2. I didn't write yesterday, not really. Day before yesterday, I didn't write. And on Wednesday I did not write. I sat here yesterday and read aloud what I've written on "Oranges from Africa, 2,768 words since I began it on the 15th. After I'd read the first seven pages aloud and marked them up so much that they'd ceased to be legible I finally admitted to myself that it's a mess, and that it's a mess I do not currently have time to clean up. On the bottom of pg. 10 I wrote, "I don't think I can fix this." And the date. And the story has gone to live in the filing cabinet. This is my fault for having begun anything so ambitious right now.
3. Truthfully, I have little to write about – that I have any business writing about here – except movies and television. My life dissolves in front of screens: iMac, iPad, the TV, and theater screens.
4. On Thursday we saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I thought it was a great improvement over the first installment of the trilogy. The 3D gimmickry was still there, but felt less intrusive. The film was better paced and better edited, and it didn't seem so painfully over lit. I don't mind the addition of the story of Gandalf's quest to Dol Guldur. I don't mind the peculiar triangle of romantic tension between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kíli. No, it doesn't bother me that Tauriel was created by the screenwriters. She works, and we are reminded, however marginally, that there are vaginas in Middle Earth. I was pleased that Beorn wasn't skipped over, impressed by Lee Pace as a menacing, calculating Thranduil, and very much approved of Lake-town. But there's no denying that the star is, rightly, Benedict Cumberbatch's Smaug. Wow. Perfect. What a gloriously terrifying beast, with just the right measure of egotism, grandeur, fury, and vanity.
That said, the whole thing certainly could have been handled without the video game interludes, and it's a shame the film was shot 48fps and in 3D. For all its merit, so far Peter Jackson's The Hobbit lags well behind his The Lord of the Rings, and this is primarily because of the former's compromised cinematography. I should note that, currently, at the theater we attended The Desolation of Smaug, the film is showing on four screens, but only one of them is 3D, and the one that's 3D is a broom closet. This is a good thing, and I hope it reflects, to some degree, waning interest in a fad.
Still, honestly, the absolute worst thing about the film was the horrid Ed Sheeran song that's yodeled over the end credits. Think Boys to Men do the Chieftains. Only it's actually worse than that. I'd never heard of Sheeran, and I cannot imagine what the fuck Jackson was thinking. Each third of LotR closes with a beautiful, haunting song. And the song that closed out An Unexpected Journey wasn't bad. But this? Seriously? If you see the film, the moment the screen goes to black (you'll know when I mean) get up and fucking run to the nearest exit.
5. The sunlight is so weak.
- Current Location:Medusae Sulci
- Current Mood:----------
- Current Music:Editors, "Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors"
More Than This
The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming--an angry concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell. But she didn't mind the heat or the littered midway called Times Square. She thought New York was the most exciting city in the world.
And so began one of the greatest trashy novels of all time.
Yes, Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann's masterpiece of trash, focusing on the lives of four women in or around show business: Anne Welles, Jennifer North, Neely O' Hara, and to a lesser degree, Helen Lawson.
I first read this wonderful guilty pleasure when I was about thirteen. When I was a really young gayling in the late 1960's, it came to my attention because one of the stars of the movie (GREAT campy fun) was Sharon Tate, who became a much greater star in death than she was in life when the Manson family came a-calling to her home in 1969.
But even then I recognized Helen Lawson was based on Ethel Merman, and Neely O'Hara was Judy Garland. (I never have quite figured out who Anne and January really were.) And it was great fun. Ms. Susann was not a great writer by any means, but she was competent, and the book still holds up, even after all this time.
It had all the hallmarks of a great trashy novel: the structure of following three young friends from nothing to great success, bad romances, bad sex, the cost of fame, drugs, sex, alcohol, on and on and on. The book's enormous success guaranteed there would be lots of imitators, and also guaranteed Ms. Susann would go on publishing novels--which she did until she died of cancer.
Sadly, her other novels weren't trashy fun, they were just trash--eye-rollingly bad. (I remember reading Once Is Not Enough at fourteen and thinking the dialogue was amateurish and the writing atrocious--and thinking the same thing when I read The Love Machine--which I reread a few years ago and it was even worse than I remembered.)
The 1960's and 1970's were the hey-day of the trashy novel, the guilty pleasure read that might not be great literature but was fun. Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins--they owe a great debt to Ms. Susann and her Valley of the Dolls. (Although to be fair, Harold Robbins was a best-seller before Ms. Susann came along.)
There were also a lot of imitators who probably wouldn't have been published were it not for publishers looking for the next Susann. I remember one in particular--The Boys in the Mailroom, which instead, obviously, was about four young men wanting to break into show business who become friends and roommates while working in the mail room of a major film studio. I particularly remember this because one of the characters was gay--even though after his true love, a popular recording artist, dies in a plane crash he marries a Cher like singer/actress and lives happily ever after (as if)--but I have no idea who wrote it, and no desire to look it up--and certainly no desire to reread it. I am sure it won't hold up, but back then I tore through it and loved it, kept my copy for years.
Rona Jaffe also used this same structure, over and over again--in fact, she may have invented it in the 1950's with The Best of Everything, and perfected it with Class Reunion in the 70's.
What's your favorite trashy read?
- Current Location:my desk
- Current Mood: sleepy
- Current Music:More Than This by Roxy Music
- Utah Is on Track to End Homelessness by 2015 - by giving the homeless housing.
(tags: homelessness housing politics usa )
- The 10 Best Videogames of 2013
(tags: games )
- Irish farmers are taking selfies for a Facebook competition
(tags: farming ireland selfies funny )
- Time running backwards for workers, the closer we get to Christmas
(tags: time funny work )
- Poor Sleep More Dangerous for Women
(tags: women sleep )
- Small talk skills improve with practice
(tags: conversation introversion )
- Obese children have higher stress hormone levels than normal weight peers
I am unshocked. I find it _much_ harder to control my diet when I'm stressed.
(tags: obesity cortisol stress )
- Against Positive Discrimination
(tags: discrimination )
Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comments there.
(Do not blame rushthatspeaks. They got sick. People who are sick should not leave the house, or make products intended for public consumption. Feel free to blame UPS, which delivered the bottles today at noon instead of any time on Thursday, or Tuesday as originally claimed. The early afternoon would have been a lot less frenetic if I hadn't had to worry about how to get a twenty-eight-pound box of glass bottles from vanguardcdk's front porch to my parents' kitchen.)
People bought coffee syrup at the show tonight. Both in milk and in bottles. Last night they bought coffee milk and asked if the syrup was available to take home. The Beverly Beverage Company of Beverly, Mass. (est. 1896, exp. 1960) lives. I have done my job.
And the cast of The Big Broadcast of 1962: A Byfar Christmas Carol are doing the hell out of theirs. I keep hearing people coming up to Rob and saying it's the best Big Broadcast yet, but they're right. Traditionally, the shows have come in two parts: an episode of The Frank Cyrano Byfar Hour plus a second feature, respectively The War of the Worlds: The Fall of Boston ('38), Tomes of Terror ('46), and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow ('54). The conceit of the first of these, of course, was that the Martian invasion of Boston interrupted the regular broadcast of the Byfar Hour; the Jack Benny-like comedy breaks down as the gasping bandleader's jumbled reports of an emergency in New Jersey are substantiated by the disturbing crackle of the airwaves and the last we see of Frank Cyrano and the Byfar cast, they're huddled round the radio with the rest of apprehensive America, Frank Readick's eyewitness account fading into the local equivalent on WPM. (It's a chilling first-act closer and it could only have worked on the stage: a haunting image of entertainers themselves struck silent, reduced to audience; upstaged by something no wisecracking can wave away. Nothing in the series until A Byfar Christmas Carol reached that level of poignancy, and I'd argue never again that level of unease.) In succeeding Big Broadcasts, the two acts were plainly separate programs on the same fictitious radio station. Entering the Somerville Theatre or the Regent, the audience was taking their place in the studio for the Byfar Hour, then whatever Halloween chiller or thriller was airing next. There was always a show-within-a-show, but the genres changed gears at the intermission. A Byfar Christmas Carol is the first episode to run both kinds of story simultaneously and the results are the most integrated and the most intimate show the series has produced.
An adaptation of Dickens is both the excuse for the Byfar plot and its not-so-secret spine, as Amelia Adams' refusal to take a small part in an experimental TV production of A Christmas Carol sends her Scrooge-ghosting through the history of radio as an art form, with vaudeville its past and television its future, which is also her own history. And pace alien conquest averted, it's the one with the most at stake. Too many contemporary stories seem to behave as though their protagonists are failures if they don't save the world, really actually like the planet. What's wrong with just knowing that your life in art's service wasn't wasted and it's not over yet? A Christmas Carol (1843) resonates not just because it invented Christmas as we know it and everybody likes ghosts, but because with greater subtlety, but just as firmly as as its direct descendant It's a Wonderful Life (1946), it reminds its audience that a life can make a difference, for good or for ill. Ebenezer Scrooge isn't a terribly important person, let's face it. As a squeezing, wrenching etc. etc. old sinner, he doesn't make or break London; he's merely one of its small, self-centered engines of misery and inequality, part of the general fog of human carelessness. As a friend, philanthropist, and generous model of humanity, he's not going to save the city from itself, either, but that doesn't stop him from making a very practical improvement in the lives of the Cratchits and who knows how many others who in that other, colder future he might have casually ruined or simply not cared to help? Amelia's quite right when she says with all her self-defensive skepticism that no one will miss the Byfar crew if they don't reunite for their holiday special—but something will still be going out of the world that could have been remembered, rekindled. (All solstice stories are about bringing back out of the dark, remember, whether that's death or despair or the plane of the ecliptic.) And so even if Amelia's three Ghosts of Byfar are nothing more than a dream with more of eggnog than ectoplasm about them, it's still a psychomachia worth seeing played out, because we need that reminder: yes, it matters to love a thing; yes, it matters to trust yourself to it; yes, it changes things, whether it is the spirit of Christmas or the magic of radio. Even if all it changes is yourself. You never know who else that means.
Oh, God. This is my traditional night-before-a-show-closes recommendation, isn't it? Past three in the morning and two performances left. I haven't even had the chance to talk about the other quality of intimacy that I love so much about A Byfar Christmas Carol, the way that through the shifting layers of metafiction it's possible to glimpse, for once, something of the real lives of the actors we've heretofore seen only as their roles. "Amelia Adams of the Adams Adamses" comes from the kind of old money that bequeathed her a mansion on Beacon Hill and a butler so old and creaky, I have increasing difficulty seeing him as grey-haired as opposed to just nobody remembers to dust him, but Amelia Adams started on the vaudeville stage in Revere Beach, straight out of talent shows with a voice that's not yet all whiskey and cigarettes, an eager, wide-eyed partner in a kid who probably loved the Lightning coaster, and a routine that needed some serious revision. (It takes thirty seconds, but watching Frank and Amelia do vaudeville badly is one of the great pleasures of the show: as Amelia herself identifies, it's not just that the jokes are bad, it's that their roles are all wrong; once they swap so that his straight face can never quite keep up with her withering hauteur, they're solid.) A former Foley artist is given a fond salute, the next generation at the Chowderhouse reads Theodore Sturgeon and Mad magazine. It's as close as we're ever going to get to the true history of the Byfar Hour and we're told up front it's a story within a story: trying to pin down the facts among the lampshading is a futile endeavor, which doesn't make it any less warming when Amelia smiles, hearing one more time the old patter she left behind with the Palace Theater.
And it is funny. And it is quotable. And the line about the flashback band was all right on the page, but I snicker every time Lex Concord actually says it. And it's not being recorded, so you've got two performances left before this show is Byfar Past. I'm going to bed so I don't sleep through both of them. Happy longest night, all. Tomorrow there's the sun.
- Current Music:The Mountain Goats, "Dirty Old Town"
I don't really have anything to add to this. Except that the leeeeeeetle touch of madness I'm now getting as I wind down at home is the soothing oddness (trust me, for me it's true) of Kate Bush's compilation The Whole Story.
( totally cut for lengthCollapse )
OH ALSO. Who is using tumblr these days? I've been using it more lately. I'm teaberryblue over there.
Song of the South
Over the last twenty-four hours, the Internet has exploded with this Duck Dynasty nonsense; with idiots clutching the Constitution they've clearly never read crumpled in their hands while screaming about "freedom of speech!" and "freedom of religion!"
Funny, I don't recall anything in the Constitution about a "right to a reality television series" or "the right to not be fired and/or suspended by your boss for reflecting negatively on the company you work for." So, when I worked at the airline I basically could have told every single passenger to go fuck themselves and not be fired? And just to be contrary, so all you 'freedom of religion' and 'freedom of speech' people--then you think it's perfectly okay for the Westboro Baptist Church to protest military funerals? When you talk about the "Bible" and it's views on homosexuality, as well as claiming your freedom of religion gives you the right to compare homosexuality with bestiality, murder, and terrorism; that gays are really evil at heart and so forth--why aren't you allied with Westboro Baptist Church? Why aren't you out there with them, carrying signs at military funerals?
At least THEY have the balls to stand up for their twisted beliefs, and put their money and their lives out there.
And why has all the religious right folk, and all the good conservative commentators and people out there, IGNORED the comments about African-Americans and Jim Crow? About Muslims and terrorism?
Because of course they don't want to look like racists--but they are just fine with bashing the homos.
I was reluctant to talk about Gone with the Wind publicly because the book is racist. It is a product of its time, and while that certainly doesn't give the book a pass for its point of view, I do think it is important for people to read. And while, of course, there are going to be those who are racist and will see in its inherent racism 'ah, the good old days', I would hope that people who aren't racist but don't really think about racism much would read it and think, "dear Lord! How awful!"
The truth is, much as I loved this book--and it still is special to me--I haven't read it in years. I will talk about that later, as a postscript.
Here is what I originally wrote:
I was ten years old the first time I read Gone with the Wind.
I didn't really know anything about the book, really. It was referenced in Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Emeralds (which I also read that summer), and that was the first I'd heard of it. I was also starting to get interested in Hollywood (and especially old Hollywood), and seeing that Gone with the Wind had also been an Oscar winning film whetted my appetite still further. I asked my parents for permission to read it--in those days I always asked; I stopped the next year as they never said no to anything--and my father was so thrilled I wanted to read it that he went out and bought me a copy from a bookstore in Birmingham (we were visiting relatives in Alabama when I asked).
This is the cover of the copy I read:
I sat down in the porch swing on my grandmother's porch and started reading:
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startlingly oblique line in her magnolia-white skin--that skin so prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded by bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia suns.
I was entranced.
It took me a couple of days to read all 1000+ pages; I've always been a fast reader, and I'd never read anything like it before--or since. The book transitioned me from the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and books for kids into the world of books for adults, and I never looked back. I must have read that book a thousand times over the years; there's always been a copy in my home, and while it has been about ten years minimum since the last time I picked it up and reread a part of it.
It is, of course, one of the most successful novels of all time. It is still in print now, almost eighty years after it's first publication. It was the Number One bestseller for two consecutive years, and it also won the Pulitzer Prize. It was made into an epic motion picture that was the biggest money maker in history until The Sound of Music. Both the book and the film are iconic in American pop culture. Who can forget Scarlett making a dress from her mother's curtains in an attempt to flirt her way into money from Rhett Butler to pay the taxes on Tara? Scarlett delivering Melanie's baby, and their flight from Atlanta through war-ravaged Georgia to get back to Tara? The horrible, heart-wrenching death of Bonnie Butler, thrown from her horse in full view of her parents?
There are so many great moments, so many great characters, in this story that it would be hard to pick highlights.
And Scarlett is one of the most compelling characters ever created in fiction.
Selfish and spoiled, not very literate or educated, she is not a sympathetic character in any way, shape or form; the book opens with her planning on breaking up Ashley Wilkes' engagement to Melanie Hamilton--whom she dismisses as a non-entity and a nothing. Scarlett wants what she wants, and despite all of her grooming to be a proper Southern lady, she is anything but; it's all artifice. She flirts with men for no other reason than to wrap them around her little finger and take them away from the women they are involved with, and doesn't care whom she hurts in the process. She marries Melanie's brother for no other reason than to get even with both Ashley and Melanie, who marry despite her interference. Poor Charlie dies of pneumonia, going to his grave mercifully not knowing who the woman he married really is; thinking she really loved him. She marries her second husband, Frank Kennedy, whom she has always dismissed as a fussy old maid to get the money to save Tara--even though he is in love with, and wants to marry, her younger sister, and she accomplishes this by telling a heinous lie. She is almost without a doubt at least indirectly responsible for Frank's death...and then she marries Husband Number Three, not for love, but for money. Through it all she thinks she loves Ashley, married to Melanie, their three lives hopelessly entwined. Melanie is equally as strong a character, although we always see her through Scarlett's eyes as annoying and wimpy and kind of dumb; when Melanie dies it is only then that Scarlett sees Melanie for who she really was, and what she was too blind to see for years: that Melanie always loved her, fought for her and protected her in ways she'd never seen; Melanie was her only woman friend. And it is on her deathbed that Scarlett is made to see, through Melanie's words, that Rhett has loved her for years, and she him.
There are so many characters, so many subplots and stories, that I cannot even imagine how difficult putting together a lexicon of the book would be. Every character is drawn beautifully, lives and breathes no matter how minor they are to the story.
The Confederacy was wrong in its positions and in seceding from the Union and fighting a war to preserve their right to own people. (I think it's very important to make that distinction rather than to say 'slaves' or mention 'slavery'; while it is of course the accurate terminology, I think it lessons the impact of what the harsh reality actually was: SLAVERY WAS ABOUT OWNING PEOPLE.)
And of course, the book is racist--some of the descriptions of the characters who are people of color are horrendous--and apologist for slavery; no one in the book (or in the old South) ever abused their slaves, of course, and they were treated like 'members of the family' and so forth. Horrible stuff, really; but I do think this is important for people to read this sort of thing, to show this is how people used to think and believe.
And sadly, some people still think this way.
We are so quick, especially as Americans, to forget the past and think it has no bearing on the future. And while Gone with the Wind certainly romanticizes slavery, it is shocking to think that seventy years AFTER the Civil War a book could be published, become an international bestseller, win awards, and be turned into an iconic motion picture with this sort of point of view, with these incredibly racist depictions, using racist language, and coming right out and saying that people of color were better off being owned.
I believe strongly that we should also never, as Americans, forget or be allowed to forget, the legacy of the 'peculiar institution.' We should never forget that in a country built upon freedom, some people were allowed to own other people, or that this country was builton the backs of slaves. We should never forget that racism was at one time considered normal, or that people of color weren't allowed the same privileges that whites were allowed under the law and under our very Constitution, and that some people not only were okay with it, thought it was RIGHT.
We should never forget that the bloodiest and deadliest war in American history was fought over the question of whether or not it was legal for people to be owned like cattle by others.
Owned. Like. Cattle.
I loved this book, and it has certainly stayed with me, but I do not love all of its messages. But I don't think it should be banned, but nor do I think it should be allowed to stand with its racist messaging. There is, of course, no way to be certain that everyone who reads it can be made to understand that it not only should be read for its wonderful story but also as a historic documentation of the evils of racism, and how mainstream such racism was in the home of the brave and the land of the free.
We have come so far, yet still have so far to go.
end what I originally wrote
I haven't read the book in years. The last time I took it down from the shelf and opened it, I was appalled. I hadn't read it in years, and during the time between those last two readings I had an awakening of sorts about many things I had been raised to believe; I'd slowly realized that I had been raised wrong, and the beliefs and values I'd been taught in and by a racist, homophobic, sexist society were not only wrong but immoral. This is why I have no patience for "oh, he's just a product of his time' or "that's just how I was raised'--I was raised that way, too, but I became self-aware and educated, and changed the way I thought. It would have MUCH easier to cloak myself in the excuse of 'how I was raised," but I challenged those values and beliefs; I thought about them and wrote about them in my diary and read about them and did the hard work to reshape my mind, my values, and my beliefs.
So, no, I don't think it's okay to give people a pass because of 'how they were raised' or 'things were different when he grew up.' I don't think it's okay for any human being to hate another because of their skin color or their gender or their sexuality. Of course, you have that right--you have every right in this country to be a homophobe, a racist, a sexist--anything you want to believe, you can.
But I also have the right to call you on it. I have the right to tell you I don't want to hear it. I have the right not to watch it on television, I have the right to not read it in books or in the newspaper. You right to free speech and freedom of religion does not trample MY rights as an American citizen.
I just hope that I live long enough to see an end to institutionalized bigotry.
The other day I was reading an io9.com piece by Esther Ingliss-Arkell about why everybody thinks they’re better than everyone else, even if, in point of fact, everyone can’t be better than everyone else. While reading it, I had two thoughts:
One, it was a nice day when I learned I didn’t have to be better than everyone else, just good enough;
Two, I can think of several things where I am totally worse than many other people.
The first of these I think is pretty self-explanatory. To begin, when it comes to creative fields in which “better” or “best” become highly subjective after a certain, hopefully high, level of competence. To follow, once you are at that certain, hopefully high, level of competence, whether you are better or best is usually kind of immaterial. For example, in my field of work, publishers can’t make a business in publishing only the “best,” whatever their (or your) definition of that is. There’s not enough of “best” to go around, and anyway, what’s “best” isn’t always the same as what sells. In addition to “best” they also buy “pretty darn good,” or (at the very least) “competent enough to sell.” I am happy to say I am at least Competent Enough To Sell, which for a writer gets you through the gate.
When I was younger, wanting to be the Best Writer In The World was a fine motivating goal, in terms of sticking with writing and learning the craft and the business of the field. As I got older I realized that wanting to be the Best Writer In The World would eventually give me heartburn and make me envious of and pissy toward the people in my field who might otherwise be my friends when it turned out their talents were as prodigious (or worse, even more so) than mine. So instead I mostly focused on being a better writer. As a result I did in fact get better as a writer, and I learned not to hate other people simply for being good in my field, or needing to feel that I had to always imagine myself the Best Writer in the Room.
So: I do not think I am a better writer than other folks in my field. I can think of several I consider better writers. I keep working on the writing so I can get onto that level. I do think I’m pretty good at the writing thing, and I think my track record as a professional writer lends some credence to that opinion. If other people think they’re better writers than I am, good for them. If other people think other writers are better than I am, that’s okay too. My ego is focused on being good and getting better.
As toward the second, a short list of things I know I totally suck at:
1. Drawing. Man, I’m just terrible at drawing. And I used to say to myself “well, at least I can draw stick figures just fine,” and then xkcd happened. So now I can’t even say I do a good job at stick figures. Stupid xkcd.
2. Cooking. I can cook three things well: Shadenfreude Pie, minestrone soup, and ramen. Everything else you do not want me in the kitchen for. Except for exploding your kitchen. Which I could do.
3. Knitting. Seriously, how the hell do people even do that shit. I tried it once and it just turned me into a ball of anger and insecurity. I see knitters clacking away and making cool things and think what sort of witchcraft is this? It literally astounds me.
4. Dressing myself. I think this might be a field I could become competent in, if I invested the time, but the amount of time that I would have to invest is so large that as a middle-aged man I might not live long enough. So when we go out in public, I let my wife dress me. Because she has to be seen with me, right? She will protect me from myself.
5. Organization. Oh, Jesus. Just the thought of trying to be organized makes me tired and wanting to lay down. This is another place where my perfect wife comes to the rescue, enough so that I have told her that she is not allowed to die before I do, because if I had to manage the particulars of my life, I would end up buried in a pile of bills and starving to death.
To be fair, only some of these are relevant to my day to day life (cooking, dressing myself, organization). But the point is that anytime I start thinking I’m generally better than other people, I have a useful, practical list of things to remind me not to get too far ahead of myself.
Which is actually important because Ms. Ingliss-Arkell is correct — left to my own devices, I would happily think of myself as just plain being better at, oh, everything, because that’s how I’m wired, along with, apparently, a lot of other people. It’s not true, and, happily, it also doesn’t matter if I am. Good enough works just fine.