Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie post: What I've learned

I have nothing on my mind right now except writing (and have nothing new to say about that yet). And maybe you're as tired as I am of reading about leaning in and stepping up and taking charge and being a woman as ruthlessly efficient as this one:
Perhaps the most poignant detail from Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic cover story, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," was also one of the smallest: an overworked mother of three who "organized her time so ruthlessly that she always keyed in 1:11 or 2:22 or 3:33 on the microwave rather than 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, because hitting the same number three times took less time."
 I'd call it nuts rather than poignant, but why focus on other people's stressed-out lives when you just might have a few stressors of your own? Jenny Allen's "What I've Learned" in The New Yorker (behind paywall, sorry) this week points out the much bigger bullets that you can dodge if you pay attention at the movies:
I am certainly not going back into the house where something bad or creepy has happened to me already.
I am never going to a carnival or a fair, particularly if there is happy calliope music playing. 
If I become an astronaut, am I leaving the spaceship under any circumstances? No, I am not--not to fix anything on the outside of the spaceship while tethered to it by one not-that-strong cord; not to explore the terrain of the planet we land on, a dusty place that looks like it has no life forms but surely will have, ones that do not wish me well. 
I am never going to remain sitting or standing next to anyone who is coughing innocently.  There are no innocent coughs, only ones that signal imminent pandemics.  
 So what do you learn if you go by the laws of old (rather than recent) movies?
If you are one of three young women in a movie, choose your friends very carefully. One of you will go to the bad to provide an object lesson for the others.  If you don't know who the bad girl is, it could be you.  
Do not believe the promises of handsome gangsters (Three on a Match) and especially not those of wealthy, Ivy-educated men (Our Blushing Brides, Where the Boys Are, The Best of Everything). They do not have marriage on their minds, and they do not wish you well. 
If you are an animal in a movie, beware, especially if you are a beloved and cuddly pet.  For plot purposes, your life is about as safe as if you live in Westeros. 
What have you learned from the movies?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Off topic: a mildly political question about media coverage

So the 2016 election is still 2 years away, yet every single article I see about Hillary Clinton has a negative tone, beginning with Time magazine's "Can anyone stop Hillary?" last summer.

The rhetorical move there is called "begging the question," mainstream media; it's a logical fallacy and assumes the answer to a question by avoiding it--as in "of course, someone should stop Hillary. Who's our best shot for doing so?"

Did the Koch brothers buy up Time and the rest of the news media and not tell anyone? Or do they figure that if they dangle enough shiny Kardashians in front of us, we won't notice? Or is it just part of the "tear down--resurrect--tear down again" cycle that they use with all celebrities?

I hear tell that Time used to be a news magazine, albeit one with a conservative bent. Remember the old saying "Life [a now-defunct picture magazine] is for people who can't read, and Time is for people who can't think"?

Yes, the MSM treats politics like a horse race, and yes, they correctly assume that the US public has the attention span of a gnat.  But if they want it to be an interesting race, why don't they talk about new policies or something substantive rather than dredging up Buzzfeed-worthy headlines about "5 Secrets about Hillary Clinton's White House Years"--which ended, lest we forget, nearly 15 years ago.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Comments on Wordpress blogs

I've been getting a message when I've tried to post to some Wordpress blogs: "Your comment cannot be posted" or something like that (on Historiann and Quod She), so I switched Gmail identities.  The new one isn't working, either, so apparently I am persona non grata at Wordpress. I'm not a spammer--honest!

So for now, I am reading, but I can't post comments. I'll keep working on it. My next identity will have the name Unwilling Lurker :).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What I learned about writing from 1930s musicals

To escape from thoughts of work, for which TV works better than reading, I recently spent a couple of unfortunate nightmare-ridden nights after watching The Wire. It's a great show, but not what you'd call slumber material.

So now I'm trying 1930s musicals. Not the good ones, like Golddiggers of 1933, but the kind that you have to be a movie fiend to love, like The Show of Shows (1929) and Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Broadway Melody and On with the Show!  In other words, the kinds of musicals for which the studios pulled out all the stops, and into which they put all their stars. The kind that wore out the public on musicals and made them box office poison until Golddiggers and 42nd Street brought musicals back.

There's a lot to love about these musicals, just in terms of sheer weirdness. Girl chandeliers! Girls marching and climbing up and down ladders! Girls draped with beads for clothes with statuary on their heads! Jolson impersonators! The comedy stylings of Frank Fay! Shakespeare! (John Gilbert and Norma Shearer in Hollywood Revue doing Romeo and Juliet  in modern slang; John Barrymore doing the most villainous Richard III ever in Show of Shows, with the most mobile eyebrows in the history of cinema). And song classics--"Am I Blue?" sung by the great Ethel Waters, "Singin' in the Rain," "You Were Meant for Me," and lots more.

What you'll probably notice most, though, is the big chorus numbers and the dancers.  Except for the acrobats, the dancers have different values and technique from dancers today. A couple of timesteps and the ability to tap dance en pointe in toe shoes and you were golden back then--if you could also flash a big smile.

But the energy was there, though not what would be perfect technique today. So what if they sometimes had to take an extra step to catch up? So what if their arms flailed a little? They got through it, and the whole thing got done, in the can, shipped, and out to audiences.

There's something about technical perfection that can be a little bloodless, and something about looseness and energy that can feel more interesting and creative.  And that's how I'm thinking about the writing right now.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Random bullets of checking in

  • Travel + intense work = blog neglect. I've missed reading blogs and missed writing in this one, so I hope to get back to both.
  • Some nice professional affirmation recently, which is about as specific as I can be here.  But you know how good it feels when you are keeping your head down and slogging away for a long period of time, and then you lift your head up to tell someone your ideas, and that person thinks they're good? It was exactly that. 
  • The admin stuff has been intensely stressful at times but overall tolerable and even satisfying, now that I'm getting the hang of it.  A bonus lesson: if person X wants something but chooses to express it not to me but to a third party, who then tells me, I completely ignore it.  If you're not talking to me, I'm not listening. If you don't want to ask me to fix it, go be unhappy someplace else.
  • I'm on the trail of an "undiscovered" author whose work fits perfectly with a writing project. Searching, reading, learning more, and writing is so exciting that I barely want to quit to eat, teach, or do other work.
  • Still working on the Laocoon manuscript, which--not to mix metaphors or anything--I am convinced unravels itself at night like Penelope's weaving. 
  • Oh, and I've been following with intense interest the negotiation nightmare that Flavia writes about.  The sum total of one of my job negotiations was this: "Here is what we can pay, and we can't go above it." Me. "Okay." Obviously, I want and need to know how negotiations really work.