Friday, May 23, 2008

Podcasting Call

I know, I know.

I complain about my commute all of the time. But I haven't even mentioned the worst part: there's only been one rush-hour radio program around here that I've ever really enjoyed, and it was only on for six months before most of the personalities were canned and the show was reformatted for a different — presumably hipper but most definitely louder and more obnoxious — demographic.

And I just can't take much more of the boredom. Sure, I'll turn to NPR for news, but you can only hear the same story so many times before you want something a bit less repetitive and WAY more amusing.

So, please, lend me your podcasts. Recommend your (free) favorites so that I might download them to my iPod (for free) and listen whilst I drive. To give you some idea of what I like, I'm a bit of a nut when it comes to Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me and Sound Opinions.

Did I mention I want the podcasts to be free?

Don't be fooled by the fact that, just yesterday, I bought a cute little dress for my parents' tiny new puppy (a Chihuahua/Yorkie mix).

I'm not made of money.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Leviathan; or, Life is Gut

I am at once a dreamer and a realist; an optimist and a pessimist.

I claim — and rather earnestly, in fact — to expect the worst out of people and yet still find myself disappointed time and again. This, I realize, is proof that I've failed in my darkest objectives.

And it is this contradiction — this duality of my nature — that led to the purchase and subsequent use of a polished metal "Life is Good" keychain.

It is small, and subtle: the brand etched on one side of the nickel-sized medallion; and a solitary daisy on the other. I have long been a customer of this brand, an admirer of the expressions and graphics that mark their attire.

I own, for example, a t-shirt with a rendering of hiking boots on the front. And underneath those: "Not all who wander are lost."

And there's the one with a rolled up sleeping bag and a campfire ("Bed and Breakfast") and another with a lone individual hiking a cartoon mountain with a sun setting behind it ("Entertainment Center").

I like these images; these expressions. I like seeing my hobbies and perceptions plastered onto a comfy t-shirt or cute (but practical) handbag. And yet: I am entirely and undeniably conflicted by the mark that defines them.

Life most certainly is not good, I think, reminded immediately of the tiger philosopher (if I may take him out of context for a moment).

Life, he said, is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

And that, I think, is more like it.

And yet: I won't hesitate to claim that, at times, life is beautiful beyond words.

Precious, even.

And others: it is precisely as Hobbes defined it in the natural state.

It is solitary. Poor. Nasty. Brutish. And — perhaps most importantly — short.

Because no matter how difficult our lives or numerous our troubles in this world, few of us want to leave it. And not because we've just been enjoying ourselves so damn much, but because for so many the known misery is better than the unknown hereafter.

And there is always the promise of tomorrow, we think. Yes, tomorrow! Tomorrow I'll treat my family better; I'll wake up first thing and run three miles. Tomorrow I will eat healthy. Tomorrow I won't waste a second. Tomorrow I will start looking for a new job. Tomorrow I'll start my novel. Tomorrow I'll volunteer.

Tomorrow I will seize every moment, and tap to the living, breathing dance of life.

And that, I think, is the crux of our quandary. We can't stand the idea of leaving this life before we actually start living it.

But how can we, when there is traffic? When there are bills and middle fingers and scowls and unreturned phone calls?

And how, for the love of God, can we look up

where the mere force of gravity is pulling us down?

No, no. Life is not good.

But it does, I admit, have its moments. And regardless of how long I exist on this planet, the fact remains that I will never have enough of them.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just Some Other Manic Movies

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
What a wonderfully depressing movie. Based on the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a famous French journalist and former editor of Elle magazine, this film is derived from Bauby's own novel — which he wrote after suffering a "cardiovascular accident" that left him with "locked-in syndrome." That is to say, he was entirely paralyzed and unable to communicate by any means other than blinking his left eyelid. While in this state, Baubly reflects on his life (he was a bit of a philandering jerk); his mistakes (he was good with his children when he saw them, but seldom did); and his regrets. You can sense his agony with this film, not only for his inability to speak his thoughts and rise from his bed, but also the emotional turmoil that haunts he and his family. FINAL GRADE: A-

Prince Caspian
Based on the second-published (fourth installment if read chronologically) novel from The Chronicles of Narnia, I found this film adaptation to be a deserving follow-up to the first. There's never a boring moment in this almost three-hour film, which marks the return of the Pevensie children to the mythical land of Narnia, some 1,300 years after their reign (though only a year has passed in the "real" world). They were summoned by Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne after he's driven from his kingdom (and into Narnia) by his despotic uncle. But as C.S. Lewis intended these books to be for children (though they're also favorited by adults the world over), some elements — especially as conveyed by filmmakers — test the boundaries of the suspension of disbelief. That is to say: there were definitely some moments where I felt inclined to roll my eyes, but I was otherwise amused, intrigued and entertained. FINAL GRADE: B+

Death at a Funeral
The first 25 minutes of this British comedy were hilarious: one of the most consistently, subtly humorous starts of a film in recent memory, in fact. But at one point the humor slows and things don't so much grow stale as they almost grow too serious for the film's own good. But that's the beauty of the film, as a whole: forcing the audience to laugh precisely when it knows it shouldn't. In short: the entire film centers around the funeral (go figure) of a wealthy businessman; his family (two sons, a wife and the goings-on his nieces and nephews); and the gay lover who changes everything. FINAL GRADE: B+

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
This film was pitched as a parody of the rise, decline and fall of your typical pop star... and yet it makes no apologies for pretty much satirizing the life of Johnny Cash and parodying Walk the Line to a T. As a fan of the late Mr. Cash, this disturbed me a bit. And yet: I still found the film to be goofily funny, with John C. Reily creating a character that is loveable and minutely comedic even when at his worst. And, well, let's be honest: Johnny Cash's story did pretty much set the mold for future musicians to follow.: the infidelity; the drugs; the alcohol; the stints in prison; etc. In all, this film will make you laugh... and even though "smart" in some ways, you'll also never be able to shake off the feeling that it's horribly silly and a bit irreverent. FINAL GRADE: B-

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The World Spins Madly On

When I was five or six — I can't say for certain how old — I watched a film (or perhaps an episode of the Twilight Zone) about a girl who would sleep for months at a time, waking on occasion and rising from bed as though only the night had passed.

And in this manner her whole life was a dream: entire days lost to sleep, with so few life experiences to mark her existence.

For years this film would haunt me, my earliest childhood fears circulating around cancer, nuclear war and — yes — sleeping my life away.

Whether rational or otherwise, the fact remains that these fears were very real to me — reason enough to remain awake at night, in fact, terrified that by the time I awoke, the world would have continued on to a brilliant pace without me.

And today, some years later, I tell you: that story was no work of fiction. And yet: as much as I strove to avoid such a fate, it appears to have fallen firmly and irresolutely upon my chest, the weight of it some mornings making it nearly impossible to breathe.

I feel it now — typing to the blanket "you" of this fiber optic universe — marveling only at how the magnetic force of this... nothing and everything... has gathered now into the pit of my stomach (the gravitational consequence of attempting to sit up, I think), leaving all other nooks, crannies and extremities to their own, hollow devices.

I am awake now and yet: still asleep. Love and lifetime lost to a nightmare that knows no rest.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


•I was told recently by a male co-worker that -- aside from differences in hair color -- I bear an uncanny physical resemblance to this woman:

I don't see the similarity, but I'll take that as a compliment until further notice. Besides, not a day goes by that I don't wish I could drive 150 mph to work.

•Speaking of work... I continue to be baffled by women who:

A. Hover above the toilet seat despite the presence of seat covers in each stall.
B. Fail to make sure all of their "bidness" is properly disposed of.

•The gallery reception went OK, thank you for asking. My photograph was marked as "2nd Place," which was a bit of a shock in large part because I didn't realize awards were given (of the 40 or so photos in my category, there was one 1st, one 2nd, one 3rd and one honorable mention).

•I feel unbearably hollow.

That is all.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Walk

The host looked at me, half-concerned as I said: "Just for one, please," solitary in a light summer dress.

Minutes later he passed my table (a booth in the back), handing me a copy of the day's Tribune.

"I thought you might like this," he said.

I smiled and thanked him — in spite of myself — knowing full well the reason for his generosity.

But I was grateful, in a way, scanning the front page to busy myself from thoughts of the day, my eyes immediately consumed by the juxtaposition of two lead stories.

There was, above the fold, a photograph of three Burmese infants (one sleeping, one eating, one crying), filthy and homeless in a devastated nation.

And next to them: a story about how the slowing economy and rising gas prices have forced one Lincoln Park tricksy out of Saks Fifth Avenue and "into Forever 21."

[Though, she later confessed, she refuses to cut back on her Dulce & Gabbana perfume.]

Seeing that story next to the world's-away photo somehow increased my sympathy tenfold for the children so-pictured. And it was funny, in a way, how that picture meant everything to me precisely because the nearby words meant so little.

And so I started to write, my thoughts interrupted by the clop-clop-clop of an elderly woman's shoes [bright red dye job, and even brighter lipstick]. Nearby at another table, the sound seems to disturb a Fragile X boy as he shrieks to cover it — noise upon noise — his parents quieting him with a gentle hush.

Soon my waitress stops by, laughing and moving on when I tell her about the eggshells.

But I wasn't kidding, I thought, There are shells in my eggs.

[Breakfast for dinner is among my favorite treats.]

But she was on to another table, a family, smiling and catering because — as we all know — there are better tips at bigger tables.

And so the nature of my visit hits me: rising later and paying my bill, not stiffing her on a tip despite her poor service.

I walked, then, on to the gallery's reception and decided that — no — now was not the time to enter.

So I grabbed my camera and retraced my steps to take a picture of a plastic bag competing with the American flag for airspace.

Marveling at how, all around me, disparate worlds seemed to collide.

But there was no avoiding the evening's objective: no sense driving home when I'd yet to accomplish what I'd set out to do. So I walked, ever-so-slowly, overcoming my nervousness — my hesitation — just as I realized it had nothing to do with where I was going.

And everything with how I was arriving.

Friday, May 09, 2008

A Tale of Six Movies

In order of preference...

The Savages
A very dark comedy that touches on a delicate family moment: the diagnosis of an estranged parent with "dementia" as he spirals towards inevitable death. A brother and sister work together to cope with the situation, never getting melodramatic — sometimes warranting laughs — and yet always making me a wee bit uncomfortable in my seat. But it's the sort of discomfort I appreciate: recognition that life is not forever, and "carpe diem" is, sadly, just something people say. FINAL GRADE: A-

Baby Mama
Easily one of the best "clean" comedies of recent memory, with clever, subtle humor throughout that kept the material from ever going stale. A truly enjoyable viewing experience about a 30-something career woman (Tina Fey) who hires a white trash surrogate (Amy Phoeler) to carry her embryo. FINAL GRADE: A-

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Without question, this was the first time in a great while that I've enjoyed a Judd Apatow-produced film without the slightest tinge of inner conflict. With Sarah Marshall — a film about a man recovering from the devastation brought upon by the end of a 5-year relationship with a television actress — he's at long last put his checkbook behind a comedy that doesn't intersperse hearty laughs with chauvinist undertones. Plus, there are boy parts! Ow-owww! FINAL GRADE: A-

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Yeah, I know. You're disappointed in me for parting with the $9.25 it cost to see this one. But for whatever it's worth, this second Harold and Kumar "stoner" film was precisely what I figured it'd be: really funny in some parts, and way overboard (as in "oh-my-god-why-did-they-have-to-include-this") in others. But, hey, I'm not the targeted demographic and I was still chuckling the next day when I'd recall particular scenes and different lines. And, yes, Kumar, donuts are awesome. FINAL GRADE: B

Iron Man
I told a friend I saw this. His response: "So does that mean you're dating again?"

So aside from the fact that teenage boys and adolescent men are the targeted demographic for superhero films, this one really isn't half bad. Certainly better than most others I've seen, barring the darker, more recent Batman films. There's psychology behind the action, and Robert Downey Jr. was perfectly cast for the part. FINAL GRADE: B

Super Troopers
Maybe it's because I watched the majority of this alone, and while doing chores. Or maybe it's because my sense of humor had hit a bit of a valley before I popped this into the DVD player. Whatever it was... I didn't find this to be anywhere near as funny as I was expecting. It wasn't bad, per se, and the writing was actually decent for a slapstick, toilet-n-drug comedy. But it was just wasn't doing it for me. Perhaps I'll have to try again some other time; suspect it could be a bit like Austin Powers for me, which I despised on my first viewing... before going on to watch it a dozen times in a single year. FINAL GRADE: Pending

Charlie Wilson's War
Oh, I dunno. This is an interesting "based on a true story" story regarding covert U.S. involvement in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s, and the U.S. congressman who made it all happen. But I really struggled with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in the lead roles. Not that they were awful, but that they just weren't... compelling. FINAL GRADE: C+

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


The cold is retreating.

So I lace up my Montrails and turn to the lake, battling bus fumes and pleas for spare change – the toll one pays for any oasis-bound journey.

But this early-morning jog was intended, first and foremost, to serve as exercise: but it isn’t long before I find myself so lost in my surroundings that I scarcely realize I’m running at all.

As when I entered the park and passed an empty table typically reserved for chess, the sun hitting the surface where countless kings had fallen, the lake going on behind it as if locked in a perpetual stale mate.

I wished for my camera by that point, stopping midway to ingest my environs (Title: “Table for Two”): sidestepping dandelions through the freshly-risen grass, walking toward the lake and marveling – as I so often do – on how strange it is to see the city meet the sanctuary.

And so I walked. And I stood. Staring out over the lake, inspecting the city-sanctioned graffiti before turning once again to my gravel path and heading home.

It was there that I jotted down a few thoughts and retrieved my camera, spending the remainder of the day searching for scenes to fill the gaps between words.

And I turned to iron and steel (the chalk upon my slate), taking picture after picture as if to say:

This is how I feel.

Searching for words when there are none

And biting my tongue for all that remains.