Sunday, December 05, 2010

RIP babblebook (2001-2010)

Much as I love you, it's time to leave you, babblebook, blog whose name I came up with as a freshman in college. My future lies in the all new & pretty spiffy, where the blog will have its own room ( but it will no longer have the run of the whole house. It will cohabit and ideally play nice with my essays, poems, & feature pieces, which, for the first time, will be collected in one place.

Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Things I Loved and Forgot

It can be such a thrill to rediscover something one lost sight of, for whatever reason. The Film Experience blog, for example, provides an oh-so-useful list of the films of 2010 grouped into categories like "Don't Miss," "Recommended with Reservations," and "Make It Stop."

According to Rogers's list, cross-checked against the Indie Spirit Awards results, the most important films I haven't seen yet are Black Swan, Blue Valentine, and Rabbit Hole. And I don't have to feel bad about missing Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2! What a relief.

Still, get set for a tear-soaked holiday season, y'all! Maybe I'll blow off all those movies and just re-watch Babies, which is basically one long YouTube video capturing the cuteness that transpires when small people with big eyes and no motor skills play with things (rocks; cats; goats; their siblings).

Not listed, presumably because Rogers hasn't seen them yet: True Grit and Love and Other Drugs, both of which I'm curious about if only for the glimpses of little Gyllenhaal.

Speaking of films, a site called Jon's Ego printed an argument against the Bechdel test (which I call "the Ms. Test for Movies"). It's simply explained this way:
all credit belongs to A. Bechdel, friends, for this brilliant 3-part movie test:

1) Is there more than one female character? If so,
2) do the female characters talk, and if so,
3) about anything other than men?

You would be amazed at how many movies don't pass this test. Good movies. Great movies, even -- go ahead, count. 

I don't think you need to self-flagellate over this, for what it's worth. A movie can flunk the Ms. Test -- I mean, the Liz Wallace via DTWOF and Ms. Test -- and still be quality. But for what it's worth, one of the reasons I've never been crazy about Scorsese is that virtually none of his movies pass the LWVDTWOFAMT Test. It's all-macho-all-the-time with Marty, with the glorious exception of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, which you could say is the only Scorsese movie he's only made once and which almost no one talks about. 

Is it so hard to have women be real people in good movies? I mean, even master-of-macho, Russell-Crowe-worshipping Ridley Scott hasThelma and Louise AND Alien on his resume.
But Jon's Ego has a problem:
I hate the Bechdel Test. It seriously annoys me every time I see it brought up and used as proof of sexism in movies (Even when they’re used by esteemed coworkers of mine. Sorry, Rachel!). Hollywood is clearly filled with sexism but the Bechdel Test proves nothing. ...

let’s try something else. Think of a movie that has a female main character. I’m not talking ensemble piece here. This has to be a clearly defined main character who is a woman. Now do an inverse Bechdel Test about the male characters. Does it pass? I’m gonna guess it doesn’t. Does that mean that that movie is sexist against men? Of course not. 
Jon seems like a good guy, and I don't mean to get all patriarchy-blaming on his ass, but he's pulling a total Limbaugh here. First of all, his main evidence is that he's "gonna guess" that if flipped on its head the rule will still apply -- i.e., in a movie featuring a clearly-defined female lead, there will not be a substantive conversation between two male characters. I'm gonna guess he didn't spend five minutes thinking that through. There are always prominent men in movies, even female-driven ones. And they always talk.

Check out IMDB's Top 250 list. You may notice that you have to scroll before you find a film that even fits Jon's criteria, which to his credit he acknowledges is a problem. Depending on your point of view, the first entry is either Psycho (#24, which, btw, is bullshit -- that should be in the top 10) or Silence of the Lambs (#27). Either way, both of those films also feature very prominent male characters, characters who have, in fact, arguably juicier roles than the ostensible female leads.

If you want to be more orthodox about his rules, we can keep going til we get to Amelie (#45) which is beyond debate a movie centered around a woman. Even there, the male characters have conversations with each other about things other than women. In French, sure, but that still counts. Or Pan's Labyrinth (#74 -- also bullshit; that movie is amazing), where the only thing dudes are gossiping about is fascism.

He can't be thinking of "Sex and the City," since he specifically says he doesn't mean ensemble pieces. Even if you were to consider "Sex and the City" as a counter-point, though, I'd argue that, as a 25-minute TV show starring four women or a movie based on same, it's a very different kettle of fish. Men are shortchanged in the show and the movies alike, sure, but sitcoms involve time and narrative constraints unimaginable to most filmmakers.

No, Jon's "guess" is plain wrong. The fact that, in the entire top 100 list, there are maybe five films where it's arguable a woman is THE lead character -- and male characters outnumber female characters in just about every film by about four to one -- is all the information you need to call Hollywood sexist. The Bechdel/ Ms. test helps make that clear in a straight-forward, accessible way. It's not an indictment, but it's a fair and a useful tool.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Men in the Family

My uncle, who has made the same Thanksgiving dinner since 1987, died last year, suddenly. The word “suddenly” doesn’t even do justice to the speed with which he was there and then wasn’t. No one has planned the menu for the holiday this year. It’s like how if you call my grandmother, my uncle’s voice still greets you from the answering machine—he recorded over my grandfather’s voice when my grandfather died. No one has had the guts to go next.

My grandmother is still in shock. She is almost 98 years old and she never expected to outlive her husband, her son-in-law, and her son. Will she be able to churn out her annual tart apple pie? My father would kill for that pie. He used to elbow me after tasting it and say, “When are you going to ask your grandma to teach you to bake that pie?” I’d retort, “You want pie, ask her to teach you to bake.” Then we’d both settle down comfortably on the couch and read something.

The men in my family were taken down one by one and now, as the smoke clears, I wonder who is going to carve the turkey. My older brother Adam and I led the seder last year for Passover, but we did it from the kids’ table. Will Adam be able to take a stab at the bird? A thirty year old without a wife or children makes a pretty half-assed patriarch. I would be worse: I’m female, and a vegetarian. The turkey would laugh at me. I don’t even like pie.

To make matters worse, the day after Thanksgiving we'll gather at the cemetery for my father's unveiling. Gives a new meaning to "Black Friday," doesn't it?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brooklyn, you’re bleeding me dry: What $450K would buy me in 7 other cities : Bundle

An extended, amended version of my recent blog post is now a slideshow on the financial website Bundle (run by the fabulous Chipper McCheerful)! Check it out and think wistfully with me of what you could afford if you were willing to leave New York.

Brooklyn, you’re bleeding me dry: What $450K would buy me in 7 other cities : Bundle

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cheating on the Turkey

What is the point of Thanksgiving? Is it a stuck-in-there holiday to make November more bearable and give us all a long weekend? Is it to juice the travel industry? To remind us all to feel vaguely guilty about Native Americans (although not so much that it puts us off our food)?

Was it an early attempt by enviro-conscious, earnest, lefty, do-gooding, Farmer's Market types to get us all to eat seasonally and -- perhaps -- locally?

Is it a family dysfunction dress rehearsal, the main event of which is Christmas?

Is it about eating, or cooking AND eating, or cooking AND eating AND being with family?

I ask because the question arose at lunch today: Is it cheating to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant?

My instinct is that it is. The point of the holiday isn't to partake of cranberry sauce, which is possibly the best straight-out-of-the-can food there is, but to partake of cranberry sauce across the table from someone you might not ordinarily see or (heaven forbid) even like all that much. And somebody you know and possibly love -- not some line cook paid $5.50 an hour -- has to scrape that cranberry sauce out of the can and into a bowl. Otherwise, so help me, it just doesn't count.

My Thanksgivings, you will perhaps not be surprised to learn, have met these rabbinic requirements. There is traveling involved; there is stress; there is extended family for extended periods of time. Yes, there is turkey, though I haven't eaten it since I was 18, and seasonally-appropriate vegetables, and apple and pumpkin pies, but the point isn't the turkey. The point is the entire celebration, sun-up to sun-down, of America's favorite secular holiday, one for which, yes, we all have to sacrifice a little bit.

Am I wrong? Am I *wrong*? Or, like Walter, am I not wrong, but just an asshole?


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Jonathan Franzen and Lorrie Moore were beyond charming last night at 92Y -- where I had never actually been before. My darling Aunts Marjy & Jane took me to that hallowed ground, which Jon Stewart described as the third holiest site to Judaism, after Jerusalem and Zabar's.

On stage, Moore and Franzen giggled like old friends. They also each had great answers to an audience question: When do you know you've arrived at the right ending?

Lorrie Moore talked about the difference between novels and short stories in this respect. Short stories demand endings that shine light backwards on everything that has come before, she said. Novels, by contrast, shine light outwards on what could come next.

Jonathan Franzen said that you know you've hit on a good ending (if not the "right" one) when the paralyzing anxiety occasioned by all the worse endings you've thought of begins to fall away.

The audience sort of mooed happily, the way groups do when someone says something that makes perfect sense.

Walking out, I told my aunts that Franzen is one of my literary boyfriends. (Adorable Brit David Mitchell, who I saw read at BookCourt, is another, because I am not so monogamous in my literary life: I also go on crazy dates with Jonathan Ames, talk politics with hot grandma Anne Lamott, and have passionate Southern evenings with Ann Patchett.)

Imagine my surprise when I went to sleep that night and dreamed Franzen had become my *actual* boyfriend. Which led to this exchange over GChat:

Logan: um, did you do it?
Me: no!
Logan: just checking
Me: we walked around swarthmore arm in arm
Logan: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: isn't that kind of even better??
Logan: that is even better. amazing, amazing dream.
Me: i also dreamt that i had to pee in a suitcase for some reason. like, everyone else got to use a toilet and i had to pee in a suitcase. but that was a separate dream.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New essay up!

The good people at PANK have published my horror story, "Not an English Person." It begins,
To lose one job may be regarded as a misfortune but, as Oscar Wilde might say, to lose two looks like carelessness. I am on my fifth in five years.
Go read the whole thing! Then try to sleep tonight. I dare you.