A palate-cleansing sorbet of trivialities

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Having contemplated a blogging hiatus recently, I briefly put the idea of a hiatus on hiatus. Now I am back to considering a break from it. I suppose it’s not like a store or job where you have to formally shut things down or go on sabbatical – I just follow the ‘inspiration’ for pouring out the contents of my sometimes addled mind as it (inspiration, not the mind) comes (or goes).

I am channeling this energy into an offline project that is moving forward very quickly, and it’s eating every bit of creative marrow I’ve got in my bones. Thus I will potentially write blog posts when I need to unload or unwind. It seems that my most prolific blog writing periods happen when I am thinking too much, overanalyzing and in periods of intense emotional confusion or anguish or something. (Anguish may be too strong a word, but I like it, so I will leave it.) Once free of these things, the feverish urge to blog floats away. Blogging is, in some ways, a kind of existential palate cleanser.

I finished Infinite Jest – finally. As I wrote before, I marveled at its massive depth and breadth but cannot say I liked it. It was laborious to read at times, and I could not wait for it to be finished. I am still reading six other books, though – some great and some for fun (all my ‘hone your psychic abilities’ books are in fun; I have, after all,  to fulfill the psychic destiny one of my exes claimed I had when, while hiking along for many silent hours near Háifoss in Iceland, I randomly blurted out, “Sorbet is a vegan dessert!”. He looked at me as though he’d seen a ghost, and said, “I was just right then thinking about how my grandmother used to make sorbet.”)

I watched the second season of Love on Netflix – it’s easy enough viewing but only remarkable in that “I’ll Be Your Mirror” plays at the end of one episode and made me think back to a moment in time – so very long ago – when I was briefly involved with a Polish guy who made me possibly the most eclectic music tapes ever, and I think he was the first to introduce me to the Velvet Underground (starting with this song). I also recall that he had nothing but critical disdain for the United States – but many years after we had lost contact, I discovered that, after returning to Poland for a number of years, he eventually made a permanent home in, of all places, the American South (that’s a familiar trope, though – the “America Haters” who end up living there quite comfortably in the end).

I’ve cut back immensely on the TV viewing, but there are still things I watch – such as the aforementioned Love, binged in an afternoon; Girls – I’ve hate-watched the whole series, so why would I not complete the circle by watching its final season?; The Americans – it’s one of the best shows ever, and somehow more relevant than ever… and other stuff as well, but it is true that once I broke the cycle (ha!) it seemed quite dull to return to the majority of shows I’d mindlessly been sucking in.

Otherwise, life is work, creative projects, a series of last-minute travel or guests and always hoping for sunlight over the dismally, stormy greyness that pervades today. Nice weather, too, is a palate cleanser.

Letters of the Unliving (Mina Loy)
The present implies presence
thus
unauthorized by the present
these letters are left authorless–
have lost all origin
since the inscribing hand
lost life.

The hoarseness of the past
croaks
from creased leaves
covered with unwritten writing
since death’s erasure
of the writer–
erased the lover

Well-chosen and so ill-relinquished
the husband heartsease–
acme of communion–

made euphonious
our esoteric universe.

Ego’s oasis now’s
the sole companion.

My body and my reason
you left to the drought of your dying:
the longing and the lack
of a racked creature
shouting
to an unanswering hiatus
“reunite us!”

till slyly
patience creeps up on passion
and the elation of youth
dwindles out of season.

Agony
ends in an equal grave
with ecstasy.

An uneasy mist
rises from this calligraphy of recollection
documenting a terror of dementia.

This package of ago
creaks with the horror of echo.

The bloom of love
decoyed
to decay by the finger
of Hazard the swindler–
deathly handler who leaves
no post-mortem mask
but a callous earth.

Posing the extreme enigma
in my Bewilderness
can your face excelling Adonis
have ceased to be
or ever have had existence?

With you no longer the addresser
there is no addressee
to dally with defunct reality.

Can one who still has being
be inexistent?

I am become
dumb
in answer
to your dead language of amor.

Diminuendo
of life’s imposture
implies no possible retrial
by my present self–
my cloud-corpse
beshadowing your shroud.

The one I was with you:
inhumed in chasms.
No creator
reconstrues scar-tissue
to shine as birth-star.

But to my sub-cerebral surprise
at last on blase sorrow
dawns an iota of disgust
for life’s intemperance:

“As once you were”

Withhold your ghostly reference
to the sweet once were we.

Leave me
my final illiteracy
of memory’s languor–

my preference
to drift in lenient coma
an older Ophelia
on Lethe.

Photo (c) 2008 Angela Schmeidel Randall used under Creative Commons license.

MUBI: Curated platform for unique films

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A few weeks ago, I finally got around to signing up for MUBI after to meaning to for the last… five years or so. When I first read about it, it was basically a streaming video-on-demand service that focused on foreign/indie/arthouse films, some quite rare, and has since become a highly curated platform where only 30 films are available at one time. In a way, of course, I would love to have more selection but at the same time, this limited selection makes me watch things I might not otherwise choose for myself and eliminates the often oppressive and crippling feeling of having too much choice. In some ways I like that it is not just a repository the way Netflix is; when a film disappears from the site, who knows when or if it will become available again? MUBI has also negotiated a few exclusivity arrangements with partners and distributors so is likely to be the only, or one of the only, platforms where you will be able to see some of these films.

So far I’ve watched about five films (I have to be in the right mood and have real focus since most films are in languages I don’t know; therefore, I must read subtitles). I love it so far, although if I were still engaging in my normal “binge” habits, I would have raced through all 30 available films in a few days and been left without content, other than the new film put up on the site each day.

I know it’s not going to be the right choice for everyone – most of my friends and family are not really into the kinds of films that typify the MUBI stream. If you’re hungry for the independent and unusual, though, it’s a great place to start and find unusual films from the world over – effortlessly.

Insouciance

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Back home – back to reading. Finished reading Slogans by Mark Burgess, am going to finish Une si longue lettre by Mariama Ba (Senegal) – finally – and then finally, finally finish the book on Congo. I have just finished putting together/writing the track listing for yet another of my increasingly frequent random-gum music mixes/life’s soundtrack (and addressed all the envelopes. Tedium). It’s been a rich and intense time for music listening. I can’t seem to help myself and just want to keep sharing.

I’ve got the latest season of Chef’s Table going in the background. Not being a foodie of any kind, I did not expect to care for this show, but a lovely former colleague recommended it to me, and I have been consistently entertained and surprised. In the first episode of the third season, the ‘chef’ is actually a Korean Zen Buddhist monk who does not at all consider herself a chef. In the second episode, they’re covering the relatively well-known White Rabbit restaurant in Moscow (even I had heard of it and I am not that interested in the world’s popular or best-regarded culinary marvels). The best part is listening to all the spoken Russian; the worst, seeing lovely live moose who were killed and eventually turned into the moose-lip dumplings the chef had long been dreaming of. Most of the series is all quite beautiful and exquisite in any case. And the back stories almost all fascinating. (The third episode on Nancy Silverton: “I think you need to be obsessed with bread… to be a baker.” Starting off on the right foot.)

Not many words to say about it, but my decision to ‘fake it til I make it’ in terms of forcing myself to pretend to be in a better mood worked – when I decided on the 14th that it would be my last day of moping and sulking, it was. I was not at my greatest or at the pinnacle of personal enlightenment on the morning of the 15th, but I gave it some thought, realized what I had been doing and from that moment on, everything has actually (I’ve not just been ‘acting’) been great – relief, release, mini adventure, deep thinking without thinking about anything in particular. Very freeing.

Revolutionary Letter #1
Diane di Prima
I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

Lunchtable TV Talk: Fleabag

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That quiet lull between the summer TV season and the standard, full-throttle autumn season gave me an opportunity to watch some stuff I might not have, such as the ITV production Victoria (don’t bother – it’s kind of crap except for Rufus Sewell, who is always good even when he is given crap material to work with; still, the series was renewed for a second season) and the dark comedy self-humiliation fest that is Fleabag. Let’s not get into the fact that I also dipped my toe (oh, who am I kidding? I jumped in the deep end) into the six seasons of Sex & the City, which I had so carefully avoided during its first incarnation. Despite there being no shortage of original summer programming that began and ended in almost staggered shifts, I still found myself, at times, with an empty queue (have watched most of what interests me so far on HBO Nordic and Amazon; can only access Swedish Netflix now so there are a lot of lovely films I cannot see in my old American queue. Kind of frustrating because I was not even trying to cheat the system: I pay for both an American and a Swedish subscription).

Maybe it’s this “empty queue” idea that also drives the nameless anti-heroine of Fleabag. She’s very funny, very awkward and a total mess – and she knows it. She breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the viewer quite often, and it works. I keep seeing lazy comparisons to Bridget Jones and Girls’s Hannah Horvath – but as I write, these are just that – lazy. Our nameless mess of a woman is so much more than both and completely confident in her lack of self-confidence. (Must be – even The Economist got in on the action of writing about Fleabag.)

It’s funny, it’s ironic, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty realistic, and in that way, it’s also heartbreaking. It somehow manages to be both the wound and the salt you pour into it yourself because you think you deserve to suffer, or like Canadian poet PK Page posits, because you believe that “suffering confers identity”. For the show’s lead, her “empty queue” is not a tv-watching list: it’s the emptiness of her life without her best friend, who has accidentally committed suicide; it’s the more distant but still fresh loss of her mother to cancer and the subsequent, if metaphorical, loss of her father to an uptight and horrible stepmother; it’s the tense but close relationship she shares with her sister. It’s mindlessly filling the emptiness with a queue of men and a, shall we say active, graphic and even rugged sex life? Sex queue as coping mechanism, and only through the six episodes do we see exactly how winding, dark and byzantine are the problems she is trying to fuck into oblivion or at least avoid.

Flea photo (c) 2014 Matt Brown.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Stranger Things

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I never imagined, when he was young (or when I was young, for that matter), that Matthew Modine would, in middle age, come to play a range of (semi-)evil masterminds. But both here in Stranger Things and in the short-lived and flat Proof, Modine is just that. He is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, pulling all the strings. Would you have imagined that when you saw him Vision Quest or Full Metal Jacket? (Well, maybe. In his long career, he has been and done almost everything.)

That’s not really the point, though. Where Modine fits into my brief and redundant narrative is that he, having been a fringe fixture in 1980s movies, fits well into a Netflix show that revives the 80s and its entertainment, its style and its feel down to the last molecule, Stranger Things.

I am once again hitting a wall in terms of finding an original thing to say about it – it’s been wildly popular (so much so that it took the Netflix platform down) and thus picked apart and analyzed to death. That happens with sudden phenomena such as these that feed so many different things:

  • Winona Ryder revival: a real one this time; for those who were not around in the late 80s and early 90s, Winona was a kind of offbeat ‘it’ girl; a shoplifting conviction and a lower profile made it seem as though she disappeared. She worked steadily but had both lost some of the indie/grunge cred that ignited her earlier career and, of course, aged out of the “it girl” title. She’s appeared in the Star Trek reboot and Black Swan as well as the lauded Show Me a Hero. She never went anywhere; nostalgia and the popularity of this show have just catapulted her back into the limelight.
  • 1980s nostalgia: oh, that dreadful fashion and hair; paeans to 1980s youth adventure films; nods to 1980s classic horror
  • Sounds: That unbelievable and dreamy soundtrack.
  • Immersion therapy: We have other 80s love stories on TV (Halt & Catch Fire), which are great, but you don’t really get to immerse yourself in the time and spirit as much because it’s a weekly. Stranger Things was nothing if not an eight-hour-long time-trip into 1983. And for those of us who were there, around the ages of the boys in the show, riding their bikes all around town looking for their lost friend, Stranger Things has brought that entire era back to life believably (perhaps nowhere more than in the wardrobes and sensibilities of the teens like Barb and Nancy).

All that said, I am not one of the people who loved this and gushed about it. I liked it, I binged on it. But do I anxiously crave another installment? Not so much. I was never THAT into the 80s as they happened, hated being a kid and being around the kinds of kids who are the protagonists of this movie, and I always thought Ryder was overrated.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Motive

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TV is a lot richer in summer these days than it used to be – we got a few seasons of some exciting new stuff, whole seasons of Orange is the New Black and BoJack Horseman on Netflix and quite a lot of “off-season” (if you can really even call it that any more) filler to carry us through until fall. In fact, you could almost argue that spring and summer bring some of the best stuff now. There are no boundaries to prime release time for TV shows (and, as I have argued, can you even call them “tv shows” any more, seeing as how they may fit the format but aren’t broadcast on any network and can be inhaled one full season at a time?

Because of that, addicts like me are spoiled – and never have to go through the withdrawals that generally accompanied the dry season of summer. Still, though, nothing is so abundant that I don’t end up seeking out filler beyond the filler I was already watching.

That’s how I ended up watching Motive. My mom told me about it, and apparently had been telling me about it for some time since I still claimed never to have heard of it when it was heading into its fourth season. Maybe because it’s Canadian and didn’t last in its big US network broadcast slot (and was eventually moved to USA), it was not a big title. Nevertheless, just before the fourth season kicked off, I watched all three of the preceding seasons. Why? Reason one: nothing much else to watch that weekend while I was busy with other things; reason two: Louis Ferreira. Who is he, you ask? Well, the only reasons I know and like him: he was Colonel Young in Stargate Universe (the only one in that franchise I cared for, largely because of Robert Carlyle) and was in Breaking Bad. There are worse reasons for watching a show. Reason three: I liked the idea of already knowing the crime and finding out the motive.

Oddly, for a Canadian police mostly-procedural, I have been pretty entertained. I raced through and didn’t pay rapt attention, so I can’t cite plot points or anything particularly notable. But I saw a lot of standard Canadian-actor extras and Battlestar Galactica alums, which is also fun. I didn’t remember at first that the lead, Kristin Lehman, had been a key supporting player in The Killing, which was also good – I like her a lot better in Motive as detective Angie Flynn. In fact, I came to like her a lot, and it’s the easy chemistry between Lehman’s and Ferreira’s characters that make the show as watchable as it has been. That is, chemistry based on deep friendship and respect between colleagues, not sexual tension or something similar. You don’t see that much on TV. In very subtle ways, stuff about Motive is different, and is why I keep watching.

Photo (c) 2014 Michalis Famelis.

Lunchtable TV Talk: River

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It is not often that Stellan Skarsgård goes wrong in his choices. Sure, I don’t love Mamma Mia! or The Glass House, but usually his work is worth watching, even if only for his presence (Nymphomaniac comes to mind here).

For me, River is one of the best surprises of 2015. For one thing, it’s “trippy” (as The Guardian refers to it). Detective Inspector John River is a loner who is out of touch with his own feelings but is in touch with visions/hallucinations of dead people and with a deep sense of empathy. All of this is quite unusual for a TV serial “renegade cop”. It could easily be a caricature, but the acting and the storytelling ensure that it does not devolve into ridiculous territory.

Ultimately it turns out to be a study in human complexity and fragility and is engaging at every step – and it’s only a six-hour journey, meaning that it fits neatly into an evening or two (for dedicated binge-watchers). Like most “detective” shows it’s point is to seek answers. But on different layers – not just the cop mystery on the surface. There are always secrets, and having community with the dead allows a bit more insight into those secrets. Seemingly cheesy plot device, but Skarsgård and excellent supporting cast make it work.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Lilyhammer – No experience leaves you unchanged

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It’s been a long time since I watched Lilyhammer on Netflix. And a long time since I moved to Norway myself. It was not a crash-landing as rough as that experienced by protagonist “Johnny”, the alter ego of an American mobster, Frank Tagliano, who goes into witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway after testifying against his cronies. Knowing the reach of the mob and relying on his love for the “Lilyhammer” Olympics (most of us just remember the Tonya HardingNancy Kerrigan saga), Frank manages to get his witness protection assignment in Lillehammer, Norway – which turns out to be a major culture shock not just for him but for everyone he encounters in the community. That includes the police force, social services, his new girlfriend, the hospital system… and everyone else.

He makes a strange bunch of new friends/colleagues, opens a new nightclub and changes the rules to suit him. Through manipulation and brute force, he pushes through quite a lot of his own brand of corruption, intimidation and coercion to impose on the naive, fairness-loving Norwegians. He also forces the residents to look in the mirror (e.g., an episode that deals with racism, refugees and “inclusion” – which is timely now during the recent refugee crisis). Frank can be insensitive and totally politically incorrect (and sexist), but has his own sense of fairness that comes from living in a multicultural society – even if a very limited one like the mob – and this rubs off on everyone around him and comes full circle until he starts to realize new truths about himself as well.

But no experience leaves you unchanged. While the Norwegians eventually bend and comply – and learn – from Frank’s ways, Frank too is softened by Norwegian life.

Lilyhammer was cancelled, so no more of the fun we got for three seasons… but luckily three seasons is an easy binge watch.

Lunchtable TV Talk – The Best at Year End

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Call me crazy, call me lazy, call me ambitious… but whatever you call me, I have seriously seen all of 30 of 35 of the shows in this best-of-2015 rundown. And the writer is right on the money about everything in the list – at least of the things I have seen. I’m not big on animation, which is ultimately why I haven’t seen stuff like Bob’s Burgers (it is in my Netflix queue) or Rick and Morty. I tried to watch Review but could never find it to see. And I had never really thought of The 100. I admit that I don’t even know what it’s about.

Unfortunately I am too tired to dream up a list of what else is out there that didn’t make the list … nothing likely tops the Vox list – it includes some of my favorites, even the almost-never-watched stuff like Manhattan (which came into its own in a big way in the second season), The Knick, You’re the Worst, The Leftovers, and Rectify. Even Justified made the list.

What strikes me as weird is that I somehow managed to watch all 30 shows, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg in terms of the things I have watched this year. It’s usually on in the background, but still… so.much.tv.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Master of None

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Where can you hear Townes van Zandt, Bobby McFerrin, Lou Reed, “Cool It Now” from New Edition, Father John Misty, a Chinese song “Yue yuan hua hao“, Bollywood “Jap Chaye” and about a thousand other eclectic, off-the-wall, past and present hits and obscurities? Including “Africa” by Toto, which seems to be the anthem of millennial bar-goers – they freaking go nuts over this song (on TV and in real). Hmm.

Aziz Ansari‘s ace Master of None on Netflix. I am not sure I have ever experienced such a diverse and rich soundtrack in any TV show. Who is responsible for this magic?

And maybe the only TV show I’ve watched in which they mention boba/bubble tea! Haha.

I could ramble about how the show is slightly genius in its random observations and is also really funny, sweet and pleasant. I’ve loved it, even down to the background music.