Saturday, July 11, 2015

Mr F, Chair Pioneer

Your best ideas, those eureka moments that turn the world upside down, seldom come when you're juggling emails, rushing to meet the 5 P.M. deadline or straining to make your voice heard in a high-stress meeting. They come when you're walking the dog, soaking in the bath or swinging in a hammock. Carl Honore

In In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore wrote of the "Slow Movement," which seeks to do everything at its proper pace.  The Slow Movement now encompasses anti-homogenization movements, ecology and Christianity, fashion trends, local produce and goods consumption, a leaving of digital means of producing art, and even parenting: "slow parenting" is the practice of refusing to schedule as many activities for kids so that they can discover their childhoods themselves.

The general idea seems to be to take more joy in the moment: in the task of creating, in the process of getting there, in the minute-to-minute existingness of life, rather than on the goals.  To worry less about what we are achieving and more about what we are doing.

 Put another way: When was the last time you spent a few minutes just hanging upside down from a hammock?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday Five: Gangster Movies

For a while there I was doing regular posts of rankings, but it got too time-consuming to rank everything in a category so for now I'm going to try weekly posts listing just five things in a category.

And since I just re-watched Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels last night, I thought I'd start with gangster movies.  But not gangster movies like The Godfather, which I hated.  Gangster movies like

1.  Pulp Fiction.

Back when I used to take things seriously, by which I mean "I was young and stupid and thought it actually mattered who won the Superbowl or whether a team cheated in the NFL or which film got Best Picture," that being in the time before I had real worries like mortgages and building a business and kids and stuff, I thought it was terrible that this movie lost out to Forrest Gump for Best Picture.  Nowadays, I'm not so worried about dumb stuff like pop culture, and I save my righteous indignation (which emoticon I invented, and it looks like this:

: ( )

), but I still like this movie for the crazy fun and the interesting dialogue that would be ripped off by a million lesser movies, and for John Travolta before he got all scientology, and for Bruce Willis before he became BRUCE WILLIS(TM), which is how I think of actors once they stop acting and just start doing the same shtick in every movie (Bruce Willis, Robert DeNiro, etc etc).

2. Go. I don't really remember all the details of this movie, but what I do remember is it was a lot of fun watching; I favor twisty-turny movies with characters who have a lot of moral ambiguity: decent streaks in terrible criminals, and so forth.  This movie had that; it was like Pulp Fiction for millenials.

3. Drive.  

And speaking of morally-ambiguous stylish films, this Ryan Gosling movie is one of the best I've seen.  It's one of those movies where even full-sunlight days seem somehow tainted and dark, and you can feel the desperation behind every single thing every character does.  Watching movies like this make my life feel safe, even in the most stressful times.  BONUS POINTS: I once read an article that suggested using music to help your mood, and one of the ways to do that was to play techno- or punk music whenever you are under stress, because that will make you feel like you are the main character in a thriller, and since the main character always wins out (the article theorized) you will feel more in control and able to cope.  Sort of "pretend your life is a thriller," I guess, which never worked for me, really.  I don't want my life to be a thriller. 

When I get under stress, I imagine my life is a comedy, with a voice-over discussing what I'm doing in very British, dry wit.  That works wonders.  Try it the next time you are in a traffic jam or have a deadline and the copier jams or you were certain there was leftover pizza but there wasn't any.  Any stressful situation, really.

4.  Collateral.  In addition to our book club, Sweetie and I have embarked on a quest to watch every Tom Cruise movie, ever.  Collateral was one of those, and it's amazing how good that movie still is.  So many movies age badly, but this movie stayed great.  I always get the feeling that I wouldn't personally like Tom Cruise, but I also think that if I met him and he wanted me to like him, I'd have no say in the matter.  Seeing how awesomely winning he is on the screen, could you imagine that in real life? He even made me want to hang around with the cold-blooded hit man he played in this movie.

5. Blue Ruin.  This was a sort of real-life gangster movie.  You know how sometimes movies or books will try to depict what a real-life superhero might be like? This movie shows what would likely happen if just regular guys decided to become gangsters.  The main character's parents were murdered by a guy who just got released from prison, and so the main character ... I have to call him that because  I never know anybody's names in movies, any more than I do in real life.  If I don't interact with you on a more or less weekly basis at least, I probably do not know your actual name. Movie characters don't stick around long enough for me to remember who they are... and so the main character sets out to get revenge, and things go about as well as you'd expect them to go when regular people do irregular things like revenge sprees.  It's one of the saddest -- in a good way -- movies I've ever seen.  Totally worth watching.

Bonus Sweetie Pick: I asked Sweetie what movie she'd put on this list, and she said Goodfellas. When I asked why, she said "because it's good." I wouldn't know, I haven't seen it.  I asked her what it's about and she said "I don't remember, it was so long ago."  Then she added The Departed, which ought to be on this list, too.  

Sweetie's comment about Goodfellas brings up something I hadn't thought about until just now: There are many, many movies (like Go, for example) which I like, and which I can barely remember anything about other than it was pretty good.  That doesn't happen with books or songs, probably because unlike movies, books take longer to experience and songs you listen to over and over and over.  Movies are generally one-shot deals, over in 2-3 hours, and with rare exceptions, I don't remember the details of movies like I do books.  That probably says something about me, but I'm trying to keep these posts short so I'll deal with that some other time.

Monday, July 06, 2015

10 Minutes About "Summer House With Swimming Pool"

I've been going through a phase where nothing really excites me, book-wise. It's lasted about the last week or so, and began when I decided I didn't care much how Until I Find You turned out.  I've read that book, by John Irving, before.  But I'd listened to The World According To Garp and The Cider House Rules as audiobooks, and re-read A Son Of The Circus, and enjoyed both, and so I thought Until I Find You might be just as good a filler until my turn for It comes back around.

It wasn't. Being a more recent Irving work, I suppose I should've expected that.  After all, each of his books has I think been a bit worse than the one before.  That makes his more recent ones still tolerable, I suppose, given that he started at such a high point. But the more recent ones aren't really worth re-reading.  Or maybe, as I said, it's because I've been in a bit of a mood.

The mood broke, though, a bit at least, when I got a chance to borrow Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch last Saturday.  There was kind of an embarrassment of riches at the (online) library since both Summer House and The Bone Clocks were available to download, and I'd been looking forward to both of them.

I went with The Bone Clocks first, actually, downloading that and then cooking dinner (spaghetti) and getting the boys through their baths (splashy) and then sitting down to read, at which point I changed my mind and went with Koch's book.

I did that because the last Koch book I read was The Dinner, which was absolutely brilliant.  The Dinner took place (mostly) at a dinner party where the narrator was going to reveal a terrible secret to his brother (or brother-in-law?) who was about to run for prime minister, and it was just filled with this excellent sense of dread, and kept upping the ante the way Gone Girl did, too.  I know some people didn't like Gone Girl and those people probably won't like The Dinner, either, but for me there's a lot to be said for a book that moves from plausible to over-the-top so slowly and methodically that you don't realize just how far past believable you've gone until you're already way past that line.

So on the strength of The Dinner I abandoned To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, a book I'd actually bought, and also skipped over not just The Bone Clocks but David And Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, too, all books sitting there on my Kindle waiting to be read while I tore through about 30% of Summer House With Swimming Pool in the past 48 hours.

It was worth it.  The story is told by Marc, a doctor who should be completely unlikeable, and who is, but who is also compelling -- the same way the narrator of The Dinner was.  Marc is a general practitioner doc in the Netherlands, and his method of treatment as well as his inner monologue while treating his patients is abhorrent, and compelling.

The story begins with Marc telling us that the next day he's going to be going before a medical examining board about the death of a patient, and blithely reassuring us that the trick is to make sure the board finds no reason to not decide it was simple "medical error," and with those alarm bells already going off in the background, the story moves from Marc showing up at the funeral to a flashback of when he first met the patient (a famous actor) and on to what obviously is going to be some ill-fated summer vacation.

Unlike last week's 10 minutes, where I ranted about flashbacks wrecking the story, here, so far, the device works: From assuming Marc just doesn't care about his patients and that's why the actor died, the story slowly unfurls, until (at the point where I am at, and SPOILER ALERT!) it seems like Marc had way too many reasons to want the actor dead.

It's the kind of book I don't want to put down.  And that's 10 minutes.