What was that all about?

Well, I’m blaming last night’s little panic attack episode on a combination of job stress, lack of sleep, and reading my friend’s very dark and cynical short stories right before I tried to go to bed. And, of course, the typical self-indulgent whining. But hey, this is a blog, after all.

Job situation is almost somewhat looking up: a ton of bugs got magically whisked away from me today, and the end is (supposedly) in sight. I’m already planning what I’m going to do with my time off. It involves sleeping, seeing more of the city, going out with friends, and the sweet, sweet healing power of booze.

Plus, Rachael got me tickets to the Pixies concert in Berkeley later this month! How much does that rock? Well, it rocks a good bit. And it rocks hard. This time I’m going to stop concentrating on how old I am and just focus on how old they are now. A while ago my friend Chris pointed out that Frank Black is looking more and more like Divine every time he sees him. Ha ha! Take that, so-called rock “legends!”

Plan for tonight: watch Mulholland Drive while waiting for the Tylenol PM to kick in. Seeing a David Lynch movie while under sedation. What could possibly go wrong?

Desperately Optimistic

Well, if this is a journal, and the whole point is for me to become a better writer, then I guess I have to write down the bad stuff as well as the good.

I’m always hearing from people that I’m grouchy, or surly, or cynical, or hard to read, when I think anyone who really knows me knows that I’m completely the opposite. Several years ago I got into a nasty fight with someone whose opinion I had previously respected, and he told me “you’re just so hard to read.” I stewed on that for a while, and eventually told my friend Bret, and he replied, “No you’re not! You’re like a wire! A tightly-pulled wire. The slightest disturbance just vibrates throughout the whole of your being.” Finally, someone who gets it! I wish he and I talked more.

Usually, I think Candide was a cynic. This isn’t just the best of all possible worlds, this world is pretty freaking awesome on its own, no qualification necessary. There’s just so much beauty and wonder in the world, and so many people who do good things so easily, without giving it a second thought. I’m desperately optimistic; clinging to the idea that everything is going to be okay despite all evidence to the contrary.

Except when I can’t. Because now I’m thinking that everything I’ve assumed or taken on faith is wrong. And I was a sap for believing it. The people who I always assumed had it all figured out, are just as miserable as everyone else. Not only was I naive to believe I could have all the things I wanted; I’ve been wanting the wrong things. Nobody has that perfect life. Nobody accomplishes anything. Nobody is truly happy, or even content, because there’s always someone else to pick away at it, or that desire that’s always just out of reach. Each of us is completely alone, doomed never to have true insight into anyone else, only passing time with each other to kill time until we’re dead. And as proof of that, everything here can be dismissed as self-indulgent, whining, crap instead of genuine emotion, or even a genuine panic attack.

I’m not sure what brought this on, whether it was job stress, or lack of sleep, or too much sleep, or staring at myself too long in the mirror tonight, or something I read before trying to go to sleep, or realizing that this year has passed without my paying attention to it, or going outside and seeing the fog roll in just over the roofs of the buildings as if it were pressing down on everything, or worrying about the election, or wondering whether next year would be the same as this one.

All I know is that I’m looking at a picture of myself from 15 years ago. And I’m back in Georgia at a friend’s house, and I’m holding my puppy, and we’re both smiling, and I vividly remember that day, and how I hadn’t started smoking, and how I had so many dreams of what I was going to accomplish, and whom I was going to love, and how I was going to raise my kids, and the kind of man I was going to be, and I wish to God I was back there right now.

Go Team Venture!

“I dunno. They just do that.”

Cool things seen tonight: The Venture Brothers, which didn’t get me at first, but now I think it rocks all kinds of ways. Granted, anything with Patrick Warburton in it is guaranteed to be at least entertaining, because he’s just the coolest. At first, I’d dismissed this series as just another “Jonny Quest” parody with the prerequisite “Dr. Quest and Race Bannon were totally gay!” jokes. But it’s a level higher, and it’s hip and just plain funny. It’ll be interesting to see how long it can keep it up. For now, it rocks.

Last week’s episode, Dr. Venture was given a truth serum and when asked his name, he traipsed around the room turning on lamps and saying, “Reading from the top: Lisa Carol Fremont.” Genius.

Another thing seen: Resident Evil: Apocalypse. I liked the first movie better. It wasn’t “good,” but at least it knew what it wanted to do: kill people in ingenious ways, all set to techno music, while showing as much of Milla Jovovich as possible. And yes, she’s wicked hot. So hot and so comfortable in her hotness that she’s game for anything and is willing to go into movies and get all bloody and dirtied up. And indeed, she does kick much ass in the new movie. And yes, you do get to see her naked; I was thinking that they wouldn’t show it since we’d already seen topless zombie hookers earlier. After the two Resident Evil movies and Zoolander, I’m liking Milla Jovovich so much I’m almost willing to watch The Fifth Element again.

But there’s just something missing. They went more cheesy action movie than cheesy horror movie. And so much of it was just by the numbers. And while it was a nice nod to the videogame that they included Jill Valentine, they just made her nothing more than Sultry Look Cop. I wished they had just gone ahead and cast Parker Posey in the role and let her have fun with it. Still, these are probably the best videogame-to-movie adaptations that have been done yet.

And I just saw on Yahoo! that there was a blast and mushroom cloud reported over North Korea. Kind of makes cartoons and zombies seem insignificant. Mercy. I thought we were allowed not to be scared of the bomb anymore, and we just had to be scared of jet planes, sarin gas, anthrax, assault weapons, genocide, xenophobia, and the Patriot Act.

When the Child was a Child…

On the drive into work this morning, I kept thinking about Wings of Desire for some reason. It’s really a beautiful movie overall — very European in that it has absolutely stunning sequences but kind of meanders and doesn’t hold together all that well, plus it has an American TV personality (Peter Falk) playing himself (more or less).

Still, while I like the central love story and the theme of angels wanting to live as humans, what really got me was the opening. There are scenes of people all over Berlin living lives of “quiet desperation;” we hear their worry and their stress in voice-over. And then, we see strangers walking up and putting a hand on their shoulder, and their thoughts turn to hope and peace. And we see that there are angels all over the place, watching over us all. It’s just a beautiful segment, both in concept and in the way it’s presented.

I think the reason I was reminded of it is because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I’ve always had someone appear for me at the moment I needed them the most. Every time I’ve hit a low point, I’ve had someone come along and pull me out. Every time I’ve been lonely, or hopeless, or just hating myself, someone has appeared and talked me through it, or took my mind off of it, or just said, “You know what? You are who you are, and that’s fine. It’s no big deal. Everything’s going to be okay.” And most of the time, they didn’t even realize what they were doing at the time; how significant it was.

No, I haven’t been drinking tonight. Why do you ask?

Hum along

It’s after 4 AM and I’m still wide awake, so what better to do than get on the internet. I was just outside and noticed that San Francisco, or at least my neighborhood, has a weird hum to it after dark and everyone’s gone to sleep. Kind of a hollow, airy rumbling, much like the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. For all I know, it’s either the fog rolling in, or the sound of thousands of bongs being cached simultaneously.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten links to various livejournals from various different sources. I know I’m late to the party, what with its being 2004 and my just discovering the whole livejournal thing, but still I have to ask — what the hell? It seems to me the textual equivalent of Jame Gumb dancing around naked in front of his mirror. This is stuff you think and then immediately dismiss; not post up on the internet for millions of people to see.

But then, it gets to be 4 AM and you’re a raging insomniac and it kind of makes sense to write this stuff down. You see why someone would want to post his mood (tired and maudlin) or what music he’s been listening to (The The: Dusk). And the bit of maudlin introspection said music triggered in him: that record gets to me like few other records can. I haven’t listened to it all the way through in years, but every time I do, by the time I get to the last song “Lonely Planet,” I’m left over-emotional. Like a caffiene buzz, but from feeling and remembering stuff. Maybe it’s the late hour, but the last lines are exactly what I’ve been thinking over the last two or three months:

I’m in love with the planet I’m standing on.
I can’t stop
I can’t stop thinking of
All the people I’ve ever loved
All the people I have lost
All the people I’ll never know
All the feelings I’ve never shown.
The world’s too big, and life’s too short
The world’s too big, and life’s too short
To be alone… to be alone.

Also, happy birthday to my friend Alfredo. We were roommates my freshman year of college, and I think we managed to get one of those lifelong friendships all covered in one year. There are very, very few people I’ve ever met who I’ve gotten along with so well, so quickly. Just one of those people who’s such a good guy, it comes through instantly. And it sounds like he’s happy, and nobody deserves it more than him.

This must be how Puff-Daddy lives

I had an inordinately cool weekend, which is especially remarkable when you consider that I didn’t even realize it was Labor Day weekend until Monday. I had to work for a while on Saturday, but left “early” to go to a dinner party with some people from the Straight Dope Message Board. I hadn’t met any of the people before outside of posts on the board, but they were all extremely open, friendly, intelligent, and cool. I learned quite a bit about San Francisco history and was forced to re-think my previous assessment of San Francisco natives, that they’re all basically cold and unfriendly.

I ended up hanging out at The Phoenix hotel (which just rocks; I’d never heard of it before — it’s a 50’s style motel, palm trees and a pool and everything, right in the middle of the Tenderloin) with a few new friends until 4 in the morning, just shooting the shit. Cool people, every one of them. I’m looking forward to getting to hang out again.

In other news: Bjork’s new album sucks.

Happy Birthday, Skip!

Today’s my brother’s birthday. I’m realizing that my gift(s) aren’t going to get there in time. I’m also realizing that I wouldn’t be out here if not for him. He was the one who got me into Star Wars when I was six years old; I was happy just watching Pete’s Dragon. He always liked the coolest stuff. I can remember sneaking into his room and looking through all his old Starlog and OMNI magazines. Anything he liked was just the neatest thing. I can remember taking trips down to Florida and fighting in the back seat of the car, then we’d stop at a road-side store over the state line and get fireworks. I’d just get a box of sparklers while he loaded up on the M-80’s and cherry bombs and roman candles and I’d be jealous because I was always too scared of the neat fireworks. The folks would always try to even everything out between us, but they were fighting a losing battle — anything Skip got would always be cooler than whatever I had. Even if it were the exact same thing.

I remember a few years ago Lucasfilm was doing a promotion with one of the fast food restaurants, where they had a whole set of Star Wars toys you could get with the happy meals or some such. Skip went around to the places and got one of each one and mailed them all to me in one big set. At the time, I just said, “thanks, but I’m so tired of Star Wars at this point.” I was a jerk, and I just didn’t get it. I get it now.

I looked up to him and thought he was just as cool as hell when I was six years old, and nothing’s changed since then.

Black Adaptation

I’m going to make a concerted effort tonight to actually get new content on this damn website. If I’m successful, it’ll be up in the “Smackdown” section, because I gots lots more to say about Adaptation vs. Solaris.

And in unrelated news: I’ve been renting “Black Adder II” from Netflix and catching up on a couple episodes a night. It’s been years since I saw it last. I had forgotten just how brilliant Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth I is. She steals the whole series.

Adaptation

I’d intended to keep all the movie-related stuff out of the blog and in the “Cinematic Smackdown” section, but apparently it’s going to take more time than I’ve got to get the rest of this website up.

I was talking about Solaris last night and was reminded of Adaptation, which is one of my Favorite Movies Ever That I’ve Only Seen Once For Fear That It Wouldn’t Be As Good the Second Time (I saw it again tonight, and it was just as good). It hadn’t occurred to me before, but in some ways they deal with similar concepts.

Even though I loved Being John Malkovich, I’d avoided seeing Adaptation because a friend had told me she’d hated it. Too self-indulgent, too much reliance on a gimmick. But I was out to see Chicago one night and could only endure about 15 minutes of it before I bolted and ran, sneaking into another theater.

Just an idea of how much it connected with me: It starts off with a voice-over on a black screen, and it took me a minute to realize that the movie had started and I wasn’t still listening to my internal monologue. Over the next two hours it talks about the creation of the world, orchids, romance, music, self-doubt, fear, over-thinking relationships, alienation, identity, irony, Hollywood, writer’s block, death, the creative process, the struggle to achieve, and movie-making. And a lot of people seemed to miss the point by thinking that the last 30 minutes or so were a cheap cop-out or a too-clever gimmick, when the “joke” ending is actually the core concept of the entire project, realized.

It’s too simplistic to say that the message of the movie is “don’t over-think everything.” Susan Orlean, in The Orchid Thief, cast herself as a character in the story and talked as much about her perception of the world she’d discovered as the flowers and the people themselves. She used the orchids and her travels with LaRoche as a metaphor for self-discovery and the idea that searching for something that’s always just out of reach can be more satisfying than actually discovering it.

In his adaptation of the book, Charlie Kaufman casts himself (and his imaginary brother) as a character in the story and uses the process of writing the adpataion as a metaphor for his own self-perception and his own self-doubt, the idea that his life could be like a screenplay — figure out everyone’s motivations, follow their story, and reach the logical conclusion. The world he knew existed only in his mind, and all the people he knew were merely, like his brother, different aspects of his own personality. He had to get rid of the notion of “this is the way the story is supposed to play out” and just let it play out on its own. And then find meaning out of it.

When you hear Orlean talk about the movie (she has an overly-cute but interesting and relevant Q&A with herself in the latest editions of The Orchid Thief) it makes that side of it even more clear. Is she offended by her ridiculous, over-the-top portrayal in Adaptation? No, and not just because it’s clearly a parody, but because that’s not her. It’s not even Meryl Streep’s portrayal of her. It’s Streep’s portrayal of Kaufman’s perception of the character of her as necessary for his movie. Kaufman (the character) spends much of the later half of the movie getting over his insecurity and trying to get to know “the real Susan Orlean,” and of course the ending reveals that he can’t and likely never will.

It’s a lot more profound than I can describe here even if this weren’t already over-long, which is exactly why it was such a remarkable screenplay. I really need to see Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, because I hear it’s also got a lot to say about perception vs. reality, especially in regards to relationships. But it’s also got Jim Carrey.

And on a personal note, since this is a blog after all, this has been a very weird weekend. Weird, but wonderful. I think I’ve finally started to realize that I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably will never have everything figured out. But I’m no longer horrified at the concept. Once you’ve figured it out, once you’ve reached the happy ending, the story’s over. And I’m still enjoying myself too much, seeing how everything plays out.

Solaris

I finally started to make headway in my Netflix queue, and one of the movies I watched was Solaris, which a friend had recommended. (The Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney version, not the original).

It was definitely well-made. I like Soderbergh’s movies on the whole, and I especially like that they’re a great balance between mainstream and art-film; he doesn’t pander to the audience, and he takes artistic risks and shoots things in a novel way, but he doesn’t get all pretentious, either.

Natascha McElhone as the wife was really, really impressive — she could’ve turned out either completely unsympathetic, or overly idealized. Instead, she seemed like a real, interesting person. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t dislike George Clooney. He’s not a particularly notable actor unless he’s doing comedy, but I’ve never seen him give a bad performance (since “The Facts of Life,” anyway), and he does a good job of being generally smarmy but overall likeable in whatever he does.

Set design, music, and effects were all good too. Nothing over-done or too flashy; this is a psychological movie, not an effects showcase. The story did seem to jump around and leave a lot of stuff unexplained, feeling as if significant parts of the plot had been edited out. But better that than to bog down in unnecessary exposition and detract from the central relationship.

Still, I hated it. Just found it overwhelmingly depressing and bleak. Maybe I was going into it with the wrong frame of mind, but my take-away message: No matter what, you are going to die alone. Even if you find the love of your life, and they love you back, you will never truly know them. At best, you can only know what they choose to show you. You can only know how they make you feel; the things that you love about them. The person that you think you know, the person that exists in your mind, isn’t real; it’s nothing more than another aspect of yourself. Only in death can we truly know and understand each other.

Thanks for the pick-me-up, Steve. I really needed to hear that right now.