Saturday, December 31, 2011

Silence Speaking Volumes

Elizabeth and I got a babysitter, drove to Scottsdale, and saw The Artist at Harkins Camelview today.  The Artist is one of those movies that’s on every critic’s top 10 list of the year’s best.  Based on the effusive praise, I sweet-talked Elizabeth into seeing it instead of the Robert Downey Sherlock Holmes sequel.

I don’t know if it was a great movie; in other words, I question how much I was affected by the story the movie told, but one thing is for certain:  it was definitely an experience, and we were both glad we went. 

The thing about The Artist that you need to know going in is that it is a silent movie.  A real silent movie.  I guess I didn’t read the reviews carefully enough, or maybe the surprise is supposed to be part of the film’s charm, and so the critics purposely are concealing the fact, but neither of us knew this at the outset.  I did know that The Artist is a movie about silent movies; I just sort of assumed it would take the Singin’ in the Rain approach and be a movie about silent movies without being silent itself.  Perhaps the studio and critics alike were afraid that being straightforward on this count would only scare audiences away.  However, we both felt that knowing this up front might have saved us a great deal of needless distraction (and honestly, impatience bordering on irritation) early in the film while we were sitting there wondering how long things are going to go along in silent movie mode before they inevitably went back to normal.  

Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.    

Besides, the fact that this truly is a silent movie is exactly the reason why I want to encourage people to see this film, and to see it in a theater with an audience, and not to wait for it on DVD.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Serendipity, thy name is Jimmy Fallon

Serendipity:  Miriam-Webster defines it as “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” defines it as “good fortune; luck.”  To me, when something serendipitous happens, it’s more than dumb luck or pure chance; there’s a reason for it.  It may or may not be immediately obvious, but there’s a reason.  Serendipity, when it happens, always makes you feel good, as though there’s someone out there looking out for you, giving you the thumbs-up.  I think that’s really what it is.  Serendipity is a little thumbs-up sign from the universe, or God, or whomever you choose to attribute it. 

Elizabeth and I experienced what I can only label as a serendipitous moment on the Friday before Christmas.  It wasn’t anything huge, just a little thumbs-up sign from the cosmos, or maybe it was just the spirit of John Denver and Jim Henson messing with our minds for kicks.

It was after midnight on Friday night, and Elizabeth and I were both awake, which is highly unusual in itself.  Normally, we’d both have been asleep for an hour or two by then, being the typically middle-aged people we are.  But this was the night before Christmas Eve, and Elizabeth was smack in the middle of what I like to call “Christmas Crazy.”   At midnight on Friday, this meant baking about sixteen different kinds of Christmas cookies, cupcakes, and various goodies, in preparation for the big Christmas Eve party that we host every year.  Generally, this is the biggest event of the year at our home, although birthdays, graduations, and a couple of funerals have sometimes rivaled it in size.  It’s generally in the range of forty to fifty people, and Elizabeth feels underprepared unless each guest can have a platter’s worth of baked treats to themselves.

I, on the other hand, was up because I was running a fever, and feeling generally lousy.  I had been fine all day, but around eight that evening I felt like I had been buried under a load of bricks.  Not a good way to feel when your Christmas Eve party is less than twenty-four hours away.  After dozing for a few hours, I had woken up with a fever and chills, and although I was miserable, I was mostly awake. 

Doesn’t sound much like the makings of a serendipitous moment, does it?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Angels and stars

Part I – The Conversations (a fictionalized account of two families and their tree-toppers)

Angel or star.  There are really only two options when it comes to what goes at the top of the Christmas tree.  Many of us don’t take a strict position on which one is better.  However, there are some out there that swear an angel is the only way to go, while others say that it just wouldn’t be Christmas without that star atop the yuletide tree.  I grew up with angels on our trees.  I can’t remember a year when we didn't have one.  

When Elizabeth and I first married, we were very young and without the kind of money that today would be labeled “discretionary income.”  We barely had indiscretionary income, although anyone who happened to see our W-2’s would surely consider our combined income an indiscretion.  As a result, we started our married life with some surplus Christmas ornaments donated from both families, and an old fake tree.  From this motley assortment of hand-me-down decorations, we pieced together our first Christmas.  One thing we got from Elizabeth’s parents was the frail, tinseled, silver star they used to use on their tree when Elizabeth was growing up.  Even though the plastic back was cracking, and the whole thing felt as though it were about to collapse from exhaustion, Elizabeth’s mom had had the foresight to see this day coming, and held on to it.  We gratefully accepted it from her as a gift, and placed it oh-so-delicately at the top of our Christmas tree.  That’s when the trouble started.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Musical Christmas stockings

Music is as integral to the Christmas holiday as a tree, or lights, or elbowing the poor sap next to you in order to grab the last carton of eggnog.  It’s a vast subcategory of popular music, one that continues to grow with each passing year.  It seems like every recording artist since the invention of the victrola feels compelled to offer us their unique interpretation of “Jingle Bells.”   Seriously, how many varieties of “Frosty the Snowman” does one nation under God really need?  But these are smart people; they realize that if they can somehow wedge their version of even one song into the popular memory, their fame will be eternal, or at least last long enough to give them a convenient way to introduce themselves in the afterlife.  Take Bobby Helms and Brenda Lee, for instance.  If it weren’t for “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” respectively, we wouldn’t know that these people ever existed.  Even singers like Perry Como and Andy Williams, who were great stars of their day, are identifiable to today’s  generations only for their unsurpassed renditions of “Home for the Holidays” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (again respectively).   

We’ve now had 70-some Christmases since records and radio entered the cultural mainstream, and that means many thousands of Christmas songs and Christmas albums have been recorded.  A great number of these have survived right down to the present day, thanks to the natural human proclivity to hold on to every piece of circular black vinyl ever printed.  I myself have a box of LP’s sitting in my closet, even though I haven’t had a working turntable since 1992.  That means there’s an awful lot of Christmas music floating around, which makes it all the more difficult to understand why I have to listen to Wham! singing “Last Christmas” at least once an hour whenever I have the Christmas music station on. 

No matter what your musical tastes are, when it comes to Christmas music, there’s an absolute surfeit of choices.  Even if you have no taste at all, you can still enjoy songs like “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer,” a barking dog version of “Jingle Bells,” or that absurd “Christmas Shoes” song, which I understand now comes with its own EpiPen for people who are allergic to treacle, which is most of us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Muppets

Elizabeth and I took the girls to see the new movie The Muppets recently.

It’s only fair to tell you up front that I am a huge fan of the Muppets, and of Jim Henson.  The original Muppet Movie is still one of my favorite movies, and as a kid I was a big fan of The Muppet Show TV series. 

I also have to admit that, after Jim Henson’s passing, I noticed differences in the characters, the kind of humor, the voices themselves, that made me care less about the Muppets than I used to.  So, when I heard they were making this new movie, I was not very optimistic.  When the trailer came out, followed by the TV commercials, I saw very little in any of it to change my mind, or to convince me that this new film would do much to reverse the Muppets’ flagging fortunes.  I didn’t know if was even possible to recapture the magical spark that the best of the Muppets had in it, and I wasn’t interested in anything less.  Truthfully, I half-expected that the movie would turn out to be an empty, contrived, disingenuous mess. 

Boy, was I wrong.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Morning Hawk

It’s Monday morning, around seven-thirty.  Our black Lab, Chubby, has just finished eating, and now she wants to go outside.  I open the door to the back yard, and as the dog and I step out into a frigid pre-dawn gray, we are greeted by a beautiful, dark-brown Harris hawk swooping beneath the telephone wires and directly above our heads, screeching hoarsely as it passes over the house. 

I think I’ve seen this hawk before.  There have been several times over the past month when I’ve seen a Harris hawk prowling the afternoon skies of our neighborhood, strategically maneuvering from one palm tree to another.  Harris hawks are distinctively colored compared to other types of desert hawks:  their bodies range from rich red-brown to chocolate, darkening almost to black.  They are white at the base of their tails, but the tail feathers themselves are black, or nearly so, with a thin white fringe at the end.  Their bare legs, talons, and beak are a buttery yellow-gold.

Seeing a hawk this early in the morning was unexpected enough. To hear its shrill cry at close range, though, was enough to make the blood jump inside my body.  Maybe it was as surprised to see us as we were to see it.  Whatever the reason, the screech had in it that compelling, primal quality that startles even as it unlocks your memory.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Forward Path - 7 December 2011

I’ve fallen behind a little bit when it comes to reporting what’s going on with the professional side of this crazy little adventure, so let me bring you up to date.

On Friday, November 25th (Black Friday – coincidentally, I hope), my third guest column ran in the West Valley sections of the Arizona Republic.  It was a highly truncated version of the “Veteran’s Day 2011” essay that I posted to the blog on Nov. 18th.  If you want to see just how truncated it was, here’s the link to the column as it appeared in the paper.  That, plus the 9/11 reflections editorial means that I’ve had a piece published in the paper in four consecutive months.   I guess I’ve got a streak on my hands, right? 

A nice surprise this time came on Saturday, Nov. 26th, when we discovered that the column also ran in the Phoenix editions of the Republic (which makes sense, because the Veteran’s Day parade I wrote about occurred in central Phoenix).  That’s also a first. 

It’s an exciting time, but also one in which I’m trying really hard not to be impatient. 

Baby steps, Kev…baby steps.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the butterfly hole

There are many connections between this and the last post, "a funny thing happened on the way to a life."  They are companions in a way, but I imagine the differences between them will stand out more than the similarities.  

If Shel Silverstein wrote about the topic of discovering yourself (and it's entirely possible he did), it might have sounded something like this... 

the butterfly hole

For years I would watch the butterflies
that randomly flitted by
never really knowing what they were
bits of magic in the sky.

Where do butterflies come from?
As a question I thought it quite fair
until I discovered a hole in my head
hiding right beneath my own hair!

Now a hole, people say, is a bad thing,
something that ought to be fixed.
Walking 'round town
with a hole in your crown
is just no way to go
(this we all know)
unless you’re a whale
or an ‘o.’

Saturday, December 3, 2011

a funny thing happened on the way to a life

I want to dedicate today’s post to two people: one I know well, and the other is someone I feel like I know, but have never met, and couldn’t tell you his name. 

I’ve never dedicated anything before, but if a disc-jockey can do it, why not?

This post is dedicated first to Elizabeth, for always seeing through the fraud I was trying so hard to be.  Nothing that is happening now could have happened without your faith. (And don’t worry; you still get the dedication in the first book).

I also want to dedicate this particular post to a guy who goes only by the name “Kid,”  and writes a blog by the name “The Kid in the Front Row,” which TBF’s* of my blog have probably noticed appearing under “My Blogs List” for several months now.  Kid writes mostly about movies, but he also writes about writing.  His gift is the ability to think clearly about the truth, and transmit that honesty in a way that I find thrilling and a little shocking.  His writing resonates with me both as a writer, and a human.  Because of his work, I am inspired to continue drilling down in my writing through my own personal BS until I get to the bedrock of truth.  The following post is one such effort. 

*TBF = true blue friend