Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Somewhat Ecclectic and Scattered "Best Of" List of 2010

Harlan Ellison once said any book you haven't read is a new book. I like that. I take comfort in that. It reminds me we're never really finished with the arts, since they can hardly finish with us. Hell, last month I leafed through an old Balzac novel I thought I'd absorbed a decade ago, only to discover I didn't remember two-thirds of it. Right now, I'm reading Robert Harris' novel The Ghost, which is what Roman Polanski filmed as The Ghost Writer, which I saw seven months ago, and I'm still turning pages like crazy since I can't remember the details of how it comes out. By this rationale, just think of how many books I have yet to really read. It's like being a kid all over again.

So, I'm in no position to rate "Best of" anything in 2010. I don't get out to the movies that often, I don't go to many concerts, and I'm too busy trying to ball through Balzac to try much contemporary fiction. I do have my moments, though. So, in no particular order, with the proper bibliobiographical notes following, I give you:

Music I Discovered/Rediscovered in 2010

The Cold War Kids. A friend loaned me their CD. I went to their concert. Got a free concert download. And I was hooked. An original sound altogether.

The XX. Again, same friend let me download their stuff, which led me to go out and buy it anyway. Oddly compelling rhythm; lyrics are bordering on poetic. I like it.

Arcade Fire's Suburbia. Caught my attention, maybe because of all the media hype I stumbled across.

Ed Harcourt's Lustre. Half the songs interbreed pop and soulful moodiness too much for my taste, but the other half really get in my brain and bounce around pleasantly. Saw him when he opened for James; his bassist totally eyed me up at the bar.

School of Fish's self-titled debut album of 1991 or 1992. Caught between the no man's land of eighties rock and the grunge movement, it blends pathos and detachment very well for my indifferent generation.

Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. How did I miss "Visions of Joanna" all these years? How can you not get hooked on a song that captures in seven minutes ten years of feeling?

Pretty much anything by The Velvet Underground. How did I miss "What Goes On" all these years? How can you not get hooked on a song that captures in five minutes half an hour's worth of pensive thinking?

We Became Your Family When You Died, Bullets in Madison. How did they not put this out sooner? How can you not get hooked on an album that captures in ten songs...ah screw it, I've got nothing.

The Cult's "Embers." Now this is the Cult I remember.

Stuff I Read/Discovered in 2010

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. The Times did a big piece on him over the summer and the description of this novel caught my eye: four or five separates stories spanning the South Seas in the seventeenth century, to near-contemporary Britain, to a Korean dystopia, to a postapocalyptic Hawaii, and then back again, right to the beginning. All stories are separate, but interconnected. Utterly spellbinding.

King Lear. This time, when I read it, I accompanied it with Ian McKellan's RSC performance on DVD. I can't get him out of my head any more when I read of Lear raging against the storm.

Last Poems, A.E. Housman. For whatever reason, his verses exploring the profound in the commonplace really resonated with me last winter. I think everyone should memorize the following:

We for a certainty are not the first
Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled
Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed
Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

Ballistics, Billy Collins. I'd picked this book up five times since it came out in 2008, but when I finally finished it, I have to admire how he managed to make poetry so accessible, and still so worthy of reflection. He makes you want to see the world all over again.

Letters from Iceland, W.H. Auden. I was led to this book by one of his poems that appears in it; now I want to go visit Iceland. More to the point, I want to go visit the Iceland in the early twentieth century that Auden got to visit--I think I heard that now the country is broke or something?

Lamb and Fool by Christopher Moore. Drop-dead hysterical, especially Fool. It's like the novel Benny Hill and Kurt Vonnegut would have fathered together. Okay, not really, but pretty close.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch. Required reading for anyone who wants an opinion on why American schools suck. Short on solutions, but long on data and analysis. Might correct some of the commonplace assumptions kicked about in Washington and Springfield these days.

Movies I Saw in 2010 Worth Mention

The Six Wives of Henry VIII, a miniseries produced by the BBC. Keith Mitchell starts as Henry Tudor did: young and lithe, full of energy and innocence. By the end he's morbidly obese, still great yet corrupt, enthralling yet repulsive. He pulls the act off like no one else I've seen (Jonathan Rhys Meyers is supposed to be in his forties? Please).

Henry IV Parts I and II, from Shakespeare's An Age of Kings (first aired back in the 50's on television). Sean Connery as Hotspur is enough in itself; the Falstaff/Hal interplay is probably the best-achieved chemistry I've ever seen on film.

I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton. Not that I could tell by watching this, but she had to pull off Italian dialogue with a Russian accent. Story of a woman who either dives into or is thrust into an illicit affair with her son's best friend, only so much more than that.

Winter's Bone. A young woman living in the Appalachians and trying to hold on to her house and family plays detective to find out what happened to her crystal meth-dealing father. She has to go through a backwoods drug empire that would give Vito Corleone pause.

Inception. Not quite a movie I could go right back into and see all over again. But pretty close.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Of course, the books are worth mention too, but the films did a superb job capturing the story, character and pacing of the Millenium Trilogy. Which begs the question as to why Hollywood feels we need an American version. Perhaps Americans are illiterate and can't be bothered with subtitles. Which brings me to...

Idiocracy. Not Mike Judge's greatest, but amusing. And I'd say a fairly accurate painting of where we're headed: once mediocrity becomes the norm, we tend to equate knowledge of civics with brilliance, or being able to tie one's own shoes with homespun wisdom and savvy. We might have a former president who's pretty good proof of this, but I'm not sure.

The King's Speech. If Colin Firth doesn't get an Oscar for his portrayal of George VI, struggling in equal measures with his duties as king and his speech impediment, I can't imagine who will get it instead. Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush are equally impressive.

True Grit and Black Swan I have not seen yet, but I suspect I'm going to really like. Haven't seen Waiting for Superman, but I'm sure I'd have a reaction to that as well. And fan of Aaron Sorkin that I am, I thought The Social Network was a bit overblown.

Okay, that's enough for this year. Bring on the next 365 days, and let's knock it off with the vampire stuff already, mkay?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Poetry Written Upon Seeing a Disabled Toilet at the Pub Down the Street

"The sign tells me it
doesn't work. No big deal:
There's still a hole there."

"What disappears when
I pull the handle above
my mess on the floor?"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"It became clear after my colonoscopy that I had to kill her..."

No jury in the world will convict me of murdering the Woman I Love. Why, you ask? Simplicity itself.

Under doctor's orders, I had to go and get one of these damnable procedures last week. Nothing earth-shattering as far as why, I assure you, although the fact that I'd rather get medical instruments shoved in me than go to work for the day speaks volumes about the power of the mind over its environment. Still, I'd be a liar if I didn't confess to a selfish motive for going: A really good quip.

I'd practiced it all day and all night long the twenty-four hours preceding. I would awaken from the anesthesia and sit up in bed, sharp and alert. The doctor would come by, clipboard in hand, a carefully-arranged concerned look on his face, and ask me how I was doing.

And I would reply, oh-so-wittily, "Well, doc, hope it was as good for you as it was for me."

And the entire operating room would erupt in laughter, cancel my bill and send me home with a cigar and a clean bill of help. Nothing could be simpler.

But oh no. Leave it to Kim to screw it all up.

I did, in fact, awaken blearily, in a room I didn't recognize. There were, in fact, people in there. The doctor did come by, and I think he was carrying a clipboard. "Well now, how are we doing?" he asked me cheerfully.

"Ug," I rasped. "Ug uh ug."

"Yeah, you'll be a little tongue-tied for a bit," he said, patting my shoulder sympathetically. "Don't worry. You'll come around."

The Woman of My Life chose then to show up. "Oh, he's awake," she said flatly. "What a relief."

"Yeah, you'll probably have to cook him something tonight," the doctor said to her. "Maybe keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't try anything too strenuous."

"Fat chance," she muttered, watching me try to sit up. "That there is more than he's moved all month."

"So, you feeling any better?" the doctor asked me immediately afterwards, hoping to get the niceties out of the way."

"Well...doc..." I started, laboring mightily to form syllables with a tongue and mouth that felt like it had been stuffed with cotton. "Well...well doc..."

"Good, good," he said, glancing at his clipboard. "Okay, let's see, you need to eat something soon, then take a nap. Get dressed, and, as long as your insurance payment processes okay in the next twenty minutes, we'll let you go home."

"Was it...was...was it..." I breathed out, grasping mightily at the few remaining seconds before the joke went flat.

"It went fine," he reassured me. "You're as healthy as a horse. And almost as intelligent."

The room erupted in laughter. I cast them all a withering stare. My joke was better. As long as I could get it out in time.

"Was it--" I began, increasing in strength and confidence.

"It didn't show anything to worry about," he said, glancing at his watch. "Now, I've got to run. Those nine holes aren't going to play themselves."

"Thanks, doctor," Kim said to him, grasping his arm in a neighborly fashion. "I'm sure it was as good for him as it was for you."

Ten times the previous laughter filled the room. Nurses came over and squeezed her hand. The male attendant came over and nudged me. "You got a keeper here, pal," he said, yanking my IV out of my arm with all the sympathy of a pile of rocks. "Hold on to her."

Oh I will. You have no idea...

"Okay, honey. You just rest easy. But are you
sure I have to be standing
on a ladder
in a puddle of water to do this?"