin and its impact in an important way – in the perversion of the teacher-student relationship that the Walt-Jesse duo became. For Walt could have actually helped this young man turn his life around. Think about it. Upon discovering what Jesse was up to, he could have done something to help – instead, he used the kid’s “skills” and position to his own advantage, feeding his own shame and pride and bringing Jesse right down with him.

I mean – it’s Walt that Jesse needs to either take revenge on or make peace with.

But Walter White is dead.

Right? 

 

Finally? My prediction? I think he’s going to turn himself in and his “I’m ready” is the answer to a question of if he was ready to go.

Fight me!

Oh, and here are the lyrics to the song accompanying the trailer. By Reuben and the Dark, it’s called “Black Water:”

Well I get high and I get low
Oh but that’s the way
These things go
I saw my face in the mirror
Though I know I’ve changed
Though I look
Much the same
I found grace in the black water bathe my soul
And tell my heart
I told you so
I like fate in the lion’s cage
And wait for my time to come
But I’m begging please
I need this so
More than you’ll ever know
Oh well, I get high and I get low
Oh, but that’s the way these things go
I saw my face in the mirror
And though I know I’ve changed
Though it looks
Much the same
I found grace in the black water bathe my soul
And tell my heart
I told you so

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He’s dead, she’s dead, they’re dead, so now what?

I’ve experienced some loss and grief, and so have you. This past year Netflix has brought us a couple of high-profile short series that, you might have noticed, have death and its aftermath at the center: the unlikely-friends-comedy-mystery Dead to Me and the Ricky Gervais comedy After Life.

I’ve watched them both – Dead to Me when it came out in the spring, and After Life just Related imagethis past weekend. Neither was entirely satisfying, and I’ll say that Dead to Me was especially disappointing considering the cast and that I was predisposed to dislike After Life anyway.

This won’t be a full-scale review, but more of a (brief) reflection on what interested me in both shows: the particular aspects of grief and loss they evoked.

Dead to Me stars Christina Applegate as Jen, a woman whose husband was killed in a hit-and-run accident while out jogging. At a grief retreat, she’s befriended by Judy, played by the wonderful Linda Cardellini (you may know her from Mad Men). There are all kinds of plot twists and the show lurches between dark comedy and more than one mystery – not only who killed Jen’s husband, but who exactly Judy is and why she’s latched on to Jen. I eventually lost interest in the plot machinations. Less convolution would have served the story well.

But there was a truth at the core of Dead to Me that went beyond female bonding.

What gets everything going is Jen’s obsessive, driving need to know what happened. How did her husband die? Why was in that place at that time? Who did this? What could she have done differently? Was she herself at all responsible?

It’s a natural series of questions for this character, given the very real mystery and crime that caused her husband’s death. Nonetheless, it highlights, rather effectively, similar questions that any less dramatic death tends to raise in the hearts of the living: How did this happen? Whose fault is it? Could we have done anything differently?

And whether the death in question was sudden or expected, accidental, natural or criminal, whether our initial reaction is acceptance, relief or shock, eventually the questions and doubts hit, and depending on the specifics and who we are, we might spend some time wondering about it all and even obsessing about our own mysteries. We run scenarios in our head, we ponder the chain of choices that got the dead to the point at which death found them and wonder if there could have been different choices made that would have cleared a different path.

And – as Jen discovers – sometimes the answers we uncover can make us, at the very least, uncomfortable, or even rock our world. When death irrupts into life, the living suddenly find themselves with access to the dead’s secrets – as we go through our parents’ houses and papers, our spouses’ and friends’ records and letters. Some questions are answered, but more will probably be raised – with no one around to answer them any more. We thought we knew them, we thought we understood, we were confident that past events told one story, but in fact the real story might have been something quite different all along.

The thing is, this is true all the time, even apart from death. How well do we know others? Not very well. We live in a narrative that’s only a sliver of reality. That doesn’t make it unreal, necessarily – although then again, it might be.  Death has the power to force the question – what really happened here? What did I do wrong? What did I do right? Did I understand anything at all?

That’s the real, essential question of Dead to Me, and I just wish that it had more of a place in the show than wacky hijinks and mystery for its own sake.

After Life is also dark, also a comedy, none of that unexpected as it comes from the mind and pen of Ricky Gervais. I’m not a huge fan of Gervais, especially in his self-important Professional Atheist guise, although I did like The Office and Extras and very much – very much –  appreciate his firm dismissal of transgender activism and other aspects of Cancel Culture. He’s one of the few consistent public figures out there on this score: Yes, I have the right to express my views, no matter how noxious they’re judged to be – and that means others do as well.

Gervais plays Tony, a man whose wife died of cancer some months before we get rolling. They were together for twenty-five years, and childless. Tony works at a small-town newspaper and spends his days having foul-tempered run-ins with various townspeople and co-workers. Episodes are peppered with Tony watching videos left by his wife when she was in the hospital, as well as videos he made of their life together.

The bottom line of the plot here is: Tony has lost his world, and doesn’t see a reason to Image result for after life gervaiskeep existing. Suicide is continually on his mind, even when he chooses against it – that choice gives him, as he puts it, a “superpower” – to keep on living life exactly as he pleases, saying and doing what he wants, knowing that at any point he can just end it.

After a few episodes of this jerk behavior, we have a shift – a decision Tony makes results in a tragedy (although he never really takes ownership of it), which results in him rethinking things – along with a few other encounters, he comes to understand that, yes, he has a “superpower”  – to impact the lives of others for good.

So…(again, spoiler alert) – the last episode gives us the equivalent of a Hallmark/Lifetime movie or It’s a Wonderful Life as Tony opens up to life again, finally realizes that he’s not the only person in the world who’s suffering and sprinkles the fairy dust of good deeds over his surroundings. It’s almost shockingly sentimental.

There’s truth about grief and loss in After Life. Dead to Me brings out the questions a death can prompt. After Life centers on the wrenching world-shifting of loss, the question of what is the world now if my world as I knew and loved it is gone? As well as the possible answer of – it’s whatever and it doesn’t matter and so what.

Probably the truest statement in After Life is Tony’s account of his feelings – he’s an atheist remember – that  “I’d rather be nowhere with her than somewhere without her.” As I’ve written before, one of the flashes of empathy I experienced in the aftermath of my husband’s death was just that kind of feeling – being drawn to where ever the deceased was. I wasn’t tempted myself – honestly, I wasn’t – but I understood, in a way that I never had before, how someone, completely lost and thrown out of their world by this kind of loss, could attempt to follow.

The other very true big thing in After Life is the role of others in pulling us out of a loss-centered existence back into life. For Tony, it’s his dog – every time he’s seriously tempted to kill himself, the presence and needs of the dog pulls him back.

The dog plays another interesting role that I’ve not seen commented on – perhaps I’m reading too much into it.

Tony is a person with some warmth, but he’s also got (not surprisingly) that Gervais cruel humor thing going on, even with those he loves. Besides the videos left by his wife, Tony watches old videos that he’d made of moments with her – and up to a point, most of these moments involve him surprising her in a borderline cruel way – dumping water on her, and so on. But then, as events start to turn and some light begins to dawn to break through Tony’s nihilism, the clip he watches has a different tone – it’s the moment when he awakens his wife, not with a loud noise or water, but with this brand new puppy, a ribbon tied around its neck. A sign of the goodness of which he’s capable – a reminder.

Back to the bigger truth – it’s what I found over and over again. In the face of loss, I had to ask a question, and the question centered around my kids. How do I want them to live? They lost their dad at a young age. Devasting. Life-changing. Potentially disastrous. How do I want them to live with that? If I choose to live my life defined by loss and who’s not there any more, that’s one thing – bad enough – but to raise kids to be centered on the hole, the shadow, the absence – instead of on the joy that life promises – well, that’s just cruel and even a little sick, isn’t it?

And what follows from that?

If I want this for my kids – why not want it for myself as well?  If it’s good enough for them – to move on and embrace reality, which includes joy as well as pain – it’s good enough for me, too. Live the way you hope those you love will live.

So there’s the truth bombs of After Life: Death rips your world apart, and healing happens when you recognize that you’re not the center of the world.

Life goes on is one way to say it – but in a bigger, more generous sense: Life goes on, and life is full of hurting people – and despite your pain and loss – or maybe even because of it – you can do something to help.

That’s the superpower of loss, when we are honest about it and ourselves – empathy.

There are a few more things to like about After Life and some that turned me off.

  • The vulgarity is that off-the-charts British mode which makes frequent use of a word that starts with c that even I can’t stand to hear. Hate. It.
  • Gervais is, of course, an argumentative, proud atheist, and gives his characters a couple of opportunities to show off against weak theist strawmen. These are boring. The show is Gervais’ and comes from his worldview, fine. But what makes it less interesting in the end, is the underlying assumption that the theist’s answer to loss and grief is of course simplistic and easy and less “realistic” than the atheist’s. Because no believers ever grapple with mystery and shadow and questions,
  • What’s ironic about this is that the conclusion of After Life is certainly heartwarming, but also…simplistic.
  • I’m not big on demanding things of a piece of art – saying, for example, that a character shouldn’t have done something or said something. But I’m going to go ahead an violate that rule here. Gervais’ character is, indeed a selfish, self-centered jerk, but I still found his reaction to his wife’s death wanting – even in that context. He doesn’t, for example, articulate any resentment or questions about her suffering. I mean – she had cancer. So I guess she suffered? And she certainly suffered in the mental and emotional challenge of confronting death. Most people would bring this into their expressions of loss, atheists and theists both.
  • Nor do we have any sense at all of who she – Lisa – was as a person. The “loss” is all about Tony – about his life and his loss and the hole in his world. Yes, it fits in a way, and simplifies the dramatic trajectory, but it’s almost too simplistic. A big part of recovery in loss, I discovered, is being able to live with the dead in a healthy way – not as ghosts, not as dead and buried, but as a presence whose existence had – and has – meaning. You know you are turning the corner when “thank you that this person existed” begins to outweigh “dammit, this person’s gone” in your thinking.
  • And that’s a thought that’s echoed in a broader context by another character in the series – a woman that Tony encounters in the cemetery. He goes to visit his wife’s grave, she’s there visiting her husband’s of 49 years: I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t take, I might lose something that that bad thing eventually took me to. You shouldn’t regret anything or think: “Well, if I went back, I might do this or I might do that”

 

All fine. But in the end After Life falls way short because, ironically, the atheist worldview that critiques Christianity for being all simplistic-pie-in-the-sky-easy-answers offers…easy answers. Why? Because mystery and meaning essentially have no place. Tony learns to live better and move on because he finally listens to the people who are constantly telling him he’s good and funny and “lovely.” And his dog needs him. That’s really….it.

This Baptist blogger puts it very well, I think: 

 Far from portraying grief in grey or gritty terms, the series’ world is permanently sun-lit and serene. Tony lives in a fictional town which is lightly populated, he works a dead-end job but is obviously affluent, giving the whole sequence of events a dream-like, heavenly feel. This is undoubtedly intentional, but one has to question the creative ambition behind this. Are we being consoled that grieving without God and without future hope is hard but ultimately enlightened? Are we really probing the pain of personal loss by using utopia as a backdrop?

The conclusions of the drama are as sunny as the summer bleached pavements on which it unfolds. At the opening of After Life Tony is at war with the world, standing up to opportunist thieves, feeling irked by other people’s eating habits, threatening a school bully with being bludgeoned to death with a hammer, starkly rejecting a date, showing impatience with his elderly father, and knowingly helping someone else to commit suicide. So far, so fearless. But the gradual turn around in Tony’s life is hard to quantify against these earlier behaviours, his empathy for others seeming to be restored through conversations with an elderly widow and a feckless psychotherapist. The resolution to the drama is vacuously redemptive with Tony’s goodness turning around the lives of all who are in his orbit. He resolves to treat others well as a means of grace, reserving his ire only for those who deserve to be handled with contempt.

This is all too easy. It is such a shame that a programme which purports to probe grief, which interrogates God, which heralds humanism, is so lacking in self-awareness and auto-critique. Gervais writes as though Beckett never had, as though existential angst is a thing of the past, as though creation simply awaits its redemption through human good. This is desperately naive, and utterly insufficient to face the true realities of living in the rough stuff of a broken world. Gervais does not want God but he longs for good, he does not want absolutes but he does want altruism, he wants to talk about grief but only as a vehicle for humanistic grace. There are depths to loss which are not plumbed here, there are anxieties and contradictions and cross-pressures which plague our existence as human beings, there are deep wounds which cannot be healed lightly, and After Life does little to address or grapple with any of this.

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— 1 —

Much blogging this past week, one post of which migrated over to Catholic World Report. 

Look for some concentrated Mary Magdalene posting coming up over the next week, considering her feast is a bit more than a week away. Also much more Spain blogging – I’ll be doing more detailed posts on the main sites we saw.

Remember my short store The Absence of War, is available here. I have sharing enabled on it, so you can get a few reads for the price of one, I’m thinking.

Also, please check out Son #2’s new novel, Crystal Embers here. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free) And his blog, focused mostly on film, here. 

Reviewer Steven McEvoy on Crystal Embers:

I would describe this story as a retelling of the tale of Saint George and the Dragon, but from a completely different angel. George has been released from his role in the military after a long and hard-fought civil war. He has been sent home, but home is his men, the battles, and the adventure. He does not know where he fits, and a quiet desperation keeps gripping him. His wife, Virginia, is lost in her own way. Her husband that returned from war is not man she remembers leaving or had built up in her memory. And she is no longer in charge or the lands and has a stranger sharing her bed. George is known as the hero who ended the war. She mourns the loss of her child, and it is a child he never met. They encounter a dragon on their land and both of them become enthralled by it. But everyone expects the hero of the war to kill the dragon. 

 

 

 — 2 —

To break things up, here are a bunch of menus from restaurants in Guadalupe, Spain, taken on a brief pre-dinner walk – so I could return to the hotel room, study and translate before we were actually sitting at a table, panicking under a waiter’s steady gaze.

 

 

 

 

— 3 —

A few interesting links:

Yet another article on how modern educational methods have screwed everything up:

Many teachers have told me that they’d like to spend more time on social studies and science, because their students clearly enjoy learning actual content. But they’ve been informed that teaching skills is the way to boost reading comprehension. Education policy makers and reformers have generally not questioned this approach and in fact, by elevating the importance of reading scores, have intensified it. Parents, like teachers, may object to the emphasis on “test prep,” but they haven’t focused on the more fundamental problem. If students lack the knowledge and vocabulary to understand the passages on reading tests, they won’t have an opportunity to demonstrate their skill in making inferences or finding the main idea. And if they arrive at high school without having been exposed to history or science, as is the case for many students from low-income families, they won’t be able to read and understand high-school-level materials.

The Common Core literacy standards, which since 2010 have influenced classroom practice in most states, have in many ways made a bad situation worse. In an effort to expand children’s knowledge, the standards call for elementary-school teachers to expose all students to more complex writing and more nonfiction. This may seem like a step in the right direction, but nonfiction generally assumes even more background knowledge and vocabulary than fiction does. When nonfiction is combined with the skills-focused approach—as it has been in the majority of classrooms—the results can be disastrous. Teachers may put impenetrable text in front of kids and just let them struggle. Or, perhaps, draw clowns.

 

-4–

Speaking of reading, here’s a list of anticipated (by some) books for the rest of the year. Yes, I’m looking forward to Richard Russo’s new book – and a few others on the list. 

 

 

–5 —

 

Maybe you’ll find something to share here – from the “Secular Pro-Life” Facebook page – “Describe being Pro-Life, using a movie (or TV) quote.” 

And if you want to go darker, you can check out the Dank Pro-Life Memes pages on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I mean – you don’t have to …but if you want to…

 

— 6 —

Who is Sister Deirdre Byrne, mentioned by President Trump in his recent speech?

 

 

— 7 —

More:

Wearing a black veil and full-length white habit, Byrne enters an office at the Catholic Charities Medical Clinic in D.C.’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood with apologies for running late. A minor but emergent surgery had presented a few hours earlier. She performed the surgery in a small but well-equipped room down the hall; for more complex surgeries, she works out of a number of affiliated hospitals.

The modest clinic, a convent until it was renovated in the 1980s, resembles any private practice suite. A tour of the first floor reveals a closet-sized but wellstocked pharmacy, a lab, an ultrasound, three exam rooms, and a patient counseling room. Upstairs, there’s a wellappointed dental clinic and a light-filled chapel. There are two full-time doctors in addition to Byrne, several nurse practitioners, and rotating medical students, including some from Georgetown.

It’s clear that Byrne knows everyone in the building and everyone knows her. She’s a bit of a wisecracker, genially answering questions from colleagues and patients, quick with a touch and a greeting. The work of a surgeon and former medical director includes holding doors open for patients, helping to carry a baby stroller down stairs, and directing UPS deliveries.

It’s an informal atmosphere, seemingly lacking in hierarchy. “They all call me Sister Dede,” she says.

Byrne estimates that most of the clinic’s patients live well below the federal poverty line (about $24,000 for a family of four and about $12,000 for an individual). About half are undocumented. Few patients have insurance, but many pay what they can. “It helps with their dignity,” Byrne says.

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, hello there. It’s been busy, hasn’t it? Click back for posts on various other subjects, including my tour of some different kind of Triduum moments here in Birmingham.  I’m Thursdayjust going to digest today. Maybe more later, but probably not.

Watching: We’ll get the negatives out of the way first. Against my better judgment and probably in violation of some moral code, I watched Veep again this week, and man, it just gets worse and worse. I don’t mean in terms of language and such – it’s always “bad” in that respect, but rather in terms of plotting and character and just the whole “humor” department, which is a problem when you’re a “comedy.” This was a total, uncomfortable mess, even more forced than usual. Bah.

Then, also against my better judgment, I finished off season 1 and the first three episodes of season 2 of Killing Eve, the trendy Show of the Moment. Why did I pick it up again after being not impressed the first time around? Well, probably because I didn’t have a book to grab me and after six days of Being With People I needed down time with fake people whose lives did not involve piano or organ lessons, thinking about exams, graduations or me preparing meals.

Verdict? No change. Well – maybe a change, since I like it even less than I did after the first viewing chunk. I continue to like all of the actors very much, but the whole thing strikes me as a shallow exercise in (feeble) wit and style. In that way, it reminds me of House of Cards which I stopped watching after season 2 because in all of the conniving, there was never anything of moral consequence at stake.  How odd that this show – which revolves around the quest to find a professional assassin, for heaven’s sake Image result for killing eve– leaves me with the same feeling. In this case, it’s not that no one is trying to stop the evil (as was the case with House of Cards – everyone was a bad guy), it’s that the reasons they’re in pursuit of this killer are so ambiguous and weird, it becomes all just no more than a psycho-sexual game. Which perhaps is the point, and not something I have an inherent objection to. No, my problem is that the motives of the primary pursuer – Eve, played by Sandra Oh – have been, since the beginning, opaque. We know little about her past, why she’s in this line of work, what’s motivated her in the past, or even what her expertise is. Here she is, for some reason, fixated on this killer. I would imagine that the conceit of a cat-and-mouse game between killer and the law could be legitimately framed in a way to bring out themes of mutual obsession and a twisted sense of desire that in some way echoes a romantic pursuit, but my problem with Eve is that whatever is there seems to come from nowhere and is, as I said, all style and no substance.

If there’s nothing human at stake, it’s hard for humans to be truly interested, and not just entertained. 

Listening:

Finally got back into In Our Time after a winter’s hiatus. Yesterday was this episode on the Great Famine with lots of interesting and balanced discussion on how to deal with humanitarian crises and the complex causes of same.

Musically, a bunch of pieces tossed out by M’s piano teacher to consider for a next piece to work on, including this, this and this. He’s settled on this Prokofiev, which is pretty crazy, but I say that at the beginning of every new piece: No way he can play that. And somehow, every time, thanks to talent, (some) hard work and an excellent teacher,  he does.

Should I write a heartfelt Instagram microblog with a photo of him at the piano to inspire you to believe in yourself, overcome challenges and achieve your goals?

Nah. 

Also, as I’ve mentioned before, this organist. We listened to several of his performances, including this 1812 Overture, this very fun Pirates of the Caribbean and this duet with a pianist of Shostakovich’s Waltz #2, which we play on the piano together.

This evening, I listened to some John Fields Piano Sonatas, which I liked very much, and then a couple of Schubert lieder, including this – why? (Since I usually don’t listen to vocal music while I’m reading – can’t concentrate) – because it was part of the book I was reading, and I wanted to fill out the atmosphere. And the book?

Reading: Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather

The only other Cather books I’ve read are the obligatory-for-Catholic-literary-types Death Comes for the Archbishop a few times and then, a couple of years ago, The Professor’s House. You can read my post about it here. Re-reading it, I can see some of the same concerns in Lucy. It’s interesting.

So first, my denseness. I saw references to this as a “novella” and so knew it wouldn’t be very long. I read it on my Kindle , but not on an actual Kindle app – from this website, with continual scrolling. No pages, and no progress bar. So I’d been reading for a while, a lot had happened, and I got to the end of the current webpage. No more scrolling. Okay. It seemed like an abrupt ending, but perhaps that was the point? I shrugged. That was interesting,  I thought.

I then turned to an article I’d skimmed earlier – this one about Joanne Woodward (sorry, NYTimes, so yes, paywall..sometimes. I find that reading things on different devices can sometimes work around those limitations), who adored this book and always hoped to make a film about it. I got to the end of the article, which described the last sentence of the novel, and I thought, Wait, what? That wasn’t the end *I* read! 

So I returned to the book and sure enough, down there on the bottom was a “next” button. The book has three “books”  – and I’d only read the first!

But by that time, I was tired, so there we have this evening’s read. Which is good, because I wasn’t ready to leave that world quite yet.

Lucy Gayheart is a young woman from a small Nebraska town who is a music student, teacher and accompanist in Chicago. The book opens with Lucy on break back home and then we quickly hop on the train with her an travel back to Chicago. I’ll write a full post on it when I finish, but for now, I’ll mention a few things:

Yes, Willa Cather was a woman, a female writer, but even so, reading a book like this is a useful corrective to the narrow-mindedness of the present, a constrained and ignorant vision of the past in which we imagine a world peopled with gender stereotypes all happily lived and perpetuated by stock male and female characters, waiting for Betty and Gloria to liberate them.

No. Lucy is a person  – fully drawn, person who has an independent life there in the early 20th century, living on her own in the big city, earning her keep – and it’s fine. Yes, there is a sense, hovering here and there, that after this little adventure, she’ll end up back home, domesticated, giving lessons to children in the front parlor – but that’s of a piece, really, with the life trajectories of all the characters, male and female. I don’t know how the book ends yet (I keep reading “sad” in reviews, so….) but I’m going to guess that many of the characters are going to be bumping up against disappointment and constraints – not just the women.

Secondly, a few passages that were striking and beautiful. This one took my breath away, as Cather describes an experience in which Lucy catches a hint of the transcendent on one cold, crisp night:

Lucy felt drowsy and dreamy, glad to be warm. The sleigh was such a tiny moving spot on that still white country settling into shadow and silence. Suddenly Lucy started and struggled under the tight blankets. In the darkening sky she had seen the first star come out; it brought her heart into her throat. That point of silver light spoke to her like a signal, released another kind of life and feeling which did not belong here. It overpowered her. With a mere thought she had reached that star and it had answered, recognition had flashed between. Something knew, then, in the unknowing waste: something had always known, forever! That joy of saluting what is far above one was an eternal thing, not merely something that had happened to her ignorance and her foolish heart.

The flash of understanding lasted but a moment. Then everything was confused again. Lucy shut her eyes and leaned on Harry’s shoulder to escape from what she had gone so far to snatch. It was too bright and too sharp. It hurt, and made one feel small and lost.

On the train, on the way to Chicago:

Lucy undressed quickly, got into her berth, and turned off the lights. At last she was alone, lying still in the dark, and could give herself up to the vibration of the train, — a rhythm that had to do with escape, change, chance, with life hurrying forward. That sense of release and surrender went all over her body; she seemed to lie in it as in a warm bath. Tomorrow night at this time she would be coming home from Clement Sebastian’s recital. In a few hours one could cover that incalculable distance; from the winter country and homely neighbours, to the city where the air trembled like a tuning-fork with unimaginable possibilities.

Finally, this – a passage in which, to use the current lingo, I felt seen. I mean – that feeling of having one’s own life, of being able to set things right without being bothered. That’s everyone’s notion of paradise, right? Right? 

The next morning Lucy was in Chicago, in her own room, unpacking and putting her things to rights. She lived in a somewhat unusual manner; had a room two flights up over a bakery, in one of the grimy streets off the river.

When she first came to Chicago she had stayed at a students’ boarding-house, but she didn’t like the pervasive informality of the place, nor the Southern gentlewoman of fallen fortunes who conducted it. She told her teacher, Professor Auerbach, that she would never get on unless she could live alone with her piano, where there would be no gay voices in the hall or friendly taps at her door. Auerbach took her out to his house, and they consulted with his wife. Mrs. Auerbach knew exactly what to do. She and Lucy went to see Mrs. Schneff and her bakery.

The Schneff bakery was an old German landmark in that part of the city. On the ground floor was the bake shop, and a homely restaurant specializing in German dishes, conducted by Mrs. Schneff. On the top floor was a glove factory. The three floors between, the Schneffs rented to people who did not want to take long leases; travelling salesmen, clerks, railroad men who must be near the station. The food in the bakery downstairs was good enough, and there were no table companions or table jokes. Everyone had his own little table, attended to his own business, and read his paper. Lucy had taken a room here at once, and for the first time in her life she could come and go like a boy; no one fussing about, no one hovering over her. There were inconveniences, to be sure. The lodgers came and went by an open stairway which led up from the street beside the front door of the restaurant; the winter winds blew up through the halls — burglars might come, too, but so far they never had. There was no parlour in which Lucy could receive callers. When she went anywhere with one of Auerbach’s students, the young man waited for her on the stairway, or met her in the restaurant below.

This morning Lucy was glad as never before to be back with her own things and her own will. After she had unpacked, she arranged and rearranged; nothing was too much trouble. The moment she had shut the door upon the baggage man, she seemed to find herself again. Out there in Haverford she had scarcely been herself at all; she had been trying to feel and behave like someone she no longer was; as children go on playing the old games to please their elders, after they have ceased to be children at heart.

Oh, yes, the Melville – The Confidence-Man.  I read two or three chapters and then put it down. I read a few articles about the book and decided that was good enough. I could see that if my interests were slightly different, it would be worth my time, but as such – it’s not right now. 

 

Writing: Not very productive, other than blog posts. Unfortunately. Well, writing-related – it’s my Black Friday season, the time in which my author sales ranking reaches its peak for the year – between Easter and Mother’s Day, essentially. 

 

I did start collating book-related posts on this page. 

Also writing: Movie and fiction-writing son. Lots of posts here, including thoughts on silent comedies, as well as the French film Jean de Florette. 

Today’s the feast of St. Mark. We’re obviously still within the Easter Octave, so we don’t commemorate in liturgically, but here’s the page on the symbols for the four evangelists from The Loyola Kids Book of Catholic Signs and Symbols anyway:

EPSON MFP image

 

Cooking! 

No big Easter dinner here. I didn’t cook – we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. Yup! No shame.

img_20190421_113842-1But I did contribute to the cause by spending a lot of time making a pound cake on Saturday, for post-Vigil celebration. It was a great pound cake – I followed the recipe exactly and it worked well. 

Also did some Chicken Tinga from this recipe – I think last Thursday. 

Monday night: Flank steak using this rub (and steak just a bit more expensive, from Fresh Market rather than the regular grocery story. So much more flavor) and these potatoes, which are a favorite around here. 

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Clickbait. Sorry.

No, not me – this Amy:

Image result for veep the pledge abortion

Probably hardly any of you watch the HBO program Veep , but this plot point from this week’s episode has been nagging at me, so before I share thoughts on the Notre Dame fire, I’ll dash this one off.

Veep is the often funny  – although less so in the last two seasons – show featuring Julia Luis-Dreyfus as  power-desperate politician Selina Meyer and her mostly idiotic and equally craven entourage and sycophants. It’s very profane, and yes – everyone is terrible. 

It’s a show abouterrible, awful, despicable people exploiting us so they can run the country.

And it never pretends that they’re anything but that. I don’t think we’re even supposed to be conflicted about hating these people, as sometimes happens with television and film. They’re hilarious in their awfulness, but they’re still awful. I held back watching it for a while because I assumed it would be nothing but liberal/progressive entertainment types taking easy shots at Deplorables, but – I imagine because of its British roots and original showrunner – it hasn’t played that way at all.

However, I did think the show took a fairly precipitous dive in quality after the fourth season, when the original showrunner and creator of the British series (The Thick of It)  on which it was based  – Armando Iannucci –  departed. The insults and repartee got far more forced and it became almost unwatchable at times.

But here I was, along for the ride for this, the seventh and final season. Let’s check it out. Eh. Okay, with some welcome sharp satire of a Kamala Harris-type candidate and wealthy liberal donors calling the shots and making candidates dance (literally). That was good to see. But…

I’ll just cut to the chase.

In this week’s episode, one of the main characters – Amy Brookheimer, who has functioned in various capacities in Selina Meyer’s administrations and campaigns, has an abortion, and yes, it is played for satire and laughs.

She’s pregnant because of a one-night stand with a former lover and completely despicable human being Dan Egan, who’s also slept with Amy’s sister (and countless others). She waffled a bit about having the baby, but then, at the end of episode 2, she announced that she’d be having an abortion.

This week’s episode had, of course, several plot lines weaving in and out. This one was played as many abortion-related storylines are – that is, centered on suspense whether or not she’ll actually go through with it. I felt, in a way, that the way this one worked was a reflection of  and maybe even commentary on a similar plotline in Sex in the City in which one character sets out determined to have an abortion, the episode leads us to think she did – and we find out at the very end that she changed her mind and would be having the baby.

But not here. We have Amy entering the abortion clinic – clashing with (of course) caricatures of pro-life protesters in deeply profane ways, claiming yes, she’d even prayed about this, then she’s in the room with Dan who makes crass jokes about the vacuum aspiration machine on display (here’s a piece that lays out the dialogue, if you can stand it) – and then the other storylines take over and, of course, someone like me is sitting there hoping that she’d have changed her mind, but then – well, here’s our last scene of Amy in a hotel room, recovering, Dan with her, the two of them still making snappy jokes, naturally.

Yes, disappointing (I know…fiction) …and here are my takeaways.

  • What’s disappointing to me is not so much that this character had an abortion – she’s a fictional character, after all, and given who she is and who’s she’s been, an abortion fits, unfortunately.

No, what disappoints me – although not, I hasten to say, surprises me – are the explanations and justifications offered by those involved with the show. Not that they would treat abortion in this darkly “humorous” matter – I should remind you that in a previous episode, mass shootings were treated in a similar way – as welcome distractions from problems on the campaign trail and thoughts and prayers nothing but words. But  – no, it’s disappointing that, in their words, I pick up the typical attitude to abortion and “women’s choice” and so on – disappointing from human beings who have borne and raised children (actress Anna Chlumsky, who plays Amy, was actually pregnant during the shooting of a previous season). What am I saying? Is abortion exempt from dark, satirical humor? I don’t think so. Maybe. But it’s so very dark and so very horrible – you know, killing kids – that…maybe? For sure, be aware of the darkness as you go. And just maybe, despite their ideological rhetoric – they are?

  • For the fact, however, that those involved with the show discuss the matter the way they do indicate that deep within, they do understand that there is something at stake. In other words – removing an appendix or fixing a pinched nerve or knee replacement surgery aren’t subjects for dark, edgy humor – why? Because there’s not much at stake. It’s not just about social taboos. It’s dark and edgy because people know, whether they admit it or frame it so or not, what’s happening in an abortion – and that a human fetus is different than an appendix. Having an abortion impacts life – Life  – in a way that other “medical procedures” don’t. It wouldn’t be a subject for drama, “dark humor” or controversy if it weren’t. What does that tell us? Anything?

Finally, and despite the right-to-choose triumphalism of Veep personnel, considering the broader context of the abortion in the show’s plotlines and character development, I can’t help but wonder what the final impact on viewers will be. For consider this:

In that final scene, Amy gets a call from a character played by Patton Oswald, one involved in the presidential campaign of Jonah Ryan – it’s an offer to be Jonah’s campaign manager, which she accepts with ecstatic glee.

Image result for jonah ryan

But, let’s remember: Jonah Ryan is, like almost everyone else on Veep, terrible. Terrible and fairly stupid. Amy knows Jonah well and has spent years hating him. HatingBut now she’s leaping at the chance of managing the presidential campaign of a person who, if put in power, would be even more of a disaster for the country than almost any other candidate – and she knows it. But so what? She can put “campaign manager” on her resume. Because, as she chortles my schedule has been scraped clean! 

Having an abortion so you can personally profit from helping someone you know to be terrible gain even more power?

Why yes, I can’t disagree…that’s….

Dark. 

 

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