It Feels Like February (And That’s a Good Thing)

One miserable February day in high school, I remember one of my teachers illustrating how we all felt. On the white board, he drew two diagonal lines that intersected toward the bottom, each one representing half the school year. He labeled the low point, where the lines met, “February.” He meant it to encourage us; yes, it’s dark outside, but it only gets better from here.

For the last few months, I’ve been living firmly on that downhill slide, heading toward the low point. I should offer a caveat: Nothing objectively traumatic has occurred. I’m in one piece and grateful for my (ultimately very stable) life. But the low point has appeared in the form of wrestling with the realization that, especially in New York City, I’ll never be able to do it all.

One of the most important realizations I’ve made since living in New York/becoming an adult (for me, those two are one in the same) is that time is your most valuable asset. In a city with infinite activity, you have to make choices, and I feel like I’ve had to make a lot of them in the first part of 2017.

These choices are all centered on time – who you hang out with, what hobbies you pursue, where you go, what relationships you prioritize. Inevitably, people, places, and pursuits come and go as the years pass. I’ve only been in New York just shy of five years, and the way I spend my time now looks dramatically different from the way it did when I first moved. And that’s a good thing. But I’m also much more aware of the ways I spend my time now, and while I think the awareness is a good thing, constantly obsessing over how to spend time – and fretting about how I might be wasting it – seems like a rather fruitless endeavor.

“Epiphany” is too strong a word, but as I was washing a few dishes this evening, after just having watched an episode of 30 Rock and an hour of Hail, Caesar!, I thought of that illustration from my high school teacher. I just watched some of my favorite show, and a good chunk of a great movie. Last night, 15 people crammed in my apartment to watch the Oscars. Yes, the process of managing time and priorities never stops. But life is still good, and it only gets better from here.

While I have you here, and since I just mentioned it, let’s briefly discuss the Oscars, shall we? I really don’t have that much to say, except the screenplay winners gave my favorite speeches, and I’m bummed the Best Picture fiasco overshadowed 1) a win by a phenomenal film and 2) a fantastic hosting job by Jimmy Kimmel.

Tonight I decided to honor Hail, Caesar!’s nomination for Production Design with a re-watch while I scrolled through slideshows of the red carpet and Vanity Fair party. It was heaven. (I still think a convincing Supporting Actor case could have been made for Ralph Fiennes, although why would you really want to compete with Mahershala Ali.)

Despite all my love of movies and award shows, this was the first year I’d seen all the Best Picture nominees before the actual Oscars ceremony. Manchester by the Sea was my favorite film this season, but I am thrilled for Moonlight and would have been thrilled for La La Land, too. Even though it wasn’t my favorite of the year, I’ve become something of a La La Land defender in the past few weeks; no, the movie isn’t perfect, but it’s got music, dance, Technicolor, and dreams. I don’t think it deserves all the backlash.

Every year during the Oscar ceremony, there’s a moment where I consciously think about how I spent four months watching these movies for, more or less, the very purpose of enjoying this one night. And every year I question why I do such a thing. And then a few months later I’m yearning for awards season again. We all have our vices.

Last thing.

One of my resolutions for 2017 was to continue, and expand upon, the work I did in 2016 to document as much as I could about what I read, watched, and listened to. From an ease-of-documentation standpoint, at least for TV and movies, I find tumblr to be a more effective medium than this blog. I will definitely still be writing here, but I’m keeping a more updated, visually focused look at my cultural intake on tumblr.

Good night.

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A Few Items for Sunday and the Start of 2016

It’s Sunday, and there’s nothing terribly urgent to say, but this weekend won’t let me leave it without writing something. Three weeks into the new year. Good excuse as any to process some stuff.

Does it feel longer than three weeks to anyone else? I don’t say that with negative connotations; maybe it just feels long because a lot has happened. Actually, not even that much has happened. But I think I sensed a shift between 2015 and 2016, more than I usually would as the years change. 2015 wasn’t a dud by any means, but nothing really new happened. And I get it. Years will go by in life where nothing really new happens. It’s not bad. But I sense 2016 holds some action. Who really knows what yet.

As the year starts to reveal what it will be, I’ve noticed one priority emerge: Keeping better track of everything. Not just physical items, though it would be great if I stopped losing my MetroCards…but ideas, articles, photos, songs – anything that, when I read/hear/see/listen/otherwise consume, immediately catches my eye. If I don’t save it in the moment, I’ll forget to save it at all (or worse, remember it but without the spark of the original inspiration).

So far, this is happening in a semi-makeshift way; I’m mostly saving items to a Gmail folder and working to keep better track of them with tags and titles. Not pretty, necessarily, but always with me, easily navigable, and free. I also use Pinterest, tumblr, and the Notes app on my phone.

Ideally, I’ll look back on this folder at the end of the year and recall a clear picture of everything that inspired me. “Inspired” may be too strong a word, though I’d say even at this early point there are a few items that fit that bill. Anything that captures how I feel in a moment, enlightens me, makes me smarter, intrigues me, opens me to a new person or idea, provokes me to dance…I want to remember what it was and what it made me feel.

Here are some of the items I’ve documented so far:

Interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman on Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men” podcast. This podcast debuted somewhat recently and I’ve found each episode I’ve listened to extremely insightful. It’s fun to listen to people who love movies and awards season as much as I do – but who actually know what they are talking about, and have informed reasons for thinking this woman will win Best Actress or why the Hollywood Foreign Press will probably give the Golden Globe to this person. Their recent interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman were particularly notable. The Vanity Fair writers who host ask such precise, revealing questions. I loved Elizabeth Banks talking about two real-life women she has played lately – Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, wife of Brian; and Laura Bush – explaining how she tried to connect to a real-life part of each woman, while understanding she could never 100% “be” them. And the Sarah Silverman conversation; I can’t point to as many specifics, but I found her to be so self-deprecating and smart and loved hearing a first-person account of some of her experiences as an actress.

New York Times Bowie obituary. David Bowie was never part of my music education, to be honest. Of course I knew who he was, but my parents didn’t listen to him and I never picked up an appreciation in any other part of my life. But we’d been talking at work about wanting to go see Lazarus, the Bowie musical that had been off-Broadway. And then on a Monday morning a few days later, news broke that he died. I couldn’t take part with any truly personal tribute, but I enjoyed following the remembrances. His obit in the Times contained an electric line, and in my mind, I can’t think of any other way someone could want to be described: “infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking.”

Emma Thompson on Alan Rickman. This one really upset me. It might sound silly, but in my deepest dreams of someday writing a movie and seeing it made…Alan Rickman could have been in the movie. I would have written for him. I loved watching him. And now he is gone. My mourning will not be complete until I hold a special viewing of Sense and Sensibility. In the wake of his death, my favorite tribute came from Emma Thompson, his friend and frequent co-star (who also wrote for him). Read the entire statement, but this line seemed to reveal the purity and knowingness of their friendship: “…the clarity with which he saw most things, including me…”

Movies. I haven’t seen as many new films at this point as I would have liked to, but it’s too early to be discouraged. I’ve been underwhelmed with this year’s Oscar season choices (I like anything I saw this summer, from The End of the Tour to Love and Mercy and Trainwreck more than anything from the fall/winter, with the exception of Spotlight) but have at least found a lot to value in The Big Short and Carol. And I’m still excited for the Oscars ceremony. Movies aside, there will be glamour and gossip and people writing the first line of their obituaries.

I have recently enjoyed re-watching a couple films – first, Adaptation, which I watched a few years ago. Listening to Charlie Kaufman’s interview on WTF with Marc Maron made me want to revisit it (Kaufman to Maron, about finding the story: “What if I write about me being stuck?”), and I learned a lot viewing the film with that backstory in mind.

The second recent re-watch, which I enjoyed just last night with my roommate when we decided we were not going out in any more of this blizzard madness: Guys and Dolls. I watched this movie tons as a kid (I think my mom first showed it to me because my dance class performed to “Bushel and a Peck,” a song from the stage musical which actually isn’t in the film) but hadn’t seen the whole thing in ages. It’s so witty and brilliant, and I never picked up on any of that as a kid. One-liners galore. And I can finally say I understand that the crap game is not literally floating.

And with that, there are just a few minutes to Monday, so these Sunday thoughts aren’t worth a lot anymore. But there they are. More to come in 2016.

 

Laughing

My weekends, I have come to realize, are defined by whatever place/person/song/TV show/movie I spend most of that weekend obsessing about. This year, I’ve had Royal Tenenbaums weekends, Kevin Spacey weekends, Boston weekends, West Wing weekends…I spend hours invested in the topic at hand, and realize with a weird sadness on Sunday night that I won’t get to spend as much time with it on Monday as I did the previous two days.

This weekend has been John Mulaney weekend.

I first heard of John Mulaney a few months ago when I saw a bit about him in New York magazine. I cannot remember the title of the story (it was something along the lines of “The Best Comedians in New York Today”) but it briefly described him as a former SNL writer and creator of Bill Hader’s “Stefon” character with a sitcom pilot in the works. For each comic featured, the story named a “representative joke.” Mulaney’s was:

Nothing that I know can help you with your car, ever. Unless you’re like, ‘Hey I’ve got a flat tire, does anyone here know a lot about the “Cosby Show”?’

That. Is. My. Life. More with 30 Rock or The West Wing, but having nothing but television quotes at your disposal, even in troubling life situations? I can relate. And even though the joke struck me and I memorized it for future reference, all I did after reading it was watch a few of Mulaney’s stand-up videos and move on with my life. I had not entered obsession phase.

Then – backstory: my friend Miranda, who lived across the hall from me for two years at U of O, is visiting New York this week. I am SO HAPPY she’s here because of all my closest friends at school, she’s the only one I haven’t seen since I’ve lived in New York – Miranda brought up one of his jokes on Saturday during a conversation about delayed flights. It was about a bad experience John Mulaney had with Delta airlines and I vaguely remembered the joke from my own YouTube trollings a few months prior. I told her I’d heard that before, and Miranda proceeded to tell me that his stand-up was the funniest thing ever and we should watch it immediately when we got back to my apartment.

So we did.

Please take a 40-minute break from reading to watch this – his latest stand-up release, New in Town:

It felt good to laugh really hard. The routine covered a lot of material about growing up and living in New York City, and I liked that he made the hard parts of those experiences something to laugh about – not something to rant about or wallow in self-pity about or think too seriously about. Weird stuff happens. May as well laugh about it. (Though the “When people order fries, they act like it’s a little adventure” bit hit a little too close to home).

Plus, it was laden with obscure pop-culture references. I don’t watch Law and Order: SVU and thus had no major connection to Mulaney’s jokes about it, but I love that he loves it so much and had watched it enough to make hilarious observations. I love when people let others into the dark little corners of their obscure obsessions and shine a light that lets you see how wonderful those obsessions are (and even if they aren’t wonderful to you, you get to appreciate how much they mean to the other person).

Since I had SNL on the brain, I was excited to see Lorne Michaels wrote a short piece for the October issue of Vanity Fair on television and the 1970s. It was a very personal story of Michaels’ start in New York, but he told it in the context of the decade’s dichotomous television landscape: Past and present were airing at the same time. Networks execs ruled the airwaves, but the young writers they employed knew change was afoot…or at least, they were ready to start making the change. You can read most of the piece online, but some of my favorite parts (like the second one below) came only in the print article.

A couple of favorite lines:

Michaels talking about his morning routine when he first moved to New York City:

I found a sublet on 57th and Seventh, in a building called the Osborne, which had a Chock full o’Nuts right on the corner. I began my day with a cup of coffee, The New York Times, and two sugar doughnuts. They were whole-wheat sugar donuts. I had learned about nutrition in California.

Michaels talking about the performers and artists he worked with in New York, and how their work reflected the decade’s culture:

Pretty soon we began to feel as if we were on to something new. After all, we were the baby boom – we knew television the way French kids knew wine. TV for us had been the miracle that brought us the world, and now we were determined to reflect the world we were living in on TV.

It was our turn. The 1970s, I realize now, were a time when things were both coming undone and being put back together in a different way. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that all of life is re-invention. Sometimes past and future can share the same time period. New just shows up sometimes.

“New just shows up sometimes.” I love that line. It’s a reminder to stay on your toes. As someone with an affinity for the 70s, I found the whole piece charming and funny; criticism on the decade in TV was fascinating.

I guess the moral of this post is that I hope you laughed this weekend. And watched New in Town.