Movie Night: Picard

So recently we watched the new series Picard, a long-after sequel series to Star Trek: The Next Generation. ST:TNG was my favorite of the Star Treks, and it was probably the only one of those series I watched in its entirety. My college roommates, who thought me kind of an odd duck in the best of circumstances, didn’t mind watching the show with me on television every week, but they were perhaps less sure how to explain to their non-sci-fi-loving friends about the poster I had of Jean-Luc Picard on our dorm room wall.

It was pretty similar to this one, except without the text at the bottom.

Picard was a decent sort of man, and a much better captain for a modern woman to look up to and feel safe around than that James T. Kirk ever could be, that was for sure. But mostly I just really liked the show and really appreciate Patrick Stewart as an actor. (His version of A Christmas Carol remains to this day the only movie version of that novel I enjoy watching and have made an annual tradition.)

So when Picard was announced, I was understandably enthusiastic.

In preparation, I did not go back and rewatch old episodes of ST:TNG, nor did I rewatch any of the movies from that series, although I liked some of those as well. (For what it’s worth, the newer movies, with Zachary Quinto and Zoe Saldana and Chris Pine and a host of other excellent casting choices, are hands-down my favorites. Even the middle one with Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty good, though the weakest, I think, of the so-far trilogy.) My point is, I came to Picard with my memories of the original character of Jean-Luc, and I was satisfied with that.

This made, perhaps, the elder statesman of Picard a little more interesting to watch. I’ll try not to get too spoilery, but here’s the gist of it, for me: Picard is a character who, in his retirement, must grapple with the same thing that a lot of men in the 21st Century must grapple with. He no longer has carte blanche to act any damn way he damn well pleases. He faces pushback for his actions, for his attitude, and for his way of thinking.

This is not to say that there was anything particularly wrong or untoward about the way he was. But he is a person whose ego has been reduced. One could argue, I suppose, whether it really needed to be reduced in the first place, but the new series definitely makes the point that something had to give.

Now, is Picard someone whose past actions have caught up to him in a way that makes people feel gross about liking him before? No, not at all. This show is not reflective of the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements, nor does it make explicit commentary on the more disgusting and disheartening aspects of the sci-fi (and other) literary community today. In short, I’m not trying to imply that allegations of Picard being an asshole to women have suddenly come to light and he now must fight through disgrace for his past actions.

No, this new storyline maintains the character of Jean-Luc Picard as someone worth looking up to and admiring, but someone who still has room for growth. I respect and appreciate that. (And from a narrative craft standpoint, what other point would there have been in making a new series, if he didn’t have an arc to ascend?)

So, Picard gets to be taken down a peg and then allowed to climb his way back up, at least in a sense. He does so in a thoughtful way. Great!

The other elements of a good sci-fi series one might eagerly expect are there, too: compelling characters, both new and familiar; exciting technology; cinematography that at least borders on lush; worthwhile commentary on the human condition; just a good storyline.

While I won’t say that Picard was something I was desperate to watch and is a show I would have utterly lamented not seeing, I’m quite glad we gave it a chance. It became more engaging and more compelling with each episode, and if another season comes up, I’m pretty sure we’ll watch that one, too.

By all means, wear a mask and wash your hands if you really have to go out, but––

If you can, please just stay home and watch some good content. Picard fits the bill.

Monday Earworm: REG Project

Somehow on Saturday I reactivated an old hip flexor injury. I don’t know how I did it, except by literally turning around while I was collecting laundry. I exacerbated it further when I later bent down to help my daughter apply sunscreen to her back. At my age, I guess this is just my life now? Whatever.

As I’ve been doing my physical therapy to soothe this old injury, I keep thinking of what my physical therapist told me back in September the first time I had to take care of this nonsense. “Quitting bellydancing was the stupidest thing you ever did for your body.”

And he was right grumble grumble grumble.

Please enjoy one of the songs I choreographed and taught to several dance troupes back in the day.

 

Monday Earworm: The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain (Covers The Cure)

There’s a lot going on here in Authorland for the end of June. You’ll soon be able to order my books and poetry art cards from my brother’s shop, Ella’s Apothecary (based in Austin), so look for more on that very soon. One of those books, in fact, is the pre-order for Homecoming, Book 2 in my Animal Affinities Series (after Finis.). Yes, you read that right — it’s finally coming out! Look for it this August (assuming we don’t have further covid-related delays.) One might question the wisdom of launching a book during a global pandemic, and one might be correct to do so. But authors gotta work, too, so. Stay tuned for more info on that later.

In other Homecoming news, I turned everything in today so the book could go into production, and I’m expecting a galley proof next month, so yay! And while I was working all morning, my darling Salaadin jumped up onto my desk and stretched out behind my laptop and fell asleep so fast he forgot to fully close one of his eyes.

About fifteen minutes later he woke up from a nightmare or something, jumped violently with this terrified look in his big blue eyes, and then freaked himself out every time he bumped into something on my desk. Then he tried to eat the golden leaves on the evil eye hanging over him. I had to swaddle him in my arms and coo at him to calm him down. Then he was fine.

Now, time to work on the next book — as soon as I finish the critiques I’m working on for my writing group this week. I am neck-deep in them, but I wanted to take a break and give you an earworm.

I really don’t know what to say about this absolute gem of a video, but I hope you enjoy it.

Movie Night: Destination Wedding

So one thing we’ve been doing during the pandemic is catching up on our television and film consumption in the comfort of home. And honestly, even without having to stay home all the time, we still have always had regular movie nights at our house. It’s just a form of entertainment we enjoy, and there’s so much excellent content out there.

Recently we watched Destination Wedding, which came out at the theaters in 2018 to a muted fanfare and not much commercial success. But wow is it a good movie! And yet it’s easy to see why it wasn’t very popular at the box office.

Check out this trailer, which will provide some context for what I’m about to write next.

So here’s the premise: “Two wedding guests hate the bride, the groom, the other guests, each other, and themselves.” It’s a romantic comedy.

This film is brilliantly written and directed by Victor Levin. It’s very well acted and wryly funny. The cinematography, costumes, and set design are excellent. Ryder and Reeves are perfectly cast: it’s as if the script were written with them, their particular acting strengths, and all their past roles in mind. (And who knows? Maybe it was.) Every scene’s wit and intelligence and keen understanding of the human condition sparkle like champagne — that someone across the table from you accidentally gigglesnorted out of their nose.

So why did this movie flop? I think it’s because the only thing at stake is these two characters’ fragile emotions and egos. And frankly, from the start of the story, contrary to how things seem, the only place they have to go is up. It might appear that every plot turn in this somewhat episodic non-adventure makes their individual situations more ludicrous and cringey, but in fact, both of their character arcs gracefully climb throughout most of the film.

Destination Wedding is absolutely filled with dialogue; dialogue is its main feature. All of the action — and there is some splendid physical comedy, including the most uncomfortably awkward and funny sex scene — is in service to character development. Ryder’s and Reeves’ characters are, in fact, the entire point of the film. There aren’t actually even any other speaking roles, aside from one line of off-screen dialogue toward the end. It’s all about these two people and the conflict of whether they can get outside of themselves long enough to make a connection with each other.

So the film is funny and worthwhile, and I highly recommend it. But tons of people won’t — and didn’t — because, I think, it is a thoughtful, “quiet” movie where comparatively very little is at stake. Unless, of course, you consider that people’s feelings are high-stakes. I do. But our culture has evolved to a moment in time where that sort of thing isn’t widely considered important, necessary, or even entertaining. If I were wrong, vast swathes of social media wouldn’t be a hellscape rage-osphere of shitty opinions and offensive shares.

I’ll be writing more about stakes in the future, so stay tuned for that. But in the meantime, go watch Destination Wedding. Without the kids.

Working From Home. Still. So Far.

So about three months or so ago I wrote a post about the pandemic and the coming lockdown and what I thought about why people were losing their minds over it. I generally still stand by what I wrote then, particularly about transitions and information overload and the way we as humans tend to respond to disruptions and anxiety. Today I’m writing about pandemic-related business again.

So three months into this thing, how are we doing?

As a nation, not great. The lack of leadership has been astounding, even compared to the track record over the last three years. I can’t even go into it here. Lots of other people have, and I’ll let them, but suffice it to say this is my current social distancing bingo card.

That said, my daily logistical life has been overall pretty reasonably good. Stable, for the most part. I have found that there are some things about working from home which I rather like. (I was teaching synchronously on Zoom to mostly engaged students, so my experience was maybe anomalous.) I missed seeing my colleagues and my students in person, but working from home in our house is not miserable. We are steeped in good fortune in that sense, since all four of us can work or school from home without being on top of each other, and the kids didn’t have to do school in their bedrooms. I never for a moment forget our privilege in that regard.

But I will also say that working from home had a steep learning curve, for a variety of reasons. (And those reasons weren’t necessarily the same for each member of my family.) I found, as a teacher, that grading on my computer took about three times as long as grading on paper. And for all my apparent wisdom about transitions, I did not allow myself enough of a transition time to move from one modality (teaching in person in a classroom) to the other (teaching on Zoom). So things took a lot longer than I expected, and that caused me some real stress. It took me a while to come to an awareness that my mindset had been struggling to shift and adjust. After a couple of weeks, I accepted that I was still in a kind of transition myself and needed to cut myself some slack over it. Only after the awareness and acceptance could I take meaningful action, which was to get my work actually done. (For what it’s worth, I was not alone in this, even as a teacher; most of my colleagues were going through much the same process.)

In my post a few months ago I noted that I wasn’t panicking or having anxiety attacks, and to my general surprise and delight, that has mostly held true over the last few months. (Knock on wood.) As someone who suffers from anxiety generally and who has felt the existential dread of living under the current regime since it was just a gleam in a crazy person’s eye, I am pleased to report that I’ve had only a very few meltdowns over the last three months, and they were fairly brief.

As I have noted before, action dispels anxiety. For me, that means that I do things rather than stare at the walls in despair — or at least for 85% of the time, I do. That’s just how I cope. I had the necessity of cleaning out my home office (my study, my studio, whatever) so it could become my classroom. It took me three days over Spring Break, but I’ve been generally pleased with the results, and once I finish getting art on the walls, I’ll post about my workspace. (If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll note that my cats like to hang out in here. About a month into distance learning I told my principal I didn’t think I could teach without a cat in the room anymore, so we should think about getting me one for my classroom. He laughed, assuming I was joking. Dear reader, I was not. But that will be a conversation for another day, I suspect — probably in August.)

I’ve been on a major decluttering kick for quite a few years now, and being in lockdown gave my family the opportunity to get some of that done. Well, I saw it as an opportunity. My family (especially the kids) saw it as a chance to prevent Mom from going nuts and throwing out all their stuff. Tomato, tomahto. We’re not completely finished yet. However, stuff got cleaned up and cleaned out, and I’m calling that a win.

One significant revelation I have had is that for the first time since I had kids (and y’all, they’re both teenagers now), I had downtime on the weekends. Yes, it was enforced because where was I going to go? But also, it’s kind of wonderful. I do not miss the hectic-pace lifestyle we had before in which I spent most of every Saturday and Sunday running errands, and wow. Dear reader, we do not want to go back to that.

I have not abandoned my social life, although it has significantly changed. I am grateful to have Zoom so this can be possible. I’ve hosted dance parties, art and jewelry making parties, and had many conversations with faraway friends. My writing critique groups meet online now, and participation is substantially more robust and improved now that we can video conference from home. I’ve even attended the occasional happy hour or game night. All to the good.

On the other hand, out here in the state of Texas, which is badly governed during the best of times, things are becoming stressful. The state did not meet its benchmarks for opening up — I’m not sure any of the fifty states did, by the way, though correct me if I’m wrong on that — and now our cases of COVID-19 are rising significantly. We had been in really good shape, nowhere near capacity in our medical facilities here in Houston at the largest medical center in the world, and now? Can’t really say that anymore. We opened up the state too soon, and while some people are handling this in a mature way, knowing that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something, enough people out there have decided the pandemic must be over because they can hang out in restaurants and bars again.

So let me say this again for anyone who hasn’t gotten the message:

Wash your hands. Wear a mask in public. Stay home if you’re sick or if you don’t have to be out. PLEASE.

Here are a few other reminders of things you’ve probably seen in memes and which are also, in fact, true:

Opening up doesn’t mean the pandemic is gone. It just means they have room for you in the ICU.

We stay home now so that when we can safely get together again, everyone will still be there.

Economies recover. Dead people don’t.

Look, I recognize that this may seem very glib for me to say because I haven’t lost my job and can get pretty much all my absolute necessities met, and because I live in a house that’s enough. It doesn’t mean that everything is easy, though: my kids miss their friends terribly, I miss my friends and family a lot, too, and it would be really great not to have to worry about everything so much. But those of us who have the ability and freedom and privilege to take extra precautions for the safety of ourselves and others should do so.

And in this regard, I recognize that this isn’t all about me. Or my situation. Or even my immediate family’s. It’s about the wider community, and our obligation to be responsible for the wider community, recognizing that our actions are not in isolation, especially when we ourselves are not isolated.

Isolation is not fun. Even the introverts in my house are a little tired of it. And I get that.

But still.

I suspect I will be writing more about this, and I promise it won’t always be in my Stern Teacher Voice. Just wait till you find out about the movies and TV we’ve been catching up on!

Peace out.

Action Dispels Anxiety

EDIT: I’m going to continue adding resources to this post so that everything can be found easily in one place. I will note on my Facebook author page and on Twitter when new items are added.

I really haven’t wanted to throw my voice out there so much this week. For one thing, my voice isn’t one that needs to be amplified right now. I want to be useful, though, and I do have an audience. So I should make something clear:

I categorically do not support the racist and fascist views of the current regime. I categorically do not support the racism entrenched in our country’s culture and daily workings, nor the genocide and other injustices this nation was founded upon. This past week has been brutal, and up until yesterday, each day was simply filled with more and more reasons to feel depressed and discouraged. To say I’ve been disheartened would be an understatement, except that I — like so many of us — have been feeling it for a long while now.

Edit, June 11th: I now also want to make extremely clear that I support equal rights for the entire LGBTQ+ community, that trans women are women, trans men are men, trans non-binary folk are non-binary, and these are not the only ways one can transcend the cis-het experience. There are many valid ways to exist in this world, and no one has the right to dictate these ways for people other than themselves. Moreover, all people who do not identify as cis-het still absolutely deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they are people just like everyone else. And no matter how much I may have enjoyed a certain billionaire’s books when they came out, I absolutely do not support her boneheaded stance on this issue.

Hwaet.

One way to diminish anxiety about The State Of Affairs (aka the garbage fire in our news feeds) is by taking action, as so many of us learned a few years ago. So here are some ways you can, if you choose, take positive action to help chip away at the awfulness around us and replace it with something better.

Be safe. Wear cloth coverings on your face in public. (I like these and these and these.) Amplify marginalized voices. Wash your hands. And pick one of the following things to do or read or understand better each day.

75 practical actions — a long list of practical actions (some of them very easy and some of them only a few minutes long) that you can take to participate in the pursuit of racial justice

Here are worthy organizations (which I lifted straight from Chuck Wendig’s blog today — Thanks, Chuck!) that you can donate to in support of those who need our positive attention:
links to support black trans organizations
The Audre Lorde Project
Black Lives Matter
National Bail Fund Network

non-exhaustive (but more than enough to get started) book lists — books in a variety of categories and genres to help you learn and understand more about what all this is about, as well as stories where Black characters are front and center

more book lists — a slew of books coming out soon by Black authors that you can pre-order now

If you like reading speculative fiction (such as science-fiction and fantasy), check out FIYAH, a quarterly magazine by and about Black people of the African diaspora. If you can’t afford a subscription, Chuck Wendig is doing a giveaway for subscriptions on his blog today (June 8).

Here is a list (likely not a full list, but what I could find so far) of Black-owned bookstores you can support. Buy books from them! Perhaps even the ones on the above linked lists!

And here is a link to another list of Black-owned independent bookstores — fifty of them!

If you aren’t already well-versed in understanding privilege or need an easy way to explain it to someone else, consider these two excellent videos.

And finally, coming soon, an eagerly anticipated podcast called “Other People’s Potato Salad” coming from two of my dear friends and colleagues, which is sure to be excellent. You can find them here on Instagram, so stay tuned!

Monday Earworm: Jonathan Coulton

Today’s my dear husband’s birthday, and in honor of such, I’m using his favorite Jonathan Coulton song for my earworm. And it really does have a catchy chorus. Aaron first introduced me to Coulton’s work with “Code Monkey” years ago, and now I’m a big fan as well. So much of his music is ridiculously funny (such as this earworm) as well as nerdy, so you know we’re going to be big fans in this house. You’ve heard Coulton’s work on this blog before, too, particularly in the form of his Christmas album, a collaboration with John Roderick; some of those songs often show up in 12 Days of Christmas Music That Doesn’t Suck.

I’m also a fan of Coulton’s because he wrote a new song every week for quite a long time and posted them online. “Skullcrusher Mountain” is one of those songs. If I’m not mistaken, this project (called “Thing A Week”) allowed him to transition from a job in IT to being a full-time musician, and let’s be frank, that kind of creativity, persistence, and dedication are just inspiring.

Have a great week, everyone!