Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thoughts On My First "30"

The so-called "nightcap." When did this occasional indulgence become a nightly necessity? Nor was it, any longer, a Teutonic single glass accompanying a light supper. I was enjoying too much, too often. When the contemplation of thirty days without seemed too much to bear, it was clearly time to stop mulling it over and just do it.

"If you don't moderate you have to quit, and that's the sad story" - Jim Harrison

Some observations at the end of my sojourn:

Energy levels -- whipsawed crazily for the first week-and-a-bit, before levelling out to something more robust than what I'd experienced in quite a while (late 30s, early 40s, I'd say). My workout routine gradually surged back to what I was doing nine years ago.

Sleep -- the quality of it definitely improved -- when I was, in fact, sleeping. My insomniac tendencies, however, did not change in the slightest, except that now when I lay awake I was no longer beating myself up for having imbibed.

Weight -- something else that didn't change in the slightest. This was a surprise and a disappointment. Leading up to the 30 I would have, without hesitation, identified the bulk of my "empty calories" as alcohol. And, of course, alcohol also messes with the body's metabolism. During the 30, my eating habits were what they'd always been. What with my workout surge, you could argue that I've probably regained some muscle, which weighs more than fat. And sure, the shirts have indeed become a little tighter in the shoulders -- but alas, the pants are no looser.

My face looks a little leaner, though -- the encroaching jowls retreated somewhat.

Productivity levels -- shot up, almost immediately, especially in writing. This was the most pleasant surprise.

The "Witching Hour" -- will always be the Witching Hour, usually from 4:30 to 6:30 ("Cinq à Sept" the French call it). As you get closer to the Witching Hour's conclusion the fraught and freighted early minutes of its onset look increasingly absurd. But you will feel it all over again, just as acutely, next week Friday at the exact same time.

Related: social dos. The early moments of a nephew's wedding celebration were a little touch-and-go. But again, the absurdity of the anxiety did eventually sink in.

Final thoughts: I will certainly do this again. In fact, I can even envision a six-month break, something that would have seemed unimaginable two months ago. Mind you, I write this in the morning, and not at 5:30 on a Friday evening.

Regardless, I intend to do this again in March, 2016. Screw "Dryuary" -- I'm talkin' "Parch"!

Friday, September 18, 2015

While We're Young, Part 2 -- The Hangover

I now regret making this a two-parter -- it's all too slight to really engage in. But a promise is a promise, so here I go. With a little luck we can all leave this post with at least a smidgen of our dignity intact.

After Friday's viewing, I descended into slow roiling fit of crabbiness. When Saturday's paper arrived I pored through it, saving the Arts & Culture section for last because that's where I usually have the most fun. Not this time, however. The pages were devoted to Toronto's International Film Festival, and despite the various reporters' and essayists' best attempts, I just wasn't feeling the love. When I finally frog-marched the entire mess of newsprint over to the blue box, I thought, Honestly, who gives a $#@% about this -- any of it?

I didn't (obviously). Kids these days? Doubtful. They've got their own scene, and even the selfie-with-celebrity aspect of it tends to bypass Hollywood types on the red carpet in favour of YouTube stars occupying this side of the velvet rope.

No, I thought. Probably the only ones who care are the writers sent there by desperate newspaper conglomerates. "Theory Types," in their 30s and early 40s. A super small audience, to be sure.

So, yeah: Baumbach's flick definitely hit the sweet- (or sore-) spot for Yours Truly.

I used to care about film festivals. I can recall when Pulp Fiction won the Palm D'Or at Cannes in 1994. Quentin Tarantino was the subject of a long night's excited discussion over pints at the pub. We had Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Natural Born Killers and now Pulp Fiction to consider -- what was this cat on about? Because he was clearly on about something.

I'm still friends with everyone at that table, and today I can't imagine discussing Tarantino for any longer than a few minutes -- one hour, tops. And I've got to the point where I'd prefer hearing Tarantino talk about movies to watching another one of his.

Has the scene changed, or have I? I expect the scene has -- I just can't be bothered to track where or how. And I've certainly changed, I know that. Most of my friends have, also.

Our conversation these days is devoted primarily to the concerns and well-being of children and surviving parents, then each other. After that we might talk film, and if Tarantino is the subject, the opening question would probably be, "Have you seen ___?" And if not, "So what's the last Tarantino flick you saw?"

That'd get discussion rolling, possibly even for a full hour. But it's hardly the purview of deeply invested aesthetes.

Anyway. No grand conclusion. Just me, getting older. Hoping you'll join me.

That is all.
"You in the right theatre, son?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

While We're Young, Part 1

With yet another Friday night to ourselves, my wife and I queued up While We're Young, Noah Baumbach's fairly recent entry to the "Comedy of Discomfiture" genre.

Watts & Stiller, comically discomfitted.
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play a New York couple in their early-40s -- artsy-fartsy types of more than modest means, if their flat and wine selection are any indication. While their peers slip into the befuddling aesthetic morass of early parenthood, they find themselves childless (by biology, not choice) and socially adrift, not least from each other.

A younger, prettier artsy-fartsy couple, played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, drift into their orbit. Among other endearing characteristics, the youngsters make a reverent fetish of technology the older couple left behind without a second glance -- vinyl LPs, typewriters, board games, even movies on VHS cassette. Exposure to all this youthful enthusiasm for the arcane and the immediate is so appealing, so engaging, so reinvigorating it feels like a gift from the gods -- what could possibly go wrong?

Everything one expects, of course, plus a few surprises.

This is the sort of role Stiller seems to have been genetically bred and socially engineered for. Critics galore comment on the aura of anxiety, shame and childlike neediness that seems to emanate from the man's every pore, which he turns on to great effect in this flick. As for Watts, it's a temptation for Hollywood women and their directors to embrace the relatively more dignified "straight-man" role in comedy. Watts' performance is the antithesis of this trend -- she embraces and embodies the insecurities and desires of her character so fearlessly, the result is both hilariously comic and just this side of heartbreaking.

Critics reach for Woody Allen when talking about Baumbach, and I kinda get it, but I also don't. It's New York, the characters occupy the lower-upper-class and fixate on the ennui of it all. And maybe it's a side effect of the growing distaste that we, the hoi polloi, have for the capers indulged by Allen and his social circle, but I have difficulty recalling the last time I laughed out loud during an Allen movie (the exchange of glances at the opera in Love And Death, maybe, or reaching for Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall (mm . . . maybe not the latter -- self-conscious laughter shouldn't count)).

Anyway, suffice it to say my wife and I were engaged -- in fact, I was more deeply engaged than I originally suspected at the time of viewing.

More to follow.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The genetics of an unwelcoming mien.

My wife and I were tagged to greet at church yesterday. The usual drill -- stand by the entrance, smile, shake hands, pass out bulletins.

Old-timers usually hang out with me and chew the fat a bit. The youngsters ... not so much.

One young mother came through the door with her three daughters, ages six and younger. The girls took one look at me and immediately hid behind her skirts. "Ah, yes," said the mother, "the 'scary man.'"

Sigh. Angry eyebrows and a stentorian baritone voice. I am the Lloyd Bochner of church greeters.

"Girls. Welcome."

Thursday, September 10, 2015

What are we going to do about iTunes?

Seriously -- iTunes has become a problem. And it's only getting worse -- and I'm thinking Blackberry worse.

"I hate iTunes," writes John Patrick Pullen, "and I think Apple does, too ...Once the ultimate in music file management and the centerpiece to Apple's financial turnaround, this program has evolved from a simple, dependable music player into the biggest example of bloatware in computers today." Over at The Atlantic Robinson Mayer pretty much agrees.

Meanwhile all this fulminating puts Dave Sims in a nostalgic mood. He pines for that long-ago day when the iPod and iTunes actually solved a problem, with what now seems a seductive elegance.

Man, do I relate. I have an iPod Classic -- 120 GB, just about at capacity. It's all music and podcasts. I plug it into the home stereo and run one of my massive playlists as the day-long soundtrack to household contentment. Or I'll take it with me on car excursions. The newer vehicle allows it to plug right into the console, but I've worked things out just fine for the older one as well -- you don't need hi-fidelity to get the proper gist of most podcasts, so I just plug in one of those collapsible little boomer-speakers and hit play.

When my beloved Infernal Device finally wheezes its last, I'll shut off iTunes and resort to ... something else. But what? Streaming is all the rage, down in the US of A -- indeed, it's catching on north of 49 as well, albeit very slowly. Content availability, originally a sticking point, is improving but still noticeably short of what our southern neighbours enjoy. And Jazz and Classical, the two genres I do the most surfing for, are nearly non-existent in most streaming catalogues.

Also, streaming sound quality may be better than radio, but only just. More to the point, I've got plenty of fat sound files parked in two hard-drives as well as in my little corner of Google Play. I'd prefer those juicy files get to my (now vintage) speakers via as short a route as possible. Again, the iPod (with playlists!) was a nearly ideal unit. Mebbe I'll resort to plugging one of my hard-drives into my PlayStation, as is the wont of others who've made that box the centerpiece of their home entertainment unit.

So, yes, there are solutions to this problem. But they all seem somewhat improvisational and a little rough around the edges, in contrast to what Apple once offered not-so-long-ago -- alack, alas.

If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.

Friday, September 04, 2015

"Hey Uncle Stevie, the forest called; they're running out of trees."

Know your meme.

Not our house -- yet.
Another tempest of letters and opining within the bookish teapot: Stephen King reacts to an "unspoken postulate" within literary criticism that "the more one writes, the less remarkable one's work is apt to be." Drew Nellins Smith retorts, with That's Too Much: The Problem With Prolific Writers.

I'm more sympathetic to Smith's argument -- except when I'm not. Jonathan Franzen, whose work I've occasionally enjoyed, is producing at an acceptable rate so far as I'm concerned. Charles Stross is more voluble, and I'd never dream of telling him to slow down.

Write as fast as you can, or care to. But if you're prolific, it's probably best you not expect to be deeply read.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Whither The Morally Serious Potboiler?

The Guardian has concocted some perfectly geeky click-bait. Jonathan Jones says life is too short to waste on ordinary potboilers, and throws Terry Pratchett into said pot. On behalf of outraged Pratchett fans the world over, Sam Jordison retorts.

"Don't I look morally serious?"

I read some Pratchett in my 20s. I enjoyed it well enough -- a shade more than I did Douglas Adams, actually. Both traded in absurdities, but where Adams flew around like a perpetually deflating balloon, Pratchett's tack was to treat absurdities with the greatest intellectual seriousness. If a world is flat, and the universe governed by sprites, etc., this is how the physics of it has to work. Add human foibles, and comic shenanigans ensue.

I might pick up another Pratchett book, before I finally join him as daisy fertilizer. Hard to say, really. Right now when I'm in the mood for the sort of thing Pratchett did well, I'm more inclined to pick up something by Charlie Stross.

He's younger, for one thing -- at this point youthful (and I'm speaking relatively, understand) writers serve the dual purpose of keeping me at least superficially informed of the contempo state-of-being, while assuring me I still retain some connection to the passions that drove me in my youth toward the person I am today. Plus, Stross is hip to the whole Cthulhu scene.

What I'm not going to do is make a case that both these guys should be avoided in favour of work less potboilery. Life is short, dammit. Read what excites you -- and let the rest of us know about it!

Charles Stross' site is here.