Monday, March 30, 2020

Coronavirus Cinema: TOOTSIE

Three thoughts about TOOTSIE, coming up after the trailer:

* TOOTSIE is a fantasy about a bunch of New Yorkers who act like they've never seen a drag queen before.

* Sydney Pollack is one of our great directors, and you can see his command of craft here. One example: We do get a montage of Michael Dorsey's transformation into Dorothy Michaels - but not until we've already met Dorothy. Pollack is confident enough that we have Michael in one scene, cut to the next with Dorothy, and he knows the audience can follow along without a big buildup. You don't see that often.

* That said, I saw this in the theater in 1982. It was the first rom-com type movie where I was confused at the end. Dustin Hoffman's character had betrayed Jessica Lange thoroughly - and her father - and yet at the end both grudgingly accepted him back in their lives? I call bullshit.

 That's why they call it a fantasy, I guess.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus Journal: Care and feeding

Our last meal at Cafe Lutecia in Philadelphia before
moving away in 2016. It was our home away from home.
I still miss it fiercely. We were going to visit this summer.
Now I wonder if we'll ever get to go back.

Today's lunch: Canned kidney beans and green chilies sauteed in olive oil (salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder added), served over brown rice with shredded cheddar and a healthy dash of Tabasco.

It's actually kind of tasty?

I'm not really a cook. But I watched SALT FAT ACID HEAT and the occasional YouTube cooking video. If I'd been smart, I'd have thrown in a piece of bacon. Next time, assuming there's still bacon in the house. Funny thing is, I'd never make that lunch for myself normally. I'd head out for something ... less healthy, in all probability.

I think I'm eating less overall. I'm curious what my blood sugar levels are going to look like at the end of this. Assuming I survive. Which I don't assume.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus Journal: And now, a word from Czeslaw Milosz

I read this poem in the New Yorker in the early aughts -- at almost precisely the moment I was taking my leave of the church. I have tried to let it guide how I interact with people of faith since then. And I've been thinking about it lately.

These days, I have one foot in and one foot out of the church. I have always missed the community of my last congregation. I often miss the hymns. But I can't quite get myself to fully engage, either. I go back for a week or two, then disappear for months at a time. The people there still love me, oddly enough. That's God enough for me, for now.

But it's early in this crisis. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. I don't think that's actually true. I think I'm about to find out if I can survive this kind of challenge without permitting my hope to overwhelm my head. I honestly don't know. And I'm not sure that it matters. We're all about to experience PTSD -- the lucky ones among us, that is. Whatever gets us through, right?

Other notes:

* We were going to be frugal in the face of the pandemic, but really: We don't spend near as much money if we don't leave the house. We're spending a bit more on groceries, and a whole lot less on everything else. Of course, that's what's contributing to the collapse of the economy, but it's still the right thing for us to do.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Coronavirus Journal: Routines amidst despair

Cello practices continue. Today, in the garage, to the fresh air.

I've been working from home for nearly four years now, and I've never been terribly great at establishing a routine.

I'm great at meeting work deadlines. But other things -- getting out of the house, going to the gym -- I've been hit-or-miss. I always mean to get a little bit better ... tomorrow.

Now we're all at home almost all of the time, and a few routines would probably be good. For my health. My mental health. For my son and wife. Right now, though, I'm doing a worse-than-usual job.

Mostly, I can do my assigned work. And other than that, I've been spending hours each day watching social media, watching the tragedy unfold slowly and in real time.

I haven't read much, despite buying some new books. I haven't walked outside much at all. Mostly, it all takes energy devoted to witnessing the world break down. I am sleeping more deeply now than I have in years, and it takes a real fight to get awake in the morning.

But I'm trying to fight my tendency to go into a ball. For the sake of my son. For the sake of my wife.

So I've got one routine established. I'm playing one game of chess with my son each day.

Yesterday, he beat me for the first time ever. It made me happy. Life goes on.

I hope.

For more from the Coronavirus Journal, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Coronavirus Journal: Is this the end?

After a year off Facebook, I broke down and went back.
Social distancing is tough for me.

So far, I'm lucky: I write a regular column for The Week, and -- for now anyway -- they're still using my services. I saw a story today that said one in five Americans had already lost their jobs or seen hours reduced because of the coronavirus crisis.

I'm lucky to still have work. But I also have to think about my work a bit differently. I've never wanted to be a hack -- I've worked hard to avoid it -- but we are at a historical moment. To have such a platform is a privilege. To "mail it in" would be sin. Especially if one considers: What if the end of my life is coming soon? The end of my career? What will my final contributions be? How will I want to be remembered?

Last night, I wrote a column. 800 words roughly. Sent it to my editors. Then I realized it was inadquate to the moment, focused on small-bore politicking instead of the big concerns that face us all.

So I withdrew the column, and wrote a whole new column. It was about something important.

I'm glad I did.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Coronavirus Journal: Thoughts and Prayers

My son has insisted we start daily family yoga for the
duration of the lockdown. He's a bit of a showoff.

I'm not much of a praying man. My theological beliefs are fuzzy, at best, and I have long believed in Huckleberry Finn's maxim: "You can't pray a lie."

But for the last couple of weeks, as it has become apparent that coronavirus would upend our lives, I've become a praying man again.

This is tricky, because I've never wanted to treat God -- or whatever name you have for whatever force there might be in the universe -- as Santa Claus. "Dear God, give me this thing that I want," seems both pointless and selfish. I want to be healthy and not lose my livelihood during this time. But so do a lot of people who have, or are about to, lose either their health or their livelihood. I'm not sure that God, to the extent God exists, works that way.

But here's the thing: I'm not in control of what's about to happen.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

And now, a timely reminder from Louise Erdrich

"It seemed to Thomas, as they sat in the sinking radiance, shucking bits of shell from the meat, dropping the nuts into a dishpan, that he should hold onto this. Whatever was said, he should hold on to. Whatever gestures his father made, hold on to. The peculiar aliveness of things struck by the late afternoon sunlight -- hold on to it."
The Night Watchman, pages 66-67 

Coronavirus Cinema: TOOTSIE

Three thoughts about TOOTSIE, coming up after the trailer: * TOOTSIE is a fantasy about a bunch of New Yorkers who act like they've...