Watch What You Want. Find Comfort Where You Can.

I originally posted this on Facebook. It is not directed (as far as I know) to anyone who reads me here. But I still think it’s important to share, as a general commentary on the VIBE I have noticed post quarantine. This is also a VIBE with or without a quarantine, but that it is still showing up as people are hunkered down and scared is disgusting – truly – and I felt I had to address it.

It has come to my attention that many film critics and culture critics – true to form – are being snobby and judgmental about what other people are watching while social-distancing and quarantining.

I am sure these people would “approve” if we all just watched Antonioni from morning til night (and I love Antonioni), or delved into the depths of Bergman’s Winter Light, in order to really GROK the meaninglessness of our suffering. (And I LOVE Bergman). But there are those who are tut-tutting others (when film critics spend an inordinate amount of time tut-tutting others: they are telling on themselves) and concern-trolling people for binge-watching Friends re-runs or whatever … anything they deem irrelevant and/or not important enough. Or – because these people are always so worried about what other people are doing (a form of authoritarian groupthink, by the way), they just want us all to SUBMIT to what THEY think we should be doing. Who has the TIME to worry about other people to such a degree?

I have never had much to do with said people although I encountered them early on on my blog.

One of my favorite things that ever happened in the history of my site is:

One day I wrote IN DEPTH about what had happened on The Bachelor the night before. (I probably don’t have to tell you that it generated 100s of comments). One of the guys (it’s always guys. #sorrynotsorry If the truth hurts, then look in the mirror. Be better. If you aren’t one of those guys, then congratulations for not being a cliche) who read me because of my film commentary was very “disappointed” and said, “I am very disappointed to see you indulging in such shallow things.” Boo hoo, he felt left out. I said something like, “You’ve been reading me for years – if you haven’t picked up on the fact that I love all kinds of things – then you clearly aren’t reading me very carefully.”

And then THE FOLLOWING DAY, because my site has always been eclectic: I wrote this whole thing about Nora Joyce’s opinion of Finnegans Wake – because it’s fascinating and also punctures the still-widely-held opinion that James Joyce’s wife was some un-read wild illiterate woman. One of the guys who read me for my commentary on totalitarian regimes – because that’s one of my “things” – sneered at my post as “elitist”. He always got angry when I posted about art. He bristled when I praised MoMA for God’s sake. Good riddance. Besides, he clearly hasn’t read James Joyce and so doesn’t know that Joyce’s books are full of extremely elitist things like … fart jokes.

To re-cap: in a 24-hour period, I was called both “shallow” AND “elitist.” I considered it one of my greatest victories and ALSO maybe the truest description of me in existence.

To those bemoaning the taste of people – said people who, I don’t need to remind anyone – are holed up in their homes, sometimes with young children running around – so now these people have to suddenly homeschool their children – while also worrying about their elderly parents as well as losing their jobs in many cases which means they may lose their houses – those bemoaning the fact that these people aren’t choosing to watch L’Eclisse and ponder the inevitability of humanity’s demise – I don’t know how you can’t SEE yourselves to such a degree that you can’t see that JUDGING people – who are struggling through an unprecedented time and worrying about their futures – for binge-watching some new documentary about a man and his tigers – is the height of being a GIGANTIC CRASHING BORE. I would walk away from you at a party and go find the crowd of gay men lip synching to Cher’s Greatest Hits. I would RUN from you.

Might I remind you that during the Great Depression, Americans flocked to see Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers – in tuxedo and shimmering gossamer gown – floating across shiny floors in mansions or across romantic-looking parks at night – parks DEVOID OF TENT CITIES – bringing with them the fantasy of ease, beauty, romance, as well as ZERO worries about money. I also shouldn’t need to remind you since you are tho thuper thmart that Depression-era audiences flocked to see screwball comedies where women wore gravity-defying hats – even the hats had senses of humor – and the only thing on anyone’s minds was “How on EARTH will I even SURVIVE my interaction with this SCREWY HEIRESS chasing me around?”

There’s a place for digging into The Grapes of Wrath during a catastrophe like the Dust Bowl. Of course. But there’s also a place for Swing Time, and Swing Time may be even more important because it gives hope, it allows people to forget – and during that space of forgetting, they remember themselves and better times, and it gives them strength to go on.

It’s funny how people who claim to be Experts in film don’t get this, don’t understand the history, and … even more importantly … don’t seem to understand PEOPLE. How can you not understand human beings and consider yourself qualified to write about a popular artform like the movies?

I understand why online pubs published things like “5 Movies about Pandemics to watch while you’re at home” They’re film journals and being relevant is part of staying afloat in extremely treacherous times when film magazines are collapsing left and right. Look at how many people watched Contagion as this virus intensified in scope. Knowledge is power. Understanding what is happening and what might be about to happen is also a way of bolstering your strength for the bumpy road ahead. I feel no judgment towards editors and writers who pitched such pieces. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about people sniffing at the Viewing Lists of their fellow HUMAN BEINGS, who are just trying to get through the day while washing their hands every other minute and trying to Face Time with their grandmother who has dementia.

I am shallow AND elitist and proud of it. I love Ozu and Godard and Cassavetes and Bela Tarr. They are not who I feel like watching right now. (Here is a necessary reminder: if you only want to watch Antonioni during your quarantine: I don’t judge YOU for that. I understand that people are, essentially, free. I cherish my own freedom, but, more importantly, I cherish the freedom of others. Would that the opposite were true. I am not saying that ONLY so-called “low-brow” things are good. Do not misunderstand me. I am spending part of my quarantine reading the second volume of Proust’s masterpiece In Search of Lost Time. So my point is: we are all free to do what we want to do and when we want to do it. Being prescriptive is BOSSY. Who the hell do you think you are?)

So here’s what I am watching:

1. I have started a re-watch of Supernatural, because Supernatural was 2 episodes – TWO EPISODES – away from wrapping up their 15-season run when the production had to shut down. Whether or not they will be able to come back and complete those episodes – so we can see how this thing is supposed to end – remains an open question. So I have gone back to the beginning to re-watch something I have watched 10 times through – am re-posting re-caps on my site – and all of the Supernatural fans who are regular readers of mine have come together again, to talk about world-shaking socially-relevant topics like how gorgeous the two leads look in their flannel shirts, the way Sam’s hair has changed over the years, the fluidity and boundary-less sexuality of Dean, and what the hell was going on with their father during Season 1 when he refused to take their calls. All MEANINGLESS in the face of today’s struggles – but we find momentary and important respites, as well as comfort in “being together.”

2. I rented Emma. on Amazon Prime – Emma. was in theatres when everything shut down and it’s a small film, but was getting a groundswell of critical and audience support, and so whatever ticket-prices the film might have generated – which would secure it and its talented first-time director as having directed a hit thereby helping her to get future projects greenlit – was cut off. So they released it on Amazon. You can rent it for $19.99. They’re hoping to recoup some of their losses – an understandable choice. Because I want to support this film as WELL as its director (I want her to do more) I ponied up the cash (which – by the way – is cheaper than a night at the movies here in New York, especially if you go WHOLE HOG and buy a medium-sized popcorn). I watched it a couple of times because

1. I loved it – I reviewed for Ebert – and I had wanted to see it again where I didn’t have to take notes


2. I discovered it was as good as I remembered and actually even better.

and finally:

I watched it multiple times during my rental of it because of my brand-new GIGANTIC crush on Johnny Flynn – whom I was unfamiliar with prior to Emma. (I was at the press screening with Stephanie Zacharek and we walked out of there into the rainy morning and I said, “JOHNNY FLYNN. WTF???!!!” and she said: “I KNOW.”

I mean, COME ON.

(Turns out I had seen Johnny Flynn in something: he was the weird dirty boy in Beast, a film I loved and also reviewed for Ebert. Update: He was also in Clouds of Sils Maria, but I hadn’t put it together it was the same guy.)

So anyway: he was so GOOD in Emma. I did some research, followed recommendations from well-versed JF fans, and decided to check out Lovesick – a three-season situation comedy now on Netflix about a guy (played by Flynn) who gets the news that he has chlamydia in the first 5 minutes of the pilot and then has to go through the process of re-tracing his sexual steps over the last 7 years and contact every woman he slept with in order to inform her that she should get tested. And it’s a lot of women.

A reminder: I am ONLY watching this for the extremely intellectually elevated reason that I walked out of EMMA. and screamed into the general Bryant Park area: “JOHNNY FLYNN???!!!”

Lovesick has nothing to do with the zeitgeist or anything that these self-appointed critics – being all “disappointed” that scared people stuck at home are watching a documentary about a dude and some tigers – deem as worthy of my time.

And you know what? Lovesick is so good!! The cast is excellent! It’s often hilarious. It reminds me of The Mindy Project, in a way, because the entire cast of characters – even though they are adults – (and in the case of The Mindy Project, all have serious careers as doctors) ALL they care about is romance and love and hooking up. There is nothing else on anyone’s minds. We don’t even learn that JOHNNY FLYNN!!!!’s character has any kind of job until Season 2, that’s how unimportant it is. People barely have parents.

What matters to these people is love. And their relationships. And the failed hookups. And the hope for more from someone who really isn’t all that into you. And etc.

I am absolutely loving it. Plus Daniel Ings is a comedic genius.

Check out Lovesick. It’s such a wonderful escape because

1. There is so much sex and kissing in it as well as

1a. hanging out in crowded bars

1b. dancing in nightclubs

1c. long affectionate hugs between friends

1d. finger food passed around on a plate at parties

In other words: it feels like it comes from the distant past: look at all those people TOUCHING EACH OTHER! So much TOUCH!

I want to go out to a crowded club and TOUCH randos and later on endure a Walk of Shame and then go to a party where I dip my chip into a bowl of salsa that other people are also dipping their chips into.

You get the picture?


2. Johnny Flynn is the lead. He is in every scene. Win-win.

It’s also a wonderful escape because

1. Laughter is actually good for you. Physically.


2. It’s about a serious subject that matters to many people who haven’t sworn off love and gotten all bitter: getting together with someone you like, finding someone you like, this is really central to a lot of people, especially – ahem – those of us who are single and are finding quarantine challenging for our own reasons. I mean, Hope is fine, but she doesn’t respond when I talk to her. (An amusing and unexpected byproduct of this unprecedented time is hearing from all these men in my past. Just reaching out to say hello, see how I’m doing, connect. It feels good.) The series knows how much people think about love and goes with it. I’m slightly tired of “I CAN GET ALONG WITHOUT A MAN” somehow meaning a woman is liberated. Of course I can “get along” without a man. I have and I will. But … it sure would be nice to have one around? Does that make me retro as well as shallow and elitist? Fine. I take love very seriously and so does Lovesick.

Plus, PLUS … Did I mention that Lovesick has


Stop judging other people for what they respond to and how they find comfort. Who the hell do you think you are? You remind me of one of Oscar Wilde’s most essential observations, one I have used as my modus operandi in social interactions ever since I first read it:

“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”

[Footnote: If you feel kneejerk defensiveness in response to this … if you want to fire back a reply “playing devil’s advocate” … I am talking to you.]

In a time of great and collective stress, when everyone is scared and dealing with change unimaginable a month ago – you have made the choice to be TEDIOUS.

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55 Responses to Watch What You Want. Find Comfort Where You Can.

  1. mutecypher says:

    I know you love baseball. I don’t know if you are reading Joe Posnanski’s great series on his 100 Greatest Baseball Players over on The Athletic – it was set to conclude on Opening Day. Sigh. At any rate, today’s person is Ted Williams. And Posnanski quotes a poem about Teddy Ballgame that, for me, resonates with what you are saying. Kinda carpe diem and kinda let me be me and kinda now let us sport while we may.

    The poet is Wendy Cope.

    The Ted Williams Villanelle
    (For Ari Badaines)

    “Don’t let anybody mess with your swing.” — Ted Williams, baseball player

    Watch the ball and do your thing.
    This is the moment. Here’s your chance.
    Don’t let anybody mess with your swing.

    It’s time to shine. You’re in the ring.
    Step forward, adopt a winning stance,
    Watch the ball and do your thing

    And while the ball is taking wing,
    Run without a backward glance
    Don’t let anybody mess with your swing

    Don’t let envious bastards bring
    You down. Ignore the sneers, the can’ts
    Watch the ball and do your thing

    Sing out if you want to sing
    Jump up when you long to dance
    Don’t let anybody mess with your swing

    Enjoy your talents. Have your fling.
    The seasons change. The years advance.
    Watch the ball and do your thing,
    And don’t let anybody mess with your swing.

    I hope you are doing well. And I hope we can all get back to salty chips in a noisy room as soon as it’s safe.

    • sheila says:

      // Joe Posnanski’s great series on his 100 Greatest Baseball Players over on The Athletic //

      Ooh I am NOT reading it and now I will! The loss of baseball – of professional sports – is yet another insane change – spring training is part of how I mark the passing of the seasons.

      That poem is so great! Don’t let anybody mess with your swing.

  2. Lyrie says:

    One of the reasons I love it here, Sheila – no shaming, and so much variety.
    Also, this contempt strikes my as weird: if people whose job it is to comment on and connect cultural products and people omit things just because it’s not deemed high brow enough… how are they understanding the general context? And WHO THE HELL are they writing for – their 2 like-minded buddies?

    I don’t watch enough movies (I get obsessed with series and they take all my screen time) but I’ve started re-watching zombie movies, with which I used to be obsessed.
    This morning I asked people on Instagram to tell me what their 2 or 3 favourite movies are, so I can try to find them and watch them during this strange period.
    I’m loving all the answers – even if I won’t be re-watching some stuff I haven’t liked enough.

    Hi Mutecypher, nice to see you again! :)

    • mutecypher says:

      Hey Lyrie! I hope you are doing well.

      What are you favorite zombie movies?

      • Lyrie says:

        I’m wondering if I will still feel the same about them! The Romero trilogy, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later. and the remake of Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead have a special place in my heart as my first zombie movies, the ones that started the obsession.
        I haven’t watched them in ages!

        Fun story:
        My then boyfriend and I went to the movies, but we had already seen most of the movies showing that week. We had to pick one of the remaining ones, and he knew I was NOT into horror. But he was, so I offered: “OK, let’s go see Dawn of the Dead.” “Are you sure?” “Yup, let’s do this.”

        I got soooo scared, when we came out of the theatre I yelled at him for 5 minutes straight – “how could you let me go in there, you bastard!”
        Then begged him to go see Land of the Dead a few months later. :)

        If you have recommendations, I’m all ears.

        • mutecypher says:

          I love Zombieland. And The Serpent and The Rainbow. Bill Pullman’s line “Don’t let them bury me, I’m not dead” is something I say to myself with a distressing frequency.

          I love the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Ving Rhames! And I was looking it up, Heather Langenkamp was the coordinator of the makeup effects. That is just way cool.

          I don’t know if Doom quite qualifies as a zombie movie, but I do love it.

    • sheila says:

      Lyrie –

      // One of the reasons I love it here, Sheila – no shaming, and so much variety. //

      That means so much to me to hear. You know I work hard to create a space like that – chasing away people who call us “annoying c**ts” and etc.

      // And WHO THE HELL are they writing for – their 2 like-minded buddies? //

      You have put the nail on the head. That is EXACTLY who they are writing for.

      One of my goals with my column was NOT to speak to film critics. Of course I was happy when they read me – but I always wanted to reach a broader crowd. People who loved poetry. Or David Foster Wallace. Or punk rock. Or hockey. I tried to bring in a bigger group – because the insular quality of so much of film criticism is such a turn-off.

      I remember watching 28 Days (Later?) in an early stage of what would be a short-lived crush on Jeremy Renner. I am not well-versed in zombie lore – but it sounds fun.

      Look forward to hearing some of the recs.

      • Lyrie says:

        That’s 28 WEEKS Later! I like it a lot too, especially the opening, and Robert Carlyle.

        Mutecypher, I didn’t know The Serpent and the Rainbow but I like Bill Pullman a lot, I’m adding it to my list, thank you!

        • sheila says:

          oops – 28 Days was about going into rehab – with Sandra Bullock – my cousin Mike was in it! lol slightly different than a zombie apocalypse.

          yes – Robert Carlyle!

          • Lyrie says:

            Ha ha, I could also enjoy, but definitely different vibe! You know, every time I see him I think “Oh hey, Cousin Mike” – cannot help it.

          • Maureen says:

            Ha! Robert Carlyle is a very underrated actor in my opinion. I know he was in the Once Upon a Time series, but I feel he isn’t as well known as he should be. Hamish MacBeth is a fun series based on the M.C. Beaton novels, he is so good in that.

      • Lyrie says:

        Why was the crush short-lived, if you don’t mind saying?

        • sheila says:

          I’m not sure! Sometimes a crush really takes hold – and sometimes it’s just a one-time thing. I wrote a lot about him here back in the day – based entirely on how blown away I was by what he did in Hurt Locker. I still like him!

          I nearly died and went to heaven when I saw him in that video of Pink’s “Trouble.” That’s probably the hottest he’s ever been!

  3. As always, thanks for this.

    On my own FB feed lots of people are apparently watching Tiger King (I made it just a half-hour in and bailed), and I’m telling them to stream Cat Dancers if they want to see a great doc about people having inappropriate relationships with big cats, because it’s an actual story about (excuse the expression, I can’t offhand think of a better one) freaks, not a freak show. Have you ever seen it? I think it’s on youtube by now. Human beings are so damn interesting.

    Anyway, thanks again. I just comforted myself with all 6 seasons of Justified and most of Inspector Morse, this time for the music. Everybody my son’s age is bingeing on The Good Place, also Brooklyn 99 and good for them because Andre Braugher (and the rest).

    • sheila says:

      Jincy – I don’t know why I have no desire to see that Tiger King thing. This piece was basically inspired by snotty people who are just SOOO contemptuous of everyone watching that thing. I may not want to watch it but I am not going to tell people who are into it they are wrong. It’s just wild to see how bossy these people are AND how people are REALLY revealing themselves in this time of crisis. I’ve unfriended/blocked a lot of people. I don’t even want to be exposed to that kind of thing anymore.

      JUSTIFIED. I binge-watched that thing at the speed of light.

      I keep hearing good stuff about The Good Place.

      • What I really wondered was if you’ve seen “Cat Dancers” and if so what your thoughts were about it. It’s the most haunting thing.

        • sheila says:

          Oh I’m sorry I skipped over that part – I have not! It sounds wonderful. I love freaks AND I love big cats. I saw a clip once of someone petting a white leopard through the bars of a cage – it was waiting to be re-homed at some wilderness sanctuary – and this giant leopard was PURRING at the touch of this person. It was TOO MUCH.

          I am in such close quarters now so constantly with my cat that I have become obsessed with her, I do admit. She’s just having this whole LIFE right next to me. I think she knows something’s up.

      • Maureen says:

        Justified-seriously one of the best series ever!! Best cast, best writing…I never felt there was a let down in the series, it went from strength to strength.

  4. Miriam says:

    Hey! I had a minor obsession with JOHNNY FLYNN!!! since watching Beast. Have you heard any of his music? He’s a pretty decent folk singer as well.

    • sheila says:

      I love that you capitalized his name! It’s really the only way to refer to him!

      Yes, I have downloaded some of his albums and I am inhaling them (of course he also sings in EMMA, and it’s beautiful). It’s weird – I saw BEAST, and remember him – but I just didn’t put it together it was the same guy. Now I need to re-watch – I remember really liking it.

  5. Have to say I developed my life philosophy about the high brow/low brow thing pretty early. In college, if anybody ragged on me for being “insufficiently serious” I just said “Well, you can take my Smith & Wesson, but you’ll have to pry my Shaun Cassidy 45’s from my cold, dead fingers.” And, yep, I still got ’em…I’m using this time to read the Running Press edition of The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe, which has been sitting on my various bookshelves since the mid-80’s. Hey, if not now, when?

    But I might take a minute later on and drop a needle on “That’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.”

    Be well Sheila!

    • sheila says:

      NJ – // Hey, if not now, when? //

      I am feeling the same way. I am reading a little bit each morning – just to start my day (which is still busy with writing and stuff) – and one of the things I am reading is the gigantic Nick Tosches Reader, compiled by Himself. It’s unbelievable. I’ve read many of these pieces before – his essay on Love Story (and the theme song) is some kinda masterpiece – but it’s been really fun to dig into them again.

      Re-reading things is good comfort.

      Fun in re: Poe – I read a bunch of his stories some years back – I had forgotten a lot – it occurred to me recently that The Masque of the Red Death is quite a commentary on how we live right now in this moment.

      You stay well too!!

      • Aslan's Own says:

        It’s been a while since I’ve read The Masque of the Red Death, but I’ll never forget how the people thought they could wall themselves away from the plague and be safe only to be proved wrong. That also reminds me of Lord of the Flies with the boys so scared of the frightening danger out THERE and not recognizing the danger within themselves, which then reminds me of Kurtz’s, “The horror! The horror!” as he looked into the darkness of the human soul.

        As for “high brow/low brow,” I could be reading any number of the hundreds of books in my house, but I keep spending an inordinate amount of time reading fanfiction. A little whisper inside me tells me I should be more productive, but I’m old enough now to reply, “I think I need this right now.”

    • sheila says:

      and yay for Shaun Cassidy!

  6. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Oh. god, you keep getting better and better the more “offended” you get! I love it. I also bailed on the tiger thing. When the animals have more teeth than the people, it’s def. time to bail. I’m re-reading John Cheever (always felt he was underrated) (sp?) but intersperse that with watching Love Island Australia (I’m all caught up with LI UK). I don’t mind being sneered at. That show is keeping me sane. I got an email from someone (a friend?) telling me about an on line book group reading War and Peace. I deleted the email. Should have deleted the friend, too. Keep up the good work, Sheila. Between reading you every day and Heather Cox Richardson (highly recommend), you are keeping me going.

    • sheila says:

      Love John Cheever! I just read all of his short stories maybe 3 years ago? Honest to God I was blown away – and also SO DEPRESSED. He just so GETS that kind of … yacht club summer house middle-aged malaise – so much so it’s agony to read, even though I don’t share those values or aspirations at all. You can tell it mattered to HIM.

      I don’t know, a group reading of War and Peace sounds kinda fun! But different strokes, etc. A friend of mine teaches a class on Ulysses out of his home – it’s a small group – 5 or 6 people – and they read the whole thing out loud – and discuss. He’s doing it via Zoom now and I almost wish I could audit.

      It’s a weird time of hibernation and my point here really is: nobody should be judging anybody else for how they find comfort. Finding comfort in War and Peace is equally as valid as finding peace in The Bachelor. lol We are in a universal crisis and people are heartbroken at not being able to see their families. I see my family so much and this is VERY painful for me. Like … just STOP, snobs. Maybe YOU don’t have a vibrant rich life offline but many of us DO. (not “you” as in Melissa, but “you” as in snobs.

      I say – take pleasure where you can find it!

      I need to check out Heather Cox Richardson – her name has come up a couple of times recently and I am not familiar with her.

    • sheila says:

      and what is Love Island Australia? Is this like Bachelor in Paradise (which I adore as well).

    • Jessie says:

      Cheever! I reread Falconer last year (this year? what is time?) because it had been tugging at me for years, especially after I read The Swimmer and connected the dots. I put it back on the shelf but for days and days afterwards I would keep pulling it down to flick through it again and enjoy the way he puts words together, passages. You know, just open it up, let your eye fall on a section opener: Then Marcia returned in her limitless beauty… I enjoy the emotional distance in it, for all that every other word is about sex and desire and penises and love and regret and death and jealousy and sickness and toilet paper.

      Melissa and Sheila aside from those two pieces and the journals you mentioned (they sound heavy) do you have any other particular Cheever favourites for me to seek out?

      • sheila says:

        Jessie – I actually have not read his novels – or his journals – I read a story of his a day a couple years ago, from his complete collection of short stories – making my way through. Reading them all together like that was brutal – I can’t remember who said this to me – maybe on here? I think it might have been on FB – I was posting about him and someone said, “The thing about his stories is that there is never any catharsis.’ and it’s so true!

        I’d have to go back and find the ones that really struck me. There were many. There’s one about a family going to their summer house on a cliff that was really awful (as in: great) but the title escapes me. And also one about a guy at some cocktail party who decides to jump over all the furniture to show “he’s still got it” (similar to the guy in The Swimmer).

        It’s just so TORTURED. The women are unhappy but the men in his stories are TORTURED.

        Also: after reading Olivia Laing’s gorgeous book – Trip to Echo Springs – which I highly recommend – about writers and alcoholism- and reading the one chapter devoted to Cheever – I was so present to how much alcohol shows up on almost every page – it’s the first thing everyone does when they walk into a room, make a drink – and yet no one really acknowledges it – it’s the subtext of everything though. It’s really eerie and bleak.

        I think all of his stories are worthwhile – but as you go through you think “Good story … wow good story … God that was depressing, so insightful, so well written …” and then you read The Swimmer and goosebumps are all over your body. and you have to go lie down. lol

        I don’t know much about Cheever but The Swimmer is clearly a breakthrough of some kind.

        • Aslan's Own says:

          The Swimmer is one of those short stories I’ve never forgotten.

          (When I was in high school, my mom bought a set of hard cover, small red books titled something like “Modern Short Stories” — they’re still above the closet in my old bedroom in my parents’ house in MA — and I, an avid reader, was so struck by how bleak so many of them were. The Swimmer was in it, The Lottery, A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Two others I could never forget was one about a little boy in Italy who betrayed a runaway convict to the searching police after his father had hidden him in a well (the ending made me gasp) and another about a killer verbally seducing a teenage girl through a screen door on a hot summer day. It was horrifying. I admit I was coming to some of these stories straight from a super-sheltered upbringing in which my favorite books were Little Women, Caddie Woodlawn, Anne of Green Gables, and the Little House on the Prairie series. )

          • Jessie says:

            Aslan’s Own, that story with the girl and the screen door is Joyce Carol Oates’s Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been, and it is fucking PETRIFYING haha. And Arnold Friend is someone I think about all the time in terms of human monsters. Oh my gosh, no wonder it was an indelible read as a child. JCO can be a bit samey and artificial for me but when she gets it right she gets it RIGHT.

            Sheila yes, he has such an abstracted but deep malaise – it could tip either into miserableism or be too airy and banal if it wasn’t for the quality of the prose and the imagination behind it. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for one of his collections.

          • Aslan's Own says:

            Jessie, thanks! I couldn’t recall it for the life of me. Chilling.

  7. Helena says:


    I’m delighted you are enjoying Lovesick. It is soooo warm and funny and so deeply comforting – with an almost pre-lapsarian quality now. All that social contact! PARTIES! Sex and coffee shops and pub quizzes and heartbreak and parents’ wedding anniversaries. I remember catching it a couple of years ago on a random recommendation, and then watching it solidly for about three months – it was like being able to fall into a lovely feather bed every night. All four leads are great but someone please give Daniel Ings the vehicle he deserves.

    As for Emma., and in the light of the photo you include above, it might interest you to know that one of the very few quibbles the dress historian I mentioned to you on Instagram had with the film’s clothing choices is that the men’s breeches were not figure hugging enough for the period. So, ponder what we might have had.

    • sheila says:

      // PARTIES! Sex and coffee shops and pub quizzes and heartbreak and parents’ wedding anniversaries. //

      I know! and I’m not really a party person and am definitely not a nightclub person but it’s going to be one of the first things I do once I get out of self-quarantine. I’m dying for the crush of humanity again.

      // and then watching it solidly for about three months – it was like being able to fall into a lovely feather bed every night. //

      I just wrapped it up yesterday – and am about to launch right back in for a second watch. Especially with the jumping around chronology – now that I know all the twists and turns the timeline and events take – the things I couldn’t pick up on the first time around – it’ll be fun to see it with all that extra knowledge.

      Helena: when Daniel Ings river-dances out of the big crowd at that party – I mean, I saw it 3 days ago and I am still bursting out laughing when I think of it. I am laughing as I type!! He is SO GOOD. He is hilarious but then too he can be so touching.


      I also loved how the final moment was very quiet – and just him – – not a big burst of “I am madly in love with you all my doubts are gone” – just climbing in to bed, curling up against her and telling her he loves her. I was a MESS. It’s this quiet moment of resolve, of acceptance – he’s going to be okay now. He was driving me crazy, like get with the program, you’ve loved her for years, stop being so WEIRD. But his weirdness was so human! He falls in love with a woman within 5 minutes – he’s right to be wary!

      also ANGUS. That guy is hilarious too – that wide manic smile while inside he’s filled with despair.

      // he men’s breeches were not figure hugging enough for the period. //

      Good Lord, the men were really putting it out there then, weren’t they??

      • Helena says:

        //Good Lord, the men were really putting it out there then, weren’t they??//

        Just think it could have been even.more.LEGS!

        //ANGUS. That guy is hilarious too – that wide manic smile while inside he’s filled with despair.//

        Ah, Angus is adorable! I fell in love with all of them – and also the cool Irish girl that Daniel Ings falls for big time, and the poor girlfriend that gets dumped at the end. (Heartbreaking, she’s so good.) Aaagh, that’s it, I am going to watch it again. I was on the verge, but now I am over that verge. I can’t even remember the Riverdance moment, it’s about two years since I last watched!

        The show reminds me a lot of Schitt’s Creek in that you think it’s going to be this comedy of squirming awkwardness and embarassment but very soon it adds layer upon layer of warmth and kindness which just adds to the comedy. No villains! (just the odd jerk here and there).

        And thank you for this lovely post! I’m loving catching up with how people are dealing with The Situation. I am OF COURSE rewatching Supernatural at the moment – mid-season 2 (so, so, so good). I’ve just watched Merlin on the rec of someone on here, and rewatched The Musketeers (the BBC serial) just because I remember it stars four, count them, four very good looking men in fancy hats. (Tom Burke, from the film The Souvenir – absolutely riveting as Athos.) Whatever keeps us going at the moment!

        • sheila says:

          I love the cool Irish girl – I so know women like that – she nailed it. JONESY. Perfect party girl.

          and yes, the heartbroken woman at the end. Hate to be bleak about this: but I don’t think she’ll ever fully recover from loving him and him ending it. It’s like she WANTS to be Jonesy on some level – but she ISN’T. and he awakened something in her – and … ugh, it’s just awful. Yes, she was wonderful.

          I can’t remember when the riverdancing comes – but it’s when they go to the party so that Ings can make a play for the girl in high school everyone wanted (because of course that makes sense). And there’s another guy there who is a rival for her attention – and they both dance FOR her, trying to impress her – two total peacocks, or gorillas pounding their chest. The first guy does this hip-hop dance – and he looks like a prep school boy – and it’s so funny and the girl is blown away and Daniel Ings is PISSED. So then he pops on some Irish music and bursts onto the dance floor riverdancing like Michael Flatley.

          I was CRYING.

          // very soon it adds layer upon layer of warmth and kindness which just adds to the comedy. No villains! //

          I love this observation about no villains. So true! Even the girls who seem bitchy at first are actually … not … they’re just being themselves, and some of them are right to still be pissed off at him. I felt it was very egalitarian in the way it treated women – especially women who sleep with a lot of people – it’s just what goes on in your 20s and 30s (for some people) – there was like NO double standard and it was SO refreshing. Even Luke (Ings) who sleeps with EVERYBODY doesn’t look at the girls as “sluts.”

          It’s not like a “lads partying it up” fest – I ALSO loved the portrayal it gave of male friendship. We honestly don’t have many examples of that – at least not in cinema – and I know guys who are friends like that in real life – but it so rarely gets translated. So many male-bonding movies are like “bros before hoes” and it’s such a turn-off.

          I really loved all of those characters. and EVIE. I need to track down what else she has done – she was amazing. I loved that while she was pining for him – she was also out and about, dating people and trying to just get over it and move on.

          Bah, it was so good!

          • Helena says:

            // I ALSO loved the portrayal it gave of male friendship. //

            I have never seen Point Break (my bad) but I can remember exactly Daniel Ings enactment of it and Johnny Flynn’s tearful face by the end.

            And Evie! – yes, such a smart and endearing performance – funny, down-to-earth, no-nonsense but also understandably wary of heartbreak and being messed around. You just wanted to smush their heads together and shout get on with it!

          • sheila says:

            oh my God when he busts out the gas mask for the Point Break re-enactment. and yes – the fact that JOHNNY FLYNN is so engrossed by the end is just one example of why I loved the show.

            Every time you think it might just be a cliche – or like it’s going to make fun of the characters – it allows for depth.

            Like Daniel Ings could have just been the “Kramer” character like in Seinfeld – but he was allowed to finally get some depth – AND you realize that he just loves his friends SO MUCH.

  8. I love “Talk of the Town” and I can’t fathom why it isn’t better known. When I teach it I have my students read John Roberts’ Supreme Court conformation testimony, then we have a look at the scene at the ballgame. “Balls and strikes” like hell. Any Legal Realist will tell you they ain’t nothing ’till the umpire calls ’em

  9. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, have not seen Bachelor in Paradise, but Love Island UK and Australia will teach you an entirely new “English” language that you didn’t know you didn’t know. Seriously. I thought I hated tattoos, but no longer. Put ten or so 20+ year olds in a huge villa in Mallorca or Fiji with nothing to do, and this is what you get. The “boys” as they are called, shave their bodies and the “girls” wear full makeup with thong bikinis and never enter the pool. It is riveting. Actually, it’s not, but it is joyful, funny, and gets me through these long days. Am finally catching up with Cheever’s Journals. Painful, sad, beautiful. I’m not part of that whole world, but recognize it. And he saw through it, all the while trying to be more and more a part of it. Heather Cox Richardson is my favorite historian and writes like a dream. I have her set to open my FB page every morning and she gives me hope. How is Hope doing? Sadly, I’m down to one cat from four in the last three years, but we are doing okay so far.

    • sheila says:

      oh wow Love Island sounds … amazing? I do love shows like this – they are often weirdly insightful about the human condition.

      // I’m not part of that whole world, but recognize it. // Me too. My first real boyfriend was from that world. It was NOT a good fit.

      Thanks I’ll check out Richardson.

      so sorry about your kitty. Hope is doing well. We are together non-stop and we still get along so that’s good news! She sleeps right next to my face. Purring really loudly. She follows me around. I love her.

  10. Scott Abraham says:

    If you don’t like what Sheila’s writing, wait a few hours, and there’ll be 5,000/15,000/30,000 words on something else entirely.

    • sheila says:


      • Scott Abraham says:

        I’m actively writing a novel, I get stuck on a scene and my output for the week is 500 words, then I check into here and you’ve blasted out yet another PhD thesis on whatever and I wanna chuck my iPad across the room.

  11. Maureen says:

    I haven’t read your comments yet, but have you seen the new Vanity Fair where Johnny Flynn is playing Dobbin?? OH THE YEARNING! I really enjoyed that adaptation. I actually caught him in Lovesick first, and that is one fun show-but he is showing up all over now. Very charismatic-he has the “It” factor. Loved him in Emma, and so happy they took the time at the end of the movie to show a nice long kiss, just like the old days. When I was watching the movie (last one I saw in the theater) I thought how long it was since I saw that-kissing in a movie. In classic movies they show it all the time, not so much anymore.

    Here has been the trajectory of my last month-I’m a substitute teacher…

    1. On spring break second week of March, virus hits Alaska which I think was one of the last states…school cancelled for the week after. I don’t worry, it’s only a week, I’m booked for the rest of the school year.
    2. Get the news that school is closed till March 31st-and find out my husband has a non essential job, so no work or pay for us till then. Immediately go to Parks and Rec and binge watch.
    3. Mayor starts the hunker down, extends the no work till April 14th. I watch every season of Vera with Brenda Blethyn. Also have mini freak out, but think how we have savings and know we are lucky.
    4. School gets canceled till May 1st-I see all my jobs I counted on bite the dust. My husband is in limbo with his work. Used to paychecks coming in, but once again-we have savings. My husband works 6 days a week, now every day feels like Sunday to me, and I expect great things from Sunday night time PBS, only to realize it’s Tuesday.
    5. I read Sheila’s post and say HURRAY! Comfort, fun, entertainment-I hate the phrase “guilty pleasures” (as long as it isn’t illegal) I feel we should all embrace pleasure. What better way to find something to read or watch that totally engages us and takes us away from the stress of life right now. Neither my husband or I are working, we have no money coming in right now for the first time in our 26 year marriage. I watched Across the Pacific the other day on TCM, and reveled in the awesomeness of Bogart and especially Mary Astor. I KNOW I’m lucky, and so many people don’t have that cushion, and anyone that is critical of how people seek comfort in this crazy time? They can go to hell!

    • sheila says:

      Maureen – // have you seen the new Vanity Fair where Johnny Flynn is playing Dobbin?? //

      I’m watching it now. I’m loving it! He does yearning very VERY well. It’s hard for a grown man to be yearning and be believable – he’s excellent at it in LOVESICK as well.

      and Maureen – wow, thank you for sharing your journey with this – what’s been happening AND what you’ve been watching.

      So difficult!! My best to you and your husband – very tough! loss of income. STRESS. It’s going to be tough and who knows how everything will change but we will all help each other to make it through this together.

      finding stuff that helps us escape the stress is so important – health-wise, too!

  12. gina in alabama says:

    Johnny Flynn, the name is familiar, where have I noticed him before? Oh of course, he portrayed the Young Hot Albert Einstein in the Nat Geo Genius miniseries (its worth a look, I liked it). I wiki’d him, and found out he’s portraying David Bowie in an upcoming drama called Stardust. Now that’s something to look forward to! I have picked up my needlepoint for the first time in over 3 years and am loving it again. The reading is a little rocky right now, but it will come back too.

  13. Nicola says:

    // //

    This is my favourite Johnny Flynn song.

  14. Emily says:

    Three words: Drew Barrymore’s boobs.

    • sheila says:

      Okay that was the absolute #1 favorite moment ever on the history of my site.

      “You Americans are so SHALLOW.”
      “Dude, you got here by Googling ‘Drew Barrymore’s boobs’ you have no right to judge.”

      Radio silence.

  15. Desirae says:

    I can’t stay home since I work in an essential industry (food packaging) and I have to go out and take the bus every day. I’m also doing about double my usual workload because of all the food supply chain issues, so anything that distracts me right now from my exhaustion is worth it’s weight in gold. There’s this weird tone coming from the people you mention here like they believe everyone on the planet suddenly has the time to develop their minds; no, some of us are working more than ever.

    All this is to say that Emma was a delicious candied treat and exactly what the doctor ordered. I’m a little bit fascinated by the way they take these very repressed, upper crust characters and unravel them over the course of the movie because I don’t think I’ve seen that used quite the same way in an Austen adaptation before. It’s the internal made external — Knightley ripping off his clothes and having to lay on the floor in this frenzy of love and attraction, Emma’s nosebleed (not a trickle, either – it’s in her teeth!). It’s not an accident that we see Knightley undressed before he even says anything; the shot is eye candy but this also the first adaptation of this particular story where it feels like the people in it have BODIES, if you know what I mean.

    The best joke for me was when Emma and Knightley are arguing and they walk past Mr. Woodhouse entombed in his screens, only his head and whatever book he’s reading visible. The whole business with the screens in so good, and the way it pays off.

  16. Heather says:

    Hi Sheila,

    It has been awhile (years?) since I posted anything here. I have read lots, but one essay would take me days. Life stuff. I used to post in the Supernatural threads (hi mutecypher, Jessie, Natalie, Lyrie, Barb, and all) but found it difficult to keep up and devote the concentrated attention your site, and people’s posts deserved everyday. Plus the show became… less enjoyable for me, so I didn’t keep up in the last years. Now I get to catch up.

    It is good to see you all here.

    //To re-cap: in a 24-hour period, I was called both “shallow” AND “elitist.” I considered it one of my greatest victories and ALSO maybe the truest description of me in existence.//

    I want to say that you have always come across as curious and passionate, intelligent and hardworking and not afraid to explore your own humanity and seek it out in all the things that people create and love. But, you can be shallow and elitist too, I won’t take that away from you.

    Finding your site years ago was very important to me. I was so scared to check back in now, afraid of what might have happened during this terrible time, particularly in New York. But of course, here you are, sharing your passion and connecting to others. Thank the gods. You are an inspiration; your generous attention has become my high-bar standard for how to try to do this online learning thing (I’m a high school teacher). So, again I am grateful for what you do here.

    • sheila says:

      Heather!! Hello! sorry it took me a couple of days to come back here and respond. So good to hear from you!

      Thank you so much for your nice words about me and my site – isn’t there a song that says “you’re getting to be a habit with me” – this site is definitely a “habit” – and even when I’m super busy I just have to … keep posting here. I can’t seem to stop! But seriously: thank you for saying what you said.

      and yeah. I know what you mean about “our show.” I still kind of can’t get over the fact that they had to stop filming just two episodes before the finale. I mean, who knows when everything will get back up and running again. I think it’s going to be a while. So … I just wonder what is going to happen. I’m not up to date with news from the network on their plans. Everything is so uncertain. It’s just … kind of surreal. after all THAT, after 15 years … to have it end in this weird unfinished way … it’s so bizarre.

      anyway, it’s really good to “see” you again!

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