Going back to go forward

Among friends I’m known for my serial ravings on trivial, non-controversial topics: hot weather, shredded lettuce, the shocking lack of spatial awareness displayed by tourists on New York City sidewalks in the midtown area or anywhere, really.

It’s true that I love the sound of my own voice and have opinions on many idiot things and also feel friendship has costs that should be silently borne by others. In turn they generally submit, knowing eventually it will burn itself out like the flame of a well-priced Yankee candle. Usually nobody cares enough to fight back, except this one time in college when I was ranting for so long about women’s names that end in the letter “i”—Juli, Sandi—that finally my roommate Debbie (wise) put her hand on my arm and gently said, “Um, Kari?”

The song I listened to the most

Apple Music and others keep trying to foist new music on me with their crafty personalized algorithmic mixes that mysteriously appear under the presumptuous heading “For You” and I defiantly stand up and shout FUCK OFF at all of them. All I want is this Bob Seger song that I used to listen to on my Sony Walkman late at night late in the summer at my grandparents’ cabin on the lake, when everybody else was sleeping and the world belonged to me. It is wistful and autumnal in all the best ways. Even in my teens I suffered from a gauzy, romantic view of regret and of time passing and I have always loved the part where he sings about the cold wind blowin’ from the north and how the summer birds are leavin’. And it’s true! They really are! I can hear them outside right now and my feet are freezing!

Some things I read

I flew to New York for a meeting this week so I finally had time on the plane to read some of the millions of Instapaper articles I save daily. There were so many good ones! Don’t believe the internet when people on it say it’s only garbage. It’s people who are garbage. The internet will save us all.

🔗 Ruby Tandoh on respecting old loves:

Obviously it's good to try something strange and expand your horizons. I don’t want to always tread the same paths. But you can’t go boldly forth if you don’t know what you’re made of, and away means nothing if you don’t know home. All around is bad news and bad men and awfulness, but I’m building a little fortress that’s helping me keep afloat. I’m patching up a ‘me’ that’s been neglected for too many years, and surrounding myself with all the things that make me who I am: Mars bars, that threadbare tea dress, Green Wing. For maybe the first time in my life, I’m really savouring the experience of being the same old me. I'm a muddle of all the boring, weird, melodramatic, awful, saccharine, unglamorous, awkward things that I've loved. And you know what? It tastes great.

🔗 Jazmine Hughes buys a new bra:

Earlier this year, I couldn’t stop buying Woman things. Delicate jewelry with curves slimmer than the white of my fingernail; luminous foundation that costs more than dinner; white wide-legged jeans that emphasized the width of my hips. I wanted to feel ladylike and graceful. Grown-up, deliberate. I wanted to experience the sensation, the sound—or what the sound brought to mind growing up—of my mother’s gold bracelets as they jangled or her keys as they clinked together right before entering our home. For months, I wanted everything to smell like roses. I washed my face and balmed my lips, and dotted my neck, and sprayed my hair with the same scent, trying to smell freshly plucked.

🔗 Justin Illingworth on the journals of John Cheever:

Each entry is perfectly sized, strangely lambent, its effect concentrated and distilled. One is astounded by the lightness of his touch, his piquant or affecting details that bathe an observation in grace. “The storm moves around to the east and finally strikes the valley. The air is aromatic the instant the rain falls. Ben cuts a paper airplane for his little brother. The old dog will not leave my side.” The economy of such sentences belies their emotional weight and inexplicable familiarity. There is no better conjuror of this particular atmosphere: the happy-sad, window-dreaming melancholy of late afternoon.

[ lambent : adjective : playing lightly on or over a surface: flickering ]

Something about soap operas

There is not as much writing about General Hospital online as there should be, but I stumbled across a couple of blog posts last spring while cleverly googling “General Hospital.” These posts from 2014 were actually essays written by an English professor named William Bradley who used to watch the show daily when he was undergoing chemotherapy in his early 20s. This is from “On Soap Operas, or, We Read and Watch Our Stories in Order to Live”:

While it’s dangerous to live in the past, to give in to nostalgia’s deceptive pull, I think we’re well-served by making an effort to remember the world as it existed, as we perceived it at the time. Holding onto what was real keeps us rooted to who we have been, and reminds us of the world– or, perhaps more accurately, worlds– we have lived in. The history books will remember the presidents and the captains of industry. Neither Nabokov nor Twain will ever go out of print. Scholars and culture critics will make sure we remember the Citizen Kanes and The Wires.

But who is going to remember the One Life to Lives? Or the Howard the Ducks? Or The Gong Shows? These things were part of our cultural landscape for a time. People worked hard on them, and surely their efforts and the work that resulted ought to be remembered in some way. They might not have had the lasting impact the works of high art are supposed to have, but they mattered to a lot of people, who labored on them or experienced them as an audience that cried, laughed, or played along at home.

And who, for that matter, will remember me?

That post includes a lovely tribute to the actor John Ingle, who played the role of Edward Quartermaine for two decades and who died of cancer in 2012.

He died of cancer as well, this writer, William Bradley, sometime last summer. I didn’t know him, but we loved the same thing in the same way, and I was deeply, immensely, wildly grateful to him for writing about it. And I will remember that.

A clip from General Hospital

Monica Quartermaine’s breast cancer storyline played out over a three-year period in unsparing yet soapy detail, and as with all soap opera storylines it was cross-pollinated with other subplots along the way—not only diving into its profound effects on her husband Alan and their marriage but also her best friend Bobbie Spencer, a newly adopted daughter, and the affair Monica had with a hot young doctor who later sued her for sexual harassment (and who even later she kidnapped and threatened to lobotomize).

This clip includes a sweet, short scene where Alan and Monica talk about her leaving for treatment at a hospital in Arizona. But it kicks off with John Ingle, as family patriarch Edward Quartermaine, telling his wife Lila about a woman he had an affair with long before who, unbeknownst to him, gave birth to an illegitimate son Edward was later accused of killing and burying in her back yard. God bless soap operas and the people who love them. Vive le soap!

One thing I did

I told my boss I’d like to work from home full time and she said okay.

A blog post that’s making me happy this week

Rebecca Thomas wrote this in her newsletter, which as far as I’m concerned is the same thing as a blog:

This little newsletter is an experiment into what’s possible. Setting aside big plans and the pressure that accompanies all that is the only way I’ve ever propelled myself to something better.

I’ve published seventy-six issues of something no one asked for. I love the dogged obtuseness of that. More than mastery, I’d like that to be my trademark.

I’ve published hundreds upon hundreds of posts that no one ever asked for, that no one has to care about, that no one even has to read. I’ve shared them with you but I wrote them for me.

Your weekly Bruce

Oh it’s nothing, just a used car salesman wearing his daddy’s best jacket playing some rock ‘n roll.

weeknoteKari GComment
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Thursday morning there was a pair of believers parked on a bench outside the train station handing out their literature. Various twosomes affiliated with some local god machine occupy this bench several times a week, and they are invariably cheery and nonthreatening. My policy regarding religion—and strangers in general—is you don’t get up in my grill and I won’t get up in yourn. Therefore, as always, I smiled and said good morning and kept on walking.

Then when I got into Union Station there was a pair of missionaries standing on the sidewalk warning passersby to repent for their sins. The woman silently waved a sign around while the dude shouted into a megaphone, which seemed like par for the course. I had no choice but to laugh out loud and keep on walking.

That same afternoon on my way back to the office after lunch there was a white van covered in “END TIMES” stickers blasting the word of the looord unto the street over a loud speaker. I could hear it booming from halfway down the block, which was how I knew it was the lord driving before I even spotted the van. I paused on the sidewalk and stared for a while, until the light changed and He pulled away.

So. p.s. Have you ever seen The Leftovers?

The song I listened to the most

In truth I haven’t slept in approximately one hundred billion years so I have nothing of import to report. My brain simply isn’t functioning up to its normal (tremendously high) standards, so I laid on the sofa and watched three hours of Golden Girls last night. When in doubt, go to the source. I suppose that’s why others turn to religion in the first place, so let my choice be known. Traditional multi-camera sitcoms will have to save me in the end.

This week I listened mostly to a playlist I made for my dear friend Robert G way back circa 2004, which kicks off with this Ryan Adams classic but also includes good hits by Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Everclear, and Hanson. It’s a real crowd pleaser, this playlist, amongst a crowd of me. It reminds me of Diana and of fine autumn days and sometimes it just feels like stepping back into a better world, if only for a couple of minutes. Sometimes a couple of minutes is all it takes (though naturally I would take more if they were offered).

Some things I read

🔗 Zadie Smith is 100% who I want to be when I grow up, although that will be some trick as she is years younger than I. Alas. This is from a piece she wrote for Elle India:

I grew up in a culture suspiciously eager to convince me that an 80-year-old woman with a 20-year-old man was at the best comically grotesque, at the worst, some form of perversity, while Chaplin and his youthful loves, by contrast, were an example of the ‘agelessness’ of men. But the truth is — as I think those teenage boys suspected — age exists for us all. It comes to you whether you believe in it or not. And I am now very grateful to be in a body that reminds me every day of this simple human truth. Which is not to say age does not bring me sadness, that I don’t sometimes mourn for my 27-year-old self, nor miss a certain version of my face, breasts, legs or teeth. I feel all of that natural, human sadness. And I do all the usual things — exercise, eat decently, dress optimistically — in the hope of slowing the inevitable process. But there are limits to that hope: limits like the menopause, limits like the end of my fertility. And thank God for them, because hope without limit is another word for delusion.

🔗 An important twete; i.e., it’s important to find and follow people who randomly and repeatedly tweet short sexy excerpts from Dorothy L. Sayers books. Take your joy where you can find it, turkeys.

🔗 This oral history of Frasier in Vanity Fair is a nice coda to my Year of Frasier and makes me think I should probably start watching from the start all over again. The world is still a shitbox, after all. There is still a desperate need for laffs. cf. multi-cam note above.

Kelsey Grammer: People always ask how Frasier and Niles came from a father like Martin. Martin’s in public service, into knowing what’s right and wrong. That’s exactly what his sons were. On the simplest level, he was a good man, and their hope was to become the same thing.

David Hyde Pierce: I think there’s a parallel there with Kelsey, me, and John. John was a little older than we were. He had his own “Martin” acting style—no nonsense, no fuss, a Chicago-based approach. Kelsey and I came from New York theater with a slightly more highfalutin style, but we both aspired to be the kind of actor John was.

Something about soap operas

From Louise Spence, Watching Daytime Soap Operas: The Power of Pleasure, which is based on a series of interviews she conducted with soap fans over a period of 15 (!) years:

To some, my respondents' cooperation, forthrightness, and sometimes even pleasure in the interview situation might be interpreted as another indication of their loneliness and powerlessness. To others, it will seem like tangible evidence of their freedom, that they are mistresses of their fate. It may be their secret vice, talking about soaps, but it is also a small act of self-affirmation.

A related bonus

This week on an episode of Hart to Hart called “As the Hart Turns,” Max entered Jennifer into a charity drawing to win a walk-on part on a soap opera called “Doctor’s Hospital” that somehow turned into her being asked to write for the show when the head writer was suddenly murdered by an actor whose character was being killed off. It was too far-fetched even for me, a devoted lover of both this insanely stupid series and of soap operas. What soap opera invites a journalist who is not even a fan of the show to step right up to the writers’ table? How would she even know who the characters were? How would she know whose illegitimate baby was secretly whose? I was frankly insulted, even though I watched the whole way through.

A clip from General Hospital

I do however self-affirm this 12-minute, 32-second carnival of idiocy with zero hesitation, only wonder. It occurs during a period of their marriage when they actively loathe each other, and in fact she is getting ready to kick off a long affair with another dope that will haunt them for all the rest of their days. Ah well! Whatever it takes to be a Quartermaine.

One thing I did

I had my new passport photo taken at Walgreen’s and I honestly looked like a criminal. I couldn’t even believe it was my face, or that this lady who took the picture thought I would ever voluntarily submit such a record to any government agency. I wondered why she had it in for me, or why she wouldn’t just tell me the camera exploded, although I guess it’s unfair to blame her for my face. Then I wisely got a flu shot because one thing I am not a fan of is global pandemics.

A blog post that’s making me happy this week

“Happy” isn’t the appropriate word for it, but I’ve already backed myself into this corner and now I just have to see it through. From Rebecca Fishbein at Splinter, a post called “Who Edited This?” about these screwball White House twit vids:

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted a similarly exuberant 9/11 message. Later, he did a fun fist pump ahead of a memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And on Tuesday night, the White House permitted him to tweet the above message featuring Trump awkwardly shouting in the Rose Garden along with some interspersed shots of him lumbering around various memorials. I very much liked the image of him presumably glaring at a flag.

She goes on to ask “Who edited this? Was it Eric? I bet it was Eric.”

Your weekly Bruce

Quiet Bruce, somber Bruce, singalong Bruce: very Bruce! In the words of one interplanetary listener, “💟💯💋🌹🌹😭😘🌹😘😭😭💛”

Okay, my parents are coming down today with my brother Todd and his wife so I gotta clean this shitbox STAT. God bless & et cetera, obviously.

Kari GComment
Summons by Robert Francis

Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road. 
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door. 
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light. 
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me. 
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all. 
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

— Robert Francis, “Summons” 

How to plan for your retirement

It’s all fun & games until you stab yourself with the meat thermometer.

Ravinia Bob asked me a couple of weeks ago what my dream job would be and I said writing about old soap operas. Luckily that will never be a job, unless somebody is paying in unicorn dollars. Then I told him about my strategy to avoid revealing too much to others in conversation, which is to keep asking questions. Most people really only want to talk about themselves, so I let them do it. This is my policy at work and even in life most of the time, to be cagey about my own affairs and wisely keep the other person talking. I save all my secrets for this important blog.

Here's what happened this week.

THE SONG I LISTENED TO THE MOST

In truth this is a song I've listened to for most of the past six months, ever since I first heard it on The Highway (SXM™) while pulling out of the parking lot at Target, which is a weirdly specific memory (cf. memory + music). I heard the opening of the chorus first and said out loud to myself, what a deeply offensive song this is! I can't believe it's playing right here on the sat rad that fueled 30% of my retirement funds! (Jk, I'll never be able to retire.) And then I clapped my trap and listened to the rest of it, and quickly came to appreciate how he wedges the word "difference" into what's essentially a one-syllable beat. This is a feat I haven't been able manage no matter how many times I practice (it's been six months, as I said, so I've practiced a lot). 

Any of the following could be used to identify me as the writer of an anonymous op ed

This whole stupid story feels like it happened a million years ago, doesn't it? I truly believe experiencing the daily dread of this cracker-fuck phase in American history is what is making me feel so old lately, and sucking the soul out of my own American soul. Anyway, here's my list.

  • Anyway
  • Exclamation points
  • Semicolons
  • Em dashes!
  • Egregious commas,
  • Sly parenthetical asides
  • Kind of
  • Sort of
  • Extravagantly self-indulgent run-on sentences
  • FYI
  • Lol
  • Ugh
  • Gold doubloons
  • Unicorn dollars
  • Hatred of birds
  • Hart to Hart 
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Loops
  • Buckles
  • Nora Ephron
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • James Salter
  • George Saunders
  • Mamma Mia
  • Soap operas
  • Quartermaines

Some things I read

🔗 Glenn Close on Jeff Goldblum: "Jeff is charm personified. The demented smile, the verbal agility, the jerky yet somehow graceful way he moves. A lot of arm stuff." She really nails it—"a lot of arm stuff." That's all you need to know about Jeff Goldblum. I first came across that GQ profile last year at the hairdresser, where I did all my Man Reading, and then it was referenced in a Washington Post article this week about the upcoming release of a jazz album by none other than Jeff Goldblum. Good luck & godspeed to all you faithful Goldblumers!

🔗 Sheila O'Malley on Burt Reynolds:

There are people with big talent. Some of them become big stars. They appear in serious movies and win awards. This is all fine. I love some of those actors. But the charisma of Burt Reynolds – the way he carried himself – the way he wore his fame lightly, making fun of it – the way he handled his sexuality in an almost casual and self-deprecating humorous way (“Relax, honey, I’m not that good” he says into Jill Clayburgh’s ear before they go to bed for the first time in Starting Over) … all of these indefinable things that made him a superstar … these are the reasons people have such affection for him, this is why he was a star. For the “silly” stuff, the silly stuff that entertained millions. It’s undervalued, this kind of thing.

She's writing about how most people list Boogie Nights as their favorite Burt Reynolds performance, which is fine. I guess I believe them. But that performance wasn't everything great about Burt Reynolds, it's just everything to a certain type of person who wants to believe a certain type of thing, who wants to tell themselves a story about what makes a certain type of art worthy of their attention and approval. And it dives right into my thinking not only on soap operas and romance novels but sitcoms and most musical theater, which is to reject this garbage notion that only "serious" art is worth elevating and appreciating. Love what you love! Loudly and often. Love what makes the quotidian tedium of life bearable and memorable for you and you alone. For me it's The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which I watched again last night. He swears a lot and struts around in tight khaki pants and makes out under the stars with Dolly Parton, and once in a while he warbles a tune. What's not to love about that?

Something about soap operas

"On the genre"—this is actor Charles Keating, who played Carl Hutchins on Another World, from Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera:

This is a genre, unlike all others, that requires one thing of its audience—its memory, its collective recollection of who you are and what you've done. That is extraordinary.

Another extraordinary thing is that they shoot us from neck to crown. Now, if you have a face on the screen in your home, several times a week, that is powerful. There's no other form that concentrates on faces, eyes and mouths, and things being said to each other—oftentimes lies.

A clip from General Hospital

Yes! I've talked about talking long enough, when everybody knows soap operas are about love in the afternoon. So here's another fight ("And my last word to you is, I'm leaving!") followed by some lip-lock action with extreme crown shots (8:00), tied together by a petulant and deliciously drunk Alan Quartermaine in plaid flannel.

There's a reason the marriage lasted 30 years in both soap and real time, that's all I'm saying, and that reason is he's irresistible.

A BLOG POST THAT'S MAKING ME HAPPY THIS WEEK

This interview with Seth Godin at The Old Reader:

You’ve said that even if nobody read your blog, you would still blog every day. What is the value to the pure act of blogging?

Every day, I have to stand for something. Notice something. Put it down for all to see. The act is clarifying. It requires me to be a bit less of a hypocrite. And on a good day, it’s generous. That’s a pretty great combination.

My act of blogging is self-referential and self-regarding, but sure, also clarifying. Blogging is how I reflect on events and process my own thinking and the world at large, and as I mentioned in the lede it's also how I let people know I'm still alive.

My #2 happy blog post is Kelly Conaboy on Sam Neill's "farmland situation" at The Cut. I'm very glad Kelly Conaboy has found a new place (The Cut) to appreciate things I likewise appreciate. Appreciation for dumb small things is what blog posts are for and all they should be about, in my opinion. This has never been a secret.

Another bonus

I also enjoyed this Elizabeth Gilbert video (h/t swissmiss) on understanding the difference between a hobby, a job, a career, and a vocation (see as always "You don't have to love your job"):

 "If my career as a writer ends, guess what I'm gonna do next? I'm gonna get a job. I'm gonna get a job, and I'm gonna keep writing in my bedroom like I did before anybody cared."

I love to write but I don't want it to feel like a job, ever, so it's wedged between a hobby and a vocation, which is okay with me. I don't want editors! I don't need tips for improvement! It's something I do for play and sanity, nothing more, and when one day this blog dies, as nothing gold can stay, I'll keep on writing in my bedroom, too, just for me. It's the one thing in the world that I have that nobody else can touch.

Your weekly Bruce

I reactivated my Twitter account last week bc I still like to fav things but I will never tweet again. My pledge to you (probably a lie)! I also deleted most of my timeline, and the posts I left behind are a real distillation of my true self; it’s all about dogs and Bruce Springsteen.

Thanks for listening and keep on rocking, even if it kills you.

weeknoteKari G Comments
tl;dr

I’ve never been much of an activity blogger. I mean, I participate in activities— I’m awake and breathing, all my parts operate—but “then we did blah blah blah" narratives aren’t really in my swim lane, since I have zero interest in plot and would rather cough up disconnected moments or “here are things I thought about while activities were going on around me" blog items instead. In blogland I function best as a passive observer, self-regarding, inward-facing, bellybutton-gazing. A plague on all your houses! 

Here's what happened this week.

The song I listened to the most

I downloaded this Lori McKenna album a few moons ago but don't remember why, or who would have recommended it (Twitter, probably. NPR, the usual culprits.). Streaming services make it easy to cosign something without actually committing to anything, so I download all sorts of music I never actually get around to listening to. A real song hoarder, I am. But I gave this album some good attention this week and was rewarded, and then I went back to Apple Music and purchased it, which is the very least that musicians or artists or app makers or newsletter writers who reward us with their care and time and effort deserve. Support the people who make your days a little brighter or those who grease the gears even a little, that's all I'm saying. Over and over again.

In your chest there is a compass, in your blood there is a calling
And in your head there is a vision, you called that "the dream"
And leavin's part of it, if you didn't you might never know
Keep a Bible by your bed like headlights comin' up the road

Keeping a Bible by my bed seems like a good way to unintentionally invite unwanted specters or vengeance-seekers into the house, but the rest of it really rang true.

p.s. The woman who moved into my apartment in New York emailed earlier this summer to ask if I'd ever experienced any "ghostly encounters." Sadly I had to report that I'm not a person who operates on that frequency. Either that or my life was truly too boring to bother reaching through time and space and ectoplasm to interact with.

Some things I read

🔗 Another Joan Acocella piece! What a boon late summer has been, Acocella-wise. This one, a review of a new book on Louisa May Alcott and the enduring popularity of Little Women, ran in the New Yorker, and it contained many gems. Here are two:

Her father, Bronson Alcott (1795-1888), was an intellectual, or, in any case, a man who had thoughts, a member of New England’s Transcendental Club and a friend of its other members—Emerson, Thoreau.

There she is, my favorite master of asides, forever tucking sly burns inside a series of cheeky commas.

She ends with this:

Some people complain that university syllabuses don’t accord “Little Women” the status of “Huckleberry Finn,” which they see as its male counterpart. But no piece of literature is the counterpart of “Little Women.” The book is not so much a novel, in the Henry James sense of the term, as a sort of wad of themes and scenes and cultural wishes. It is more like the Mahabharata or the Old Testament than it is like a novel. And that makes it an extraordinary novel.

🔗 A John McCain tribute from Jon Lovett at Crooked Media:

He was complicated. He believed in America. He was big in a place filled with tiny tiny little fuckers.

🔗 Kelly Conaboy at The Hairpin (RIP), proposing a pause day (which is not unlike Ellyn Burstyn's theory on "shouldless days"):

So, again, to explain what you do on pause day: you lie around. You think, or you don’t think. It’s up to you. You take a moment. You sit in a chair and you know that at least, for the moment, nothing is happening. Everyone is pausing. It is not a day, technically, it is just a momentary shared presence. It’s a small pause. I think this would be good. Please donate to my pause day Kickstarter. Just kidding. But please sign my Change.org petition, just kidding. But please make Pause Day, if you are in a position to do so.

Something about soap operas

From Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Operawhich you can own in hardcover for 95 cents and enjoy for eternity:

Soap operas also share important connections between the distinctive ways they engage their audiences and the kinds of things they tend to be about. A complaint heard about soap operas wherever they are produced or watched in the world (made principally by those who do not watch them) is that we never see anything happen on soap operas, that all people do is talk and emote. That is, I would argue, in part a fundamental misunderstanding of the way soap operas, particularly open soap operas, work: what happens is not nearly so important as the effect of an action on relationships. But however widely this criticism misses the mark, it does point to a common feature among soap operas: soaps are about talk, and, as a consequence, much of what we see on soap operas around the world is people talking.

Of course theater—at least my favorite kind of theater, the wordy, shouty, smarty-pants Sondheim kind—tends to be much the same thing. Soaps are certainly "about" plot (Renata Adler, in the New Yorker, says they're "pure plot"), but plot only interests me to the degree that it reveals character. Otherwise I might as well be watching horses circling a track, or reading an Agatha Christie novel. Also worthy pastimes! Just not what I'm after with this project.

A clip from General Hospital

To wit: This clip includes a long interlude at 10:20 that's just Monica talking to her father-in-law Edward about how, five years into her marriage, she has become more of a Quartermaine than the Quartermaines ("cruel, avenging, wicked, truculent: ruthless"). The Quartermaines are all terrible people, it’s true.

Leading up to that, they are spying on her husband Alan through a telescope as he fights with his dumb mistress, Susan Moore, who Edward calls "Little Miss Muffet" because he knows she's not fit to be a Quartermaine. And she isn’t!

A blog post that's making me happy this weeK

I gather most of my entertainment news from Pop Culture Happy Hour, which ends every episode with a tally of "What's making us happy this week" from all its guests. Their answers usually involve music or movies or video games, while mine will be about blog posts.

My answer this week is this blog post from Martha Stewart where she had someone follow her cats around her Bedford, NY, home (aka the Winter House) and document their cat-like poses with a crappy camera. Where was Martha? you ask. In Maine with the dogs. It's summer, after all. The post is called "Summertime with My Cats," even though technically she is not with them.

In this post—which, like all of her posts, contains approximately 5,000 photos ("Martha Stewart knows how to embrace the mundanity of being alive and of blogging")—Martha offers commonsense tips like "I always cover the pets’ favorite resting spots with towels. Doing this keeps these areas extra clean, and extra cozy. This chair is in my smaller dining room." And then she ends it with an endearingly punctuated casual message to both her outdoor cat Blackie and her greater blog audience, encouraging further engagement. I have no doubts that Blackie and indeed all of Martha's cats are regular readers and frequent commenters on Martha's blog.

Screen Shot 2018-09-01 at 8.03.20 AM.png

Some thoughts

A dude on the train yesterday morning talked all the way from home base to Union Station. I choose to occupy the top deck of the train most days, since I like gazing down on America and her peoples from a position of withering scorn and dominance, and this fellow was seated across from me but in the corner, facing me, in one of those weird end seats that directly faces the seat in front of it, meaning he was uncomfortably (for my tastes) close to the person closest to him (this isn't going well, is it), who it seemed he was accompanying at any rate and who perhaps, therefore, didn't care.

I cared though. I cared enough for all of us, because this dude jabbered non-stop at his either willing or unwilling seatmate so loudly that I could hear him right through my headphones, which to me is an unforgivable sin at 7:46 in the morning. I kept hollering at him from inside my head, the same thing I always holler inside my head when people are loud in the wrong places, which is "Pipe down, chatty Cathy!" It'll lead to a brain aneurysm one day, I'm sure. But then it occurred to me that I shouldn't lay this at the feet of innocent Cathies so readily, that in my morning transit experience it is invariably the dudes who cannot keep their traps shut. "I'll bet this whole train will be interested in my opinions!" is how I imagine their self-talk goes. So I tried switching my own internal shouting monologue to "Pipe down, chatty Carl!" or "Zip it, stupid Steve!" neither of which proved satisfying. They're pretty lame actually, so I'm open to suggestions. Anything that will keep me out of prison.

Your weekly Bruce

Bruce salutes L-O-V-E, carnival-style, while wearing the protective armor of high-buttoned shirt, jacket/vest, and bolo tie that were hallmarks of this introspective and growth-oriented period in his life:

Btw here's a useful comment someone posted to this video four days ago: "Remember when he took up political causes in the 80s. The communist Chinese government murdered over 10,000 students in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and he said nothing. Why didn't he sing for them. Silence is violence folks."

It's raining here again, obviously, the continual torrential downpours of a planet stripped of all its buffers. I plan to see a movie today, and pick up a few things at IKEA. Silence is violence, folks!

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p.s.

Last Sunday, writer Sheila Heti sent out a Tiny Letter follow-up to another Tiny Letter she had sent earlier the same day. It was titled "Ps" and was an apology for the first Tiny Letter, which she had deemed inadequate after hitting send. It seemed unnecessary, in my opinion, since the first letter was fine and I have no rules or expectations for what constitutes a Tiny Letter, but I appreciated it anyway. That she cared enough about this to send a related note.

I highly approve of the p.s. and use it frequently myself, as I always have more to say after I think I'm done. The Grammarly blog has a lot to say about the correct use of P.S., which I didn't read since I use it however I want and don't need no stinkin' rules fouling that up. But they do include this lovely quote from Shaun Usher, the author of Letters of Note:

The P.S. is the most charming part of a letter. It’s the wink you give as you walk away.

Here are some other things that happened this week.

The song I listened to the most

I’m very protective of things from my past that I still love wholeheartedly, not just because they’re comforting in their familiarity or because they’re inherently better than other, newer things (they're not!), but because anything that sticks around in your head for 20 years or more should be respected, while also gently mocked. I think you need to honor the things that made you who you are, because without them you might have grown into an asshole or a serial killer (not that those are mutually exclusive). Who knows what turned the tide in your case, or mine? Plus, in uncertain times like these, we need to appreciate what we can, especially when it’s free for the taking and not suspected of committing any tax fraud through sketchy third-party payments to porn stars.

For me this week that was Jimmy Buffett. Yes! The one and only. I still love the scruffy, hairy Jimmy of the early 70s, who wrote almost exclusively about beach bums and deadbeats and drunks. I love not the famed party songs that turned him into a cash register but the quiet story songs about sad, shabby lives in far-off places. This one is a small epic and it ends with a real bang.

Also this photo

buffett005.jpg

Actually he looks a lot like my cousin Greg.

See also: A listen to Jimmy Buffett before he was the mayor of Margaritaville

Some things I read

🔗 Joan Acocella in a review of a new book on Bob Fosse ("Crotch Shots Galore"):

His first big role was the lead in a 1951 summer-stock production of the Rodgers and Hart musical /Pal Joey/. If ever there was typecasting, this was it. Like Joey, a small-time nightclub emcee, Fosse could reel out breezy, lame jokes and get good-looking women to do him favors. This role, to which he returned many times, may have helped to form his rather sleazy personality, and vice versa.

🔗 Ephrat Livni at Quartz writing about loving your job (or not):

It’s not the job itself that gives us a sense of purpose, but the pleasure of work. Yes, that’s right. Pleasure. Because work at its best—whether it’s pouring coffee or defending the indigent accused in a county jail—is a kind of play. In the moment of doing, meaning doesn’t matter, just the task. That’s a relief from spending time dwelling on the big picture: who you’re meant to be and what you should try to achieve in your life.

A bonus

This was the DVR description for the Hart to Hart episode "Murder in Paradise": "After murder interrupts their Hawaiian croquet game, Jonathan and Jennifer postpone vacation plans for intrigue."

Pause for a moment while I repeat that for you:

"After murder interrupts their Hawaiian croquet game, Jonathan and Jennifer postpone vacation plans for intrigue."

Here, I even took a picture of it:

IMG_1142.JPG

So. It's a little tough to know where to go after that.

Something about soap operas

From No End to Her: Soap Opera and the Female Subject by Martha Nochimson:

[T]he linguistic syntax of women's entertainment, which is constantly breaking the action, challenges the intellectual as well as the psychological foundations of patriarchal culture, which emphasizes the need to suppress femininity in order to maintain a concept of order. Perhaps the severity of the linguistic assault on male domination in the structure of soap opera and women's movies explains why power establishments of all kinds would rather laugh at than cry about these two subgenres of screen fiction—and why, of the two, soap opera is more daring in its resistance to the linear syntax of conventional narrative. As we have noted, gaps abound: during commercial breaks, between the intercut segments of the many plots that make up a daily show, and at the end of each installment. Its defiance of ordinary (masculine) narrative syntax, its permanent disruption of the linear, suggests why soap opera is commonly the target of an intrinsically masculine power establishment.

A clip from General Hospital

Monica disrupts the masculine power establishment by yelling at two dudes at once even though Alan tries to shut her up (5:30). It's not a secret that there was some amazing hair happening in 1983. She's a heart surgeon, btw. Always important to bear that in mind.

Monica and Alan spent the whole back half of 1983 fighting about whether or not she would allow him to bring his illegitimate infant son to live in their enormous mansion after the child's mother (Susan Moore, Alan's former mistress) was murdered in the midst of a blackmail scheme (spoiler: eventually she gives in, and then raises the kid as her own, which goes very well until 20 years later he loses his memory in a car crash and becomes an angry mobster).

Some thoughts

I’ve repeated this claim ad nauseam but my favorite thing in the world is things (plural) that exist on the internet for no reason. Like this weekly-ish / occasional newsletter called "famous people" that I subscribe to, which is a review of parties the writers attend with people who are famous only to them, the writers of this newsletter. Like this guy named Jon who just moved to Berlin and hosted a goodbye party for himself. I don’t know him, nor the writers of this newsletter, yet I was sad to see him go.

This newsletter is deadpan and sunny and light, and it makes me smile every time it arrives in my inbox (usually Wednesdays I think, I haven’t tracked it). It’s the kind of newsletter where you’ll read something like “Then I sat next to the stove with the salt potatoes while my mom drove my grandma and her Crockpots full of meatballs over to the party.” Low key missives. It’s just nice to hear from strangers out in the universe once in a while who have interesting ideas about what to take note of in their lives. What captures their fancies, I guess. Details. And then we all continue on with our own separate battles until the following week or so. Similarly I hope the three people reading this blog who don’t know me at least think to themselves, well it’s weird that she always talks about soap operas, but okay. The people who do know me, I’m not sure what excuse or justification you’re using, although sooner or later there will be a quiz. Take notes! Nostalgia may be free but friendship is not, FYI.

Your weekly Bruce

I went to the YouTube and distractedly typed "Bruce" into the search box, which resulted in a lot of Bruce Willis videos showing up, who not coincidentally I also once paid to see in concert at Summerfest in Milwaukee with my friend Michelle. We crafted a huge multi-colored banner for this concert (BRUCE), which happened in the 80s (obviously), and then the concert was canceled or postponed due to a thunderstorm that threatened to blast us right out of our metal bleacher seats. This was during his "Bruno" days, I believe, when he was calling himself "Bruno" to separate his harmonica self from his Moonlighting self, like Garth Brooks temporarily adopting the alias "Chris Gaines" while wearing a wig and a lot of eyeliner. I honestly don't think I'm making any of this up.

Here's correct Bruce singing with Bryan Adams, for some reason (another hero of my youth, although as my friend Kris reminded me, our prom song was not "Heaven" as I've long arrogantly claimed without performing even the most rudimentary fact checking, but "Meet Me Halfway" by Kenny Loggins. Kris is a police detective so I should have believed her from the start, although I have no memory of that song at all. Kris also has a lot of patience, as you can tell.).

“And that's life,” as they say. Good luck with yours!

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A weekly update

Well I'm determined to keep going even though I'm exhausted (by life & more, etc.) and have nothing to say. It's been 14 years since I started and I'm sure as shit not going to quit, but this is what blogging has become now. Sorry. You had it pretty good for a while there.

The song I listened to the most

I have to be honest, it was this:

I recently finished reading Carl Wilson's book Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste and found this unexpected and charming connection to Meatloaf explained a lot about the world of Celine:

Answering complaints about her records being “overproduced,” Dion has very smartly said that to her, that’s “not a bad thing—it’s a big thing, it’s big time, it’s Gone with the Wind.” I’m with her when we’re talking about the kind of overproduced she gets out of Meatloaf collaborator Jim Steinman, pedal-to-the-heavy-metal numbers like “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” from Falling Into You.

Gone with the Wind? Of course she's bananas. I'm not sure we're surprised. But how normal are you and on what are you basing that assessment? So after reading this I had to listen to the album version of this song 85,000 times. It's appropriately Meatloaf-sized (over 7 minutes long!), bombastic, and genuinely insane, all of which are high markers of quality for me, ear-wise.

Some things I read

🔗 An ode to cassette tapes: "You know what you forgot? How you just have to hit play and wait until the side ends. And how that side was made for only half of your listening experience—not infinite aural time. And the other half, if you flip the tape over, is like, another half of that album. Mind=blown. It’s different, but the same."

I made a mixtape in high school that was just a loop of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on one side and a loop of "Jessie's Girl" on the other. In case you thought my cheeseball tastes were a new development to worry about or anything out of the ordinary.

🔗  "Would You Rather Be The Last Days Of Summer Or The First Days Of Fall?": "I think you still have to believe good things can come, like sweaters. Maybe you’ll get a new sweater you like. You’ll get to walk around drinking coffee in your sweater. Reading a book around fall foliage. Maybe something exciting will happen to carry you through winter; you don’t know. A new romance. A new job. A new baby, though for that one you probably would’ve seen it coming. It’s possible. Everything will feel new again before it feels old again."

Observed from a Podcast

🔗 "You can either feel uncomfortable growing or you can feel uncomfortable stagnating.” – The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo

I briefly considered adding this podcast to my usual rotation but this woman seemed glued to the notion that earning $100 million dollars a year is inherently noble as a life goal, and I can't take anyone seriously who thinks that's worth striving for or achieving, or even spending time thinking about. It's like saying "I'd like to smoke 85 cigarettes during a round of frisbee golf while a baby goat shoots darts at my head." It's just nonsense words strung together. Good luck if that's what you're into but I'd rather take life advice from people who make weird art or write cool blog posts, or watch soap operas.

Something about soap operas

Blake Wandesforde in Soap Opera Confidential really nails who I am:

Thanks to All My Children, to One Life to Live, to General Hospital, I was immersed in the language of operatic approach. Rather than learning to control my story, I was learning the language in which to tell it. It is a tongue made up of the forgiving, soulful words of encouragement. I was learning less about romantic love and its potential for loss, and more about romanticism and its power to soothe and comfort. I was learning the oft-dismissed utility of sentiment. Delusional, maybe, but it gets you back on your feet. Life isn't a job for journalism. When your bootstraps are out of reach, it is the yarn spinner who will tell you how beautiful it is to run barefoot. The yarn spinner will backlight you, rub your lens, and cue the strings. The women in Pine Valley and Llanview and Port Charles never stayed down for long. Nor did my mother. A good raconteur needs not only the quixotic urge to explore and create, but also the publicist's compassionate spin when things fall apart. It is how we care for ourselves. Not by avoiding romance, but by bathing in it. The romantic discovers there are no happy endings and sees possibilities through the vocabulary of resilience, elasticity, and silver linings. This language is a gift.

Plus that name "Blake Wandesforde" sounds like she stole it from a soap opera.

A clip from General Hospital

Circa 1987: Alan has amnesia and wants a divorce! Watch at 5:15, where Monica orders a martini at a restaurant and he asks the waiter if they have lemonade.

A story

Last night whilst lying in bed—i.e., sleeping— I was awakened by a noise coming from upstairs, in the loft, some THING or some BODY moving around, so I did what any sane person would do: I grabbed a weapon out of the shoe basket by the front door (a Birkenstock, weighty) and crept up the steps in the dark to check inside the closet. Long story short, it was devoid of murderers. But for some reason the stupid wi-fi printer had decided to install some software updates proactively and then reboot itself, loudly, so I was free to print a few vital documents at 2:37 a.m.

A photo of a dog I liked on instagram

One thing I did

Quit Twitter. It was about time!

Your weekly Bruce

My boy is not too cool to sing with Sting, who's looking florid and consumptive as usual:

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3 things for today

1. 3 things are seldom "3 things." Please note!

2. I got to the station early Wednesday night and hopped on the wrong train home, forgetting that suburban transit lines don't function as inter-city subway lines do; i.e., a train is not a train is not a train. Ultimately it took me 3x as long to arrive at my destination as it would have if I had waited 10 extra minutes at the station in the first place. Other than that it was a nice week, my first week at work. I think I'll be okay there. I think I'll survive.

3. This tweet is the truest thing I know: 

People are as tired of me bitching about this as I am about living through it, I'm sure. Don't check on me, though. Obviously I don't want to talk to anybody about anything. Except seeing Lady Gaga in Las Vegas next spring. CV and I have talked a lot about that.

4. John Prine in the New York Times: “I’ve been subscribing to Archie for 40-some years and I just like to receive it in my mailbox. I subscribe to it under the name ‘Johnny Prine, Age 71,’ and I give my correct age and you know, you go to the mailbox once a month, and there’s an Archie comic there with your name on it — it’s kind of a nice feeling.”

Semi-related sidenote: in 2013, Mel Brooks wrote a piece in NY Mag about growing up in New York, and it remains a stellar gem that I revisit approximately once a week. Reading about people who appreciate small, weird, personal things is one of my favorite hobbies, just as appreciating small, weird, personal things is one of my own favorite small, weird, personal things.

5. For example, this song:

6. I realized last night that in the past 5 months I have completely and successfully changed my life. Still humble & chill though. I also watched "The Fugitive" and thought about how tired I was, and then I went to bed.

7. About "The Fugitive": I read a number of appreciative posts re: this film in the last week, and luckily it was available to me for free as a subscriber of HBO (that word "free" meaning in excess of $X00 per month), so I wrote a note to myself mid-week to "watch "The Fugitive" and support movies for grownups!" So I did that. The best moment in the film is when TLJ is chasing a man he thinks *might* be Dr. Richard Kimble down the stairs at the county jailhouse or courthouse or wherever they're supposed to be on St. Patrick's Day and he suddenly just stops and takes a chance and yells "Richard!" down the stairwell and my longtime lover Harrison Ford stops and looks up at him, because he can't help himself. That was such a smart story beat to hit, calling on a small, recognizable, natural human reaction to hearing your own name called, even when you're fleeing for your life, and it blew me away that it existed in the world and in a major Hollywood mid-90s production. So, support movies for grownups! is what I'm saying, even if they're 25 years old.

[ see also: "Richard! Richard!! Richard?!! REEEECHARD!!!!?" ]

8. I read a thing somewhere about how blogggggers shouldn't apologize or offer excuses to nonexistent readers for not posting regularly and while it was written in a snide tone, AKA "who gives a shit what you're doing?", it was also a kick in the can that I owe explanations to no one about what happens on this lazy blog.

9. Two newsletters I pay for: famous people and two bossy dames. Support writers you love, dummies! Help them shine on!

10. Warren Ellis on the future of online communication: "Invisible Monasteries and Black Mountain Colleges.  Not the worst way to deal with it. Private accounts and locked spaces and phantom movement and communication via the Republic of Newsletters and RSS signals across the Isles of Blogging.  We are as ghosts and might as well get good at it." You can subscribe to his newsletter for free.

11. Samantha Irby on eyeliner: "i have a few marc jacobs eyeliner pencils that are smooth and pigmented and beautiful but the last time i wore one this dude asked if i had an eye infection and that was the end of that."

12. Remember when Jeremy Piven scandalized America 'n Broadway with his random sushi addiction that ultimately caused him to withdraw from a Mamet play co-starring Peggy Olson and my longtime lover Raúl Esparza? Well, I've eaten sushi for lunch three days in a row, because I wanted to, and I'm afraid now I'll be visited by some spicy tuna parasite or develop sudden brain fever. Please advise.

13. Another note I wrote to myself this week, about my devotion to soap operas: "I’m not claiming these are great art, but why do they have to be? Why should 'quality' (an arbitrary, subjective rating) be the only measure of a creative property? Why should there even be a measure?" So no apologizing for soap operas either. They're as valid a frame of reference for social interaction/civil discourse/entertainment as a big-budget mid-90s action movie about a vascular surgeon chasing a one-armed man across Chicago while being pursued by the feds.

14. A note about soap operas from this book Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women:

...soap opera is opposed to the classic (male) film narrative, which, with maximum action and minimum, always pertinent dialogue, speeds its way to the restoration of order. In soap operas, the important thing is that there always be time for a person to consider a remark's ramifications, time for people to speak and to listen lavishly. Actions and climaxes are only of secondary importance.

“Lavishly” is a nice touch.

15. And boy is that true: all my favorite GH scenes involve two or three actors sitting or standing or walking across a room while they sip brandy and talk to each other. There is zero "action" happening. This can best be demonstrated by the following clip I watched last week, where the same three actors repeat the exact same stupid conversation four or five times in 12 minutes.* You can skip right ahead to 10:40, which is where the actress playing Monica Quartermaine decides the dialogue is too boring to pretend to care about and just inspects her nails for a while. At around 10:57 she actually sighs out loud before she finally gets to deliver a line:

God I love it so much. Early-80s soaps still had that cardboard set look with flimsy doors and shabby furniture and once in a while you can see a boom mic drop into the frame. They are a glorious artifact sealed in an amber time capsule buried deep inside my heartlight.

*The repetition is, as they say, a feature, not a bug. Soaps originally broadcast live and were designed to allow busy, distracted housewives to move in and out of the room during an episode without missing critical plot points. The same extends across weeks, months, and years of narrative, since episodes air daily but only once and, if skipped, are lost to the ether (more true in the days before DVRs and streaming, obviously, but still a defining feature of the format—there's no official long-term archive available to viewers, which makes it more like theater than most other TV series or film. Although in theater they're not producing a new script every day for 60+ years.).

16. Don't worry there's plenty more where that came from! Stay cool, etc.

Summer Kitchen by Donald Hall

In June’s high light she stood at the sink
            With a glass of wine,
And listened for the bobolink,
And crushed garlic in late sunshine.

I watched her cooking, from my chair.
            She pressed her lips
Together, reached for kitchenware,
And tasted sauce from her fingertips.

“It’s ready now. Come on,” she said.
            “You light the candle.”
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.

— Donald Hall