1 dangerous mindset, 2 exhibitions at the MFAH, 2 very different states of loneliness, 1 Texas politician, 1 different approach to fundraising, 3 books, 2 big shows, 1 only slightly manipulative soundtrack, 1 Hello Kitty tank
Jocelyn K. Glei’s concise article about the “what else?” mindset—in which we are always eager to move on to the next project instead of celebrating accomplishments, or exploring a topic further—is always appropriate. I highly recommend her weekly newsletter about productivity in the digital age, and taking time to appreciate and respond to accomplishments before moving on to the “next thing.”
I reviewed Ron Mueck and “Adiós Utopia” for aeqai: both contain excellent work, but derive value from very different places. Ron Mueck is up through August. Here’s the picture of his head that’s been all over town:
When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters.
—Rebecca Solnit for LitHub. The full essay, “The Loneliness of Donald Trump,” is beautiful enough to let your mind to dwell on him for a few minutes.
Asked recently which three writers she would invite to a “literary dinner party,” the prose stylist Fran Lebowitz offered the definitive desert island list: “None. I would never do it. My idea of a great literary dinner party is Fran, eating alone, reading a book. That’s my idea of a literary dinner party.”
—Jason Guriel for The Walrus. I have a feeling that writers probably don’t like this piece—“What Happens When Authors Are Afraid To Stand Alone”—but the essay is friendlier than its ominous headline suggests, and doesn’t actually paint a comprehensive picture of this codependent future (unless we’re already in it?). It’s nice to remember there’s an alternative to the behavior that the internet and capitalism demands.
The ones that helped make us great, that helped make the Texas miracle—we’re looking to throw them out like they’ve done nothing for us. We’re talking about people who have been here for 30-40 years and were treating them as trash that we can throw away.
—Gene Wu (D-Houston), one of our amazing representatives on the abhorrent SB-4 bill, at Roads and Kingdoms.
I believe in many of the tenets of donor-centrism—don’t treat donors like ATMs, appreciate every gift of any amount, don’t take donors for granted, build relationships, be transparent, etc. I just don’t believe that donors should be in the center of nonprofit work, or even the center of fundraising work.
—Vu Le at Nonprofit AF, in a typically excellent and entertaining exploration of how donor-centrism facilitates inequity.
“Hausfrau” by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Random House, 2015
As I read this retelling of “Anna Karenina,” I was lulled into such a sense of security that I forgot the inevitable ending. Not to say that it is a relaxing book. I squirmed throughout at the “unlikable woman” protagonist, who is of course called Anna: an American housewife stranded in Switzerland with her Swiss husband and three young children. She struggles with the language, sees a cold therapist, and has multiple affairs that we waste no time getting to in the text.
I squirmed because I couldn’t help picturing and casting it as a film adaptation, and how much viewers would hate her complications. I hate that this is where my mind goes. Her story is captivating because Jill Alexander Essbaum is a masterful writer (I love her poetry and was definitely not disappointed by her prose), weaving passages throughout that remove us from Anna’s failings and through larger truths:
The Doktor continued. “Every mask becomes a death mask when you can no longer put it on or take it off at will. When it conforms to the contours of your psychic face. When you mistake the personal you project for your living soul. When you can no longer distinguish between the two.” 66-67
The five most frequently used German verbs are all irregular. Their conjugations don’t follow a pattern: To have. To have to. To want. To go. To be. Possession. Obligation. Yearning. Flight. Existence. Concepts all. And irregular. These verbs are the culmination of insufficiency. Life is loss. Frequent, usual loss. Loss doesn’t follow a pattern either. You survive it only by memorizing how. 205
I sometimes need to just let books be books, I think. I’m falling into the “what else?” or “what next?” mindset that demands more. Just let it be what it is: a beautifully constructed, viscerally sad book.
“Dietland” by Sarai Walker
Mariner Books, 2015
I bundled this with “You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine” (reviewed in April), which might have been a mistake: two body-centric, eating-disordered books in one month? At least “Dietland” is more fun, even if the ending fell a little flat. I loved shy, overweight Plum Kettle as a heroine who doesn’t achieve the transformation she expected, but transforms nonetheless. As a satirical revenge fantasy, “Dietland” is delicious.
“Shoot Like A Girl” by Mary Jennings Hegar
Mary Jennings Hegar was an air force medevac pilot who deployed to Afghanistan multiple times, and her approachable memoir details not only combat situations, but her experience as a woman in the military. Main takeaway: this book would be a great addition to high school English classes. It’s easy to read and a common-sense primer on sexism in the military and out, with a personable, patriotic narrator. I wish I knew a 13-year-old girl or boy so I could give them a copy.
“Snow White” by Donald Barthelme
Play – Catastrophic Theatre
When the New Yorker covers a Houston world premiere, you know it’s time to get tickets. “Snow White” did not disappoint: midcentury weirdo perfection, with satisfying monologues, flamboyant overtures, and charismatic choreography. Ryan McGettigan’s set was a star in itself. I only thought of my past playwriting student’s totally inappropriate, kinky interpretation of the Snow White story a few times. If only this had been public a few years earlier, I could have showed it to her.
“Fun Home,” based on the book by Alison Bechdel
Playwright and lyricist: Lisa Kron
Composer: Jeanine Tesori
Theatre Under the Stars (National Tour)
Great musical, but I would have killed to see it in an intimate theater instead of the Hobby Center. It’s a musical of intimate relationships and the most intimate of physical spaces: the home. The low-key show just didn’t have the grandeur to fill the hall.
That missing grandeur is what Andrea Lepcio is talking about in the first few paragraphs of her recent essay in HowlRound, which ended up being very timely, given the show’s tour. Two points in particular stuck out: 1) there is still a man at the center of “Fun Home,” moreso in the musical than the book, I’d say, and 2) where are the woman-centered musicals where their actions are as big as, say, “Hamilton”? One commenter points to “Evita,” which is the only one I can think of.
That would be the end of the review, except I have to mention how much I loved the blue-hairs who went in with no idea what it was about. I heard them chattering afterward, bewildered. Most didn’t like it. So, I will like it twice as hard to spite them.
“Guardians of the Galaxy 2”
Bonafide popcorn flick
I don’t want to delve too deep into this film, but I have to note the soundtrack. The first “Guardians” film featured a mixtape made for the main character, Peter Quill aka Star Lord, by his mother in the 1980s (“Awesome Mix”). This gave filmmakers the opportunity to feature a bunch of 70s and 80s hits, which of course conjure immediate connotations for the majority of the audience. I’ve heard it argued that this blinds us to the quality of the film, and that we only like it for the tunes, not the action.
I don’t think that was particularly true for the first film, since the tape was immediately introduced as an integral part of the main character’s background, but the second film leaned in a little too hard on the classic mix. “Mr. Blue Sky” at the beginning and “Father and Son” at the end was a perfect balance: most everything in between, especially “My Sweet Lord” (yes, really), felt gratuitous.
But ultimately it’s a lot of fun, especially Kurt Russell’s Farrah Fawcett haircut and bellbottoms. And with that, I’ve said enough.
Mood for Memorial Day weekend: