On uselessness

First in the era of America Online, and then in the era of LiveJournal and micro-blogging, the internet was at least partly an escape. It was a place where the boundaries of real life, in which everything was more or less a job interview, could be sloughed off and one could imagine the internet as a quiet, uninhabited space of whispered intimacies. In this era of hyper-usefulness, what seems rarest and most valuable online are spaces that offer, however illusorily, a return to this original uselessness. There are places where, against the constant obligation to be seen and remembered, we might get to be unseen, unrecorded, and forgotten.
— Helena Fitzgerald @ The Verge
Source: https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/18/1736652...

Thank you for the music

Hollywood is, at its very heart, an industry that exists to answer questions. For example, I’ve long wondered what it might look like if Cher and Andy García, resplendent in linen, marched toward each other at a snail’s pace singing ABBA’s classic hit “Fernando” as fireworks exploded around them. Now, with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the sequel to everyone’s favorite 2008 jukebox musical, I have my answer—it looks magnificent. (David Sims @ The Atlantic: "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Is a Gleefully Pointless Sequel")

There are a few stretches of my life that stand out as "placid years"; that is, years when my memories of the good things outweigh the bad, years that felt calm and safe. Not that bad things did not occur within them (many very bad things did), but that my recollection of them is weighted toward the good. (I would call them "golden years," but I'm not 104.)

Samples include:

  • 1982–1988 (junior high & high school: yes, I was a happy nerd with a relatively carefree adolescence and teen-hood. Sorry!)
  • 2004–2005 (Chicago)
  • 2007–2010 (New York)

I won't detail for you all the events that made these years memorable, but I'm always happy to encounter artifacts from them. To wit: MAMMA MIA! (the musical), which I first saw at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas with my dear friend CV in 2005*, in a perfect confluence of vacation + friendship + ABBA. That show was everything I needed it to be at that very specific moment in my life: sunshine and nonsense and Swedish-superstar pop songs grafted without much worry into something resembling a plot. I entered a snob, expecting nothing, and got much in return.

Consequently to this day, anything related to MAMMA MIA! gets an automatic pass from me, simply because it reminds me of that trip and that time, those placid years. This includes the terrible 2008 movie of the musical, which I love, because "love" and "terrible" are fine words to use in a sentence together. Many things in life can exist in two states at once. You may have different standards that force you to disagree, but this is your problem. I don't waste much energy looking for new ways to discount joy.

For several years, before the advent of Mr. Robot, the USA Network characterized its Royal Pains and Burn Notice era of prime-time programming with a term I actually find to be quite useful: “blue sky” programming. I like it because I almost instantly know when something is “blue sky” and when it is merely fluffy. To me, “blue sky” is something light and aspirational, sure; but there also has to be something vaguely inscrutable about it, something that feels as though it got garbled or mistranslated at some point in the investment/preproduction/promotion phase. That’s actually a large part of the relaxing effect: some kind of underlying assurance that none of this will actually make any kind of compelling or coherent sense, so you needn’t worry too much about trying to read it. The blue-sky mentality can extend to design and interiors as well — decorative jars of buttons or sea shells, wooden block letters that spell out “FAMILY” and “FAITH” or “LIFE’S A BEACH.” (Emily Yoshida @ Vulture: "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again Is All Blue Skies")

We spent our days in Vegas lying under umbrellas next to the pool at the Mirage while being served piña coladas and guacamole and eating tacos, and our nights doing more eating and drinking and wandering around aimlessly in search of nothing. There was no point to any of it but having a good time: that's what vacation is! And that's what MAMMA MIA! is to me still.**

It just feels nice, right now, to watch something so forthcoming with its sentiment, steeped in both the wistfulness of the past and the boggling, impossible immediacy of the present. (Richard Lawson @ Vanity Fair: "You’re Gonna Love Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Whether You Like It or Not")

*Note to CV: was it 2004? Did we go to Vegas two years in a row?! What hedonists we were!
** I have not yet seen MAMMA MIA! 2, which doesn't open until Friday, but already I adore it.

Summer Nights and Days by Rachel Hadas

So far the nights feel lonelier than the days.
In light, the living keep me company,
and memories of voices through the years.

Each summer threads a green familiar maze.
Emerging sun-struck, you can barely spy
the slow kaleidoscope of clouds and hours.

Those flannel nightshirts chilly sleepers wear
as summer wanes: I’m giving them away.
Pass it on: you keep at the same time.

A bough has broken from the Duchess tree.
Rain swelled the apples. Too much lightness weighs
heavy: the heft of the idea of home
tempered with the detachment of a dream,
or tidal pulls, like ocean, like moonrise.

– Rachel Hadas, "Summer Nights and Days"

3 things for today

1. Weeks ago I promised I would only be reading romantic fiction from X day forward; this proved not to be true, but you can get your sweet & dirty romance-novel-themed summer playlist here (courtesy of @mrsfridaynext for NPR). It's officially the only thing I like about summer:

2. 25 Alice Munro stories you can READ ONLINE RIGHT NOW (c/o Lithub). What a world!

3. I'm still making my way v, v slowly through 1980s episodes of General Hospital, full seasons of which exist on YouTube. I've also been searching for some kind of academic intel on the soap opera genre, which occupies the same gendered cultural space as romance novels, gossip, and boy bands; i.e., "exclusively female," therefore fundamentally unserious and disposable. Unsurprisingly there's not much out there, but here's a general primer from the Museum of Broadcast Communications:

In the United States, at least, the term "soap opera" has never been value-neutral. As noted above, the term itself signals an aesthetic and cultural incongruity: the events of everyday life elevated to the subject matter of an operatic form. To call a film, novel, or play a "soap opera" is to label it as culturally and aesthetic inconsequential and unworthy. When in the early 1990s the fabric of domestic life amongst the British royal family began to unravel, the press around the world began to refer to the situation as a "royal soap opera," which immediately framed it as tawdry, sensational, and undignified.

Particularly in the United States, the connotation of "soap opera" as a degraded cultural and aesthetic form is inextricably bound to the gendered nature of its appeals and of its target audience. The soap opera always has been a "woman's" genre, and, it has frequently been assumed (mainly by those who have never watched soap operas), of interest primarily or exclusively to uncultured working-class women with simple tastes and limited capacities. Thus the soap opera has been the most easily parodied of all broadcasting genres, and its presumed audience most easily stereotyped as the working-class "housewife" who allows the dishes to pile up and the children to run amuck because of her "addiction" to soap operas. Despite the fact that the soap opera is demonstrably one of the most narratively complex genres of television drama whose enjoyment requires considerable knowledge by its viewers, and despite the fact that its appeals for half a century have cut across social and demographic categories, the term continues to carry this sexist and classist baggage.

I'm eternally fascinated by the ways in which the world discounts the inner lives and interests of women while elevating historically "male" pursuits to hysterical status.

4. Related, and heartening in re: respecting the tastes of teenage girls: this Bob Lefsetz post on seeing Harry Styles in concert (+ Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone & Two Bossy Dames forever)

Notes from inside

I watched Shadowlands last night. It's a very Writerly, Actorly movie: earnest and rich but hog-tied to its message of "love can only be processed through pain," which is repeated approximately (by my count) 8,000 times. I adore it. I stand squarely on the side of big emotions in movies, especially when I can process them in the dark privacy of my own living room, although I'm willing to cry anywhere.

Towards the end, as they wait out a rainstorm from the safety of an empty barn, Anthony Hopkins, as C. S. Lewis, tells his wife Joy (Debra Winger), "I don't want to be somewhere else anymore. I'm not waiting for anything new to happen. I'm not looking around the next corner, or over the next hill. I'm here now, and that's enough." And she says, "That's your kind of happy, isn't it?"

When I first moved down here from Madison, I knew eventually I would move to New York, and when I moved to New York I knew eventually I would move back. Both of those things were always in my mind, so I felt temporary in both places, always. There was always something else waiting out there for me, a reason to hold myself in check, a reason to not settle. For over 20 years of my life I lived with that in my head.

This morning the salesperson at J.Crew updated the address on my account when I checked out ("Did you used to live in New York?"). I was hot and tired and in no mood to justify my personal choices to strangers, so when he asked me why I moved back here to the suburbs, all I could think to say was, it's home. And it is, finally. It's only July but it has already been a very long and exhausting year, and although it's strange to say it, and even stranger to feel it sink in, I'm here now, at home, and I'm ready to stay. And that is my kind of happy.

Your weekly Bruce

I had a friend once who never understood what it was about Bruce Springsteen, so I am not surprised we are no longer friends. Don't make this same mistake! Here he is improvising in front of a bunch of Germans with a necktie tucked inside his shirt, for some reason.

Things I’m a fan of

1. This video falls under an umbrella I think of as "the small internet," (self-contained, non-commercial, existing only for pleasure or wonder or boredom, a danger to no one) which, like dumb blogging, I am a fan of:

2. The Rod Stewart song "Maggie May":

Years ago my dad had to drive down and pick me up at O'Hare when my connecting flight to WI was canceled, and on the way home we listened to his favorite Rod Stewart CD. (He went through a Rod Stewart phase in his seventies.) I remember that he paused in the middle of a sentence to say "She kicks him in the head!" when that line came up, but my favorite line is "The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age." Lyrically it's meant to be a burn on the cougar-type mature lady who robbed him of his innocence (what an unholy conglomeration of ugly words!), but as someone who's finally owning her own status as a fully adult human woman, I like it.

3. Mixed olives from the olive bar eaten w/ peasant bread, olive oil, cherry tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese, rinse, repeat

4. Relaxing Radio WBDK from Green Bay. I listen to this when I'm making dinner; it's mostly '70s and '80s soft rock/adult contemporary, which is 100% my vibe this summer/always.

5. "What's the best thing that happened today?"

Around the horn

IMG_0996 (1).JPG

It’s 88 degrees outside, and I can hear the freeway from this upstairs room, cars speeding through the inky hot night. It will be 101 degrees today, and as my daughter said last night, the heat feels oppressive and strange and scary. “I almost wish I were in school,” she said, “because summer feels weird and bad.” That was always how I felt about summer, too, at her age. I didn’t have enough to do, and my neurotic brain took over and drove me crazy. The heat was stifling and lonely.

I assumed I was the only person who felt this way about summer, which was naive. There's no way to be the only person on this planet who does or feels anything, is there? And yet since we're all unique and special starfish, the opposite must also be true. As usual I have not taken the time to develop these theories in any serious detail, so I'll just stuff them in the same box as "literally everything is easier said than done," which also sounds right but is equally unproven.

My standard summer sad issues (flashback 2015 or any other year) have not been aided by these days of sloth and unemployment. Every year I try to steel myself against it, but this weather is so demanding! So pleased with itself, so 5:27-a.m.-to-8:26-p.m.-in-your-face nosy. Take a break already! Nobody needs that much daylight. The only good thing about summer is not wearing socks, and if it comes down to a choice between July and socks, believe me I'll take the socks.

3 things for today

1. I bought $14.69 worth of pork loin at the grocery store today (0.98 lb @ $14.99 / lb). This seemed extravagant and stupid (is it? it is) but I had no basis for comparison, not being a regular purchaser of loin, nor of any flesh-based products (I don't like cooking meat). But I've had this Real Simple recipe sitting on my coffee table since I moved in and that seemed like a sad way to lead a life. Stupid loin for everybody! Long live the loin!

2. Thanks to a tip from a friend I just procured a ticket for an encore showing of Eugene Onegin at the cinema on Wednesday. It was the very first production I saw at the Met when I moved to New York (Feb 07, yo) and it is burned into my best memories forevermore. If you're smart, you'll join me (in spirit; no stalkers!). p.s. I will be crying, which is not unusual vis-à-vis me and this opera. Or any opera. They really hit me in the hambone.

3. From a Talk of the Town piece by Nicolas Niarchos on pirate radio stations in the New Yorker: "Between 87.9 and 92.1 FM, Goren counted eleven illegal stations, whose hosts mainly spoke Creole or accented English. Pirates, he said, 'offer a kind of programming that their audiences depend on. Spiritual sustenance, news, immigration information, music created at home or in the new home, here.' "

The human condition! Like wildfires, or wild flowers, people will poke through no matter what.

4. From Donald Hall's The Best Day the Worst Day, another kind of community:

Bob Thornly, who owned the store four hundred yards away around a curve, dispensed not only gas and food and hardware and stovepipe and New Hampshire ashtrays, but also facilitations. I told him I needed a typist and he thought of Lois Fierro, half a mile farther down the road, who handled my letters and manuscript for two decades. At the store I picked up the Globe every morning. We shopped there for milk and sundries. Jane bought crockery there that sits in the pantry still. In November I found felt-lined boots for winter. We dropped in at Thornly's a couple of times a day, chatted with Bob, gossiped with neighbors, and heard new jokes. My cousin Ansel told us it got so cold he saw a fox putting jumper cables on a jackrabbit. Jane called Thornly's store a continual party.

Your weekly Bruce

May you find as much joy in anything as he does in performing for an audience.

From Born to Run, Chapter 66: The Rising:

Our band was built well, over many years, for difficult times. When people wanted a dialogue, a conversation about events, internal and external, we developed a language that suited those moments. We were there. It was a language that I hoped would entertain, inspire, comfort and reveal. The professionalism, the showmanship, the hours of hard work are all very important, but I always believed that it was this dialogue, this language, that was at the heart of our resiliency with an audience.