Sunday, November 29, 2015


Addendum: We watched the second half of the film the next night and I liked it much more, even though it ended as I predicted below, with a kiss on a basketball court.

Trainwreck should not to be confused with Trainspotting or Strangers on a Train or How to Train Your Dragon or Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or Titanic (though I did get a sinking feeling after the first five minutes of viewing). I love Amy Schumer. I've read lots of interviews with her where she's normal-sounding and modest and messed up and interesting. Inside Amy Schumer was always entertaining, even if the skits sometimes feel flat or were clever versus guffaw-inducing. And I knew from other people who have seen the movie that it wasn't going to stray too far from the rom-com genre. But I still am not loving the movie (we stopped watching it On Demand after the first hour because we had to go to beddy-bye). I'll finish watching it, even though I know how it ends based on the first hour. Right now, I'm at a part where the two are attending a basketball game and LeBron James is telling Amy not to play with his boy's heart. Next, they'll be some falling out where she'll get too hung up on the exclusivity factor, even though she really likes the guy.  She'll sleep with someone else (the young male intern, perhaps) and he'll break up with her. Then, something will happen with her dad and they'll be reunited and it will end with either a kiss or a basketball joke or both. Where her show is unpredictable and pushes the boundaries of good taste, this movie doesn't stray far from the genre and isn't very surprising. The most surprising thing about it is that it's not very funny.

Okay, here's what I like though. I like that it's about a woman who's not sure she wants to commit and it's the guy whose totally into the relationship. I like that she sleeps around without feeling guilty or trampy or like she should be doing something else, such as nesting. I like that she thinks her sister's marriage is a bore and that the idea to her is repellent. I like that she's a writer and has her own career. I like that there are no jokes about her body or at the expense of her looks (with perhaps the exception that someone says her ass looks like a man's). I like that her boss is a woman and that Amy's character doesn't pretend to like sports just because the guy she likes does. I like that her dad has MS and that's not the whole defining part of his personality. I like that disability is part of the story but not the whole of the story.  Also, Colin Quinn, who plays her father, was the most relaxed and funny actor in the whole film. Him, I believed.

What I don't love:

1. Why is LeBron James in this? I feel like it was someone's bad idea to try to attract the male viewers who may not object so much to seeing the movie if an athlete has a starring role. He's not a good actor and every time he was on the screen, I was reminded that I was watching a movie. I don't get what's funny about having a black athlete as the best friend of a white physician, except maybe because it's meant to be incongruous, which strikes me as sorta racist. Also, didn't they do that twenty years ago in Airplane with Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the literal co-pilot?

2. Many of the scenes beat the joke into the ground. There's a long scene where Amy's having sex with her sort-of boyfriend, a body builder with zero things interesting about him, and that goes on and on and on. The joke isn't about it going on and on; the joke is about him not being able to talk dirty to her. There's a similar scene in the movie theater where he's arguing with another patron and spewing these insults that make him sound gay.  This happens like five times. Yes, we get it. He's super masculine but might be gay. That's not particularly funny or clever. Then yet another scene takes place between LeBron and the love interest played by Bill Hadley (more on him in a second) that also keeps going on forever as they make jokes about how much Cleveland sucks.

3. Bill Hader as the love interest. Like, looks shouldn't be everything, but he seems better suited to an American remake of The Black Adder than the leading man in a rom com. I like the chemistry that they have, and he's funny and charming, but...It reminded me a little bit of the disconnect in When Harry Met Sally with trying to convince us that Meg Ryan's character could be smitten by Billy Crystal. You have this super cute chick and this average guy with a crooked face. I don't think I've ever seen the reverse. Like, I don't recall a romantic comedy where the leading lady was average and the guy was adorable. That would be like having a movie starring Bradley Cooper and Lena Dunham (I like her, but she's not conventionally attractive). Or Mindy Kahling with Matthew McConaughey.  Could we get someone of like attractiveness for her, such as Paul Rudnick or that guy from Bridesmaids?

4. It didn't push any boundaries. It wasn't dark at all, in any places, it wasn't dirty, it wasn't transgressive like her comedy usually is. The jokes were very PG-13 and not even uncomfortable, like in some of Apatow's other films and definitely not like Schumer's comedy show. They were obvious. I wanted more finger blaster skits, and fewer gay jokes.

I'll watch the rest tonight and let you know if any of my predictions are incorrect.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

How to be happy

Every other "how-to-be-happy" article recommends giving thanks. I know that would be the case around Thanksgiving, but I recall reading this advice prior to the holiday. I was also recently skimming part of Mary Karr's memoir, Lit, and she talks about trying to get sober and not believing in God and so not wanting to do the twelve step thing where you have to have faith in a higher power. And someone from AA kept telling her to do it anyway, to pray to the universe. So, she does, she prays and she also asks for things, and she ends up getting sober and winning this huge chunk of money for her writing. But still, she doubts.

I've been trying to do this, every once in a while. It mostly happens at the end of the day, when I get out of the car and have to walk two blocks home in the dark, tired, in boots that pinch, hungry, cranky--I try to think for thirty seconds, okay, I'm glad I have most of my teeth. Thank you, universe, that I can walk. Thank you that I live in a small town that's fairly safe and so I will probably not get raped on the way back to my apartment. Thank you that I know I will be able to eat dinner later, and it will likely be some kind of pasta. Thank you that we have a dog, because last year at this same time, I convinced myself that Luke would be allergic and we would have to give the dog away. I worked myself into tears about this, imagining the scene of parting, saying goodbye to the puppy, and only seeing him on holidays (I had figured out that Dan's sister would get the puppy because Juliette loves him so). That didn't happen, and so I occasionally say thanks for Chaplin. Thank you that our heat works, thank you that, even though we have mice, we also have a contract with Terminix. Thank you that I have many people who love me. Thank you that I have enough disposable income to buy Burt's Bee's shampoo and conditioner (because they are amazing!). Thank you that we have electricity and a TV and I can watch back to back to back episodes of What Not to Wear (and, please, universe, let Stacey and Clinton still be friends in real life, even though they stopped doing the show together).

When I was little, I prayed every night. First, it was the child's version of prayer, "God bless Grandma and Grandpa and mom and Oscar (dog) and all my uncles and aunts and please let there really be a Santa Claus, for real." And then, as I got older, it was more specific, like, "Please let me run into Steve Crossett after class at my locker and please let him fall in love with me and ask me to go out on a row boat ride with a picnic after" (I've always been fairly specific about my request, so that there would be no confusion). But then it got to the point where it seemed only transactional, like, "I will try harder not to swear if I can get a new pair of roller skates." And then I had a falling out with God concurrent with my parents being one hour late coming home from a party, and it's never quite been repaired.

God now seems like a fairy tale to me, the thing we comfort ourselves with when confronted with the thought of that our consciousness could be snuffed out forever. At the same time, I hold on to the possibility that there are things in this world we don't yet understand, and maybe, maybe, maybe something more exists. Maybe there is a Santa Claus.

Here is an excerpt from Lit:

If you'd told me even a year before...that I'd wind up whispering my sins in the confessional or on my knees saying the rosary, I would've laughed myself cockeyed. More likely pastime?Pole dancer. International spy. Drug mule. Assassin.

I drive under a sky black as graphite to meet my new spiritual director...a bulky Franciscan nun named Sister Margaret, patiently going blind behind fish-tank glasses that magnify her eyes like goggles.” 

And an interview with Mary Karr from The Paris Review about writing memoir:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Winter reading

Started reading The Girl on the Train last night and was caught by the totally familiar, depressing existence of the main girl, Rachel. She's in her early thirties, takes the train to London to work every day, and likes to imagine the lives of the people she passes as the train creeps by the apartments. She's mostly interested in one particular couple who seem to have an ideal life. She calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines that they are totally in love and problem free. She's also got a fairly serious drinking problem, brought on by her loneliness. Or maybe the loneliness is exacerbated by the drinking. In any case, the drinking has led her to lose her fiancé and she finds herself becoming more and more out of control with the her consumption, having moments where she blacks out and comes to with vomit on the floor and a cut on the back of her head with no recollection of what happened. Then, one day, she sees the woman kissing another man on her patio, and later the same day, the woman disappears.

That's about where I am so far, but was most distressing to me was the drinking, because it reminded me of my drinking days and all of the shameful stories that go along with that. First, there's the shame of always drinking too much at parties or social events when everyone else seems fine with just the one glass of wine. For me, it was always like, I don't want one glass, I want all of it. Why wouldn't you want all of it? What's the point of one glass? But then most people around you seem fine with a single drink, and so there's the need to hide that desire for more and to wonder why you're so weak or different from everyone else.

Then there are the memories of the dumb thing said or done while drinking. Fortunately, I wasn't someone who liked to drink and then take crazy chances (this is the case for Rachel in the book). It didn't cause me to want to meet strangers at bars or take late night walks through the city in my bathrobe or knock on neighbors doors or call ex-boyfriends. But it did make me say things I later regretted or sometimes to cry over stupid things or to ask inappropriate questions. I cringe when I think about some of the philosophical conversations I tried to have while drunk.

Someday, I'll write about the actual incident that caused me to stop drinking. It wasn't anything dramatic (thank God), but it was startling enough for me to realize that something bad could've happened. And it didn't. And so I'm okay and that was three years ago. Now, I check out by watching Judge Judy, which is also probably not good for my brain and is also embarrassing, but not quite as unhealthy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No NaNo for me

Is it too early to concede that I've failed at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? The goal with this annual challenge is to get you to write an entire novel or most of a novel or to write at least 50,000 words, whichever comes first, in the month of November. That breaks down to about 1,600 words per day. I try to write 750 words a day and so far this month, have done that twice. Intention must count for something. I have every intention of writing every day and I get to work at least a half an hour early each morning, but often, I end up checking email, checking the sheep on my virtual farm (this is a full time job) and leaving myself ten minutes to write. For this year's writing challenge, I did write over 1,600 words a day for five days in a row, but it was at I wanted to see what it felt like to try to produce that amount of content in one sitting. I found it wasn't too difficult. It took about 45 minutes.

I started with what I thought would be a fun and easy project, a murder mystery with a female detective who is attempting to solve a string of violent murders of men throughout Philadelphia. These are young, handsome men, and their body parts are being found all over the city. But then I started to get hung up in the procedural stuff. Like, do the detectives first interview any witnesses or the people who find the bodies? Or is that the job of cops? Are detectives cops? How hard is it to become a detective? I realize that all of the answers to these questions are readily available in the universe, but I also promised myself I wouldn't drop out to the writing to Google anything. Not a word. Not even to conduct a spell check or determine the Latin word for dog. Then the second thing I realized is that I have no idea how to write a murder mystery.

So, I confess, during my non-writing time, I did look that up, and discovered that most everyone recommends that the writer know from the very beginning who the killer is, and work backwards from the climax of the story. I didn't know who the killer was, other than that I wanted her to be female. See, my original plan was to flip the switch on the typical murder mystery, which often has lovely female bodies piling up like mad. Mystery writers are prone to killing off the young and beautiful and female. Not every mystery writer does this.  Laura Lipman, a writer who I have only recently discovered, has a strong female detective, Tess Monaghan,  and the book I just finished last night had a total body count of six--four were young black men, and one of the women was, unfortunately, a female prostitute. I wonder if most mystery writers have a hard time not killing off destitute, drug addled prostitutes in their stories? So, this is what attracted me to the idea, that I would write something that was unexpected, that the victims would be hot young men, killed not by a crazy woman who had been rejected by them, but by someone whose justification for murder was more specifically cerebral. I won't tell you what my idea was for the main bad gal, but even the solution I came to has some gender bias in it that I can't seem to figure out how to erase. Okay, the hint would be that the murderer has an ethical reason for doing what she's doing, even though it's extreme. But what I'd like to do is to figure out a way to have the killer not have any of the traditional tropes--she's not killing because she feels rejected, or because she was harmed by a man in her life or because she craves love an d attention or because she's a straight up psychopath. Maybe I have to figure out more about what the motives typically are for men murderers in these stories.

If you would like to offer me a $20,000 advance to continue writing, I wouldn't say no.