Sunday, April 26, 2009

Some Documentaries I Recommend - Christine/Kitty

Last night, we were at our new friends' house, Tony and Emma's, for dinner. They recently immigrated from the UK and it's interesting to compare notes on how we, as former Americans came to view the British and visa-versa, simply by what we learned from tv and movies.  It's hard for us to talk about the elections of 2000 and 2004, Iraq, Guantanamo, and US immigration policies without feeling a kind of cramping feeling, some weird mix of disgust & shame (that we're implicated in all that by simply being born American), but also gratitude, that at least we had options to choose what our lives could become.   And it turns out we're correct in believing that their old part of the world was, weather-wise, much like living under a damp dishrag. I'm so glad they dug a tunnel and we got to meet them here in paradise.  

Anyway, in terms of films we discussed, the 7-Up series, first started in 1964, and now directed by Michael Apted , is amazing.  The latest incremental slice, now the 7th peek into their lives,  is of the group of kids at age 49.  The dozen or so participants were born into a range of socioeconomic classes, some urban, some rural, a few from group homes, etc.  

Interestingly, their one common thread is that they all have come to resent the film crews intrusions every 7 years.  It's fascinating to see their struggles (e.g. mental illness, homelessness, loneliness, poverty), tenacity (financial, marriage) and the differences in how some of them seem to find peace, self actualization, confidence, joy, while others, not at all...and what are the variables there?  And could that come in pill form or....?

Tom and I were surprised Tony and Emma didn't know that series, so we spent a good part of today coming up with our "on a dessert island" movie list.  It's hard to do. What movies would you recommend because they make you feel something? Learn something?  Laugh?  Gush sap? And clearly, we'd recommend different films for different people.  My list got out of hand.  I started breaking it into justifiers and subcategories like "Films I'm Ashamed to Admit I Loved Because A Lot Of Other People Liked Them too and I Need to Feel Special by Having a High Brow List" know: Jerry Maguire, Napoleon Dynamite, Pulp Fiction, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Usual Suspects, Magnolia, Office Space, etc.   I mean isn't that all just a big old sticky apple pie with vintage cheddar on it or what? 

If there is one foreign film that you'll never see unless you're a true Peacock Feather Dance zealot, it's Enlightenment Guaranteed. I'm not sure where you can get it, but there is something about these two brothers getting separated in Tokyo en route to a monastery retreat that changed me...maybe the first time I heard such a clear voice that said "I think it's all going to be okay. We don't know how, but _________(those brothers will find each other, or fill in the blank of whatever you hope will be okay, etc.)."   

Anyway, I generally like documentaries the most. It's like reading the paper, but the ink doesn't make my eyes sting and all I have to do is just sit there.  There aren't a lot of guns and it gives you something to talk about at cocktail parties other than high price of Australian electronics. This isn't an all-inclusive list.  If something wins an Oscar or gets into Sundance, good hell, go see it.  The last few are the more block-bustery ones, the rest a little more obscure. Netflix carries nearly all of them - I miss it terribly, please send it my love. 

Some Documentaries Worth Seeing:
  • Brother's Keeper
  • Aileen (two of them, by Nick Broomfield)
  • 51 Birch Street  
  • Cowboy del Amor
  • Lost Boys of Sudan
  • The Chances of the World Changing
  • Touching the Void
  • The King of Kong
  • Who Killed the Electric Car
  • This Film is Not Yet Rated
  • A Walk To Beautiful 
  • Paradise Lost (two of them)
  • Jupiter's Wife
  • Dogtown and Z-Boys
  • Southern Comfort
  • Capturing the Friedmans
  • Dark Days
  • Taxi Dreams (a PBS series)
  • Stevie
  • In the Pit
  • The Fog of War
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room 
  • Spellbound
  • Super Size Me
  • March of the Penguins
  • The Story of the Weeping Camel
If you can get through even just a handful of these, I guarantee you'll have a fabulous arsenal of random chit chat. Why, you'll know all about:  how Tom and I gauge quantify any problems in our lives by how far it lands from having fistula, what it takes to build a surfboard, superhighway over Mexico City, spell, or really sit on an egg, why I changed my name to Kitty, whether the Memphis 3 (and a bunch of other suspects) might have done it, and how it feels to be a man with ovarian cancer.  Boom chicka bow wow.  

Favorite movies - tom

Last night were talking about some of our favorite movies so I figured I'd make up a list. Christine started one also but I think she began to run out of steam after her top 470. So, in no particular order

clockwork orange
logan's run - again why's everyone trying to flee from paradise?
escape from new york - now that's more like it.
blade runner
star wars empire strikes back
american beauty
valley of the dolls
beyond the valley of the dolls
O lucky man!
grey gardens
dr strangelove
the producers (the original)
12 angry men
it's a mad mad mad mad world
encounters at the end of the world - the opposite of march of the penguins
grapes of wrath
harold and maude
cast away
elephant man

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Splashing Around in the Shallow End (of Utopia)

All I’m saying (in the last post) is that, when we believe something to be true, in our own reality, it is absolutely true.  You can’t unring the bells, even if they weren’t rung right. Duh.  Pop-Psychology 101 called and they want their cliché’ back.

Once you get all the facts, hopefully the real truth comes out, assuming you can actually get pure, perfect, empirical data.  And how often is that, honestly?

When Tom and I met, he told me that his biggest fear is that he become normal. I think he feels the antidote to normalcy (complacency?) is to always, always question assumptions.  It’s pretty easy with yes or no questions.  A kid is dead or alive.  That lady was Tara Morice or not. But how many of the questions that are put in front of us are that easy?

I think about how much the truth mattered to me in those other circumstances, the un-dead kid and Not-Tara, how preoccupied and moved I was to uncover the empirical (not just perceived) truth of those instances.  And it makes me think how important it is to aerobically question the assumptions I have about other questions.

Is this the life we should be leading? Are we developing our inherent gifts and building skills that contribute to the world in a meaningful way? Do we have a balance of happy immediate gratification and long-range investment in our futures? What is our footprint on the world and is it a benevolent one? Have we defined our values and are our actions undeniably consistent with them?  

Do you generally tend to have a blanket assumption of “yes” to these questions, and thus, in your own reality, aren’t they all true?  And are they really true?  Or do we mostly just accept that everything is basically fine, we’re just “living life”, keeping it simple, hey, what’s on TV? 

Lately, I don’t think I ask the tough questions enough and I know I don’t explore the answers fearlessly.  In fact, I mostly think about how things like how many orangecicles we have left in the freezer, where we should go on vacation next and how often we’d have to run the vacuum on our dark carpet were we to get a pet.   

I’ve heard the saying “live in New York but leave before it makes you too hard, live in California but leave before it makes you too soft”. It’s just this idea that somehow easily living gives you a lobotomy. Australia so far seems like reeeallly easy living. True or not, hard to say, but some have a perception of Australians as being vapid or shallow or superficial. It’s a bit like the movie Logan’s Run, when you live in Utopia, why would you question the reality of the situation? Utopia’s nice, but I wonder if it would be worth it to start probing deeper, to ask more meaningful questions of my life.  

How We Allegedly Sat Next to a Celebrity and I Killed a Little Kid

So far, we haven’t had very good luck with comedy shows in Melbourne.  We don’t know what festivals are worth going to and we aren’t familiar with the big name Australian stand-up’s.  There’s a language barrier. We only understand every 4 out of 5 words and that’s only when people are speaking slowly.  Perchance some cultural differences in what’s considered funny; comedians seem to pander to physical humor and tend to default to the staples of standup (marriage, kids, sex).  Meh.  At least we’re starting to be free from hearing endless diatribes confirming what a complete dickhead George Bush was.  That was beginning to be repetitive…  and redundant.  

Anyway, we went to the opening of the Melbourne Comedy Festival recently and it turned out to be pretty hilarious.  They had performers from all over the world and a lot more variety than we’d seen in material so far.   I snorted a few times. I hate that when I think something is funnier than anyone else and I have to try to keep myself together as the crowd quiets down. I’d imagine Tom isn’t crazy about those instances either.

So Tom ended up sitting next to this lady that we were certain was an actress or celebrity of some sort. It was driving us crazy. You know, like when you’re driving home from the beach late at night, talking about the first concert you ever went to, and you realize you can’t remember a single song that Boston sings? Like that – brain in obsession mode.  Then Tom gets it…It’s Tara Morice, from Strictly Ballroom. I think that it was one of the better movies ever made, particularly one of the better Australian movies ever made.  It’s kind of an ugly-duckling-turns-swan dealio, the metamorphosis manifested in some wackily-embellished professional ballroom dancing moves.  The costumes were a riot – see it if you haven’t.  Boston’s big hit was More than a Feeling by the way.

(Tara Morice, actually her, not just possibly)

Relieved the celebrity mystery was solved, we watch the show. But you know when you’re like in the first few weeks of dating and still hanging on every gesture or innuendo that could help you read the other person’s thoughts? Like you go to a movie and something makes you laugh but then you look over at them to see if they’re laughing before you let yourself laugh too hard. And then there’s this whole thing if they look at you, looking at them, or if you know they know you are looking at them, but they still don’t look back? I think it bugs me if people look at me too much that way but it’s nice once in a while. You know me – I’m all about balance.  J

So I basically spend the rest of the first half looking past Tom, at Tara Morice and the guy I presume to be her husband (he’s wearing a ring, they’re holding hands) to see if they laugh when I laugh. Or if they look at each other when they laugh. Tom tells me I should talk to her during intermission. Poor famous people.  I was just reading an article about Jeneane Garafalo and they asked her how her life is different being famous now. She said a lot more people bum cigarettes, ask her the time and directions to the bathroom, but otherwise it’s much the same as before. I don’t want to be one of those pathetic users, a nonlinear lost sycophant...I’m so much more evolved than that.

Intermission starts and I leap across Tom and block her way out. “IS YOUR NAME TARA?”, I demand, probably in a bit of a menacing and inappropriately excited way, really.

“No.”, she replies calmly. 

“You’re not Tara Morice?  From Strictly Ballroom?”

“No.” She doesn’t seem weirded about me anyway.  That’s always a relief. Maybe she’s lying, trying to travel incognito, only we were sharp enough to crack her disguise. So “Not Tara” and I have a nice visit about dogs and neighborhoods around the city for about 15 minutes. I liked her.  Turns out Tom couldn’t hear what we were saying and, because we were having such an engaged visit, he’s assuming I’ve just made best friends with Tara Morice. God, he married well.

“Was that her?” he asks, just as the show was starting again.

“Oh, no.  Well I guess it was her for a while, right?”

There’s no time for him to drill down on that random Christine-ilosophy, as the show starts up again, so we talk about it on the train later that night. “Did I ever tell you how I killed a little boy with my car?” I ask him.  He knows if I gain an ounce, how many strands of hair a day I lose and every other random thing that’s ever happened to me ever. That I killed a child, and never thought to mention it, confuses him.

“I had a green light and was coming out of the Crossroads Mall in Boulder, turning onto 28th Street.  This cute little 11 year old-ish boy ran in front of my car, I heard a loud thud, saw him roll up onto the hood and then disappear in front of the car, landing on the street in front of me as I stopped.” I knew I’d killed him. That sound will haunt me forever.  As it turns out, the little boy pops up and sheepishly shrugs “who knew that would happen?” to his friends who are still waiting for the crossing signal on the corner. By that time I’m out of the car and realizing that he’s not only not dead, but completely okay.

I decompensate. My car is askew in the middle of this major intersection with several lanes of traffic being blocked each way and I’m sobbing and inappropriately now hugging this poor child, probably way too hard.  I think I might have gotten some snot in his hair. Boundaries, hello.  “Um, lady, you’re scaring me more than your hitting me car did.” But I think we were both traumatized in our own ways and when I let go of him, he comes back and hugs me.   I think that may have been the nicest things anyone ever did for me, when he came and hugged me. I wonder if the little boy remembers that day.

Anyway, the poor little guy declines to let me drive him home, probably desperate to get away from crazy crying lady and get the crow-eating over with his friends. Apparently it’s quite damning in the 11-year old echelon, getting mowed down by a ’76 Ford Granada by a hysterical lady wearing a lot of matchy-match purple. 

Tom is Tea Warden

Every day at 10:30 am, Tom's whole office takes a break and has "Cuppa' Time", essentially a coffee break. I've heard it called a "Cig-o" here, but who smokes anymore? Or, as Tom would say, "What are you, an anachronism?"  I think it's a great culture-bonding technique (tea, not smoking...keep up), though I suspect that this group of about 10 scientists may be heavy on the introverted side and light on chitty chatty.  I even think that Tom can be more outgoing than most and we tried to come up with some social lubrication ideas. 

I wrote to one of my old Queen's professors, who sent me some worksheets on team building....#1) Describe an event or accomplishment in your life that made you feel particularly proud. This gave me some PTSD flashbacks of all the team building exercises we used to have to do in school.  Most of my India-born/engineer classmates wrote about getting strong college entrance scores. I wish they wouldn't have made me go first. Mine were a little more personal. Heavy on the self-disclosure. Like the time I did a triathlon and got sunstroke when I weighed almost 18 stone. (I'll save you the time...250#. Yikes.)

We decided that maybe people would like to play cards, break up the sound of crickets chirping when conversation starts to wane.  Apparently the whole idea freaked everyone out. "Cards? What's this now? This is unprecedented.  We've not had cards before." Cards only lasted a day. 

So this week is Tom's week to be the Kitchen Fairy, the Snack Czar, the Tea Warden. Apparently most people just bring in some biscuits (that's Aussie for dry, store bought butter cookies that you always have around because they really aren't very good).  Being the super achiever he is, we spent last night gathering recipes, marching around the grocery store and baking.  We're still learning to make nice with our oven, which seems to burn everything, in spite of the tag line on its manual, promising it to be Perfekt in Form and Funktion. Took us a week to turn it on. That sukt

Me happy, Tom sad, Edition #472. 

The only thing better than brownies, BLONDIES.  We are trying to figure out why butter cream frosting is called that, instead of butter sugar frosting. Weird.

Another consumer anomaly of the kangaroo nation...marshmallows only come in odd flavors.  Tom separated them into compatible fruit groups. Banana didn't make the cut, unfortunately.  Can you tell that I only accessorized the Rice Crispee Treats with white chocolate chips to justify tearing open the pack, which I will surely polish off in another day or two?  Such a thin veneer I rock. 

The secret to chocolate chip cookies...proper chef's really cute and watching closely to make sure they don't overcook. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Recently I've noticed two other things that are different here than from the US.

1. Cuss words on the radio. We don't have a TV, so we're not sure what's going on there. But sure enough, lyrics are uncensored and anyone who calls into a station can say whatever they want over the air. Even the slightest infraction in the US and you've have picket lines full of blue noses. It's true though, when something isn't taboo, it loses its power; It was surprising the first couple of times that it happened, but now the novelty is gone and it doesn't even happen that often.

2. People on the train listening to music. This one's a real baffler. I'm not talking about music in headphones. I'm talking about them putting their phone or something on speaker and filling the entire car with music. It's not even their favorite song for the necessary soundtrack to their lives, it's often just the radio. In the US, public transit is usually about as quiet as church, rarely do people talk to eachother, much less broadcast like that. Is music on the train rude? Still going back and forth on that one.

Christine tells me "you're perfect" when she breathes in, but when she exhales, it's usually "your manners when are ". She bought me a book on manners which is based on an australian radio show. It's an interesting read. Often times it seems that manners are a relic from a former age and times have changed and custom clashes with practice (e.g. everyone used to wear hats before the 1950s so it was rude to wear a hat indoors, but now nobody cares).

I found it particularly interesting that back in the day (i.e. before 1910's) nobody went to restaurants and most people spent their time at home. Nowadays, it seems like something is wrong if you're not out and about all the time.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hot tub!

There were a lot of things we liked about our apartment when we first saw it.  It was only when the broker took us to the gym and “swimming pool” level, and we realized how hot they were keeping the water that I was like, "Where do we sign?".  Let’s admit it, it’s a giant hot tub; not much actual swimming going on here.

Shortly after we moved in, a mammoth heat wave struck and the hot tub’s heat got turned down, I guess so residents could "cool off in the pool". I didn’t care that it was 110 degrees bare bones minimum soaking temperature is still 103 degrees. Anything less than 100 degrees and I get a chill, which causes an autonomic complaining mechanism to kick in.   

Well finally, it looks like autumn is here in the southern hemisphere, and the building manager cranked the heat up again.  We go down most evenings and float in circle, propelled by a powerful underwater jet that is meant to be used for swimming in place. I tried that for a while but floating around in a circle talking about everything and nothing is a lot more fun. And easier. 

We don't consistently make it to the gym together, or put on fancy dress up clothes and stay out dining-n-dancing all night or get invited to society parties. But we do like to put on our swimsuits, robes and flip flops, grab my pink kickboard, go downstairs and call it a date.  I don't think the other tenants like it when leave big drippy puddles in the elevator though. Snobs.  

One time, Tom was coming home from work and got in an elevator with a few other tenants. One of the guys said to the other guy, "Remember that chap who got in the elevator in his bathrobe-how funny was that!" and they both laughed.  I just can see Tom catatonically staring at the LED display as it painfully, slowly revealed each floor.

Back in 2006, when Tom and I first started dating and had separate houses, I had a hot tub that I would constantly try to goad him into. One day the water level fell below the temperature control sensor, so the heating element had been running non-stop.  I remember him saying things like, “There’s no way this is a safe temperature to be in. Are you sure it’s okay?” and “Wow. Um. This is really hot.” Which, of course, my response was, “Ahshushupyabigbaby!” , followed by some playful splashing. Although even I thought it was a little on the hot side. We eventually realized the mechanical issue and got out. It was 109 degrees.  In 1979, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CSPC) mandated that Underwriters Laboratory put a governor on all hot tubs that cap their temperature at 104 degrees.  Apparently anything over 106 degrees causes heat stroke. Wah.

A few years later, when I pounced on him and landed him in a rib brace,  or forgot to tell him where we were staying at in Delhi that resulted in him getting mugged, I wondered if Tom looked back on that time, that poignant day before we were married, when I tried to boil him alive.  Probably.