Monday, October 15, 2007

Ed Harris

Here's a funny video produced by a sketch group I direct. It's a called "Ed Harris"
Check it out.

And this is one of the things I did last week in LA. By calling Ron Paul a "longshot candidate" it apparently was wildly controversial. I'll try to stay away from statements like "Looks like November is the month after October" or "Soap is a good thing to use to clean yourself."

Rules for Saying Goodbye

Sometimes, maybe sometimes when you are sort of stuck in the middle of a biography about Napoleon, a great book falls into your lap. Not necessarily the greatest book ever written, but the right book at the right time. That's what Rules for Saying Goodbye was for me.

I got it by accident. I had dinner with my friend Nick and he had played tennis with the author and showed me her book and said I could borrow it. I did. I opened it on the plane home and finished it by the time we landed.

Rules for Saying Goodbye is a coming of age story that spans the author's adolescence through her late twenties and follows her dream to be a writer, her disappointments in romance, and the way we grow up these days: slowly.

Like Him Again, Her Again, Him Again... etc etc, it's intelligent and funny, about an intelligent woman trying to make a creative life, or simply a life, without really being sure how to hurdle the obstacles to what might be adulthood, or a fuller understanding of yourself. This journey, I agree, always seems to get a little lost in the tension between possibility and daily life.

Also, it's got a hilarious mother-daughter relationship. If everyone keeps writing about their hilarious nutty mothers I am going to run out of my own hilarious nutty mother material. Although, I also have a sneaking suspicion it will just keep coming.

I bet this book is marketed as chick-lit, which is too bad, because novels about boys growing up aren't just dude-lit, and just because women also have stories about drinking too much and bartending when you're supposed to be writing a novel and friendships that grow and change and people you maybe decide to love for the wrong reasons, doesn't mean that only girls will like it.

There is no shoe shopping in this book.

There is a great, short chapter about walking in a snowstorm with one of her boyfriends named Henry that recalls something I've talked about a lot with my friend Leah - those moments, those conversations that change everything in an instant or two, and it certainly takes time to catch up on what they meant or what got decided without you realizing you'd decided anything. Sometimes, when we're recounting these to each other, we wish we were wearing a wire, so we can go back and see the story in it that isn't the one we're trying to tell.

Boyfriends are not the center of this book. They are a part of it, but the book is so much more about the protagonist than about the boyfriends - they are gently sketched out, and they play a part in her decisions, but she's really only free to be herself after the biggest heartbreak.

She recuperates, oddly enough, in Northern Lower Michigan, where I've spent plenty of time sitting staring at a lake trying to figure out what happened.

It made me cry a little bit, which was hysterical, because I was sitting next to an NFL referee on the plane and every so often when I was getting all teary eyed I'd pause for a minute and turn to him and say something like, "I've never totally understood pass interference" and he'd look at me like "This poor insane girl reading next to me should just watch Evan Almighty and chill the fuck out."

At the end of the book, she moves to LA, and, presumably plays tennis with Nick.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I wrote that entry about the news before the Cleveland shooting. It's so sad and frightening how often this is happening. I've also noticed that shootings happen and almost no news station brings up the issue of gun control. Are we that scared to have this debate? It's happening every day!

I'm A Real Grown-Up Commuter

On the drive to work the past couple days (yes, the drive to work! with my coffee!) I noticed that there apparently was a gas station of the future. It's a BP project and here's a picture or two to show you. I did not take these pictures. Someone else did. I found them by googling "la future bp gas station." Behold: the power of the internet.

Many people are incensed by this, seeing it as another specious bp promise in their marketing campaign that paints them as environmentally conscious when the opposite is true. If you're interested, there's 100,000 angry bloggers out there with lots of information.

I have not read anything that isn't news in the last two days. Or watched anything that isn't news. I've primarily been watching the cable news networks. If you never want to watch the news again, just fill in these following categories with items from your imagination:


Hilarious Animal is occasionally augmented with "What were they thinking?" style segments that focus on local-dust ups.
Oh, and sometimes the Shooting segment is replaced with WEATHER THAT KILLS. Just make up some interesting things and voila! the news!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"The Odyssey Years"

It's nice that David Brooks calls the period between adolescence and settling down "the odyssey years." My Mom has some other choice terms for it.

It's rare that I like his columns, but I did like this phrase:

"Moreover, surveys show that people living through these years have highly traditional aspirations (they rate parenthood more highly than their own parents did) even as they lead improvising lives."

Improvising lives is right. Har.

The article is here:

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm Here

There are lots of roads and streets with names that I recognize from rap songs. At the car rental place, the gentleman - a chivalrous type named Doug, was being kind of lazy and didn't want to track down the type of cheap-o car I ordered.

"Do you want an upgrade to something with automatic windows?" he inquired.
"No," I said. "I'm on a budget."

After I had finished shape-shifting into a midwestern Mother out to prove to the world that SHE COULD MAKE IT ON HER OWN, Doug tried once more.

"Are you sure? You don't want automatic windows and a CD player?"
"I am sure, Doug. Thank you."


Doug looked dejected and peeked out into the parking lot.

"You want a free upgrade?"
"Yes, please and thank you, Doug."

nb: SEE?

And that is how I came to be driving a periwinkle Hybrid-SUV down the broad streets.

American Airlines also lost my luggage, so I am now in LA with some decidedly uncool clothes to match my uncool maternal attitude. I dragged a friend who came to take me to dinner to a GAP and bought things so I could at least claim to be quasi-respectable while still wearing slightly smelly jeans. And then we ate at Johnny Rockets. LA! You so crazy!

No books in this post: fie on you. I read the entire Sunday Times which is like a book. Based on that reading I have three new opinions:

1. I like the hyphen, even though I don't know how to use it properly.
Did you know that a slippery-eel salesman is someone who sells you slippery eels? Yet, a slippery eel salesman is the guy who takes your cash and slithers away. Thank you, hyphen.

2. I like Manny Ramirez

3. The stories in Sunday Styles about middle aged people finding unexpected love in their condo building make me itchy. Especially when they say things like "I knew he was a good kisser." Also when they have weird New York professions like "stock photographer" and "organizational expert."

And, really, please read Frank Rich's column. Clarence Thomas is insane like origami.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Go West, Young (Wo)man

Tomorrow I set off for a trip to Los Angeles for a freelancing gig that is also a job interview. I'm a little scared. I'm good at traveling alone - I've done it quite a bit and I am also pretty good at traveling with eight people. What scares me the most is the symbolic significance of the possibilities this sort of trip contains - moving. Moving west.

In high school I had a brilliant English teacher. She stood, terrifying, brilliant at the front of our American literature classroom and dictated to us the significance of our national mythologies. One of her favorite idioms was the following "to the East, moral demise, economic rise. West, economic demise, moral rise." I think this dichotomy was based primarily on two books The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath. It was a compelling vision: that your place in America and your direction signified something about your life. Something, in our individualistic culture, so profoundly deterministic. You go here, you become this.

And it might have been wrong, or be wrong, because that canny epigram doesn't acknowledge the change that Hollywood has wrought on our understanding of east and west. We're not the Joads, most of us, just trying to find a living. We're wanna-be actors, searching for fame, fortune, and maybe a spot in the "Stars Are Just Like Us" section of US Weekly

It's a midwestern idea, too, at heart, quoted by a midwestern woman who made, as we found out after her death, a profoundly Gatsby-like transition of her own. But the root of the idea is that we are neither east nor west. To her, we start, somewhere in the middle, in the heartland, and our coasts represent different flaws and strengths of our national identity.

I love Chicago. I've lived here my entire life, in the city, leaving for only a short while for college (met the east: moral demise? unsure. economic rise? Well, let's say I haven't fulfilled my potential on that front. Transformative, however).

Chicago represents the engine of this country. A big messy engine that propels you or compels you. In William Cronon's excellent history of the city, Nature's Metropolis he describes how the flow of commodities into Chicago changed the very nature of urban life. Wheat and pigs and lumber were never so fascinating. His major argument is that the Turner thesis - the idea that as long as the frontier was open, we had a sense of destiny and that the frontier created our national character - is fundamentally untrue. The way that cities processed the goods of the frontier decided how the frontier worked.

I'm not sure, though, that a sound national history can quite replace a starry-eyed national myth. The West, whatever it is, is still the west.

And moving still represents change. I'm not moving yet, so this is wholly speculative, but even thinking of it makes me, well, think of what that change might be. This is certainly not the conscious change that Jay Gatsby made, or the reluctant change that occurs when forces beyond your control push you forward (or so I think.)

In northern Michigan, I sometimes feel most at home, when it is dark and always cold on a summer night and you can stroll up a dirt or gravel road and see the stars or sit on a dock that stretches into black water and reflects the lights of home around the lake. That region sent their lumber down the lake to Chicago, tons and tons of it from the great north woods. There is a small island called South Manitou, with the best natural bay in that part of the lake, and the steamers would stop to refuel or take shelter from the storms. It is sandy and the forests are sparse around the edges because the trees were harvested for wood for the ship ovens. There is an old growth forest there, where it takes at least five ten year olds to wrap their arms around the biggest oak.

One of my favorite books is For Kings and Planets by an author named Ethan Canin. It tells the story of a midwesterner going east for college, and his friend, an easterner, running west. I think of it often because sometimes I feel like Orno and Marshall are the possibilities inside me. The struggle for what sort of life makes you happy: or the simple evolution of one that does.

The tone of that book is beautiful too, because it talks so much about the way light can tell you something. And in every part of the country I've been in, the way the light hits it at some time of day tells you the most about it. A city shining in the early morning is the promise of a city, not the humdrum dirt of noon. It's the city as you want to see it. A stormy frightening sky in the north woods is thrilling and humbling and exciting and being scared by rain when you're little is as exciting as watching the lightning crack when you're older. The flat gray sky of lower Michigan, the plain easy sunlight. The first day of spring in Chicago when the shadows get sharp.

I don't know who I want to turn into.

This is a picture someone took of a Chicago sky from my car on the way back from a good trip. It's a prairie sky, a lake storm, the middle of where I've been.

Friday, October 05, 2007

An Excuse and An Idea

Hello! It has been a long time. It's October now. You can always tell the changing of the seasons in Chicago, because you reluctantly take out the AC unit you only installed in August and the next day is eighty degrees.

You might think "I bet she hasn't been reading any books! What a terrible book blogger!" and then you flounce off and whisper more untoward statements to your friends, all of whom, apparently, are just crazy about book blogs and hold them to insanely high standards. Of course that doesn't happen, because people who care about book blogs aren't real. They're just in the imaginations of book bloggers. That world would be like "The Hills" for Iowan librarians.

I say that without having ever seen "The Hills." I know a lot about it though because those people have invaded my celebrity magazines and taken page space away from romances I am truly interested in: Brangelina and all those kids, and is Jake Gylenhaal single and will he remember that once in 2002 we talked on the phone for 32 seconds?

But the excuse is that I HAVE read a book. Or, almost all of it, but I left it in the van and have failed to pick it up from the charitable gentleman who rescued it from amidst the old newspapers, fast food wrappers, and Settlers of Catan debris. It is a biography about Napoleon. It's fun. Sometimes I need to read non-fiction because I find myself getting too emotionally upset. Napoleon can certainly be upsetting with some sundry assassinations and censorship and getting to be a real cranky tyrant, but the author talks about Napoleon's love life 2% of the time. Modern fiction tends to skew to discussions of complicated relationships like 50% of the time. So, it's Napoleon or maybe another book on China for me for a while.

Here's the idea:

In comedy, we like our protagonists to be the everyman. In drama, we'd rather watch rich people.


I have to go back to the laundromat.