As we speak I am sitting in an auditorium watching two of my favorite people be hooded as MDs. I am so proud of them and thankful to have them in my life.
I, like pretty much everybody of my generation, grew up playing educational computer games in grade and middle school(which some of you call junior high). Some of these were of the mind-numbing variety(Math Blaster) and some were fucking awesome. Luckily for me, you can still play the fucking awesome ones(and probably the mind numbing ones) on many websites around the interwebs.
Today, I am thankful for the fact that I can sit down at my computer and play Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? whenever I damn well please. And I don’t care that I’m about 20 years past the target age for the game. It is just a fun bit of nostalgia.
Also it has me a bit preoccupied today, so this is a shorter than usual post. Oh well. I have to go catch Carmen.
I’m going to tell you something today that will make many people think less of me. That is right. I don’t think that it is something that should make people think less of me and it is something that would make people think even less of me if I happened to be a woman but it is still something that will make many people uncomfortable, and I’m okay with that. See, if you haven’t noticed yet, I live my life by the mantra that it is better to be the person you are than to be held to some societal standard that has no basis in reality. And, make no mistakes, the reason that people will think less of me in a moment is because of a social construction. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not what I’m about to admit to makes me a good or bad person.
Okay. So, I’ve built that up sufficiently. Let me just say that today I am thankful, almost beyond words, that my wife and I are in agreement on the fact that we never, ever, want to even entertain the idea of having children.
I know that a few of you, and from my experience since the day that Liz and I announced our engagement it is a very small number, are completely supportive of the idea of two people who are happily married and very much in love not wanting to procreate. However, a vast majority of people who exist in this world are now judging me as a horrible human being because of the fact that I do not, under any circumstances, ever want to be a parent. And I think that is ridiculous. It is even more ridiculous that my wife gets judged as not being a fully realized woman if she doesn’t have a kid. And if anybody feels that you have to have a child to be a “real woman” then you can just go straight to hell. Seriously. Fuck off.
There are a myriad of reasons why Liz and I don’t want to have children. Liz has plenty of them that are her own, completely separate from our relationship, and I won’t get into those. Instead, let me explain why I’m thankful that I have a wife that agrees with me that bringing a child into this world is not right for us.
First, I love my life. I get to play videogames, hang out with friends, watch movies, travel whenever we want to and can afford it. Frankly, Liz and I are living the dream. A child would change that. You can try to say it wouldn’t but I am not an idiot. I have friends who have kids. Your life is no longer about you when you have kid. Instead, every decision you make has to take into account the livelihood of a creature who, for all intents and purposes, relies on you for their every need. That requires an entire change of your lifestyle, no matter what you try to say.
See, I’m selfish. I don’t want to have to sacrifice a night on the town with my lovely wife because we couldn’t find a sitter. I don’t want to have to consider the fact that opening my mouth and speaking out about a controversial issue that I feel strongly about could have negative effects on my child. I don’t want to be responsible for another human life.
Some people counter this by saying “Well, what about your wife? Don’t you have a responsibility to her?” And that is true to an extent. However, my wife does not rely on me to exist. If she did, that would be one fucked up relationship. Also, as our partnership makes very clear, a good marriage doesn’t require you to sacrifice your happiness for the happiness of another human, which is exactly what I see people doing for their children on a regular basis.
I know that this opinion is not going to be popular. I don’t really care. I’m just thankful that my wife and I agree that children are not something that will be in our future. I’m also thankful that there are other people who will have children until they literally can’t do that anymore, as we need younger generations in the world. I don’t judge you for having kids and wanting kids, so please don’t judge us for the opposite.
As I’m sure anybody who reads this blog can tell you, along with anybody who has ever met me, or for that matter heard of me, I am proud to call myself a feminist. As a white, cisgender, heterosexual man this is something that is often seen as shocking or unexpected. I don’t call myself a feminist to get praise or to shock people. I call myself a feminist because I believe in a feminist ideal. I believe that gendered oppression and and socially constructed gender norms are idiotic. I also believe that, as a privileged individual, it is my duty to challenge patriarchal views at every possibility in order to make the world a better place for everybody, regardless of race, sexual orientation, age, or gender.
All of that being said, there are some people who believe in the exact things that I just listed above, tried and true feminists, who don’t think that a man should call himself a feminist. I have been chastised for this on more than one occasion. While I am willing to call myself a feminist ally in their presence, it doesn’t change the fact that I truly believe myself to be a feminist. And I think that male feminists are an important part of the feminist movement. Are we as important to the movement as our female compatriots? Of course not. Anybody who says that men are more important to feminism than women are hugely deluded and don’t recognize that they are part of the problem as much as their patriarchy supporting counterparts.
It is with all of this in mind that I am beyond thankful for an article that my wife, one of the most badass feminists I know, sent me today. The article, which was published over at Policymic.com, is entitled “Feminism Need Men, Too”. While I am not sure I agree 100% with the title, as I don’t feel that feminism necessarily needs men but feel that it is more effective as a social movement when women and men do work together, I do love the tone of the article. Here is an excerpt:
Perhaps it’s because feminism isn’t a label, but an action. Co-host of Citizen Radio and writer Allison Kilkenny, notes that for a man to truly become a feminist, “He has to view the world through a more empathetic lens.” That reflects what her husband and co-host of Citizen Radio, Jamie Kilstein, notes as perhaps the biggest road block for men to become feminists: “Feminism requires an active change in your life.” To be a male feminist means changing the way you speak about and treat women, and that often means challenging your male friends when they perpetuate sexism, which can be incredibly difficult.
What’s more, the simple fact is that patriarchy privileges men, particularly white men. What does it mean to challenge an immensely deep societal framework from which you profit? It can be incredibly hard, and as Kilkenny says, “not every guy is up to that challenge.”
But many are, and more should be, because ending the patriarchal oppression for women is good for men, too. Patriarchy doesn’t just privilege men over women, but privileges certain kinds of men and certain kinds of masculinity. White, heterosexual, cisgender men receive the most favor, but with that privilege, they are expected to perform a certain type of masculinity, one that is normalized as natural but is, instead, a performance based on societal norms. Feminism works to free both men and women from the gender binary that imposes a strict set of acceptable gender performances.
That last sentence really hits on one of the main reasons that I proudly call myself a feminist. “Feminism works to free both men and women from the gender binary that imposes a strict set of acceptable gender performances.” As a cisgender, heterosexual, white man who loves showtunes, Barry Manilow, and fighting for pay equity while despising rape jokes, homophobia, and the idea that domestic violence is ever acceptable, I do not fit into the “strict set of acceptable gender performances”. While I enjoy watching sports, I’ve never been much for playing them competitively. Until my current job, which requires me to occasionally use power tools, I probably would have struggled to tell you the difference between a powered screwdriver and a drill. I have a marriage in which I truly considered taking my wife’s last name, only balking when I realized that tremendous amount of paperwork involved in such a non-socially acceptable act if I didn’t want to be dealing with snafus for the next 5 years.
Feminism, to me, is about equality and the ability for everybody to be treated equally with no socially constructed constraints to hold them down. And, after reading the article above, I’m so thankful to be reminded that it isn’t just my group of friends who think that way too.
The first time I made the acquaintance of Baz Luhrmann as a director was in 1996 when I sat in a theater in Hays, Kansas, and watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes fill up the screen in Romeo + Juliet. I fell instantly in love with his visual style. At that point in my life I had not really embraced the idea that film was more than actors playing parts. This came from the fact that I was an actor, at least as much as you could be one in a small town in Kansas at the age of 17, and I would never admit, at that point, that the visuals of a film could be as important as the actors portraying the roles. However, that day in the Fox Theater that belief was shaken. I watched a movie that, while it had decent performances, was more about the visuals than anything else I had ever seen.
I, honestly, put Luhrmann out of my mind after that, other than watching the film multiple times after I purchased it on VHS(yes, this was still the heady days of VHS as an option), until a few years later, when Lurhmann produced another visually stunning piece of film, Moulin Rouge! I had quickly discovered, via these two films, that Luhrmann was more concerned with visuals than the performances on the screen, even though he had been lucky enough to get decent performances in both of those films. Therefore, as I sat down in yet another darkened theater to watch another stylized take on a classic tale by Luhrmann, I was guessing I knew what I was getting into with The Great Gatsby. Luckily, I was both right and wrong.
Gatsby, just like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge before it, is a film that is first, and foremost, about the visual spectacle. I did not watch it in 3-D(which always makes me nauseous) but it was still breathtakingly beautiful in every scene. And it was this visual style and the over-the-top nature of Luhrmann’s productions that actually allow this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel to achieve something that has not been achieved by the past adaptations. It is true that the criminally bad 1974 adaptation, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, got absolutely nothing right about the tone of the novel, as it tried to make the story of excess into a quiet story of chaste-ish people, and that the 2000 made-for-TV version’s only redeeming quality was that it had Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway, so the bar was set pretty low. However, just on the visual style and the manic nature of the staging of Luhrmann’s version alone, this film was leaps and bounds better than either of those adaptations.
However, beyond the garish, yet appropriate, style that is common in all of Luhrmann’s films, this film also benefits from several top-notch performances.
Leonardo DiCaprio is pitch-perfect in his performance as Jay Gatsby. While many argue that Robert Redford’s performance as Gatsby is the saving grace of the 1974 version of the film, I have always thought that he played Gatsby as a bit too controlled in his longing for Daisy. However, with DiCaprio, that is not an issue. You can almost feel his longing to reconnect with Daisy coming off the screen from the first time we see him, with his back to the audience, reaching out towards the green light across the bay. Even though he rarely expresses his emotions with words, DiCaprio’s Gatsby is filled with longing that is readily apparent to the audience at every turn.
As a counterpoint to the quiet longing of Gatsby, Joel Edgerton‘s bombastic performance as Tom Buchanan is full of bluster and bravado that allows for a deeper understanding of the character than I’ve ever obtained before, including from reading the book. Edgerton, who is probably best known for being in last year’s Zero Dark Thirty, adds depth to Tom that is not readily apparent in a surface reading of the text(nor in any of the previous filmed versions of him). A bold and brash performance in a bold and brash film.
The two remaining leads, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, are overmatched in this film. Perhaps it is because they are saddled with almost impossible characters to bring to life. Nick Carraway is one of the most boring characters to ever be put on a page and, therefore, is going to be a boring character when brought to the screen. It doesn’t help that Maguire has the emotional range of a block of cheese, which is something that has bothered me since before his Spider-Man days. Mulligan, likewise, is saddled with one of my least favorite characters in a novel I love. Daisy is a wishy-washy woman who never has an ounce of backbone in both the novel and this adaptation. That is a difficult position to put a likable actress like Mulligan into. I know that she is capable of much more than what Daisy allowed her to do, as her fantastic performance in An Education proves.
The supporting cast, with such notable names as Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke among it, is stellar in most regards. I single out Fisher and Clarke because of the brave work that they do as Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, owners of the garage between Long Island and NYC. Truly, these two performances may be my favorites in the entire film.
Overall, I went into this film expecting a grand visual spectacle, and I was not disappointed. However, I was shocked to find that, in an age of film where spectacle and good acting rarely go hand in hand, the film also features some very fine acting from, particularly, DiCaprio and Edgerton. Unfortunately, the failures of the adaptation to add anything new to the boring Nick Carraway and the unlikable Daisy Buchanan does hamper my ability to call the film flawless or even great. But it is a pretty goddamn movie with a nice performance as the anchor of it. And a lot of times you can’t ask for much more than that.
Some of you may be aware of the fact that I’m a huge fan of music. I use music to enhance my moods, express myself, and, basically, to function like a normal human being. This is something that I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Whether it be singing sad songs to cheer myself up, belting out Disney tunes while driving around my hometown, or just singing show tunes while attempting to quell an anxiety attack, music is something that I consider to be vital to my sense of well being and my calm. This is why I am so amazingly thankful when I find a new song, artist, or video that adds to my repertoire of things that can help me enjoy my days.
I’ve talked about music in the past during The Year of Thankful Living. I’ve shared the music of Kasey Musgraves, who I still highly recommend for anybody out there. However, today I am not thankful for a new artist. No, today I am thankful for an artist that I’ve been lucky enough to see in concert twice and who I have spent many hours listening to, along with my lovely wife. Today, I am thankful for Sara Bareilles.
Granted, I’m thankful for Sara B. pretty much every day of my life but today I am especially thankful for her. See, today Sara B. has released the video for her new single, “Brave”, and it is fan-fucking-tastic. This song first showed up on my radar about three weeks ago when I saw the adorably fantastic official lyric video that Bareilles put out, which you can see here:
I found the video’s message of empowerment and whimsy to be fantastic. Hell, I would have been satisfied with that as the official video and not just the lyric video(a recent invention that I’m not entirely sure of the reason for but which I have found myself enjoying). However, if that had been the official video, then I would have been robbed of the joy of the new video that Sara B. put out today. The official video, which is below, is directed by Rashida Jones, who along with being a talented actress also has her own music cred since she is the daughter of Quincy Jones. Here, just watch the damn thing:
As much as I love the lyric video, I can’t help but be mesmerized by the pure joy that is present in the official video. Watching these random people of varied race, size, and gender break into spontaneous dances in the most obscure of places is absolutely mesmerizing to me. I can’t watch that video and not smile. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it is a video coupled with one of the most uplifting songs I’ve heard in recent years.
Just take a look at some of these lyrics:
You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
Knowing that the co-writer of this song, Jack Antonoff of the band Fun, says that he sees this song as a civil rights anthem for a new generation makes the words even more poignant and inspiring.
Frankly, I’m just thankful that Sara B. is still making music that can inspire me and make me smile at the same time.
One thing that has become clear to me as I have worked my way through The Grand Stephen King Experiment(TGSKE) is that when Stephen King is both the writer of the source material and has a hand in the screenplay the resulting movie adaptations tend to be of uneven quality. We’ve seen this with Creepshow, Maximum Overdrive(shudder) and Pet Sematary. When you couple that with the fact that we haven’t really had a “great” film to discuss as part of TGSKE in quite some time, you would think that maybe, just maybe, we were due for something special in Sleepwalkers. After all, this is a film based on an unpublished work of King’s that he felt so strongly about that he turned it into a screenplay and worked with director Mick Garris, who will be more well known to readers of TGSKE in the future, as he directed the upcoming entries The Stand, The Shining, Riding The Bullet, Desperation, and Bag of Bones. Hell, if King liked him enough to work with him on that many future adaptations, then he must have really done a bang-up job on Sleepwalkers, his first try at King’s work.
First, let us look towards StephenKing.com for the official synopsis of our film for the day:
Charles Brady (Brian Krause) and his mother, Mary (Alice Krige), are the last of a dying breed of incestuous, vampiric creatures known as Sleepwalkers. Their survival relies on their feeding on the life-force of young female virgins. Their mortal enemies are cats, the only beings who are not fooled by their disguise as humans and are able to see their true reptilian-feline form. When Charles brings home Tanya Robertson (Madchen Amick), the Bradys’ efforts to make her their latest potential victim, the Deputy Sheriff’s cat, Clovis, interferes in their plans.
When the first line of the synopsis of the film includes the phrase “dying breed of incestuous, vampiric creatures” you know that you are going to watch a shitty film. There is no way that any film about “incestuous, vampiric creatures” can be good. And considering the fact that the mother and son find themselves in bed without each other within the first 10 minutes of the movie, the ick factor on this one is pretty damn high. Just saying.
Full disclosure, I had seen this movie back when it first came out, either on HBO or video, and had despised it even then. So I knew that this was not going to be an enjoyable experience for me. Considering the incest angle is pretty much the most interesting aspect of the plot of this idiotic film, I don’t think I am going to spend too much more time discussing plot. So, let us move on to the actors.
For some reason this film stars Brian Krause, who is probably most famous for being boring on Charmed, and Madchen Amick, who I will never understand why she continues to get acting roles, as she is quite possibly the most boring woman to ever be filmed on camera. I know that some people have a fondness for Amick from her days on Twin Peaks, though I always think of her as the bitchy film teacher from Dawson’s Creek. Still, these two are about as believable as frisky teenagers as two lumps of plastic would be. Hell, they would have been better suited casting Stephen King, who shows up as a cemetery caretaker, and Ron Perlman, who gives the best performance of the movie as a State Police officer, as the frisky teens. At least then I could have gotten a laugh out of the damn movie.
I’ll just cut to the chase. This movie is bad. Like epically bad. The only thing I’ve watched for TGSKE that has been worse was Maximum Overdrive which I famously could not make it through. Trust me when I say it was touch and go with this one at times. I implore you, even if you are a King completionist, to pretend that this movie never existed. Avoid it like the plague. Run and hide from it. Whatever it takes to save you from the horrific fate of watching it. Just know that it has earned every last bit of the 17% fresh rating it has on Rottentomatoes.com. Hell, that is probably a generous amount of freshness.
As I have discussed ad nauseum here on the blog, I work on a college campus. Also, as I have mentioned over the weekend by talking about my wife’s graduation from law school, we are coming upon that mythic time of year in any academic environment, Graduation. However, before we can get to graduation, there is one more time honored tradition that must take place on all the college campuses around this fair country(or at least on the one I work at), which is finals.
I have, luckily, been a graduate of my university for three years as of this month. I remember the majority of my time as an undergrad quite fondly. I made the best friends I’ve ever had, met my beautiful wife, advocated for causes I believed in, and formed lasting bonds with both professors and fellow students. My 5 years as an undergrad are, for the most part, some of my favorite moments of the past 34 years. Still, there were certain aspects of my life as an undergrad that I absolutely despised. The top of that list was finals week.
Finals week is an insanely pressure-filled 5 day period during which your entire semester’s worth is decided. In almost every class that I took during college the final was weighted heavier than any other test taken during the course of the semester. So, instead of having one week filled with studying for 4 or 5 normal tests, you have one week filled with studying for 4 or 5 tests that are twice as hard and twice as long as most of the other tests you’ve taken during the semester. It is a cruel and unusual punishment that is the college professor version of torture.
Finals suck. Everybody knows it. And, with the rare exception of the crazy people who love tests(the harder, the better), everybody dreads it.
And that is why today, as I take a lunch break surrounded by people frantically studying for one final or another while I leisurely read Gerald’s Game for TGSKE, I am so thoroughly thankful that I no longer have to worry about finals as a student. Sure, as a classroom tech I have to be aware of finals schedules and be ready to dispatch people to deal with problems at an even faster rate than normal during this stress-filled week, but I don’t have to study for a test, write a paper, or do anything that I don’t want to do. And that is one hell of a freeing feeling.
For the three years that I’ve been done with school, I’ve found myself always feeling almost buoyant during this week. The freedom of not having to worry about finals while everybody you see appears to be stressing out as if their lives depended on it is so amazingly liberating that you can’t help but be thankful for it.
Yes, I am beyond thankful for not having to worry about finals anymore. At least not unless I decide to go back to grad school at some point. I couldn’t possibly be that crazy, could I?
Michael Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. This is something that immediately gains a person notoriety and an added heft to their entire repertoire in American literature. Granted, Chabon won the Pulitzer for his third novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, but the bones of the writer that wrote that award-winning novel is assumed to be visible in everything written before and after that. This is how expectations work, for better or worse. And it was with these expectations, along with the expectations created in my own mind from reading Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, that I sat down to read his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.
I was not aware, until reading the note from the author at the end of the edition of the book that I was reading, that this novel was Chabon’s MFA thesis work. However, I could have told you shortly after beginning reading it that it was the work of a talented writer who was just trying to figure out what writing was to him. Throughout the story, which deals with the first summer post-collegiate-graduation of Art Bechstein, the son of a well-to-do Jewish gangster who works for a Washington, D.C. based mafioso, there are beautiful moments of writing that make you fully aware that this author could, in the future, be an award-winner and one of the more well regarded wordsmiths of his time. There are moments of utter brilliance, such as this:
My first thirteen years, years of ecstatic, uncomfortable, and speechless curiosity, followed by six months of disaster and disappointment, convinced me somehow that every new friend came equipped with a terrific secret, which one day, deliberately, he would reveal: I need only maintain a discreet, adoring, and fearful silence.
That line allows for the greatness that would soon become the hallmark of Chabon’s writing career. Unfortunately, while lines like that are scattered throughout the narrative of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, the plot of the novel is achingly slow-paced. Not only does the story crawl along at a snail’s pace but it is also beyond derivative of the truest example of The Great American Novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s The Great Gatsby.
I had noticed the parallels between Gatsby and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh from the very beginning. Art meets his new friends at a lavish, exotic party held in a ridiculous mansion. The story takes place over a single summer. And there is a mysterious figure, who may or may not be a criminal, who is central to the story of the narrator. Hell, even the narrators are equally dull human beings without any personality of their own to speak of.
Attempting to ape the style of Gatsby is not an uncommon thing. In a lesser writer’s hands, this would have been a disaster. However, Chabon is not a lesser writer. What would have been a complete trainwreck in the hands of a Dan Brown or a Stephanie Meyer is an almost enjoyable novel in the hands of a writer of Chabon’s caliber. Still, “almost enjoyable” is as close to good as this book ever gets. It has brilliant moments, especially when Chabon fully embraces his love of unique phrases and fantastic sentences, but, overall, the novel falls well short of the standards Chabon has set for himself with his later works.
We celebrated Liz’s graduation from law school until early this morning, so I’m not feeling the most verbose yet now.
Today I am thankful for the fact that my wife is now a J.D. It is a pretty awesome accomplishment, so deal with the fact that I’ve been thankful for it for two days.
Also, I am thankful for the mothers who have guided me through my life. My late mother,Tonja, my surrogate mothers, Gail and Cathy, and my mother-in-law, Beth. Happy Mother’s Day to you all.