Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Sound of Building Coffins

The piece I did earlier this year with author Louis Maistros is up on the 225 Magazine website. Yay! I had enormous fun interviewing Louie (meeting his wife and some of his friends at one of his readings) and we became friends. I think he’s spoiled me for freelancing – I’m not interested unless the subject really rocks and can be an awesome friend afterwards.

Oh and this other “minor” detail? The book’s fabulous. It’s not for everybody – which he says himself – but if you like fearless and visceral writing, here’s your book.

Books-Building_Coffins_cover.ms_t180Books-Louie_Maistros.ms_t180

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Let’s talk about movies: The Ugly Truth and Fanboys

Just so you know, spoilers abound.

Every time I saw the trailer for The Ugly Truth, I thought, “Oooh, I can’t wait to see that.” I love both Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, and I love rom coms. I’ve already debunked any accusations of film snobbery, so that can hardly be surprising. Then, before seeing it with Becks, I read a review of the movie on NPR, knowing as I did so that the reviewer would hate it and it wouldn’t change my desire to see the movie one iota, as much as I adore NPR.

And Ella Taylor did seem to hate The Ugly Truth, as her review begins, “Sit up straight, girls, the he-men are back to instruct you in what women really want.” And while there were places where I physically winced or I just didn’t feel like the movie was all that great, I actually don’t agree with Taylor’s arguments about who this movie is for and what it’s saying. She’s addressing women alone, but we exist in a film market that has started (finally) making some blatant attempts to reach more of the audience quadrants than romantic comedies have traditionally expected to reach. Yeah, probably most of the men in the audience were still there with girlfriends or wives or really good gal pals. But I suspect The Ugly Truth was trying to entertain not only the boys once they were there, but also the women who loved The Hangover and Judd Apatow movies, who really dig the big blockbuster/comic book/fantasy movies that were traditionally the realm of boys [The newest EW has an article by Christine Spines called “Horror Films and the Women Who Love Them,” which I can’t seem to find online at the moment, but Diablo Cody (ahem, Juno) has a great quote, “Growing up, I was absolutely mesmerized by the horror section at the local video store. It wasn’t a particularly feminine compulsion, and my parents didn’t want me watching that crap.”]

So the problems I had with the movie was where it felt like it hadn’t really identified itself or its audience – because probably it wanted to be many things at once and reach as many of the quadrants as possible. With audiences gobbling up Borat (but not so much Bruno), Talladega Nights, Stepbrothers and Pineapple Express, the over-the-top-but-sadly-incredibly-realistic shock jockness of Gerard Butler’s character Mike Chadway, appeals. But in that stroke of classic romantic comedy convention (that works here, perhaps saves the movie), while both Abby and Mike both think that his he-man instructions are getting Abby what she wants – they aren’t. She gets exactly what she thought she wanted – her checklist boyfriend – using Mike’s techniques (which, if you’re honest with yourself, do work at least in a surface, introductory way even in real life, even if they are loathsome), but she realizes that the “perfect” candidate works on paper, but rarely in real life. The scene between Abby and her checklist boyfriend in the hotel room works for me because of Katherine Heigl’s gut-wrenching, “Who would love somebody like that?” realization. She sees herself for who she is, doesn’t entirely like herself and is frightened that nobody will love her for and despite that person – and that is an utterly true realization, whether you’re a woman or a man (a girl or a boy, a proud feminist or a “I’m not a feminist but” feminist or not a feminist at all). But the amazing thing for me is that, though she’s not sure she can be loved for who she is, she can’t close the deal with the checklist boyfriend while still pretending to be something she isn’t. And what could be more feminist (and enlightened) than that?

It’s not so much that Mike (the he-man) has the answers as he thinks he does and Abby’s so lost romantically (her assistant producer says, “This could be a good boyfriend for us!”), she can’t help but listen to someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about. (He’s lost too, which Taylor seems to dismiss, but Mike’s brand of defensive humor does seem to exist and I find his utter terror when confronted with the vulnerability that love brings utterly honest). When they both learn something, that’s what I find fascinating. Though, I felt like the end was a bit forced into a rom-com box after what seemed to me a pretty daring, sometimes more subtle than appearances would have you think, illustration of the contradictions and fears of modern romance. Taylor calls it a “nasty little sex war,” and yes, it is. Because that’s how it feels sometimes – the truth is that power is an issue in relationships and it seems like the person who cares the least fares the best (see: Mike coaching Abby on manipulative, abusive telephone etiquette). But we all hope that we can find someone in the end with whom it’s okay to be vulnerable, who’ll put their own vulnerable hearts in our hands and that perhaps the power can go back and forth.

The line in Taylor’s review that kept giving me frustrated flashbacks was, “Alert, however, to the fact that they’re catering to the I’m-not-a-feminist-but … generation of women — ladies who want their career achievement and their happy-ever-after tied up together in a shiny pink bow — ”

Yes. My generation of feminists (thanks to the generations and waves before us) have learned that’s it’s alright to say, “We want it all. We want to be capable and successful human beings and we want marriage and kids too.” Or whatever you want, or don’t want, that’s okay too. If you want to be a stay at home mom, guess what, that’s okay. If you don’t want marriage and kids, also okay. And what the hell is wrong with that? Did our feminist foremothers fight so that we would have to choose between slices of a life? The apple or the peach? Why not the whole pie or several slices on one plate? Did they fight so that we would force EACH OTHER out of the home and refuse to acknowledge that’s where some of us what to be? I find myself a more well-rounded feminist when I acknowledge that, for me, a full life includes both writing/publishing my books and a happy family with a husband and children. Of course it’s hard to have everything you want and even harder to have it “tied up together in a shiny pink bow,” because it requires negotiation, communication and work. But my foreparents have taught me well – I’m not going to deny myself any aspect of a life that I feel compelled to have, because that would make me a less complete, fulfilled person.

Taylor lauds Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (and I’m not knocking it), but I think it’s a difficult thing to put His Girl Friday against most movies that accurately and emotionally reflect gender dynamics these days. I’m a feminist who can say that rigid gender roles are constricting and wrong – but as a girl dating in the aughts, I’m envious at times that there used to be expectations that were generally understood by all parties. This is an age where it’s not always possible to know you’re on a date because you have no idea what the other person’s expectations are, this is an age where people are avidly reading each other’s Facebook statuses to try to understand other people’s moods, where it may be ages before you actually have a voice-to-voice (let alone a face-to-face) because of the oh-so-common fondness for texting. Abby may actually be a pretty good example when it comes to modern dating and knowing how to be a lady (what does that mean these days?!?) and be happy and get what you want.

Taylor says about Abby that she’s a “tightly wound career woman, ripe for chopping up, tenderizing and ravishing by an alpha male who knows what’s good for her (no, it’s not a promotion) better than she does.” No, Abby doesn’t want a promotion. Because she’s already got that covered – she rocks at what she does. The parts of the movie where Abby was able to be confident were when she was doing her thang as a producer. But even then, something that struck me was the virulent invaldiation Abby suffers from her boss and the corporate honchos once Mike arrives on the scene – from the good ol’ boy dinner with the bikini twins to production choices being made for her, without her knowledge or approval. She’s good at her job (though perhaps the show did need a shake up, none of us are infallable), but consistently undermined in a way that’s not even addressed. Part of me likes that it’s so vivid in the movie without being addressed, because it’s inherent in our society and so rarely communicated. A woman is expected to act outside of a “womanly fashion” in order to be considered professional (here, I’m thinking of when Abby is hiding in her closet at work, etc.), but then is entirely unappreciated as both a woman, or a person doing a good job. The qualities that make Abby a good producer appear to make her a bad woman and I don’t blame the movie for this because this is an accurate reflection of the climate, what we’re still working for (“we” being feminist of every gender).

And until we see this “nasty little sex war,” depicted in all its nastiness in our modern media, how will we learn to communicate about it and then change it? Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday don’t reflect the men and women that are trying to figure out how to connect with each other today (and that’s not even scratching the surface, what about the spectrum of sexuality?). And if you doubt me, read this NPR piece called Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships.

A friend of mine recently told me how uncomfortable he was in “Women and Gender Studies” classes in college because he was a man and everything seemed to be his fault. I actually felt the same way in some of mine, uncomfortable. The idea is to be equal, to have equal rights and responsiblities and renumeration, right? But then I think of another friend of mine who has the “right” to work outside the house when she doesn’t want to and it’s still her responsibility to do almost a full percentage of the tasks at home. Her husband “helps” her take care of their home and family, as if this is still uniquely her task and when she is working outside the home as much as he does. I think of roommates and boyfriends I’ve had who seem to have been incapable of doing anything an adult does to take care of their home without expecting or waiting for me to tell them to do it and then coming to me to announce they’ve done it, seeking my approval. And you know what? It’s not just any of these individuals’ fault…it’s all of society’s fault that we still see things as belonging to one gender or another and then feeling guilty for it because we know we shouldn’t and then not achieving a well-balanced way of discussing and communicating these things in a way that creates healthy individuals.

And in that, I find The Ugly Truth to be a pretty fair illustration of the muddle we all find ourselves in these days, being women and being men and trying to figure out what the hell any of that means.

Fanboys was a lot of fun. I watched it, then watched it again with the commentary track, which was hysterical. I adore the last line of the movie (won’t spoil that for you) and I love the depiction of fandom and friendship. And it was just really funny. I have almost nothing to critique about the movie, I just loved it so much (especially all of Seth Rogan’s cameos), but of course there’s much I could say about gender politics here, too.

Are you groaning? 🙂 Well, just look at the title and that pretty much says it all. Fanboys. Who can deny how feminine and beautiful Kristen Bell is, yet her fangirl Zoe isn’t seen as a girl because she can “keep up” with the boys, because her amazing knowledge and passion is very fanboy-like, in the minds of her fellows. Yet, she keeps them all together and going. Even as she’s calling them “girls” in a derogatory fashion.

Well, in some cases, it’s not the movie that’s at fault just because it does a good job of depicting our screwy society. And I found both of these two movies very entertaining, in same cases really funny and always fascinating. Reviewing them soley for their quality as movies (trying to ignore content as much as possible, which isn’t possible), I’d give Fanboys an A and The Ugly Truth something like a B-.

[7.29.09: See this blogger’s discussion of “Horror Films and the Women Who Love Them,” since I’m still struggling to find EW‘s article online.]

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Hubig’s in Gambit

Just read the cover story in the newest Gambit, which is on the survival of Hubig’s Pies, despite (or because of?) their insistence on doing things as they always have, for over 80 years. I was lucky enough to visit the factory in the Marigny several times and was once given an informal tour. Reading Katie van Syckle’s story evoked the place and process pretty well. When she says “The atmosphere on the factory floor is light and jovial as employees joke with each other and their manager” (pg 24), that’s actually been true of my experiences visiting, too. 🙂

But the pies themselves? Just sinfully good. They’re so rich, I usually can’t finish one myself (though they’re not full-size pies, never fear), so they’re a great thing to share. I remember, at a football party, eating warmed up sections of the pies and that was really yummy, to try lots of different flavors. I like peach and apple a lot, and chocolate’s really good too.

If you don’t live in New Orleans, you can order Hubig’s. A little bite of fattening, glorious New Orleans straight to your door. 🙂

[I’ll link to the story online, when and if I can find it on the Gambit website.]

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That’s what I’m talking ’bout

Who even needs vows after a procession like this? Made me laugh a lot.

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What I Saw and How I Lied

Read this in about 3 hours, saying to myself the whole time, “Just another chapter, then I’m gonna go work on my book.” Just another chapter…just another chapter. And then, yum, I was done. Satisfied and not (too quick! and that ending, awesome but so traumatic!).

So read it, here’s the book cover:

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Nick Fox and Slam NOLA

Slam NOLA FlyerFor all of you who have considered that my delightfully low-tech guest blogger, Nick Fox, is an alter ego I’ve invented, you can meet him tomorrow night at Dragon’s Den at Slam NOLA, the series he started up again.

And since I’ve given you the opening of one of his email newsletters, let me give you the end of the latest:

NEW ORLEANS:

That’s where I am now. The trip is a flash and I’m sitting here, preparing to go to work, scared I won’t be able to pick up where I left off when I began my trip. I’m not writing every day right now, which I think is the key to my anxiety. So I’ll hope this is the start of getting back to writing. It’s nice I had a break after finishing the book, but the break is over. Back to work.

For now, life continues as it did before I took off. I work with mules. I work outside. I play the guitar and I’m still trying to trim the excesses off my life and make it as lean and aerodynamic as I can. Before I left, and even while I was traveling, I was able to think of writing as my full-time job and anything else I did was simply what I did to make money in the meantime. That’s a place I need to get back to.

One last thing…

On Sunday night I had a great moment. I was in Jimbeaux’s on Frenchman, which was formerly The Spotted Cat, listening to Pat Casey and the New Sound. I moved into a corner by the bar just as they launched into Herbie Hancock’s “And What If I Don’t.” The piece started strong and kept lifting. Up-tempo and full on swing. And then Julian, the drummer, who might be my favorite drummer in town, went into his solo, banging the cymbals and letting the screws he’d tied to them rattle for added effect, sliding his elbows across the drums, pounding in rapid fire and pulling back and shifting tempo so deftly, getting the crowd so worked up that soon several people were shouting “Go!” and “Come on!” By the time the group crashed through the end of the piece, people looked like they’d just had a religious experience. Which they had.

I live in a place where these things happen. I cannot forget this.

I hope all of you are well. I’ll give you more updates further down the road.

And congratulations to all my friends who recently graduated from Warren Wilson. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. I’ll say something a little more personal in the soontime.

Right? Right.

All the good songs,

Nick

[UPDATE FROM NICK RE: SLAM NOLA –

Friends! Comrades! Explosive news!

We have just received confirmation that the feature at tomorrow night’s New Orleans Poetry Slam will be Debauche, the Russian Mafia Band!

Come hear Yegor Romantsov, Count Eli, and Scott Potts’ beard perform extremely sad songs about Russian orphans, Ukranian weddings, pretzel sellers and vodka. This is a show you don’t want to miss, because if you miss it, the band will kill you.

Russian hooligans! Enormous poets! Vodka!

We’ll see you tomorrow night at the Dragon’s Den!]

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We know we talk funny…

…and we enjoy confusing you. I don’t know these people, but a friend of mine does (he posted this on FB). The Cajun guy’s accent is perhaps a tad exaggerated for the joke of it, but not nearly as much as you’d think.

I can’t believe the OnStar guy stays so calm, though the looooooooong silences speak for themselves. My favorite part is when the Cajun guy calls the OnStar guy “chere” and the OnStar guy’s like, “Um, okay.” Lol.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

[Slight spoilers, just so you know…]

Just saw what seems to me the best Harry Potter movie so far. Was reading in Entertainment Weekly some hubbub about whether the HP franchise still captures attention in light of the edgier appeal of Twilight and such.

Here’s the thing, Twilight rocks. I love it for some of the same reasons as HP and some very different ones. But it’s not been around as long as Harry has, so it hasn’t had the chance to grab us quite the same way, quite as pervasively. Not yet. N said she hoped there wasn’t a new New Moon trailer for HP because she couldn’t deal with the “Beatlemania,” and that’s just it. I’m not saying Twilight is going anywhere (I don’t think it is, and I don’t want it to) and the hysteria is quite livid, but.

But it’s not Harry Potter. I was 17 in 1999, when I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at the recommendation of someone in the Library Club (where I met J, who remains my friend to this day, though he thought I didn’t like him when we first met). They’d already been around in the U.S. for two years and I’d heard about them, but was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon – which seems funny now because compared to how many people would eventually get on the bandwagon, it was nothing in 1999. I was a lonely student who had transferred halfway through high school and I could identify with orphaned Harry Potter and I found it impossible not to get sucked in. I quickly read Chamber and Prisoner, the only books that were out when I started reading. For a long time, HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite.

I would eventually turn many people on to Harry Potter, including Mamma Mia! and one of my ex-boyfriends, who was hooked after I read the first chapter to him in the car on the way to a movie. I couldn’t wait till a friend of mine’s son was old enough to be introduced to Harry Potter. Until I could read them to my own children, watch them discover that world for the first time and, in some way, recapture my first time experiencing the world that JK Rowling has given us over the years.

Over the years. That’s an important bit. I’m 27 now. It’s been ten years. A decade. Which isn’t a lot of time in many scopes, but in terms of a “fad” or “craze,” it’s an eternity. So, perhaps, we can say finally that Harry Potter is no fad, no craze. Many of us have grown up with Harry Potter – I imagine the children who were 10 (or younger) when they first read the books, who are twice that now. Half of their life has been influenced by a fictional character in a time when it’s been predicted that every generation will read less and less and seem to forget they have imaginations to use, or even more horribly, sometimes seem not to even have imaginations to use. And I always remember the father who told me, while I was working a HP event at Barnes and Noble, that his 7-year-old son had been behind his reading level, struggling with simple chapter books, then he discovered Harry Potter and finished Goblet in less than a week. That book is 734 pages long. And a 7-year-old boy who’d had trouble reading had finished it in a week. That boy would probably be around 16 or 17 now, the age I was when I began reading. How could he fail to be sentimental or nostalgic about Harry Potter?

I missed out on a midnight showing, but I woke up early to make it for the 10 a.m. at my neighborhood theater. There were some children in the audience, at least two toddlers (who made noises throughout the movie), but by the end of the two and a half hour movie, the entire audience was collectively and completely silent. I’ve rarely experienced that in a movie, where it was clear that we were so wrung out from the emotions we’d experienced and we so needed time to take it in that there was just no way to speak, nothing to say.

Of course I cried. [SPOILERS] An important character died, one who is evocative and beloved by many, but by me, too. And there were two fires at important, cherished dwellings. And much destruction of Hogwarts. That was hard to take, after everything else.

But in its own way, it was satisfying and cathartic, despite the sadness (if that makes sense and I hope it does). I wouldn’t want it any other way because, having read the end of the story, I know that this is the way it’s supposed to be.

I’m going to go re-read the books. I can’t help it. And I don’t want to help it. 🙂

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Chris Daughtry’s Poker Face

There’s so much to talk about! And do! I just got back from a quick trip to GA to see the family and having just wrapped up some deadlines, I’m collecting more. Which is good news. Ah, the freelance life. 🙂

This YouTube video of Chris Daughtry covering Poker Face with a stellar…well, poker face, is about all I can manage to give you today. As gifts go, it’s not too personal, but it’s a super gift anyway.

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What do Tom Waits, Mark Growden and Clint Maedgen have in common?

They all make my day and one of my male characters sounds something like them when he sings.

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