Throughout my life I've pendulumed between optimism and cynicism, and this quote always fits either mood, which is why I like it.
This post is going to be all over the road like that, because that's been my mood this summer. One day the world is fuckin' awesome, the next I'm suffused with more ennui than a black and white French film about relationships.
This has been a summer full of awesomeness because I've had a lot of time with my 8-year-old daughter as everyone else has been at work or out of town. She delights in being outside and will spend every moment she can in the sun. Most of my life I've been an indoor guy, preferring a movie or a book to pass spare time. The times I did go outside on purpose with full intent was when I lived at home because it was by a major river, which was a wonderful place to go hang out, day or night. However, since she wants to be outside, I grab my Nook, pull up a chair and watch her play, and it's turned me back into an outdoor guy. I'm looking forward to doing that tonight as I write this. Last time we were out she walked up with a leaf that had begun to turn so it was a kaleidoscope of patterns, "Daddy, isn't this leaf beautiful? Here, it's yours."
Summer has also had some major bummers. A good friend from high school and beyond died of a sudden catastrophic heart attack mid-July. This guy was central to some of the most significant pre-fatherhood memories of my life. He was active in the Minneapolis art and music scene, and often dragged me along to gallery setups and openings, and a few band parties. Had some great times.
As everyone will tell you, when a peer dies as you all are going gray, it's a threshold. Your body has already been reminding you, often, that you're getting older with random pains and the number of pill bottles that threaten to expand beyond one shelf in medicine cabinet. So that's been weighing in my mind. And, contrary to my favorite poem, I'm not grieving for myself, I honestly feel the world is diminished by his passing. He was the proverbial great guy.
My eldest got her driver's license this summer and we found her a great first car (enough metal to matter if there's - heaven forbid - a bad crash, and the price was fantastic). She got two jobs on top of an internship so I just don't see her much. I recall when she was tiny I was listening to the shared MP3 jukebox drive at work, and the great Harry Belafonte song "Turn Around" came on, and I quietly wept at my desk (thank God no one came by to chat at that moment). From that moment on I dreaded her "going out of my door" and here it is. So I has a sad, as the web meme goes.
If real life didn't have enough things to be blue about, this movie season was, just, well, dammit, it was not all that.
R.I.P.D. was a nice try, but just couldn't deliver in the end. Throughout it felt like nothing but a wanna be Men in Black retread. Even the BIG ROOM where everybody works looked like the MIB set redressed.
This is the End had some amazing gags in it - the devil's swinging cock not the least of them. The cameos are phenomenal, especially because they're so unpredictable in how they play out. It's one of the better releases of the summer.
Man of Steel was boring. There was nothing new in the story at all. If you reboot, you gotta switch it up a bit. Also, your references or homages (however you care to put a gloss on recycling visuals or ideas) have got to be that, not blatant lifting from Alien, Prometheus, and every earth-invaded-by-aliens flick ever.
The Wolverine was also boring and predictable. The only noticeable thing was the two stunning Japanese actresses Rila Fukushima and Tao Okamoto. The last time I was mesmerized by an actress like that was Emma Stone in Easy A. What an odd phenomenon that someone's looks in a movie can be the sole thing that holds one's attention (talking Wolverine here, Easy A is fantastic). When I got past basic teenage lust all those years ago, which can lock on pretty much anything alluring about a woman, the first time I remembered being gobsmacked by an actress's mere presence was Grace Kelly in Rear Window. She still makes my electrons jump into a higher orbit when I see that flick. I'll watch it just for her.
The Way, Way Back didn't even make it to a theater near me, so now waiting for the DVD.
Monster University was an amazing misfire. It was nothing but a string of going-to-college cliches but with the Monsters Inc. characters. Who did they think was the audience for this?
Despicable Me 2 at least gave the kids one movie to root for this year, and something the parents didn't have to merely endure.
I was warned off both The Lone Ranger and Elysium, so again the wait for the DVD.
The World's End is the next flick I'm looking forward to. All offerings by the stellar comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been at the very least quite good. These average looking guys have so much charisma and talent that by the time any of their movies end, you just love them. A bromance from afar, if you will. I wonder if the dudes who did This is the End got wind of Pegg's project and decided to try to beat them to market in standard Hollywood fashion. Remember the year we had at least 3 comet-wiping-out-the-earth movies?
I'm kind of in a reading slump, sticking mostly to magazines: web, paper, and PDF for the Nook. If you have an e-reader, remember they read PDFs, and you can save nearly any web page in Chrome as a PDF and mail it to yourself or transfer it to your reader. When I come across an article that's longish and I don't have time to finish it, I PDF-er up, and stash on the Nook for later. It's a happy surprise to have a few great articles to read whilst the children play.
Here are some articles I've enjoyed lately:
Kubrick - a lengthy remembrance of the great director, perfect for the PDF to ereader trick. (Via kottke.org)
George Saunders’s Advice to Graduates
5 Ways Fundamentalists Misinterpret the Bible
I Don’t Believe in Atheists - think of all we don't really know: why bikes work, how gravity is generated, why we like music, how our minds work, why sleep is needed and what it really does, what do dreams do, how self-aware are various kinds of animals, is there self-aware life beyond our planet, and so on?
401(k)s are a sham - FWIW, I knew this back in the day when they were introduced because the math just didn't add up. And even then, I didn't understand that if the market went bust, they took funds OUT of your 401(k), so of course everyone I know won't be able to retire on even the most generous 401(k)'s out there, they'll essentially pay the internet bill.
Democrats and Republicans are Not the Same - a favorite excuse of most of my conservative friends who sort of acknowledge how badly the Republicans have and are fucking up is that the liberals are just as bad. And I've even said yeah we have our loonies too, though will say most of them are off in colleges and not directly influencing or hindering government. But last party I got fired up when I heard, after all this time, stupid ass Faux news soundbites and other lies from the right, I got a bit heated and yelled for the first time in years. I apologized but I wouldn't have had to yell had I had the finer points of this article at my disposal.
And to bring it around full-circle to George Saunders's (gad that doesn't seem like proper punctuation, but oh well) invocation to be kind, here's an excerpt from the following article how cruelty is justified in the ultra-conservative mind:
Tennessee: Ayn Rand’s Vision of Paradise
How to justify meanness?
It’s not easy to be cruel to someone who is down and out. After all, most of us feel ashamed when walking by a homeless person or watching kids crammed into over-crowded classrooms. It requires several psychological twists and turns to make life even harder for low-income Americans.
You have to blame low-income parents for their own economic problems. Even if the unemployment rate is sky-high it must be the poor person’s fault.
You need to feel superior — that somehow you got to where you are today not by an accident of birth but rather by your own hard labors. Anyone not as successful as you, by definition, is inferior.
You have to believe that meanness really is tough love — that by taking benefits away from the poor you are actually helping them on the road to self sufficiency.
It’s helpful to have access to the broader Randian/libertarian philosophy that argues all forms of collective government action are an attack on freedom. In this view, altruism is seen as a curse that justifies collective government programs which essentially steal money from the makers and to waste on the takers. All collective caring by the state, therefore, is evil, so that all support for the poor via government is evil as well.
It’s psychologically crucial to have your prejudices confirmed by charismatic alchemists like Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan who peddle selfishness as the highest form of morality (although only Ayn Rand had the guts to say it so bluntly).