Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

Tragedy — September 26, 2022

Tragedy

This weekend, I watched a Netflix documentary series that was one of the most depressing things I have ever witnessed. And what I’m going to try to do is find beauty and hope in it. Try.

First, let me tell you about what I did Saturday. We (my family and some visiting in-laws) piled in a car and went to the local amusement park. It’s local but it’s also known around the whole world. That’s always an interesting dichotomy to reconcile in my head. Something extraordinarily famous is in my backyard, making it feel familiar and routine, like if Lady Gaga was your sister.

(But I always write about taking amazing things for granted, like kissing the Angel and kindness and Morrissey, so I won’t today.)

What was striking about this park is the extent of the corporate greed on display. I recognize this is nothing new in commercial America, where industry is built at the altar of MORE. Parking fees and food prices are obscene and attendees are shoehorned in until actually riding rollercoasters is nearly impossible, as receipts pile up. I rode 3 rides and waited an hour and a half for the privilege of buying hot dogs.

I am not an idiot. I have a business degree and a working knowledge of insurance and hidden costs. I don’t even have a problem with rising profits. This “wonderland” provides a service that is specific and fantastic, they should all get filthy rich on it. My problem is the contempt they showed for me and all of the other suckers who essentially paid to stand on their property. I can take the fact that I am not their #1 priority. So, I’m educated as a business major and a marketer, but I was raised in the ‘90’s to distrust and rage against any, and all, machines. Especially the machines that can’t even manage to even pretend that I’m in their top 20 list of importance.

Which brings me to the Woodstock 99 documentary, Trainwreck. This is, first and foremost, a story of dollars > people. But it’s also a story of people who are either a) treated like animals because they are, or b) behaving like animals because they’re treated like animals. I happen to believe it’s the second. Probably even the sweetest bunny rabbit will bite if it’s cornered and beaten for long enough. Most of us will lash out if we are hated loudly enough. Maybe we wouldn’t set the town on fire, but we might kick the dumb insincere peace and love signs down. And it does take a special kind of monster to sexually assault another simply because they are in close enough proximity to do so.

Which brings me to the thread that ties all of these together. Simply because we can doesn’t mean we should. Because the amusement park is the only game in town doesn’t mean a 1,000% markup on popcorn is any less offensive. Because the Woodstock promoters can have 1 water fountain for every 100,000 people doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and because some frat boy can grope a woman (and much, much worse) without being stopped doesn’t make it less abhorrent.

Now. There is a bright side. “Mob mentality” was referenced over and over in the doc, and that same concept applies to board rooms and management meetings. We all think so (or we think we all think so), so we all go along. We say, “we could probably raise prices another 100% before it begins to keep anyone away,” and we look around for agreement, salivating over bonuses and perks, drowning out any voices of dissent, and we end up raising them 125%. We see those neanderthals setting fires and pulling down towers and the internal voice that objects goes silent and, the next thing we know, we’re turning over nearby cars and trying to break into ATMs.

We’re social creatures, looking for belonging and acceptance. The good news about this is if we were to, say, replace the violence for generosity, switch anger for care. You know when you’re around someone relentlessly positive and hopeful, you feel buoyant and like maybe this ship doesn’t have to sink? Same principle. If we, just 2 or 3 of us to start, were to treat the women in our midst with respect instead of trying to rip their clothes off at a concert, maybe everyone would. Probably everyone would. Certainly everyone would. And those that wouldn’t would find their actions met with strong resistance and protection. If we would begin to love each other, treat each other like the treasures we are, then we could make new paths that are easier for the rest of us to tread. And then Woodstock might really be about the beauty of humanity and its creative spirit and we’d all be rich beyond our wildest imagination.

Morrissey — September 2, 2022

Morrissey

Lately I’ve been listening to a steady stream of Morrissey/Smiths albums. He has been my favorite singer & songwriter since I was 13ish, and this sort of thing happens from time to time. I’ll think, you know, I’d like to hear Bigmouth Strikes Again (“Sweetness, I was only joking when I said I’d like to smash every teeth in your head” remains the 2nd greatest first line ever in a popular song. The greatest is, of course, from There Is A Light That Never Goes Out: “Take me out tonight,” and continues, “where there’s music and there’s people and they’re young and alive. Driving in your car I never, never want to go home, because I haven’t got one, anymore”) and then it’s several weeks later and I haven’t listened to anything else. I’m never sorry. It makes me feel like me, if you can understand what I mean.

Like so far today, I had a terrific workout, met with a friend for great conversation, played 2 board games with my son, read a little and wrote a lot. I’ll make dinner, eat with the other 3 in my house, and spend some quiet time connecting with the Angel later on. In every moment, this feels like the best version of me. If we had watched me from a distance together, I’d say what we saw is exactly who I am. I’d say the same thing about Morrissey’s voice. If you want a deep insight into who I am, you could do worse than to listen to tracks 10-13 (He Knows I’d Love To See Him, Yes I Am Blind, Lucky Lisp, and Suedehead) on the Bona Drag album. Incidentally, I actually don’t count it as an album, it’s more of a collection – if I did, it may unseat The Queen Is Dead as my very favorite album.

Maybe you care and maybe you don’t, but what I’m wondering is if we pick the things we like because we’re a certain way, OR if we’re a certain way because we pick the things we like.

I am hyper sensitive and given to depression. You could also say that about the entire Morrissey/Smiths catalog. Did I find it because I was predisposed, because I was looking for something that fit? Or did I find it purely by accident, and through its influence, I became someone it fit?

This goes for everything – movies, books, paintings, as well as college majors, interests, even people. Did I find the Angel because I was looking for someone just like her or did I find her and, because she’s so awesome, she became my type? Why did I fall in love so deeply with Jesus? Why do I like Catfish and documentaries on cults so much? Are they finding me, kicking down doors and rearranging the furniture in my mind, or am I looking for them, inviting them into the already existing decor?

I think probably the answer is different now than when I was 13, right?

We’re pretty well formed by now. Of course, we learn & grow & change our minds about things. I vote differently now than I did when I was 25, I value some things more than I used to, but you wouldn’t feel like I’m a totally different person. All the things that make me who I am feel like they are in place (I recognize these are scary words, as they usually lead to uncomfortable transformation), and I happen to like the man I am. I’ll just become more of him, more of who I’m created to be. I couldn’t always say I liked me that much, if at all, but I do now, and that is a cool thing to write.

Anyway, did I like Unloveable and Never Had No One Ever because I felt so alone, or…

You know, it really doesn’t matter at all. These things provide the texture of our lives, bestow such breathtaking beauty on our unpredictable, wildly dynamic lives as they mark the people, places, and events that matter. I don’t care why Morrissey became such a humongous part of my life, I’m just so thankful he did.

D.B Cooper Conventions & Monopoly Tournaments — August 11, 2022

D.B Cooper Conventions & Monopoly Tournaments

I saw The Batman and the 3rd Fantastic Beasts films in the last few weeks and really loved them both. As a matter of fact, as far as Fantastic Beasts, it would be impossible to express just how much. Maybe I’ll try sometime. Maybe not. The Batman was awfully good, but I say that knowing full well that I am the target market, so it’s possible my opinion wouldn’t be the most objective.

We will talk about 2 other films: Under the Boardwalk: A Monopoly Story, and D.B. Cooper, Where Are You?! Now, what could these 2 possibly have in common, right? Not surprisingly, they also share it with Bikram, Holy Hell, and the Rajneeshees of Wild, Wild Country. The more I think about it, they share it with The Batman and Fantastic Beasts, Thor, The Avengers, Stand By Me and Stranger Things, too.

D.B. Cooper was the alias of a guy who hi-jacked an airplane in the 70’s, took $200,000, jumped out somewhere in Oregon, and was never found. The thing that makes it a cool story instead of a terrible story is that no one was harmed, outside of a minor inconvenience for the passengers. Some think he is still alive, may or may not be living in Florida, or that he fell to his death. None of that matters too much to me, it’s an interesting piece of pop culture, a mysterious American outlaw very much of a time.

Monopoly is a 100+ year-old board game that we’ve all played and that the Angel HATES. I was pretty neutral, but I like it very much since this documentary.

There are D.B. Cooper conventions, where people from all over get together and geek out over conspiracy theories, police sketches, and an inch of decayed nylon found in a forest. There are also Monopoly championship tournaments, which are exactly what you think they are. Rooms full of tables where the best players battle over rent, mortgage values and property trades. These people are weirdos, in the very best sense of the word. I know they are, because I’m one of them. We all are. We may not participate in these particular events, but we all have our D.B. Cooper conventions. (If we don’t, we should by all means immediately get one!)

The last 15 minutes (or episode) of the cult docs we all adore the former members are interviewed, and there is always an unmistakable air of melancholy. They miss the time they were involved (before the true insanity of everything was exposed). Thor & Hulk need a team, Batman finds he can not, and should not, be the lone hero vigilante forever. It is the relationships between characters in Fantastic Beasts that remain, none of us really care about wands or spells or CGI creatures.

The biggest lie that most of us know is a lie but tell as truth, and that we all apparently agree to let slide, even though we know nobody actually believes is that we are islands. We don’t need, or want, other people. We are wholely independent. We prefer riding alone.

Except we’ll do pretty much anything to find a community. We’ll drink Kool Aid, let a yogi behave like a complete maniac, play in Monopoly tournaments, or go to conventions for a 50 year old historical footnote. None of this is surprising in the least. I happen to believe we are created for each other, wired for relationship.

In Christian circles, it can be quite tempting to sound super-spiritual and say some variation of “all I need is God.” It sounds awesome and we all ooh and ahh, but can you take a wild guess where that sort of doctrine isn’t? The Bible. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the Fall, everything is “good” except 1 thing: the man is alone. The man isn’t alone, he has God and they walk in the Garden in the cool of the evening, but God still says, “it is not good for the man to be alone,” so He makes a woman. Then in the New Testament, He makes the Church.

Maybe you don’t believe in God or Genesis or the Church, or maybe you do, but don’t think it happened exactly like it’s written. A thing doesn’t have to have happened for it to be True. This Genesis account is as true as anything has ever been, we are made to be together. And I know this, without a doubt, because D.B. Cooper conventions and Monopoly tournaments exist.

Nostalgia — July 23, 2022

Nostalgia

So I watched 2 documentaries lately: Class Action Park, about Action Park in New Jersey, and Humanity Insanity: Throwaway Society, about the modern rush into total disposability.

If it matters, they’re both terrific. But as the final comments wrapped up Class Action Park, I found myself with a knot in my throat and watery eyes. It’s true, I am what’s called an easy cry (which was why my total indifference in the new Thor movie was such a surprising giveaway to how I felt about it), but a documentary about a man’s avarice manifesting as complete indifference to the safety of his customers was an unexpected place to feel that well rising from my soft heart.

I have a business degree and, while I don’t remember everything I learned, I’m fairly certain that seriously injuring (and sometimes killing) patrons is not a viable strategy for long term growth. Who knows? The ‘80’s were a different time.

That’s what I mean, though. I grew up in the ‘80’s and it was a very different time. Does everyone romanticize their childhood? I’ve heard so many jokes about “back in my day…” and “when I was young…” and now I’m discovering that I say the exact same things.

Humanity Insanity detailed a rapid decline into a society where everything is made to discard; goods, feelings, people. That’s true. There are apps on our phones that’s purpose is to erase the messages immediately after they’re read. We delete all imperfect photos. Single serving. Planned Obsolescence. Half of all the food produced on earth is thrown away. Most marriages end in divorce. We shop for our churches and might stay for a few weeks, then move on.

I know, I know, I sound like everyone’s dad, but as I watched the people reminisce about this ridiculous amusement park, their memories were real, the relationships continued, the scars remained, the place is still there (albeit under a changed name.)

With a longer shelf life, we truly experienced these things; toys, movies, seasons, phases & fads. We listened to entire albums for months. Back To The Future was in the Top 10 for 24 weeks!!!! 6 months! The new Dr Strange is out of theaters, streaming and forgotten on Disney+ in 6 weeks. Singles come and go before we know the lyrics and can sing along. My boys barely remember what they did this morning, while I can recall every one of my MASK toys and every episode of Three’s Company. No one is getting weepy over the 2020’s (well, maybe they are, but for wildly different reasons.) No one will remember the 1 hit wonders of the 2 thousands – because here aren’t any. We had a nearby park where everybody went on weekends that looked like Golf N’Stuff from Karate Kid. And pickup games every day. I haven’t seen a 10 year old outside in days.

I wonder if this nostalgia I feel is for the connection. I miss my best friend and going to my neighbor’s house (with everybody else) to watch the premiere of the Thriller video. I miss my friends being flesh and blood and not simply a number on Facebook. I miss playing.

We’ve certainly gained so many great things, but maybe nostalgia is nothing more than an acknowledgment of what we’ve lost. I wouldn’t go back to the ‘80’s for anything, but is it too much to ask to bring some of the ‘80’s into today?

The New Thor Movie — July 20, 2022

The New Thor Movie

The new offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the 4th Thor movie, called Love & Thunder and before I tell you how much I didn’t like it, let me tell you about the band Live and a story I may or may not remember accurately.

Live made an album in the ‘90’s, their 3rd, called Secret Samadhi and it wasn’t met with overwhelming popular or critical acclaim. I loved it, and passionately defended it against the many, many friends who derided it. Then, years later, the members of Live, in an interview for a different album, also kicked that record around, essentially apologizing for ever having created such an embarrassment. (I remember this like it was yesterday, but I have a very good friend who promises me it never happened. I’m still operating as it did, but even if it didn’t, it’s a representation of a greater reality. We’ve all heard artists slander their own work in the promotion of the new release, right?) I felt silly for loving it like I did, for investing in it like I did, like I was being mocked by the very people I was supporting.

Now. 1 more thing. I happen to like the genre of camp, if you know what I mean. When the entire piece is a ‘send up’ of the genre, when we all wink and laugh along. But everyone has to be in on the joke.

I told you before I think these superhero movies are the mythology for a new generation. Like a 21st century Iliad. They use these extraordinary people & circumstances to address ordinary universal issues, like family, friendship, identity, commitment, responsibility, corruption, faith, love, kindness, and on and on and on.

And when directors like Scorsese and Coppola, and actors like Ethan Hawke (who was in a Marvel series!!!) de-value them as movies “for 14 year-olds,” it’s disappointing but nothing more than garden variety artiste elitism, easily ignored and/or dismissed.

This new Thor movie is a different animal. This is a condescending inside joke where the butt is the audience, me, and $500 million dollars worth of other marks like me. They’re treating it as lowbrow trash, utterly beneath them, and remain ironically detached. The serious, real, emotional moments float on by with little impact, the gags (like giant screaming goats) don’t land, and the overacting is mostly offensive. Making fun of people like me, who see everything and invest in the characters and storylines, doesn’t sound like great business sense and will probably end with lower and lower scores and grosses. I can deal with incompetence, but what I have a much harder time with is inauthenticity and hypocrisy, making huge paydays, cashing checks while laughing at those who write them.

What I have learned as an adult and a person of faith that I couldn’t understand as a 17 year old is that this snobbish posturing does just the opposite of its intention. Trying to force someone to believe or like something through condescension or judgment is small behavior driven by insecurity & inadequacy. And almost always works only to repel rather than attract. I’ve changed now, and you can like what you like. You can feel what you feel, be moved by what moves you, without the external noise of my feeble embarrassing attempts to control.

Suspension of disbelief is required when it comes to Asgard and gamma mutated Hulks. Maybe that’s why I didn’t care – the filmmakers and actors inserted themselves into the story and that cracked the immersion needed to settle into new fantastic realities. I thought about Taika Waititi & Chris Hemsworth instead of Korg & Thor, I thought of the writing/directing process during the movie instead of watching it all play out onscreen. Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought, maybe others don’t want to suspend their disbelief, and maybe you loved it, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? We can and should prefer different Live albums, and that is probably the best part of us. Why would I want to squash that, or try to embarrass you for where you find joy or peace or beauty? I wouldn’t, and I wish they wouldn’t have, either.

Authentic Presence — July 7, 2022

Authentic Presence

In the new reality, we can see Doctor Strange In The Multiverse of Madness opening weekend and then stream it about a month later. This is an ocean away from “how it was when I was young,” where we would see a movie in a theater and maybe a year later we could rent the VHS tape. We would always rent, because owning a copy would be $100+!!!!!

And there were those special weekends where my mom would take my sister and I to the video store to rent a VCR and as many movies as we could carry for hours and hours of varying levels of attention. There’s only so much one can take at a sitting.

Anyway, this time around I LOVED the Dr Strange movie. I liked it well enough the first time, but upon a second viewing, it was exponentially better. So, why is that? The movie didn’t change, I wonder if I did. And how much could I have reasonably changed in a month?

These Marvel movies now all have surprise cameos and shocking deaths and spoilers for the jaw-dropping reveals. We already know that the new Guardians of the Galaxy will break our hearts, we just don’t know exactly how. And that instills a certain amount of anxiety. And when we go to these movies, we’re watching, waiting for the rug to be pulled, or if Jim from the office & Some Good News is the new Reed Richards (he is), or if Tom Cruise will be in it (he isn’t), or if somebody dies (…).

The second (or 3rd or 100th) time, I know the answers to those questions. I’m not surprised anymore, there’s no breathless anticipation waiting for the next thing, so I am free to hear dialogue I missed, see unappreciated cinematic subtleties, and enjoy the performances of some very fine actors.

Now, why do I care about any of this?

I sometimes get the privilege of officiating weddings, and I always remind the bride and groom, parents, attendants, and everyone else I see to not miss any of this moment, to be fully present. In the Bible, Jacob wakes up from a dream with the revelation that “God was in this place and I was unaware.” I don’t want us to be unaware of anything. I don’t want us to wake up, saying, “oh man, I totally missed it,” like we often do.

I am also married, and it’s easy to take the Angel for granted. And I have 2 sons who were once 2 years old and now are not. 2 years old was a good, no, GREAT, age with a ton of significant moments. They don’t nap on my chest anymore (which was so awesome), and the last time they did, I didn’t know it was the last time, so I may have been thinking about what I’d do when they got up. Or what I had to do tomorrow. Or yesterday.

This morning I was driving with the windows down, that song, “Numb Little Bug,” which I like a lot, on the radio, and then it was over and that thing happened where we get somewhere and don’t remember any of the journey. You see, I was hurrying to grab something the Angel had forgotten and return it to her. Then I ran it over to her and got back in my car, without pausing to soak her in for an extra few minutes. I missed half an hour of a sacred moment. But they’re all sacred moments, right?

Anticipation is fun, and when you get the secret about Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense – it’s just amazing. But there has to be a way to marry excitement with attention. And there has to be surprise without anxiety. Where the 1st and 3rd time through Strange coexist. Where we are connected, eyes wide, listening instead of hearing, seeing instead of looking, untethered to the regret/nostalgia of the past and the worry/fear of the future, only here, only now. Can it really be as simple as authentic presence; an open-handed approach to living this beautiful life? I’m starting to think it probably is.

And I Am A Material Girl — May 16, 2022

And I Am A Material Girl

Just a few short months ago, I would have written a full series of posts on how much I disliked Madonna, how I thought she was sickeningly overrated. In fact, maybe I did. I don’t remember. But I do remember laying out terribly detailed arguments against her to anyone who would listen. Then, in a surprising twist, my sister had the 2 disc greatest hits set Celebration buried in a mountain of cds she had given me as trash for a project which I had intended to take on.

I would have immediately moved it to my garbage can, but track 1 on disc 2 is Dress You Up, and if you are alive, you love Dress You Up. I stopped fighting the losing battle against that song (pretending I didn’t love it, pretending I didn’t sing along at the top of my lungs) a long time ago. So I put the discs in my car only planning to listen to Dress You Up on repeat 15 or 20 times before they found their way to the landfill.

But a strange thing happened when I was late to repeat track 1 – track 2 began. Track 2 is Material Girl. We all know Material Girl is an embarrassing relic of the ‘80’s, bubble gum, disposable, pure sugar superficiality. Isn’t it????

“‘Cause the boy with the cold hard cash is always Mister Right,” is a great line. Then, “Experience has made me rich and now they’re after me” is fine (better than fine, actually) but the way she sings “’Cause everybody’s living in a material world and I am a material girl,” is transcendent. My series of nasty posts would’ve surely included a huge section on Material Girl. And they would’ve been absolutely wrong. Vogue, Hung Up, Music, Borderline, Everybody, Burning Up, Cherish, I could go on and on, (don’t even get me started on Holiday) and the cds stay in for weeks until I can summon the superhuman strength to push eject.

Sigh, Madonna is awesome, but there is a bigger point here. Sometimes we are so familiar with something that thing loses it’s power. We take it totally for granted, we treat it as an everyday, common occurrence. We begin to see miracles as routine. The tremendous beauty of a sunrise or -set fails to register a second look. A hug, a wink, The Shawshank Redemption, my mom, Morrissey, throwing & catching baseballs, Oreos, so much just passes by unnoticed.

I remember the first time I kissed the Angel. I was wildly nervous and overwhelmed that I would ever have the opportunity to kiss such a lovely woman, and then we did and then we got married and we did a million more times and I am mostly no longer nervous and not overwhelmed enough at this even more lovely woman. When I think about her and her soft lips now, married nearly 22 years, she is way better than Material Girl, or even Holiday, I just forgot for many of those years.

I wonder how many things are like that in my life. The first time I held my boy Samuel, I wept at the enormity of this new life, how much I loved him, how much I prayed/dreamed for him, and what all of it meant. Tonight he and I had an argument over grades. Grades!??!?? He is the most wonderful young man, can I really be missing these day over a test score?

I know there’s room for grades AND appreciation, arguments AND gratitude, but too often it’s just grades and arguments. The Bible talks about ears to hear and eyes to see, and I think Material Girl is probably what those verses mean. We sometimes need new ears and eyes and lips to experience the familiar as brand new, so we can see our lives as the mind-blowing gifts they truly are.

Strange, Moon Knight, and Wanda Maximoff — May 9, 2022

Strange, Moon Knight, and Wanda Maximoff

Yesterday I saw Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, last week Moon Knight wrapped up, and there is something quite interesting about them. They aren’t for everyone. I can’t remember previous Marvel films about which I could’ve said that.

Doctor Strange was a mind-bending horror trip through multiversal universes. I don’t even know if that last sentence makes any sense to you, but spoiler rules dictate that I can’t say anything else. I will say one of my sons and I liked it very much and my other son and wife, the Angel, didn’t at all. (That she didn’t is no surprise, we had come to terms with that long ago – however, that I took her on Mother’s Day is a term that we’ll need a bit more time with.) After the movie, I received a text asking me how it was, and I couldn’t exactly answer. I said it’s not for everyone, and that’s 100% true.

Moon Knight was a series on Disney+ about a relatively unknown… superhero? Avatar? A man who is awfully handsome and awfully mentally ill whose multiple personalities are being manipulated by an Egyptian god that may or may not be the skeleton of Kevin from Up. I liked the promise of the 1st episode, liked the series less and less through episode 4, LOVED episode 5, and episode 6 was fine. The first 5 were less standard superhero stuff and more painfully honest character study, until they lost their nerve and returned to a standard final act which resolved until the last 30 seconds, when it didn’t.

I feel a certain way about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it is our mythology. Why those stories are treated with reverence and studied in English classes, and these films are treated as lowbrow trash is so confusing to me, maybe it actually is the perfect illustration. Maybe I am the lowest common denominator. Who knows? I don’t really care, though. I’ve long since left behind the term “guilty pleasure.” I am drawn to artwork that helps me understand the human condition and emotionally connect. I can’t think of a better wide AND deep, completely relatable depiction of grief than Wandavision. Or a more relevant dive into our complex mistrust of authority (sometimes we are paranoid and they really are after us) than the Winter Soldier. And though the movie was pretty disappointing, Iron Man 2 saw and highlighted our collective struggle with our own mortality in the middle of a backbreaking responsibility and a clear call to something greater.

I am not a witch destined to rule or destroy the cosmos, (at least as far as I know), but I have lost people, knew that my heart was irreparably broken, and wailed under the weight of “what do I do now, without you????” You too, right?

Anyway. What I think about these latest 2 installments of the MCU is, they were ok, not for everyone and it’s THAT evaluation that is so hopeful to me. The things that really affect us, that really mean something, probably aren’t the things that are sanded down to avoid all edges. McDonald’s “hamburgers” are engineered to be ok to everyone – that’s how you sell billions, but they’re nobody’s favorite. Your favorite probably has bacon and cranberries and a special kind of hot sauce or pickle, right? And maybe the person with you sits there wondering how you, how anyone, could possibly like that!?! Ask 3 people about Wandavision, 1 of them will have HATED every moment of it. And 1, like me, will think it’s PERFECT and go on and on, write blog posts about how deep and wonderful and real it was.

It’s funny to talk about a studio that makes movies that bring in billions of dollars like this, but I might really dislike this next Thor movie and that prospect thrills me.

Anna — March 28, 2022

Anna

Inventing Anna is a new buzzy Netflix documentary-ish film. Each of the 9 episodes begins with the clever disclaimer: “The whole story is completely true. Except for the parts that are totally made up.” A wildly unlikeable “German heiress”/con artist dupes plenty of people who should have known better and (I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t know the story) may or may not end up convicted for these acts/crimes. 9 episodes. 9 long episodes about this woman and the superficial culture that made all of this possible. 9 hours of my life I won’t get back.

The acting was terrific. The writing & directing were good, music was great. The events on which it was based were surreal and fantastic. The cultural critique was sharp and pointy. It’s exactly the sort of thing the algorithm would figure I’d love, and normally it would be right, it is the sort of thing I’d love. But I hated it. I don’t have to like everything, and I don’t have to always agree with the algorithm.

There was a square of 4 desks in “Scriberia” and 3 of the 4 characters there and the trainer, Kacy, were alright. The husband of the journalist who broke the story was awesome. Everyone else (I might be swayed on the lawyer) was absolutely awful, carefully crafted images of human dollar signs.

[Awful isn’t always a dealbreaker, the greatest tv show in the history of tv is Seinfeld and there aren’t many redeeming qualities to be found. The show acknowledged this with the finale when they all ended up in jail for essentially being terrible people. But Seinfeld is the exception, an outlier. Whether they succeed or not, we need someone we like, someone to root for, someone to care about.]

Every good story – the ones we like that stick with us – contains a character arc. The protagonist is one way, and through conflict or obstacle, changes, grows, and becomes someone else by the end. We’re just the same in real life. We are who we are. Then we find ourselves (intentionally or otherwise) thrown into spaces where we learn, adapt, rise, fail, lose, win, get up or stay down. Either way, we are transformed at the end of this particular journey. Sometimes the stories hurt like crazy, but significance isn’t measured by enjoyment. And eventually the next story beckons and we engage.

We all know people who don’t, right? The people who remain the same, doing the same thing, going the same places, telling the same jokes, as the life drains from their, and our, eyes. Bored. Tired. Uninspired. And sometimes that’s us, simply surviving, going through motions, trapped in repeating loops of rut and routine.

Anna was the same in the episode 1 as episode 9. She was lonely & sad as she was chasing & catching excess, treating everyone like trash. She was lonely & sad in episode 9 as she was no longer catching the glamorous life she pursued, and still treating everyone like trash. People were to be used and discarded. At every turn, the characters made horrible decisions, ignoring their families and their souls. I found the show very very sad. I wanted more for them, I wanted them to feel loved and worthy, enough, regardless of how much money was in their bank account or how much their hotel room cost. I wanted them to rest. I wanted Anna to be held by someone who would care for her unconditionally. I wanted the lawyer to go on his vacation and Vivian to stay at home with her baby, reading Goodnight Moon and singing lullabies. (And I know not everybody wants the same things or values the same things I do…)

I also know it was a movie. Maybe she’s lovely. And maybe ‘more’ IS a worthy goal for our lives. I’m not sure, though.

Looking Around — January 4, 2022

Looking Around

Today I watched Don’t Look Up, a film on Netflix. I had already planned to watch since the trailer premiered, it looked fantastic and I believe that Leonardo DiCaprio should probably be officially classified as a national treasure. Then, last week, a Very Great Friend texted me that I just HAD to watch this movie as soon as possible so we could discuss it. This friend is deeply trusted – the last time I got a text exactly like this was for Into The Spider-Verse, and we all know how that one turned out.

It’s about a comet (referred to as a “Planet Killer” by one of the characters) and it’s path towards the Earth. I’ll try to not tell you how it turns out, but I make no promises.

Sunday night a different Very Great Friend’s mother passed away suddenly, without any warning. They had shared a wonderful Christmas a week earlier. No warning. Yesterday another Very Great Friend’s uncle passed, and the day before we received word that a young husband/dad was declining in the hospital. These last 2 years (maybe it’s the last 2 ,000 or 200,000 years, and I just haven’t been paying attention quite as closely as I am right now) have been an endless painful parade of suffering and loss.

How does this relate to some Netflix original? What does this have to do with a Hollywood produced 2 hours of political propaganda? (I’m only a little kidding about that propaganda jab – it is, but it’s quite a bit more than that.) What does this have to do with comets and yet another amazing Meryl Streep performance and a yet another slimy Jonah Hill character? And what does any of this have to do with Christmas Eve and the book of Genesis? Turns out a lot.

The end of the film has a small group of people sitting around a table talking about gratitude, enjoying a meal together, and the line, “We really did have everything, didn’t we?” This was after 6 months of forgetting/ignoring what exactly they had, chasing all sorts of different threads around and around. It’s strikingly similar to a Bible verse, practically a paraphrase of the passage in Genesis. Jacob wakes from a dream and says, “God was here all along, and I was unaware.” And I missed it. We usually don’t know when our mothers or uncles will be gone, the last time we shared was usually unremarkable, spent distracted, or in the worst cases, fighting. We say, “if I had known, I wouldn’t have missed it, I wouldn’t have gone to sleep. I would have….” (That is what the Christmas message was about this year; A baby was born and the people then & now missed it, they/we were unaware.)

The best scene of the movie was 7 people sitting around a table, some of them family, in the sense that they were husbands & wives, sons & daughters, and the rest of them the sort of family that isn’t born, it’s made. They look different, with wildly varied experiences and perspectives, but they held hands in prayer and love. It was the best part of the movie but it’s also the best part of life, having each other to hold our hands, to love and be loved.

I’ve been thinking about a lot this New Year, what has been lost and as variants rise dramatically, what will be lost. A few weeks ago I concluded that the last year was a good one, mostly because my table was also full of both types of family. Maybe the biggest thing COVID stole was our families, our tables. And maybe the true cost was our awareness of our right here and right now, our gratitude, our attention, our experience of these divine moments. We’ll take them for granted, like we do everything else, and eventually have to say, mournfully, “I just didn’t know.”

I know that I very often write about this, but I can’t think of anything else we can do that is more important than to remind each other that we are loved, we are here now, and we are together.