30 December 2011

The Last Movie You Will Ever See

It's an old conversational prompt, and I put it to you now: If you could pick one movie to be the last movie you ever saw, what would you pick? Seriously, think about it and post in the comments section what you came up with and how long it took you. If you want to add anything else about your choice, I would love to hear what you have to say. Once you've done this, come back and read the rest of this post.

(Did you really come up with an answer? I hope you did!)

I've kicked this around myself over the years with friends and people online. In October, I was admitted to Our Lady of Peace to treat severe depression with suicidal urges. On a lark one afternoon, I decided to put the query to my fellow patients. To my surprise, nearly everyone at the table had an answer almost immediately. One woman struggled briefly to choose between two movies and one young man took a few minutes to make his selection, but on the whole, everyone had their answer reflexively at the ready. I found that curious, since in every other context, it usually provokes a great show of deliberation. "Oh, wow, I don't know...I'll have to think about that...Let me see..." with much chin rubbing throughout, and vacant looks off into the ether.

Some patients were there for substance abuse problems, but most of the ones involved in this discussion were there for the same reason as me: they, too, had been dangerously close to ending their own lives. Several of them had made an attempt within days of this conversation. For them, then, the notion of contemplating your final choices wasn't merely abstract conjecture. We each had already put ourselves in the situation to reflect on such things. I can't say for certain, of course, but I suspect a very strong correlation between being close to death and having an answer handy for this innocuous little question.

Also of interest to me is that no one picked a movie they've never seen. Not one person said, "I've always meant to see Citizen Kane; I hear that's great." There was no regard at all for one last new experience or to consider a highly regarded work of art for the first time. Instead, everyone picked something familiar and most of them picked a comedy. Here's the list, written as I went around the table (obviously, no patient names will be provided):
  • Up in Smoke
  • The Goonies
  • The Outsiders
  • Something's Gotta Give
  • Lean on Me
  • Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Now, these are not particularly revered works of cinematic history; there's no Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia to be found. I'm not trying at all to disparage anyone's choice, mind you. But I found it interesting that, in an environment that precluded being self-conscious, these were the honest-to-God picks that patients had.

You may be wondering about my own answer to the question. I don't think I ever actually shared it with the other patients, because a group session began right after I went around the table and got everyone's answer. I do have an answer, though, and it's not one based on hypothesis. The night before I was admitted to the hospital was the night I came closest to taking my own life. I had the sleeping pills ready to go. I had removed my last bottle of Old Whiskey River from its box (though I never broke the seal on the bottle itself). My wife was gone, spending the night somewhere else. We had had an unpleasant argument on the phone. The last thread holding me to life had been severed.

Knowing I was just about to end my life, I managed to have the presence of mind to try to distract myself enough to let the impulse subside. I popped in the Blu-ray of Batman. I have no idea how many times I've watched that since it came out in 1989. I've seen it on the big screen twice (the second time in 2009). I couldn't fathom how many times I've watched it on VHS; several times on DVD and now thrice on Blu-ray. I probably saw it in a TV broadcast at least once or twice in all these years. It was comforting to watch it as a young boy when I was sick. I would curl up on the couch, bundle up with sheets and have chicken noodle soup and drink ginger ale (Canada Dry, thank you very much). As a depressed adult, I sought the same comfort. It helped tremendously. I know how it sounds, but I can sincerely say that Batman helped save my life.
"Haven't you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?"
Somewhere is a psychology student looking for a subject for a senior thesis. I think there's something genuinely insightful to be gleaned from a further exploration of this seemingly trivial question. Why do people who haven't actively thought about their demise find it overwhelming to work out what their final movie choice would (ideally) be, whereas those who were thisclose to dying had their answers at the ready? What does it mean that people wanted to laugh--and at a movie they've already seen, no less? Truth be told, one of the things I enjoy most about Batman is its sense of humor. ("Decent people shouldn't live here. They'd be happier someplace else." That line cracks me up every time, and I still maintain it's one of the best lines of exposition ever; that simple remark tells us all we need to know about Gotham City.)

I don't know what conclusions ought to be drawn from this, of course; that's well beyond me. But I did want to share the anecdote in hopes that you, dear reader, may find some value in pondering it. Perhaps you're that hypothetical psych student; if so, I would love to read your final paper!

26 December 2011

Post-Christmas 2011

Sometime near 7:30 Christmas Eve night, I decided that since the cats were already enjoying their shared Christmas gift (a cat bed) and since that made me their Santa Claus, that I was entitled to some milk and cookies. My cousins had baked them. They turned out to be pretty good, but they were a bit too hard for my liking. I paused for a moment and realized that this was my family: these four kitty cats. I haven't had the pleasure of being Santa Claus for a child of my own, nor am I likely to ever have that experience. It still hurts after all these years, and I don't have any desire to discuss it further now but it was heavily on my mind this year. I felt empty in ways that even my furry dependents can't fill. I felt emptier still without my wife here with me.
Ramona, practicing being adorable.
Before I became too maudlin, though, my new friend texted me and cheered me up. She's a very sweet young woman with a tender heart and I think very highly of her. Depressed Travis would downplay the value of such a friend--just as he downplayed the friends he already had, who were always willing to be there for him--but Healthy Travis counts this friendship as something worth celebrating. My friends have all rallied around me since learning of the severity of my depression, and I am truly thankful to--and for--each of them. Meeting this new friend as I did as I began my recovery, though, gives her a unique insight into me that the others don't have, and so she's been able to reassure me in different ways. I like to think I've returned the favor, though just to be sure, I keep trying to find ways of doing so. She's a very special young woman and I think very highly of her. I want her to have as good a friend as she's been to me.

Christmas was fairly uneventful with my family. We ate a late lunch together. My uncle brought his current girlfriend and her three kids. The younger daughter and I colored in the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! coloring book I've had for several years (the publication date is 1997 and I may have had it since then). This year, I decided that--though I feel empty, as described earlier--the most appropriate page for me to color was the final page in the story, where The Grinch sits down to dinner with the Whos "...HE HIMSELF...! The Grinch carved the roast beast!"

It may be overstating my Christmas to suggest that I basked in celebration with the Whos, but I certainly feel more participatory and celebratory this Christmas than I have for more than a year. Last year, I think I may have been so spiteful that I would have tried to "steal" Christmas if mass theft was at all practical for someone with my health. This year, though, I felt a sense of belonging at the table, sitting with my cousin and the little girl with whom I colored. We weren't at the "grown-ups" table, but that's okay. We were at the cool table.

Christmas night, I met with some friends to see Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. I'm not even bothering with a full review post of this one; all that really matters to me is that I enjoyed myself. The movie was terrific fun (it's easily my second-favorite in the series, just behind M:I-2) with lots of great stunts and Simon Pegg made me laugh throughout. I also enjoyed Michael Giacchino's score quite a bit. I'm glad we opted to not see it in IMAX because I'm terrified of heights, and several sequences made me squeamish on a regular sized screen!
You had me at, "No Plan."
What struck me about the movie was that the IMF team is officially disavowed...but keep working anyway, to save the world. It's what they do, after all. The chips were certainly down, but they pulled together to persevere. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Benji Dunn (Pegg) were together in the last movie, Mission: Impossible III, but agents Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are newcomers. The theme of people who have no one else but one another banding together--including friends old and new--resonated particularly strongly with me.

So too did a subplot about what became of Ethan's marriage to Julia (Michelle Monaghan) in Mission: Impossible III (which, incidentally, opened less than four months after my own wedding). I tried not to think too much about that, but of course it gnawed at me throughout. I was only able to completely suspend my fixation on that during some of the stunt sequences set in high places. (Before anyone suggests it...No! I am absolutely not going to confront my fear of heights, and certainly not as a coping mechanism!)

That's pretty much my Christmas 2011. Anxieties and emptiness; friendship and hope. Was it the best Christmas ever? No. But it was better than others and on the whole, I'm glad I was here for it.

24 December 2011

Love Thy Sister

A thoughtful woman I have met via Twitter recently wrote a blog post, "Just enough." about the conflict between desiring a better life and feeling ungrateful for the one she has. (Go ahead and read that, then come back here. I'll wait.) I had ruminated on this myself over the years, and I even managed to articulate some of it in a comment I left to her post (you missed it? *sigh* Go back. I'll wait. Again.) I am, of course, having a very confusing Christmas this year and I had hoped to at least have some thoughts coherent enough for a post about that, but something more important has taken hold of my attention.

I have more than a few LGBT friends, and I suspect more than a few LGBT readers. I know a terrific young woman who is, at this very moment, suffering through Christmas with her family without the company of her wonderful girlfriend. The conflict is such that my friend has been compelled to essentially give in to the emotional blackmail of her family, who have not as yet accepted my friend's sexual orientation. Now, I only know these two women via the Internet so I cannot claim comprehensive familiarity with them but I can say with certainty that they're thoughtful, compassionate people and I hold them both in high regard. If we lived in the same area, I would be quite happy to hang out with them. (One's a Trekkie, so I know she's good for some geek-centric conversation!)

Now, I am not naive or oblivious. I have known for years that countless people around the world are compelled to keep their romantic/sexual lives out of the eyes of their own families. Those taboos can be over race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other absurd criteria. Knowledge of this has always offended me, but this year it has struck me in a very specific way.

In case you're new to my blog, I spent an entire year fighting severe depression and suicidal urges. The very idea of being alive caused me actual pain in the form of headaches. Here I am, however, on the other side of that darkness. I have re-engaged my family and friends after nearly a year of withdrawing from them all, and I have been reminded how great a job I've done over the years of surrounding myself with truly wonderful companions. They have all insisted to me that, regardless of however I felt about myself during this past year, they always still thought well and affectionately of me and that they're grateful I'm still here with them for this Christmas.

I refer back to my friend's blog post about being contented with what is necessary in life while desiring growth and fulfillment in it, and I look at my LGBT friends through the prism of her post as well as my own recent experiences and I can only wish that those who have placed barriers of disapproval around their loved ones would gain perspective. Your daughter could be gone tomorrow. Accept and love her today. Nothing is so important that you can't make peace with it, and it's certainly not worth the kind of strife and heartache that comes from disallowing her to share in the company of a woman who makes her happy and loves her.

This is precisely the kind of perspective most of us have in the immediate aftermath of life-and-death situations, but lose sight of once our lives return to an equilibrium that allows for pettiness. So in conclusion, I would address my blogger friend by saying that the real challenge is to grow and seek further fulfillment...while never letting go of the perspective that having less affords us. We may never have so much in our lives that we can afford to destroy what really matters; namely, our loved ones. I leave you with this:
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you. - Colossians 3:13
If you insist upon withholding from your loved ones the very forgiveness for which this whole holiday is meant to espouse, then frankly I see no reason for you to even participate.

DVD: "A Christmas Carol"

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
with Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Gilburn, Barry MacKay, Lynne Carver
Screen Play by Hugo Butler
Directed by Edwin L. Marin
DVD Release Date: 8 November 2005
List Price: $9.98

My love for Dickens' story is well documented, so I decided this Christmas season I would hit several adaptations of it. The first up was this 1938 screen version I'd not seen before. It turned up in a $5 bin at Walmart last year, but we never got around to watching it--largely because I simply had no interest in Christmas at all.

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this adaptation. It felt to me very much like a filmed play, in large part due to Reginald Owen's theatrical performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. For many this is likely to be bothersome; it may feel "hokey" or "hackneyed," but it's an aesthetic that I thought worked well here. But then, I came to this as a fan of A Christmas Carol rather than as a film viewer. It was far more important to me that they get the essence of the story right than it was that it be impressive as a work of cinema. Others may not be so forgiving.

Contributing to the play-like feel of this adaptation is the abridgment of many of the harsher story elements (woefully absent are Ignorance and Want, the grotesque personifications of man's wicked ways). Some object to this sanitizing of the source material. I can certainly appreciate their objections. Also, Scrooge's nephew Fred is engaged here, rather than already married. It's a minor thing in general, but that peripheral element of Dickens's novel is expanded into a subplot here. Again, purists may balk at this unnecessary infusion of romance into the story.

Every adaptation has its unique quirks, however, and I think this is why I'm so accepting of most of them. My favorite deviation in this one was their twist on the scene after the close of the business day, when Scrooge encounters Bob Cratchit making merry with the snowball-fighting kids. Bob accidentally knocks off Scrooge's top hat and is fired on the spot for it! Bob protests, insisting his contract calls for a one-week notice. Scrooge counters that Bob will instead forfeit his remaining salary to replace the hat (having been run over by a horse-drawn carriage). The icing on the cake, though, is that it then crosses Scrooge's mind that his hat cost more than Bob's weekly salary...and forces Bob to pay the difference, then and there!


Warner Bros. did a nice job with this DVD release. Firstly, they have presented a pretty clean and clear-sounded version of the film in its original black and white form, rather than the colorized version (though, oddly, the back of the DVD case insert shows still images from that version). There is no commentary track, I'm afraid, but they did include the original theatrical trailer, which I rather enjoyed. It's presented as A Fireside Chat with Lionel Barrymore, in which the venerable actor presents an introduction to the film. It reminded me of the beginning to Masterpiece Theatre, which was nice, and it's one of the rare instances I recommend watching the trailer before the film.

Beyond that, Warner included a short film, The Christmas Party ("Jackie Cooper's Christmas Party" on the DVD menu). Young Jackie Cooper organizes a lavish Christmas party for his playmates, put on by various MGM stars of the era. The whole thing was nothing more than a pretext for MGM to flaunt their star power, so those looking for an interesting narrative will be sorely disappointed but those who enjoy star-gazing should have fun spotting the celebs of yesteryear. (In case you're wondering, Warner Bros. has ownership of a vast portion of the MGM catalog.)

They also included an animated short film, Peace on Earth, in which post-apocalyptic anthropomorphic squirrels celebrate Christmas and talk about how mankind killed itself off in war. I am totally serious about this. It's not very subtle, but it's quite bold--particularly to have been released in 1939 as Hitler was already marching across Europe. Cynics may mistake it for naivete, but I think its earnestness redeems it.

Lastly, there is a video clip of Judy Garland performing "Silent Night." It's tangential at best--Garland was a contract player for MGM at the time of the performance--but it's hard to complain about its inclusion.

I would have liked a commentary track or some kind of featurette about the production of this screen adaptation, but I can also appreciate why Warner Bros. didn't feel it prudent to invest in such content. A shame, though, because this is precisely the kind of film that I think invites viewer curiosity. Reginald Owen is hardly a household name today (or even in 2005, when this DVD was released) so it's not like his name conjures...well, anything. I suspect I'm not alone in wishing there was something here to provide some context for the production and its participants, but c'est la vie. Well worth the $5 I paid for it!

Look for A Christmas Carol on DVD in my Amazon aStore. Just click on the "Go Shopping!" tab at the top of this page!

20 December 2011

Side-Scrolling Cowardice

It's the coward's way out.

That's what we're told about suicide. People who end their own lives are not to be pitied like the rest of our dead. They're cautionary tales, meant to scare the frail into galvanizing themselves into flipping the "Happy" switch and avoiding such a dismal end for themselves. After all, they really just need a kick in the pants to man up, start living in the real world and quit wanting anything more out of life because they're not entitled to it and blah, blah, blah. If your whole resentment of depressed people is that you boast about not being satisfied with life and they don't, then you probably need to do some reevaluating of your own, but frankly that's not what I'm here to discuss right now.

People who have never been suicidal have no idea what it's like. Just as with the rest of depression, your imagination may be sufficient to generate empathy, but you are incapable of having true insight. I can explain it to you in words and you can read those words and they can have meaning to you, but it's like looking at photos of the surface of Pluto. We might know what it looks like, but we'll never know what it's like to actually stand there. Rather than take this as some kind of slight against you, that I am arrogantly excluding you from some kind of exclusive club, shut the hell up and just be grateful you haven't known this torture firsthand. Not everything in life is about you.

There are infinite allegories for life, but the one that I think best suits suicide is that life is like a side-scrolling video game. Not only are you restricted to moving around where the game takes you, but you can't even control the pace. You have to make your way through the level as quickly as you can, and accomplish whatever is required of you before the game decides you haven't done enough quickly enough and brands you a failure. Some players are great at these levels. Some are immune to that kind of stress; others thrive on it. That's terrific.
Then there are players like me. I'm terrible at video games. Honestly, I still haven't beaten Super Mario Bros. and my mom got my brother and me a Nintendo Entertainment System the second year they were out. In a side-scrolling game, once you miss something, it's gone. There comes a point where you look around and it seems that you have significantly fewer paths open to you than you did when you began. Maybe you screwed up. Maybe you were cheated. Whatever; it doesn't matter. The point is, you assess the situation and find you're ill-equipped to continue down your choice of whatever unattractive paths remain open to you.

If we were playing a video game, this is where you would look for a cheat code or simply restart. Why not? Your options are negligible and what's the point of continuing?

Now understand this is how I felt for an entire year about drawing breath.

I spent much of my time ruminating about my own suicide. Not just how I would do it (overdose on pills; I'm not into pain, thank you very much) but the larger, philosophical implications of it. I could hear the scorn in my brother's voice as he would condemn me for my weakness. What defense could I offer? I would be gone.

That's when I wrote "Finis," my final blog post.

It stayed in my drafts section for nearly six months; I wrote it sometime in May. It was ready to be published at a moment's notice. All I had to do was go in and approve it. I even had figured out how to schedule it to appear after I would already be gone so that it wouldn't appear prematurely and warn anyone who might see it.

In "Finis," I articulated that I simply couldn't go on anymore. You might brand me a weakling, and maybe that's fair. I was too weak to keep going. So? Life's hard. It's not for the weak or the timid so what business did I have loitering around?

Cowardice? People have various phobias and the vast majority of them are rooted in the fear that harm--often, death itself--could come to them. I'm not afraid of heights because I fear my ears not equalizing properly. I'm afraid of heights because I know I could fall to great injury or death. The very subject of one's own death makes most people uncomfortable; some of them are incapable of processing the notion and have to change topic. Even thinking about one's own death requires a certain amount of emotional fortitude that the average person does not desire to have.

Now consider what it takes to overcome all the barriers between the human survival instinct and death itself. It may sound "easy," but I assure you, it is not.

Selfishness? I resolved that issue long ago. I resented being asked to continue living in pain simply because others would find it inconvenient for me to be gone. Ask someone with a terminally ill pet about making the decision to euthanize their furry loved one and you will eventually hear the declaration, "I don't want him/her to suffer." Why, then, should I? Because I can speak for myself and comprehend the situation? Because I have different options than an animal? Those are details. The core premise remains: You would prefer the peace of death to the agony of life for your animal and I felt entitled to at least that same measure of consideration.

Those left behind often grapple with things like, "Why didn't he say something?" and a laundry list of all the options that the loved one could have explored but seemingly did not. It's as though the fallen individual was somehow oblivious to their own plight. I assure you, they were not. Your loved one wanted to reach out to you, every day. You never knew it, though. You had no idea that just not giving in and ending their life took every bit of strength they had.
I had to fight to keep from going after the poison mushroom.

Day in, day out, I awoke with disappointment and resentment. I just wanted it to be over and I kept hoping I wouldn't have to make it happen myself. I would check in with people via text, social media websites like Facebook and Twitter. I would blog. Every day for most of this past year, I wanted to say to everyone who might listen, "I need help! I don't want to live anymore and I'm scared how close I am to giving in and ending my life." But I had already exhausted my ability to fight just by getting out of bed and avoiding the various methods by which I could have ended my life.

You may have thought me weak for not tweeting, "I need help," but you would never have known what it was like for me to stare at a tabletop full of prescription pill bottles and wonder if I had enough to finish the job before anyone could find me. I had to fight that fight several times a day. There was no escape from it. No matter where I was, or whose company I shared, I was always a lapse in strength away from giving in. It required a strength that few people can actually appreciate.

None of this is meant to glorify suicide. But I honestly believe that by perpetuating the stigma that only cowards and weaklings take their own lives, we as a society lend credence to the poisonous sense of isolation within which depression thrives and plies its wickedness upon the afflicted. It's hard enough to resist suicide, or to reach out to someone. It is all but impossible to do so if the someone to whom you might reach out has already condemned your feelings out of hand.

18 December 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Sunset"

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #41
Written by: Tom Joyner
Plot Assist by: Keith S. Wilson
Art by: Jim Fern
Lettered by: John Costanza
Colored by: Steve Oliff
Edited by: Kaplan & Goodwin
$1.75/32 pages
January, 1993

Caught up in his activities, the Batman finds himself out past sunrise and in search of a place to ditch some eager cops on his tail. He holes up at an abandoned movie studio lot, where he encounters silent film star Nina DeMille...who has outlived her obituary published 40 years ago by existing as a vampire. Nina enslaves the Dark Knight--though she does not actually turn him into a vampire, until faithful gentleman's gentleman Alfred Pennyworth conducts a discreet investigation and comes to the aid of his master.

I'm conflicted about "Sunset." On the one hand, I'm not terribly big on supernatural stories involving Batman--though The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told collection certainly proved that I do like more than I once realized. The vampire portion of the story was decent enough, and I found Nina DeMille an intriguing antagonist, driven by vanity--a different demon than most of the Rogues Gallery. It was nice also to see Alfred in action, and I was impressed that Tom Joyner and Keith S. Wilson wove a story in which Alfred's role did not feel contrived or unlikely. The reasons for his ability to locate the Batman--and combat his tormentor--make perfect sense.

I'm almost loathe to say it, but I really do think "Sunset" ought to have been a two-part story, because I feel as though some of this story was abridged. And yet, the truth is, I also think there's some fat that could have been trimmed. I really don't know what would have made this more satisfying to me, but I feel like it falls just short for some reason. Great atmosphere, and an intriguing premise but I'm just not in love with "Sunset."

15 December 2011

Help My Friend, Mr. Bailey

Being that we're in the Christmas season, I've thought lately about It's a Wonderful Life. In case you were raised by wolves--heathen wolves, at that--the movie is about a guy named George Bailey (the legendary James Stewart) who is convinced he's so useless that his family would be much better without him than with, and he elects to jump off a bridge to his death. He is stopped by an Angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), who walks him through an alternate reality version of the town as it would have been without him in it. By the end of the film, George has seen the ripple effects his life has had for the better and comes to realize his own value to those he loves.
The look of a man who has come to believe his entire existence is a waste.
Of course, I am not a movie character (so far as I know), which means there's no Clarence to escort me through a Travisless world. I must instead rely exclusively on the feedback I receive from other people to indicate to me that I have had (or am having) a positive effect on their lives. Some may misinterpret this as a crass plea for ego-stroking, and I trust that you will understand that is not at all my intent. A former teacher of mine recently informed me she is returning to the profession after a decade absence and that she will have a whole new passion and perspective on the job because of insights I've recently shared. Two former classmates have given me credit for starting their own blogs. A new friend has thanked me for being helpful to her at a very difficult time in her life, and I must tell you that thank you means more to me than any award I may have ever had a shot at receiving.

If we think of goodwill as a pyramid scheme, then these people would all kick up "points" to me, and those who owe a debt of goodwill to them would indirectly also be beneficiaries of my contributions to the whole operation. There is a danger, of course, in thinking in such terms; not only does it omit that we are, ourselves, under yet more people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, but there is the possibility that Selfishness may seek to pervert the whole thing. Rather than take a measure of gratification at knowing you've had a positive impact on others, Selfishness would have you believe that those people are somehow beholden to you, etc. Just as before, I must trust that you, dear reader, understand this is not how I perceive things to be.

In fact, I have a difficult time seeing and accepting the positive ripple effects I've had. It's in my nature to downplay such things, and to overlook them. I think this was part of why I was so drawn to the temptation of taking my own life, in a strange way. It was never a conscious thought of mine, but looking back I have to believe that on some level, I hoped that I would at least merit some kind of glowing memorial from family and friends. I'm certain this is part of the appeal of dying to many who are depressed though, like myself, I suspect the majority do not process this as a conscious thought.
Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?
I do not share this with you that you might lavish me with praise. This is not about my inner George Bailey needing attention. Rather, I ask that you be mindful that those around you may be a George Bailey, longing to hear such things about themselves. They may even need it. On the off chance that someone you know has a low sense of their value as a human being, I challenge you to compliment and thank at least three people today. It doesn't have to be some kind of "Wind Beneath My Wings" tribute. Thank an old friend for introducing you to Spin Doctors in middle school. Tell your brother you still get a kick out of watching The Three Stooges and thinking about him when you do. Make sure to Like something that a coworker shares on Facebook that seems to have gone unnoticed by anyone else.

Perhaps they seem trivial to you. But your acknowledgment is not trivial, I assure you. I'll prove it to you. Accept my challenge and see if the recipients of your three thank yous and/or compliments don't make known their appreciation for your kind words. You don't have to be Clarence and show the George Baileys of your world all the ways that they've made the world a better place. But you can acknowledge something they've done that has had an impact of some kind on you.
Think of yourself in this picture, then go say something nice to someone else you think is in the picture with you.

13 December 2011

Legends of the Dark Knight: "Legend of the Dark Mite"

Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight #38
"Legend of the Dark Mite"
Script: Alan Grant
Art: Kevin O'Neill
Colors: Olyoptics
Letters: John Workman
Assistant Editor: Bill Kaplan
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Batman Creator: Bob Kane
$1.75/32 pages
October, 1992

Being a 19 year old comic, I doubt anyone reading this is going to be terribly bothered by the fact I skipped over this issue in my recent sub-series of LOTDK reviews. This was always a favorite issue of mine, and if I was compiling a list of favorite standalone stories, "Legend of the Dark Mite" would always be among my go-to selections. It was a pleasure to re-read it for the umpteenth time.

Bob is a hapless street criminal who has a Fear and Loathing in Gotham City kind of night that leads him to meet Bat-Mite. Writer Alan Grant tells us on the front page: "Get this straight right from the start--THIS IS NOT AN IMAGINARY STORY!" We're given to understand that Bob is hallucinating Bat-Mite...and yet, there are some moments that seem to suggest that perhaps instead, it's a Great Gazoo kind of thing, where the imp has only revealed himself to Bob. It's one of the charms of the story, but ultimately immaterial. Kevin O'Neill's art perfectly reflects the tone of Grant's script, with the fuddy-duddy Batman skulking throughout the issue, tormenting freaked-out Bob...and whimsical Bat-Mite looming throughout, determined to make Bob fight his inner demons.

"Legend of the Dark Mite" was always an oddity in the series, which prided itself on offering more erudite, intelligent stories rather than the action-oriented mainstream fare of Batman and Detective Comics. This story should have been entirely out of place in this series. Yet, because of the way Grant deftly wove this yarn, it instead became an instant favorite for a lot of fans and when the time came to vote on story arcs to include in The Collected Legends of the Dark Knight trade paperback, this was one of the selections requested by fans. I still think of it as an important part of the LOTDK storytelling continuum, establishing the kinds of rules that could be broken in the course of telling an interesting and entertaining Batman story. It holds up quite nicely after all these years!

12 December 2011

Playlist: Favorite Cuts of 2011

This is my fourth annual "Favorite Cuts" playlist--though I can't seem to find last year's and it's possible I forgot to make one entirely. Anyway, with these playlists, the goal is not to fill a disc or offer a comprehensive survey of my year in music, but rather to collect my absolute favorite recordings of the year. In most cases, these are from albums I would like to own but still don't. Some of the songs I bought, and some I got free from Amazon or iTunes, or website promos for signing up for mailing lists, etc.

Note: I am a member of the Lost Highway Fancorps team, and several of these songs are from Lost Highway releases. I was not asked to promote these songs at all and even if I wasn't a member, I dig these artists and would have added their music to my library anyway.

Note 2: The song titles link to Amazon, where you can download the songs. I've used my Amazon Associates account for the links so I'd appreciate if you would buy via these links so I get a kickback.

"Livin' in the Jungle" by Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears

The garage soul of Black Joe is refreshing. I still haven't got my grubby little paws on the album, Scandalous, but I've snagged a pair of songs from it free online (I think I got this one from Amazon). This song feels like it should have been playing in a strip club in the mid-70s somewhere. I can practically feel the humidity in the air and smell the stale beer.

"Be Your Bro" by Those Darlins

It's catchy and fun, first of all. I could say more about the discussion of platonic friendship, but I'm groggy and there are, like, eight more songs to go. This is another album I wish I had in my library!

"Let's Get Wrecked" by honeyhoney

I really dig Billy Jack, the duo's sophomore album and this is currently my favorite song on the album. "We're holed up in Cleveland/with nothing else to do/Except have bad intentions and what history tells us to." The song has just started and I'm already there, restless and looking for a little mischief.

"Another Like You" by Hayes Carll featuring Cary Ann Hearst

This duet is pure fun and I love the chemistry between Carll and Hearst, who spar over politics in a buildup to a tryst. There are some terrific jabs from both of them, and this is one of those songs I find I enjoy more as I replay it.

I have been addicted to this song for months! It was free from iTunes, and Bridges's eponymous album is yet another 2011 release I meant to already own but still don't.

Technically not a 2011 recording, but it was a single this year and I loved the music video. Fun song, too. In fact, I really enjoyed the entire Teenage Dream album!

"Marry the Night" by Lady Gaga

This song opens Gaga's Born This Way album, and while I've never been a big fan of 80s pop, there's something about this song that celebrates the era's aesthetics that manages to endear itself to me.

"Bleed Red" by Ronnie Dunn

I had actually kind of forgotten about this song until earlier today, but I played it quite a bit when it came out early in 2011 and it seemed to take on a different context in light of the Arab Spring. Plus, I love to hear Dunn sing.

"I Gotta Go" by Robert Earl Keen

The Ready for Confetti album is pretty solid, but I've gravitated toward "I Gotta Go" more than the rest of the collection. Maybe that's because it's also on the Lost Highway 10th Anniversary Sampler album that I've got on vinyl. I dunno.

"Go Down Rockin'" by Waylon Jennings

A newly-released song from this year's The Music Inside: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings, Vol. 1, "Go Down Rockin'" is pure Waymore, defiant to the last. I'm stoked about next month's Vol. 2!

Note: This track is currently an "Album Only" MP3.

11 December 2011

Playlist: Therapy

I made a playlist for when Harold Camping thought the Rapture was coming. Of course I made a playlist for going into therapy! Some of these songs were selected to bolster my in-take of positive thoughts and feelings and some were selected because even in my darkest hour, my sense of humor has endured. I've provided links to Amazon's MP3 store for all songs save one. In the interest of full disclosure, I'm using my Amazon Associates account for those links so if you're gonna buy these songs, I'd appreciate if you would follow these links.

"What Would Willie Do" by Gary Allan
I struggled mightily between Allan's cover and Bruce Robison's original recording, but I elected to go with Allan because his version is much less tongue-in-cheek...which makes it all the funnier, I think. It's an unusual song to open a playlist, but it establishes the tone of this disc immediately and in any event, I think it's less effective if it comes later.

"Blue Skies" by Willie Nelson
To be honest, I could compile an entire Therapy playlist just from Willie Nelson recordings. It was mandatory, I thought, to include one song by the Red Headed Stranger here, and after much deliberation I settled on this Irving Berlin classic from Stardust which, coincidentally, was released the same year I was born (1978 for those of you too lazy to Google it).

"Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne
I was thisclose to opening the disc with this. Regardless of where it appeared, though, I simply had to have this on here. It's a fun song, and as I've asked for the last two months: What's the point of having a mental health crisis if not to find laughter in it?

"Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys
The thesis of this entire playlist, ladies and gentlemen. Though, it's worth noting, this song is actually about having the sense that a woman is into him and that's not at all what's going on with me.

One of the most helpful things in the world to me these last two months has been the camaraderie from my friends, old and new. If I was asked to draw up a template for how I idealize such friendships, I would simply point to Cheers.

"Life Gets Away" by Clint Black
The first actually serious song on the playlist and it's just about perfect. My only problem with this song is that it makes my throat hurt to sing along with it, which happens with a lot of Clint Black songs. It's not that I'm futilely trying to emulate the sound of his voice; it's something to do with the way he constructs the lines he writes, combining various syllable sounds or some such. I have the same problem with "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell.

"Do You Believe in Magic?" by The Lovin' Spoonful
Back to the positive feelings portion of the playlist. I've always loved this song. Its meaning has changed for me over the years; sometimes I associate it with someone in particular, and who that may be changes from time to time. Sometimes I don't think about anyone at all and just enjoy the song itself. Lately, I've thought about my niece and how refreshing it was to have her spend the night recently.

"The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News
It's catchy, it's fun and you're welcome to consult Patrick Bateman if you want anything more about why this song should be here.

This album cut is from Madonna's I'm Breathless, the only album of hers I own--and I only own that because it's a collection of her recordings for Dick Tracy. Anyway, this is an odd but playful song and I enjoy its energy.

I'm addicted to this, and I have been for months. In the context of my last two months, I was a little troubled by the line, "There ain't nothin' really wrong with you," but the point of the song is that love can go a long way toward the healing process. In the song itself, it's a come-on used to persuade a woman to take a chance on him but I take it here as a sort of allegory about love in general beyond the specific scope of romantic love. That all gets a bit heady, though, so I leave it: I'm addicted to this song!

"Paperback Writer" by The Beatles
Because I actually do want to be one. If you want this, you'll have to buy a CD or download from iTunes.

"Loco" by David Lee Murphy
Another song selected for the same reason as "Crazy Train" and "I'm Going Bananas."

"The Touch" by Stan Bush
If and when the music version of Flickchart ever comes out, this will almost certainly be my top-ranked song/recording. I could write an entire blog post about my adoration of it. Suffice it to say that I love it and it makes me feel good. I also considered "Dare" by Bush (also on The Transformers: The Movie soundtrack), which would also be a perfect fit for this playlist.

"Paint It, Black" by The Rolling Stones
I love the sound of this song. Its lyrics are about struggling with an inner darkness, and so it seemed particularly relevant here.

Go ahead. Try to be sad or angry with this playing. I can't do it, and I suspect you probably can't, either. (It helps that I love the movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)

"Pray" by M.C. Hammer
My contentious relationship with God and religion is well documented, but lately I've taken some comfort from praying. Besides, every feel-good playlist ought to have something by Hammer.

"I've Always Been Crazy" by Waylon Jennings
"I can't say I'm proud of all of the things that I've done/but I can say I've never intentionally hurt anyone." There's a reason Rodney Crowell is one of the most respected singer/songwriters of his generation, and this balancing act between candid confession and playfulness is a perfect microcosm of his talents. Waylon kills it.

"I Won't Back Down" by Johnny Cash
Yes, I know Tom Petty wrote and recorded it first. But there's something about Cash's weathered vocals that infuse it with a powerful defiance that makes this recording a masterpiece. I've written extensively about the importance of understanding that fighting depression is an ongoing, endless struggle and so hearing the Man in Black "stand [his] ground" is a source of inspiration for me.

"Brass Monkey" by The Beastie Boys
The absurdity of this song has always endeared it to me. Still does.

"You May Be Right" by Billy Joel
Another song making light of mental health issues in the context of a come-on, but it makes me smile so I try not to think too much about that part of it.

"Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson
The song is really about wanting to make the world a better place, of course, but I identify with the emphasis on making changes within oneself. I have made adjustments recently, but I know it's a work in progress and that I have to continue making changes--just as I have to ensure that the ones I've already made take hold.

"You Only Live Twice" by Nancy Sinatra
Bond: "I'm on my second life."
Blofeld: "You only live twice, Mr. Bond."

The title song from the fifth James Bond movie reflects my philosophy that I'm now living an entire part of my life I nearly denied myself. I don't see it as a rebirth, necessarily, so much as an unexpected continuation. Anything I've said, done, seen, heard, thought, felt, written, eaten, played, sung, read, or otherwise experienced since 6 October has been because I have extended my life beyond the point at which I was prepared to end it. The song has the line, "You only live twice, or so it seems/One life for yourself, and one for your dreams." I suppose now is the part of my life where I ought to live the life for my dreams--not that I've had many, but I'm growing to feel some measure of self-confidence about my chances at writing. I'd like to grow my blog readership and eventually have at least one work in print (and, hopefully, become filthy rich!).

10 December 2011

"The Sopranos" Season Six, Part II

The Sopranos Season Six, Part II
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Aida Turturro, John Ventimiglia, Steven R. Schirripa, Vincent Curatola, Frank Vincent, Ray Abruzzo
Created by David Chase
DVD Release: 23 October 2007
List Price: $49.99
Also available on Blu-ray Disc, List Price: $69.99
540 Minutes

The final nine episodes of The Sopranos are a microcosm of everything that made the series compelling. Yes, major events happen involving principal characters. But rather than merely inundate us with end-of-the-series shockers--and, to be sure, there are several--David Chase and his writers gave us some of the finest hours of the entire show here at the end. The ongoing theme of mental health has resonated with me quite intimately this time around, but few have hit me as viscerally as these. I almost had an anxiety attack watching "The Second Coming," and that is not hyperbole. I calmed myself with a Buspar.

I've shied away from dissecting the series largely because I feel after all these years, there's little left to be said. That's just as true about Season Six, Part II as the rest of the series, but I would like to note that I no longer suspect that Tony's flashback in "The Blue Comet" to discussing death with Bobby in "Soprano Home Movies" was meant to tell us how to interpret the end of "Made in America." I am now contented that it was Tony's way of reassuring himself that [the character who dies in "The Blue Comet"] died before the surprise of being attacked ever faded. It was Tony's way of comforting himself, I think. This is punctuated by him clutching the assault rifle given to him during that same previous episode; a sort of "That's that, on with me" thing. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's how I read it this time around.

It was A.J.'s arc that, of course, impacted me most clearly. His struggles with anxiety over socio-political issues, relationship angst and plunging into the depths of despair as he did all hurt to watch. I saw myself in much of it. For instance, I've internalized the increasingly vicious debates over health care in the United States of the last two years. I've felt as though I have been personally placed on the chopping block. When the audience member at this year's CNN Republican Debate encouraged Senator Ron Paul to let a hypothetical uninsured patient die, I did not consider this an abstract discussion. I took it as an indication that I, Travis McClain, could go "decrease the surplus population" and they would be all the happier for my expiration. So when I saw A.J. worked up over the possibility of then-President George W. Bush initiating war with Iran, I knew firsthand how terrifying the news can be. I've always been excitable about such things, but having felt personally affected by the outcome of such things, I could very easily understand how absurd the mundane day-in, day-out parts of life felt to A.J.

Beyond identifying with A.J. myself, I also found myself heartbroken to watch Tony and Carmela struggle to understand and help their son. Partly, this is because I've begun to have a strong sense of how upsetting I have been this past year to my wife. And, partly, it's because I have a new friend who shares this misery with me and it breaks my heart to know she's fighting this, too. It's strange to have three different perspectives on one situation.

In the final episodes, A.J. paints himself into a corner and has to confront his need for help--and his need to find something rewarding about living. I'm there now. I'm sure some people might be upset that the series ends without ever really showing how A.J. handles things. I'm not one of them. Even if I might glean some ideas from the show, it isn't a template for how to live with depression or anxiety. In that respect, then, I don't feel "cheated" out of any helpful suggestions. I know from my own experiences that it is not the kind of thing that you overcome once and for all; it's a never-ending battle. It would have been disingenuous for the series to have shown A.J. "all better."
James Gandolfini, Edie Falco & Robert Iler in "Made in America"
This leads me to the brilliance of the finale, "Made in America." Some plot threads are resolved. Some aren't. Some are actually introduced! The point of the finale was to be an anti-finale, in the sense that it does not wrap up the series. It leaves us with a sense that life goes on for these characters and their world; we're simply no longer privy to their exploits. I think of what Carmela said about visiting Paris in an episode in the first part of Season Six about how, until she and Rosalie Aprile arrived in Paris, all the people there were "imaginary." They existed only in an abstract sense, until actually seen by Carmela.

"Made in America" is very much that same concept, but in reverse; we've seen these characters and accept that they exist in their fictitious world, but now we have left it and they go on, unseen by us. The tension is of Hitchcockian proportions--even during my driver's test, parallel parking was never more nerve-wracking!--but at the very last moment, as soon as I realized what had happened, I laughed. (Seriously, you can ask my wife; she was upset at me for laughing as we watched the end credits begin to roll.) It's the greatest response to hype and expectation that I think I've ever seen, and it's the kind of boldness that made this one of the greatest triumphs of the television medium.

Regarding the DVD release, I have to say I've always resented that HBO stuck to their 4-disc format because this necessitated having a paltry two episodes on three of the discs. I would have preferred three 3-episode discs. The fact that this had the same MSRP as the other season box sets has never sat right with me, either. There are four commentary tracks, and I have to say I actually kind of liked them. Dominic Chianese's commentary for "Chasing It" includes some of the standard "Such great actors..." stuff that permeates all commentaries, but then he goes into a rumination on the nature of Oedipal storytelling that's as intriguing as any other criticism I've read or heard about the show. He's a guy who understands mythology, and I honestly enjoyed hearing his thoughts about The Sopranos.

Conversely, the commentary track on "The Blue Comet" by actors Steven Van Zandt and Arthur J. Nascerella plays like an homage to Beavis and Butt-Head. They essentially mock everything on screen and make each other laugh from start to finish. It can be off-putting to hear them disparage A.J.'s character as weak, but by the end of the hour I'd chalked up the whole thing to a display of inanity.

So, that's it. In about six weeks, I've gorged on the entirety of The Sopranos. It's been interesting and emotional for me at this point in my life, for various reasons, and I look forward to revisiting it again in a few years. By then, hopefully I'll have put quite a lot of distance between myself and the recent lows of my depression and will have a different emotional reaction.

First Season | Second Season | Third Season | Fourth Season | Fifth Season | Season Six, Part I

09 December 2011

Welcome to Therapy

My discharge papers included a date to meet with a therapist, but that part was printed in a confusing way so I missed that date entirely. Upon discovering my gaffe, I rescheduled for 1 December--my birthday, which seemed an appropriate day for my first-ever therapy session. However, you may recall, that was canceled and so it came to be that I finally met with my therapist this afternoon, 60 days after being discharged from Our Lady of Peace.

To begin with, I almost didn't even see her today on account of a $38.66 copay that had never been brought to my attention. At present, I have less than that to my name (though only for another few days). They agreed to defer the copay, though, and I was eventually brought in to meet my therapist.
Many thanks to Melissa Price @MarinaSirtisFan for providing this photo!
I had no idea what to expect, or even what to hope for (though finding Marina Sirtis in a lavender body suit would have been fine with me). Most of my hour was spent merely completing a new patient questionnaire. She asked if I preferred to be addressed as Travis. I briefly thought about requesting that she call me, "Mr. President," but I didn't have a sense of her humor so I let it pass. Some questions were dismissed with perfunctory "yes" or "no" answers, though some occasioned me to touch on some things. It was agreed that having Crohn's disease sucks, as much for the secondary--and tertiary--effects as for the disease itself. I liked the couch. Beyond that, it's hard to really have much to say about today's session.

My therapist suggested I write down my thoughts and experiences, but that seems rather redundant to me given the candid nature of this blog. There are, of course, some select topics that I refrain from exploring here but for the most part I think I've been quite open to date. That reminds me: If there's some topic you think I ought to explore, let me know! I may not address it in depth, or at all, but it's always nice to have prompts. Bloggin's hard, y'all.

That's pretty much it for my first therapy session write-up. I wish I had something more profound to offer those of you who are learning vicariously about depression management but I really don't. I'll continue ruminating, though, and I'll continue sharing my insights and experiences as I have them.

08 December 2011

Being Happy Is Hard Work

"You don't know the power of the Dark Side!"

Let me put something in perspective for you. Our Lady of Peace in Louisville offers two outpatient programs for mental health issues such as depression. They meet Monday through Friday and begin at 9:00 AM. One program runs until noon; the other, 2:00 in the afternoon. That's a part-time job. Who has that kind of time?

I'm not here to attack OLOP's scheduling. Rather, my point is that there's a whole lot more to managing depression than taking your meds and thinking happy thoughts. This can be particularly frustrating for both patient and loved ones alike. There can be an expectation that dramatic results should emerge on a daily basis, and that upon completion of the program, the patient should be "all better."

It's the formality of the program, I think, that invites such lofty expectations. After all, if I took guitar lessons Monday through Friday, from 9:00 AM-2:00 PM for a month, I would expect to be able to play some chords and basic songs like "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or whatever's simple to play on a guitar. I wouldn't expect to be Chet Atkins, but I would expect to "level up" (to borrow a video game term) and have the basics for progressing with my studies. Likewise, "completing" the outpatient program "should" lead a patient to the next level in their management of their condition.

The truth is, however, that there's not much in the way of "leveling up" when it comes to depression.

There's "managed" and "not managed." There are degrees, of course, but they all come down to those two basic statuses. They can change daily. Today can be a good day; tomorrow could suck. The flip side is, as bad as today is, tomorrow could be light and enjoyable. It means we can never assume that just because we go to bed feeling well that we'll wake up that way, which can be a source of anxiety for many of us. Most people don't have to worry on a daily basis whether today will be a good day. They may dread a meeting, hate a particular project or resent a coworker, but they won't wonder every day whether they'll resent being alive. It's not a resentment that we get to choose consciously; it's a feeling that seizes us from within.

There is an erroneous belief that professional help ensures successful management of something like depression. It certainly has a positive impact and can make a world of difference, but there are no guarantees at all. Loved ones become exasperated, wondering how much longer you'll need this help before you don't need it anymore. The truth is, we'll likely always need help of some kind. Maybe we won't participate in 20 hours of outpatient group therapy weekly, but we'll need help of some kind. We can't afford to let up our guard, because depression has nothing but time. It can wait us out and strike when we're least prepared to resist it.

Those of us with depression will always have to be mindful that we can fall to the darkness within us at any time. Not to burden this post with too many varied movie references, but while texting with a friend of mine about all this recently, I was reminded of that moment in The Untouchables near the end, after Capone is hauled away from the court room where Ness throws at the gangster the words of his mentor, Malone:

We need encouragement, kindness and mercy but perhaps more than anything else, we need patience. We need it from our loved ones, but we also need it from ourselves. I still believe baseball is the greatest metaphor for life. Some people believe that when you have a chronic condition, you ought to "make the most" of each day to "make up" for the days lost to misery. It sounds reasonable, until you realize that it's impossible. There are 24 hours in a good day just as much as there are 24 hours in a bad day. We can't extend the hours in a day just because it's good. We can't retroactively have a good day; it's not like if I have a terrific Friday that somehow I can "round up" Thursday and put it in the books as a good day, too. A baseball team might lose 16-2, but the next game starts 0-0 just the same as all the others. They don't pick up where they left off at 16-2. Sure, their season record is cumulative; but we can't "win" a season in life. We can only go out there day in, day out and try to have more good days than bad.

07 December 2011

My Favorite Tweets of 2011

Twitter is good for a laugh most days, and these are my favorite tweets of 2011. Some tweeters, such as @DawnHFoster, should have their tweets collected and published. For some of these, I've provided a bit of context but others I think are just as entertaining out of context. I tried to limit each tweeter to being represented by just one, but there were a couple who had some gems that I couldn't decide between, so I included both.

Tara Strong @tarastrong, 9 March: "Last night I cracked up my kid by pretending to be a bratty little girl to the annoying telemarketer call guy & he totally bought it.." [Tara Strong is a voice over actress.]

Brook Busey (Diablo Cody) @diablocody, 6 April:  "I made homemade pizza today and threw the dough in the air. I'm not saying it worked. I'm just saying I did it."

Anthony @ih8comedy, 24 May: "Dear jelly, It's time. Sincerely, peanut butter."

Rosanne Cash @rosannecash27 May: "I can't jump from Broadway quotes to Libyan bank governors to Miles Davis to cold pizza to Harvard to Nascar to Polar Bears. I just can't."

Jim Day @JimDayTV, 31 May: "If you live in Norwood, you are located in tonight's strike zone from home plate umpire"

vaness! @fuhrerprincess, 13 June: "Hornswoggle. Dunno what it is, but I feel like it should be Harry Potter related."

Meg$ @2ndCitySaint, 2 July: "Dear video games, thanks for giving me the hand-eye coordination & dexterity necessary to use a dildo w/one hand & my clit with the other."

Andy Borowitz @BorowitzReport, 6 July: "Remember, folks: in America, you're innocent until Nancy Grace  spends every night for 3 years saying you're guilty."

joshua may @notjosh7 July: "If life gives you melons, you're probably dyslexic."

Daren R. Dochterman @darendoc, 8 July: "If NASA had any guts, they would dress the landing crew at Edwards as Apes to receive the Astronauts on their last Shuttle Landing."

Nikol Hasler @NikolHasler, 9 July: "Do you think other scientists are offended by the phrase 'It's not rocket science?' Like, are biochemists just a liiiitle bristly over that?"

Natasha Badhwar @natashabadhwar, 9 July: "If anyone ever tries to take me to a water park again, I will laugh out loud. In their face."

Simon Thomson @SimonJT10, 10 July: "@piersmorgan My girlfriend sent me a text saying 'Sorry, but I've had enough with you. Your really annoying'. So I replied with '*you're*'."

Marta @ohsheesamonster, 12 July: "Oh Mila Kunis is trending. The things I'd do to her..."

Valibus @valibus, 20 July: "The most fictitious part about Spiderman and Superman now is that their alter-egos are gainfully employed at a newspaper."

Seth Meyers @sethmeyers21, 25 July: "The only entitlement Boehner believes in is that you're entitled to go f*ck yourself."

Anderson Cooper @andersoncooper, 12 August: "That monkey in #TheRidiculist cracks me up"

Dawn Foster @DawnHFoster, 20 August: "Jesus. From the scene I've just witnessed, I can tell you that breastfeeding and having your hair bleached don't mix."

McDonald's Corp. @McDonaldsCorp, 22 August: "@woodmuffin You are correct. Grimace used to have four arms. He's very cagey about what happened to the extra arms. We don't ask."

Katy Perry @katyperry, 23 August: [When asked her favorite course at school:]"Any kind of HISTORY!"

joereid @joereid, 23 August [During aftermath coverage of east coast earthquake]: "Shit, y'all, Wolf Blitzer is on a PHONE WITH A CORD. That man will get you the information ANY WAY HE CAN."

Molly Jo @AnneShirley06, 4 September: "Dinner! You have BETRAYED me!"


Sherrilynn Macale @heycheri, 8 September: "I love how guys on OkCupid are like, 'Wanna meet up for coffee?' I'm a 5'1, 93LB Asian girl. Not in the mood to get kidnapped."

Gail Simone @GailSimone, 13 September: "Look, it's fine if you guys want to share Twitter and stuff. But I'm sorry, touch my Batgirl and Batcycle Barbie set and I get all stabby."

Dawn Foster, 24 September: "A lady in Balham Sainsburys tried to make me eat vegetables. I wish the Nazis had won."

Luke Morton @luke_morton, 2 October: "A lot of conflict in the Wild West could have been avoided completely if architects had just made their towns big enough for everyone."

Alicia-Monique @aliciamonique, 6 October: "I love Cruel Intentions. It ALWAYS makes me cry. Without fail. Plus it makes my vag cry because Ryan Phillipe will never be inside me."

Dawn Foster, 11 October: "'How might you stop children playing tricks on Halloween?' Same way you stop paedophilia: kill all the children."

Emil Ekelund @Esh_Kebab, 16 October: [About Roger Ebert's memoirs] "I like how there's an 'About the author' section at the end of it. Makes me wonder just what I had been reading for the past 400+ pages."

Matt Shapiro @typorrhea, 16 October: "Final image from last night's dream: big tough gangsta in Super Target, a cat on his shoulder with Paula Dean's face. Woke up screaming."

Max Perlman @Big_Max19: "Tim McCarver can't tell the difference between a curveball and a changeup. My mom knows the difference, no offense mom."

Ron Marz @ronmarz, 22 October: "Man, we picked the hell outta those apples!"

Alexander Goot @AGoot18: "Most reporters wouldn't know the type of soup Adrian Chambers ordered. Most reporters aren't Ken Rosenthal."

Simon Pegg @simonpegg, 30 October: "Asked my 2 year old what her fav part of today's Halloween party was and she pointed at thin air and said, 'that ghost'. May move house."

Brent Spiner @BrentSpiner, 5 November: "RIP Andy Rooney. Don't you just hate when people die?"

kelly oxford @kellyoxford, 17 November: "Adulthood is probably when you stop taking drugs to trip out, and start taking drugs to feel normal."

Ron Marz, 26 November: "If this Mars probe finds no Tharks, I will be extremely disappointed."

sickipediabot @sickipediabot, 29 November: "Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank, give a man a bank and he can rob the world."

Black Canseco @BlackCanseco, 5 December: "Ving Rhames is trending?! Lord please don't let him be dead, broke, droppin a rap album or a sextape."

ADDENDUM - Tweets sent after I originally published this post.

Jennifer Sicurella @TequilaReader, 9 December: "All I know about fashion is that cleavage = free drinks."

06 December 2011

"The Sopranos" Season Six, Part I

The Sopranos Season Six, Part I
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Aida Turturro, John Ventimiglia, Steven R. Schirripa, Vincent Curatola, Frank Vincent, Ray Abruzzo
Created by David Chase
DVD Release Date: 7 November 2006
List Price: $49.99
Also available on Blu-ray Disc, List Price: $69.99
720 Minutes

The first part of the final season of The Sopranos begins with everything going Tony's way. He surprises Carmela with a new Porsche just because he can. But then things go south in a hurry; Uncle Junior shoots him in a fit of dementia. Vito Spatafore is outed, inviting all kinds of homophobic strife--particularly from outraged Phil Leotardo, whose cousin is Vito's wife. A.J. has carried his apathy into adulthood, frustrating his parents at every turn. And then there's the matter of Christopher, who is determined to get his horror movie, Cleaver, produced...and he has Tony's begrudging support in lieu of what became of Adriana in the fifth season.

This is one of my favorite seasons of the entire series (or at least, this part of this season is). Artistically, the stuff they did with "Join the Club" (one of the best dream episodes of the lot, and there have been some doozies) was great fun. Hearing James Gandolfini use his real speaking voice was clever. The "real" portions of the episode features some of the best material in the entire series to showcase Edie Falco's acting chops as Carmela.

There are some other perfect episodes, such as "Luxury Lounge," in which Christopher goes to Hollywood to try to get Sir Ben Kingsley to sign onto Cleaver. "The Ride" showcases the various ways in which we, as human beings, seek to fill our time with thrills and escapism. "Kaisha," which concludes this part of Season Six, is all about finding contentment--clearly a theme that resonated powerfully with me this time around. It was, after all, two months ago today that I nearly ended my life. Some of the funniest stuff in the series happens in these episodes, too; from Christopher mugging Lauren Bacall and stealing cases of wine with Tony to Bobby agreeing to shoot a gangsta rapper who wants street cred. The dialog is sharp as ever and I couldn't stop laughing at many of the malapropisms.

Someone online recently noted that, "Depression doesn't have a thing to do with gratitude," and they were entirely right. Still, because I'm managing my depression reasonably well again, I've been able to feel more contentment and gratitude of late. I've been under the weather most of the last week (still am) and my guts have been a bit obnoxious but otherwise, I've been in reasonably good health the last couple of months. I've even managed to do a little driving successfully! I've enjoyed the company of my friends, and I've made a new friend with whom I feel an easy closeness--rare for me. There's a moment in "Kaisha" where Tony addresses Phil in the hospital, following his heart attack, and expresses the importance of compromising to enjoy life rather than fight tooth and nail for everything and enjoying none of it. That moment meant something to me this time around beyond merely recognizing its philosophical validity.
The running theme of Season Six, Part I is the exploration of manhood--a topic that has always vexed me. Here, we see Tony frustrated with A.J. not "manning up" as a young adult, even noting to Melfi that it was "a good thing" his father wasn't alive to see A.J.'s behavior. Likewise, there are the subplots of the emotional Johnny Sack and the homosexual Vito--both of which incense old schooler Phil Leotardo. After his shooting, Tony reevaluates who he is as a husband and as a father, two key roles for a man to fill. Paulie discovers his mother is really his aunt (and vice versa), completely upturning his sense of self as a son. This stuff troubled me as much in these episodes as it always has in my daily life. I'm not comfortable thinking of myself as a man, in large part because my dad made clear to me as a child I would never be one. Someone other than me will have to expound upon this theme, then, and I hope you'll understand.

One last thought about this DVD box set: There are four commentary tracks and I actually enjoyed three of them! I've been "meh" about just about every commentary in the series so far, but these were actually fun. "Join the Club" features cast members Edie Falco, Robert Iler and Jamie-Lynn Sigler; "Luxury Lounge" features writer Matthew Weiner; "The Ride" features writer Terence Winter and actors Tony Sirico and Michael Imperioli. Weiner in particular gave a fun commentary and his episode blew by--unlike the absolutely dreadful Peter Bogdanovich commentary from an earlier season. David Chase's commentary for the finale, "Kaisha," is average; not bad, but certainly not as engaging as the other three. Still, for once I can actually endorse a fan taking the time to listen to these commentary tracks.

First Season | Second Season | Third Season | Fourth Season | Fifth Season | Season Six, Part II