Secret Pop

May 25, 2013

Ever long is the looking back

Memorial Day weekends have not been particularly winning for me in the past few years. There were moments of painful meanness and inscrutability. There were beginnings of things that turned out to be irreparably damaging. There were ugly exchanges and unfair recriminations. Accusations of every sort (mostly the undeserved sort). And when I take stock of all that, it's hard not to think there's something seasonal about all this sturm und drang.

At the same time, it's my habit -- and perhaps not the healthiest one -- to look for patterns and to follow paths of reasoning, and maybe I defeat myself with this thinking. Maybe there is no magic equation that will spare me the various hurts and harms that happen in something that feels like it could look like a pattern -- if you squint a bit.

But it happens at the end of my birthday month, and it feels like a seasonal gateway that everyone looks forward to. I mean, barbecues. Am I right? And also, in my case, usually some time by the pool and usually a little too much sun and usually too much contemplation and too many songs that make me think about things I'd be better off not thinking about.

The thing I realize most pointedly this weekend is that I have a habit of looking back on things through a filter that sometimes diminishes context. I think about happy times or hopeful interludes, and it's only if I think too long on them that my brain will fill in the blanks, and my sentimentality will be offset by the ballast of things that were less happy, less hopeful. The ballast of truth. Every time it happens, I can't help but feel as if my brain is slapping my hand. It's a lesson I never seem to learn.

People will tell you that the past is your enemy and that thinking about things that hurt you keeps you anchored to that hurt. They're not entirely wrong. But the past is also where all of your most painful lessons live, and forgetting them sends you barreling into your future unarmed. We craft our personal carapaces over time. And there is a difference between that shell and the notion of baggage. There is a difference between hurt that we are unwilling to let go of and the outerwear we don to keep off the rain. Who on earth would fault you for wearing a raincoat when the rain is coming down?

I've learned important lessons from every loss. Even if I haven't always heeded those lessons in the subsequent go round. It's frustrating, sure. If I look back over my years of posts -- many of which were greatly informed by this topic -- it seems I learn at a glacial pace. If at all. I'm a smart girl. Anyone will tell you that. But you'd have to be pretty smart to be dumber than me. And that's the gospel truth.

May 16, 2013

Into Darkness We Go, For No Apparent Reason

I saw Star Trek Into Darkness last night. If you know me at all, you know that I'm a Star Trek fan, and I can be a bit of a pain in the ass when it comes to movies. So it won't surprise you to learn that I won't be adding this title to any list of favorites. But let me begin by saying that it's not the actors' fault. I love Chris Pine as Kirk, even though he seems to only ever get the shit kicked out of him and has none of the wry confidence of Shatner. I love Zachary Quinto as Spock, even though the friendship between him and Kirk is only apparent in that the dialogue says so. I even love Karl Urban as McCoy, even though he has never played the practical, emotional role he is meant to to be relevant in the friendship triad between him, Kirk, and Spock. But since we're given no reason to believe there is any friendship there in the first place, this issue is moot.

And, yes, it's important that the franchise is finally being given budgets that allow for the kind of epic sci-fi storytelling that fans have craved for decades. But there's the rub. Even with a very respectable budget and a fine cast and a fan following that is willing to accept less in hopes of getting more -- even with all these things, the failing of this movie is in the hopelessly terrible storytelling. Despite its urgency to stick its head up its own ass, this movie can't even figure out which hole that is. It is a mess. A mess that I will refrain from going into, because you will have things spoiled for you. And even though once you know what those things are you will want to kick something, I afford you the right to be disappointed on your own terms.

I will also say that -- for his years of mantra-like insistence that he never liked Star Trek -- J.J. Abrams signed off on an embarrassing amount of fan-targeted hand-jobbery, all of which still misses the point. The way I described it last night was that it's as if there is a deck of Star Trek flash cards that was used to populate the film with references and species and memorable quotations in a completely context-free and haphazard manner, to the point where, if you actually know the context that is being ignored or care about the story that is being co-opted, it's difficult to not be offended.

I will clarify that I don't think J.J. Abrams needed to be a Trek fan. I don't dislike him for not knowing the series. Nicholas Meyer wasn't a Trek fan, and his was the finest of the franchise features. It's not the fandom that matters. It's the desire to make a movie that doesn't suck. Whatever his intentions may have been, the movie J.J. Abrams made is a pastiche of formidable elements that does not coalesce into anything significant. And that would be easier to excuse if he hadn't had at his disposal all of the necessary resources to make something great.

If you know me, let's talk about this in greater detail over drinks, because you won't want to talk to me about this without them.

May 13, 2013

Sunday Wormhole

"Sometimes we think we want to hear something. And it's only afterwards when it's too late that we realize we wished we'd heard it under entirely different circumstances." Or perhaps not at all. At least that would be my edit to the statement made by Tyrion Lannister on last week's Game of Thrones. I've not yet gotten to watch this week's. As has been the case for four or five weeks running now, I never seem to be home to watch my various Sunday programs. I end up watching them sometimes days later. Sometimes weeks.

I think of Sunday as the seam of a circle. The beginning and the ending of a cycle we just repeat until -- eventually -- we don't. Not everyone's weeks are templatized. Mine certainly didn't used to be. But even when I had a great deal of freedom and a work life that never began or ended on any particular schedule, Sunday was often a pivot. A way of at least marking that something is over and something is next.

When I was in school and later working a very regular office job, Sunday began with the sad, looming dread of unavoidable Monday with its alarm clock demands and its homework deliverables. The entire day was clouded with it. It cast a pall over anything that Sunday might have been, just knowing that eventually it wouldn't be Sunday any longer. Sunday was the day-long buffer you had to recover from whatever trouble you'd got into on Saturday. And if you hadn't managed to find any Saturday adventures, well, then Sunday was an accusing reminder of what a wasteful sin you'd committed. I always loathed that Sunday anxiety. And even when I've -- at certain times in my life -- managed to free myself from it, I realize that a great many of my friends are servants to that persistent Sunday master, and that has its impact on the making of plans.

And Sunday nights have been fertile ground for programs I've loved over the years. Programs I've watched with people I've cared about. Programs I've rushed home to see. Programs I've recorded ON MAGNETIC TAPE. Programs that have been my companions through periods in my life that have been by turns nice and not so very. I can always tell when I'm in that place. That stuck-in-my-thoughts-and-ruminating-on-the past place. Every line of dialogue is a gateway to a feeling and every song lyric has the potential to be an extinction-level event, emotionally speaking.

So maybe it's a mercy that I seldom let those former Sunday appointments happen on actual Sundays these days. Maybe it's my subconscious way of keeping my calendar so unpredictable that my brain lacks the time to puzzle through the various problems a lifetime of Sundays can create.

May 11, 2013

Reset to Pilot

Back when I was a freelancer working from home, I used to leave the TV on USA Network or TNT pretty much all day. They would play various procedurals and one-hour series, usually in blocks of two or three episodes back to back. And they would play the episodes in order. So if you watched frequently enough and for long enough, you would watch a series in its entirety, in order. Then, at some point, you would go from the last episode of a series -- where the characters have developed and the cast has really found a pace -- to the first episode of that same series. It's jarring. The pilot episode of a show that gets any amount of wind at its back is always just a shade of what the show becomes. The show runners haven't yet decided the fates of these characters, and the actors haven't made the characters their own. The voices are even different sometimes. Watch season one of The Simpsons, if you don't believe me.

So, one minute you're appreciating the subtle relationships and interpersonal nuances of a show you've come to know, and the next minute you're watching two cops rolling their eyes that THIS is going to be their new partner, and no one yet knows about whose mom was raped and whose wife is fed up with cop hours or who's had an affair with the captain. And if you like the show -- or if, like me, you can't be bothered to change the channel unless a basketball game or a wrestling event suddenly interrupts the procedural parade -- you'll get to watch those relationships develop with a certain prescience. You know what the future holds for these hardworking groundpounders. You see it as clearly as if it were synopsized in your cable guide or written in a script you are holding in your lap. You are a god of television.

It might make you wish you could reset to one in real life. Even if you had to just relive all those episodes without ever being able to alter the script. It might make you want that. For a minute. At least you would know why everything goes the way it does. At least there would be some context. At least you would be able to resign yourself to your fate without having to go to some church.

May 7, 2013

Every Story Has Its Sequel

I saw Iron Man 2 the day after my birthday in 2010 with my sister and her boyfriend. I was not completely occupying my mind that night. The night before, I'd had a birthday party at Seven Grand, and many friends were there to make my evening lovely. And the night before that, I was excused from the dating situation I'd been in. So that was a bit of a drag. And maybe my mind was stuck on that more than it was on the movie, but I recall being not-entirely-bowled-over by the film. I remember complaining that it felt very loose. Almost improvised. I also remember laughing at Sam Rockwell's orange hands.

Well, I went to see Iron Man 3 this evening. And it was enjoyable enough. There is a certain simplicity to the Marvel storytelling method. It's all varying degrees of our hero saying, "I didn't ask for this." And the success or less-than-success of each of the films is largely predicated upon how well that problem is managed. How much we care about whom our hero loves, how much we yearn for the resolution of his crises, how much we will tolerate button lines involving puns or clunky plays on words -- all of these fluctuate based on how well the unfair-yoke-of-super is painted for us. I agree with my friend Jennie, with whom I saw the movie, that they did it best with the Cap. Maybe it's the fact that that story happens in the past, which allows for a certain license with the cartooniness, but I cared for Steve Rogers' plight, and I had easy sympathy for his disappointments. Maybe that's because he's the least-complaining Avenger. A chip on even the broadest of shoulders is such a turn-off.

The trailer playlist was as follows: Hangover 3. Star Trek Into Darkness. The Lone Ranger. Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Thor: The Dark World. I had lots of thoughts about those, too, but I've stopped carrying my little Moleskine notebook, in which I used to scribble all my thoughts in the dark without fear of bothering other moviegoers. These days, I mostly make notes on my phone. And that just doesn't work in the cinema. And, after all, most of what I would have written would have been some form of verbal eye-rolling. And maybe a note about how the second film in any given series seems to be required to be about something dark or harrowing. I can provide a list of examples beyond the three in this paragraph if that helps.

In any case, I saw the film, and I'm pleased I did. It's been hard to go to the movies lately, and it's been a great while since the Grove was my regular haunt. A lot has changed. Every moment that passes, I'm learning to adapt.

Incidentally, on Friday, I arrived at the Disneyland Hotel just in time to receive a call from the Glendale Police Department letting me know that my home was in a mandatory evacuation area due to a fire that had kicked up very close by. The amazing thing is that -- whether I believed my house would be destroyed or not -- I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't even go back to try and grab the important things. And in a way that was freeing. I just floated on an adrenalized cloud of suppressed panic and fake fortitude and enjoyed the weekend I'd planned to enjoy as best I could. Said weekend included Club 33, 1901, and Bats Day at Disneyland. It hardly seems acceptable to complain. And the wrap-up last night was just an unstoppable juggernaut of serendipity, where everything fell into place except my quest for a turkey leg. And turkey legs are readily available at Vons.