— I have a new nephew. His name sounds like he stepped out of a medieval illuminated manuscript telling tales of ancient Irish warrior-kings. (County Mayo repreSENTS.) I can’t wait to meet him. Everyone’s doing great.

— Just finished A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien, and highly recommend it. O’Brien grew up the child of Hollywood stars, George O’Brien whose heyday was in the 20s, and Marguerite Churchill, whose heyday was in the 30s. George O’Brien was a silent film star in cowboy movies, the lead in Sunrise, F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece, who worked with John Ford and “Duke” and all the rest. Marguerite Churchill was a B-movie actress. O’Brien’s book is a (somewhat) fictionalized account of what it was like to be a kid growing up in that atmosphere. By the time he came along, his parents’ stars had faded, their careers were over. Alcohol was a huge part of their lives, one could even say the main focus. Darcy O’Brien was a genius mix-master by the time he was 7 years old. There’s a Catholic element to the story (George O’Brien went to Mass every day, and never skipped a confession. Going to mass with his father was a childhood ritual for Darcy, and, after his parents separate, the only time he got to see his father. So church and Dad-time were one and the same). It’s a coming-of-age story, only a coming-of-age that involves visits to John Ford’s house, Darcy’s mother abandoning him at a hotel in Paris (he was 12 years old), leaving a note saying, “This hotel is too expensive, darling … go find other lodgings” – so that she could go off with her lover Anatole – a volatile Russian sculptor, trips to Las Vegas with a movie producer who loses $50,000 at the blackjack table, a blow-job from a prostitute hired for him by Anatol, and lunches with his dad’s car salesman friend whose name is Marshall Marshall. (I can’t stop laughing – it reminds me of Major Major Major Major from Catch-22.) Marshall Marshall was a member of the John Birch society and in the process of developing a movie-script about his hero, General MacArthur. The script never got off the ground, however, because Marshall Marshall refused to admit that MacArthur had any flaws. The teenage Darcy encouraged Marshall Marshall to “humanize” MacArthur, but Marshall Marshall was unable to comply. Darcy O’Brien’s book is laugh-out-loud funny (the first paragraph alone had me on the floor) and filled with Hollywood crackpots and kooks. There’s the guy so obsessed with avocados it’s all he can talk about. Finally his drunken wife screams at him at some Hollywood party, “ENOUGH WITH YOU AND YOUR AVOCADOS.”). The book was originally published in 1977, and it’s been re-released by the New York Review of Books imprint, with a preface by Seamus Heaney. The book is total screwball for the most part but it transcends that in Darcy O’Brien’s portrait of his father, a once-virile man, a cowboy star who did his own stunts, who could jump off a balcony and land on a horse, a guy who thought his career would last forever … The father is a very funny character (and so is the mother, but my God, the shit she says!!), but O’Brien manages to make you cry too. (The last two pages of the book made me cry.) It’s a classic Irish blend: Hilarity and pathos. Plus Old Hollywood in all its faded crackpot grandeur.

— Now re-reading Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty. A favorite. All in Elmore Leonards damn-near-perfect-if-not-totally-perfect mastery of the English language. Nobody did what he did better.

— We had one day of spring weather before it got hot. Yesterday it reached 70 degrees. We drove to the beach and lay in the sand, reading and staring at the green heaving waves. Vitamin D. I’ve needed it. The last two months have been rough. Then we went and had fish and chips. Then we drove home blasting Waylon Jennings. As you do.

— I re-watched Max Ophuls’ masterpiece, The Earrings of Madame de …. I know it’s a cliche, but films just aren’t made like this anymore. Not so much the plot, but the WAY it was made, with elaborate exquisite sets, and long long famously long tracking shots, featuring 100s of people doing intricate background stuff. To watch him is to immediately understand that he is a master. This isn’t even getting into the plot which is also beautiful, whimsical, and then terribly tragic. Madame de’s earrings go on a journey, from Vienna to Constantinople and back … wreaking havoc wherever they go. I have the Criterion version, and in the special features there’s a lengthy video-essay of appreciation by Paul Thomas Anderson (one of the few heirs to Max Ophuls, working today, although Scorsese obviously is as well.) The film is so so unbelievably stylish, but it is not an exercise in style, or style over substance. The style helps the substance emerge. A small clip of PTA’s appreciation is online, and it’s a feast for the mind and soul and will make you appreciate the film on an even deeper level. (Plus: BRILLIANT performances by Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio de Sica, and Charles Boyer.

— In the next two months I will:
1. Cover the Tribeca Festival
2. Attend the Ebert Film Festival as a critic
3. Attend the Albuquerque Film & Music experience as a participant/guest with my own film
I am already Film Festival-ed out. This is not a complaint. It is an expression of reality. But I am grateful that I get to do these things and go see all this cool shit and meet talented people.

— I am reading a Shakespeare sonnet a day, going chronologically. It’s insanely pleasurable. I recommend Stephen Booth’s edition: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. I like him because he refuses to tell you what each sonnet means. His footnotes have to do with the language, and when something can’t be nailed down, he doesn’t try to nail it down. Because, as is so often true with Shakespeare, words have multiple associations of meaning, then and now. Booth wants to contextualize the sonnet so that you can maybe kind of sort of get a feel for how they would have read to a Renaissance reader. He also avoids biographical statements: “This is clearly about Christopher Marlowe.” “This is clearly about his relationship with a crazy dark-haired whore.” “This is clearly evidence of his homosexuality.” That route doesn’t interest him and it’s such a welcome change. So because I am a nerd and an autodidact totally here is my method:
1. Read the sonnet out loud. Sometimes I do it multiple times to get the feel for the iambic pentameter and try to put together what is being said.
2. Read the footnotes (which sometimes go to multiple pages). Footnotes often lead to other footnotes (how one use of a verb is connected to how it is used in this this and that other sonnet).
3. Go back and read aloud.
All told this usually takes half an hour. I find it extremely meditative and the sonnets are starting to crack open for me. (I’ve always read the sonnets out loud, ever since I discovered them in high school, but this is my first time through in this particular method.) I wrote a little bit about Stephen Booth’s edition here and I love it because people who study with him, or have studied with him, found that post and show up on occasion to share memories of him. He is still out there, going strong. I typed out an example of what Booth’s analysis is like. People who don’t understand this kind of project often say stupid shit like, “Relax, Sheila.” “Why don’t you take a load off and read something light?” “How about a beach read?” These people do not understand the pleasures of in-depth rigorous intellectual pursuits – which are so pleasurable they practically have a sexual element, and I wake up excited for the next sonnet and where it will bring me. They do not understand that I have never ever been onboard with the concept of “the beach read.” Fine, if that works for you, but to me the “Beach Read” thing is like a different language. Me no speak it. If I sound irritated, that’s what a lifetime of having people shake their heads at how they wish I would lighten up, or calm down, or read something “easy.” Shakespearean sonnets are easy too.

— I’m sure many of you have seen this little kid’s cover of Eminem’s beautiful anthem “Not Afraid” but if you haven’t, here goes. Said kid is 12 years old, has a bone disease, loves Eminem so much, and can actually keep up with the rat-a-tat lyrics. He (or his parents) changed the curse words, too, which I think is adorable. I’ve tried to get through “Lose Yourself” at various karaoke gatherings, and if nothing else, it gives you an appreciation for Eminem’s breath control. (I saw him do it live. He’s not faking. I mean, “Rap God” is – literally – insane.) But here’s this little kid performing “Not Afraid”.

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7 Responses to Snapshots

  1. Dg says:

    Good stuff for the most part. Every time I read a book that is a bit of a slog, the next book I read is always Elmore Leonard. Just sets things right.

    • sheila says:

      He really does. He’s so good that I sometimes find myself thinking: “How … how does he do it?”

      He makes it look so easy. Like, that is the ONLY way to write. But God, think of the people who imitate him (their numbers are legion) and they can’t pull it off.

      What do you think is so special about his stuff?

      Like: what IS it that he’s doing?

      For me, it has to do with concise-ness but also perfection of image/tone. Like, he makes you see an entire person but he only uses 10 words to do it. I think, too, there’s something about his heart (to get sentimental) that really appeals to me. With all of the goom-bahs and shylocks and con-men that populate his books … I get the sense that a real humanist is at work behind it.

  2. Lyrie says:

    Wow, that kid!

    Recently, I had the classic nightmare where I have to go on stage (which in itself is a nightmare for me) and I didn’t know I had to, so I don’t know what’s going on and I just have to go. This time, it was worse, I was suppose to play in a Shakespeare play. I was backstage, pleading to people: “Don’t do that, I can’t shakespeare!” I’m trying to get into it, little by little, when I have some time to read (which is NOT now). Some stuff are OK, some stuff I just spend hours reading the translation and the footnotes.:)

    // These people do not understand the pleasures of in-depth rigorous intellectual pursuits //
    shelia, I love you, you make my life better. I got looks of pity when people who went to Cuba or God knows where during spring break asked me how it went for me. I stayed in snowy Montreal and spent the week at the library. Which to me is the definition of happiness. I hate heat, and I like the beach during summer, and I’ve never understood the concept of ‘party’. One person actually told me I should have taken the week to relax. I WAS relaxing, dumbass!

    A Way of Life, Like Any Other sounds great. I’ll add to my I’ll-never-manage-to-read-all-of-this list.

    • Lyrie says:

      Oh and congratulations on the new nephew!

      • sheila says:

        Thank you!! His older brother is just turning two years old … so it’s going to be super-crazy in their house for … years, now? But I got a picture of my two year old nephew (who is insanely sweet and a bull-dozer of a personality) staring down at his wee little brother and petting his head. HEART CRACK.

        I have no idea how older brother is “understanding” all of this. It’s adorable.

    • sheila says:

      I hate those actor nightmares! The worst one I ever had was that I had to suddenly perform the lead role in some opera at the Met. I can sing, but I can’t sing like that. I was an understudy but I had had no rehearsals. It had been up to ME to learn the part, the music, the blocking … and I had slacked off and had not done my homework. So not only would I fail in my performance, but I would be revealed as a lazy-bones asshole. I woke up GASPING in horror.

      // One person actually told me I should have taken the week to relax. I WAS relaxing, dumbass! //

      Yes, I know just what you mean. Everyone has different concepts of relaxation. I understand that and don’t judge people who want to chill out in different ways than I do – I just wish that attitude ran both ways. I mean, these are not huge world-shaking issues we’re talking about here, obviously, but still, it’s annoying.

      And yeah – A Way of Life – is so so good, very glad I discovered it! (I have my mother to thank for that who picked it up at random – mainly because she comes from a line of O’Briens – and then she saw that Heaney had written the preface and Heaney is huge in my family. So I love that she picked it up for those random reasons – and then loved it so much she sent me her copy. That’s the beauty of actually browsing in a real-live bookstore – as opposed to online. You find the most out of the way stuff!)

  3. Kate says:

    Congrats on the addition to your ever expanding family! My friend just named her baby Diarmuid and I felt the same way – Celtic Warrior, go! Love your snapshots!

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