Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I came home from Hawaii two days ago.   This photo is of a bird that spent a lot of time outside my cabin.   Every morning I would look for him, and most days he was right there.  He was both alert and relaxed, vigilant and yet unconcerned.  When I think about him, my pulse slows down.  If I were superstitious I would think he was sent from above to remind me how I wish to exist.  But I'm not so I'll be inspired by him.  Or her.

I got a week to bask, along with my mother, sister, aunt and daughter.  I know: lucky, lucky.

Now, here in Illinois, it's raining onto snow, then all moisture is freezing.  The sidewalks are glistening with black ice.  My dog walk is going to be a grizzly, slippery, abdominal-strengthening affair.  Hawaii's weather is so absentmindedly perfect, like a natural looking, effortless supermodel, not even aware of the dwarves and gargoyles around her.  In Hawaii the weather changes so slightly, down to 70 at night, up to 80 in the daytime.  Coming home is like going from a breezy carefree girlfriend who's nearly always smiling to the bi-polar, angst-ridden, demanding wife back home - one who seems pissed off that you dared to leave for a minute.

Onto the lists...

Movies watched in February:

1.) Exit Through The Gift Shop (Banksy)
2.) The Company Men (Wells)
3.) The Social Network (Fincher) for the second time
4.) Restrepo (Junger & Hetherington)
5.) Bringing Up Baby (Hawks)
6.) Winter's Bone (Granik)
7.) Rabbit Hole (Mitchell)
8.) Animal Kingdom (Michod)
9.) True Grit (Coens) for the second time
10.) Biutiful (Inarritu)
11.) Waste Land (Walker & Harely)
12.) 127 Hours (Boyle)
13.) Inception (Nolan)
14.) Enter the Void (Noe)
15.) Morning Glory (Mitchell)
16.) Down to the Bone (Granik)

Okay.  Last month I wrote that I preferred the original, Hathaway "True Grit" to the Coen Bros. version, but it was a close call.  This month, Mulan and I went to go see "The Illusionist"and there was something wrong with the print, or maybe the projector - and so the theater offered us free tickets to any other film they had playing.  I had wanted Mu to see "True Grit" so we saw it again.  I am such a slobbery sentimentalist, I was crying from the start and had to wipe my eyes throughout the movie.  I just love this film.  Now I think the Coen Bros. version is best.  I think the ending is better - we see Mattie as an older woman.  You could say I am too ripe for this movie - it ends, after all, with a fiftyish woman reminiscing - unsentimentally - about her youth, when all the most exciting adventures occurred.  I could cry right now just thinking about it.

Sunday night I wanted "True Grit" to take all the Academy Awards it was up for, especially for Roger Deakins - the Cinematographer.  I was very disappointed, although not surprised by the awards.  I absolutely hated, - no, hate is too moderate a word for my opinion of "Inception."  What a big, boring, complicated, pretentious emperor-with-no-clothing that movie turned out to be.  I loathed that movie.

I really responded to "Animal Kingdom" and I must see it again.  It's so foreboding, it has such a nearly debilitating feeling of threatened violence, that I could barely watch it the first time. I felt this way about "Reservoir Dogs." I loved it the first time - really was knocked out by it, but then I almost wasn't able to really, really see it until the second (and third and fourth and fifth) time.  Movies like those - which I think are masterpieces - are not enjoyable, well - not AS enjoyable the first time because of my anxiety about what is going to happen and to whom.  Once I know, I can relax a little bit and at least watch it.  God - the music in Animal Kingdom - (it should have been nominated for music or sound editing) is very powerful.

"Biutiful" was another movie which was hard to watch, but which stayed with me for days. I thought all the people were real, and wondered how they were doing for a long time afterwards.  Of course Javier Bardem is - well, I cannot think of any words that do not reduce themselves to cliche when it comes to this man.  Let's leave it at this: we are all lucky to be alive at the same time as Javier Bardem.   Does that get my feeling across?

I went to "127 Hours" like I had homework to do - I did not want to see it - I really expected that he would be cutting his arm off with a small, dull army knife for two hours.  But I was enchanted!  I thought Boyle solved so many story telling and film problems given the material.  I was riveted and would see it again.

Saw "Morning Glory" on the plane and laughed a lot.  That's a movie I wouldn't be likely to see, and I thought Rachel McAdams was wonderful.

Academy Awards:  I felt James Franco and Anne Hathaway were duds.  I want a comedian as host.  Or at least a stage performer. Franco and Hathaway were simultaneously too sincere and too smug.  Frankly, I'm not sure how they did it.  When Billy Crystal came out and was reminiscing about hosting the Oscars and referenced a moment when he told a joke, let it build to a laugh, then got an applause, I realized that Anne Hathaway and James Franco probably had only the most superficial understanding of what he was talking about.  True, I am heavily biased in favor of comedians.  And I don't love all comedians, for example, I am not a fan of Whoopi Goldberg.  (And nostalgic for Billy Crystal, no less!!!  Jeez.)  If I were in charge, I would have had Louis C.K. be the host.  Or Hugh Jackman again - he is not a comedian, but he is at least a stage performer and you can tell he has a good sense of humor.

Oh. Now I'm thinking that Anne Hathaway IS a stage performer.  But... But...

On SNL there were always these women coming on - hosting the show - and the press (and the public too) would refer to them as comediennes.  But they were not funny people.  Maybe they could do pratfalls, maybe they were ditzy-funny in certain circumstances, like - they were funny with the right lines, the right co-stars, right directors - but they were not funny, or even moderately witty people.  There is nothing wrong with them, they were doing what they did best - but I realized that a lot of consumers of entertainment really did not understand the difference.

Which brings me to "Funny Girl."  Barbra Streisand being the perfect example.   Not really funny.  I saw that movie over the winter break - I hadn't seen it since I was a kid - and I loved that movie when I was a kid - and as an adult I found her - and her character - both of them, just insufferable.  Painful to watch.  Not funny AT ALL, and worse, getting laughs - milking laughs mind you - in the sleaziest ways.  The "aren't I adorable and cute" kind of funny.  The lowest!  The worst!  I kept yelling out loud, mocking her while I watched, "I'm just a kook!  I'm pregnant in a scene about beautiful slender women!  Why, I'm hilarious!"   Ha, ha!  Belch.  ARGH.

My only other comment on movies, is that - after watching both "Winter's Bone" and "Down to the Bone" I am a huge, huge, inspired, smitten, devoted Debra Granik fan.

Books read in February:

1. Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein
2. Three Dog Night, Abigail Thomas
3. Waistland, Deirdre Barrett
4.  After the Ice, Steven Mithen.  (2/3 of the way through)

Notes on the books:

1. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girly-Girl Culture, written by Peggy Orenstein.   As I read the book, I was floored by how much I hadn't really thought about.  How the whole princess craze got started, how much it's merchandized, how it appeals to young girls, how much of it is natural and how much forced.  Each chapter in the book is better than the one before, and each chapter made me think about topics to talk to Mulan about.  Full disclosure, I know Peggy - she interviewed me for one of her books entitled, Flux.  This is my favorite of her books, and they're all good.  I am so glad I got to read this book at the perfect moment, just as Mulan is coming of age - able to converse with me about all of this stuff.  We had a great conversation about TV shows, and how many products were spun off from each show.  We talked about Demi Lovato, who even my daughter knows is now struggling with some type of problems that have caused her to go into rehab.   I loved the chapter that was about little-girl beauty queens and why people are attracted to this combination of innocence, sexuality and the push and pull of girls and parents who feed each other's desire for accomplishing recognition in this way.  And best of all, Peggy doesn't even diss this whole cultural arena - in fact, she made me realize how close it is to what American Girl sells too.

2. A Three Dog Life, written by Abigail Thomas.   Lyrically written and optimistic, it's the memoir of a woman who's husband sustains a terrible brain injury from a car accident.  I enjoyed reading it.  It has a stream-of-thought style that mimics actual memories unfolding.  It was moving and funny.

3. Waistland: The R/evolutionary Science Behind Our Weight and Fitness Crisis, written by Deirdre Barrett.  I found this book in the weirdest way.  I saw the documentary called, "Waste Land" about a garbage dump just outside Rio de Janiero in Brazil and the people who work picking through garbage there.  The movie was fantastic, but I had a very first-world, affluent thought afterwards.  And that was, what a great title.  "Waist Land" would be a good title for a diet book.  I wondered if there was one.  There was.  Not only that, it had gotten a positive review from Steven Pinker, a scientist and writer  I love and whose books I've gobbled up.  So I had to get this "Waistland" book.   It's really good!  She distills all the stuff I've been thinking about recently.  She says that there should be a disease called "Sedentary Disease."  This book dovetailed nicely with a book I was reading simultaneously (which I vowed not to do this year, but which I have to continually remind myself about!)  And that book I have not yet finished, it is:

4. After The Ice, A Global Human History 20,000 - 5,0000 BC, written by Steven Mithen:  I have about a third of this book to still finish and frankly, I do not want it to end.  I'm afraid I've fallen down a well, I wake up in the night thinking about what I've read, and it's deepened and changed my view of... well, of all of civilization. The idea of the book is that between 20,000 B.C.E. and 5,000 B.C.E. - I cannot resisting adding the "e" after b.c. turning it into"before the common era" instead of "before christ" - humans went from being all hunter-gatherers to developing farming, cities, and a sedentary stationary lifestyle.  Everything was set up during those 15,000 years for all of what happened to us to come afterwards.  I have not read, but heard that Jared Diamond wrote an infamous article about how the invention of farming was in many ways catastrophic for humans, the worst human invention of all.  Our health suffered, we grouped ourselves into cities, our life spans were diminished.  Hmmm... I just did a casual googling and couldn't find this article.  In any case, this book: "After the Ice" has opened up into vivid technicolor the paleolithic and mesolithic worlds for me.  The author, Steven Mithen, creates this character - named Lubbock (after a Victorian scientist who wrote about archeology and speculated about early cultures) who magically visits early human groups at various times in those 15,000 years.  It's a risky device that I think works 100%.  This allows the book to be more visceral than simply being lists of discoveries and artifacts and speculations.  Mithen meanders through each continent with Lubbock, coming out of the fictionalized fantasy with actual controversies and discoveries in archeology.

Amongst the things I did not know before reading this book: 1.) There were many stationary hunter, gatherers. I had assumed that there were hunter-gatherers who moved with their prey and didn't stay in one place year in and year out - then farming began, and then and only then did human populations stay put.  But no!  Many groups were stationary - in fact the best example is in the Pacific Northwest where I'm from.  The salmon were so abundant that there was no need to move around.  But there are lots of examples in Europe and Central Asia and South America too.  Actually, everywhere.   2.) I thought the early americans hunted to extinction all the mega beasts that were in the Americas.  But no - it looks like there was already a lot of climate change pressures that drove the big animals 80% of the way to extinction.  The big animals needed a lot plants to eat, as well as plant diversity, which began to change at the end of the last ice age. The humans were not killing them at the rate previously thought, they mostly got one here and there, sometimes happening upon large animals - the mastodons, giant sloths, camels, etc. as they were already dying off - more as opportunists rather than hunters - and even though these animals had weathered other ice ages and survived, the humans just was the added push that plunged them into extinction, but still - not the primary cause.  3.) Wow, all those new "Paleo-diet" books (like Waistland) are onto something. Our hunter-gatherer diets were much more diverse, full of fiber, low in sugar and high in plant life and nuts and fruit than our modern diets.  And 4.) The hunter-gatherers who flourished for thousands and thousands of years really didn't have to work as much as we work today.  They averaged four hours of work a day and spent the rest of their time interacting socially with their other tribe members and especially their children.  They had children on average of every three to four years.  If you got out of babyhood and then pregnancy (no small feat, granted) you could live a very long time.  It seems to me, reading this book, that the golden age for humans in this time period when there was enough accumulated wisdom to hunt and gather food, not have to move all the time, and before there were so many humans that territory fights began and farming was introduced which allowed people to hoard the wealth and establish hierarchies.  5. Wow, Oaxaca. In the Oaxaca valley, all three major American plant domestications took place: corn, beans and squash.  Well, I guess squash isn't totally locked in there, but they suspect it is.

I am reading this book like a text book, yellow highlighter in hand and making notes in pen in the margins.  I love, love, love it.  I want to dive into this book and not come out.

In general, I want to concentrate on more fiction.  But dear Lord how I gravitate towards non-fiction.  I have a general rule that I listen to non-fiction on my iPhone, and read fiction, but I dunno - I guess I get uncontrollable urges to read non-fiction that overrides the fiction books on my list.

Audio Books listened to in Feb.

1.) Revival: The Struggle for Survival in the Obama White House, by Richard Wolffe.  I'm a fan of Wolffe's.  He was often on Keith Olbermann.  The book is mostly about how the health care reform legislation was maneuvered.  It's an insightful book about how Obama governs and how things work inside.

2.) Coming to Our Senses: Healing the World and Ourselves Through Mindfulness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I' also a fan of Jon Kabat-Zinn. I did a mindfulness meditation class years ago and it's a part of my life and thinking now.  I enjoyed this book, although it's abridged.  I liked it so much I got a hard copy of the book, which I will read later.

3.) Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, by Tamim Ansary.  I just finished this audio book yesterday.  It's transformative.  It's so revealing, history told so plainly and insightfully.  It makes me very afraid about Egypt.  I didn't realize how much we screwed things up in Iran. I knew a little bit, now I know a lot more.  I'm afraid about Egypt because of the stories of revolutions that go wrong, and the wrong people seize power in the vacuum.  We are going to pay a heavy price for what we've done in the middle east. I'm so glad that Obama is in the White House, but still it's a frightening time.  Of everything I've listened to, or read this last month, this is the book I would most recommend.  Well this and "After the Ice."  I have an urge to write a letter to Obama insisting that he put Tamim Ansary on his advisory panel. (Because, y'know, he'd hop right to it.)  Tamim is from Afghanistan, but has lived here since he was 12.  He also has a memoir that I want to read.  I'm sorry, I'm so pooped, I have run out of steam and cannot properly describe this book.  But it's really good - funny - Ansary is very funny...  I got the book version of this too and must read it slowly just so I can get it all.  

Here's to a good March!