Some Thoughts On Oscar

Even as I increasingly disengage from the current-day Oscar race, I am nonetheless fully immersed in Oscar-ness. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Quizzes - Last year at my office, I created a custom “film bracket,” modeled after the March Madness model. Through rounds of voting, all of the participants determined the Best Picture of the past 25 years (it was Schindler’s List, if you’re interested). This year, I created quizzes. Each day for three weeks, there are four questions. Participants can choose Old School questions (from 1970 to 1995) or New School (1996 to the present) as well as fill-in-the-blank (which gets you three points a piece) or multiple choice (for one point each). Since I am choosing the questions the night before, I have become reacquainted with my old friend film references. It’s been a lot of fun (and generated more attention than I had originally thought). Here’s the quiz

  • The French Connection - It wouldn’t be an Oscar post without mention of my brother, the most consistent film companion of my life, especially in the month leading up to the Academy Awards. While we made it a point to go see all of the nominated films in a given year, we were less interested in those made in 2006 and shifted gears into watching the Best Picture winners we had missed in previous years on DVD. We made a list and started with Midnight Cowboy. Two days later he passed away. Next on our list had been the French Connection, which I couldn’t bring myself to watch. Until this weekend; it seemed time. The only thing I knew about the film going in (besides the fact that is won Best Picture of 1971) was that it starred Gene Hackman as a thuggy cop and featured what is still considered one of the most epic car chase scenes in cinema history. I’d been curious, given all of the technological advances, whether it would still hold up with fresh eyes. It does. Much of the reason is because one, well, a car is chasing a criminal who gets on an above-ground subway train. Conceptually this is still very, very cool. Also, the driver we are rooting for doesn’t magically avoid harm through a series of close calls. He actually gets banged up along the way but manages to keep the car drivable. But mostly, the reason why the action is so heightened is because (I did a little reading) the filming was so dangerous and will likely never be duplicated (at least not by a big-budget studio or a union crew). Permits were not secured, crowds were not warned, the set was extremely dangerous, and that is what shows up on the screen (even though I am not advocating for that, risk of death and serious injury is not worth a “good shot.”)

  • Roma - Part of the reason I’ve been less engaged in this year’s contenders is that I’m not super impressed with many of the nominees. Yes, it’s hard for me to judge films that I haven’t actually seen, so I won’t, except to say that the elements that compel me to see them have been missing. And I tend to agree with critics and the current front-runners have not fared well critically. The one exception is Roma. I’d initially watched the first ten minutes on Netflix last month, but was too impatient to follow it’s establishing rhythms. Once I got word that a 70mm print was “on tour” at various theaters, I geared up, willing to bathe in what I’d heard was its exquisite filmmaking. And that I did. It is one that I look forward to revisiting.

  • Joni Mitchell - I went to see a screening of Joni 75, the very recent musical event celebrating the music of the legendary singer. While the performances were amazing and profound, the filming (clearly done on video by amateurs) was awful and a missed opportunity for a proper document of an important night. The thing was littered with hundreds of quick zooms that went in and out of focus. It made me realize how important planned concert films like the Last Waltz or Stop Making Sense are for posterity. I will definitely get the CD of Joni 75, but will likely not watch it again, which is a shame.

White Girl

When I was younger, I was a fool for anniversary or look-back releases of critically acclaimed pop culture touchstones. Twenty-fifth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird with recently discovered Harper Lee journal entries? Yes, please. Criterion edition of Fargo with  commentary track? Of course (had it been ten years already)? As I got older, however, I started to see them more as opportunities to cash in on nostalgia to make a buck. Perhaps this is because I’ve now lived a few rounds of marketers hitting the sweet spot of young adults that have come after me as they rediscover the wave of all the things they forgot they once loved or missed out on things they should know to be cool. Or perhaps it is seeing 25, then 30, then 40, and now 50-year remastered releases of the Beatles catalog.

I was rather late to the table when it came to discovering the Beatles for myself. While my mother (who was my primary tastemaker in my youth) owned the album, Meet the Beatles, I suspect that she was not particularly fond of the latter-years of the Fab Four (having been more of a fan of the crooners of the 50s). All of that to say that my first recollection of hearing the Beatles would have likely been in the form of elevator music (arguably at its height in the mid-1970s) or as a piece of sheet music for, say Yesterday, to be murdered by our seventh grade choir. Needless to say, I was not smitten. 

Understanding that their growing impact was not going away, I made a concerted effort in my mid-20s, plucking the White Album from a display at the library. But I got busy and returned it, unlistened to. A few years later, I heard Why Don’t We Do It In The Road in a bar. As is my custom, I went to the jukebox to find out the artist of my newly discovered ear delight. This was the Beatles? Not long after, I heard Blackbird. Once I found out that both songs were on the White Album, I was on board forever. 

The Beatles catalog is like the horoscope, you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite release (and anyone who even remotely likes the Beatles has one). I’ve considered that I like the White Album best only because I knew it first—and this might be true—but I did try the others. I could recognize the significance of Rubber Soul, as it was the band’s most significant break with its former boy-band image. But none of the songs sunk in too deep with me (except the lovely In My Life) I felt the same way about Revolver. Solid songs, all of them, and that stunning ending with Tomorrow Never Knows, but little beyond technical and cultural admiration. I’ve always wanted to like Sgt. Peppers more than I do. For me, it’s always felt like I’ve stumbled into a really great party where everyone is incredibly high. It can be a lot of fun, but mostly you feel left out of the joke.

But the White Album was different for me. Critics say that it is a record of a band falling apart. I say it sounds like a band at the height of their power that they are at once allowed to do whatever they want and seemingly longing for simpler lives. I recently read an article that when John Lennon and George Harrison came home from their famous trip to India, they reportedly sanded the psychedelic artwork from both of their guitars. It was a symbolic gesture of what was to come on those songs. Many of them are acoustic at their core, a fair amount of it percussive piano which inherently appeals to me. 

I had remembered (incorrectly) that I only liked the McCartney songs—the aforementioned Why Don’t We Do It in the Road, and Blackbird, plus Rocky Raccoon, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, and Mother Nature’s Son and others. I would have told you before that all of Lennon’s compositions were overly self-indulgent or creepy, but that’s not true (although Revolution 9 does tend to throw the balance in that direction). Happiness is a Warm Gun is sublime as well as subversive. Sexy Sadie shows a kind of delicious restraint even as it scathes. And Revolution 1, well, it defined a generation (especially when it was later used to sell gym shoes…)

I’m not sure I’ll actually pick up the 50th anniversary reissue, my nerd root doesn’t reach deep enough to revel in multiple takes of the same song (on this one George randomly picked up a flute and played the last line of the second verse!), but I did listen to Terry Gross interview Giles Martin on NPR and have been enjoying the customized Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks.

Oscar Revisted

Being any kind of fan—sports and the arts are the biggies that come to mind—can be both terrible and resplendent. Terrible because you will inevitably be faced with some kind of faith-losing blow that you will feel deeply, take personally, and forced to reevaluate everything you ever loved about it. Resplendent because when the art and the integrity of the its maker aligns perfectly with your own artistic sensibility and fleeting place in time, it can be transformative.

Maybe that was a little dramatic. (Which doesn’t make it less true.)

So, I’m talking about films in general (with its tumultuous industry year(s)) and Oscar in general. After a five-year partial break from the festivities, I am compelled to announce my re-engagement.

For those who don’t know me well, my family has a rich and deep history with Oscar. Beginning some time in the mid 1970s, my dad carried our 19-inch Sylvania Superset up from the rec room into the living room to watch the Oscars broadcast. I don’t know if it was a an official thing or an organic occurrence, but my older brother Kip and I were allowed to stay up to watch the whole thing if we were able. Those years are a blur of Bob Hope and Johnny Carson and magnificent mustaches and pastel-colored formal wear. 

I came into my own in the 80s when the show began to coincide with our annual spring break trip to the Gulf Shores to visit relatives. I armed myself for the 18+hour car ride with an Oscar-themed magazine that I religiously read from cover to cover. It was there, in the deep south among older cousins who found our part of the family’s “preoccupation” odd, that I realized that we were different, more invested in this thing. 

I have sometimes turned down opportunities to be among “my peers” in order to experience the telecast with my family (I once turned down what was surely "the Oscar party of the century" in favor of sitting alone in my upstate NY studio apartment and communicating with my family via phone during commercial breaks). This might not seem like a big deal on the surface, but considering my history, it’s kind of a big deal. Let me be clear, I come from a loving, attentive family. However, I was never sentimental about specifically choosing time with them over, you know, being out in the world. I was eager to go off to school (kindergarten and college equally). I was never homesick, whether it be summer camp or on a long trip, any sort of "better offer."


I know now, deep in my heart, that there is no place on earth that I would rather be than sitting with my family watching the Oscars. I mean this sincerely, with the least amount of sentimentality about it that I can muster. What I mean by that is that sitting in room with those three other people - my parents and my brother - is as free of stress, animosity, and general pre-occupation as I’ve consistently ever gotten in my whole life. The fact that my brother is gone, my father is in a nursing facility, and my mother, who cares but whose invitation to come over is tempered with the disclaimer that she will probably go to bed early, makes this ritual one that is destined to fade into a new era. Perhaps it will lead to a killer Oscar party of my very own.

Right now, I can’t even bring myself to think of that.

As we approach the final hours before the most recent telecast, I wish only to say that, after a solid decade of being adrift in the ambiguities that come with loving an industry that comes with its own considerable baggage, I am ready to reengage.

My twelve-year-old self would be so pleased.

Hurricane Harvey

Ever since the news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last week, I've found myself rather obsessed with the coverage. While I don't work in the industry, I consider it very much to be my industry. Having opinions about the matter that I wanted to explore in a blog post was a no brainer. Collecting, processing, and articulating those thoughts, however, has proved to be a significantly more personal and complicated matter than I would have thought. 

As the cliche begins, I've deeply, consistently loved movies since I was a little girl. I consumed both the product (right at the dawn of 24 hour programming via cable, and then on-demand with the advent of video - both marvels of access) as well as reviews from the paper, magazines, and memorabilia.

Over time, I managed to pull my idealistic worship back to a more appropriate form of consistent admiration. Still, it was disappointing to come to understand that "the best film of the year" was not always the best film of that year, that factors such as influence and revenue and expensive marketing tactics have always been at play in Hollywood. And then there was the disappointment of discovering that the people who make the art you love are not always the most admirable of humans. Sometimes not by a long shot.

Now, Harvey Weinstein never pretended to be someone he wasn't (unlike, say Bill Cosby who hid disturbing deeds behind a goofy dad/kind uncle persona). Weinstein's rage-fueled outbursts were legendary and his willingness to play rough seemed, sometimes, well, justifiable (I mean, it can be empowering to think of someone bullying an intimate indie or important costume drama into mainstream culture, right?) And, anyway, it's not illegal to be a infantile jerk. Turns out, Weinstein's questionable behavior was the tip of a very big, very despicable iceberg. 

Why do I care so much and why am I so offended? I mean, the world at large and the entertainment industry in general is filled with heaps of powerful men known for (and now occasionally exposed for) serial abuses of power. I care because Miramax had been at the very center of my admiration for many, many years. Yes, my love of film began in the 70s, and blossomed in the 80s, but it is the 90s and early 2000s that are the root of my artistic sensibility. It is no exaggeration to say that many of my favorite films of all time and many more that I highly respect - the Piano, Ameilie, Frida, City of God, the Hours, Cold Mountain, Heavenly Creatures, Walking & Talking, Goodwill Hunting, Muriel's Wedding, Delicatessen, the Cider House Rules, Pulp Fiction, Chicago, No Country for Old Men, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the Reader, Inglourious Basterds, Blue Valentine, and August: Osage County, among them - were all produced by Harvey Weinstein. At the very heart of Miramax's brand was a thoughtful, emotional intelligence, and, yes, very often, female-centered stories with rich complexities.

So the scandal feels like a betrayal on many levels. Beyond the fundamental disappointment of being long-time and earnest champion of a company run by a serial predator and sociopath, is, of course, the overtly abhorrent treatment of women. (The shock and pride of reading the clear and sober statements of women I had assumed weren't involved - Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino in particular - will remain with me for a long time.) But it is the abuse of power toward those at the very beginning of their careers that perhaps resonates the strongest with me. 

There is something equally empowering and humbling about your first job in a field you particularly love. In my experience, the empowerment comes from a genuine enthusiasm grounded in acquired knowledge and deep immersion. Because I hadn't yet learned how things "are," I didn't know what not to say or how to act or what to "just be cool" about. I expressed myself and  expected to be indulged and encouraged as I had been by my school teachers. The irony is, most recent grads (especially those in fields like design or video) are coming off out of college having created ambitious projects and enter jobs where they are tasked with the most mundane, bottom of the food chain stuff. There's nothing inherently wrong with this practice, except that it's an unfortunate waste of talent, but, hey, sometimes someone just needs signage that tells people there's a sale on last season's fragrant soap...

As a young employee, I became keenly aware of those in roles of authority. To me, there seemed to be three kinds - those who ignored you but did their job fine and kept things running as they should, those who seemed to remember what it was like to be young and took the time and had the patience to foster appropriate professional relationships, and those who constantly blurred boundaries for their own gain using the singular defense that the other party is "of age."

The problem seems to be in confusing the last kind for the second. 

That appears to be Weinstein's MO in his actions with actresses and assistants. Not, You are beautiful and deserve someone who adores you like me, but Let's set up a formal appointment to talk about this part or come by and pick up this script, or, It's perfectly normal for your boss to ask you to work in his hotel room while he's naked, get over it. The bait-and-swtich, the shock in realizing what is really happening, or the awareness that before your eyes someone is experiencing, as one article put it, "the abusive thrill gained not from sex, but from the imposition of your will on someone who has no ability to resist or properly defend themselves," is scarring.

I consider myself lucky to have not had an experience like Weinstein's accusers. I have, however, been in circumstances where I have either suspected serial inappropriate behavior or sometimes eagerly sought out gossipy details that I didn't have business knowing or didn't think I could do anything to alter the circumstances.

There's no longer any excuse. We all know better.

An Open Letter to Columbus West High School Class of '87

Class reunions can often be reduced to little more than cliched life events. If you care too much about going, you can be accused of living in the past. If you care too much about not going, you're thought to be too weighed down by the recent past.

Last weekend, an impressive sampling of our 200+ graduating class stuffed ourselves into the tight (but totally generous--thank you Brad Elgin) digs of a bar above a motorcycle shop and did our best to celebrate our present so rooted in the past.

After 30 years, we've got this down. In the same way that the class of '86 dominated at sports and the class of '88 couldn't be topped at any sort of decorations, our class is officially great at reunions. In fact, I loved seeing members of both classes comfortable enough to join in. Perhaps this is a dubious distinction, but if you were there, you would understand.

There is an irony to the fact that, with every advance five year mark, we seem to shed things - the formality of those early year gatherings, the impulse to only hang with those we knew, and, I noticed, a fair number of spouses (as classmates become more comfortable - or perhaps spouses slightly less tolerant of hearing the same damn stories one more god damn time). And, was anyone else disappointed that Roger Penick wasn't there to resist our insistence that he reprise his Michael Jackson Motown 25 routine? We're not shedding that tradition...

The room was filled with a genuine kind of enthusiasm I found deeply touching. Yes, there were the awkward conversations that trailed off or the unfortunate instance of having to squeeze past the last person you'd ever want to come face to face with because they happen to be sitting at the table nearest the bathroom, but mostly I witnessed bursts of ridiculousness and kind gestures likely to resonate. That room got loud in the best possible way.

Like everywhere, our class is filled with those who went off and accomplished impressive feats, those who are deeply wounded, and the rest of us who fall somewhere along the bell curve. Those who we've lost - by their own hand or by illness - were memorialized in small groups by those who knew them best.

I don't pretend to speak for everyone; I'm fully aware of my position as an optimistic extrovert. But I also know that I'm not alone in the feeling that in a world so recently fraught with overwhelming fear and confusion and angst, a reunion in the very true sense of the word, was just what my soul needed. 


Your Grateful Classmate

Building a Better Cannon

I've long been a fool for a list or countdown. Perhaps it's growing up listening to Casey Kasem or the fact that I can't bring myself to get rid of a book reminiscent of my book-buying circa 1980, "The Teenage Book of Lists" (#1 Band Named for a Food, btw? Hot Tuna). The older I get, however, the more likely I am to be equally irritated as I am drawn in. Part of it is a becoming aware of the inherent bias of such thing, which is necessary to one's maturity, but a bummer. The harder thing to admit is my own bias, and reality of the thing I truly love and deep worthy of consideration on lists are seeming to, little bit by little bit, vanish from consideration. 

I know that the only way to begin to change things is to contribute to the conversation, to make my own damn list. And I've been simultaneously consumed by the notion and dragging my feet. I was gently nudged last week, when NPR published its own list of 150 albums by women. In reading about its creation, there was a phrase that lingered: "a list forces authority." This can be read as a positive and negative at the same time. My general problem with lists is they become too lasy. Rolling Stone publishes some variation of the 500 Greatest Albums seemingly every season. The top ten is nothing more than a reshuffling of five Beatles albums, three Dylan albums, Pet Sounds and some "wild card" from the past 25 years (usually Nirvana's Nevermind or, more recently, Radiohead's OK Computer). Which is not to say that any of those albums don't deserve continued accolades. But it's boring. And horribly patriarchal. The nice thing about the latest NPR list is that they acknowledge that people are going to be pissed about who was omitted (Aimee Mann and Sarah McLaughlin, hello!) but that would mean a continuation of the conversation, which is always good.

List of "favorites" is far more interesting to me. This takes into account things like the deciders age, gender, temperament, location, education, and experience.

While I've been consistently influenced by music, it is film where my I am more critical (and by far more defensive when my favorites are excluded).  In an effort to verve the conversation in a slightly different direction, here is a list of films from my lifetime (chronological) that I feel have been underrepresented as great films.

Coal Miners Daughter
9 to 5
The World According to Garp
An Officer and a Gentleman
Terms of Endearment
Fatal Attraction
Broadcast News
Working GIrl
War of the Roses
Postcards From the Edge
Reversal of Fortune
Thelma & Louise
The Fisher King
Ruby in Paradise
Remains of the Day
The Piano
Quiz Show
Lone Star
Flirting With Disaster
The Ice Storm
One True Thing
Cider House Rules
You Can Count on Me
Life as a House
Hedwig & the Angry Inch
Ghost World
Dogtown & Z Boys
The Hours
25th Hour
In the Cut
Cold Mountain
Casa de Los Babys
In Her Shoes
Michael Clayton
I'm Not There
Gone Baby Gone
The Reader
Rachel Getting Married
Cadillac Records
Where the Wild Things Are
Up in the Air
Julie & Julia
Blue Valentine
Our Idiot Brother
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Descendents
The Debt
Zero Dark Thirty
The Spectacular Now
20 Feet From Stardom
Get On Up
The Dressmaker
Steve Jobs

Happier Than That

Earlier this summer, I posted about my official plunge into my library's summer reading club. While I was proud of myself for reading what I did - among them, Catcher in the Rye, the Bell Jar, and the Handmaid's Tale -  and know that the precision and passion of those works will linger, one thing became rather clear in a way that it hadn't been before: classic literature is damn depressing. You could say it was my reading list, a veritable smorgasbord of angst, mental illness, and terror. But when I surveyed my various reading people for "sunnier" alternatives, with the caveat that it should be considered classic or critically hailed, little surfaced beyond Jane Austen (which is not to say I in any way dismissed this; I will clear the decks soon for some Pride & Prejudice).

But what the experience did do was let my past self off the hook a bit for not being the book worm I sometimes think I should have been, given that I make my living (and my passion) as a writer. The truth is, I'm not much of a curl-up-on-a-couch-and-get-lost-in-a-book kind of gal, especially when it is grim and heavy. It's the same with music. While I'm pleased with where my tastes have taken me, I've always felt more than a little embarrassed that in the late 80s I was more about Def Leppard and Whitesnake than the Smiths or Echo and the Bunnymen. Now I know the reason is because I could only minimally relate. I may not have always been happy, but, Christ, I was always happier than that.

Malcolm Gladwell has a great podcast that I like to listen to. Usually I agree with him, but in a recent episode he felt the need to pit county music against rock and roll. His consensus was that the former is better because it was inherently sadder. He called rock music, dismissively, "hymns to extroversion," to which I thought, "that's a great phrase," and "what the hell's wrong with that?" 

The problem, of course, is wanting something upbeat that's also considered good craft. Patti Smith pulled this off when she captured the thrill of being essentially a naive dreamer who found herself smack in the middle of the gritty swirl of New York's art and music scene. And despite crafting some super wrenches, Bruce Springsteen manages a quite a few odes to being alive. 

Which is not to say that downer material doesn't have it's place. I'm all for the tradition of singing the blues as a way to process pain or read something difficult as a way to be a more enlightened human. But in a competition, I'll always choose blasting Running With the Devil from a car stereo over than curling up in a ball listening to He Stopped Loving Her Today.

When Love Came to Town

Thirty years ago, three days after I turned eighteen, my brother Kip took me to see U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. The tickets were a birthday present, and he drove up from Ohio University in our mom's hand-me-down Chevette to my dorm at Kent State to pick me up.

My memories of that show have been reduced to a very few but vivid snapshots. The first involves the two of us stuck in one of the narrow stairwells adjoining the outer hallway to the inner ring of Cleveland Stadium. While the sudden surge of the crowd didn't ignite in me explicit fear, I finally got a sense of how concert-goers at the Who's 1979 concert died of asphyxiation. Handrail pressed firmly into my left hip bone, a looping refrain of "stop pushing" at increased levels of panic, a growing feeling that I could almost lift my feet and be fully supported and suspended. Then, as quickly as it began, there was a break at the front of the crowd and everyone continued onto the field shrugging off the situation as a misunderstanding. 

Our seats were on the field, one of several thousand rickety folding chairs bound together in long rows with plastic zip ties, and we immediately joined the crowd in climbing atop (learning quickly to keep our weight shifted to the foot on the front of the seat, as not to suffer the tragic fate of some of our drunker colleagues). I didn't notice the projection screen until my brother pointed it out, up the pole at the end of our row. We were exactly parallel to it, which meant that we were far enough away from the stage to need a screen, but too close to see it. 

As for the show itself, I have only three specific memories - Bono wore a cowboy hat, his arm was in a sling, and it was absolutely the greatest concert I'd attended to date. This might not seem significant given that I was still within double-digit days of turning eighteen. But I'd attended probably a dozen shows by then--mostly New Wave or burgeoning metal bands--and felt confident in my assessment. (Which held up until the boys outdid themselves five years later with ZooTV, which remains my favorite show of all time...)

Joshua Tree '87 closed with "40." For those unfamiliar, its a song that became a traditional concert closer for the band in the mid-80s because the crowd would continue the refrain (Hooww looooonnnnnnnnnngg to sing this song ... HAAAAAWW LOOOOOOOOOOONNNNGGGG to sing this song) well into the parking lot. To get the full effect, fast-forward to 5:45 of this clip from the Paris show of the same tour. It's a straight-up manufactured gimmick on the part of the band, but I assure you that, like a acupuncture needle applied in the right place triggers chemical that provide relief from pain, so does 40 in the middle of an academically fraught first semester.

A lot has changed in 30 years.

The most significant is that my brother is ten-years gone, a notion utterly unimaginable then. I attended the next three tours without him, a combination of his waning interest in the band and my greater reliance on friends. The decaying Cleveland stadium is also gone, leveled and replaced by a hopeful state-of-the-art facility for long-suffering fans of a long-suffering NFL team. As for U2, they've experienced a fair number of major changes themselves, ones that I've either embraced or scoffed and later reconsidered (or held strong in my opinion). Rattle & Hum was a concert movie of the Joshua Tree tour that came out the following fall. It was one of the first CDs I purchased (transitioning from a mostly cassette tape collection) and the film was screened on campus. It was not well-received by the critics, the band accused of taking itself too seriously (well, duh), and Roger Ebert called the footage "poorly lit" (way to be old, Ebs). I've decided that my critical judgement on it is irrelevant since my becoming a more serious fan of music in general runs tandem to the band's launch into super stardom. Not that I didn't have my moments of pissy disapproval (the heartbreakingly dismissive cynicism of Pop Mart, and, well, the public rightfully pushed back against the hubristic move of Songs of Innocence). But my favorite artists are always the ones inclined to "go too far" and be willing to accept the consequences. 

On July 1 of this year, I attended the 30th anniversary of the Joshua Tree tour. My personal logistics--attending with friends who were as smart and fun and accommodating as they were enthusiastic--matched those of the concert organizers--a seamless shuffle through a snaking security line onto a significantly smaller-seeming stadium floor blissfully absent of chairs (and flooring clean enough to sit on during the two-hour wait).

I'd seen pics of the screen, from friends' FB posts of shows across the country, but those didn't prepare me for the enormity of it. Even when the band initially came out and played its opening set of four songs with no projection at all, I thought it to be merely a large backdrop. How much further could they possibly go, technologically speaking, from the 360 tour? A lot, it turned out. Just like ZooTV launched the era of multimedia spectacle (that, today, looks downright quaint), the highest of HiDef will become commonplace. But U2 did it first. They do it all first.

Of course, I couldn't help thinking of my brother throughout the show, certain he would have loved, if nothing else, reliving the nostalgia with a matured sensibility. Alas, there was no "40" at the close, which both disappointed and impressed me in equal measure. But there was more then enough energy to send the collective us off into the night, back into our daily existence, with some hope and a little swagger.

Summer Lovin'

I've always identified as a "fall gal." Maybe this is because my birthday is in October or because I prefer to dress in browns and greens. Of course, there's also the inherent beauty of the colors and the crisp evening air that always comes as a surprise and a delight. Loving fall has always been an obvious no-brainer.

The older I get, however, the more nostalgic I get for summer.

Perhaps it's because summer is tailor-made for children. Pools and Putt-Putt, summer camp, trampolines, going to the drive-in pajamas, across-the-neighborhood-lawns chasing games, and sleepovers that blur the boundaries between day and night. Of course, there is no law restricting these activities to those of single-digit age. But it's a whole different kind of effort and consideration. The further I get from those memories, the more romantic my notion of them.

Lately, I find myself taking a slightly out-of-the-way route out of my neighborhood, for the sole reason of reliving a epic summer memory that has recently resurfaced with great persistence. 

The summer between fourth and fifth grade, my brother and I were friends with a brother and sister who were our respective ages. I'd imagine we met them in our classroom, but can't swear to that. They lived in our neighborhood. (Technically, it was part of the cluster of apartments just beyond our neighborhood that people like to fight over whether it should belong or not...) One summer night, I was invited to their house for a slumber party It was an otherwise typical gathering - dinner (probably pizza) on paper plates, cable (which was new and one of the best things that had ever happened to us so far). 

Then the ice cream truck chimes rang out.

Now, I was no stranger to the ice cream truck. But, unlike on my street, where there was a panic involved in locating a parent, getting permission, getting cash from said parent's purse/wallet and chasing the truck down the street, my friend assured us this truck was in no hurry. So the slumber party filed out the door and took our place on the sidewalk as the truck turned the corner and headed our way. The moment it stopped triggered a wave of flung-open doors created an endless sea of ringer tees and cut-off shorts, girls in rainbow shirts and boy in knee-high tube socks. They came on foot, on skateboard and bikes. There were no adults, which meant we stood there, even when we had our ice cream, in the middle of the street. And nothing bad happened. It may have well been the street scene from the movie Fame, that's what it felt like to me. I stood there, the blue section of my bomb pop dripping down my arm, and for a fleeting moment, felt free. 

That girl moved at the end of that summer. I regret that I can't recall a single detail of why her family left, where they went, and that I never spent any time in that part of my neighborhood again. But the blissed-out feeling of that moment will be the one that I will continue to chase for the rest of my days.

Rewriting the Narrative

A few years ago, I was looking for something new to get myself into and answered a call from the library looking for Reading Buddies. This means you are a vetted adult who sits, one-on-one, with kids from the community and listens to them read in fifteen-minute chunks. One of the things I love most is the broad range of the kids. There are the ones who are there because it is an activity with "reading" in the title and that is what they do, nonstop. Then there are the ones who are there reluctantly, whose teachers pulled their parents aside to tell them that their child is not reading as well as they should and that there is this great program over at the library. I am delighted by both groups (and the vast scale of those who fall in between). 

Anyway, it's a program I continue to love and have adjusted my work schedule in order to participate. Last week, the summer reading club started up. When trying to conjure memories of my own experience as a kid, I could only recall that of the big prizes up for raffle (usually bikes) and colorful posters. Not that this is a surprise; I have long perpetuated the story that, despite being a strong writer, I was never a big reader. I have felt the need to defend this stance with a long list of reasons - from being very social, to having a short attention span, to genuinely loving movies more than books, and on and on.

And then it dawned on me, standing in line to officially sign up for the club as an adult (this is a thing, if you don't know), that it serves no one for me to continue this narrative (except to offer some kind of reassurance to a parent who might be concerned that not being a reader might lead to a life of delinquency). So I'm making a concerted effort to fill in some holes in my reading this summer, starting with some children's and YA classics.

So far I've finished the Outsiders (which I knew from seeing the movie a couple dozen times), Charlotte's Web (like those of summer reading club as a kid, my memories of this book was a vague, sensory memory of it being read to us in Kindergarten. I'd expected to cry when the spider died, but not when her babies ballooned away saying, "goodbye, goodbye." Waterworks.) And now I'm working on Catcher in the Rye. 

What experience is doing for me is moving me from the lazy, surface level of these cultural juggernauts (cute boys with funny names, talking animals, brooding young men) to the deeper levels of language and connection and voice. And that there is so much out there just waiting to be discovered.