Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama on Israel

I heard Hillary Clinton's statement about halting settlement-building on NPR the other day, and though I have a great deal to learn about the Middle East conflict, I was pleased. A recent BBC report sums up why:
Something has changed in Washington. This new US President, Barack Obama, is unlike any that an Israeli leader has faced before.

Certainly he shares Washington's traditional concerns for Israel's security. But his election victory marked a defeat for the neo-conservative Right and the Christian fundamentalists, the ideological camps that have provided the backbone of uncritical support for Israel over recent years.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Marrying young

In light of my unfortunate obsession with marriage, I found Mark Regnerus' recent Washington Post article very interesting. Especially this:
I realize that marrying early means that you engage in a shorter search. In the age of online dating personality algorithms and matches, Americans have become well acquainted with the cultural (and commercial) notion that melding marriage with science will somehow assure a good fit. But what really matters for making marriage happen and then making it good are not matches, but mentalities: such things as persistent and honest communication, conflict-resolution skills, the ability to handle the cyclical nature of so much of marriage, and a bedrock commitment to the very unity of the thing. I've met 18-year-olds who can handle it and 45-year-olds who can't.
I've long felt that the Match.coms of the world, with their pseudo-scientific personality tests, are dealing in old-fashioned bunk. Glad to see someone call them out on that.

More thoughts on "We Live In Public"

In the "About" section of her film's Web site, director Ondi Timoner makes the following observation:
[T]he virtual world is subsuming the physical world and determining how we spend our time and form and maintain our relationships more and more...
When I was in high school, I "met" someone via AOL chat. Her name was Sasha Pasulka, though at the time I knew her only as "patpv," her AOL handle. She was a few years younger than me -- I was 16 or 17 -- but she knew a lot more about certain things than I did (dating, for example). We also talked a lot about Tori Amos, the mutual interest that had brought us together in the first place. (She'd searched all AOL profiles for "Tori Amos," picked me pretty much at random, and started an instant-message conversation.) We often e-mailed each other, trying to decode Tori lyrics or just discussing details of our lives. I eventually contributed poetry to her literary blog, The Sweetest Cherry, and we stayed close -- as close as online pen pals can be -- until I graduated from high school. I rediscovered her via Friendster (I think) around 2004, and we e-mailed back and forth a few times before drifting apart again. Finally, last year, I found out through MySpace that she'd moved to Seattle, and I convinced her to meet me for brunch.

Originally, when we were IM and e-mail friends, Sasha didn't want to talk on the phone, but eventually she sent me a picture of herself with her prom date, so I knew what she looked like. (This was before Facebook and Flickr -- i.e., before displaying personal photos online was a ubiquitous practice.) When we met for brunch, I found her as smart and funny as I'd imagined she'd be, but I wasn't sure we'd end up being fast friends in the non-virtual world. She'd moved recently from L.A. and was just getting used to the Northwest's slower-paced, less glamorous lifestyle; I lived at the Kibbutz and had about five different outfits total. Still, Sasha came to both of my birthday parties -- the small karaoke night and the huge house party -- and proved herself to be a hell of a lot of fun, and very down to earth. I've also become a fan of Sasha's blogs (The Evil Beet, Zelda Lily, and Sasha is a Monster) and feel lucky to have witnessed the birth of her blogging career, which has become more successful than even she imagined it would.

I recount this story because I always thought of my relationship with Sasha, long before we met in person, as a "real" friendship. I really cared about her, was interested in her life, and enjoyed her company, even if it was virtual, and even if I'd never heard the sound of her voice. Sasha and I managed to break through the coldness of the technology and really connect. What I didn't write about yesterday while considering We Live In Public is that while Timoner seems concerned about the societal effects of the Internet and our culture of personal overexposure, Josh Harris isn't quite so down on the whole situation. He certainly learned a painful lesson from living in public with his girlfriend, but both in the film and during the Q&A he seemed to view our collective decision to live in public -- via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and many other platforms -- as more of an inevitability than a tragedy.

After all, technology is destiny. One of the things I like about Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television is that he rejects the common assumption that a given technology is neutral, that it's what we do with it that matters. Mander sees TV as something that was bound to have particular effects on society, and I think the Internet is similar. It's interactive, it allows for almost infinite exhibitionism, it's (mostly) free, and the laws governing its content are very few. The "Wild West" atmosphere that characterized the dot-com boom has changed form but remains intact. No other medium could contain "Two Girls, One Cup" and a video depicting U.S. soldiers in Iraq throwing a puppy off a cliff. There's no Interpol keeping "inappropriate" things from leading endless lives online, and nothing prevents any private citizen from becoming tremendously, intractably public. An article a while back called "Prisoners of YouTube" described the lives of people who found themselves immortalized on the video site. In most cases, they were embarrassed; some of them, like the "Numa Numa" guy, tried to capitalize on their unexpected online fame.

I've come a long way since my first experience with Web-based friendship. I have a blog, I check Facebook each day like a good little addict, I update my Twitter status, and I've posted video of myself, my friends, and my mother's dogs on YouTube. In Timoner's movie, when Harris steps away from the Web, he does it big time, first buying an apple farm and later moving to a small town in Africa. I think there's a lesson in that: The man who loves technology also needs, on occasion, to leave it far behind.

Several months ago, I gave up Facebook for a week as part of an exercise my Buddhist meditation group was doing. I missed it, but it was also kind of nice; interestingly, I felt the need to post a message before going on my hiatus so that my many Facebook friends wouldn't feel neglected if they tried to contact me and didn't hear back. These days, I hungrily check my profile for messages, notifications, event invitations, and -- best of all -- friend invitations. That hunger, that urgency, is part of what Harris and Timoner know all about: our desire to measure our popularity, and maybe even our worth, using online metrics like page hits or unique users.

Facebook has so cleverly incorporated features of other applications -- Flickr, Twitter, e-mail, Evite, and on and on -- that it does seem at times that my life itself is on Facebook, as much as it's anywhere. In Buddhist terms, it's a convincing projection of a false self, the ego made manifest in a medium that plays tricks on the mind. We Live In Public made me self-conscious about using Facebook and Twitter, not because I'm sharing too much of myself on the Web but simply because I'm living online too much. I'm glad to have a blog, a place where I can write informally on a regular basis, but it might be good to take stock, one of these weeks, of how much time I'm spending at the computer each day. It's all about balance, and I'd rather find a way to make my days healthier than have a total meltdown and find myself harvesting apples and riding around on a tractor. Though, actually, the second part doesn't sound too bad.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

SIFF Report #2: "We Live In Public" and "Moon"

Ondi Timoner's new documentary and Duncan Jones' haunting sci-fi movie both feature men isolated from normal life by technology. The former film spotlights a man who predicts the future with remarkable accuracy; the latter is about a man who's already living it.

Josh Harris (pictured above), the subject of We Live In Public, was raised by television. The youngest child in a large family, he spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the TV set, often watching Gilligan's Island. This was partly because his mother told him to fend for himself if he asked when dinner would be ready -- she was usually too busy drinking martinis to notice the time -- and partly, I suspect, because Harris was born weird, or became weird so quickly that he might as well have come out that way. He was also born extremely smart, and his story resembles many others of the dot-com boom. He plugged into the potential of the Internet when it was in its earlier stages, and eventually he created, a proto-YouTube that featured original, Web-only programming on subjects ranging from hip-hop to Hollywood.

He quickly amassed a fortune and spent it in highly creative ways; his parties were happenings on a Warholian scale, so it's no surprise that he soon became known as "the Warhol of the Web." While Pseudo was at its peak, he also took on a strange alter ego named Luvvy, a disturbingly fervent clown. The character, from the little we see of it, seems to be an id-powered channeling of Josh's intense desire to love and be loved. The sad part is that he never really learned how, so his disguised plea for affection came off as more than a little deranged. Eventually, he stepped down from the helm of Pseudo and embarked on a mission that would make him even more infamous in New York: a social experiment-cum-art project called "Quiet: We Live In Public."

Timoner took part in that project, which involved sealing dozens of New York art-scene denizens into an underground bunker for one month, just before the turn of the millennium. A cross between a protracted techno-rave and the Stanford prison experiment, "Quiet" included a gun range, an interrogation room (where an "interrogation artist" routinely brought people to tears), and cameras everywhere: the bathrooms, the showers, the bed "pods" -- really, everywhere. Though the citizens of "Quiet" emerged physically unscathed, they witnessed some frightening behavior before the NYPD broke up Harris' experiment, suspecting it -- understandably -- of being a millennial cult. What Harris did next is the part of his life, and Timoner's film, that really stayed with me.

Following "Quiet," the eccentric dot-com mogul found love in the form of Tanya Corrin, who had worked as a program host at The couple decided to move in together, but Harris had a very special request: He wanted his new girlfriend to join him in an experiment he would simply call "We Live In Public." In essence, it would be a more personal iteration of "Quiet," a multi-month project in which he and Corrin would live together in an apartment monitored by motion-sensitive surveillance cameras. Everything the cameras captured would go, in real time, to a specially designed Web site. Trusting his vision and her heart, I suppose, Corrin agreed to this setup, and "cultural history" -- as Harris liked to put it -- was about to be made.

What ensued was the most titillating, agonizing kind of reality television, albeit on the Internet. Visitors to got to see Harris and Tanya have sex, fight, and eventually break up. Throughout it all, commenters gave their opinions on everything. The site's fans were so devoted, and so eagled-eyed, that at one point in the experiment, before things go sour, Corrin playfully looks at a camera and asks viewers whether they've seen her wallet. It's a startling moment, underscoring the way in which she and Harris let people into every corner of their home, and every inch of their life together.

It's no coincidence that this part of the film is the most compelling. "Quiet" was a daring, wacky thing to try, but "We Live In Public" serves up the more interesting insights into human relations, and also the more lurid ones. It's one thing to watch a man and a woman take a shower together in front of a dozen amused bunker-dwellers; it's quite another to watch a basically decent man turn into a quasi-abuser, as we watch Harris do, and then to see his girlfriend leave the room in tears, heartbroken. God help us all, it's real human drama, and it's virtually irresistible.

Through a combination of luck and persistence, Timoner gets to follow Harris' story nearly to the present day, and the turns it takes between the end of "We Live In Public" and his arrival in Africa are just as terrifically surprising as everything prior. We Live In Public, the film, starts off screamingly fast, zooming through the birth of the Internet and the development of Harris' career through the Pseudo years. When it slows down for the millennial bunker project, and for his and Corrin's doomed cohabitation, the movie trades speed for power and really starts going somewhere. Timoner begins with a doltishly obvious title card ("This is the story of the greatest Internet pioneer you've never heard of") and a silly visual gimmick (a computer cursor "types" what we read) and then burrows her way to the heart of the story.

The film impressed me more as it went along, and by the end it had shown me things that would stay with me for days. Harris is, in Timoner's opinion, a "walking cautionary tale" about what happens when you allow the media to raise your children. (Hint, hint to parents of Web-savvy toddlers: Don't let this happen to your kid!) But in my view, it's even more painful as an illustration of what happens when someone deeply unprepared for love doesn't know what to do with it. Corrin plays along as much as reasonably possible when Harris decides to broadcast their home life to the masses, but a girl can only take so much. (At one point, when he begs for sex, she responds: "I don't want to be your porn star.") Interviewed years later about the relationship, Harris claims that Corrin wasn't a real girlfriend -- he was essentially trying to cast a role in the reality show that was his life, and she fit the part perfectly. Asked about this statement, she dismisses it, explaining that people convince themselves of such things to protect their hearts. She has moved on to marriage and children; he, for better or worse, seems truly incapable of a "normal" life.

Yet he moves proudly forward, as his appearance following the screening proved. After the official Q&A, audience members crowded around Harris, presumably to pick his brain about the Internet's Next Big Thing. If Harris did, as Timoner suggests, predict our current Facebook culture with astounding accuracy, then he undoubtedly gave the assembled inquirers something good to chew on. (He's the one, after all, who updated Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" idea, asserting that in the 21st century, we all want 15 minutes per day.) I decided to leave the Egyptian and walk out into the beautiful, non-virtual spring sun.

The sun also happens to be a major player in Moon, British director Duncan Jones' film about a man named Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), whose job it is to help a large company harvest solar energy on the lunar surface and turn it into power for the denizens of Earth. The premise resembles that of Danny Boyle's memorable Sunshine: it's a stretch, but it doesn't beggar belief. When we meet him, Sam is nearly done with a three-year assignment that's begun to seem interminable. After all, his pretty wife and young daughter are back home, waiting for his return, and he's going a little bonkers up in the lunar station, despite the loyal companionship of a HAL-like computer named Gerty (voiced perfectly by Kevin Spacey).

The plot includes a number of twists, and to Jones' credit (he came up with the story), few of them are predictable. The computer isn't what I expected it to be, nor is Sam. The result is a thinky science-fiction flick that doesn't get bogged down in its ideas, such as they are, but also refuses to sacrifice thought and plot for knuckleheaded action sequences, of which there are precisely none. Moon is a small film, but it has transcendent touches. Clint Mansell's eerie, evocative score might be the best thing in the movie; it communicates the story's emotional pitch as well as any of the dialogue, and it even gives Rockwell's bravura acting a run for its money.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

SIFF Report #1: "The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle" and "Paper Heart"

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle is a movie about work and, secondarily, about corporate malfeasance. Its oddball corps of janitors, pictured above -- sweet, dimwitted Methyl (Tygh Runyan), puckish O.C. (Vince Vieluf), former data-entry slave Dory (Marshall Allman), goth goddess Ethyl (Tania Raymonde), and their boss, cross-dressing Gulf War vet Weird William (Richard Lefebvre) -- have adventures, affairs, and clashes with each other, and everyone learns a life lesson or two along the way. One thing all the characters learn is not to eat too many cookies.

Indie darling Natasha Lyonne plays Tracy, who works for a company called Corsica whose hot new product is a cookie that heats up in your mouth when it interacts with your saliva (for that home-baked feeling). The substance that brings about this miraculous chemical reaction still needs to be tested on humans, so Tracy begins leaving batches of the individually wrapped cookies out for the night crew, our trusty team of janitors, to nosh on while they work, have sex on conference tables, and so on. Unfortunately, the cookies turn out not only to be addictive but also to cause a reaction in certain people that's a lot more dramatic than their makers intended.

Seattle-based writer-director David Russo plays what could have been horror-movie material for laughs in this fanciful, scrappy, satiric work that recalls the nutty, sharp-toothed humor of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. I'd already seen one of Russo's short films at Bumbershoot; it was an arty stop-motion thing that somehow seemed to move in three dimensions -- across the length of the screen, but also towards and away from the viewer.

Dizzle shows that Russo can concoct a ragtag band of characters and a pretty compelling plot without losing the aesthetic he established in that short. The feature includes several cookie-induced hallucination sequences that could stand alone as exercises in inventive cinematic style, but they also fit nicely into the larger film's loopy vision. (The gorgeous opening credit sequence, which follows a message in a bottle through various seasons and seas, is a perfect example.) Shot in Seattle, Dizzle has a pleasingly anarchic spirit and a lot of energy, and considering that its budget must have been pretty low, it looks great. Much like Kaufman's Being John Malkovich, Russo's film immerses us in a world that looks a lot like our own but has surprising new rules, and by the end I was a little sad to leave it.

Paper Heart, the quirky romantic comedy I'd been anticipating pretty eagerly, is an endearing, low-key semi-mockumentary about a geeky comedian/musician, Charlyne Yi, who doesn't believe in true love. She clearly believes in the kind of love that sustains a friendship, since she has a best friend, and she seems to get along well with her family, so that sort of love makes sense to her, too. It's just the falling-in-love variety she has doubts about. After conferring with a number of comedian friends more famous than she is (Seth Rogen, Adventureland's Martin Starr, and Demetri Martin, among others), she and director Nicholas Jasenovec (played in the film, apparently, by Jake M. Johnson) set out on a cross-country road trip to interview regular folks about love.

What ensues is a series of chats with happy couples, possibly not-so-happy couples, Elvis impersonators, romance novelists, and kids on a playground. Charlyne often asks couples how they met, or how they knew their love was true, and their responses resemble the "interviews" sprinkled throughout When Harry Met Sally..., a canonical work in the romcom genre. Along the way, Charlyne becomes friendly with Michael Cera, star of Juno and Superbad, and Nicholas raises the inevitable question: Is Charlyne finally head over heels?

The film succeeds because of its overarching sweetness, and because of Yi, who has pretty much got to be every nerdy boy's dream girl. She's smart, opinionated, fun, odd, and complicated, and she's also pretty in a very real way. As Louis Menand once wrote in The New Yorker, there are three kinds of love stories: the kind where you, the viewer, fall in love with both lovers; the kind where only one of them wins your heart; and the kind where you don't really care all too much about either of them. Though Michael Cera fans will enjoy his usual stumbling, sensitive-boy mannerisms, Yi is the real find here, and her lightly sardonic toughness and rare moments of vulnerability play beautifully against the intentionally gimmicky premise.

What I especially like about the movie is that it presents a heterosexual man who doesn't have conventional masculine tendencies and a straight woman who's both strong and feminine, and there's no direct commentary about the shift in traditional gender roles. It's very 21st century: Geeks are chic now, and geek love has the transcendent power to mostly avoid fossilized ideas about what a man and a woman should be like in relationship. On a similar note, the romance novelist Charlyne interviews uses the term "H.E.A." to refer to her genre's stock ending. (It stands for "happily ever after.") Without driving the point home too obviously, Heart reveals how naive that old saw is without denying that the right partner can make your life more complete. And that's always nice to see.

In their natural habitat

A few days ago, Juli at Teapots and Polkadots posted some of the better pug pictures I've seen in a while.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Heard today on KEXP


Zelda Lily reports on a fierce new anti-rape device that can't help but bring to mind a certain movie.

Apple's giant leap backward

I love InformationWeek blogger Michael Hickins' post about Apple's weird prudishness. I particularly like the passage Hickins quotes from U.S. District Judge John Woolsley's 1933 decision to allow Ulysses into the U.S.:
The words which are criticized as dirty are old Saxon words known to almost all men and, I venture, to many women, and are such words as would be naturally and habitually used, I believe, by the types of folk whose life, physical and mental, Joyce is seeking to describe... Whether or not one enjoys such a technique as Joyce uses is a matter of taste on which disagreement or argument is futile, but to subject that technique to the standards of some other technique seems to me to be little short of absurd.

Inside Cheney's Brain

Wondering why Dick has been such a dick lately? CBS's Andrew Cohen thinks he's figured it out. Joel and I were discussing this just the other day. I see Cheney as a man with nothing to lose, politically speaking, who figures he might as well see how much mileage he can still get out of fear-mongering, like the kind he and Dubya used after 9/11. Cohen seems to see it my way; Joel questions Cheney's strategic smarts. Obama does seem to be handling the attacks with characteristic aplomb, though I was disappointed by his backslide on military tribunals. (That actually bothered me more than his supposed flip-flop on the torture images, which might simply reflect a man who can change his mind instead of stubbornly sticking to his guns, reflection be damned. Unlike, say, our previous president.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pepsi strikes back

Tiny dogs provide the best product placement. The wee chihuahua who loves Coke finds a worthy adversary in a Yorkie who's all about Pepsi:

Will this madness ever end? Tip o' the hat to Sheri Quirt, who sends me these images from's classifieds section.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Note to owners of baby chihuahuas

Please do not caffeinate your dog until he or she is old enough to understand the ramifications of stimulant use. Thank you.

Oh, and cat owners? Kittens aren't toys.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Birthright article

Not my best work, but maybe still worth your time. My next piece, about Jewish porn, ought to be a little stronger.

On relationships

When I was a kindergartner at University Liggett School, I developed a crush on a blonde girl named Caroline, or maybe Carolyn. Ever since that fateful year, I've pretty much always had at least one active crush. I remember liking a girl named Elke in third grade in Germany; by middle school I was smitten with my classmates Rebecca and Diana, after which high school brought perhaps the most epic of all my crushes, which turned into unrequited love and lasted five whole years. I dated a few women during sophomore year of college and then fell in love midway through my junior year. We dated until December of 2001; the next month, I was on a plane to Seattle. From that point forward, until very recently, I've either been dating someone or wanting desperately to be dating someone. Crushing requires a lot of mental energy, as I noted in a Weekly column several years ago.

Right now, as I tackle a number of challenges at once -- Kibbutz stuff, working, preparing to start another writing workshop, getting the grad-school application process rolling, improving my financial skills, trying to make exercise a part of my life again, attempting to have a social life outside the Kibbutz, and a few other personal projects -- I just don't think I have room for a serious relationship. I've been mentioning this to people because it seems worth mentioning. When people are waist- or even neck-deep in work that's meaningful, even if not too much of it is paid, they're pretty much forced to take their minds off finding true love, and thus they become more likely recipients of its serendipitous blessings. They also seem more interesting to would-be significant others. It's a paradox -- the less you need or even desire a mate, the more likely it is that you're ready for one. I'd like to take the rest of 2009 off when it comes to looking for a girlfriend and resume the search next year.

If I think of finding love as a project, not unlike the other ones I'm working on, I'm likely to be more sensible and systematic about it -- and, ultimately, more successful. And if I put it at the end of my queue for this year, I can focus my energies on other things that will only make me more appealing when it's time to shift back to search mode. Now that spring has sprung and couples walk hand in hand through the parks, I can't pretend it's always easy not to pursue the next big relationship, but I can take some comfort in the knowledge that things will go better for me if I de-emphasize romance this year and start anew in 2010.

After all, it -- romance -- isn't going anywhere. It'll still be around next year. And right now, as I've also told friends, my relationship with the Kibbutz is my primary one. The way some people are, for a while, wedded to their work, I'm married to my desire to make our growing community strong and vital. It may not be paying work, but it's plenty rewarding, as any good relationship should be.

Poster boy

I finally took advantage of Paste's clever post-election site. Better late than never!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Summer of love

The romantic comedy needs an overhaul. Not unlike the horror genre, which many would consider its polar opposite, the romcom has a bad reputation, and unfortunately it's often justified. There are some good horror movies, but many of them are awful, relying as they do on gimmickry, gore, and extremely tired formulas. Similarly, romantic comedies frequently err on the side of color-by-numbers plotting and character development that hold few surprises for the viewer. And since that's precisely the opposite of what love is actually like, it's easy to get cynical. The last cardboard Hollywood romcom I saw, He's Just Not That Into You, combined a lifeless, unintelligent script with meager direction and underwhelming performances from stars who should know better. Movies like this are why people love to hate romantic comedy, dismissing it as a frothy genre stuffed with untruths, the big-screen equivalent of the Harlequin novel.

The Stranger once declared Annie Hall the best romcom ever, and it's hard to disagree. Woody Allen's masterpiece captures the awkwardness and serendipity of dating (in the famous first-kiss sequence, for example), the hope that love inspires, and the way two people can grow apart slowly but surely -- and how hard it can be to let go of the other person, even when you know, in your heart and in your head, that you should. Annie Hall is funny and insightful, yet for all its intelligence it maintains a breezy tone. It's tremendously well structured; every corner of the film, every scene, every moment, is packed with signifiers and color and throwaway jokes and sharp observations. Yet despite its density, it's always a joy to watch, never a slog. It's the kind of movie I can't see too many times, the kind I have to watch until the end if I happen to find that it's on. It doesn't pretend that love is a simple undertaking, but it also captures love's simple pleasures, which are many if you're open to them. For anyone who's been in love and hopes to be again, Annie Hall is a touchstone and a virtual bible of relationship wisdom. With that film as the gold standard, many newer ones understandably -- but still regrettably -- fall short.

Enter 500 Days of Summer, one of the movies I'm most eagerly anticipating at SIFF this year. When I taught an Experimental College class at Oberlin on contemporary (post-Annie Hall) romantic comedies, I sought to include films that didn't conform too much to genre tropes. When Harry Met Sally..., that immortal statement about male-female friendship, was one movie I chose; High Fidelity, about how relationships shape and reveal us, was another. I titled the class "Chasing Love," which I hoped would contain both a whiff of Shakespeare's "What fools these mortals be!" perspective (the Bard, after all, is the source of many romcom tropes) and an intimation of the timeless emotional slapstick to be found in our pursuit of romance.

What Summer promises is a tale of unrequited love. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt falls for Zooey Deschanel (and who wouldn't?), but she doesn't fall quite so hard for him. Hard enough, it seems, to date him for the titular 500 days, but not so hard that she won't cut him loose after that. Gordon-Leavitt is an actor who's played both jaded rebels (Mysterious Skin) and downy innocents (The Lookout), and judging from the trailer he'll be working on the latter end of the spectrum this time around. Deschanel has played jaded to another actor's innocence (Elf and Almost Famous), but this role will require more nuance, and I'm sure she's up to the challenge.

What makes me optimistic about the movie is that it seems intent on doing what one of my favorite books, Blankets, does so beautifully: reminding us that love, real love, is heartbreaking whether or not it lasts, and regardless of whether it's requited. (The movie's lovely tagline offers a clue: "This is not a love story, it's a story about love.") Whether it's easier to be the adored or the adorer is an open question, but to open yourself so wide emotionally is always a trial. Of course, it's a trial that's good for us, but how many times will we submit to it before we turn away forever?

Charlyne Yi, the heroine of Paper Heart (which also stars Michael Cera, and is also at SIFF), thinks she's done with love. The film's mock-documentary approach was hard for me to grasp at first, based only on the trailer; I thought it was a fictionalization of a real relationship between Yi and Cera. In any case, Yi might well stand in for the cynical viewer who's ready to snipe at the first false note in a romcom. Justin Long giving a last-minute speech on Ginnifer Goodwin's doorstep, confessing his true love? Yeah, whatever. Paper Heart seems to be saying that even if we give up on chasing love, there's nothing stopping love from coming after us when we least expect it.

Finally, Adam (at SIFF as well) reveals the personality quirks that populate ordinary romcoms (Sally's habit of ordering everything on the side in When Harry Met Sally..., for example) to be molehills compared to the mountainous task of loving someone with bigger challenges. The film's title character has Asperger's, and the trailer suggests that his condition gets the kind of treatment -- sympathetic, but not sugarcoated -- that 500 Days and Paper Heart try to give romance in general. I've not yet seen any of these films, but I have reason to believe that they could help revitalize one of my favorite genres. Here's hoping.

News feed

True, Mustardgate was silly, but it's cool to find out that Dijon is actually a condiment of the people, not a predilection of stuffy men in long, expensive cars.

Over at, Glenn Greenwald's take on the Roxana Saberi affair is pretty eye-opening, and Sarah Hepola's bit on Dell's new "Della" site is equal parts funny and horrifying. I also like Joan Walsh's piece on Wanda Sykes' ridiculously controversial White House Correspondents' Dinner routine. I'm pretty late in getting to Salon, but better late than never.

The Kibbutz on Wikipedia

I've written a brief article about everyone's favorite intentional community. If you're a Wikipedian, or aspire to be one, feel free to improve/expand as desired. I'm proud of myself for getting better at article writing. Now it's time to go back and improve the other ones I've created...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Comment of the week

In response to my recent post about my new glasses, Jen Katz -- Oberlin alum and blogger -- told the following true-life story:
My trusty six year old glasses - from Group Health on 15th Ave. East, no less! - tragically snapped in half on Tuesday, due to a slip on a slick sidewalk en route to school, so I, too, am having that weird eye-feel of adjusting to new glasses. It seems like it really shouldn't be *that* different; after all, they're just glasses. But those glasses have been an integral (though subtle) part of my senses, all day, every day, to the point where I am are literally lost without them. I actually miss those plastic tortoise shell frames! (But I'm moving on with my snazzy blue and yellow enameled wire rims.)

(BTdubs: Hi!)
(BTdubs2: I actually had to nerdtastically tape the bridge of the old glasses with masking tape and walk around like that for the better part of the week. AWESOME.)

Mumblecore meets hardcore

God, I loved writing that post title.

Anyway, Humpday looks fun. It's great to see movies big (I Love You, Man) and small (the aforementioned) giving male heteronormativity a well-deserved noogie. Reed says it's at SIFF, so I'd better get my ticket soon, since it's local and all.

Julie & Julia seems promising, too, and not just because it reunites Streep and Tucci post-Prada. It's also got wonderful, wonderful Chris Messina and my #2 movie-star crush, Amy Adams. Chick flick of the year? Likely. (P.S. When somebody wants to turn Red Blue Green into a movie, can we get Chris Messina to play me?)

And you know what? Even the new Woody looks all right.

One last note: The Grand Illusion is currently playing Plague Town, whose trailer is pretty disturbing. I may be moving tentatively toward horror, but I don't think I'm quite ready for something this fierce. I may experiment with a horror flick or two during SIFF, but we'll just have to see.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

On visual media

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV. In fact, one of the only fights I remember my parents having was about whether or not to reduce my television time. (There was also the occasional discussion of how much I played video games.) I was so enamored of TV that I created illustrated stories based on the Lassie series and taped myself reading them so that people could read along with the recording. (I had a number of books that worked that way; that is, they came with tapes you could listen to as you followed along in the text.) I also imagined myself as the hero of not one but two television programs. The first, called N.E.S. (my initials, and also those of the Nintendo Entertainment System, by sheer coincidence), was an action show modeled after The A-Team. Neal, on the other hand, was a drama in the My So-Called Life vein, even though I wasn't yet a teenager when I cooked it up in my media-addled little brain.

I mention all of this because a girlfriend once told me I wanted life to be like a movie -- swelling music, perfect edits, happy ending -- and life just isn't that way. She was frustrated, and I got defensive, and that was that. In the years since then, I've realized she's right, to an extent. All the romantic comedies I've watched -- and there have been many -- probably have reinforced my desire for, and belief in, True Love in true Hollywood style. (That's why I'm excited about the upcoming flurry of romcoms that seek to reboot the genre, inasmuch as they try to make a more realistic, less "happily ever after" presentation of romance palatable to audiences. Good luck, plucky, offbeat little movies!) Anyway, even now, I find myself feeling cooler when a song I love comes on the radio while I'm driving, but specifically cooler in the way movies are cooler than life -- the right song in the right moment makes that moment feel a bit more scripted than most, a bit more audience-friendly, as it were. Except of course that there is no audience.

When I read Jerry Mander's Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, it was a revelation, because it presented not a shrill battle cry against TV (like the "Kill Your Television" bumper sticker) but a calm yet passionate thesis: technology takes us further from nature, and TV is perhaps the most insidious case of this phenomenon. I still remember the part of the book where Mander reminds us that cars distort our idea of distance, whereas walking gives us an authentic sense of what a mile actually means. (Or five, or ten.) This could be why people who walk to work feel a greater unity of experience, and why runners are not just healthier physically by also psychologically. Getting into a weird little room on wheels and zooming around at dozens of miles per hour seems perfectly normal to most of us, but Mander seeks to make it strange by pointing out how different it is from the transportation that characterized most of human history. I try to be choosy about the movies and TV shows I watch, not because I think visual media are evil (I find bumper-sticker logic unimpressive) but because there's so much I want to do more of -- exercise, creative writing, managing my finances, working towards grad school -- that I want to make sure my time in front of a screen is well spent.

As I begin to pick out SIFF films, and as I get more and more DVDs from the library, I think about the time in high school when I was on an Objectivist kick (The Fountainhead hit me like a ton of bricks) and decided to eschew TV and movies for a while. I remember sitting in the study, working on a paper for school, and hearing the sound of the television in the living room, where my parents were watching some prime-time drama. I crept out, opened the hall door a crack, and peeked through, watching a little of what they were seeing. It was hard, in short, to resist the temptation, but I tried to stay strong. When I think about Mander's book, I'm grateful to him for reminding me to examine my default settings, because they may or may not be what's best for me.

My default in the past was to absorb a lot of television and film without worrying much about it. Now I realize that my long-postponed goal of making creative writing a regular part of my day-to-day life means pushing myself to produce narrative instead of just absorbing it. I want to both enjoy and study stories, written and filmed, but I think it's important for my self-esteem and long-term sanity to make sure I'm being an active creator as well as a (more) passive absorber. In the end, that's what Mander is trying to say: watching Into the Wild and going on a hike are radically different experiences, and if you're going to do the former, you might consider giving the latter a try, too.

Windows on the world

Yesterday, my first full day wearing my new glasses, was a little odd. After all, I've had the previous frames for so long that I don't remember when I got them. The new pair has virtually the same prescription, but the frame is quite different, and I think there's no question that it both fits my face better and is more stylish. Considering that the new glasses have a different "face feel" and different dimensions than the old ones (which means it's a little harder to ignore the frames, which still appear in my peripheral vision), I'm doing pretty well. I was able to power through my usual OCD-ish tendencies ("These feel weird; I don't like them; I can't go through an entire day wearing them") and have started to really get used to my new specs.

When I first picked them up, I thought maybe they had been a waste of money, a silly luxury. But glasses are one of the first things people notice about you when they meet you, and it's nice to be more confident about how mine look. It's true, too, that when you have a pair for as long as I've had the previous one, they come to represent your idea of vision -- they really are like little windows on the world, and if you don't change them up, say, once a decade, a new pair can seem like an intruder. I look forward to the day when I don't think about my new glasses at all, and I think it's coming soon.

Long live the SIFFter!

The Seattle International Film Festival's new filtering application, which seems inspired by several popular Facebook apps, is truly excellent. It's one of those happy meetings of functionality and concept that don't come along often enough. (See also: the late, lamented Scrabulous.) Kudos, SIFF!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thank you, Interwebs!

Recently, Childhaven received six pounds of fortune cookies as a gift. After consuming several of them (several cookies, not several pounds) and discovering a fortune that seemed like a thinly veiled insult ("You will be admired for your internal beauty" -- no mention whatsoever of external beauty), I wondered whether there might be a blog devoted to less-than-desirable fortunes. And true to its M.O., the World Wide Web came through -- big time. I don't remember the last time I laughed until I cried (which is, in itself, kind of sad), but I certainly did today. Cookie Curator, I owe you one. Thanks for brightening my day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

We are the news

I discovered today that Ravenna has a neighborhood blog, and that our very own Kibbutz is the day's top story. We'd better enjoy our 15 minutes while they're happening. (On a related note, I hope to make a Wikipedia article about the Kibbutz sometime soon.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Mikvah porn

I wrote about The Secrets, the Sapphic melodrama that concluded this year's Jewish Film Festival, for's blog. I'll never look at ceremonial bodies of water the same way again.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

And the offbeat romcoms keep on coming

This summer promises to be a season of off-the-beaten-path romantic comedies, which suits me fine. Adam features the wonderful Rose Byrne and adds Asperger's to the mix.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Notes from NICA

Today I attended the Annual Meeting of the Northwest Intentional Communities Association, also known as NICA. It took place at Songaia, a beautiful co-housing community I visited for the first time in 2007, when I participated in their yearly Maypole festival. Two years ago, I marveled at the acres of gorgeous woods the community owned, and the way each family knew all the others. At one point during the celebration, a small child moved dangerously close to a dancer's kicking foot, and an adult not the child's parent scooped him up and carried him to safety. People at Songaia don't have to ask permission to lend a hand with each other's children, because an atmosphere of informal co-parenting is the cultural norm there. I also remember how good the food was that day -- always an important criterion for me when it comes to intentional communities -- and how I was less uncomfortable than I would have expected with Songaia's somewhat woo-woo ceremonies, which often include singing and communal appreciation of the planet's bounty.

I arrived toward the end of lunchtime, bringing two pounds of Whole Foods corn salad with me (non-gluten, non-dairy, non-animal), and I had a quick meal of nettle soup, potato salad, and quinoa tabouli before settling in for an icebreaker called Interplay. We did a number of fun movement exercises, including a "hand dance" in which two people move their hands in relation to each other, sometimes echoing and sometimes trying to complement the waves and dips and twirls. Then we listened to a panel of people who live in intentional communities -- mostly co-housing folks, as it happened -- talk about the emotional trials of their experience as ICers. (The theme of the meeting was "Intimate Journeys," which sounds like a brand of sex-instruction videos but actually referred to the highs and lows that living in community can bring.) The panel was followed by a "fishbowl" session wherein other meeting members could ask questions of the panelists in view of everyone; then we broke into small groups and had wonderful conversations about various aspects of IC, including how to resolve personality conflicts and how to live in community as a couple.

Finally, there were announcements from Songaia and other represented communities (I missed a chance to invite everyone to Shabbat dinner, sadly), and we did a "closing circle" that involved singing "America the Beautiful" (with revised, PC lyrics -- e.g., "humanhood" for "brotherhood") and listening to a lovely poem read by Nancy, one of the Songaians leading the event. At the very end, we took a brief tour of the community, which I remembered pretty well from my previous visit. All in all, a day well spent. I gleaned some good ideas about how to enhance the Kibbutz community, including a "Wall o' Wonder" (see the picture above) charting each resident-organizer's key achievements and experiences, and learned about other growing communities, like Maple Leaf's Mustard Seed House, a small Christian IC that I hope to visit soon.