Sunday, March 30, 2008

until the real thing comes along

Count on me to take a frothy little nothing of a movie and milk it for everything it is worth. Manish at Ultrabrown reviewed it better than I could. I'd meant to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day even though:
  • it's a period piece, which often makes me avoid a movie like the plague (see the as-yet unviewed Atonement for an example)
  • the title is so long that it sounds like the title of a Fiona Apple album
  • something about the trailers gave me the sneaking suspicion I'd want to throttle Amy Adams five minutes into the movie

Why, then, had I wanted to see it? Pretty simple really: Ciaran Hinds. Oh, and I know that is not a legitimate reason, because that dude pops up in every movie known to man. In fact, he's apparently in both this movie and Stop-Loss in theaters at the moment. He's the consummate Hey It's That Guy. So, saying you're going to see a movie for him seems flimsy. So, let me say this instead: Ciaran Hinds and Persuasion. Yes, it's back to Persuasion, I'm afraid.

For all the times he seems to pop up in movies, Hinds does not often play a romantic lead. But he did in Persuasion and he arguably does in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. And he sells it like no one else could. Once I was arguing with a friend about Persuasion- the argument went that the book is great, until the very end, when it descends into the realm of disbelief, because men do not really pine away for women. Bitter friend, yes, but even though I contend that the entire point of Persuasion is the ending, I had to concede it's a pretty tall tale to fathom.

And that bears out in that Hinds is the only guy I can think of who can plausibly play these characters. Only Hinds seems capable of complimenting a woman by calling her "old-fashioned." Hinds is perfectly cast as someone who would cast off a pretty young thing for the good sense of Miss Pettigrew, and Frances McDormand is perfectly cast as someone worthy of the putting aside of pretty young things.

The song this week is performed by the two apparent romantic leads of the movie. Shockingly, Amy Adams did not drive me crazy. I think it works kind of the way that salted caramel is all the rage. Adams alone would have been that sickeningly sweet caramel, but paired with the salt of Frances McDormand, suddenly it's transformed to fine dining. And Lee Pace, as one of a number of suitors, is all dreamy eyes and heart on his sleeve. It should make you swoon, I suppose. The song, though, when you think about it, is all about a youthful kind of love. Games played, toying with each other's emotions, heartbreaks, misunderstandings and rollercoasters, it's all the stuff of the young and beautiful.

And of course, I must conclude that it's a mark of age that what I find much more romantic in the movie is McDormand and Hinds. They are not devoid of romance, but there's a certain no-nonsense aspect of their interaction that is so much more appealing than all the he/she loves me, he/she loves me not nonsense that occupies most romantic comedies. That they think well of and understand each other is apparent straight away. And really, in the movie, the waltz that precedes this week's song is ten times more delicious, because of the corner that McDormand and Hinds turn in that moment.

But here's the thing- young love makes for better songs. The waltz itself was nothing special, it was McDormand and Hinds inhabiting it that was so sparkly and dazzling. Similarly, a song written from the point of view of these two would probably be pretty boring. It's the hazy confusion and misunderstandings and heartbreak and rollercoaster rides that result in such beautiful songs. And even though I'd rather identify with a boring ditty, I have to admit that If I Didn't Care strikes a chord just the same- even if you think how stupid, you should just know how you feel, it's hard to forget that torture from past days.

It should be noted, however, that such songs and movies are not at all conducive to studying. Join me next week when I undoubtedly bemoan flopping a test or something to that effect, shaking a fist at Hinds. I'm an ungrateful wretch that way.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I don't feel tardy

You might think I chose this week's song because I had developed some inappropriate feelings for one of my instructors. That is not the case, though it is, when it comes to me, not such a bad guess. I am a sucker for an academician, especially one that takes time out to shower me with brainpower and hit me with some knowledge. Fortunately, there are no such instructors to be found in medical school. It has more of a feeling of a seminar, a how-to. Most of the lightbulb-above-the-head moments (and really there aren't that many, because medicine is not quantum physics- it's a lot of information, but not conceptually mind-bending by any means) happen with my headphones on, just me and a book, no external assistance included.

No. Instead, I was thinking of language when I chose this song. Often, over the years, friends have remarked that we had developed a kind of speech such that a passerby would either think we were talking in a foreign tongue or babbling gibberish. I have been realizing that, as I get to know someone better, a kind of shorthand develops, an amalgam of pop culture references, funny misappropriations of terms, song lyrics, weird inside jokes to do with a quirky moment in our histories. The end result is colorful to those who understand it, but it must be pretty annoying to anyone on the outside trying to make sense of it all.

I was trying to trace back its origin, because I actually don't like talking in foreign tongues that are like to alienate or exclude. Usually, when this naturally happens, I try to explain the idiotic slang and phrases and inside jokes, though usually these explanations are met with a roll of the eyes or a patient, tight smile.

My brother was probably more responsible for starting it though. When we were younger, thrown together more than we would have liked, both bored and hyperactive, all kinds of words would get thrown together, all sorts of language mutated. Sometimes Gujarati and English would meld together, just for the sake of perfecting an insult or barb. My brother was a bigger clown than I was, and he would latch onto a bit of funny and just juice it dry.

The video of Hot for Teacher is your typical 80s Van Halen fare- completely silly schtick and aimed towards a 12-year old boy. Since my brother was younger than that when it came out, he just found the beginning of the video to be endlessly amusing. A nerdy kid with hair so greasy that it squeaks when his mother smooths it out boards the bus where, of course, DLR's the driver. DLR hits him with his most menacing (as menacing as DLR can ever get, which, anyone who remembers DLR will agree, is not very much at all) boom: "Sit down Waldo!"

Such a throwaway line but bro-seph could not let it go. He had created this whole meaning in his head. If he perceived me to be doing something geeky, I'd get "Sit down Waldo!" If one of our family friends was over and a younger one in the bunch was harassing my brother too much or in danger of damaging some carefully constructed Lego masterpiece, said family friend would be served with "Sit down Waldo!" Some people did not even know the etiology, but the context was not exactly subtle.

It occurred to me that this was the beginning of bad precedent. We had found the whole thing pretty amusing, and enough people had understood my brother that he felt confident in carrying forward. After that, we had a kind of freedom to play with language and claim phrases and quotes for our own secret purposes.

Now I see that it carried over. And now I sorely miss some of the shorthand that I had with old friends, now lost on newer friends. They all have backstory that makes no sense- I could get a laugh (for myself) chronicling some of them out here, but I doubt anyone else would find them amusing. Instead, you have to interact again, reconnect, create a new language each time you find yourself increasingly in the company of another. But then when you zoom out a bit more, the same thing happens on a macro level. Even blogging probably has a language somewhat its own, and the occasional passerby reads it and wonders why it is completely incoherent. Oh wait, maybe that's just my inability to string a sentence together.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I am so homesick for someplace I will never be

This city was all rich green and the dark, dark brown of moist, fresh earth. And then, as I remarked, as we wound our way through an epic walk around the water, such an expansive park, I do love granite cliffs. There were the requisite high-rises, all steel and glass. But oh it rained, and though it rained while I was there, the trees, however sparse in any particular neighborhoods, are so much prettier in that sort of weather. The greens are even richer and browns even darker. And the sound of gushing water like the rhythm guitar behind the raindrops playing the melody.

There were little things to love like this, things to swoon over even in a place you know you have no wish to live. There were not a million things to visit, and this time of year, it is raw and cold. I would not want to live there, I have to admit. I would not love it there for all of those perceived faults. But the things that I liked, I loved, and I suppose that was enough.

Not many others would choose it as a vacation destination, but it suited me just fine.

I came back with all kinds of intentions to write, with all kinds of intentions to do all sorts of things. Instead, in the few days I had left, I did other things, other things just as solitary. I'm really inside of my head these days, but yet, I haven't figured anything out. I have a feeling I have a confession to make, but I have no idea what it is I am on the verge of admitting.

How are you? he had asked, feeling, maybe for the first time in all the time we'd known each other, self-conscious of speaking so much about himself. But that's not why the question stunned me. The question stunned me because I had no answer beyond the false, the feigned. I can muster a fine, but what does that mean? I'm used to feeling misunderstood by other people, even my closest friends. I am not used to not knowing myself. It's not a problem of articulation these days.

I could tell what he wanted to say, that this whole thing had been a bad idea, had obviously thrown me into a tailspin. But maybe a tailspin is a normal reaction to the intensity, to the upheaval, to getting exactly what you want, and then wondering, what next?

At any rate, for now, I return. But I'll leave you with this exchange to show you it's not all dressing in black and reading Camus over here:

    me: It's a guilty pleasure, I know, but I have to admit that I really love Persuasion.
    SP: How is Persuasion a guilty pleasure? That's Jane Austen, it's classic literature.
    me: Come on, it's kind of a guilty pleasure.
    SP: Confessions of a Shopaholic, now that's a guilty pleasure.
    me: No, that's just guilty.

Well, at least SP thought it was funny.

Monday, March 10, 2008

unmagnificent lives of adults

The song I have posted this week is in complete incongruity to today. It's a perfect spring day and the sun is filtering cheerfully through the blinds. You could not really be melancholy on a day like this.

This song, on the other hand, calls for rain, calls for a late-night long drive alone. It reminds me of this weekend, though it was equally sunny and cheerful in San Francisco this weekend. It was lovely and it all worked out more perfectly than I could have hoped. It was filled with a lot of smiles and laughter and hugs. We took a long walk through the Mission, and he couldn't understand what about it I loved. We covered the entirety of the Haight, and I couldn't understand what he saw in it. There were visits to old stomping grounds, visits to new treasures, and visits to the ever-calming ocean.

And, as is the case in happy times, you do not really think about what it all means until much later, when you are making the long journey home. The song is really not to do with this weekend. It's more to do with friendship in general, and the feeling that, the more you grow up, the less you are understood. Luckily, you also start to value those who get the 60-70% of you, instead of being annoyed with that missing 30-40%.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

oh baby, it's alright to fail

Today something occurred to me. I had not blogged a post for over week. Now, in the past when that has happened, I usually get a bit frantic and start diagnosing the various reasons for my silence, and am prone to posting.

Instead, I am going through this phase of flat-out exhaustion. I have a list of things that need to get done, really rather important things that I still have managed to neglect, and posting did not register on that list. Sometimes, silence is telling, and in this case, I guess it still is-- I am in a period of a lot of doing without so much documenting.

One of my sweetest cousins visited this past weekend, and in carting him around the area, I wound up paying a visit to my godson. And, though I hardly can manage to even type the words for fear that it will all turn out to disintegrate, one of my oldest friends in the world is visiting this coming weekend. Lovely, yes, but also, as is the case when in school, fairly stressful.

I went back and forth in my thoughts for a while on this matter. My classmates thought it was insane that I was not planning to study this weekend. There's a test on Monday, and generally, even the biggest cowboys in my class do not blow off an entire weekend. I gave it some thought, and I just decided it's really going to be a test now. It's going to be a test of a lot of things. I worked frantically hard on my last exam to do well enough that I had a comfortably safe buffer, such that even if I completely tank my next test, it's not cause for great alarm. I have also been trying to be as disciplined as I can be during the week to cram all this information into my head.

But mostly, the real test will come on Saturday and Sunday. When my classmates suggested all these strategies to sneak in studying here and there during the weekend, I laughed a bit. They were missing the point entirely. It became clear how dearly I hold my friend-- I am not really sure there is anyone else I presently know that would lead me to even entertain this. But that's exactly why it's such an important visit: it's important to have someone in your life that will pull you out of the minutiae and the neuroses of such meaningless things as exams and scores. It's important to want to be completely disconnected and to be wholly available to someone else. I try to do that in other aspects of my life: I try not to bullsh*t in class on the web when I should be listening to lecture, I try not to think of what I had for lunch when I'm in the middle of interviewing someone, I try not to study while watching television (always a losing proposition).

But this is a more intense form. It would be false to say I don't care about bellyflopping an exam. I care, probably way more than I should. But I care way more about keeping the few, rare people I hold dear as close to me as possible. And I suppose one of my greatest fears about medical school is its vacuum-like quality of sucking you into a sphere and sealing you from the outside world. In some ways, the visit could not be more timely, because I need someone to burst that bubble. Or maybe I need to burst through the bubble myself, emerge, and hold tight to what I do not want to lose.

And that is the test that I cannot afford to fail right now.