Saturday, October 31, 2009

No More Crying

The John Lennon song "I Know (I Know)," from the 1973 "Mind Games" album.

Since Lennon's death in 1980, there have been many sets of his music released. I've never found "I Know" on any of them. Thanks, finally, to YouTube.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Five Easy Pieces

A month or so ago, I wrote about one weekend I spent lying in bed doing nothing but watching TV. It was initially depressing, of course, but at one point a string of fluffy "feel-good" movies started coming on on various channels, and I ended up getting in a pretty good mood. (I remember one was "Serendipity," another "Harvey Girls"...)

A couple of nights ago, the exact OPPOSITE happened: I actually wasn't depressed at all, and then, on TCM, came the Big Downer "Five Easy Pieces" (with Jack Nicholson, Karen Black, Susan Anspach). Jesus!

I'd seen it years and years ago, and loooooved it: the intensity, the "its ugly truthfulness about human/societal relations," etc. etc. But way back when I first saw it, I was just a kid and not stuck in the same sort of quagmire that Nicholson's character's in... Back then, I could watch the misery disinterestedly, as "art." (And, boy, did I feel grown up and voyeuristic getting to see what I felt/knew were real adults with real angst not connecting with each other.)

Watching it this time, I still admired the truthfulness of it. But I certainly wasn't a kid, removed from its harsh realities, which made it pretty depressing viewing.

Nicholson's character first appears as a working-class guy -- drinking, fucking, bowling, working in an oil-field. But he's annoyed most of the time. By his guffawing drinking buddy; by his idiotic fucks (one is Sally Struthers, of all people!); and especially by his simpering live-in girlfriend (Black), whose overt neediness and constant playing of Tammy Wynette records around the house drive him nuts. (The film's credits open to "Stand By Your Man," and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and a couple of other of her songs are also featured. I was torn -- I love Tammy Wynette! But the movie programmed me to cringe whenever one of her songs came on, because I knew that Black was about to act in an embarrassing fashion.)

On the surface, the above sounds like a comedy. Done today, it would be. But as is, everything was kind of painful to watch. Nicholson's no better than his buddy: He makes the same dumb jokes, participates in the same mindless activities. Nicholson's no better than his fucks: He's just as bored and light-weight-sleazy as they are. He's no better than his girlfriend: He might have the upper hand in the relationship because he's clearly not in love with her, but she is also, despite her clinginess, portrayed as a genuinely loving person, while Nicholson's behavior toward her is often unnecessarily harsh and cruel.

With these initial scenes, you might think: "Well, Nicholson's mean, but maybe he's just a restless, sensitive soul. He just needs to get away from these yahoos and he'll be fine..." A-ha! Here comes the plot instigator: He finds out that his father has had a stroke, and guilt propels him to return home, which he's apparently been away from for years (without anyone there knowing his whereabouts).

When he gets back home, we learn that he's from a very wealthy family, that he used to be a talented classical pianist (oh, so THAT's why so anti-Tammy...)And that he hated/hates his pretentious, pseudo-intellectual upper-crust family/friends just as much as he hates the working-class companions in his new life.

His brother's wife (Anspach) is one glimmer of hope for him -- she's a free spirit, too: smart, nice, insightful, a pianist herself, AND she fucks him (all good qualities). But she's also self-aware and realistic: Despite their sex and conversation, she's happy with her life. And he's obviously not. No, aside from the fucking, she doesn't want to be with him. Why on earth would she want to run off and be with someone who hates himself?

In a film made today, at this point Jack would now turn on the devilish, boyish charm and win the girl over, convincing her to dump her staid life and run off into the Great Unknown with him (while assuring us viewers with a wink that he's not mean any more, that this wonderful woman has brought out his "real" self). But this is an adult, realistic movie, made in 1970, and Anspach is exactly right: Nicholson's a desperate, not-very-emotionally-attractive mess. And he's ultimately left to his own devices.

Funnily, in a grim way, his path at the end of the film had been suggested earlier by a verbose anti-society lesbian hitchhiker that he and Black picked up while driving to his family's home. The hitchhiker had been as annoying in her own cliche-ridden "society sucks" way as had Black in her "stand-by-your-man" vapidity, yet... something about what she was blathering on about obviously stuck in his mind... She had, after all, applauded his denigration of a literal-minded roadside waitress...

You know, after writing the above, I'm not so depressed about the film after all... I think when I was watching it (at 4am) a couple of nights ago, I had no emotional shield up. I was seeing myself in almost every character. I often feel extremely dissatisfied and judgmental, like Nicholson, but I also saw how ugly he was acting and how unlovable he was. I saw how annoying Black was, but also realized that I sometimes act just as clingily and don't censor myself when I find myself repulsing people with my enthusiasms. I saw myself in the angry, annoyingly grim hitchhiker. And in the smug, condescending "intellectual" expounding at length during a get-together at the family home.

Whew! What a mirror!

Stepping back a bit, though: Sure, I'm unpleasant in many ways. For a film to make me think about my own behavior and life (for a film to make anyone think about their own behavior and life) is a real artistic accomplishment. This movie wasn't didactic, though. While it did portray Tammy-fans in a bad light, it also shone the same dark light on the opposite end of the spectrum. And on the in-betweens, like the hitchhiker (although the latter was, ultimately, the source of a slightly enlightening, glimmer).

"Five Easy Pieces," now that I think about it more, reminds me of one movie that I've long put on my "Top Twenty Favorites" list: "Naked," directed by Mike Leigh. David Thewlis's character was a complete loser, on the one hand; yet, at the end as he was hobbling off down the street and rejecting the figurative hand of hope that had been held out to him, a loser completely true to himself.

A loser terribly triumphant.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sylvia Plath


Unlucky the hero born
In this province of the stuck record
Where the most watchful cooks go jobless
And the mayor's rĂ´tisserie turns
Round of its own accord. There's no career in the venture
Of riding against the lizard,
Himself withered these latter-days
To leaf-size from lack of action:
History's beaten the hazard.The last crone got burnt up
More than eight decades back
With the love-hot herb, the talking cat,
But the children are better for it,
The cow milks cream an inch thick.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

People can be nice

Thanks to "JH" for sending the below message to this blog. (She'd written in response to an angry post of a couple of days ago that I've now deleted.)

"I have kept up w/your blog since your big move. While NYC is a wonderful place, (I live in TX and visit NYC twice a year) it has changed you. You used to sound happier, even when you were bitching about people. You now sound so miserable and depressed.

Based on your writing, I am sure you have a lot of lovely qualities. You need to get back to where you were. Beautiful city or not, you aren't the same person as when you moved there. I really wish I could help as it is difficult sometimes to read. You need to get out and make new friends that aren't associated w/your past. If someone writes something scathing, you need to get past it. It only makes your heart heavier.

I wish you the best and I hope you are able to go back to work soon.

Concerned stranger"


This is really a kind thing to send along.

And it did make me think, "HAS NYC changed me for the worse? AM I a different, more miserable person?" (I especially liked: "You used to sound happier, even when you were bitching about people.") :)

I can't really agree that it's NYC that's making me miserable, though. There's a general sense of exhilaration in the city that I really enjoy being around. And I like the people in general and the weather specifically much better.

It's just...
(1) the damn economy! Not having income, being in that limbo, is scary and depressing. I can't go anywhere, I can't buy anything. It's basically a life of watching TV, being on the computer, and walking around. Which gets old after a month or so.
And (2) I think, JH, that you did have a good point about making new friends not associated with my past. Sandra, the woman I've been bitching about for the past year, is definitely associated with a very bad time in my past: when I was 20, not yet out of the closet, secretly in love with her back then... And then she "shows back up" in my life 23 years later, sometimes really into me, sometimes "hating gay women." All of the emotional shit that I've been through with her over the past year hearkened me right back to when I was a miserable, closeted 20-year-old. Not to mention pulling me emotionally back to Texas, where I don't want to physically be any longer. I've been unable to concentrate fully on my life up here -- where I do physically want to be -- because I've been constantly thinking about her in Texas.

This past year has been really, really hard. Wish me luck with finding a job up here. That's going to solve a whole lot of mental problems.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Just read the below column in the NYTimes by a woman my age (44). It's basically about giving up, and about being envious of a 12-year-old!

I found certain things in the column to be true: At age 12, there is certainly a sense of "limitless possibilities" open to you. A false sense, in this case, I might grouse. Most likely, the below-mentioned daughter of this New York Times columnist, a daughter who is already (obnoxiously -- at age 12?!) going off for "conferences in Washington," is going to be, at 44, exactly like her mother: Married-with-children, earning $85,000 a year at a cushy city job, living in Connecticut or someplace, probably bemoaning upper-middle-class life (either privately with her privileged friends or, god forbid, in a public forum where she expects sympathy).

And then there's the quote: "It’s just that urgency that goes, in early middle age. 'All that yearning and anguish and passion had been replaced by a steady pulse of pleasure and satisfaction and occasional irritation, and this seemed to be a happy exchange; if there had been times in her life when she had been more elated, there had never been a time when things had been more constant,' Emma Morley, one of the two narrators of the British writer David Nicholls’s recent novel, 'One Day,' reflects, as life and love come together for her at age 38. 'What is there to care so much about?' she continues, '… everything had evened out and settled down and life was lived against a general background of comfort, satisfaction and familiarity.'"

Well, bully for those staid, privileged women for whom the above is true... But... that state certainly ain't the case for THIS 44-year-old. I'm wondering where my own "steady pulse of pleasure and satisfaction" and "general background of comfort, satisfaction and familiarity" are! As yet non-existent, perhaps by choice. The search goes on for me.

For instance: When I left Austin for NYC in 2007, I was 41, had a good-paying job, a car, a comfortable, coolly-furnished house (albeit a rental)... And gave it all up to throw myself into a strange city with nothing because I was bored to death where I was. Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is?" was the refrain in my head at the time. I wanted to be mentally challenged; I wanted to learn new things, see new things. Inspired, perhaps, by the opening paragraphs of our country's Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness..." (How utterly audacious and unusual is it to include the goal of "the pursuit of happiness" in a political document/blueprint for a nation!)

It seems to me that Judith Warner (the columnist below), on the other hand, has completely given up. In her own mind, her life is over. No more happiness or intensity. Her remaining subdued thrills being to (1)live through her daughter's "conferences"; and (2) watch her husband dance/sing boyishly. According to her, she's got nothing.

Jobless as I am at the moment, I feel sorry for her and her lack of imagination and future.


Column by Judith Warner in the New York Times (10/15/09)

It was one of those moments that really should be meaningless. Julia and I were in the car, listening to the soundtrack of the new remake of the movie “Fame.” We were both singing along to the title track; I was grousing lightly to myself about the impudence of anyone’s even attempting to remake the 1980 Irene Cara song, when suddenly I heard Julia’s voice, stronger and more confident than mine: “I’m gonna live forever. I’m gonna learn how to fly. (High.)”

And one of those all-too-frequent choke-in-the-throat feelings came over me.

This was her song now. Not mine.

The sense of limitless possibility: hers. Vaulting ambition: hers. Anticipation, excitement, discovery, intensity: all hers.

It is a strange thing to have a 12-year-old — that is to say, a child who is coming out of the family cocoon and starting to make a life for herself out in the world. Up to a point, of course. Julia isn’t yet going to college, or getting a job.

But on the day in question we were on our way home from shopping for clothes for a conference that she was going to attend in Washington. She was going to live in a dorm. Carry her own Advil. Dress in “office casual” clothes, the defining and finding of which had obsessed me, successfully channeling all my anxiety about her going away to be a mini-conventioneer among strangers. Until, of course, the clothes were found.

I kept coming back to one skirt, turning it in my hands and studying it. If I didn’t own it now, I was sure I had owned one very much like it in the past.

“I could wear this,” I said, holding it in front of me, and picturing it a size or three larger.

“But promise me you won’t,” she said, with desperate urgency.

It’s just that urgency that goes, in early middle age. “All that yearning and anguish and passion had been replaced by a steady pulse of pleasure and satisfaction and occasional irritation, and this seemed to be a happy exchange; if there had been times in her life when she had been more elated, there had never been a time when things had been more constant,” Emma Morley, one of the two narrators of the British writer David Nicholls’s recent novel, “One Day,” reflects, as life and love come together for her at age 38. “What is there to care so much about?” she continues, “… everything had evened out and settled down and life was lived against a general background of comfort, satisfaction and familiarity.”

This is a turning point in the book. Happiness — elusive for so long — has been achieved.

And then, three pages later, Emma dies.

This is the cruelty of middle age, I find: just when things have gotten good — really, really, consistently good — I have become aware that they will end.

“It’s the circle of life,” a friend said, semi-tearfully to me the other day, still recovering from her choke-in-the-throat experience of having received a note from her daughter’s fourth grade teachers warning that, soon enough, the precious 9-year-olds in their care would need to start to wear deodorant.

“Changes are coming.” She was still choking up over it. Puberty was on the horizon for her daughter; menopause for her.

We always say “circle,” but to be perfectly honest, I now see the passage of time more as a kind of bell curve. Years of ascension, soaring anticipation, followed by a plateau — which is not so bad, really — and then, no way to sugar coat this: a rather precipitous decline.

You are not supposed to think this, much less say it. A decline? Never!

Fifty is the new 30, after all; and 70 is the new 15, and 40 — well, the forties are just so fabulous that they can’t even be considered middle age. Even if they do happen to fall right smack in the middle of what, despite our best efforts, is still a limited human lifespan.

Susan Jacoby, the author of “The Age of American Unreason,” among other books, found herself, a year or so ago, attending a panel at the World Science Festival in New York City called “Ninety is the new Fifty,” and is now writing a book on the “delusion” she says we all have “that age is something that can be defied.” Her focus is on how the baby boom generation faces old age: “if we do everything right, we’re not going to get old or sad. It’s part of the belief that a positive attitude can fix everything and you’re not going to die.”

Yet the stirrings of mortality, and our fears of facing it, she acknowledges, can start much earlier. “The forties are a kind of deadline,” she told me.

My life, I’ve often told my girls, feels in these years as if I am constantly about to take a giant math test. Even so, I’d much rather be 44 than 14, as I was when “Fame” was first released. And 14 was already worlds better than 12.(“The seventh and eighth grades were for me, and for every single good and interesting person I’ve ever known, what the writers of the Bible meant when they used the words hell and the pit,” Anne Lamott wrote, in “Operating Instructions.” “Seventh and eighth grades were a place into which one descended… . One was no longer just some kid. One was suddenly a Diane Arbus character. It was springtime, for Hitler, and Germany.”)

There are trade-offs: intensity versus contentment, exaltation versus peace. And perhaps the best exchange of all: you trade in an idea of yourself for a reality that, if nothing else, can make you laugh.

Our family shared a ride to school and work the other day, and in the car we listened, of course, to “Fame.” I parked, and Max walked the girls to the front door of the school. Suddenly, spontaneously, he burst into song.

His shouts of “Fame!” were accompanied by sideways leaps and expansive arm gestures that I, from across the street, could recognize as disco-era choreography.

The girls scuttled off with record speed. The other children, and most of the parents, averted their eyes.

Yet one mother, tired-looking, with a baby in a stroller, kept turning back for more. One more glance, one more giggle. She walked off, laughing still, and shaking her head.

She may have made some kind of comment to her baby as she passed by me in the car; I couldn’t hear it. The music was turned up too loud.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


Unemployment in the US hit 9.8% yesterday. It's the highest it's been in 26 years. 1983. The year I graduated from high school.

I've never in my life had to deal with this before. Up until now, the longest I'd ever been without a job was one month. I saw a poll a few weeks ago saying that something like 57% of those unemployed were "traumatized" by not having work. Sorry that I couldn't be one of those stalwart 43%; on the contrary, I'm very traumatized.

I've got a Masters degree. I've got 10 years of experience as a copy editor. I've sent out over 50 resumes to every conceivable job site in the NYC/NJ area.

While Unemployment checks have been tiding me over for the past 4 months, they've been paying my rent and utilities, and very little else. I have not been able to do anything since May, except maybe "splurge" on a $6 hamburger/fries plate every other week, and a haircut every 6 weeks. My apartment looks like shit. I look like shit. I did buy a cheap pair of shoes last week, but prior to that, the last time I bought any clothes was a couple of sweaters last Christmas.

This really sucks.

Scandalous males

Scandalous males are in the news lately, and the subject of discussion on both the Joan-board and among my Facebook friends. I thought I'd just go ahead and get all of my opinions out right here:

Jon Gosselin: A mere day or so after the producers of "Jon and Kate + 8" announced that the show's name would be changed to "Kate + 8" and Jon given a minimal role, Jon then announces that being on camera is bad for his kids and he forbids it. What a blatantly self-serving asshole.

David Letterman: While single, he had sex with adult females who worked for him. So what?

Roman Polanski: He had sex with a 13-year-old girl, after giving her drugs and alcohol. Allegedly consensual, after her own mother brought her over to his house. I kept thinking of the days of slavery: Back in the day, warring tribes in Africa would capture and sell the defeated to the white guys. Did that make it right? Similarly, if one's mother offers one up to someone else for sex, even if a famous director, does that make it right? Shouldn't the director have said no? If the girl had been 16 or 17, it would be a gray area for me. But 13? You don't have sex with 13-year-olds. Period. Put the creepy pedophile in jail.

John Phillips: Daughter Mackenzie Phillips says she and her father had sex numerous times over a 10-year period, usually while on drugs. The first time was a complete violation on the father's part, drugs or not. But after that? Why did Mackenzie continue to have sex with him, as an adult, over the next TEN YEARS? She wasn't a helpless child in his care. The violations occurred between the ages of 18 and 28. Ridiculous. Both John Phillips and Mackenzie Phillips are ridiculous.

Tardy for the Party

Kim's incredibly catchy song from Real Housewives - Hotlanta! Thanks to Kandi and her engineering friends for whipping this sucker into great shape! I love it! :)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Wow... Thank you for the hope.

After writing my below (sad) blog entry, I checked my Joan-site e-mail, and found the following message:

"It's ______ again, and I was just thinking about you. I know you've had an extremely difficult year with your work situation and everything. I just want to tell you that everything is going to be changing for you by the end of October of this year.
I've studied astrology for many years, and over the last year you've had many work difficulties because the planet Saturn is in Pisces, and it is opposing all of your Virgo planets at the moment. This aspect will be ending, and things will look bright in your life again. So just hang in there."


RE: "everything changing by the end of October"? Coincidentally (?) that's when my New Jersey Unemployment Insurance runs out, and the deadline I've given myself to give notice here and move back to Texas (though I don't want to) if I haven't found a job...

HOPE! :) Thank you! :)