Saturday, February 05, 2011

I thought this was going to be an "after" picture, turned out it was a "before" picture.

I got to experience my first blizzard.  I've been in many snow-induced paralyses in New York when the snow was several feet high, the city was frozen, and almost every store closed down.  But apparently in order for a weather event to be categorized as a "blizzard," it has to have sustained winds over 40 miles per hour for more than three hours, as well as snow and cold.   So in that sense, and insofar as I can remember, this was my first blizzard.

I was extremely lucky to be able to be inside for all of it, in comfortable warmth, looking outside, and intermittently watching movies.  Is there anything that modern civilization offers that is sweeter than being able to experience extreme weather from the comfort of a safe and cozy house?   I think not.  I almost felt guilty about it.  But I got over that and had another cup of tea, and turned my gaze to window and it's moving whiteness.

Of course there was a lot of shoveling the next day but that turned out to be good exercise for a couple of hours.  My husband got his cross country skis out of the basement and he skied to the beach; me running alongside with our dog, Arden.  The snow was so high that Arden had to swim through it.  He looked like a dolphin, leaping and hurling himself through piles of snow.

I was going to post monthly all the movies I'd watched, books read, and music I'm listening to while exercising.  But I lost almost all my info for December - I'd written it down, but lost the notes.  So, I will only list five weeks of movies.

Movies Watched from December 26 through January 31, 2011

1. Please Give (Holofcener)
2. The Black Swan  (Aronofsky)
3. The King's Speech (Hooper)
4. Barney's Version (Lewis)  (I only watched 1/2 of it - I hated it so much I had to stop.)
5. The T.A.M.I. Show (Binder)
6. Date Night (Levy)
7. Pirates of the Caribbean (Verbinski)
8. The Fighter (Russell)
9. Ride with the Devil (Lee)
10. Night of the Hunter (Laughton)
11. Documentary on making of the Night of the Hunter
12. Vincere (Bellochio)
13. October Country (Palmieri, Mosher)
14. El Cid (Mann)
15. True Grit  (Hathaway)
16. Help! (Lester)
17. Waltz with Bashir (Folman)
18. How to Train Your Dragon (Sanders, DeBlois)
19. Toy Story 3 (Unkrich)
20. Mars Attacks! (Burton)
21. W.C. Fields, The Great Man, a documentary
22. Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh)
23. Secretariat (Wallace)
24. The Black Stallion (Ballard)

Notes on films:  Well, my number #1 movie for last year is: True Grit.  But it was a close call for me, I also loved The Social Network, and The King's Speech.  But all in all, True Grit gets my best picture vote for 2010.  That said, I saw the original True Grit, directed by Hathaway, and starring John Wayne, and I liked it even better than the Coen bros. version!  I liked John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn better and I liked Kim Darby's Mattie better!  I was completely shocked and did not expect to have that reaction.  The bottom line is, I love True Grit. I love the story, I love the girl, I love Rooster Cogburn.  Okay, Matt Damon is infinitely better in the role of the Texas Ranger than Glenn Campbell.  And the Coen bros. version is more like the book, which is all from the girl's point of view.  Hathaway's is not exclusively from the Mattie's point of view, but then you understand more about the guys they are fighting and what's happening when she is not around in the his version, which I think makes it better.

Night of the Hunter is a masterpiece, and the documentary on the recently reissued DVD is really wonderful, there are all these outtakes that give you a very real sense of what it was like on the set.

I don't know if I prefer How to Train your Dragon to Toy Story 3 yet - they are so different, and both are so wonder-filled, it's impossible to compare them.

The other gem I would like to mention is Ride With The Devil, Ang Lee's western feeling, civil war movie made 6 years before Brokeback Mountain. (It was made in 1999)  The film is about the civil war in Kansas and Missouri; it's beautiful and a complicated epic that was basically dumped by the studio when it was released.  I just don't understand it.  Tobey McGuire stars, as well as Jewel(!, and she's good) and Skeet Ulrich and Jeffrey Wright.  Really fantastic.


Books I read in December and January, which I can remember right now.

1.) Life (Keith Richards)  I read the book and listened to the audio which is narrated by Johnny Depp as well as Joe Hurley.  Depp is being mentioned a lot as the narrator, and yet he only narrates the first three chapters and the last two chapters.  Joe Hurley is fantastic narrating.  I hope he gets more work from doing this. The book is very long, it seemed like three weeks of listening - an hour each day while walking my dog.  A long, hard, slog.
     I definitely recommend listening to this rather than reading it.  It was funny to me, when I bought this book - at an airport just after it was released last fall, I looked in my iTunes collection of music, and out of 20,000 songs, I had NOT ONE SINGLE ROLLING STONES SONG.  I was flabbergasted. I wasn't particularly a fan of the Rolling Stones, but I wasn't against them either.  There songs are so ubiquitous, maybe I just felt I heard them enough already. Although you could say that about the Beatles, and I have every single CD of theirs.  So, hmmm...  I really didn't know all that much about the Rolling Stones.  So to me, listening to this book, it was all new.
     I realized I did have all the music that Keith says he was so inspired and influenced by: Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley - all those guys.  I guess I didn't make the connection between these musicians and the Rolling Stones.  In any case, I went crazy on the Rolling Stones! I got a bunch of CDs and I made a set list of all Rolling Stones songs for my treadmill workouts.  For two or three weeks I was completely immersed in The Rolling Stones.  I got Bill Wyman's "A Stone Alone" and while I didn't exactly read it through, I skimmed it while I was reading "Life."   I got the recently published book, "The Rolling Stones vs. The Beatles" by Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot, the two guys who host the NPR show "Sound Opinions" - a show I try not to miss, a fantastic music show btw, and I poured over it.
     Keith is funny and articulate in ways that are surprising.  He is a survivor in such a particular way in such a specific time, it's really revealing and at the same time just what you'd expect.
    But I have to say, in the end, I didn't really feel I liked Keith all that much.  He is not kind to Mick Jagger - in really petty ways.  He says a lot of nice things about him, but the things he has against him seem peevish.  Worst of all, Richards is really defensive about his own horrifying behavior.  He is not apologetic at all about all the people he inconvenienced and lied to during his drug years and not the least reflective on his job as a father.  He totally leaves his son out in the world with no protection and barely any supervision and he is not the least bit concerned about it.  In fact he's defensive and talks about how Marlon turned out okay in the end.  Which is apparently true, but that is probably more about the luck of Marlon's staggeringly resilient personality than anything else.  I dunno. I didn't expect to feel this way about Richards by the end, I expected to really love him all the way through.  I did respect him more as a musician.  He is a character - truly a character.  You can see why Depp based his Pirate on Richards.
     However, I think my feelings about "Life" were colored significantly by the next book I read:

2.) Just Kids (Patti Smith)  I had another complicated and evolving relationship with this book.  Her mindfulness about herself and her situation, her insight into herself as a young woman, the decisions she made - having a baby and giving it up for adoption, and then this being the catalyst for her to quit teaching school and go to New York and become a poet, were riveting and filled with nuance and detail that made me love her so much.  It was odd to read "Life" just before this book, the time is overlapping, and the writers are both icons of a certain generation, but Patti Smith - and forgive me for using this overused, tired phrase - is SO MUCH MOVE EVOLVED AS A PERSON.  She's more insightful and more complicated and seems much more honest.  She is constantly saying how emotionally unprepared she was for certain things, like Mapplethorpe bisexuality in a very naked, honest, and clear way.  Her writing is plain and yet poetic and also precise.  Although, I have to say, by the end, I was also leery of Patti Smith - and I really didn't expect to be.  She really drops out so much stuff in the second half - why she left New York, and who her husband was and why she and Mapplethorpe stopped communicating.  I had this pervasive sense of someone not wanting to get into the details of their relationship changing as they both aged.  Things that she would have included at the beginning of their relationship and things that made the book really resonate with frank honesty.  Again, I didn't expect to feel this way.  In any case, both books are worth the read.

3.) My Stroke Of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor)   I have been meaning to read this book for a long time.  I had read about this woman, and a friend who loves this book loaned me her copy.  I really liked the beginning, I love learning about the brain and it's architecture.  I also liked her description of what it felt like while she was having a stroke.  I think it was profound, her description of energy and waves and how during her stroke she felt like an energy field.  I mean, it was a bit of "ain't it so cool I had a stroke and I'm also a brain scientist"-y, but okay, it must have been cool on one level.  Unfortunately, the rest of the book makes all these leaps that I don't follow about her experience and God and praying and playing these card games - the Angel cards, over and over again.  I have to say by the end of the book I had lost all respect for her and thought the book could have easily been an article in a magazine and not a book.  To me the lesson of this book is twofold: 1.) We are all trapped in a way of viewing the world by the way our brains are structured and by habit that makes it difficult to see how strange and beautiful all of life is.  2.) Even brain scientists can fall for the schpiritual gobbedlygook and become wrong-headed and full of new age bullshit.

4.) The Reason Why: The Story of The Charge of the Light Brigade (Cecil Woodham-Smith)  Over the holidays I was in Los Angeles visiting my mother-in-law and said to Mulan, "Yours is not to reason why, yours is but to do or die."  My mother had always said that to me and it made me laugh.  Norma pointed out that was from the poem by Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade.  Then she handed me this book, and I devoured it.  It's a very well written - tragic and funny (my favorite combination) account of a horrifying battle in the Crimean War.  It centers on two aristocratic men, Lord Cardigan and Lord Lucan and how their hatred of each other - as brothers-in-law no less - managed to orchestrate the horrible debacle of this campaign.  Both are really unsympathetic characters, and Woodham-Smith so deftly and articulately describes how the British obsession with aristocratic war leaders pushed them into positions for which they were ill suited, and truly incompetent.  The book has this awful foreboding about it because as we learn about these two men from babyhood, we know what it's all leading to, and it ain't going to be pretty and it does not turn out well.   Now I am looking forward to reading Cecil Woodham-Smith's other books - the first of which is going to be "The Great Hunger" about the Irish famine.  Last night Michael and I watched, "Restrepo" - a documentary that is up for Academy Award nomination and seeing those poor boys in Afghanistan trying to retake this valley, how scary it is, how horrible battle like that really can be - it caused me to go to sleep thinking about the Crimean war and all wars.  In "Restrepo" the war leaders are competent, but the whole endeavor is so much messier and serendipitous and chaotic and uncomprehending than we can understand from the outside.

These are the audio books I listened to over the last month and a half.  I listen when I walk the dog which works out to about an hour to an hour and a half per day:

1.)  The Bedwetter, Sarah Silverman   Oh my god, Sarah Silverman is so fucking funny. She is really great. I like her a lot.  I know her a little bit, as we were on SNL together for a year at the same time.  She was a kid then, 18 or 19 I think.  She has really developed into one of the best comediennes.  This book made me laugh out loud so much. Mostly in the first part, however, the last half which deals with her show and her life after she became famous is less interesting to me.  But damn, I was laughing and laughing and I still think of lines here and there and laugh out loud.  I made my husband listen.  This book is really good.  I like listening to her read it, hearing her voice.

2.)  The Accidental Mind, David J. Linden  This book is much better at describing the brain, how it evolved, and how it works than My Stroke of Insight.  Our brains are such inefficient kluges of added on evolutionary adaptations, it's actually hilarious.  It made me want to do a comedic monologue about brain architecture.  Linden describes things really well.

3.) Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick.  Okay, this book - of all the books I've read or listened to in the last month or so, this book is at the very top.  It's about North Korea, and Barbara Demick, who is a writer for the Los Angeles Times, and who is currently bureau chief in Beijing, but was previously working in Seoul, describes the lives of about six North Koreans and how they managed to escape the country.  All her subjects are currently living in South Korea.  If you are reading this, you must get this book, or listen to this audio.  It's really fantastic and the stories are so well told, so intelligently interwoven and constructed, so climactic when they are all trying to escape.  The writing is exemplary, and Demick is a master at telling these people's stories. In fact, one of the most compelling stories - well they are all compelling - is about a young teenage couple in love.  I cannot stop thinking that their story just has to be made into a film.  The end of their relationship is devastating and real.  The famine is so awful, and people dying everywhere, and the North Korean regime is so hateful and life is just - this book really emphasizes the point that politics so profoundly affects people's lives.   We are so lucky not to be living in North Korea, I don't think there's any place quiet as horrible in such a particularly communist - dictator way as North Korea.  It makes me so fearful for the future and I am really hopeful that - maybe China? - can put them in their place, or maybe help them out of this catastrophe.  I really had no idea how North Korea was separated from South Korea (practically arbitrarily in Washington D.C. looking at a map) and how it came to be. It's all so recent, and happening now too.  Riveting and important, that is what this book is.  I got the actual book from the library and now I'm going to read it (again, for real?) and just let it all sink in another time.  What a great writer.  Demick also wrote a book about Bosnia, and I want to get that too.  

Music.  I said I was going to post what I was listening to, my exercise music list.  I'm worried this makes this blog so blathery and I'm tired of it myself, but still, I'll post it.

I change my exercise playlist every month.  Last month was all Rolling Stones.  This month, I have some old faves - some songs can never leave the list - like Talking Heads, "Slippery People."

1. "Burning Down The House" Talking Heads
2. "Finest Worksong" R.E.M.
3. "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight."  R.E.M.
4. "Give Paris One More Chance" Jonathan Richman
5. "To Hide A Little Thought" Jonathan Richman
6. "Istanbul (Not Contantinople)" They Might Be Giants
7. "California" Rufus Wainwright
8. "The Sunny Side of the Street" The Pogues
9. "Spanish Dancer" Patti Scialfa
10. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Nirvana
11. "Corrina, Corrina" Bob Dylan
12. "Lovely Rita" Beatles
13. "Rita Mae" Jerry Lee Lewis
14. "Dying Day" Brandi Carlile
15. "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"  Santana with Yo Yo Ma and India.Aire)
16. "Love Hurts" Gram Parsons and Emmy Lou Harris
17. "Slippery People" Talking Heads

What am I doing these days?  Well, I'm working on a book - and I'm writing a screenplay.  Both are actually moving forward, slowly, but I'm happy about it. I've been getting into a nice working groove. If I can keep this up for a few years, I will make some traction towards my goals.  Which I mostly do achieve, although slowly and in a tedious incremental manner.