Be Back Shortly

New job, new apartment, getting settled and will be back soon. In the meantime, you should subscribe to the podcast “Welcome to Mars,” and listen to the 12 episodes and tell me if it doesn’t blow your mind. The show is like a subterranean history of the 50s, rife with tales of drugs, UFOs, gov’t conspiracies, movies, and occasional sex.

Twenty Years On

itsnotme.jpgReal  life is not as aesthetic an experience as the movies. I mean, I know that. You know that. We all know that. Certain events, however, create an expectation that something more than real, something movie-magic making, might, indeed, happen to us. Events like weddings, first dates, proms, funerals, or reunions are supposed to provide life-altering moments. Maybe it’s just me, but I have a tendency to project what I’ve seen in movies, on tv, or read in books onto these kinds of events.1

I was recently in a room of people, most of whom I have not seen in twenty years. It was fun. I was reminded of Chad’s winning smile, Juliet’s gentle but deep gaze, Bruce’s sincerity, and Jen’s generousity, and how much I simply adore Emily and how I have so much fun when I get to hang out with her. There were a lot of people who were not there that I would have liked to see: Josh, Ben, Daoud, Nick, Shula, Dena, Mandy, Beth, Alice, Jen, Victoria, and Maria to name a few. Even with many people missing, there wasn’t enough time to see everyone and I missed saying goodbye several people and certainly didn’t have a much of a conversation as I might have liked with Juliet or Chris. Again, it was fun. Yet in the end I felt underwhelmed, like something was supposed to happen, some personal revelation that brought the last twenty years into focus or the opportunity to reconnect with an old crush and learn that she had harbored a secret crush on me too . . . ah the irony and we would laugh and drink and reminisce and make fun of our teenage selves even as we found an intimacy that would have been far too frightening as kids . . . oh, sorry, there I go again. Thinking of my life like a movie. Stuff like that happens, sure, but so rarely that even when I see it in the movies, I often find it to be false and forced; a cheap sentimental ploy to play with my emotions.

In real life, the reunion ended and nothing intrinsically aesthetic had occurred. Instead, I saw some people and had some drinks and shared some laughter and good memories. So why wasn’t that enough? I am now in touch with, or have the ability to be in touch with, a number of people who represent a rather good time in my life and people who, I’m willing to bet, have much to teach me about the world and myself. Through Facebook and email, I can now keep in touch with some good people, people who I would, without a doubt, love to meet for coffee or dinner or drinks and get to know who they’ve become and share my own stories with them. So why not view the reunion as a resounding success?

First of all, I cannot turn off the fact that I look at most events and performances with a director’s eye and feel for aesthetics. On that level, the reunion was kind of “teh suck.” The music was played too loud for normal conversation. There was no use of online media to get us past the need for every person to discuss a) what their job is, b) where they are living, and c) how many kids they have—all of which could have been given to us ahead of time in order to catch up with the basics before we got to the reunion. The food was mediocre and the bar should have been open for at least an hour or two at the beginning of the night. I would have also liked to see some recognition of classmates we have lost, or some kind of attempt from the “class leaders” to bring us together as a class rather than as a group of various cliques. It would have been nice to have copies of our yearbooks that we could have looked through in order to laugh at ourselves. Because we didn’t have anything like that, I really appreciate Lincoln’s decision to actively go around taking pictures for everyone (regardless of which social group they belonged to) and Chad’s generosity to put the photos up on his website. I don’t know exactly how or what, but in general I just wish there’d been something more to bind the class together, to acknowledge that we shared something in those four years as we moved from childhood to adulthood.

Second, and this is me being slightly more honest than maybe I should, I really was hoping to live out that “we had separate crushes on each other and never knew” fantasy. With who, you ask? Well, I was a teenaged boy, so I pretty much had a crush on almost all of the girls I knew in high school at one time or another. So, at least from my perspective, it could have been any number of people. Not only is that fantasy, well, a fantasy, but it is also hard to make true when nearly every single woman there was married or in long-term relationships. Sigh

Finally, as with most events, I have a tendency to be simultaneously in the moment and observing the moment. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a director, or because I’m a writer, or both, but I rarely stop trying to analyze the story of what’s happening around me. This is not to say that I never settle into the present moment and enjoy the company of friends and loved ones without reservation. However, in social situations that are larger than a few friends, I often feel split in a deep and existential manner. That split reserves part of myself from my surroundings in order to observe and catalogue and analyze. Sometimes I resent this, and struggle against it, feeling like I am missing out on the unadulterated joy that others seem to so easily experience and that’s when I get that “more alone in a crowd” kind of feeling. Perhaps the trick I need to learn is to accept my natural inclination to analyze in order to enjoy both the moment and my analysis of the moment without worrying that I’m losing out or feeling the need to apologize.2

Gee, you mean accepting myself more completely might make my life more enjoyable? Who’d of thunk it?

So, yeah, twenty years on: We were all older, some of us carried more weight and less hair, and some of us didn’t (and I don’t hate any of you who look exactly the same (ahem, Juliet, and yes, you too Chris), really I don’t, not one little, itty-bitty smidgeon of a bit). I genuinely enjoyed seeing and talking to everyone that night and wished I could have talked to more people than I did. I both hope and believe that the reunion will be responsible for rekindling several friendships that have languished over the years. The reunion was good. I think the repercussions of going to my reunion will be even better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Grosse Point Blank.

  1. No, I haven’t had multiple weddings, but I have attended multiple weddings. Even as a supporting character in a wedding story, isn’t something supposed to happen me as well? []
  2. I have been resisting the urge to apologize throughout this entry because part of me keeps telling the other part of me that I’m needlessly analyzing the reunion and, even more annoyingly, doing so in a self-involved, narcissistic manner. []

Committing to Flickr

The past couple of weeks I’ve tried several ways to put up a photo gallery on my site. I started off with hosting them on my site, but then realized that I would have to update those manually and they would only be available for people who visited LtL—and while the quality of my visitors is top-notch, the quantity is not what you might call “large.” Since I have been shooting a lot with my iPhone since I found the photo apps Photogene and CameraBag and can do a good bit of post-processing on the phone itself, and since I can upload straight from the phone to Facebook or Flickr, and since both of those options offer the opportunity for more people to see the pictures I want to share, I decided to look for a WordPress plugin that would display photos hosted from one of those sites.

I have settled on Slickr Gallery and am fairly pleased with how it incorporates into my site. The upshot of all this, however, is that I’m beginning to take my Flickr account more seriously. While I will continue to post the occasional picture directly to Facebook or even in individual posts here, Flickr will become the place where I host the majority of pictures that I take and want to share with others. I’m even considering upgrading to the “Pro” version, which, at $25/year is not a bad price for unlimited uploads and storing.

Check out my “Pictures” page and let me know what you think of my current solution.

Games Make Great Presents

Risk Macros

(Photo by indi.ca)

This is a commercial. Of sorts. A good friend of mine runs a game store in Kingston, RI called “Games Less Ordinary.” I’ve known Anne for almost 20 years now, and we’ve gone through a lot, and I am so incredibly proud of her for starting her own store and running her own business. Years ago when we were dating, she would talk about starting her own business and being her own boss. I love that she found a way to make those dreams and hopes come true.

It’s also not a great time to be a small business owner, what with that pesky economy and all. If you are considering buying a game for someone for the holidays, or just for your own enjoyment, I hope you’ll consider checking out Games Less Ordinary’s Amazon Storefront and ordering from there, or calling them to special order something if they don’t have it in stock. If you happen to be in Kingston, RI you should stop by and check out the store. I don’t play a lot of board games myself, but I know that my friends who play board games on a regular basis have a great deal of fun. I’m going to make an attempt, in the new year, to play more games as a social activity.

Besides, it looks like playing board games can help keep you from going crazy:

In the New England Journal of Medicine study, researchers looked at leisure activities of seniors over a 20-year period to see whether they developed dementia. The study also examined the result of frequently challenging the brain by doing crossword puzzles, playing board games or cards, reading, writing for pleasure and playing musical instruments. They also looked at physical activities’ affect on the brain, such as tennis or golf, swimming, dancing and housework.

They found a reduced incidence of dementia among the people who participated in reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments and dancing. And the researchers found that people who engage in the activities were more frequently less likely to develop dementia.

[From Brain Workout Benefits, Study: Reading, Playing Board Games, Dancing May Prevent Dementia – CBS News; Emphasis added.]

Ok, so it’s not necessarily a 1-to-1 correlation between playing board games and avoiding dementia, but come on, it’s gotta do more good than watching that episode of The New Adventures of Old Christine, House, or America’s Next Top Model.

My game was Risk.1 God I loved that game. I know there are more complex and nuanced war games out there, but there’s something about Risk that just works for me. I miss playing it. I miss the combination of skill and luck and sometimes diplomacy and trickery that went along with the game. I miss spending time with four or five good friends for three, four, sometimes five hours while playing. I remember playing with Clay, Kevin, Jen and a number of others all throughout high school. I especially remember those winter days when we would get together at Clay’s house and play Risk and then have snowball fights and either play more Risk or watch movies. Fun times.

What games do you play or have fond memories of playing? Drop me a comment before heading over to Games Less Ordinary and I hope you’ll consider giving a game as a gift this year and that you will consider getting it from my friends awesome, terrific, wicked cool, and totally rad game store.

  1. Which, ironically, Games Less Ordinary does not have listed in their online store, but I know that if I called them up today, they would special order it and I’d have it by next week. []

Movie Recommendations

“Down by Law – Criterion Collection” (Criterion)

If you are a fan of Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Fishing with John’s John Lurie, or the understated but highly original story-telling of Jim Jarmusch, you should own Down by Law. Not just rent it, but own it. I recently watched this movie again and if the first time I saw it I focused mostly on the performances and the joys of watching Tom Waits in a movie, I was much more aware of the visual compositions this time around. The gorgeous black and white photography of Robby Müller creates a depth to the images that draws you into the world rather than distancing you from it. The performances are pitch-perfect and fit the actors like the proverbial glove—so it’s not surprise to discover in the commentary that Jarmusch wrote the principle characters specifically for these actors. This is a wonderful movie that doesn’t rush itself or try to be more than it is and is laid-back and “cool,” but sincere and fun at the same time.

Once Upon a Time in the West” (Sergio Leone)

Speaking of not rushing, the time and space that Leone allows his actors to simply be and to look while on camera is at once slightly discomfiting and strangely exciting at the same time. The first thing that you notice in Once Upon a Time in the West is just how different the pacing is when compared to contemporary films. Leone creates amazing visual moments in his films and allows us to actually look at them instead of instantly shifting to another picture. People stand in doorways, or look across rooms, or are silhouetted by sun and sky and do so for long periods of time. In fact, I would say that in this and other Leone films, his characters become iconic, less because the say very little and more because the audience gets the chance to simply stare at them for long periods of time and can invest ourselves in these character’s lives and emotions precisely because they are both still and silent. There are some incredibly beautiful shots in this movie.

However, if there is one reason to see this movie—and there are several reasons, but if I had to pick just one—it is to watch Henry Fonda playing a stone-cold killer. His performance is brilliant and watching him in this reminds you of just how good an actor he was.

Buena Vista Social Club” (Wim Wenders)

Unless you yourself are a stone-cold killer without any weakness for inspirational stories or music, then you will probably enjoy Buena Vista Social Club. Wim Wenders is one of my all-time favorite directors but I’d never gotten around to seeing this documentary examination the group put together by Ry Cooder that revived a whole genre of music and several musical careers along the way. I have to admit that at times I found the movie to be a little over-directed in the sense that the camera would occasionally be pointing itself out during an interview, but overall the music, the personalities, and the stories are joyful and inspiring. As an artist, I find that hearing the stories of other artists, especially ones of these caliber, is a profoundly humbling experience. At the same time, these stories also challenge me to challenge myself to be better and work harder at my own art.

The stories and the music in this movie will definitely bring a smile to your heart.