Paul left yesterday to visit his mom for a week, and already the Lost Apartment seems deserted. It's amazing how empty the place seems when he goes away; and for the record, when he's just out of the house it's not the same. Weird, isn't it? Scooter was totally needy the minute I walked in the door--like he somehow knew--and was cuddled with me all night long. it was completely adorable, but I always wonder how he knows--just like he knew last Friday morning, even before we got the carrier out, that it was go to the vet day and he hid under the bed. So, when I got home from work last night, I decided to not get sucked into the Internet and just watch another episode of The Man In The High Castle on the iPad before getting back to work on the book. As soon as I started watching, though, that little icon popped up at the bottom of the screen showing I could actually stream it to the television; for some reason I didn't think that was an option. BIG mistake, of course--had I simply watched it on the iPad I would have probably put it aside shortly thereafter and got on with business. Nope, I fell into a binge-watch hole and the next thing I knew I'd watched three or four episodes in a row. I am loving this show, and I am very eager to start reading the book. I managed to tear myself away for a bit to make dinner--discovering I had bought a fajita kit instead of a taco kit, and there apparently AREN'T the same thing; but hey, they were tasty--and finally around nine thirty I turned the iPad off and went upstairs to read in bed. I was only able to get about a hundred pages in, but Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone is fan-fucking-tastic; one of those books that as a writer, you admire but at the same time makes you want to just give up.
Part of the reason, Constant Reader, that I've been struggling with Garden District Gothic this past week or so was because, in a moment of utter insanity that is so not like my anal-retentive self, I left the office for the Thanksgiving holiday and forgot my flash drive with the manuscript and the outline on it as well as the printouts of both at the office. In a further moment of utter insanity, I decided not to make a special trip down to the office to retrieve it, which would have taken perhaps an hour round trip at most. Lesson fucking learned. Once I got to the office yesterday morning and looked at the outline...well, let's just say the heavens opened, the sun shone down on me, and the angels started singing the Hallelujah Chorus again. Stupid, so stupid. But....rather than beating myself up over this, I also realized that while the stress got to me a bit, I also kind of needed a bit of time away from it so I could come back to the whole thing fresh, and oddly, I am not as stressed as I was before the holiday. I looked at the outline and simply said to myself, oh, of course, yes and now I am confident rather than terrified.
And now, on that note, perhaps I should get back to the spice mines.
So, the regular season came to an end last night with LSU coming back from a one point deficit and beating Texas A&M for the fifth straight time, 19-7.
It was a dramatic night in more ways than one. Rumors have been swirling, in the national media and throughout Louisiana, that Head Coach Les Miles would be coaching his last game for LSU. LSU has now lost to Alabama five straight times, Arkansas two, and to Ole Miss--marking a three game losing skid after starting the season 7-0 and being ranked Number 2 in the college playoff rankings. Yes, it's disappointing to lose to Alabama. It's never easy to lose to Arkansas or Ole Miss. But as I said at the start of the season, there was no telling if LSU was going to be any good this year; some pundits had them finishing just ahead of Mississippi State in the West and struggling to be bowl eligible. None of us knew if LSU would be any good. And then, BAM. 7-0. The last undefeated team standing in the SEC. A win over Florida, who won the Eastern division of the conference. But...as I kept saying after every win, there was that Murderer's Row of a schedule in November, with Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss back to back; Alabama and Ole Miss both on the road; Arkansas never an easy win; and Ole Miss spoiling for revenge for us derailing their title run last year in Baton Rouge. I had said all along this team was young and that LSU would be good next year.
LSU is an elite program with a strong national reputation. But the Tigers haven't won the SEC since 2011, and there have been some truly bitter losses over the last few years. They've also had two sub-par (for LSU) seasons back to back now. There have been issues with the offense along the way; the defense the last two years hasn't been as strong as it usually is. There were weaknesses in the team this year as well; I said early on that a good passing quarterback with a good offensive line would make hay of the defensive secondary. (Hello? Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.) Brandon Harris gets criticized a lot for the weakness of his passing game; but in many instances he can't force the receiver to hold on to the ball--many good passes are dropped. He's not consistent with his throws, but he has also made some amazing plays--in the Florida game, particularly.
I am not a native of either New Orleans or Louisiana. But I have lived here longer than I've lived anywhere; New Orleans and Louisiana are home for me. I grew up as a college football fan; we are from Alabama so I grew up rooting for Auburn and for Alabama when they weren't playing Auburn. I always liked LSU; they were probably my third favorite team to root for in the SEC. I liked the colors; I liked their fight songs and how they spelled out TIGERS after every score; I loved their stadium and I loved that their fans were so loyal and proud, even in defeat. I loved that their student section had cheers for practically everything. I thought the campus was beautiful. I loved that they had a live tiger mascot. I loved their traditions. I loved that when they scored the winning touchdown in the Auburn game in 1988 the crowd jumping up and down registered on the Richter scale. When we moved to New Orleans, my affection for LSU continued to grow, until they passed Alabama in my affections and I rooted for them against everyone but Auburn. The 2003 National Championship team, coached by Nick Saban, was incredibly fun to watch, and after they beat Auburn I was all about them running the table and going to the championship game.
In that dark year of 2005, the year of the storms, my loyalty switched finally from one set of Tigers to the other. I wasn't able to watch games after October; I listened to them on the radio. With New Orleans possibly losing the Saints because of Katrina and the flooding, LSU was the only thing I had to hang my pride on; LSU's campus was a refugee and evacuation center. Les Miles was the new coach, and I didn't know anything about him other than he'd been at Oklahoma State. Every Saturday I listened to the games on the radio and rooted on the boys, hoping they could run the table and make it to the National Championship game again, which was an outside shot after an early season loss to Tennessee. They did make it to the SEC title game, where they lost to Georgia...but then went to a bowl game and blew out Miami.
After that season, both Paul and I were all about LSU. And Coach Miles.
We started going to games in the 2010 season. There have been disappointments along the way, but LSU is rarely boring to watch. I am relatively certain that one day I will have a heart attack during an LSU game. There have been so many great moments over the years, and Coach Miles has never failed to entertain. The 2007 season was amazing. LSU remains the only team to win a national championship in the championship game era to win the national title with two losses; the miracle that got them into that title game on the last day of the season--where five teams had to lose to make it possible, and it HAPPENED--is something I still marvel at to this day. LSU won so many games that year in the last minute, or because of a crazy play; the two losses came in triple overtime. And since then, so many other crazy games. The insane 2010 Tennessee game where we lost, but because Tennessee had too many players on the field we got one more play and won; that same year we blew an early lead to Florida and were down by three in the closing minutes, ran a fake field goal that was reviewed for about five minutes, and then wound up scoring the winning touchdown with seven seconds left on the clock; same year, the crazy reverse against Alabama on fourth down that set up the winning touchdown; the insane 2011 'Game of the Century' in Tuscaloosa we won in overtime 9-6; so many insane wins, over and over again, that could have easily been losses.
We started going to games in 2010, as I said before, and we have never looked back. When we went to that first game, I hadn't been inside a college football stadium in seventeen years--and Paul had never been inside of a major college football stadium before. That first time in Tiger Stadium only cemented our love and our passion for the Tigers, and we've never once looked back. We've never gone to fewer than two games in a season since we beat Ole Miss in the last minute at the first game we attended. I've cheered and screamed until I've been hoarse for days afterward.
And yes I say "we' even though I don't play for the team nor am I on the coaching staff nor I am an alumnus. I say 'we' because they are my team. LSU belongs to all Louisiana, just as the Saints do....and I also say 'we' when the team loses. The losses are always a disappointment. I feel bad for the players, the coaches, and the students. And while I recognize it's just a game, a sport, I also recognize that no matter what anyone wants to say, the players on the team are kids. Yes, they are elite athletes, but they are also all between the ages of 18 to at most 23. This is always brought home to me when I am at a game, and the Tigers score in the home end zone. The ball carrier and several other players always run over to the student section to enjoy the moment, to share it with their fellow students. The first time I was at a game and saw that happening--(on television it always seems like they are doing it to the cameras) it brought it home to very strongly that they are student-athletes, they are kids, dealing with not only a harsh local spotlight but with a national one as well...and they are also going to class, studying, writing papers and taking tests just like the other students.
And I've tempered my criticism of players ever since then.
Coach Miles is always criticized when LSU loses; hell, he gets criticized when LSU wins sometimes. But he is someone who is always fun to watch; always fun to listen to; always entertaining. His relationship with young Sid Ortis, the Alabama kid who was a huge LSU fan and dying from bone cancer this past year...often brought tears to my eyes as I followed the story. Sid died right before the Alabama game this year, and part of my disappointment in the loss was because I was hoping they could win for Sid. Silly, of course, as I don't believe in heaven or the afterlife, but I wanted to believe for that poor, brave kid and his family.
As the rumors swirled over the last few weeks and got even more and more intense in the days leading up to the game, it made me very sad. I felt like people were being deeply ungrateful. I remember--although I was rooting for the Tide and Auburn back then--LSU's many losing seasons, when the program was in the dumpster. I kept asking Paul, "when you fire the winningest coach in school history--who would want to take that job knowing you could get fired for losing three games?"
The fans began to rally behind the embattled coach this week, and that made me feel better. The massive ovations for him before the game, the chanting of his name, the signs...I was glad the people of Louisiana were getting at least this one last chance to say thank you. The first half was terrible; I am not going to lie. LSU couldn't score a touchdown, only kicking two field goals and missing another. A&M scored a touchdown to lead 7-6, but the defense was playing the way LSU defenses played back in the better days.
And then came the second half. An amazing 75 yard kick-off return to start the second half, but yet another missed field goal. But the defense kept rising to the occasion, and even an interception thrown by Brandon Harris was saved by the defense when A&M stalled and missed their own field goal...and on the next drive Derrius Guice matched his kick-off return by breaking a fifty yard run to put the Tigers up 13-7, and that was it. A fourth quarter drive on the ground, with a couple of passes, was classic LSU, ending with the touchdown that put the game out of reach 19-7.
And when the game ended, the team hoisted Coach Miles on their shoulders and carried him over to the student section to sing the Alma Mater.
I was misty-eyed, I won't lie nor will I apologize. I smiled and wiped a few tears away as Coach Miles interrupted his on-field interview to sing the Alma Mater badly and horribly off-key, and was even more surprised that SEC Network didn't cut away from it.
And after the game, when the athletic director took the microphone and said "Les Miles is our football coach, and will continue to be our football coach" I cheered so loudly they could hear me in Baton Rouge.
Is it wrong, or silly, or both, for a fifty-four year old gay man to be so wrapped up in a college football team? Maybe, I don't know. But I know it doesn't matter in the long run if they win or they lose. I know the players are kids, extremely gifted kids, but kids all the same. I know I will be disappointed again, and I know I will be thrilled and excited again.
Tell you what--I won't judge you for what YOU enjoy if you don't judge ME for what I enjoy.
I am beginning to think that the reason I am having so much trouble working on the book this week is because I should be recharging rather than working. So, for today, I've decided to stop putting so much pressure on myself and give myself a day to not stress about it. I will go to the gym and do the hated cardio, then run my errands, and then come home and repair to my easy chair with the folder with everything that's been written so far and a notebook AND my Donna Andrews novel, alternate between them, and make notes on the book while also writing down some of the ideas I've been having lately for FUTURE works--seriously, it never ends around here.
I did make it to the gym yesterday and managed to do 45 minutes on the treadmill, and followed it up with fifteen minutes of stretching. My legs feel tired today, but good tired; not sore. I also was amazed at how tight my muscles were before the stretching; but during the stretching they began to loosen up and I do think I might be able, with regular stretching, to eventually get some, if not all, of my freakish flexibility back. I really want to do some serious stretching of my back, but I need to take that slowly and get back into it gradually; the last thing I need to do is hurt my back again. I also think the stretching--and getting my flexibility back--will help me with my weight loss goals.
We've been watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, which I am enjoying the hell out of--I highly recommend it. It's a great noir-style show about a retired super-hero with PTSD from a terrible experience she had being mind-controlled by another super-human; and the story-telling is really quite amazing. Krysten Ritter in the lead role is also exceptional. I highly recommend it; Jessica Jones is a character from the comics that I'm not familiar with, but it's very adult, very noir, hard-boiled, and very feminist in its point of view. Definitely will write more about it as we watch more.
I also started watching The Man in the High Castle via Amazon Prime on my iPad yesterday while doing cardio; getting lost in the show is part of the reason, I think, I was able to do so much more cardio than usual; rather than thinking about how tired my legs were or whatever, I was caught up in the show and not paying attention. I'd forgotten what a difference a major mental distraction can make while doing cardio; which is why the only way I can pretty much do cardio classes has been to teach them; I was focusing on what I was doing and making sure everyone in the class was following and able to keep up, and encouraging them, rather than how exhausted, sweaty, and tired I was getting.
The first episode of The Man in the High Castle was quite good. Very high production values, the acting pretty good (some hit or miss performances, but everyone was competent and nothing was jarring enough to jolt me out of the story), and the story itself is quite amazing. The show is alternate history; the premise is that the Allies lost World War II because the Germans developed the atom bomb first, and detonated one. Most of the eastern United States is occupied by the Germans; there is a neutral zone along the Rocky Mountains, and the west is the Western Japanese States. For a first episode that had to set all this up, it did a really good job of not over-explaining. There is, of course, a resistance to the regimes; and the show is telling the story not only from the perspective of every-day people getting caught up in the resistance, but also on the highest level: Hitler has Parkinson's disease, and the Japanese fear that whomever succeeds him will want to wage war against the Japanese as an inferior race....and by the end of the first episode, it appears that they are correct.
The show is based on a novel by Philip K. Dick which I have not read; I do own a copy, as well as copies of his novels Udik and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was filmed as Blade Runner (which I have never seen). As I have said before, my TBR pile is enormous; but I am itching to started reading Dick. His fans call themselves Dickheads, which I find amusing; as books tend to be better than the films and/or television series based on them, I am certain that by the time I finish reading one of his books I will also be a Dickhead.
It's also rather inspiring; I have had an idea for quite some time for a trilogy (big shock) that I had actually started writing to try to get an agent with; it's a big concept, and now, in watching the first episode of the show, I realized why I was having trouble with it: I need to map the world out before i can write it from the perspective of the people living that reality.
And now, back to the spice mines.
Wednesday night, on Thanksgiving Eve, I curled up in my easy chair with a book (Donna Andrews' Lord of the Wings) and turned on the television, really just for background noise, and TCM was showing The Prince of Tides; a movie I saw in the theater when it came out and haven't watched since. I loved the movie, just as much as I loved the book; and was curious to see if it actually held up after all this time. It actually does.
The Prince of Tides was an exceptional novel; and Pat Conroy is one of my favorite novelists (The Lords of Discipline is my favorite novel of his, and I desperately need to revisit his entire canon; I've loved all of this books although I didn't care for South of Broad very much). His books speak to me; they resonate and touch my soul because when I read his work I see the culture I was raised in within those pages and within those families he writes about. I can't remember reading another Southern author and thinking, wow, this is so like how Southern families are--the way Southern men show affection through insults and teasing; the way Southern women are so passive-aggressive. In the books, though, the fathers are always awful; Conroy clearly has issues with his own (John Gresham was the guest on TCM who helped introduce the film; he is a friend of Conroy's and has met his family. He said that Conroy's father always says the books are based on the family but are very much fiction.). But the books are also beautifully written, and moving; the characters leap off the page and live and breathe and are very hard to forget once you've made their acquaintance.
Take this opening to The Prince of Tides:
It was five o'clock in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time when the telephone rang in my house on Sullivans Island, South Carolina. My wife, Sallie, and I had just sat down for a drink on on the porch overlooking Charleston Harbor and the Atlantic. Sallie went in to answer the telephone and I shouted, "Whoever it is, I'm not here."
"It's your mother," Sallie said, returning from the phone.
"Tell her I'm dead," I pleaded. "Please tell her I died last week and you've been too busy to call."
"Please speak to her. She says it's urgent."
"She always says it's urgent. It's never urgent when she says it's urgent."
"I think it's urgent this time. She's crying."
"When Mom cries, it's normal. I can't remember a day when she hasn't been crying."
"She's waiting, Tom."
As I rose to go to the phone, my wife said, "Be nice, Tom. You're never very nice when you talk to your mother."
"I hate my mother, Sallie," I explained. "Why do you try to kill the small pleasures I have in my life?"
"Just listen to Sallie and be very nice."
"If she says she wants to come over tonight, I'm going to divorce you, Sallie. Nothing persona,, but it's you who's making me answer the phone."
It's a great opening, and it really pulls you into the story, doesn't it?
Frankly, when I heard the book was being made into a movie by Barbra Streisand, I rolled my eyes. As a very bad gay man, I wasn't a fan of Streisand; I admired her acting and singing talent, but there were very few films of hers I liked (What's Up Doc, The Way We Were) and she hadn't recorded very many songs I liked (although "The Way We Were" has always been one of my favorite songs). I didn't think she was particularly pretty, either. I thought the film version of The Lords of Discipline was terrible (not a Streisand movie) and so I didn't really hold out much hope for this to be anything other than just another Barbra Streisand movie. I'd never seen Yentl, her first foray into directing/producing/starring, and truly believed it was, as so many critics and reviewers had dismissed it contemptuously, just a vanity project.
But I went to see it in the theater, and came out of it deeply impressed. It was incredibly faithful to the book (Conroy co-wrote the screenplay, actually), and it was beautifully shot. The South Carolina scenes were breathtaking in their beauty, and you could see why Conroy and the character of Tom Wingo, were so tied to it with such a deep, abiding love. (I, too, am often swept away by the incredible beauty of the American South; it's part of the reason why I love the South so much. And the only reason I watch, from time to time, that horrible reality show Southern Charm is because it shows how beautiful Charleston and coastal South Carolina are.)
It was, all in all, a gorgeous film with strong performances telling a great story.
Nick Nolte was still aging well at this point:
and he was perfectly cast as tormented Tom Wingo, who covers his deep pain by joking. Blythe Danner played his wife Sallie--a supporting role with very little screen time, but as always, she made the most of it, and her own beauty was quite stunning:
One of the reasons I wanted to watch the film again was because I hadn't seen it since that first time in the theater, and I wanted to see if it held up. The second reason I wanted to see it was because of this piece I had just read that afternoon. The writer talks about how critics were already prepared to hate Angelina Jolie's latest movie before they even saw it, and the disparaging and sexist ways they went after it in their actual reviews. Among the disparaging comments they used, of course, were the ubiquitous 'vanity project'; how many times have we seen that used to take down a film made by a woman? As I watched The Prince of Tides again, I remembered that many of the film's reviews were good but begrudging; and Streisand's performance was singled out as one-note, bad, and unworthy of the film. (It was a box office success, and was nominated for seven Oscars; the Academy voters pointedly did not nominate Streisand for best director or for best actress.)
This same scrutiny and contempt is rarely, if ever, used against actors who produce, direct, sometimes write, and star in their own films. Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck, to name a few, have committed this same 'vanity project' sin as Angelina Jolie, Barbra Streisand, and Jodie Foster, to name a few; yet they've escaped the venom of the critics. All of these men have arguably made some great films; but they've also made some serious stinkers along the way as well. And I don't really follow the film world as closely as I used to; in fact I really don't follow it much at all, to be honest--but I don't really remember any times when a film was dismissed as a man's 'vanity project.'
The Prince of Tides holds up remarkably well. Nick Nolte's performance isn't as great as I remembered it; there are times when it goes over the top and is a bit hammy. Blythe Danner is still as luminous as I remembered; Kate Nelligan was fantastic as Tom's mother. But what really struck me in this viewing was how radiant and luminous Barbra Streisand was.
The moment she first appeared on the screen I did a double-take: wow, she is gorgeous.
And the performance is more than just competent; it's actually quite good. And it's a good role for her as well; the driven psycho-analyst, determined to save her patient whose unhappy personal life have caused her to channel her energy into her professional life. She has a troubled relationship with her son; her marriage is awful--but as she helps Tom to dig into the horrible childhood memories and traumas that have driven his twin sister to multiple suicide attempts over the years; the very same traumas that have poisoned his life and made it impossible for him to be happy, she herself begins to see how damaging and flawed she is in her own personal life, and that she has been blaming herself for her 'failures'. And as they draw closer together, as Tom helps her to see that maybe it's not entirely her own fault, you can see her slowly coming to life--she is far more beautiful and radiant later in the film that she was at the beginning. Her own happiness, the inner peace she's finding, really lights her up until she is glowing.
The performance is very subtle, and the role not nearly as showy as the others, which makes it only more impressive. If this were indeed a vanity project wouldn't she have made her role bigger and overshadowed the others in the cast? THAT would have been a failure as a director.
As the article in question says, Hollywood is an incredibly sexist place. There are very few good roles for women, and there are so many quality actresses competing for those roles that it becomes harder and harder for them to work. So, the only option for women is to make the movies themselves; Jane Fonda formed her own production company in the 1970's and often produced many of her own films in order to create great roles for herself and for other actresses; always a trailblazer. Yet when women do this, so often they are dismissed, criticized, insulted and demeaned; and the work not given a fair shake. Were Hollywood like it is today in their day, it can easily be argued that Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Greer Garson, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, and so many others wouldn't have had the careers they did. Television is now providing great roles for actresses, and especially older ones that cannot get cast in leading roles anymore.
It really is a shame. I haven't seen the Jolie film, so it's entirely possible it is a terrible movie and incredibly self-indulgent. But Jolie should at least be given credit for making it.