Saturday, December 16, 2017

Actor Frances McDormand

The other day we went to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and I was once again mesmerized by the lead player, Frances McDormand. Which of course got me thinking of all the movies with her I have seen—and wondering about the ones I haven't. So here's a  (very partial—chosen basically on star ratings on iMDB) list, for my future reference:

Debut: Abby in Blood Simple (1984)
Dot in Raising Arizona (1987)
Mrs. Pell in Mississippi Burning (1988)
Marge Gunderson in Fargo (1996)
Dr. Molly Arrington in Primal Fear (1996)
Bunny in Lone Star (1996)
Dean Sara Gaskell in Wonder Boys (2000)
Elaine Miller in Almost Famous (2000)
Doris Crane in The Man Who Wasn't There (2001)
Glory in North Country (2005)
Miss Pettigrew in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Linda Litzke in Burn After Reading (2008)
Mrs. Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Olive Kitteridge in Olive Kitteridge (TV miniseries) (2014)
Mildred in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

And she's up and coming as a voice in Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, which see a recent blog post for a trailer.

Frances McDormand is married to Joel Coen (since 1984: I love the long marriages of celebrities, I really do), which partially explains Blood Simple, Arizona, and Fargo. Maybe.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Chanukah Poems

Last year we started a new (to us) tradition of lighting the Chanukah candles. No, we're not Jewish—obviously!—but we like bringing a little extra light into our home, and we like the idea, and practice, of affirming that we're all in this (life) together, despite differing beliefs and traditions. I guess I look at this ritual as a little prayer for brother (and sister) hood. Humanity. The planet too.

In the Jewish tradition, a blessing is recited as the candles are lit. Us, we're reading poems. So herewith, our poems for the first three days of Chanukah.

The Palmist

Susan Rich

She touches a stranger's hand, turns it into the light.
Examines the spacing of fingers, the arc of his thumb,
the way the head line forks towards Upper Mars.
She takes in the whole form the curve of his wrist
to the pink inside the nails. She learns the language of his hand.

She measures flexibility, admires the sculpture of knuckles,
the relationship of flesh to bones. In the islands, branches, stars
meaning unfolds. Words she cannot anticipate
come from her lips. She knows more than she tells.

Every hand she reads is a map she gets to travel,
a master plan of past and potential lives.
She touches the mounts, then fingers the chains—
discovers another's journey and holds on.

She knows the Kabbalah of the Jews, the Brahmin's Hindu Vedas.
She knows nothing is written until we write it
and rewrite it again, that it's desire that alters destiny
that all of our lines will change.

Listen to the Mustn'ts

Shel Silverstein

Listen to the mustn’ts, child.
Listen to the shouldn’ts,
the impossibles,
the won’ts.
Listen to the never haves,
then listen close to me . . .

Anything can happen, child.
Anything can be.


Jim Harrison

"The mind of which we are unaware
is aware of us." —R. D. Laing

The rising sun not beet,
or blood,
but sea-rose red.

I amplified my heartbeat
one thousand times,
the animals at first confused
then decided I was another
thunder being.

While talking directly to god
my attention waxed and waned.
I have a lot on my mind.

I worked out
to make myself as strong
as water.

After all these years
of holding the world together
I let it roll down the hill
into the river.

One tree leads
to another,
walking on
this undescribed earth.

I have dreamed
myself back
to where
I already am.

On a cold day
bear, coyote, cranes.
On a rainy night
a wolf with yellow eyes.
On a windy day
eleven kestrels looking
down at me.
On a hot afternoon
the ravens floated over
where I sunk
myself in the river.

Way out there
in unknown country
I walked at night
to scare myself.

Who is this other,
the secret sharer,
who directs the hand
that twists the heart,
the voice calling out to me
between feather and stone
the hour before dawn?

I have turned into
an old brown man
in a green coat.

Having fulfilled
my obligations
my heart moves lightly
to this downward dance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Director/writer Wes Anderson

We went to the movies tonight, to see Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Really good movie. Frances McDormand is beyond words.

Among the interminable previews, most of which I'd already seen (I guess I've been going to the movies lately—yay!), there was a new one: Isle of Dogs, an animated film directed by Wes Anderson.

Which reminded me: Wes Anderson! Talk about quirky—and wonderful. I've enjoyed all the Wes Anderson films I've seen. Which amounts to nine, with this new one. I've seen all but one of them (I think: my memory of a few of them is hazy).

This site ranks Anderson's films from "best to worst"—although as they also say, he has never made a bad movie . . . which leads to a lot of impassioned comments and redone best-to-worst lists.

I'd say my favorite Wes Anderson films are Moonrise Kingdom, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox. But I might just have to watch all of them all over again (plus the one I've missed), and re-rank. Maybe it's an ever-changing ranking, depending on one's mood. Maybe ranking isn't an issue, but simply enjoying. The thing for what it is. Yeah, that.

Here are trailers for his films in chronological order. I might have a new project.

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Rushmore (1998)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Writer George Saunders

George Saunders has published nine books, according to his website, including four of short fiction—CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996), Pastoralia (2000), In Persuasion Nation (2006), and Tenth of December (2013)—the novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005), and the recent multiple-award-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). He's also written a children's book, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2005).

I've only read Tenth of December, and found it amazing. I am about to simultaneously read and listen to Lincoln, on a friend's suggestion: the audio version apparently helps bring all the many voices in the book to life, but I want to read along to be able to (I hope) better appreciate the language. Because Saunders is a master. Hands down.

Here, I thought I'd just provide some links to a few of his interviews and comments on the writing process et cetera, to dip into now and then (again and again). Plus a few YouTube videos, just for fun. He seems to enjoy speaking about writing and his approach to it. It's all illuminating.

Watch [Musician] Jason Isbell Meet George Saunders and Have an Epic Conversation, from GQ 10/27/17 (yes, you can watch: there's a 54-minute video included)
Getting Out of Our Normal Crap: George Saunders on Writing and Transcendence, from the Los Angeles Review of Books 5/22/17
George Saunders: What Writers Really Do When They Write, from the Guardian 3/4/17
The Rumpus Interview with George Saunders, 2/20/17
My Writing Education: A Time Line, from the New Yorker 10/22/15
George Saunders: My Desktop, from the Guardian 4/22/13
Graduation speech at Syracuse University, 2013: "The Importance of Kindness" (and you can see a sweet animation of it here).

Here's a summary of points he made in a talk at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver.

This video is on the "tricks of the writing process."

This one is on writing and Saunders's tactics for ruthless editing.

Here he is reading and speaking about his process for an hour in 2013 (Talks at Google):

This article provides links to ten of his stories—including "Sea Oak" (New Yorker, 12/28/98), which has recently been made into an Amazon original TV show, pilot only so far, with Glenn Close. It's wacky!

Artist Hans Waanders

I recently saw a "map of the world" shaped by the various names that people all over attach to the kingfisher. It's wonderful!

It turns out, the creator of this map seems to have been obsessed by kingfishers—an obsession I can relate to, because for sure, kingfishers are my favorite bird. (Though he seemed to like water too.)

I thought I'd share a few other images by this Dutch artist, Hans Waanders, who died in 2001, at age sixty. I guess you could call him an "obsessive," but . . . what's wrong with that?

Water, 1995

110 Water Stamps, 1995

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Little Jacques Prévert

I stumbled on this on Facebook (which I love for just this sort of thing) and thought I'd share.

It's by Jacques Prévert, whom I have a fondness for because he was the favorite poet and bard of a long-departed friend of ours, Frank (RIP). Here's the English (I could not determine who the translator is), followed by Prévert himself reciting it, in French, followed by that text—which, y'know, rhymes. C'est un poème tellement charmant. Enjoy!

Song of the Snails on Their Way to a Funeral

Two snails were going to the funeral of a dead leaf.
Their shells were shrouded in black,
and they had wrapped crepe around their horns.
They set out in the evening,
one glorious autumn evening.
Alas, when they arrived
it was already spring.
The leaves who once were dead
had all sprung to life again.
The two snails were very disappointed.
But then the sun, the sun said to them,
“Take the time to sit awhile.
Take a glass of beer
if your heart tells you to.
Take, if you like, the bus to Paris.
It leaves this evening.
You’ll see the sights.
But don’t use up your time with mourning.
I tell you, it darkens the white of your eye
and makes you ugly.
Stories of coffins aren’t very pretty.
Take back your colours,
the colours of life.”
Then all the animals,
the trees and the plants
began to sing at the tops of their lungs.
It was the true and living song,
the song of summer.
And they all began to drink
and to clink their glasses.
It was a glorious evening,
a glorious summer evening,
and the two snails went back home.
They were moved,
and very happy.
They had had a lot to drink
and they staggered a little bit,
but the moon in the sky watched over them.

Chanson des escargots qui vont à l'enterrement

A l'enterrement d'une feuille morte
Deux escargots s'en vont
Ils ont la coquille noire
Du crêpe autour des cornes
Ils s'en vont dans le soir
Un très beau soir d'automne
Hélas quand ils arrivent
C'est déjà le printemps
Les feuilles qui étaient mortes
Sont toutes réssucitées
Et les deux escargots
Sont très désappointés
Mais voila le soleil
Le soleil qui leur dit
Prenez prenez la peine
La peine de vous asseoir
Prenez un verre de bière
Si le coeur vous en dit
Prenez si ça vous plaît
L'autocar pour Paris
Il partira ce soir
Vous verrez du pays
Mais ne prenez pas le deuil
C'est moi qui vous le dit
Ça noircit le blanc de l'oeil
Et puis ça enlaidit
Les histoires de cercueils
C'est triste et pas joli
Reprenez vous couleurs
Les couleurs de la vie
Alors toutes les bêtes
Les arbres et les plantes
Se mettent a chanter
A chanter a tue-tête
La vrai chanson vivante
La chanson de l'été
Et tout le monde de boire
Tout le monde de trinquer
C'est un très joli soir
Un joli soir d'été
Et les deux escargots
S'en retournent chez eux
Ils s'en vont très émus
Ils s'en vont très heureux
Comme ils ont beaucoup bu
Ils titubent un petit peu
Mais la haut dans le ciel
La lune veille sur eux.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Anti-racism Reading

This evening I went, for the first time, to a book group that's been around for a year and a half, sponsored by the local group Whites for Racial Equity. We discussed Michael Eric Dyson's Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. I am only halfway through, so I couldn't speak to everything, but some good points were made, and it was a lively discussion. Though I have to say, it was a little strange to be in a room of half a dozen white folks, talking about a sermon to . . . white folks. (Granted, one is married to an African American woman, and together they are the parents of past NAACP president Benjamin Jealous; and the book group's leader is a Unitarian pastor.)

But we are living in strange times, where white supremacy is on the rise, and ugly nationalism just keeps getting uglier, and Black Lives Matter becomes "all lives matter" because of amnesia and denial and a refusal to just sit and listen to the 400 years of white people putting black people down in this country.

It's all very complicated. This book group is trying to tease out how to approach the big knot that race relations in this country are.

I will post my report on Tears We Cannot Stop shortly, once I've finished. But I have to say, the more I read ("educate myself," as Dyson urges us white folk to do), the stupider I feel.

Or perhaps I should say, the more entitled I feel—and wanting to make amends. Somehow.

Anyway, for now, here's a list of the readings the group has considered since it began in June 2016. I've read a few on my own. I'd like to go after some of the titles I haven't encountered yet.

Chris Crass, Towards the “Other America”: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (a favorite of mine)
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (selected in 2013 as a NYT top 10 notable book)
Carol Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
an essay: Summer Brennan, "Notes from the Resistance: A Column on Language and Power"
Wesley Lowery, They Can't Kill Us All: The Story of the Struggle for Black Lives
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
Eula Biss, Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays
Claudia M. Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do
Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
James Baldwin, "Letter from a Region in My Mind" 

I would add Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Except I haven't read it (though of course I have it). But maybe I'll pick that up soon, and if it draws me in, I'll suggest it to the book group ringleader. It might be worth considering.