Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Everything Must Go

It's no secret that I'm a Raymond Carver fan. I love his poetry and stories, particularly the line in "Jean's TV" where he "conducts the shabby business of his life" on her telephone. In "Everything Must Go" based on Carver's story, "Why Don't You Dance?", Will Ferrell morphs into the typical Carver character, Nick, a man on the brink of loss, despair, alcoholism, and endless pools of regret. Ferrell's performance is a formidable one of restraint. One can hardly believe this is the same man who starred in "Elf." We meet Nick as he's losing his job, relapsing into a life of booze, and returning to a house where his wife has thrown all his stuff on the lawn, changed the locks, and left a note which we see in part (ie, You make me sick.) He realizes his credit cards and bank account has been frozen and so he sits on his lawn and drinks beer after beer, looking at his stuff (Best touch for Carver fans -- Nick pulls out an old viewfinder which falls apart in his hands). Without giving away too much of the plot, Nick begins to have a yard sale, enlisting the help of a young African-American boy named Kenny whose mother is taking care of an elderly woman down the street while Kenny rides his bike around the neighborhood in endless circles. Across the street, a pregnant woman moves into the house sans her husband and also provides a sounding board for Nick as he navigates the shabby business of his life.

There's nothing like seeing all your stuff in front of your house to make it look worthless. Nick refuses to part with much of it for a while until he gets into the spirit of things and decides he doesn't need it. The movie's transformations are subtle, much like Carver himself, the kindnesses not maudlin. What happens to Nick finds voice through the objects of the physical world and the actions of others. When Kenny reads Nick's book about making things easy to buy, he labels all of Nick's belongings with price tags that have titles that could easily come out of a Carver story, my favorite being the lamp -- Light Up Your Life, Don't Sit Around In the Dark. By the end, Nick has crawled out into a light of sorts with painful revelations about his wife, his drinking, and his future. At one point he tells the neighbor she needs to put up curtains so she can't see her future. But ultimately he's forced to see his and it doesn't look so good or bad. As AA advises, he's taking it one day at a time, the business of his life becomes less shabby, and we realize that maybe everything isn't lost and even though he doesn't dance, he becomes more himself, the highest goal there is.

Party Shots

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Hangover

Since the rapture appears to be miscalculated, I have continued to write! And I still have no desire to see the Hangover II. I didn't much care for the first one, except for the great Mike Tyson scene, and will be passing on this one, particularly after reading reviews that make it sound like Same Shit, Different City. Don't get me wrong -- I have an epic tolerance for boredom. When shows jump the shark in the opinions of other people, I keep watching. If not for cancellation, I probably would have watched the original 90210 cast until the nursing home years. Steve, a thirty-five year old playing a high school kid, would be my favorite, trying to kick it with the youngsters during the mandatory happy hour with apple juice in the common room before bed checks. But I digress. The Hangover again? In Thailand? No thank you. I am glad that Zach G. seems to have found a niche role as the village idiot. Not against him getting paid. Or the wonderful Ed Helms who was a comic delight in Cedar Rapids. As for Bradley Cooper, well, he did date Renee Zellwegger. I'm sure he's on his own karma-balancing act even if his acting seems a little dull. To paraphrase, I know Ryan Gosling and you are no Ryan Gosling.

And in the roundabout way, this brings me to Arnold. Yes, that Arnold. Pumping Iron Arnold, the Terminator Arnold. He has now taken the baton from Bill Clinton, previous winner of the I'm Not All That Picky Award. I watched Arnold's squeeze do an impression of Marilyn Monroe's famous Happy Birthday performance. Oh my. What's to say? Again, I know Marilyn and you're no Marilyn. People say confidence is sexy. To which I reply, not always. But alas, Arnold is merely playing out his own version of our cultural hangover which demands powerful men get caught with outside children (to quote the great "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone"). To the people who ask What was Arnold thinking? He wasn't. Like our three hapless lads in Bangkok, he's woken up from a big party and has to piece it together. Don't worry, the press will help sort out the details. And like his famous character says, I'm sure he'll be back to pick up the pieces.

Cocktail Hour
Pictures from the Rapture party to come!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Many prayers for all storm-ravaged areas . . . .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left Behind

The rapture has come and go -- still here! Thanks for all the well wishes on the project -- more soon . . .

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Rapture

Hey guys -- hope everyone is having a good week! I'm working on a big project, so I'll be back to posting soon. Happy Friday to all!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Paris Of The Midwest

\Dear Paris of the Midwest,

We will miss you. Together we did some things we should all be very proud of. We employed more people of color than any show in the history of national network television. We had blacks and whites working shoulder to shoulder and it was frictionless. We froze our tokhes to the bone until ungodly hours of the morning — and lived to laugh about it. We created a drama most critics confirmed as one of the best of the season. We started our relationship skeptical of each other, settled our differences, then got on with the business at hand. We showed the world what the D really looked like. We taught each other. And most of all, we got some folks paid! Alas, our love affair was short-lived … I think it was because not enough found out how truly beautiful we were together. I think sometimes when you break the mold the mold breaks you. I think sometimes when you lose your incentives, you lose your incentive. The governor asked the wrong people if the tax break was good for Michigan. Those folks were already getting paid. I think if the governor had vision he would have seen the people of Michigan gaining not only financially, but emotionally, artistically, and creatively. He would have seen the opportunity to promote the state worldwide as well as the tarnished image of Detroit. The tangible as well as the intangible. I think when you fall in love there are no guarantees, and life isn’t fair. Thank you, Detroit, for giving me one of the best years of my life. I will always remember you fondly.

Yours truly,

James McDaniel

Inspired By A True Story

I admit it -- I'm watching bits and pieces of Oprah's farewell season. Do I have a heart of stone? No, I think not. If I see one more of those sad song commercials, though, I might stab myself. I hate endings. Of anything. Yes, I know Detroit 187 is cancelled. I'm miffed. Beyond miffed. Anyway, I digress. In her last weeks, Oprah brought out old James Frey again for the public treatment. I read his book and thought it was a bit of a yawn. I love books about addiction and yet. It didn't ring all that true even before the "public stoning" in the words of Mr. Frey. It felt labored. It didn't have the cringe-factor I love in memoirs. Frey contends that most memoirists stretch the truth. (Variation on old joke -- How do you know if a writer is lying? His/Her lips are moving.) So I get what he's saying, but I take him to task for another issue entirely -- A Million Little Pieces didn't have the essence of truth to me. My favorites in the addiction genre are Augusten Burrough's Dry and Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. Both books have moments that get under my skin and well, make me want to have a drink. Both writers seem real in ways that I get. Are they lying? Who knows? Caroline Knapp died a few years ago and Augusten Burroughs, well, his life is so strange I'd find it hard to imagine he invented anything.

But I don't much care about whether the memoir genre is populated with truth-stretchers. It's hard to know what happened in anyone's life. I sympathize with James Frey given his predicament -- let's face it, how many of us could resist publication, the only price being saying our novel is a memoir? Our urge for "true" stories as an audience helps create these fake memoirs of which there are many current examples on the market. Cup of tea, anyone? I take pains to stick to the facts with nonfiction, but they're still my version of the facts, a narrative designed by me to put me in the best/worst light and that by the nature of any writing, will omit certain incidents. Because I can't remember. Or don't want to remember. Or can't include everything. Even so, readers always know the truth. It because of the cringe. Like art and pornography, we know it when we see it. Mr. Frey claims not to think much of the memoir genre -- that it's lesser art. I can't say that I agree except when someone is a big old liarpants. We all are, in one light, but just like the old detective show says, Just the facts. If we writers can stick to this policy given all the limitations of memory and narrative, it would be what Oprah herself would call a good thing.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it's all right." Maya Angelou

Cocktail Hour
Reading suggestion: Only As Good As Your Word Susan Shapiro

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Tuesday!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Happy Friday the 13th!

Camp Crystal Lake, ah, that famed vacation spot of my youth! I loved the Friday the 13th movies -- a poor man's Psycho. Jason Voorhees, the killer obsessed with Mommy and the young attractive youths that shunned him as a child. What could be a more potent revenge fantasy -- to come back as a monster to those who have done you harm? I know a lot of people who love Carrie for this reason as well. High school sucked? Burn the whole place down and kill everyone in your bloody gown. Avenging angels for the misfits (and yes, I definitely fit into this category) years before Glee, these figures speak to the dark parts of our psyche.

But I'm more like the grandmother in Truman Capote's heartbreaking story, "A Christmas Memory" who takes to her bed on Friday the 13th. I'm going to strap myself to the nearest couch and hope for the best. How are you guys spending the day?

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Pamela Voorhees: Did you know a young boy drowned here? He was my son. And today is his birthday." Friday the 13th

Cocktail Hour
DDV suggestion: The entire set of Big Love. It's very comforting in that, You think your life is complicated? kind of way.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Friday!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yesterday's Pictures, Today's Reality

Just watched Becoming Chaz, a documentary by The World of Wonder company, the people who did one of my favorite documentaries of all time, The Eyes of Tammy Faye. What I love about the World of Wonder documentaries is the thoughtful approach to subjects many people don't understand and the beauty they find in those worlds. Chastity Bono, daughter of Sonny and Cher, has recently decided to have a sex-change operation and start living as a man. The first transgender surgery was performed on Christine Jorgensen in 1953 (she died in 1989 on my 18th birthday) and is still in a fairly primitive form that requires testosterone shots, breast removal, and for some, "bottom" surgery to construct or remove sexual organs with varying degrees of success. Despite this incredible level of difficulty on a practical level, the documentary really speaks to the difficulty of growing up in the spotlight, the child of famous parents. Equally difficult for Chaz is the fact that his mother is considered a progressive gay icon and yet cannot refer to his new incarnation with the correct pronoun. He takes a philosophical approach to this inability, reminding us that Cher is like any other mother in struggling with his decision.

Everything is always in flux, whether we know it or not. Change happens in a way that is both unseen and dramatic. We are never who we were yesterday; realizations about our bodies, our marriages, our children, our jobs are always permeable. Most of us don't struggle with gender identity in the way that Chaz does, but we are always something different as each year passes. It strikes me as fitting that one of Cher's most famous songs is "If I Could Turn Back Time." It's kind of an anthem for her life in which she has sought through many surgeries to stay the same woman we saw on her variety hour in the 70s. It makes a strange paradoxical sense that a woman who has turned to surgery to retain a former look has a hard time with a child who has undergone surgery and pain to gain an identity that has never been but feels intrinsic to his psyche. Chaz has become who he believes himself to be while Cher strives to remain who she was. Watching clips of Chastity as a little girl is an odd nostalgic experience. If Cher could turn back time, she surely would while Chaz who is presented in his full human glory, warts and all, walks into the uncertain future, a brave pioneer in the body of a chubby forty year old man. He expresses a certain sadness about not coming to this body sooner, but the journey for all to become who we truly are is a long one and it doesn't matter when we get there, just so long as we do.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him." Booker T. Washington

Cocktail Hour -- any World of Wonder documentary!

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Wednesday!

Monday, May 09, 2011

Made In Detroit

Hey guys, here's some shots of my favorite city! Hope you're having a happy Monday!

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day

Coming to you after reading Post Secret which is one big bucket of Mother's Day angst. The holiday clearly brings up a lot of feelings, some good, some troubled. As a woman who doesn't have children and whose own mother has been dead for quite some time, this day used to be troublesome as well. But I don't feel that way anymore -- I use it to enjoy the life that my mother gave me which is an interesting one and to honor her by enjoying myself. I'm assuming that she didn't make all those sacrifices of time, money, and countless buckets of energy so I could mope. I miss her more each year and with each year, I get a deeper understanding of what she did for me. Was she perfect? Oh hells no, as the kiddies say. Was she kind of crazy wonderful? Most certainly. Did she buy me the horribly eighties prom dress of my choice? Yes. It looked awesome at the time. I can still wear it. To a party. A very eighties party. With some twist-a-beads.

As for the women out there who choose or can't have children, this one is for you as well. I understand the pressure to have a child. It's daunting the way society reveres motherhood, yet makes few accomodations to actually help women be good mothers. I'm amazed at the shitload of judgement that comes down on women when they do have children for not being perfect mothers or for choosing not to have children at all. And one day at an overpriced, overcrowded restaurant and a mimosa is not an accomadation. More maternity leave? Yes. Help with raising children? Might be nice. To the women who have the courage to have children, I salute you. Even being a halfway decent mother takes more work than anyone will ever know. And to those who don't, well, I like Bill Clinton, I feel your pain on this day, although the gym was not crowded this morning so I take my consolations where I can. And, of course, a happy Sunday to all!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been

So I go to yoga on my birthday and I'm looking in the mirror and my legs look weird. I'm thinking, God, did everything just drop as soon as the date changed, like a wicked little spell? I'm wondering why the formerly kind mirror in the studio is doing this to me as I try to take deep breaths and do tree pose. I go home and realize that I have my yoga pants on backward which accounts for the strange diaper-like appearance and the illusion that my thighs had fallen down to my knees. It was such a great birthday moment, the kind where you realize nothing has changed and that I still can't really dress myself. Also, wearing clothes unintentionally backward is supposed to be good luck. Some consolation for looking like a rube, I suppose. I put my sweater on backward the day I went to my friend Hank's funeral (not a particularly lucky day if memory serves) and spent my entire flight weeping with the v-neck down my back, wondering why the material felt so weird. I chalked it up to being emotional, but alas, in the harsh airplane bathroom, reality came upon me as I noticed that the tag was sticking out under my chin.

Having survived another birthday, one that people refer to as a milestone one, I feel pretty good. Like Baby Grouchie, I've got a GPS which isn't always reliable, but usually gets me where I need to go. And so many wonderful birthday wishes! I remember being told that I was born on the day of the largest protest in the United States (against the war in Vietnam) and consider it fitting. Born into unrest, Generation X, and the era of the Tom Collins (a drink I haven't had since I was seven and snuck a sip at a party), I hope the second part is as fun, exciting, and hopeful as the first. I may not ever know where I'm going, but I know where I've been and as any good detective novel will tell you, that's a start.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The past is not a package one can lay away." Emily Dickinson

Cocktail Hour
Drinking dvd suggestion: Jack Goes Boating

Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Birthday Thoughts

Thirty things I've learned in forty years (my list without thinking about it too much)--

There is more than enough of everything to go around.

I want to like lettuce. I don't. But I still kind of like salad. This is a profound mystery.

Every artist postcard I have on my bulletin board has met a bad end -- suicide, murder, overdose. Except Raymond Carver who died of lung cancer which is probably not a much cheerier option. Still, they had some pretty great lives.

Time does not heal all wounds.

Wearing high heels is worth the pain.

Whether your life is one wacky adventure or an unending heartache is largely a matter of perspective.

I really like to write. When it's going well and the house is clean. Which is about ten percent of the time. Still, I'd be lost without it.

When you can be kind, you should. When you can be clever, make sure your audience enjoys it.

If you bring some levity to any situation, you will always be welcome. Also if you bring good champagne.

Black and gray are my favorite colors. If I created paint chips, I'd have colors like Detroit Gray and Little Black Dress.

Prepare for the best. What you invite, usually shows up. If the worst comes knocking, well, maybe it's the best. Who the hell knows?

You know who your friends are in a crisis.

Charles Schultz was a genius.

Don't have too many ideas about what you will or will not do. These are almost always challenged.

Don't worry about what other people think. You live with your choices.

Avoid the sun. Your skin will thank you.

Woody Allen's best advice -- whatever works. Caveat -- what works for Woody in the love department, well, it might not work for you. Annie Hall is the saddest movie on the planet.

Make yourself happy. Takes the burden off of those around you.

God loves everyone. This can be upsetting sometimes, particularly if you're in a Gore Vidalesque fit of jealousy. It's okay. Deep breath.

Pets make people happy. Not me, other people.

Don't watch Dexter without checking to make sure your doors are locked first. This is important.

Do not try to change other people. This strategy will work as well as the likelihood of me getting a tattoo.

Don't let your appendix burst. Seriously. This is a bad idea.

Baby Grouchie sleeps a lot. He feels he's earned it.

The phrase "Kung-fu treachery" applies in a lot more situations than you might think.

Time is not on anyone's side. Moisturizer, though, does help.

When in doubt, Johnny Cash makes everything better.

I will watch James Gandolfini in anything.

I have better friends than I could ever have hoped for.

Put your energy toward what you want, not what you don't want.

It's never too late to change whatever you want.

Benedictions and Maledictions
Thanks so much for all the birthday wishes! You guys are the best!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Why 1971 Was Awesome

Enjoy the fantastic Shaft, circa 1971. Some fun facts about my birth year --

1971 The Frozen Margarita was invented for a Dallas Restaurant.

1971 'Brown Sugar' by the Rolling Stones hits number 1 on the charts.

1971 The final episode of 'The Beverly Hillbillies' TV show is aired.

1971 French's Onion Bits were introduced.

1971 The first Hard Rock Cafe was opened in London.
1971 Greenpeace founded.

1971 The Quarter Pounder was introduced at McDonald's for 53 cents.

1971 The home food processor, Le Magi-Mix, was introduced in Paris by Pierre Verdon, also the inventor of the restaurant version, Robot-Coupe.

1971 The first Starbucks opened in Seattle.

1971 The coldest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was recorded at Prospect Creek Camp on the Alaskan Pipeline in northern Alaska - minus 80 degrees F.

1971 Smoke-flavored SPAM was introduced.

1971 'One Bad Apple' by the Osmonds reached Number 1 on the charts.

1971 Neil Hogan of the musical group The Cranberries was born on Christmas day.

1971 'Want Ads' by Honey Cone hit #1 on the charts

1971 Sir John Boyd Orr died. A Scottish scientist and nutrition expert, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to eliminate world hunger.

1971 Coca Cola introduces the plastic bottle.

1971 Disney World opened at Orlando, Florida.

1971 Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York legalized the year round sale of oysters. Previously their sale had been illegal from May to August.