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3 things for today

1. I tried keeping my robe on a hook on the bedroom door but every time I passed it I thought it was Slender Man.

2. During my elective short-term "time off," I've embraced only sloth and soap operas. I tried feeling bad about this but eventually gave up: it wasn't worth the effort of caring who was watching me, since I don't believe in omniscient deities (except Stephen Sondheim) and don't think non-stop activity is the key to a good life. Also nobody was watching me (except Slender Man).

I spend most of the day lying on the porch reading magazines and trashy novels, and sometimes I move inside to the sofa to take a nap. Sometimes I go to Target and walk around. Sometimes I go to a movie. At night I watch reruns of General Hospital and Hart to Hart. People who keep asking me what I do during the day: this is it.

I very much subscribe to the theory that you find what you need when you need it, and in this year of constant change and dramatic, occasionally painful life upheaval, I indeed found what I needed: familiarity, comfort, and home. My summer has essentially been a rewind of 1982, minus my mother yelling at me to go outside and play.

3. This opener by Dwight Garner, in a review of Donald Hall's final book:

Donald Hall, who died on June 23 at 89, was not a particularly nimble poet. His verse had a homely, bucolic, beans-on-the-woodstove quality. He was more cabbage than tulip. To borrow an analogy from baseball, a sport he loved, he was the sort of batter who got on base thanks to walks, bunts, bloopers into right field and a good deal of hustle. He was a plugger.

In a single paragraph, why I love both Donald Hall and Dwight Garner.

personalKari GComment
3 things for today

1. I have a new job for real that starts very soon so I can finally let out this breath I've been holding in since March. We'll talk more about this later (the time of unemployment, not the job), but let's just say: WHEW.

2. Yesterday I pulled into a parking space downtown and realized I was worrying about X number of stupid things so I said "Hey Siri, take a note: you don't need to feel guilty about enjoying your life." Siri got it all wrong as usual so I cursed at her and we engaged in a minor inter-car tiff before I remembered I could just stop talking to nobody.

3. I'm always wary of people handing out koans for free but this fit into my current frame of mind so well I drank it up like soup:

“What if there is no ‘next level?’ What if it’s just an idea you made up in your head? What if you’re already there and not only are you not recognizing it, but by constantly pursuing something more, you’re preventing yourself from appreciating it and enjoying where you are now?”

I mean seltzer or beer or anything but soup, obviously. Soup is the worst. "Here, drink this salty hot garbage with chunks of mush in it." Really, the worst.

4. This profile of GOOP founder Gwyneth Paltrow at the NYT is well worth the read, as is every single thing written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. It's generous but skeptical and critical but not mean-spirited, although my favorite parts had little to do with GP:

My phone rang. It was the mother of my son’s friend, back home in stupid New Jersey, and I realized she wouldn’t be calling if not for something gone awry. I apologized to G.P. and picked up the phone. The mom told me that my son was insisting that I was supposed to be picking him up. “I’m in California!” I whispered. “I’m with Gwyneth Paltrow!” She said she’d pass the message along and proceed as usual. G.P. said something, but I couldn’t concentrate because I was trying to understand how my 7-year-old didn’t know that I was out of town. Had I not said goodbye?

I get that it's dicey to make yourself (as the writer) a heavy part of the profile, but I dig it. It adds texture and meaning, as long as it's tied to the larger story.

I drove back to my hotel to find that a family that owned a Mercedes dealership would be hosting an impromptu all-night party around the pool and that I would never get any sleep. I thought about my children, one of whom plays the flute, but unwillingly, and therefore won’t practice. Yes, I thought about my children, only one of whom might shake your hand while the other would sooner spit on it, though they will both reliably do an elaborate orchestration of armpit farting while I’m trying to hear myself think. I thought of my mother and father, and an earlier conversation I had with my sisters that day about where to arrange our parents in a room for one of our kids’ bar mitzvahs so that they wouldn’t interact, so raw still are the wounds 35 years after their divorce. I thought of my big, disgusting Size 11 feet, which are wide and flat and have the look of scuba flippers and which designers have shod only begrudgingly. I thought of the third child I don’t have, the one I ache for. The car salespeople danced below.

5. A few other keepers by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who as I mentioned is always worth reading:

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.

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.

personalKari GComment
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
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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.

personalKari GComment
Up north

How it works is, every time you stand up from a chair, someone else sits in it.

Happy birthday, SarahB!

Thanks for many years of domestic partnership and international travel!

Somebody said, What do you want on a desert island for the rest of your life? No contest. A bar! An open bar. — Elaine Stritch

One more thing before I go

I took surreptitious pix of this lady at the Musée Rodin back in 2010, as we were both staring up at that Thinker. I loved her jacket but really appreciated her whole vibe: German, it seemed (I'm an expert at making snap judgments based on zero intel). She looked stylish and comfortable: her dressing was fit for the day and her ventures, and she wasn't busy hiding anything. That was the key. Here are my comfortable shoes, here's my face, here's my waistline. She looked strong, and I admired that. It's important to celebrate the miraculous fact that there infinite ways to be female in the world, regardless of the narrow and suffocating notion that anything female can only be valued when it is valued by men.

I think about her whenever I adhere to my own personal aesthetic in the public sphere, which as I've noted previously can best be described as campfire lazy (all allegiance to the preppies notwithstanding), whenever I leave the house without makeup wearing my deeply unflattering Birkenstocks, ill-fitting shorts, and a wrinkled oxford. My stomach's gotten flabby, my thighs have that cellulite look & feel. And I pay attention to the way people notice me, or don't, and the way I carry myself, which is cockier than usual. I feel free. There's much talk about how women of a certain age (that would be anything over 30) become invisible, but I like to think we become more visible to ourselves. There's power in choosing how you'll be seen, in deciding what you'll reject and what you'll say yes to. I apologize to this poor woman for the stalking, but I thank her for the rest.