Monday, November 18, 2019


Oh man.  I have been under a waterfall of germs this fall.  Ellis had pneumonia, and still has it.  Samantha had bronchitis, on Halloween no less.  Tim had something that plunged him into the saddest dry cough at 10pm every night.  I finally forced him to go to an urgent care where someone looked at him, found nothing, and prescribed antibiotics and steroids anyway (they worked). 

I've been in and out of losing my mind with all this nursing of other people, picking up and dropping off kids at schools, pretending to care about real dinner, and finding time to exercise and write (egads).  I'm fending off the urge to just set a bomb in our basement, where an avalanche of baby clothes, books, and old toys live.  Maybe I haven't been 100% successful at staying sane, but I haven't run away with the family savings or painted a room hot pink and declared it off limits to everyone but a miniature poodle - although that sounds sort of awesome.  I think I'm probably doing great, all things considered. 

My desk has been piled high with books I dip in and out of, which isn't my favorite way to read.  I've written about this before, but I like to commit to a book.  It helps ground me at the end of a long, tedious day, but I haven't really felt that commitment lately, and it's no commentary on the authors whose books I've picked up.   

I read There, There by Tommy Orange, which is full of beautiful, sometimes quiet insights.  I really respect his writing, and I'm so happy for all the attention he's getting.  (He won me over with this video, in which he says he doesn't like to hear anyone read for a long time, even his favorite authors.) I have a hard time with multiple narrators, for reasons I mention above, but I loved his characters and their names were so evocative. 

I tore through Alexandra Fuller's newest book, Travel Light, Move Fast.  I opened it one night to see if it held anything for me, and looked up hours later, three-quarters through the thing.

I am in the middle of another one of Fuller's books, Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, which is a little harder to hold onto, I think.  It's about her mother's life and sometimes feels a little family-treeish.  That said, Fuller's family tree is pretty fascinating, and I never tire of glimpses into her childhood on various farms in Central Africa, picturing her mother among piles of books and towers of unwashed tea cups.  As much as I loathe chaos in my own life, I sometimes drink it in happily when it's on the page.

Speaking of chaos, I picked up David Shields' coffee table book, War Is Beautiful, an examination of how front-page photos in the New York Times glorify and sanctify war.  As soon as I heard about the book, which Shields mentioned on one of my favorite podcasts, I leapt to find it, to hear someone else say things I've often felt about "the paper of record."  I don't know if I'll ever forget, after college, picking up the Times and reading their serious reportage about the search for "weapons of mass destruction."  I was twenty-one years old, trying to find any foothold in the adult world I could, and shocked to see the publication offer itself up as a vehicle for what felt like, to me, blatant fabrication.  It comforted me to read someone as scholarly as Shields say what I've always felt, that the Times is less an objective look at our world and more a deeply subjective, highly masculinized presentation of some of our worst biases. 

In the intro, Shields writes:  ". . . even when taking an editorial position against particular government actions, the Times, though considered 'liberal,' never strays far from a normative position . . . Throughout its history, the Times has produced exemplary war journalism, but it has done so by retaining a reciprocal relationship with the administration in power . . . it knows precisely what truth the power wants told and then prints this truth as the first draft of history." 

I've also been reading Making Rent in Bed-Stuy: A Memoir of Trying to Make It in New York City by Brandon Harris, which is exactly what it sounds like: an account of a young artist trying to live in one of the most expensive cities in our country, at a time of explosive gentrification.  It's a verbose, fascinating look at class, race, and creative ambitions, and I'm really enjoying reading it in the car when Ellis falls asleep on the ride home from somewhere.  

In other narratives of glossy places, I picked up Liz Phair's memoir, the (unfortunately titled?) Horror Stories that has a great cover, but I haven't had a chance to crack it yet.  I read Ali Wong's book, Dear Girls, and absolutely loved it.  I haven't watched any of her comedy specials - or live stand-up for that matter, because I am married to my house and car, obvs - so I had no idea how raunchy her comedy could be, but something about her jokes folded in with her genuine thoughts on family and parenting had me choking back tears and laughing out loud on the same pages.  I stayed up last night watching the movie Wong wrote, produced, and starred-in, Always Be My Maybe, and want her costume artist to please come to my house, stat. 

On that note, Tim and I have been watching Queer Eye and weren't sold, at first.  I found the rainbow typography and the black and white dance interludes somewhat seizure-inducing, but I'm having fun now.  Of course, there are problematic things about the show, like how well do these people sustain these changes?  One week isn't long enough for me to properly change my sheets, much less every facet of my life. But no matter what my hesitations, Jonathan Van Ness is my WOOBY. (No frame of reference for a wooby?  Please watch this Mr. Mom clip, then come over for a screening in which we discuss what, if anything, in Mr. Mom holds up.) 

The real stunner of my month has been The Art of Self-Defense, a film by Riley Stearns that is so well-written, so archly performed, it may just be brilliant.  I was howling throughout it, even when I knew what was going to happen.  Go watch Jessie Eisenberg do his weak nerd thing and Alessandro Nivola roast masculinity in socks and sandals, and if you skip the bonus infomercial about Sensei's life advice ("Pardon my French, I'll speak German") you're missing out on nirvana. 

I also watched the David Crosby documentary, Remember My Name, and was shocked by some of his declarations, such as that few can harmonize like he and Graham Nash did, other than the Everly Brothers or maybe the Indigo Girls.  At some point in the film it was revealed that Crosby is a leo, and those declarations - and more importantly, that mane of hair! - started making more sense.  I actually made a list of those declarations, but I'm sparing you here, saving it for my academic paper on how Cameron Crowe is starting to look like Werner Herzog's long lost son.

Okay, that's all.  Someone please send an exterminator for the germs in my house, and a pillow I can wrap around my head until February.  If the holidays go anything like the rest of my fall has gone, I'm gonna need some backup.   

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  1. Put the movie on hold at the library! Hadn’t heard of it. Glad you’re getting more into Queer Eye :) I’ve had the same thought (while doing dishes) if the people can maintain their clean spaces, ha.

    1. I hadn't heard of it either! I saw it at the library, for some reason. Nivola is in one of my all-time favorites, Junebug, so it caught my eye. Hope you like it - I found the writing so sharp.

  2. Oh man the germs have been out of control here too. A treat to hear your thoughts and influences recently. Makes me miss you. Xo


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