Geriatric hostel

At a weak moment today I caved and paid money to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in a real live movie house. I took a seat on the end in the very last row and immediately regretted it, since the lady in front of me kept standing up to stretch her back and legs, which was distracting. I'm working on my tolerance issues, though, so for a time I tried to let it slide. I tried to remember what it's like for me to suffer through a concert in the seats at Carnegie Hall, and then I remembered that I stay away from Carnegie Hall for precisely that reason (knees). When the movie started I assumed she would stay seated, but nope, and when my empathy inevitably ran out I just moved up to a middle row. It felt like the path of least hostility and one I wouldn't regret later, unlike the embarrassing habit I have lately of blowing my fuse in the public square, and I managed to do it without acting even a little bit huffy, which is proof that I'm finally maturing. Namaste.

I wouldn't call this movie "the worst," nor was it successful, it was just... a diversion, I guess. Nice to get the walk in. Nice to see some faces. Support the troops. On a cinematic level it was like reaching the popcorn in the middle of the bag, after you've worked your way through the delicious buttery top layer but before you hit the kernels at the bottom, which is where you really start wondering what you're doing with your life. Bland, but better than eating an actual paper bag.

Most of the plots made zero sense; they were all weird little roundabouts of repetitive scenes with no forward motion. Why would you waste these actors that way? They're a precious species, you don't invite them over to a pool party just to make them tread water the whole time! Let them swim laps! Toss out some floaties! Serve piña coladas! Plus the whole gist of the enterprise is that these folks come here to lead vital lives that still have purpose and value, yet the storylines treat them all like daffy old bumblers who pause to contemplate their own mortality approximately every five minutes then get right back to bumbling. I did pay to see the first incarnation, of course, which had the exact same problems, so joke's on me for being some kind of starry-eyed miracle-expecter.

Richard Gere, though: still a fox. 

Maximal minimalism

The anti-dream home! I'm up with the minimalist trend and all, but I suspect there's also a point where distilling something to its essence (i.e., what's necessary) departs from or in fact inflicts pain upon what's actually meaningful (i.e., the point at which something becomes an empty shell, or worse, a back-breaking futon mat on an $8,000 slab of hardwood). You can clear out all the clutter, but isn't that occasionally where the genius—or the joy—is? Plus where do you spill your coffee? Where are the pillows? The lamps? The bedside tables piled with dust-collecting curios and eyedrops and books? And what is up with the Blair Witch/Goody Proctor chair of nothingness in the corner? Do you just perch there and gaze out the window at your own soul fleeing into the desert?

It comes down to personal boundaries, of course, and god knows there are many things about this bedroom that resemble my own, but that's due to laziness and not being able to pound nails into a brick wall, not deliberate choices I'm trying to repackage as an artful conceit. And in the language of my peoples: To assume that everything can or should be reduced to the metaphorical level of a Haiku is to discount the potential value of a sonnet, is it not? 

+ anyhoo: from tumblr, natch

Previously covered

J.Crew is getting slammed hard these days and as a spurned former lover I am happy to pile on. Back in the '05–'10 "work-from-home" era a good 80% of my closet was fed by the 'Crew, and although I'm externally employed again, that's been whittled down to two pairs of black pants, three cashmere sweaters, and a long sleeve navy blue boatneck tee that I'll maybe part with when I die. All were purchased in 2011, which in fashion years might as well be 1850. Their entire current lineup is too sheer, short, tight, boxy, weird, cheap, expensive, terrible. I mean, any way you slice it, these are terrible:

The truth is I am a square, but squares need clothes, too, clothes that fit actual people who are non-twentysomething non-fashion-heads, which J.Crew once reliably supplied. Even today I would wear almost anything from their August 2007 catalog (subtitled "A Fall Story"!), including many items made for fellas.

What I really need is a lot more of this (i.e., classic cuts and pops of color, not smiling girls in foreign lands hoisting props aloft):

...and a whole lot less of whatever this is supposed to be:

Chinese Foot Chart

Every part of us
alerts another part.
Press a spot in
the tender arch and
feel the scalp
twitch. We are no
match for ourselves
but our own release.
Each touch
uncatches some
remote lock. Look,
boats of mercy
embark from
our heart at the
oddest knock.

— Kay Ryan, "Chinese Foot Chart"

Fast & furious pasta

By all means cook up this simple & speedy pasta concoction starring breadcrumbs & capers the next time you're dying for an easy post-workday bellyful of carbs. As I am every single post-workday of my mature adult life. Be liberal with the red pepper flakes unless you are Groucho, in which case try... well, whatever the spice equivalent of jicama is. Styrofoam maybe? Sawdust? Air?

p.s. I did not have shallots so I used a yellow onion. And I added chopped parsley whilst skipping the parm. I like to think I made the right choice, but YMMV obvs (SMH).

BTW secrets to shooting food from the NYT. As with most things in life, it comes down to lighting.

Words, recently

sprezzatura. foreign term (??) :: studied nonchalance : perfect conduct or performance of something (as an artistic endeavor) without apparent effort // i.e., Roger Angell on George Frazier

courgette. noun :: zucchini (!!) Origin: French, diminutive of courge gourd. // NOTE: I first misread this as "courage gourd" and my respect for zucchini increased a billionfold. Swashbuckling hero vegetable! Then I adjusted my eyeballs and now all my dreams are dead.

shambolic. adjective :: very messy or disorganized

hie. intransitive verb :: to go quickly; hasten

facile. adjective :: too simple : not showing enough thought or effort; done or achieved in a way that is too easy

foofaraw. noun :: frills and flashy finery; a disturbance or to-do over a trifle

recondite. adjective :: not understood or known by many people



I have confidence

From The Spy in the Sandwich, an appreciation of "The Sound of Music" (as part of the "Best Shot" series at The Film Experience):

In turn I have become suspicious of the easy jadedness of critics when they lament about sentimentality in movies. Not everything has to be muscular and restrained and morose — masculinist standards that are also responsible for the demonising of romance novels and the films of Nora Ephron.  Properly handled, sentimentality has its place in popular culture — and Robert Wise has done nothing short of a miracle in the handling of it in "The Sound of Music."

During my sophomore year in college, nine or ten of us crammed our cabooses into my friend Erin's dorm room to watch "The Sound of Music" on TV, and we sang along to every song sans shame or irony. Obviously it was a glorious evening. A couple of years later, as our final project for a speech class, Erin and I gave a 20-minute presentation on "The Sound of Music," punctuated by audio samples on a cassette recorder to illustrate various narrative themes. (This following a speech on eugenics.) Obviously we got an A; it was a huge hit student-wise and the professor thanked us when we finished. And I'm not boasting about the quality of our shtick—which btw really was aces—I'm talking about the subject of it. I'm talking about the power of a shared reference point, the kind that you carry with you through life, that little tuning fork of recognition that taps the heart and rings out "this was the year" or "this was the place" or "these were the friends": people need joy, treacly or not, in whatever form it takes.

See also: I Regret to Inform You That My Wedding to Captain von Trapp Has Been Canceled


For the love of TV clothing

I spent many hours last week watching "The Honourable Woman" on Netflix and wondering how anybody can possibly cry that much. The only other human actor I've ever seen weep with such dexterity was Carey Mulligan when she starred as The Seagull in "The Seagull" back in 20XX on Broadway. And as much as I was challenged by the moral conundrums posed by this baller chick-driven miniseries and enjoyed the performances of Maggie Gyllenhaal, Stephen Rea, Janet McFuckingTeer, et al., by the time it was over I was positively elated just to crawl across the finish line. But good god almighty her wardrobe! It just screams "classy baroness with a dangerous past who sleeps in a hygienic safe room somewhere in the center of London" doesn't it? From this witchy midnight blue silken top alone I may never recover:


The power of delete

Matt Buchanan @ The New Yorker:

Snapchat highlights the power of deletion in resisting the gentle totalitarianism of endless sharing. Deletion pokes holes in these records; it is a destabilizing force that calls into question their authority, particularly as complete documentation of a person’s online identity, which Facebook and Twitter increasingly purport to be. It is the only way to be selective, to make choices, when everything is shared. I delete tweets frequently from Twitter, for instance. (I have jokingly called it “snaptweeting.”) There is a general expectation that a tweet will stick around, particularly if it is somehow embedded in the greater Twitter infrastructure, for example when somebody favorites or retweets it. Its disappearance shortly thereafter breaks the system in a tiny way, generating a hairline crack in that model of who I am.

I've set my Twitter account to auto-delete tweets after a week and am often tempted to flee it altogether. I've joined and quit Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr multiple times: these services are fun and useful to me until they're not, at which point I make my Irish exit & burn it all to the ground. My need to broadcast is forever at odds with a desire to disappear into the crowd without a trace, and it's all topped off by the simple reality that nobody needs more of anything from me. Except this blog, yo.


Green Tea

There is this tea
I have sometimes,
Pan Long Ying Hao,
so tightly curled
it looks like tiny roots
gnarled, a greenish-gray.
When it steeps, it opens
the way you woke this morning,
stretching, your hands behind
your head, back arched,
toes pointing, a smile steeped
in ceremony, a celebration,
the reaching of your arms.

— "Green Tea," Dale Ritterbusch

Glamour girls

Glamour is very different than beauty. Beauty, to me, is a structural, physical thing that I don’t feel I have. The rules are much stricter. Glamour is a much more inclusive and embracing thing that every woman can take part in. It doesn’t have to be vaudeville, but it’s how a certain spirit shows through, how you put yourself together, and the little touches you do. Glamour doesn’t rely on how big or small your budget is, either. It’s just showing little signs of exuberance, whatever that means to you. Madeleine Albright may not be a structural beauty, but I think she’s really glamorous. She loves brooches, and has a whole collection of these amazing statement pins that she wears for different occasions. That’s what I mean about glamour: it’s exuberance. Most people would look at me like, ‘Are you insane? Madeleine Albright’s glamorous?’ I absolutely think she is because she’s doing the best with herself. That’s glamour to me.
— Poppy King

Women need you to show your age

Frances McDormand took a lot of heat at the Golden Globes for...I don't know, having an honest face? Not caring about a prize? Caring about a prize? Not looking like an ingenue? Not caring that she isn't an ingenue? Any way you slice it, BRAVO.

p.s. I saw her and Joel Coen having dinner at Café Luxembourg a couple of years ago and was so excited-yet-trying-to-be-cool that I almost stabbed myself with my steak knife.


What goes around

Does poking along this way make me seem a little unambitious? Most runners I know are always looking to increase their speed and their distance — to excel. In other aspects of my life, I show plenty of drive. Friends have urged me to try for a marathon. But no, I’m not going to try to prove anything when I run. I’m just running, and I want to keep doing it.
— John Schwartz @ NYT

Queen of the Surface Streets

What a tremendous shit of a day! Only this song saved me, and not for the first time. Everybody (I hope) has their own personal leviathan of an anxiety-calmer, basically the musical equivalent of a rabbit's foot that you keep around for good luck or to clutch during mental emergencies. I've formed no special attachment to any other DeVotchKa song, but this happens to be mine. When I sense the day is going to be a disaster before I even leave the house, I know it's time to dial it up loud on repeat or risk not even surviving all the way to work.

I can't describe music in musical terms but here are specific things I love:

  1. The incredibly slow, moseying windup, like it's a cool, early summer morning and the wind is drifting sweetly in through an open window and we have all the time in the world to lie around drinking coffee and reading the paper, and then the way the vocals seem to just surface (heh) out of the ether at :29 with hardly any fanfare
  2. The drums kicking in at :47 in the same low-key but reassuring manner that makes you think, Well I didn't even notice they were missing, yet instantly welcome them
  3. The lyrics are a form of subway-platform-related empathy and seem to really get me on an existential level. Yes, it is usually like walking into the mouth of hell! Yes, it does frequently smell of urine!
  4. The violins rising & dipping the whole way through but especially at 1:31
  5. "And I'll give my days to the Neanderthals"
  6. "I'll go swimming in the wet concrete and I'll cast my pearls at the unpaved street"
  7. The pronunciation of "hallucination" at 2:15 in some ancient curling tongue
  8. The little Mark Mothersbaugh/"Rushmore"-like string-plucking/bell break at 2:40, where the vibe is "chill, everybody, we've got this" & then the vocals surfacing (heh) again at 3:14
  9. "You're the queen of all the surface streets / I'm a wiener boy that you're here to meet" = come on, this song mentions hot dogs
  10. The dreamy, distracted way it just trails off at the end, leaving the impression that they either (a) inexplicably grew bored with their own creation or (b) hated to end it so much they had to put everything down and just walk away, probably (c) shaking their heads in sorrow and fulfillment

Knowing when to quit

No I'm not quitting this blog, I have many idiot things to report on now and in the future. But I did drop out of the NYC Half this week, after concluding that training for a 13-mile race in the middle of winter is something I absolutely do not want to participate in. And maybe not during any other season either.

This wasn't an easy decision for me to make, because I'm a Capricorn, a born climber, and quitting things is very un-goat-like. I mean, I quit things all the time, so I'm great at it, but it's always done with much hand-wringing and self-loathing and certainly isn't something I like to admit. I want the world to think I'm a finisher and I have no problem lying about that. So the fact that I'm putting it right out here in this public, award-winning space really takes courage. Not actual courage, like saving a drowning puppy from a vat of acid or something, but a faux-approximation of courage: I'm like Cyrano's white plume, which is only a physical manifestation of his courage, a smokescreen if you will, while it's Cyrano himself who's out performing all the courageous acts. (There is no Cyrano in this NYC Half scenario, but please appreciate my overdramatic application of useless literary knowledge to real-world events. You win again, liberal arts degree.)

Anyway, quitting this race was a real fucking relief. I've been in the dumps all month because of a terrible 10K I ran on the 10th, when the weather was bone-snapping cold and I had trouble breathing and ended up walking way more than I expected to. When I started running in 2013 I just wanted to be outside and get some fresh air and move my can. It's a sport and I respect that—I like that it's challenging and love the community and camaraderie of it, but I need it to be fun again and not something where I constantly have to feel devastated by my disappointing times vis-à-vis other, more serious people. Nobody goes to an aerobics class and thinks, I have to out-aerobicize all these other knuckleheads this week or I will feel like a total failure. Do they? Maybe competitive aerobics is a thing, I have no idea what the kids do for fun these days.

But I've decided from now on to take my running cues from comedian Liz Miele, who tells the latest Runner's World, "I'm not good at it, I just like it." How genius is that! The second I read it I knew this was it, this was what I've been waiting for: the simple but mind-blowing permission to not be good at running, to just stop caring about being good at running, and to continue devoting my fitness regimen to a kind of lazy, half-assed, shoddy dilettantism in pursuit of absolutely nothing, which not coincidentally I am 100% amazing at.