Friday, September 17, 2004

A few of my favorite things...

The music of Django Reinhardt. The movies of Katharine Hepburn, Gene Kelly, Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, and Jimmy Stewart. Chocolate chip cookies warm from the oven. Hot baths. The unconditional love and endless enthusiasm of dogs. Chinese food. Red wine. Traveling. Taking pictures. Being with my friends. Reading a good book. Lazy weekends with my beloved. The ocean. Lying on a warm beach. Classic British mysteries. Hawaii. The smell of leather. Making people laugh. Writing. Dinner parties. Lake Tahoe. Convertibles. Louis Armstrong. Sourdough French bread. Cheese. Museums, aquariums, and zoos. History. Faded jeans. Buying presents. Book stores. British comedies. NOT WORKING FOR IBM!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Still want to be an astronaut? How do you do it?

Somewhere there must be a cosmic recycle bin for discarded dreams. The worn, the tired, the hopeless – they all cast their plans for writing the great American novel or climbing Kilimanjaro into this receptacle where they are turned into fresh dreams for the young and the indestructible.

How about you. What are your dreams? What do you want? What have you already given up on? What are you holding on to?

I’m at one of those annoying crossroads that seem to afflict people of a creative mind. You must know them. Do I resign myself to being broke but live happily pursing my dream as a writer, or do I forsake the dream and get another job so that I can someday maybe even buy a house?

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone’s dreams came true? If we lived in a world filled with cowboys and ballerinas? OK, annoying, but a warm fuzzy “what if” all the same. I was going to save the world. I was going to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. I was going to be a photographer for National Geographic and go around the world taking pictures and writing stories. I was going to be a novelist. I was going to….well, you get the idea.

But somewhere along the way, we all give up. It’s tragic, really. I mean I’m not really a coward, but practicality does rear its ugly head and make you realize that as a responsible individual you have rent to pay that can’t wait until the world beats a path to your door and hands you the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It would help if the universe were cooperative. I’m not asking for a golden carpet, but fewer roadblocks would be nice. I mean it’s hard to stay focused on that last dream when your health insurance won’t pay for your physical therapy or you suddenly need to pay for car repairs that couldn’t come at a worse time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This is the best blog ever!!!

Thanks to the over-zealousness of the American advertising industry, words no longer mean anything. If a chewing gum can be referred to as “extreme,” you know that the vocabulary has changed.

Everything has become a superlative. And when everything is amazing – everything becomes exactly the same.

It’s carried over into the rest of the culture as well. Marketing has become such a force of cultural change that it has completely altered our perception of what things mean. “Superstar,” for instance. Can someone actually be called a superstar when 4 out of 5 people have never heard of that person? Talk about a loose definition. Some 19-year old silicon airhead makes one movie or appears on one Fox TV show and suddenly they’re a superstar.

It’s such a modern term, too. In the golden age of Hollywood, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant weren’t called “superstars.” “Stars,” yes. But super? No, that came later. Which is ironic, because Katharine Hepburn actually deserved to be called a superstar. Alyssa Milano does not.

When exactly did everything become overdone? When did words like “ultimate,” and “amazing,” become so commonplace as to be rendered meaningless? The other day at the grocery store I heard a child refer to a breakfast cereal as “supreme.” Supreme? It’s processed corn with sugar and food coloring and it’s worthy of being called “supreme?”

It used to be that modesty, both personal and commercial, was a virtue. When someone complimented you on a job well done you were expected to smile deprecatingly and make some comment about how much help you’d received from the other guys. Today people don’t wait to be complimented, they point out their own accomplishments and demand all the glory.

A while back I came across some issues of Time Magazine from the 1930’s and in looking at the advertisements I was struck at how humble they were. Products were described as “good-tasting,” and “durable,” not “the best,” and the dreaded “extreme.”

Which just goes to prove, once again, that I was born in the wrong century.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Video, video

On Fridays it is crucial to get to the video store early. After 5, when people get off work, the lines snake through the store and all the new releases are gone – except for those that no one wants to see. Anything that looked marginally interesting in an ad, one of those “yeah, I’d rent that” films…they’re gone by 2. After that, you’re only in luck if you like Adam Sandler flicks or movies with 5, 6, or 7 in the title. It’s amazing the dreck that gets left behind in the wake of hoards of weekend movie-renters. All those early Jackie Chan films that they re-released, those can usually be found. Films featuring huge mutant mollusks are also usually available. Anything that stars a rodent. But the good stuff? Forget it.

I believe you can gauge a star’s status by whether or not you can find their films after 5 pm on a Friday night. There will be no Brat Pitt, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Halle Berry, or Tom Cruise. There will, however, be an abundance of Angelina Jolie, Kevin Costner, Meg Ryan, Jodie Foster, or anyone who ever starred on Friends or Saturday Night Live.

Then there are the surprises. Why would both copies of Mrs. Miniver be rented at the same time? How is it that the complete Godfather trilogy is still sitting on the shelf? Why does my local video bother to stock no less that 4 copies of Brigadoon? These are epic questions. Philosophy-level. Surely they reflect somehow on the condition of modern man. Don’t they?

Why is Finding Nemo always on the monitor, and how sick of it is the staff of the store? Will it have a deleterious affect upon them? Ten years from now, will they sue for mental anguish because they can still quote entire passages of dialogue? Will it cause them to never want to reproduce?

And what is with the mystical filing system. I have a dim suspicion that the categorization of films was adapted from the system used in the Great Alexandrian Library (one of the ten wonders of the ancient world, you know.) For only the oracle at Delphi could understand how things are shelved. The Great Escape, for instance, is not in Drama. It’s not in Action/Adventure. It’s not in Classics. It’s in “Award Winners” because, as we all know, it won an Academy Award for Cinematography. Yes, of course, how silly of me. Singing in the Rain. Musical? Nope. Classics? Nope. Family Favorites of course, you dope. Ah, well then how about a few Hitchcock movies. Well, Rear Window is in Classics. Vertigo is in Mystery/Suspense. And The Man Who Knew Too Much is….yes….you guessed it, in Drama. I half suspect I’ll find The Birds filed under Documentary.

Monday, September 13, 2004

In praise of favorite books

Recently I’ve found my entire life put on hold while I read, for the 5th or 6th time, books by one of my favorite authors. Books, like food, go in cycles with me. I’ll munch on toast at odd hours of the day for a month and then, for no reason at all, I’ll stop craving toast and start longing for apples. It’s the same with books. For weeks on end I’ll pick up one Jane Austin after another until I get enough and move on to someone else.

I’m currently in a Dorothy L. Sayers phase. If you haven’t read her, please do. She’s one of the great stars of British detective fiction. But don’t get all snobby about dead Lords in libraries and maiden lady detectives. Sayers was a scholar, one of the first generation of women to get a university education in Britain (Sommerville College, Oxford). Her novels are not only interesting mysteries, they are also well written, highly literate books. I especially love the ones involving her detective Lord Peter Wimsey and his eventual wife, the wonderful Harriet Vane. Please do read one or two (start with Strong Poison, for the first of the Harriet Vane books).

But what never ceases to amaze me is the pleasure I can receive from a book that I’ve read multiple times. There’s something so reassuringly delightful about letting a book fall open to its favorite place, running your eye along passages that you’ve all but memorized and savoring once again a special scene or memorable bit of dialogue.

For a cynical atheist like I, a favorite old book is one of life’s blessings.