An audacious plan to save the world

That headline is a con, suckers. I have consumed X,000 mg of caffeine since 5:30 a.m. while listening to The Blend on SiriusXM, although I had to change the channel when Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” came on. Blech. For the record, these are songs I will change the channel on:

  • Candle in the Wind

  • Sympathy for the Devil

  • Imagine

  • It’s a Wonderful World

  • anything by that flute band

+ Important news: Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! starts streaming on Tuesday!

I set some low bars for myself this week.

The song I listened to the most

No comment on all the trash floating through the universe, but this song is the best.

Some things I read

🔗 9 Big Bang Theory episodes that will win over skeptics

In my experience, trying to convince anyone to love anything you love is a useless effort. I have succeeded exactly one time, when I talked my friend SarahB into watching 20 hours of Battlestar Galactica over a single weekend, but that was just me being a good friend. The best kind of friend! BSG was so good! I want to go watch “33” right now!

Anyway, a woman in this sitcom writing class I took back in ’08 tried convincing me that The Big Bang Theory was actually a funny, smart sitcom with well-developed characters, and I said “hogwash” with confidence, because based on what I knew about this sitcom at the time (which was nothing), how could this possibly be true? But it is true. It’s been on for a billion years now and is a prime example of a series that has used those years to expand and deepen its own universe in incremental yet profound ways. Individual episodes can be dumb and lazy, based on who’s doing the writing that week, but name one television show where that is not the case. Sorry, you can’t. Everything has clunkers. Scientific fact.

Over the past five years it has become my blue mood show, the one I seek out when nothing else works, even though I can’t say exactly why, As favored NPR critic/Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes writes, “How do you explain what makes you laugh? How do I explain that Jim Parsons is just funny to me? And that some of the darling comedies of modern criticism, highly valued for their incisive, dark, weird insights, are not funny to me? How do I explain that sometimes I am, comedically speaking, a cheap date? The cheapest date?”

Sheldon has always reminded me of a cross between Jiminy Cricket, Barney Fife, and Mr. Rogers. My #1 episode is the one where he gets all the cats because he’s sad about Amy (“The Zazzy Substitution”). I will watch it repeatedly until the end of time:

A grasp of narrative is the one compliment you can give the country genre even when you can’t give it anything else. Its roots are in folk music, and its towering figures are oral historians like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. Not cool enough to be relevant to any streaming age existential crises, the winning country formula has not seen a major change in my lifetime. Two beers deep on Tuesday night, I thought about all the barns and hardware stores I’d heard Womack’s “Mendocino County Line” or “Little Past Little Rock” drifting out of as a kid, and tinkered with the idea that country songs are functionally like podcasts—linear entertainment you’re entitled to enjoy during the workday. A story is more vital than a hook or beat, in that context. A story built from tropes is even better, like falling asleep streaming a romantic comedy you’ve seen before. Country music is maligned—and rightly so—for corniness, misogyny, and flat, unexamined whiteness, but it is unendingly winning at the short story.

🔗 Warren Ellis on withdrawing from social media: “I still get broadcast waves.  I’m still engaged with the world and learning every day.  But I’ve chosen a quiet life in the fog.  I leave you to that other world. I like it better where I am.”

SOMETHING ABOUT SOAP OPERAS

From Worlds Without End: The Art and History of the Soap Opera:

Finally, the genre’s structure encourages viewers to develop certain ways of watching, and the daytime audience’s unique viewing practices help to explain the special power of issue-oriented story lines. Regular viewers have a rich, complex relationship to their favorite programs and possess a dense historical knowledge of the relationships among the characters. Whether they watch in real time or on videotape (ed. !), the daily broadcast of soaps permits viewers to make the shows part of their regular domestic routine, and that repetition works to build an intimate connection with the individual characters.

A clip from General Hospital

It’s all true! I watched the relationship between these two characters develop over decades. Knowing everything about their history is everything that makes this storyline and these scenes deeply resonant and precious to me: the care that they take with each other, the trust between them, even just the way they sit and talk to each other. The way that they grew and changed together. This is what soap operas do. Again I repeat: for all their faults and insanity, there is no other format that enables this in the same way, that allows and demands it, that embeds and rewards this patience and this loyalty in the bargain it makes with its viewers.

One thing I did

I took a cooking class at Sur la Table on Wednesday; it was me and two dudes learning how to make pizza at home. And lo, it was good! Good for the heart and the soul and the belly. My goal for the rest of 2018 is to not be afraid of flour. Cross your fingers!

Your weekly Bruce

Bruce performing an earnest sermon for an audience of thousands beneath a setting sun is one of my favorite Bruces: “A dream of life comes to me / Like a catfish dancin' on the end of my line.” BRUUUUUUUUUUCE. He always makes me happy.

In other news, I like to reward people for reaching the bottom, and your reward is knowing that what I keep thinking are bald spots in my eyebrows are actually, upon closer inspection, only patches of gray. So life goes on! Congratulations!

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?”

Here's what happened this week.

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 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.

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.

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!

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!

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:

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.

Culture weeknote 4

Sunday Mar 6

AFTERNOON Quick news brief @ at the NYT before heading out. Some people REALLY do not like Janette Sadik-Khan, queen of Bloomberg's surface streets. She's the one who blocked off that huge swath of Broadway for people who like to sit on Broadway. I do not, particularly, but I'm in favor of anything that promotes pedestrian justice and the vaunted traffic calming while sticking it to the perpetrators of car alarms.

EVENING Rain rain rain rain rain, so I host my own Veronica Mars season 1 mini-marathon, which gives that beachy soap vibe a thin layer of smartypants teen angst that does not include Mischa Barton. Of course, I also have The O.C. on DVD. As Woody Allen says, the heart wants what it wants, and sometimes the heart wants Peter Gallagher. But tonight it wants a mouthy underage PI with a pit bull sidekick and sass to spare, because I also like to remember a world in which skinny jeans hadn't yet been invented.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the best bloggers around, is reading Jane Austen. Here he addresses the unintended whiplash effect of assigning books to the higher-ed canon:

It's not like I wasn't reading. I read Gatsby on my own. I read The Sound and The Fury on my own (though I wish I hadn't.) I read Moby Dick on my own. Ragtime on my own. "London" on my own. Thinking back on what compelled me, all I have is various people who I respected essentially saying, "This is beautiful, and you might like it because you like beautiful things."

This is not a post about how you "fix" higher education. This not a post about the constant travails of "young black males." I am not, in this instance, particularly concerned with the "achievement gap." What happened between me and school is something particular which may, or may not, have broader application.

But I do wonder what might have happened if, instead of droning on and on about recognizing  foreshadowing and allegory, someone had said, this is the work of a fantastic stylist. I do wonder what might have happened if Jane Austen had been more than just another name on a "need to know" list.

Bedtime reading: True Grit by Charles Portis. I think this fell out of print for a couple of decades, until the Coens turned it into a hugely entertaining film. Turns out the book is just as entertaining. Crazy!

Monday Mar 7

MORNING This Chicago Sun Times article on framing in The Social Network leads me to why David Fincher is the best design thinker in Hollywood:

Faced with the merciless constraints imposed on him by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin -- a relentlessly talky script, a suffocatingly insular setting, barely any "action" to speak of -- Fincher finds solution after elegant solution. The Winklevoss twins' rowing competition scene stands out: the relentless music strains along with the twins in their bid for Olympic glory, but the tilt-shift cinematography makes everything in the scene look small and toylike. Their whole world is, literally, child's play compared to what Zuckerberg is building -- they just can't see it yet. It's cool, cruel and perfect.

AFTERNOON More from The Social Network, a gift that just keeps giving: lunch with Sean Parker. Here's Sean Parker on the film's most famous line:

So is a billion dollars cool? He ponders the question carefully. “No, it’s not,” he says. “It’s not cool. I think being a wealthy member of the establishment is the antithesis of cool. Being a countercultural revolutionary is cool. So to the extent that you’ve made a billion dollars, you’ve probably become uncool.” He laughs at his retort to Aaron Sorkin.

Flipping through LUCKY magazine. I unilaterally decide that spring coats count as culture since I frequently wear them in the public sphere, and often to cultural events.  After that I attempt to dig my way through Susan Sontag's famous essay "Against Interpretation" and surrender in the middle. Did Susan Sontag have a sense of humor? That's the essay I'd like to read.

EVENING Oh no! Angela Gheorghiu strikes again! Pulling out of next season's Faust at the Met, approximately one week after dropping out of this season's Roméo et Juliette.

Ms. Gheorghiu’s manager, Jack Mastroianni, said she could not abide the production, which is being directed by Des McAnuff. Mr. McAnuff has moved the action from its more typical 19th-century setting to the World War I era.

“She felt uncomfortable with the concept,” Mr. Mastroianni said. “She conceives of the work in a more French Romantic way, in the period, as opposed to something being updated.”

Angela Gheorghiu is the kind of artiste who refuses all sorts of things for artistic reasons. When she toured with the Met as Micaela in Carmen in the '90s, Franco Zeffirelli wanted her to wear a blonde wig and she refused until General Manager Joseph Volpe told her "That wig is going on with you or without you." When she finally gave in, she just pulled the hood of her cloak up to cover the wig. They don't call her "Draculette" for nothing.

Watching last week's Law & Order: UK, which is wildly, needlessly complicated, something about the killing of a pregnant doctor in a parking garage which is somehow connected to the same type of crime committed by two young boys a couple of decades earlier. The only good thing about it, besides Dame Harriet Walter, is learning what a life licence is. All things considered, not much of a consolation.

Bedtime reading: a New York mag feature on Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose new musical The Book of Mormon is in previews on the Broadway. Mostly I like that the only person they won't make fun of is Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday Mar 8

AFTERNOON My subscription to the New Yorker has mysteriously dried up, so in its absence I have to make due with their blogging engine. It's not the same, but otherwise how would I have learned I'm a book slob? My apologies to all, I guess, but I am not running a museum here, or even a library. I don't dust, I don't practice spine control, and they're taking sun baths all the livelong day. Sometimes I just toss 'em on the floor, and some of them I end up leaving on the sidewalk or dumping in the recycling bin. Oy, the horrors.

Over at the Guardian, they tell me Münchausen-by-Internet is a real thing.

Whereas Münchausen syndrome requires physically acting out symptoms to get attention from doctors, online scammers just have to be able to describe them convincingly. There's a potentially limitless audience of sympathetic ears, and success can be quantified by the number of concerned emails and message board posts generated by your lies. Some even go so far as to fake their own deaths, reading their own obituaries and observing the torrent of grief from the comfort of their living room. If they are rumbled – and they rarely are, conclusively – they just go to another support group, and to a fresh batch of trusting victims. The people they've fooled rarely find it so easy to move on.

EVENING Apple TV renting Morning Glory, which is a satisfactory comedy if not a great film. Rachel McAdams has the smarts necessary to play a smart character (thumbs up), but she's not slapsticky enough to be believable as a bumbler. I'm not sure why we need slapstick anyway, since there is more than enough female bumbling on film these days, but as always, props for a film focusing on a female character whose sole object in life is not a man, although she gets the man, too. This is Hollywood! Work and friends are not enough! (It's okay, she doesn't have any friends.) The whole thing would have been more interesting had it been about the two crabby anchors played by Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton, but since they are both over 60, I will dream on.

More True Grit. This book should be stocked on YA shelves; the heroine Mattie Ross is a budding proto-feminist with zero sense of irony. A real ankle-biter. My favorite passages are those where she's "negotiating" with Colonel Stonehill, the auctioneer:

He worried with his eyeglasses for a minute and then said, "I will pay two hundred dollars to your father's estate when I have in my hand a letter from your lawyer absolving me of all liability from the beginning of the world to date. It must be signed by your lawyer and your mother and it must be notarized. The offer is more than liberal and I only make it to avoid the possibility of troublesome litigation. I should never have come down here. They told me this town was to be the Pittsburgh of the Southwest."

I said, "I will take two hundred dollars for Judy, plus one hundred dollars for the ponies and twenty-five dollars for the gray horse that Tom Chaney left. He is easily worth forty dollars. That is three hundred and twenty-five dollars total."

"The ponies have no part in this," said he. "I will not buy them.

"Then I will keep the ponies and the price for Judy will be three hundred and twenty-five dollars."

But wait, is Mattie Ross a feminist? I guess so: she cries over her horse!

Reading on the iPad. Vogue's Grace Coddington is "elusive, severe, silent," according to the late Liz Tilberis. She is also a scene stealer.

Wednesday Mar 9

MORNING Epic day for the battle of the bike lanes! Hoo boy, can open, worms everywhere. Writes A Driver at the New Yorker:

Undoubtedly, during all those years, I should have been paying higher gas prices to cover the putative costs of cleaning up the carbon emissions I was creating, but that doesn’t diminish an important point: Americans love their cars for good reason. They are immensely useful and liberating contraptions.

Part of my beef, then, is undoubtedly an emotional reaction to the bike lobby’s effort to poach on our territory. But from an economic perspective I also question whether the blanketing of the city with bike lanes—more than two hundred miles in the past three years—meets an objective cost-benefit criterion. Beyond a certain point, given the limited number of bicyclists in the city, the benefits of extra bike lanes must run into diminishing returns, and the costs to motorists (and pedestrians) of implementing the policies must increase. Have we reached that point? I would say so.

How noble! As one of those beleaguered pedestrians, I'll concede that bikers can be annoying as shit (see also: Central Park as racing track), but compared to DRIVERS? In this city? Please. Buy yourself a pair of feet and then shut the fuck up.

And here's something that should scare the everlovin' crap out of all: Facebook wants to be the internet.

Facebook is reaching its tendrils into every single thing we like about the internet, far, far beyond the actual reasons we rolled up to Zuckerberg's site in the first place. IMing? Check. Email? Check. Photo sharing? Check. Apps? Check. Location check-ins? Yup. Twitter ripoff status updates? But of course! What Facebook hasn't stuffed into its maw by its own will, it's given developers plenty of incentive to do so themselves. The consequence? Over a decade after the web portal stopped making sense, Facebook is trying to assemble itself, like some ill-conceived Voltron, into the next.

After AOL began its decade-long implosion, gradually descending out of relevance, the real internet sprang up in the fertile mush that'd been left behind. AOL was hemorrhaging money like a hemophilic boxer, but the rest of us were having too much fun with the tools we'd be introduced to by this collapsing corpse to notice. IMing, emailing, video, websites, games—AOL didn't invent any of these things from thin air, but it brought them all together in one convenient (when you had a dial tone), hideously-90s Mecca. It was easy! It was slow! It was familiarly and comforting—and stifling. AOL's vision of the online world was what AOL deemed worthy of its walled topiary garden. It was closed—locked up tight. Integrated tightly, but, in retrospect, really pretty mediocre.

AFTERNOON Ordered tickets to Good People (Frances McDormand!) and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (Lynn Nottage!)

Lots of comebacks to the bike-hater:

Now, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, then it might be worth asking what the optimal level of bike lanes to have is and discussing whether the lanes themselves are subject to rising congestion and need to be priced. Of course, if drivers paid for all the costs they impose on others, there would be fewer drivers complaining about bike lanes and more people using them. As things stand, given that cyclists help alleviate some of these externalities (a cyclist takes up dramatically less road space than a car, doesn't use on-street parking, does not emit ozone, and does not contribute to climate change) it seems quite sensible to allocate a larger share of New York's roadways to lanes for cyclists. From an economic perspective.

I'm gonna buy a bike this summer, and then I'm just going to stand around with it in parking spaces all across the city.

In other news, this list of sitcoms that will still be funny 20 years from now unsurprisingly includes That '70s Show, which is now playing in blocks on MTV. I would also put Scrubs on that list if it isn't already. 

The NYT has an interview with Tom Stoppard on Arcadia, which SarahB and I are seeing in previews tonight:

“When you write, it’s making a certain kind of music in your head,” he explained. “There’s a rhythm to it, a pulse, and on the whole I’m writing to that drum, rather than the psychological process” — the time it takes for one character to digest and respond to what another said — “which creates its own drumbeat.”

EVENING ARCADIA!!!!! Reviews aren't out yet, so I'm mostly snapping my trap. It's a beautiful play and the production is lovely, the acting is strong (with some reservations), but if you want to see it, I'd wait a month or so. I think the cast needs a little more time to cohere in order to speed up the pace a bit.

Thursday Mar 10

MORNING Oh, Wisconsin. Way to stick it to all those high-living, hedonistic, speedboat-loving teachers in order to save billions. Oops! You mean they removed the budgetary incentive in order to ram this through the legislature and achieve the singular GOP goal of weakening the unions and further strangling the middle class? (See how well I've rehearsed my rabid lefty talking points!) Lesson: VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE.

From Gail Collins at the NYT: Q: what could possibly go wrong with guns on college campuses? A: Nothing!

The core of the great national gun divide comes down to this: On one side, people’s sense of public safety goes up as the number of guns goes down; the other side responds to every gun tragedy by reflecting that this might have been averted if only more legally armed citizens had been on the scene.

I am on the first side simply because I believe that in a time of crisis, there is no such thing as a good shot.

“Police, on average, for every 10 rounds fired, I think, actually strike something once or twice, and they are highly trained,” said Bill Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner.

Concealed Carry on Campus envisions a female student being saved from an armed assailant by a freshman with a concealed weapon permit. I see a well-intentioned kid with a pistol trying to intervene in a scary situation and accidentally shooting the victim.

Lesson: VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE VOTE.

And the real news of the day: AHHHHHHHHH! COFFEE IS IN DANGER! Better keep these people away from guns.

Also: flushing Julie Taymor down the toilet. What do you do when you're a committed perfectionist whose creative vision by all accounts is wrapped in a package labeled "do not bend"? The problem is that commercial theatre is a collaborative effort that must, almost by definition, bend in a thousand directions at once. Blinded by her own science, I guess.

AFTERNOON Reading Time Out New York on the subway, including (as never before) the dance section, which features an interview about a Black Swan parody called SWAN!!! Choreographer Jack Ferver, who plays Lily, is especially enamored of the ending:

It's a terrible thing to realize that you've lost your mind. I think everyone has felt that to some degree. But that moment is the most important in terms of commenting on what it is to dance. You see that you've really, really hurt yourself… [Pauses] And then you reapply your makeup.

My, but this week is rich with internetual ripostes. Here's Roxane Gay at The Rumpus on careless language in the New York Times' coverage of the "alleged" sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl in Texas:

The Times article was entitled, “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town,” as if the victim in question was the town itself. James McKinley Jr., the article’s author, focused on how the men’s lives would be changed forever, how the town was being ripped apart, how those poor boys might never be able to return to school. There was discussion of how the eleven-year-old girl, the child, dressed like a twenty-year-old, implying that there is a realm of possibility where a woman can “ask for it” and that it’s somehow understandable that eighteen men would rape a child. There were even questions about the whereabouts of the mother, given, as we all know, that a mother must be with her child at all times or whatever ill may befall the child is clearly the mother’s fault. Strangely, there were no questions about the whereabouts of the father while this rape was taking place.

And also this, from Mac McClelland at Mother Jones, on the Times' "rape-friendly reporting":

This is the point at which, as the writer's editor, I would send him an email. "Dear James," it would say. "Thanks for getting this in! I have some concerns that we've only got quotes from people who are worried about the suspects ('The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next') and think the girl was asking for it, especially since, even if she actually begged for it, the fact that she is 11 makes the incident stupendously reprehensible (not to mention still illegal). We don't want anyone wrongly thinking you are being lazy or thoughtless or misogynist! Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster."

That leads to a round robin of old articles on the coverage and reactions to the 2009 arrest of Roman Polanski, including this one at Salon, which simply begins with "Roman Polanski raped a child."

Friday Mar 11

MORNING Save to Instapaper:

And here's the only good thing in tech this week: Google Chrome now lets you block search results from certain sites. You can also install the Google Personal Blocklist extension. So long, HuffPo! Screw you, eHow!

Back to fashion at The Cut. Men wearing ladies' shorts? I'm all for subverting gender roles in the interest of forming a more perfect union, but this is a very bad idea. Actually I don't even want to see women in those shorts. They are terrible.

AFTERNOON Finally Parks and Recreation is getting the notices it deserves. Its best feature? It isn't cynical, nor does it play any character (save Jerry) strictly for laughs:

Amy Poehler, the show's star, plays Leslie Knope, a preternaturally effervescent Indiana bureaucrat who is neither lovable antihero nor bewildered straight woman. Leslie defies all television (and cinematic for that matter) tropes. She is not a figure of fun — she may be perky, but she is not stupid — and does not have a hidden psychosis or agenda. She is just a regular gal, a solid B student, who believes in the power of positive thinking and is surrounded by a disparate, and at times desperate, group of people including the sweetly goofy Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt), the hilariously troubled Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) and the mildly normal Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones).

Get this: fake freckles! As a person of freckles, I find this offensive. I'm as insulted as I am by right-sighted people who wear glasses as fashion accessories that have nothing to do with impending blindness. It's all fun & games 'til the lord refuses to taketh away.

EVENING Attended a Noah Himmelstein-directed reading at a black-box up at Columbia, featuring Strindberg's The Stronger, Cocteau's The Human Voice, and a new piece by Danny Mitarotondo titled The River Has No Water. An elegant, delicate production guided by a sure hand and a clear vision.

After that we jet over to the Upper East Side to see Kate Baldwin perform at Feinstein's in a show dedicated to the work of lyricist Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, She Loves Me, Fiorello!, The Apple Tree, etc.). About a quarter of the way in, Sheldon Harnick joins her on stage, where he duets on most of the remaining numbers, and performs "If I Were a Rich Man" as a solo.

The two of them end together with a gorgeous "Sunrise, Sunset," and then we float out into the night. Pure magic from start to finish. Feinstein's does it again!

Culture weeknote 3

The latest in a series tracking my weekly cultural intake. Basically, anything goes.

Sunday Feb 13

3:00 P.M. Read The Seagull. That's all I have written down: "read The Seagull." It's a short book, so it couldn't have taken that long. Maybe I was subconsciously resisting the impulse to wikileak every detail of my existence. Otherwise I was napping.

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed this Stage Edition series of Chekhov translations by Laurence Senelick. He provides a handy pronunciation guide of character names for non-Russian-speaking dum-dums like me, and a solid introduction to the play's background, historical setting, and themes. I'm a huge Cliff's Notes fan (as supplemental to the source material!), so this is right up my nerd alley.

Monday Feb 14

Morning. Compose a neo-pastiche aria/military anthem titled "Coffee, My Friend, Climb Into My Cup." Perform it before an inanimate studio audience that includes but is not limited to my coffee. Others in attendance: the stove, the TV, a laundry hamper made of wicker, eight million clumps of dust. The floor lamp remains stoic in the face of artistic élan, and the fireplace refuses to applaud. Up yours, non-functioning flue!

Afternoon. Is there any civilization the Internet isn't simultaneously enabling/destroying these days? To wit: this Don Norman article "I have seen the future and I am opposed to it." As if opposition is an option, says Jeopardy!

But what about the Internet, an open system, with open standards where any browser has instant access to all of its delights? Isn't this the wave of the future? Yes, but this future is in danger of becoming one of walled gardens, where different services are contained within the bounds of subscriptions. Want one group of television shows? Join this garden. Want another? Join that garden. Want news articles, there is yet another garden to join. Want to buy a book or magazine for your electronic reader? You might have to match the item to the reader, the service provider and perhaps even the device. Different items will be sold through different distributors and not all will work on your particular brand of reader. We will all have to purchase multiple brands of readers.

This leads me right into an interview with Alexi Murdoch in Time Out New York, which describes his "tiny seaside house facing the Hebrides, seven miles from the nearest village and with nothing but water separating it from Canada." I daydream about places like this all the time, where I would eschew modernity and eke out a bleak, ironic existence on some unforgiving coast like a character in a Penelope Fitzgerald novel, an isolated target of scurrilous village gossip who travels only on foot or by ancient motorbike, the handlebars of which I would decorate with plastic carnations and dried chili peppers, and maybe a couple of shrunken heads. Yet I hesitate. Could I get my Lapham's Quarterly delivered out there? Where would I buy hot dogs? Who will save me from snakes? These questions and more must be answered before I withdraw from the future.

Evening. Read Tom Stoppard's translation of The Cherry Orchard. This is the version I saw at BAM two years ago with Sinéad Cusack, Rebecca Hall, Simon Russell Beale, and Ethan Hawke. I'm tragically disappointed I didn't read it before I went — I missed all the poetry and nuance. God, why was I so stupid in 2009?

Watch The Kids Are All Right. Lisa Cholodenko does it againand bless her for spelling the title correctly ("shadowy acceptance" aside). I love films without villains, in which everybody acts like an asshole at one time or another and makes mistakes that can't be rewound by a pat, sentimental ending. Everything about this is note perfect, from the way Annette Bening silently implodes at the dinner table ("The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing / Alive enough to have strength to die"), to Julianne Moore's "I work in landscape design" costume, to the irresistible, irrepressible sweetness and arms-wide expectation that is Mark Ruffalo. Nobody starts out wanting to damage the people they love, but we do it anyway, all the time, every day, and survive. This would be in my top five for 2010 (rounding out The Social Network, Greenberg, Please Give, and ... I guess there's only four.) 

Start Arcadia by Tom Stoppard, which opens next month (previews begin next week). Oh, boy. I am in for it with this one, I can tell already.

Tuesday Feb 15

6:30 A.M. Finish Arcadia. No energy for news this week. This happens sometimes: the mind must purge itself of contemporary tragedies. And I'm deeply in love with this play.

10:00 A.M. Doing some recon for tonight's Nixon in China. The Met has posted some great video clips online, my favorite of which is "Flesh Rebels." Is the accent on "rebels" a noun or a verb here? A little of both? Also, Madame Mao was known as "the white-boned demon."

11:00 A.M. Order a ticket for The Queen of Spades. Tchaikovsky is too good to resist.

12:30 P.M. "What else is there in life but time and irony?"

5:00 P.M. Re-read Arcadia alongside the Faber Critical Guide to Tom Stoppard. I descend into what I call Immersion Tendency Madness when something strikes me the way this play does, where the love fans out almost immediately into obsession. And there's so much to dive into! Classicism vs. Romanticism, Determinism vs. Free Will, Order vs. Chaos, Thinking vs. Feeling, math as sex, science as sex, duality, simultaneity, the history of garden design, Lord Byron, where is your heart and what is the proof? And yet none of it reads like a speech or didactic window dressing: that's the difference, I think, between a comedy of ideas and a drama. At least that's what I'm hoping. I haven't even seen it yet, but this is it, my perfect play. Divine.

8:00 P.M. Nixon in China. Unexpected Mao sex! I have a terrible habit of looking for narrative where there is none, and the post-tweens surrounding us distract to no end. Would I have liked it more if I were seated in the orchestra? If I had a more sophisticated ear? But the music was gorgeous! I confuse myself.

Wednesday Feb 16

10:30 A.M. I don't know what to say about Borders. I've run out of space for books in my apartment; this is a limitation. I don't go to the library because I need to write in my books; this is either a choice or a character flaw. Dear Pen Pal: what are my options?

1:30 P.M. The Met announces its 2011–12 season amid a Twittering flurry. Such excitement! Please come see Rodelinda. You will fall in love. And look at this amazing shot of David Daniels and Joyce DiDonato from the world premiere of The Enchanted Island. EEEEEEEEEE! They're pushing Netrebko hard next year.

6:30 P.M. Re-read Arcadia. Again. I've underlined and annotated almost every page by now; it's impossible to decipher (best of luck, SarahB!). And here's where the difference between printed books and e-books runs right into the wall. There's no efficient means by which to browse an e-book; you can either search for something specific, provided you have the proper search term in mind, or you can "flip" from page to page by way of the forward/back buttons or by swiping the screen of an iPad. But the control is out of your hands; you can't leaf a finger into a page to mark your place, you can't reference two or three pages simultaneously, and whether or not you actually find what you're seeking is up to the luck of the mechanical draw. Again I have no answers, only questions.

9:00 P.M. Terrible episode of Modern Family. I'm a little tired of all the plot point redrawing from last season, although I guess it would be fine if any of it were that funny. Shelley Long was way over the top, Matt Dillon was miscast, and Fizbo needs to die.

9:30 P.M. DVR last night's excellent bug-centered, adult-Asperger's episode of Parenthood. More people should be watching this show. It's consistently satisfying, although I'm not sure why Coach and Holly McClane can't share the screen more often. Is there some kind of separation clause in their contracts? Is it a budget thing? It's noticeably weird.

10:30 P.M. Start Kenneth Tynan's piece on Tom Stoppard in Show Peoplewhich I was surprised to find I already ownI'm so awesome that way! Stoppard used to play cricket with Harold Pinter, who skips the match Tynan watches, since his estranged wife is also expected to attend. (This is the wife he pitched over in favor of Lady Antonia Fraser, whose recent book about her life with Pinter, Must You Go? also waits patiently in my Kindle queue). Here's Tynan's description of Pinter:

Pinter has two basic facial expressions, which alternate with alarming rapidity. One of them, his serious mask, suggests a surgeon or a dentist on the brink of making a brilliant diagnosis. The head tilts to one side, the eyes narrow shrewdly, the brain seems to whirr like a computer. His stare drills into your mind. His face, topped by shiny black hair, is sombre, intent, profoundly concerned. When he smiles, however, it is suddenly and totally transformed. "Smile" is really the wrong word: what comes over his face is unmistakably a leer. It reveals gleaming, voracious teeth, with a good deal of air between them, and their owner resembles a stand-up comic who has just uttered a none too subtle sexual innuendo. At the same time, the eyes pop and lasciviously swivel. There seems to be no halfway house between these two extremes, and this, as Pinter is doubtless aware, can be very disconcerting.

I like that very much, especially the whole "dentist / drill" callback.

Thursday Feb 17

Morning. On the subway: the chances for Middle East democracy in The New Republic. "[W]ithout economic justice—that is, without the hope of making a decent living, receiving adequate medical treatment, and no longer living in squalor—these democratic dreams are likely to benefit only a small minority of the population, even if, in a country as populous as Egypt, that is still a great many people in absolute numbers."

Back home: Matt Taibbi on David Brooks, re: the work ethic of the rich vs. the working class:

Most of the work in this world completely sucks balls and the only reward most people get for their work is just barely enough money to survive, if that. The 95% of people out there who spend all day long shoveling the dogshit of life for subsistence wages are basically keeping things running just well enough so that David Brooks, me and the rest of that lucky 5% of mostly college-educated yuppies can live embarrassingly rewarding and interesting lives in which society throws gobs of money at us for pushing ideas around on paper (frequently, not even good ideas) and taking mutual-admiration-society business lunches in London and Paris and Las Vegas with our overpaid peers.

Matt Taibbi is gleefully unconcerned with kissing asses.

Ordered a ticket to see Tom Stoppard at TimesTalks. Not one of those Somethings I Can Pass Up, even on a Running Team Tuesday.

Afternoon. Chris Rock in Esquire on optimism in the time of the Tea Party:

Kids always act up the most before they go to sleep. And when I see the Tea Party and all this stuff, it actually feels like racism's almost over. Because this is the last — this is the act up before the sleep. They're going crazy. They're insane. You want to get rid of them — and the next thing you know, they're fucking knocked out. And that's what's going on in the country right now.

BOOK FLIGHT TO PARIS!!!! SarahB and I are going in May for Sweeney Todd, "Le Diabolique Barbier de Fleet Street." It's directed by Lee Blakeley, who also did the gorgeous Night Music I saw last year.

Evening. Finish Tynan's essay on Stoppard and watch Parks and Recreation. I wonder how Kenneth Tynan would feel about Parks and Recreation? Did he own a TV?

I also watch today's episode of Coach, and realize I love Coach because Luther reminds me of my father.

Friday Feb 18

Morning. Back to the news in bed: Rick Gekoski at the Guardian says we over-praise books. I don't know, I think the world has other problems, so I'm not gonna worry too much about this one. I could be out over-praising Two and a Half Men or something.

A surprisingly well-tempered prediction for the future of books from the recently unemployed at Powell's:

I don't have a Kindle, but I'm not resistant to the idea. I'm more interested in content. However, I see a lot of people attached to the concept of a book. People have a hard time curling up in bed with a piece of metal and a monitor. I just don't see people going en masse to ebooks. Maybe in 10 years, Kindles will be a little more prevalent, but Powell's will still be downtown selling lots and lots of books. I'm excited to see what's going to happen. I think these kinds of changes are natural processes.

Afternoon. Anne Enright reads John Cheever's "The Swimmer" for the New Yorker podcast. (Omilord, Cheever in Irish!) She calls him "companionable and social." Ian Crouch says "Cheever writes like a slightly demonic contributor to some suburban social register."

It takes me a while to realize this piece on Angela Carter in the London Review of Books was also written by Anne Enright; Carter was her tutor for a semester at the University of East Anglia back in the '80s. Enright's recollection of one session with Carter, the purpose of which was to review Enright's novel-in-progress: "She indicated the pages with a graceful hand. She said: 'Well this is all fine.’ And then we talked of other things." It's gentle, this meeting: "The most important thing I have to say about Angela Carter is that she was kind to me. She read my work. She said: ‘Well this is all fine.’ "

Thus far I've read only Carter's Wise Childrenit's about a pair of quasi-abandoned theatrical twins trying to chase down their father over a long span of decades and countries and lovers. The hyper-dexterity of her pacing is right in line with the whiz-bang of her plot, but it scared the crap out of me, a little.

Evening. The Arcadia dumpster dive continues. Skidmore College has a great online analysis of the themes in the play from various perspectives — scientific, historical, mathematical, etc. The introduction reprints part of a speech Stoppard gave at the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, on the difference between drama and theatre:

Years and years ago, there was a production of The Tempest, out of doors, at an Oxford college on a lawn, which was the stage, and the lawn went back towards the lake in the grounds of the college, and the play began in natural light. But as it developed, and as it became time for Ariel to say his farewell to the world of The Tempest, the evening had started to close in and there was some artificial lighting coming on. And as Ariel uttered his last speech, he turned and he ran across the grass, and he got to the edge of the lake and he just kept running across the top of the water -- the producer having thoughtfully provided a kind of walkway an inch beneath the water. And you could see and you could hear the plish, plash as he ran away from you across the top of the lake, until the gloom enveloped him and he disappeared from your view.

And as he did so, from the further shore, a firework rocket was ignited, and it went whoosh into the air, and high up there it burst into lots of sparks, and all the sparks went out, and he had gone.

When you look up the stage directions, it says, "Exit Ariel."

Later. Raúl Esparza at the Allen Room, singing Cuban classics and Sondheim showtunes. Have I mentioned he's playing Valentine in Arcadia on Broadway? Do you see how this magic all comes together?

Saturday Feb 19

Afternoon. A Netflix of The American starring George Clooney, which could also be titled "George Clooney Walks Around." I'm so over the "assassin who no longer wants to be an assassin" sub-genre of assassin films (is there any other kind?), as well as this recent "George Clooney refuses to smile" phase of George Clooney's oeuvre.You got the teeth, honey, please remember how to use them.

Evening. Kate Baldwin plays the Allen Room. We love Kate Baldwin and will be seeing her again at Feinstein's — with Sheldon Harnick — in March (you should come!).

Tonight she's seven months pregnant and sings a song called "What the Fuck Was I Thinking?" at Lincoln Center. It's a perfect synchronicity of time, place, and performer, and she's got the wit, delivery, and cute little expectant tummy to both charm and disarm an audience of the standard age and temperament typically drawn by Lincoln Center (i.e., mostly gray, plus us). It makes me laugh and laugh and laugh.

Culture weeknote 2

The latest in a series tracking my weekly cultural intake. Basically, anything goes.

Sunday Feb 6

9:30 A.M. On weekends, the bad news comes late. Unsurprisingly, Frank Rich takes a dim view of American media coverage in Egypt: "Even now we’re more likely to hear speculation about how many cents per gallon the day’s events might cost at the pump than to get an intimate look at the demonstrators’ lives." Oh, America. Why can't you do anything right?

Download The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, which argues that social media use in totalitarian societies may benefit the regimes more than the peopleFrank Rich owes me $9.99.

2:30 P.M. Reading magazines at Penn Station while I wait for the Super Bowl train that will deliver me unto New Jersey. Joan Acocella's New Yorker profile of J. R. Ackerley (and his over-familiar relationship with his dog Tulip) is a sharp contrast, on a sentence construction level, to a piece in Vanity Fair about the filming of Thelma & Louise.

Here's Acocella in The New Yorker:

He knows that there is a measure of comedy in this passion of his for a dog, and that, to observers, the comedy was magnified by the fact—which he reveals only gradually—that Queenie was a nightmare to have around.

See how she tucks in the aside as a way to reveal a surprise, a sort of pow! that ends the sentence? It adds both textural and dramatic effect.

And here's Sheila Weller on screenwriter Callie Khouri in Vanity Fair:

She had, though—after a childhood in Texas and Kentucky as the daughter of a Lebanese-American doctor and a southern belle, and three and a half years at Purdue—studied acting and done a little theater.

This interstitial contains the critical information but its treatment only adds clutter and annoyance, and it interrupts the flow for zero payoff. The whole article reads like a sloppy first draft.

6:30 P.M. An evening in New Jersey. Packers win! Packers win! Even in New Jersey. I eat approximately 4500 Italian meatballs and a billion buffalo chicken hot "wings" the size and shape of golf balls. Those buffalo chickens are my albatross.

Monday Feb 7

7:45 A.M. Hauling it back from the Garden State. Manage to snag a lucky seat on the train and read about L.A. socialite Janet de Cordova in Vanity Fair. She's famous for having been married to Tonight Show producer Fred de Cordova, and also for following her retired maid back to Mexico, where she lived out the rest of her life in this woman's home. I didn't really get it; when a maid retires, is it not implicit that they don't want you tagging along until you happen to die in one of their beds? Bananas. Mark Wahlberg has a much happier tale of the vicissitudes of fame and fortune. I always forget he produces In Treatment. Renaissance man!

9:30 A.M. Sifting through post-game Packers coverage and the Bitch magazine kerfuffle, i.e., how a well-intentioned but strategically lazy YA reading list for feminists goes very, very awry.

11:00 A.M. Attempt to send a sexy Metropolitan Opera e-card of Armida to Roxie in anticipation of her pending first-time visit to the Met. The email is delivered sans sexy image of e-card. Sexy is inappropriate anyway. I just wanted friendly and enthusiastic!

4:00 P.M. Field periodic emails from SarahB at the Drama League's We Love Patti LuPone Gala, where she's working the tables.

6:00 P.M. Enjoy early, unsanctioned Spider-Man reviews, in which spectacle trumps story—and still fails. Surprise!

From Bloomberg.com: "After all this expenditure of talent and money, “Spider- Man” is probably unfixable because too much has gone into making humans fly, which is not what they are good at."

From The Washington Post: "If you're going to spend $65 million and not end up with the best musical of all time, I suppose there's a perverse distinction in being one of the worst."

Style over substance: all thumbs down. Opera blogger Sieglinde highlights a similar problem plaguing the Met's glossy new production of La Traviata:

The other problem with "concept" productions is that you end up expecting to be dazzled and surprised at every turn, so that the opera seems engaging only during special effects moments or dynamic staging (like Robert Lepage's undulating Das Rheingold platform spines) but can quickly become staid and dull when things stop moving or changing.

8:30 P.M. I've Netflixed my way through half of the BBC series Foyle's War over the past few months. It's about a small ragtag band of police detectives in the English coastal town of Hastings during World War II, starring the lovely and amazing Michael Kitchen as internally conflicted Chief Inspector Foyle. (Michael Kitchen probably has an ankle tattoo that reads "Internally Conflicted.")

You would not believe how many Familiar British Faces show up in these BBC miniseries. Guest stars for tonight's episode include Dr. Harrison from Cranford, as well as Dame Harriet Walter's late love Peter Blythe and Dame Harriet Walter's Law & Order: UK costar Bill Paterson. Turns out life is constantly throwing unexpected Dame Harriet Walter festivals. Attend, attend!

10:00 P.M. Reading Arts Reviews by Celia Brayfield, spurred on by this article "Narcissus Regards a Book":

Now the kids who were kids when the Western canon went on trial and received summary justice are working the levers of culture. They are the editors and the reviewers and the arts writers and the ones who interview the novelists and the poets (to the degree that anyone interviews the poets). Though the arts interest them, though they read this and they read that—there is one thing that makes them very nervous indeed about what they do. They are not comfortable with judgments of quality. They are not at ease with "the whole evaluation thing."

I absolutely have this problem. Apart from going back to college and starting over, I do not know how to solve it.

11:00 P.M. Rereading Clouds of WitnessLord Peter races to save his dum-dum brother Gerald from the gallows, when really his only offense is adultery. Still: you do the crime, you do the time, brother.

Tuesday Feb 8

6:30 A.M. More Arts Reviews. I'm not sure this is the book that's going to save me.

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad: BBC America, Slate, NY Times.

11:30 A.M. Download The Cut iPad app from New York magazine, spend 30 minutes browsing impossible clothes. Fall in love with 90% of Rachel Comey's spring line.

7:00 P.M. Meet my running team. We run three miles back and forth on the 72nd Street Transverse in 20 degrees of terrible wind. I'm lucky to leave with my face.

9:00 P.M. Rerun of Martin Sheen on the Graham Norton Show. He proudly displays his student I.D. card from the National University of Ireland, Galway, which he attended for a full semester in 2006. It reads "Ramon Estevez." Everything about him is adorable. He tells Graham Norton that the best thing about marriage is the sheer joy you get from being with the person you married. Sadly, I can't think of many couples who would say that.

10:00 P.M. Parenthood. This show is having a really solid season, and Lauren Graham just gets stronger and stronger. I used to be put off by her "dramatic turns" on Gilmore Girls, because she was such an unnatural crier. Here she cries all the time and totally nails it! Maybe Alexis Bledel brought out the fake crier in her, who knows. And here comes John Corbett as her ex-husband Seth. He does not look like a Seth. I shall continue to know him as Chris in the Morning, thank you.

Wednesday Feb 9

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad.

11:30 A.M. The problem with remaking Prime Suspecteverything. Can you imagine this series on NBC? A network that had to farm outFriday Night Lights to DirecTV in order to make it financially viable? It's the running theme of the week: commercial interests piss on quality.

More of the same, regarding the AOL/Huffington Post merger:

The results pretty much conform to the old maxim that you get what you pay for; the best Patch journalism almost invariably is being done by experienced journalists who do the work out of idealism or desperation. What happens when that pool of exploitable surplus labor dries up — as it will with time — is anybody's guess, but the smart money would bet on something that isn't pretty.

That's borne out by a memo from AOL Chief Executive Officer Tim Armstrong on where his company's journalism is going. It's fairly chilling reading, ordering the company's editors to evaluate all future stories on the basis of "traffic potential, revenue potential, edit quality and turnaround time." All stories, it stressed, are to be evaluated according to their "profitability consideration." All AOL's journalistic employees will be required to produce "five to 10 stories per day."

Note all the things that come before the quality of the work or its contribution to the public interest and you've arrived at an essential difference between journalism and content. It may start with exploiting reporters and editors, but it inevitably ends up exploiting its audience.

12:00 P.M. That said, you probably don't want a job in the arts.

2:30 P.M. Ordered tickets for War Horse and Arcadia. I'm not at all wild about the artwork for Arcadia; it looks like one of those pamphlets they hand out at funerals. Is that the intention? Must read before I go.

5:30 P.M. I DVR Coach every day on WLNY. In today's episode, Hayden and Luther do something stupid, and I laugh and laugh and laugh. Is this quality? What is it doing to my brain? I have no answers, I just like Coach.

6:15 P.M. On the subway, heading downtown for a running clinic, I read about unpopular new schools chancellor Cathie Black in New York mag. No good news here, either.

7:00 P.M. Gait and breathing analysis: I have a limb length discrepancy and breathe too fast. My life is over!

9:30 P.M. Subway. New York mag article on mental health in the military. I don't like crying on the train, but for fuck's sake. Look at what these people go through in our name.

The Army’s own research confirms that drug and alcohol abuse, disciplinary infractions, and criminal activity are increasing among active-duty service members. Most ominously, a growing number of soldiers can’t handle the strains of war at all. Until three years ago, the suicide rate of the Army, the branch with by far the most men and women in this war, was actually lower than the American population’s—a testament to the hardiness of our troops, given that young men with weapons are, at least as a statistical matter, disproportionately prone to suicide. But in 2008, the Army suicide rate surpassed that of the civilian population’s, and the Marines’ surpassed it shortly thereafter. So grim is the problem that this summer, the Army released a remarkably candid suicide report. “If we include accidental death, which frequently is the result of high-risk behavior (e.g., drinking and driving, drug overdose),” it concluded, “we find that less young men and women die in combat than die by their own actions. Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy.”

11:00 P.M. Clouds of Witness. Lord Peter is a little turned on by his brother's wild-wood mistress. I'm a little creeped out.

Thursday Feb 10

7:30 A.M. News on the iPad. I've never seen an episode of American Idol, but I do still have a mid-80s crush on Steven Tyler. I'm a product of my times.

I also enjoyed reading about this goofy midtown club for aging intellectuals who can't agree on whether or not to cut ties with another club in London that won't admit women:

Fans of the Garrick grumbled that politically correct Centurions were waging “cultural imperialism,” by trying to bully the English club into changing its policy. “I have been on the barricades of feminism and civil rights,” a male member said, “but I don’t believe in forcing them to do something they may be slower to do.”

The Garrick Club was founded in 1831; exactly how slow are its members?

I was all ready to get up in arms about this, until I remembered the Dame Harriet Walter Society is ladies only, and that the door to that club ain't cracking open for nobody. So, dear intellectual morons: do whatever stupid things you want.

8:30 A.M. Egypt still in trouble, but NY dickwad resigns. I'd like to think that's progress, but progress would be keeping your shirt on. Oh! and not cheating on your wife, you asshole.

10:00 A.M. New issue of GOOP arrives! I have a weird affinity for Gwyneth that even her Vogue "interviews" can't seem to kill. I don't give a shit what she spends her money on, although I enjoy her weekly missives from Neverland. Today she tells us that you are the river. I disagree: I am the hot dog, but who's counting.

6:30 P.M. Run in the park: 3.5 miles, dragging my limb differential around for the whole world to see.

8:30 P.M. Hart to Hart reunion on the Graham Norton Show. The audience is filled with international female fans, many of whom have every episode of this 30-year-old series memorized. You can just tell they would call the actors "Jonathan" and "Jennifer" to their faces. I don't get this at all: at what point do you not realize what you're watching is fiction? (says a founding member of the Dame Harriet Walter Society). Robert Wagner seems bored. Stefanie Powers knows most of the audience members by name.

9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation. I'm just gonna say it: too much Tammy.

Friday Feb 11

9:00 A.M. This is the only article I can read on the end of Friday Night Lightswhich airs its final season on NBC starting in April. This is what's wrong with America.

LATER Hmmm...

1:10 P.M. Finally saw The King's Speech. It's a solid, sturdy, charming, utterly conventional film stuffed with great actors giving great performances—aside from which none of it would register above anything Masterpiece Theatre turns out regularly. (You know you're in blah-blah land when the main character, struggling to overcome a speech impediment, actually gives himself an epiphany by shouting "I have a voice!" in the middle of an argument.) I stand by my Americans when I say The Social Network is technically, narratively, emotionally, visually, viscerally, a superior film.

9:30 P.M. More Foyle's War. Foyle almost gets a girlfriend, and the guy who killed Leonard Bast in Howards End makes some very big mistakes.

Saturday Feb 12

Philadelphia (literally).

Culture weeknote 1

Trying a different tack here, since my interest in blogging has been reduced to all front-end tweaking and no back-end writing, which I'm sure is fun for everybody. Clearly I need a focus, and one that's easy to maintain based on existing lifestyle factors and available free time.

The Paris Review Daily runs this regular feature called The Culture Diaries, where different writers track their cultural intake for the week. They're huge fun to read for a nerd like me who loves scannable lists, diaries, and recommendations, so I'm going to steal that stocking and stuff myself inside it. These will be long, so I guess you'll be in trouble if you don't like reading long, but I like the idea of keeping notes rather than throwing up all these disparate short posts during the week, so we'll see where it takes us. Wonderland, I hope! only on more of a hobo level than most of the writers engaged by the Paris Review. I'm also working backwards here from what I remember of the week, so it's weighted towards TV and missing a lot of reading. Next week I'll try actually taking some notes.

Saturday Jan 29

2:00 P.M. Post-morning run, had to catch up with my Netflix queue, so I tore through Easy A and Gone Baby Gone while I painted my nails and read Runner's World. I'm a passive-aggressive Netflix user: the DVDs sit for days and days and then I watch them all in a tawdry hedonistic celluloid overdose. There was also a nap in there someplace.

Easy A was better than I expected, thanks mostly to Patricia Clarkson in a great turn as Emma Stone's mother, all girl-power support and slutty nuance. Stone was delightful, too, but the set-up was way too drawn out and over-explainy. I guess people really don't know what The Scarlet Letter is about? That's sad.

Gone Baby Gone was slightly worse than I expected, since it's approximately three movies tied together in a totally implausible way. I say pick one ending and make me believe it. Thumbs up to the Brothers Affleck, though, and to Amy Ryan for going all-out hateful and never looking back. Wow. That is one barn-burner of a performance.

7:00 P.M. Attended a fifth anniversary "It's Angie Day!" party, which was also the first anniversary of anybody being invited to this party, or even knowing it existed. The world needs more parties like this. In celebration of Angela Lansbury, we drank champagne and watched The Manchurian Candidate on SarahB's brand new LG HDTV, which has this awesome tracking aspect that makes everything look like it's filmed on a Twilight Zone sound stage in the 1950s. Very up close and personal. We also brainstormed a couple of fringe show ideas, including my favorite, Angela Lansbury's Anchor Babies. Look for it next August in a basement near you.

Sunday Jan 30

2:00 A.M. Slumber party! Watched Gaudy Night on DVD. Since it was late, we fast-forwarded to the good parts. There aren't many.

10:30 A.M. Coffee and the latest episode of Law & Order: UK. As always, we will take any excuse for a Harriet Walter Weekend.

12:00 P.M. Roxie and I ate mini-quiches in our sofa bed while SarahB sat on hold with the Kennedy Center to order our tickets for Follies in the spring. It's been a long time since I've taken a Sondheim road trip. Too long, really.

3:00 P.M. Home. Read Can You Forgive Her? on my iPad. I started this in early December but my used paperback copy was so old the binding came apart in my Incredible Hulk grip. I downloaded it FOR FREE instead, which is one of the 10 Wonders of the Kindle store. The book is like a million pages long and is only the first in a series of six, so this will take a while, a sort of quasi-forced servitude that one enters into willingly knowing very well it may never end. And no, I didn't forgive her. I was so very glad to see her go.

While I was at the Kindle store, I downloaded the rest of the Palliser series, along with The Way We Live Now. Free Trollopes for everybody!

7:30 P.M. Attended the closing performance of A Small Fire at Playwrights Horizons. This is one of those shows that I hate to see end; it's just painful to me to think that there's a world out there now where this play isn't happening. Theatre's a real heartbreaker like that.

Monday Jan 31

6:30 P.M. Read this week's New Yorker and New York magazines. It's my Monday night ritual, along with a big ol' glass of Monday night wines.

9:00 P.M. Watched the final episode of Downton Abbey, which is a massive PBS editing failure. So bad! It takes all these huge unexamined leaps forward in time and then asks you to care about a pregnancy that lasts all of five minutes. At least I'm hoping it's the PBS cuts that are bad, and not the episode itself, which would be disappointing any way you slice it. The series as a whole was phenomenal. Me want more! (They're filming more.)

11:00 P.M. Started my nighttime Dorothy L. Sayers read-through again with a chapter of Whose Body? It's relaxing, since I know all the stories, yet I always find something new. Plus I like going to bed with Lord Peter.

Tuesday Feb 1

I have zero memory of this day even happening.

Wednesday Feb 2

2:00 P.M. Thanks to the Mighty Blizzard of Chicago, I got to enjoy a snow day with the rest of my Illinois brethren, only missing this, of which I would have had a front-row view from my old apartment. I spent the day as one should, reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist and downloading the full UK version of Downton Abbey from iTunes. I only made it through three episodes, though, because it was my night for The Merchant of Venice on Broadway, which just reopened after a month-long hiatus.

7:30 P.M. Long play short: pretty hateful, huh? I need to start reading classic plays before I see them, especially Shakespeare, since I usually sit there all "Who's this dude?" and "What the fuck just happened?" My mind doesn't thread the needle the way it used to (old brains), especially in the balcony at the Broadhurst, where the lady next to me was fitted with an assistive listening device that belched forth the reverb in all directions. Distracting! Lily Rabe was wonderful, in a Stockard Channing punctuating-by-pointing kind of way, but is also the kind of naturalistic stage actress who should be miked (or miked better), because she speaks in a lot of asides that are impossible to hear from the balcony. Al Pacino does not have this problem. The bathroom queue at intermission was a mess. Terrible line control.

11:00 P.M. Came home and read this article on crowd dynamics in The New Yorker. According to John Seabrook, most crowd disasters aren't "panics" but "crazes," where the "people are usually moving toward something they want, rather than away from something they fear." Since the folks at the rear have no idea what's happening at the front, they'll reflexively press forward when the people in front of them press forward, and can't tell when the front meets an obstruction. The ones who get caught up in the wave can literally be swept out of their shoes and off their feet, and those who die are usually suffocated, not trampled.

11:30 P.M. More Whose Body? What a cheery night.

Thursday Feb 3

9:30 P.M. Parks and Recreation time. Chris Pratt scrambling down the hallway like a monkey in Rob Lowe's "adventure shoes" was the funniest thing I've seen on TV all season. Andy was my least favorite character when the show started, but now I love him more than hot dogs. He's a completely realized nutbar in an assorted bag of treats.

10:00 P.M. DVR of Cougar Town. Yes, I'm finally loving Cougar Town, right before it heads off on a two-month vacation. Love the guy playing Bobby (I think his name is Bobby).

11:00 P.M. More Whose Body?

Friday Feb 4

6:00 P.M. Received an excitable mass family e-mail from my father predicting a huge win for the Packers on Sunday:

I just heard they are going to have Bill Murray in to give the motivational speech from "Meatballs." Oh boy is this gonna be great. Oh no, that's from "Animal House." Oh well, I think you are starting to get my point, I'm pshcyhed. Don't know how to spell that but I think you get the point. We are gonna win by at least 2 touchdowns. Mark my word!!!! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. love, Dad

Hardly any of that makes sense, but Kyle replied with "It just doesn't matter!" Meatballs counts as culture in my family. I'll be watching the Super Bowl from New Jersey, obviously.

11:15 P.M. Law & Order: UK on BBC America. They put Harriet Walter in a turtleneck for once. Yes to more flattering sweaters and fewer ill-fitting manly suits, and more Jamie Bamber crying. I love him as Detective Superintendent Matt Devlin but hated him as Apollo on BSG. That American-in-space accent must have strangled something vital.

Saturday Feb 5

12:30 A.M. Finished Whose Body? It gets really good at the end, when Lord Peter has his shell-shock breakdown and then almost gets poisoned by Julian Freke. The character really doesn't come together until you get his backstory and all that World War I stuff. I'm also a big sucker for long written confessions by criminal masterminds, especially when Sir Julian writes, "In spite of the disastrous consequences to myself, I was pleased to realize that you had not underestimated my nerve and intelligence, and refused the injection. Had you submitted to it, you would, of course, never have reached home alive."

1:00 P.M. Abbreviated Parks and Recreation season two marathon, followed by a nap. (This maiden voyage of weeknotes has purposely omitted a lot of naps.) I've volunteered to start writing reviews for Parks and Rec at Give Me My Remote and need a refresh on Pawnee history. My favorite cold open is from the episode "Kaboom," when Leslie's on speakerphone with a credit card rep who lists all these purchases she suspects are fraudulent, including Jessica Simpson hair extensions and tuition to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The look on Leslie's face when she tells Tom she majored in potions at Hogwarts is priceless. Amy Poehler is such a versatile comic actress, heads and tails above Tina Fey (much as I love Liz Lemon). Unfortunately these episodes also remind me how much I miss Louis C.K. as Leslie's cop boyfriend Dave.

3:30 P.M. Read Three Sisters on my iPad as part of my Wednesday night resolution. I've never seen a production of this and have in general been a little meh with Chekhov onstage (sacrilege!). It's so easy to get tripped up by the names, first of all, and the relationships between characters are seldom obvious to a novice, all these soldiers passing through and random hangers-on starting anecdotes in medias res. There's a great introduction to this translation by Laurence Senelick, which gave me a solid base to start from and a list of things to watch for.

8:00 P.M. Saw Three Sisters at Classic Stage Company, with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Masha and Peter Sarsgaard as Vershinin. Look at all those a's, of course they had to get maarried. It was written in the cosmos.

My early study helped immensely, as I was alert to the Themes ("I feel as I have always felt") and could follow the flow of the narrative rather than getting stuck on the occasionally far-out lingo of the updated text by Paul Schmidt; Marin Ireland in particular had some ear-clanging lines ("Hey, Andy!" etc.). Gyllenhaal and Juliet Rylance, as youngest sister Irina, were marvelous, as was Paul Lazar as the willingly cuckolded Kulygin, who insists on being happy no matter what. George Morfogen's teeny tiny role as the servant Ferapont really blew me away, though; you could tell he was operating on a whole different level of understanding with this story, that it was leaking out through his bones or something. 

At intermission, the ladies next to me chatted about the New Yorker article on crowd control. We all agreed it would be a horrifying way to go. Željko Ivanek was in attendance and I passed Kevin Kline on my way out the door. Nobody in the crowd panicked.

11:30 P.M. Taxied home to find a postcard of this Vermeer from the Frick in my mailbox from SarahB, who lives five blocks to the north: "Something has to be said about living in a city where you can walk 10 blocks to see something like this up close and in person all within a lunch break. Damn it's good to live here!" Amen to that, sister.