Watching: Howards End

There is no film in all the world I love so well as Howards End, now playing in all its sumptuous, tragic, widescreen glory at cinemas across the land (well, two at least. And perhaps near you!). Director James Ivory was interviewed after the matinee at the Paris Theatre, and if nothing of particular import was stated (beyond the fact that Vanessa Redgrave arrived on the set not knowing which Mrs. Wilcox was hers), it couldn't have mattered less: he was there and I was there, and in the dark I recited my silent communion. I love Howards End for how it looks and how it plays and what it says about real people, how we stretch and stretch for each other and how often we fail to touch, how hard it is to try at all—and how vital.

The age of isolation

I rode a Citi Bike to and fro Whole Foods yesterday morning, 7:30 a.m.-ish, and by the time I made it home and up the four flights of stairs to my apt w/all my bags, I was sweating w/real alacrity. I hopped into the shower with my clothes on and then I reclined on the sofa and read the paper and magazines and books and watched the Olympics for the rest of the day. Why exert when others are willing to do it for me, is my policy for the rest of the summer. There is no way around but through. SarahB did join me at lunchtime so I was the social butterfly kind of shut-in. I do it for the people! And the air conditioning. 

This is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, which is a beautiful book and a wonderful, empathetic summertime read, although of course it's too hot to cook anything. Don't be stupid.

The pudding was brought to the table. My host and hostess, my future husband and a woman guest looked at it suspiciously. I cut the pudding. As Jane Grigson had promised, out ran a lemon-scented buttery toffee. I sliced up the lemon, which was soft and buttery too. Each person was to get some crust, a slice of lemon and some sauce.

What a hit! I thought. Exactly the sort of thing I adored. I looked around me happily, and my happiness turned to ash.

My host said: "This tastes like lemon-flavored bacon fat."

"I'm sure it's wonderful," said my hostesss. "I mean, in England."

The woman guest said: "This is awful."

Be whole and generous with your mistakes, is what's she's saying. I need that kind of news.

Moving on

My great aunt Ruth died yesterday at the age of 95. She was the best kind of tough old broad.

Amazing ordinary things

From the anthology Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York, this is Elliott Kalan on falling in love with the city via "The Muppets Take Manhattan":

What to the filmmakers was clearly a fate worse than death, the stifling of a unique spirit by the square establishment, was to young Elliott a dream to strive for. The message of numb conformity totally failed to reach me. All I could see was that Kermit went from naked frog to independent adult, autonomous professional, self-supported citizen. That was the magic of New York. Even an amphibian could become a grown-up. I didn't want to marry a pig and put on a show. I wanted a subway commute and a greasy spoon lunch hour. I wanted meetings around wooden tables. I wanted a desk with a phone on it. The return of Kermit's memory was tragic. He lost all those amazing ordinary things New Yorkers get to do!

High on the spinster agenda

Shannon Reed in the New Yorker:

Q: What are some of the goals of the Spinster Agenda?

A: Increasing the prominence of women in the government, a greater reliance on bike-share programs, the elimination of lonely cats, better television adaptations of the Brontë sisters’ work, further research into cloning Benedict Cumberbatch, the immediate green-lighting of an Emma Thompson and Colin Firth movie with lots of clothed sex that’s set in the eighteen hundreds, Glynis Johns in her “Mary Poppins” costume on the hundred-dollar bill, world peace.

At my very first job out of college I was informed by a male co-worker that I was already—at the age of 23—technically an old maid. So I've never had anything to lose by supporting the cause. 



I spent the weekend learning HTML & CSS at Codecademy. + it's been hot and raining forever and I am Officially Summered Out.

I’ll be your candle on the water

I like to sing this for SarahB every once in a while, usually during a quiet moment of reflection on the bus. I find it delightful and also hope via subtle mind control to convince her to see me as her own personal, non-romantic, non-life-partner lighthouse keeper. Although I believe this is a job that no longer exists, the dream beats on in my heart, and in “Pete’s Dragon.” Obviously. 

In the original film the actual lighthouse keeper is a drunk, played by Mickey Rooney, who Wikipedia tells me operates under the nom de guerre “Lampie.” This is one of those “facts” that feels inconsequential when you first hear it yet could pay real dividends during any number of future emergencies, so today I am bequeathing it unto you. Give thanks!

The web of then

We were still years away from Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter and ubiquitous comments sections and instant opinions. Young and bored and creative, we spent our free time (so much free time!) writing, for ourselves, for each other, to each other. That type of free time seems so long ago, now, between our jobs and boring adult problems and the ways the internet mutated to steal more of our time and become a slicker, faster, more anonymous and sometimes crueler place. But until we—and the internet—grew up, we spilled words on a virtual page, clicking “send” because it was faster and cheaper and more instantly gratifying than sending a letter yet, looking back, more quaint and thoughtful and relatively time-consuming compared to the way most of us communicate now.
— Claire Zulkey

I like Snapchat, actually. FYI. The rest can burn in hell.


Yesterday and tomorrow

July 27, 2016 - Philadelphia, PA.

I want to mark this here, just once, just today, because it's a monumental thing that's happening in my lifetime, and I don't quite have the words to describe what it means to me. I've been so discouraged and angry these past few weeks. Part of this is just my usual Summer S*A*D, that time o' year when right on schedule my patience and tolerance and sense of humor drop to near-historic lows. But there is so much about the mood of the world lately that I don't recognize, and during the president's speech last night I realized I had been looking in the wrong places, and listening to the wrong voices. Regardless of what happens in November, I'll try to hold on to the spirit and the promise of this, of good people moving the world forward.

The rule of three

Apart from crafting exquisite run-on sentences, finding the rule of three in a piece of writing is probably my favorite pastime—like a free treasure hunt for nerds. It's a simple building block device driven by rhythm, symmetry, and surprise—and once you're aware of it, you start to notice it everywhere. 

In Michelle Obama's speech on Monday:

"How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level."

Here's Roy Peter Clark at Poynter detailing the writing lessons in that speech (which was tremendously well written, and one of the best I've ever seen delivered):

Lesson four: Unleash the power of three. Notice how often the speaker relies upon a pattern of three to make her point. This is one of the oldest tricks in the orator’s book. In literature, three is always the largest number. "Of the people, by the people, for the people." Four examples or 40 become an inventory. Three encompasses the world, creating the illusion we know everything we need to know.

Here's the rationale behind it, from Copyblogger:

It all comes down to the way we humans process information. We have become proficient at pattern recognition by necessity, and three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern.

& on its use in comedy:

The Rule of Three fits the classic joke structure of set-up, anticipation, and punchline. The three-part grouping also allows for tension to build and then be released thanks to the surprise and absurdity contained in the third element.

& from SNL circa 2008: Tina Fey and Steve Martin:

Tina Fey: [ smiles ] I think I CAN do it!
[ Steve slaps Tina across the face a second time ]
Tina Fey: What was that one for?
Steve Martin: That one was just for fun!
[ Steve slaps Tina across the face a third time ]
Tina Fey: Was that one for fun, too?
Steve Martin: No, that's the Comedy Rule of Three.

+ bonus: more from Ken Levine, TV Tropes, and Forbes (!)