What we've been watching (and reading)

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God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man : a saltwater Geechee talks about life on Sapelo Island by Cornelia Bailey with Christena Bledsoe (2000). I read to Liz before she goes to sleep and we've found over the years that memoirs tend to be our favored material. This book is an oral history told by Bailey about her life on the Georgia barrier island of Sapelo, populated by the descendants of slaves who had worked cotton on the island. The memoir covers her life from when she was born in the '50s to the present-day, with lots of cultural history and stories going back to pre-Civil War times. Even in the '50s, the inhabitants lived in a supernatural world alongside the natural one; she talks about "haints," interpreting dreams, and the ghosts of dead ancestors always close by as daily companions. Bailey's easy way with a story and lively memories make this a delightful reading experience. We've not gotten there yet, but we will soon hear about the decline of the old ways as the young move off of the island and the few residents who remain fight off pressure from the State of Georgia, which owns nine-tenths of the island. The book's title derives from the Geechees' (cousin to the Gullahs) belief in the equal power of God, "Dr. Buzzard" (voodoo), and the "Bolito Man" (luck).

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Tig (dirs: Kristina Goolsby, Ashley York, 2015). A documentary of standup comedian Tig Nitaro, who lived through one of the most hellish years one could imagine and her struggles with transforming some of those experiences into jokes and material, along with rebuilding her life and career. I don't want to say more, as I came to this knowing nothing of her struggles; as her story would turn a corner and go somewhere new and unexpected, I was swept along and as shocked or delighted as she was. Her bravery in so many aspects of her life -- not just shakily rebuilding her career but taking bigger and bigger personal chances too -- had me shaking my head in admiration.

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Silicon Valley, season 1 (2014). So great to have a Mike Judge TV series again and this one is so smart and so spot-on in its satire of the Silicon Valley culture. The culture is already so over the top, it's hard to see how it can be lampooned, but Judge and his writers do it. The skeletal and spectral Jared is my favorite character. Be warned that it can be pretty raunchy, particularly the last episode.

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The Overnight (dir: Patrick Brice, 2015). When did quirk become the new normal? A thin piece that, after the mysteries are explained, starts rousing to some kind of strange life -- and then it's over. Afterward, I started writing an essay in my head on how the story sets up the characters and its themes, deconstructing why do the leading ladies and leading men look alike?, and finding evidence that at film's end  things are still not as they seem ... when I wondered why I was polishing my bucket to hold a drop of water. One of the quips I've seen all over the web lately goes, "Some things once seen cannot be unseen." This is especially true of Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman's skinny-dipping scene.

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Hello Ladies, the series (2013) and the movie (2014). How much of this series you can tolerate depends on how much you like the cringeworthy comedies that Stephen Merchant has created with Ricky Gervais. His hapless ladies' man and lame cool guy routine gets routine pretty quickly, while his character's willful ignorance, inability to learn his lessons, and punishing trials never seem to go further than trying to raise a larf. When I could get past the plots, though, I enjoyed watching his character Stuart hanging out with his friends and particularly his attractive tenant Jessica, and following their stories with more interest. The characters' craving for something they can't have blinds them all, one way or another. Merchant and his co-writers also have an uncanny ability to suggest tenderness and vulnerability peeking out from under the farce's bedsheets. The series' last two episodes were the high point, focusing on the characters with the comedy taking a back seat. The movie wraps up the series' loose threads with a hackneyed plot in the first half that shifts gears in the second to a serious study of this damaged character and his redemption. I was actually cheering for him at the end. And the movie sports one of the funniest sex scenes ever, so there's that.

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Alice Gerard & Rayna Gellert, Laurelyn Dossett. We went to Duke's Music in the Gardens series to see these great folk performers. Because live performance by real musicians is what it's all about. Support your local artists.

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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl (dir: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015). A self-absorbed white high-school boy shakes off his cloud of mope after alienating his black friend and breaking the heart of the dying girl. Oooooo-kay. What makes the movie work is its kinetic storytelling (reminded me of Thank You For Smoking, for some reason) and the movie parodies. And maybe it's me, but I was really offended by the popular girl offering herself as Greg's prom date. Why did these characters give Greg the time of day?

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The Audience (dir: Stephen Daldry, 2013) Seen via the National Theatre's live stream into selected movie theaters. An entertaining collection of vignettes showing Queen Elizabeth II's relationships with her prime ministers, from Churchill to Cameron. Funny, middlebrow, fast-moving, a few piquant observations on the queen's role in her country, Mirren is as masterly as they say, and I didn't believe any of it for a second. I prefer The Queen (2006).

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I'll See You In My Dreams (dir: Brett Haley, 2015). So good to see Blythe Danner onscreen again, even in a posh Hallmark Channel type of movie; the supporting actors are great, the lines are funny, and Sam Elliott is sly and dry as the man who wakes Danner's character out of her late-in-life lethargy. Warm, affecting, encouraging. Despite a few lapses (are post-pot-smoking hunger binges really that funny?), everyone acts like grown-ups and it's nice to spend time with characters who don't make me cringe. As with most every movie we've seen this year, the performers are all appealing and make the material they play shine brighter.

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True Stories (dir: David Byrne, 1986). An art-student type vanity project by Byrne that doesn't have a proper story, but that's also not the point. IMDB says there are 50 sets of twins in the movie. Why? Who knows? They're just there, the way the Talking Heads songs are there, the way the preacher is ranting on SubGenius themes, the way David Byrne stiffly narrates a day in the life of a small Texas town and its amusing small-town characters but never, I think, makes mean or mocking fun of them. He seems to simply enjoy them as they are. I enjoyed the movie's oddball stance and easygoing pace. John Goodman, in one of his earliest roles, is there with his screen persona fully-formed and grounds the movie with his heart and vulnerability. And, God, but "Wild, Wild Life" is a fun number.

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A Serious Man (dirs: Ethan and Joel Coen, 2006). Larry Gopnik is a nice man, but not a serious man, in the sense that his Jewish community in the Minneapolis suburbs would recognize. And when the trials of Job start assaulting him, he has no idea what to do or where to go for help. No blood, no gangsters, over the top in all the right ways, funny, fantastic period detail (the mid- to late-Sixties), anchored to a fine lead performance by Michael Stuhlbarg. The Coens never explain everything in their movies so there is usually something unresolved at its center. I like having some undefined spaces in a story.

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Love & Mercy (dir: Bill Pohlad, 2014). Because we had seen The Wrecking Crew documentary a few weeks before, I got a kick seeing them portrayed onscreen in several scenes where Brian Wilson is crafting songs for the next Beach Boys album; for me, these scenes were the most fun of the entire movie. Paul Dano is incredible as the young, strung-out Brian Wilson who finds himself as isolated from the people around him as his 40-year-old strung-out self is under the care of a really creepy therapist. I never really bought John Cusack as the older Wilson. All of the "that can't be true" moments I experienced seem to have mostly happened as depicted onscreen. Wow.

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Welcome to Me (dir: Shira Piven, 2015) Kirsten Wiig is terribly appealing as an unbalanced young woman who wins the lottery, stops taking her meds, and uses her winnings to stage her own Oprah-style show, dispensing bad advice and settling scores with everyone who she felt ever wronged her, from the second grade on up. The movie has the guts to take that premise to its logical conclusion and Wiig goes with it, as her at-first quirkily adorable character sinks into darker places. Hell is inside us and we take it with us wherever we go. This was a movie where, as I watched, I mentally charted the by-the-book plot points, reversals, higher stakes, final push, etc. An OK movie -- not bad but not great.

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Philomena (dir: Stephen Frears, 2013). We were on a Steve Coogan kick after enjoying The Trip and especially after falling in love with his TV series Saxondale (2006-07). We'd missed this one on theatrical release. Philomena no doubt follows the same screenplay template as many of the other movies on this list, but I found the performers so appealing, the story so sad, and the anger so fresh, I didn't notice. The movie tweaked the real-life story, of course, but the bones are there. Coogan and Dench make a good team. Worth your time.

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Still Alice (dir: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, 2014). I remember seeing a TV movie decades ago with Richard Kiley and Joanne Woodward, where Woodward's character, a poet, is afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and begins slowly falling apart while her husband bewilderedly tries to understand and cope with the loss of his wife. I've also just described the broad outline of Still Alice, which sports a fantastic performance by Julianne Moore, and which features a sequence from the novel that had me on the edge of my seat. Aside from those assets, though, I can't say this movie said anything more to me than that decades-old one did. It's gorgeously filmed, and themes of connection/disconnection are always poignant. I choked up at the end when Alec Baldwin, as the husband, talks to their daughter; it's probably the only time I've seen Baldwin that vulnerable and it got my attention and past my defenses.

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Vertigo (dir: Alfred Hitchcock, 1958). I backed a Kickstarter campaign for new seats at the Carolina Theatre, and one of the rewards was a backers-only showing of this movie with our backsides in the new comfy chairs. (Nice and cushy but they don't breathe after about 90 minutes.) It had been decades since I'd seen Vertigo, and watching it on the big screen was glorious -- it enhanced the richness of the colors, the swell of the music. The movie has a tone and pace unlike any other Hollywood product of the time, even other Hitchcock movies of the time. I kept trying to squeeze it into a noir box and it resolutely wouldn't go; it was too brightly lit and beautiful looking (those shots of San Francisco!) to be noir. But its storytelling is less about murder than it is mystery, mood, and tone poem. So many motifs (time, memory, reflections, the abuse of women by men) criss-cross the movie like webbing that its creepiness -- especially Scottie's obsessive remaking of Judy -- is hard to shake. Yes, it's dated, but it has a lingering power and gnawing aftereffect that few movies have.

Once you grasp this, the modern mantra of “no regrets” begins to look not courageous but fear-based: a desperate, panicky effort to avoid future sadness. By contrast, and paradoxically, amor fati offers a more full-throated way of overcoming regret: by accepting it. It’s not a matter of making bold choices “before it’s too late”, but rather of seeing that it’s already too late, and always has been. This is deeply liberating. You only live once. Why waste it trying to have no regrets?

The conclusion of the book provides advice on avoiding blunders.

…make a realistic effort to slow our rush to judgment before all the relevant facts are in. If we could grow more comfortable with the uncertainty around us, our daily blunders would not be as great. All kinds of daily interactions would be altered if we suspended our insufficiently informed conclusions over why others act the way they do.

As children, we harbor ideals for how the world and our lives could be; as adults, we gain bitter experience of how often reality falls short. Growing up means refusing to scurry back into childhood’s unsullied ideals – yet *also* declining to give in to cynical resignation. It’s about tolerating the tension between how things are and how they should be, while still getting out of bed in the morning. To be a good citizen, a good parent, a good political activist – a good grown-up – may require nothing less.

Links: Standing Desks

We had a discussion at work recently about how much we sit, standing desks, treadmill desks, etc. So I did about 90 minutes of searching and came up with the following digest of items that I thought covered the topic fairly well. This will be my starting point if the topic comes up again in the future. Bottom-line: Variety is the spice: mix standing and sitting, don’t do too much of either, move regularly. I was surprised by the observations from some writers about the types of work best done sitting vs. standing. 

Recommendations

I always like going to Wirecutter for their recommendations of consumer tech stuff. (They have a sister site, Sweethome, for house- and kitchen recommendations.)
We’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past three years testing 13 standing desks. The $700 Ergo Depot Jarvis is the best for most people. It’s as sturdy and reliable as a high-end desk, but sells for half the price and comes with a seven-year warranty—compare that to the typical one to three years its competitors offer. It ships faster, too.
If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and nine tested. What’s more, it won’t offgas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on. And in a panel test several months after this article was first posted, every Wirecutter editor who tested our top contenders chose the Imprint CumulusPro as their favorite.
One of my co-workers said he liked the video demo of the Kangaroo adjustable height desk.
As for desk mats — I have heard/read of people also using wobble boards.

First-person lessons learned

As it turns out, you must check your posture constantly and move around, whether you sit or stand at work, because standing all day can be as bad as prolonged sitting. A 2005 longitudinal study in Denmark found that the incidence of hospitalizations due to varicose veins was higher among those who stand or walk at least 75 percent of their time at work. Of course, nurses and factory workers have known this for some time, but it seems to be largely forgotten in the stand-up-desk trend.
As for me, my doctor’s diagnosis of my leg pains did not prompt me to dismantle my stand-up desk. Now I follow my body’s cues. When I begin to feel lethargic or my neck or shoulders bother me, I shift to standing, and almost immediately my muscles relax and I feel more energized. If my legs or feet later begin to ache, I’ll take the experts’ advice and elevate one foot or plop into my chair. And I try to move a lot more in general — doing shoulder rolls, shaking out my limbs, walking to chat instead of e-mailing, or visiting the water fountain down the hall.
  1. Don’t switch straight to a standing desk; make the transition gradually. I’ve actually got my old desk set-up plus a separate desk on which I have the equipment that allows me to stand while I work. I just switch my laptop and wireless mouse and keyboard over to my new desk when I want to work standing up, but I can still sit when I need to.
  2. Standing too much is just as bad as sitting, which is one reason why it’s a good idea to mix it up. If your lower back gets tired from standing, sit down again to work, or stretch it out.
  3. I thought I wouldn’t be able to write while standing, but that’s been fine, although it took a bit of getting used to because I was so accustomed to thinking while sitting. Standing to think is actually quite effective because you’re moving around, which for some reason keeps your brain awake.
  4. ...
  5. The main message is to try out what works for you and don’t think you have to do everything standing. 
[A too-long article, but skim it for the pictures and some of his research. He used a standing desk that didn’t elevate or retract, which led him to look for other solutions.]
If a standing desk works for you, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, don’t force it?—?especially if it negatively impacts your work. Standing while working might not be for you. It wasn’t for me. And that’s okay. Standing for long periods of time isn’t much better than sitting anyway.
The key is to do some activity every day. It doesn’t have to be a five-mile sprint. A walk to and from work, taking the stairs, or some squats while you’re waiting for your lunch can be enough to do the trick.

From the testing camps

There was one result that we all found to be true.
While standing, you feel a sense of urgency which causes you to be focused on the completion of tasks. This works ideally when you’re working with tasks where you know what the outcome should be, and it’s just a matter of completing it. [Also helps counteract the 3pm food coma.]
However, for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.

We think better on our feet, literally – ScienceDaily

A new study finds students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts. Preliminary results show 12 percent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks.

From the skeptical camp

Common sense should prevail in these discussions.  If you have the luxury of choice and stand rather than sit at your job, you’re probably healthier because you’re probably more health conscious in other parts of your life.   You will burn more calories and exert more effort in standing if nothing else.  And you’re probably going to be stressed out, depressed along with the physical factors that result from standing or sitting all day if you’ve got little choice in the matter [ie, postal delivery or assembly line workers, who stand and move all day and are not appreciably healthier due to more stressful jobs].  Reports that draw these very loose correlations to activities like sitting certainly do not merit extreme changes in lifestyle.  If your job allows you the freedom to do so, I would think the best response would be a combination of sitting and standing throughout the day, rather than favoring the extreme.
Feel free to sit down and relax though, its not going to kill you.

I’m a writer but I’m also a teacher and having been successful at both I can tell you that people who say things like “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” ought to try to teach. It is hard to be a teacher…. 

I have dedicated my life to art but honestly, in many ways, artists are parasites.  We don’t keep people warm, we don’t feed people, we don’t keep them dry (unless they use books to build a shelter.)  Give me an oncology nurse any day.  You can all deluge me with emails about how important art was/is to you and I won’t disagree, but try living in your car for a week.
 

I’m proud of what I do.  But I’ve arguably changed more lives by being a mom and by teaching than by writing.

Here’s a polite person’s trick, one that has never failed me. I will share it with you because I like and respect you, and it is clear to me that you’ll know how to apply it wisely: When you are at a party and are thrust into conversation with someone, see how long you can hold off before talking about what they do for a living. And when that painful lull arrives, be the master of it. I have come to revel in that agonizing first pause, because I know that I can push a conversation through. Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: “Wow. That sounds hard.” 

From “How To Be Polite.”

Institutions – from national newspapers to governments and political parties – invest an enormous amount of money and effort in denying this truth. The facades they maintain are crucial to their authority, and thus to their legitimacy and continued survival. We need them to appear ultra-competent, too, because we derive much psychological security from the belief that somewhere, in the highest echelons of society, there are some near-infallible adults in charge.

In fact, though, everyone is totally just winging it.

Documentaries: "Dreams of a Life", "Finding Vivian Maier"

We had an unintended, somewhat depressing, Netflix theme going recently: documentaries of forgotten women who led enigmatic lives. Given the attention they have received in recent years, it’s as if their lives only became interesting after their deaths. You can certainly read all about the stories of Joyce Vincent and Vivian Maier on Wikipedia, but from such sources you only get, as Emily Dickinson would say,“the facts but not the phosphorescence.”

Finding Vivian Maier

For Finding Vivian Maierpictures is the operative word.

The filmmaker, John Maloof, bought a trunk of her belongings at an auction house, discovered sheets of her negatives, and was intrigued by their content and artistry.  He sought out everything else she had squirreled away and stuffed into a crammed storage unit.FindingVivianMaier_500x500

It was clear from what she left behind that Vivian was a hoarder: newspapers, clothes, hats, shoes, trinkets, election badges, receipts, bills, uncashed tax refund checks, bus and rail tickets – ephemera of all sorts. But along with all of that were thousands and thousands of B&W negatives, hundreds of rolls of unexposed B&W film, color slides, and Super–8 movies from the early 1970s.

Maloof was captivated by her guerrilla street photography, her formal experiments with self-portraits, and the sometimes playful pictures she took of the children and families for whom she worked as a nanny. As a photographer, she got close to her subjects in ways that were extraordinary. Based on the evidence of her negatives, she took her craft seriously and knew that she had an eye.

(Maloof’s web site contains galleries of her photos and I strongly urge you to spend some time with them, if you’ve never seen them before. They’re both time capsules and timeless.)

To Maloof, and to others who saw these pictures, she was clearly an artist. Why, then, had no one ever heard of her? Why did she make so few prints of these remarkable images and do nothing with them? Her life – which this intensely private woman held close to her – and her choices were a mystery he felt moved to solve.

Maloof’s documentary (co-directed with Charlie Siskel) starts out being about him, his background, and his discovery of and increasing obsession with Maier. As the movie goes on, though, the detective work on Maier’s life takes center stage and Maloof wisely steps into the background where possible.

The most fascinating interviews, for me, were with the adults whom she had looked after as children and their memories of seeing Maier’s behavior when she was unobserved by her employers. While it was clear to all who met her that she was an eccentric, the children sometimes – in some cases, often – saw that eccentricity veer scarily to either aloof or threatening behavior.

The persistent question from Maloof, the professional photographers and artists he interviews, and Vivian’s acquaintances (she never really had “friends”) is: why did she keep her amazing photos a secret? Why did she do nothing with them? The impression given is that Vivian could have had a career as a significant artist had she only gone public with her photographs.

The film cannot answer that question, of course, though it seems to Maloof the primary mystery of Vivian's legacy. But it didn't strike me as a mystery at all. To me, the obvious answer to why she never cashed in on her remarkable photographs is, “Because that’s not why she took them.” She evidently got out of her picture-taking exactly what she wanted. Putting aside the fact that she appeared not to know any artists nor sought out any sort of artistic community nor even bothered to properly care for her film and negatives, it seemed clear to me that Vivian had no ambitions or inclinations to be a professional photographer.

She did not treat her photography the way most of us treat a hobby, as a refuge or comfort or renewal from our daily grind. Picture-making did not seem to give her any emotional comfort or reward. At times it appeared to be a compulsion, certainly, but not something that gave her pleasure.

Why take all those pictures then? Because the camera offered Vivian a way to hoard ephemeral things: moments, images, impressions, anything that caught her attention. As long as she knew she had the negatives or undeveloped film, then she knew she could get back to them “someday.” One of the interviewees said Maier had so many newspapers stacked in her attic room, her father had to install a steel beam to bolster the sagging floor. She treated her negatives the same way as she treated her receipts, hats, clothes, and newspapers: it was all the same to her.

Vivian clearly suffered some trauma in her life that led to her eccentric behaviors. Taking pictures may have been a way to use the camera, which was always around her neck, as a buffer between her and the world while still enabling her to participate as an observer and collector, as someone who could control the experience.

A new acquaintance asked her one time what she did. She answered, “I’m a spy.” The filmmakers imply she led a double life, working as a nanny while taking pictures of both the world and herself – a secret she held to herself as tightly as she did many others.

Dreams of a Life

Of the two films, Dreams of a Life is definitely the sadder and more disturbing movie, and the one that gnaws at me when I stop to think about it. Finding Vivian Maier, while not a light piece, has the grace of Vivian’s art uplifting it and Maloof’s dogged detective work to uncover her life’s mysteries though not all her secrets. And there is the successful recovery of a trove of photographs that would otherwise have been lost forever.

Dreams of a Life is more spare and troubling. Not least because Joyce Vincent left so little evidence of her life and activities. Former friends and co-workers who knew her can describe what she looked like, how she behaved, the stories she told, but these are only the outer edges of her life as observed by others with the center left tantalizingly, frustratingly blank. There is little to celebrate.Dreams_of_a_life

The film starts with the death of Joyce Vincent – or rather, the discovery of her body. To the best anyone can reconstruct, the 38-year-old died in her bedsit in a rather shabby part of London in December 2003. But her body wasn’t discovered until January 2006. What was found were her skeletal remains; as one interviewee chillingly put it, her body basically “melted into the carpet.” With no soft tissues available for forensic examination, no one can know how she died. She was only positively identified via dental records.

The story angle picked up by the media was what one would expect: how could this have happened? Where was her family? Her friends? Why did no one try to find her or call her or look her in over 2 years? Where was the landlord? The neighbors? And where were the public services? When her body was found, the television and heating were still on. And another grim, poignant detail: her body was surrounded by wrapped Christmas presents with no name tags. Her death -- and the absence of concern about her absence from the world -- became a metaphor about the lack of personal relationships in a crowded, always-connected modern society.

It’s a haunting story that caught the attention of the filmmaker Carol Morley. She took out ads soliciting information from anyone who knew Joyce, slowly locating and tracking down friends, acquaintances, co-workers, former partners, an old roommate. The family declined to participate in the movie.

As Vivian became Maloof’s muse, so Joyce became Morley’s. The timeline she created to track Joyce’s movements through her life, and particularly her difficult last years, is glimpsed throughout the film. The jumble of whiteboard notes, photographs, and news clippings introduce episodes in Joyce’s life, interview subjects, and even suggest events that Morley did not or could not include. Without information from Joyce's older sisters to fill in needed gaps, and without eyewitnesses to key points in Joyce's life, the movie's narrative is maddeningly patchy with too many questions left unanswered.

But Morley deftly turns that lack of information into an opportunity. What had been blank space instead becomes an empty canvas where every interview subject can paint their own picture of Joyce.

They describe Joyce as beautiful, funny, charming, someone who held increasingly responsible jobs – she was the person who looked absolutely put together and undoubtedly led a remarkable life. She was the center of attention -- especially men's -- when she walked into a room. She seemed an innocent and trusting soul. How could anyone so attractive and charming not lead a fascinating life?

But other details of her personality emerge from the interviews. She didn’t talk about her family. She said her father was dead when he wasn’t. The most significant detail to me was how she took on a new boyfriend’s circle of friends as her circle yet never spoke or talked about any other friends she might have had before. When a relationship ended, she drifted away from the circle and was rarely seen by them afterward. It was as if, with every new job and every new relationship, she shed her old skin -- old apartment, old friends --  and re-entered the world as a new person. A blank slate for everyone, including herself.

The most compelling interviewees, to me, were a former boyfriend Martin and her no-nonsense former flatmate Catherine. Martin seems the quintessential, conventional nice guy who tried helping Joyce and wonders if he could have done more. Catherine, on the other hand, is quick with her judgments and clear on what she knows. Her story of the last time she saw Joyce had me gobsmacked – not just Joyce’s behavior, but Catherine’s cool, unsentimental reaction to it. Catherine and Martin would have been great friends to have in your corner and may have counter-balanced Joyce’s maddening lack of focus. But Joyce deliberately pulled away from them as she pulled away from everyone and seems mainly to have drifted through her life.

Morley enjoys throwing her interview subjects a curveball on-camera to get their reactions. In one, she plays a tape of a song Joyce had recorded, ending with a giggly sign-off. They’re startled to hear her voice. They laugh and then say the cute sign-off sounds just like Joyce. Except for Catherine, who says it sounded not at all like Joyce. These contrasts become an interrogation of not only who Joyce really was – something no one will ever know – but how she is remembered and how incomplete those memories are.

If every one has their own image of Joyce, then Morley does too. Her dreams of Joyce's life are presented in re-created scenes from Joyce’s childhood and adult life based on stories Joyce told her friends. The actress Zawe Ashton plays Joyce in scenes – a disastrous birthday party, dancing at a club – that are recollected by the interviewees. The movie re-creates the discovery of Joyce’s body and the subsequent cleanup and forensic investigation of the apartment but with no attempt to visualize her corpse (I am thankful that Morley does not reproduce any photographs taken at the scene). The movie cuts between scenes of a vibrantly alive Joyce and the grim clean-up of her desolate apartment.

I don’t like recreations, as a rule; I can see the need to visually liven up a stretch of the film that would otherwise only have talking heads. But if you can’t document what actually happened, then it’s not a re-creation, it’s a fabrication. One moment particularly angered me. In it, Ashton portrays Joyce singing along to a record with a hairbrush as her microphone, echoing an earlier scene when the 5-year-old Joyce “performs” for her sisters and mother. As the record finishes, the adult Joyce stops the singalong and breaks down in tears. I understand that this is Morley's vision of the Joyce she feels she has come to know, but to me, it was needlessly sentimental glop and a violation of Joyce and her memory. Her story is sad enough without this scene gratuitously amping it up.

Both movies haunted me

Vivian and Joyce kept the world at arm’s length for reasons no one will know. They were solitary women seeking a family, I think, and never quite finding it or quite fitting in. These movies record how the people who knew them saw them, interpreted them. And the movies themselves are not objective; they frame their subjects just as interpretively.

Vivian’s life is a mystery full of clues, and her legacy is the body of work she knowingly created, albeit without any plan. Was she an artist, as so many of the commentators in the movie think? Is that why she took all of those pictures? Or was taking pictures something she was compelled to do, the same way she hoarded newspapers and receipts? Fortunately, these questions don’t have to be answered to enjoy her remarkable photographs. Vivian found a place in the world, at last. And her story, the mysteries of her life, add a captivating allure to the images the world was very close to losing.

But it’s Joyce’s story that moves me on a deeper, sadder level and that I think will stick with me longer. Partly for the simple pathos of dying alone and forgotten. Partly because this was a tragedy that could have been prevented. I want to believe that she could have reached out more and that others could have tried a little harder to reach her (though the film makes clear that in her last months, she was deliberately in hiding and was avoiding contact with everyone from her old life). In the end, it was easier to lose touch than to maintain it.

And her story moves me to ask questions of my own life, as Morley intended it to. Because we've all known people for intense periods of time, however fleetingly: work, school, the other parents in the playgroup, hobbies, church. When I look back over my life, I have carried very few people with me into the present-day from previous jobs, from all the arts classes and community theater productions I did. I spent four very intense years getting my master's, worked on many class projects with my fellow students and teachers, and got to know a few very well. Yet today, I am in only occasional touch with two or three. How well did we all really get to know each other? That's the haunting question Joyce Vincent's life raises: will anyone come looking for me?

By the way, I referred to both women here using their first names rather than their last names because I think it gentler than treating their shades as simply fodder for a stupid blog post. Kindness should be extended to these women even after the fact of their deaths.

I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

"When you lie down with the National Review"

Rosen says the book is written with “scholarly care and memoirist’s flair,” and that it’s “a brisk, lively read, a concise and shrewdly observed portrait of an unlikely political alliance” … but by far the most remarkable part of his review came under the noxious book reviewer humble-bragging tag of “full disclosure,” where the reviewer usually confesses to having had a friendly chat with the author once years ago at the country club they once shared until they both quit when the place started admitting black people (what can I say? As the old saying goes, when you lie down with the National Review, you wake up in a gated community with alcoholic children and a wife who hates you).

If you want to learn to use implementation intentions, I recommend you set this goal intention and meta-implementation intention right now:

Goal intention: I intend to use implementation intentions to reach my goals!

Implementation intention: If I set a goal intention, I will also think of a specific implementation intention that specifies the where, when, and how I will act to achieve my goal!