Furlough Diary - Day 10

(On a related note: I avoid much of the news surrounding the shutdown. I can't do anything about the situation, apart from write to my representatives, which I did. So I'm letting them handle it while I get on with my life.)

Last week, I focused on creating a set of emails for the neighborhood association's upcoming community meeting. I devised a set of twice-weekly emails, wrote them all, sequenced them, and then set up email reminders for myself. My system will remind me when it's time to post an email to the neighborhood listserv and then I'll take care of it. It took way longer to do that than I thought it would, mainly because I was procrastinating on writing 8-10 emails. But once I got started, I was able to push through and get them done.

Which then left the problem of what to do with acres of unscheduled time. Is that a problem? It doesn't have to be. But I've discovered over the years that if I don't have a project or some structure to my day, I do go to pot pretty quickly.

This would be a golden time to update my LinkedIn profile. I could also call that entrepreneurial non-profit and set up an appointment to talk to them about starting their program. Right now, all my eggs are in one employer's basket; it might be better for me to start my own endeavor that puts me more in control. I've written the email to the non-profit, but I've not sent it yet. I don't know why.

I have a creative project I had set aside so I could focus on the neighborhood project; I'm trying to not chase two rabbits anymore. I've been ramping up the research and writing on that project. I find the mornings are the best time for me to write and edit, or sometimes later in the evening. Afternoons are for housekeeping, laundry, desk cleaning, reading, and, if possible, a 20-minute nap at 2 or 3 pm.

I also charged through a few motivational books by the coach Steve Chandler on my Kindle. I'll probably write them up here sometime. I'm reading a third book of his to see if the same themes recur.

I've also taken the opportunity to meet friends and acquaintances for coffee, without feeling the need to hustle back to the office. Running errands has also been less stressful. I do like to leave the house at least once a day, even if it's just to put gas in the car, otherwise I get cabin fever.

The weather lately has been cool, due to Tropical Storm Karen, so I set up my office on our screened-in back porch. It was lovely. Whenever my eyes or shoulders got tired, I could set the MacBook or Kindle aside and look out at the trees and the bird-feeders and just relax. It's so odd to have so much less thinking going on in my mind. The job takes the best hours of one's day, and the days are filled with a thousand decisions related to problem-solving, writing emails, deciding where to go for lunch, returning phone calls, etc. With less on my plate, with fewer problems to solve, there's subsequently less on my mind and my god is it peaceful.

Tomorrow is my banjo lesson in the morning. I will shop at the grocery after to get the food I'll make for supper tomorrow night. And I'll have time to write, read, have a nap. It's not like floating down the Mississippi on a raft, but for me, it's pretty good.

Movie: "Enough Said"

Warning - Mild spoiler alert. I don’t reveal plot points, but if you read this post, you’ll be able to put it together.

We’ve had an astonishingly good run of movies this summer, apart from the abysmal – dare I say Pepto-Bysmal – “Blue Jasmine.”

Our latest was “Enough Said,” a small, sweet romantic comedy from writer-director Nicole Holofcener that is a terrific star vehicle for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose acting and energy I’ve always liked. It’s also one of James Gandofini’s last movies and what a nice note to go out on.

How rare is it to see a romantic comedy between two middle-aged adults (we’ll skip over “Before Midnight,” which is a different beast altogether and which I didn’t love as much as “Before Sunset”)? Although Gandolfini clearly breaks the typical leading-man mold, Louis-Dreyfus as the masseuse Eva is Hollywood-thin and Hollywood-pretty; when Eva complains about being flabby, my eyes rolled out of their sockets and fell into the popcorn. Still, she and Holofcener are not afraid to show the lines and wrinkles. I also thought it was great seeing a middle-class character living in a smallish home and wearing jeans and flip-flops the way most people I see in life do.

Enough said poster

Why do I call it a “small” movie? The story’s concerns stay within a rather tight orbit of family and friends, and the stakes at first seem small – no one is going to lose their house because they can’t land the deal, the Empire will not fall if the Nose-ring of Aggraddorr is not destroyed. But in the end, I was so swept up in the everyday concerns of love, friendship, family, and broken hearts that these characters’ attempts to find happiness left an oh so pleasing aftereffect. The movie’s pace is casual, the music understated, the costumes and settings unextravagant. It’s a recognizable and comfortable world.

I’d even hedge my description of it as a “romantic comedy” as Holofcener strenuously steers the movie away from the standard genre tropes. They don’t meet cute; Gandolfini’s Albert actually asks for Eva’s phone number – like a grown-up would do! Their dialogue in the movie line and at a restaurant is not the sparkling cut-glass banter of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. Instead, their badinage is playful, gentle, funny, tentative – clever, but in the way that intelligent people can be clever, not Hollywood-clever. And there are no stupid misunderstandings where one starts out not liking the other and then must be swayed to fall in love. These start out liking each other, but then doubts creep in; they’re both divorced and the memory of old mistakes starts affecting the new relationship.

It’s a movie about relationships – wrecked ones, strong ones, parent/child, man/woman, older/younger, boss/employee, lovers, ex-lovers, friends. The movie is full of people needing a connection, or losing a connection, or needing to renegotiate a connection; it’s a theme that is masterfully played out and subtly done.

But the movie can’t escape its genre handcuffs in the way that Eva holds on to information she should clearly divulge yet clings to while stringing along both her boyfriend and her new friend and client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), a poet who lives a kind of beautiful life Eva envies.

The movie pretty much demands that Eva’s deceptions be revealed in the most humiliating way possible and they are. Eva weasels and squirms and tries to evade her responsibility for the situation, but the script doesn’t let her off the hook. And while the deception plot seems just like the kind of slapstick setup for Elaine on the old “Seinfeld” show, Louis-Dreyfus doesn’t go for laughs. Eva deserves to be put on the spot; she knows she’s hurt people she’s come to care about and who care about her. It’s a devastating moment because life will not be the same afterward for anyone.

I liked how Holofcener did not give Eva an easy out. When she goes to Albert’s house to apologize, there’s no shouting, no banging on tables, no big scenes – just honesty and sadness played out in an ordinary kitchen. When Albert’s daughter, who has been an obnoxious snob for most of her scenes, gives Eva a gift of unearned and undeserved kindness, there should not be a dry eye in the house. It’s one of the most real, and also one of the most touching, moments I’ve seen in a movie in a long while. (Always be skeptical of a reviewer who really loves something, kids; it means his love for the material is overlooking flaws. But in this case, I care not.)

One of my few complaints about the story is that Keener’s character is left high and dry by Eva’s betrayal. As I think back on it, it’s pretty clear that Eva was awed by the poet and is flattered to be considered her only friend (really? her only friend?) but the liking is only one way, from the poet to Eva. Keener does a good job of conveying her liking for Eva, and she looks devastated at the revelation of Eva’s betrayal. But we don’t see Eva attempt to apologize or try to set the matter straight with her. It’s as if Holofcener is saying that a loving relationship with a man is more important than an affectionate friendship with a woman. That may be an artifact of the genre or it would have unbalanced the story of Albert and Eva, with whom we’re more invested by the movie’s end. It’s one part of Eva’s story that really bothered me afterward.

In compensation, though, there are many other lovely moments, one of which is Eva and her ex-husband saying goodbye to their daughter at the airport, with tears flowing from the women as they check her through security and then see the escalator take her away. Holofcener holds for a time on Eva and her ex-husband as they walk away, clinging to each other tight and reassuring each other – such a beautifully done moment. Again, a real moment, with respect paid to the emotions these characters are feeling and not chopped short by a wisecrack or witty quip.

The ending is tentative, reassuring, and the right words are said. No big emotions, no big music, no big Hollywood-anything – just two people sitting on a porch, trying to get back to each other. So yes, a small movie, and I loved it.

Although Gandolfini doesn’t get the set pieces that Louis-Dreyfus does, his presence throughout is solid and grounded and it would be a lesser movie without him. He’s a big teddy bear , with a rumbling voice and gentle manner, and enough steel to let Eva know that she’s crossed the line. But even then, he treats her with respect.

Update: The reviews that I’ve scanned also like the movie, and use “bittersweet” to describe its tone, which is a word I wished I’d thought to use. This brief New Yorker review by David Denby says a lot more in a lot less space (I really should learn to write sometime). He also uses a word I should have used to describe Gandolfini’s performance: “dignity.”

Ebooks—What We Gain, What We Lose

Link: Ebooks—What We Gain, What We Lose | doug toft

Writer Doug Toft finished reading a big book on his Kindle, and noted the positives and negatives of ebooks, ending with a pensive quote from David Byrne.

Byrne is right to be concerned about the persistence of ebooks. Ebooks and PDFs will last only as long as there is technology – hardware and software combined – to run and display them.

Consider that most of the books and artifacts of written language we have from the ancient world survived by accident, before the age of temperature- and humidity-controlled rooms, before the age of professional librarians. We have a great understanding of paper’s tolerances and preserving books and paper is not that expensive, overall. Digital objects are, by comparison, more fragile and, as Byrne notes, more ephemeral.

Each of us has a different capacity to give to others without losing ourselves. Some of us can give only a bit, some of us give so much there is nothing of us left. Your real job, not necessarily the one you get paid for, is to find the opportunity to infuse meaning into your life by challenging yourself to give in a way that jeopardizes your happiness.

Look around for where you can make a big difference. It is likely a place that will shake you up.