Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Charlie:

I know, I know. Sherlock Holmes. I'll get to it.

Ya know...when I won't just squee with delight until I pass out and you throw up from fangurl overload. Seriously. I'm trying to save you guys, here.

For now, for the life of me, I can't figure out why the critics had such a lukewarm reaction to the movie Ghost Town. Admittedly, it took me this long to watch it because the trailer put it out as a sort of wacky hijinx kind of romp with a romantic subplot. I tend to avoid rom-coms like the plague -- no, I don't want to talk about my book coming out on May 11 -- so I similarly bypassed this one.

Until now. Until Pesh became a hilariously obsessed Ricky Gervais fan and suckered me into his odd, creature-of-impulse world.

But leave all that behind and return to the central point with me: Ghost Town is not just a wacky hijinx comedy. It's not a Romeo and Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers where Mercutio didn't die but ended up with Juliet when Romeo bit the dust. Heh, you notice I used Mercutio. See, he's the funny one.

Like Ricky Gervais.

See what I did there?

Okay, moving on. Anyway, like everything Gervais does -- with the possible exception of strapping-taping his editor -- Ghost Town uses its comedy to shed light on philosophical ideals we all want to explore but sometimes aren't brave enough to face on our own.

Think The Invention of Lying. I actually watched it before Ghost Town, but I'm talking about it second. My blog. I can do that.

On the surface, it's another rom-com. And really, it's not about lying, despite the title and the inciting event of the film.

At its heart, it's a philosophical discussion of why we lie. They took a concept that is, in theory, bad -- thou shalt not lie, though it's not one of the Big Ten -- and asked why we do it anyway.

And then Ricky Gervais stepped in. He's not the typical, upwardly-mobile woman's dream come true of a happily-ever-after man. He's not traditionally handsome. He's not the best at his job, nor is he ambitious enough to strive to be better. He's not rich. He's not particularly charming -- but it's hard to hold that against him, as it's hard to be charming when you're stuck with the absolute truth.

But he does have something no one else has, and it's not the ability to lie. It's a certain kindness that's lacking in everyone else.

See? If we were unable to lie, we'd all have to be psychologically numb from the diatribe of blunt hurt and rejection we'd receive on a daily basis. If you're told a hundred times a day that your butt looks big by everyone you see -- because it's not just that no one can lie but that no one can omit the truth -- you'd either kill yourself, run yourself to death to get rid of it, or mentally inure yourself to that unkind truth.

Then, Gervais' character kicks in. True, his first lies aren't out of kindness, but you can see how much what's said to him by the other brutally honest characters hurts him and how it affects him. How it pushes him to lie to better his immediate situation.

At which point he's able to be nice to the one woman he's had a crush on for half of forever. Ironically, his only lies to her are to make himself look better. Never about how he feels about her. In that, he is just as honest -- but in a sweet, kind, and earnest way -- as everyone else.

Jump back to Ghost Town. The critics seem to think it's formulaic in its approach -- though some dare to complain that it misses the mark in several scenes that they obviously didn't pay real attention to or just plain didn't get -- to getting the not-so-great guy hooked up with the gorgeous, funny, and rich girl.

Not so, Watson.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Because this movie isn't about the ghosts. It's about the people they left behind. It's a brilliantly simple twist on the reason why the soul might hang about in the first place -- not because they need us but because we need them. Sorry if you haven't seen it yet.

And yes, you do have the seemingly by-the-numbers Grinch-turning-into-a-nice-guy schtick, but seriously, he fights it all the way. He fights it until he realizes he's all alone but not, as he previously thought, because he wants to be.

But underneath that is, again, a philosophical look at the difference between how we see ourselves and how other people see us. If we could just get others to see us how we see ourselves, everything would be all right, right?

Ask Greg Kinnear's character, Frank. It takes him until the very end to realize the kind of person he really is and how it affected not only his own life, not even only his wife's life, but everyone he's been in contact with since.

He had to see himself as everyone else did to understand why he was so wrong.

In a weird way, this flick reminds me of one of the hilarious conceits of The History of the World, Part One.

I know, I know. Stay with me, here. It's not as big a detour as you might think.

In ancient Rome, what was Comicus' job title as he stood in line for vnemployment (and no, that's not a typo)?

Stand-up philosopher.

Get it? It's a joke. But it's not.

At its heart, all comedy is philosophy. Comedians -- especially off-the-cuff ones -- must be both keen observers of the human condition and brutally pithy in pointing it back at us. The best jokes are the ones that make you laugh nervously because they strike juuuuust a bit too close to home.

So, from now on, that's how I'm going to classify Ricky Gervais: not as a comedian, but as a stand-up philosopher. And I will definitely continue to watch both his movies and his other comedic activities.

Not quite as big a fangurl as Pesh, but hey.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Dear Charlie:

Random blog attack...go!

So you know how you gear yourself up to make this monumental change in your life, and you're all preparing for it and then you're ready for it and then you do it and...


You set all the wheels in motion, so... why no go? I put my house -- the house I love, for good or ill, and feel comfortable in and feel is as much a home as any I grew up in -- on the market in October. It's March. The END of March.

I quit the old job. Put the house on the market. Sent out a legion of applications and résumés and hot-footed it to several different career possibilities to break out of the office rut. Sold a book (it'll come out in May and I do have cover art, but I'm having a disagreement with my website as to tables; I want them to work, and it doesn't).

I even... good God, I even applied for a job in Springfield, where I swore I'd never move.

I've made these significant changes in my life. So why, oh why, does it feel like nothing has changed? Why does it feel like nothing is happening? Like I'm floundering more than before?

My beloved sister once suggested it was because, while I'd put my home -- AKA, my security blanket -- on the market, I hadn't made quite a big enough leap. After analyzing that for a while, I applied for the Springfield job. I think that might have been a bigger leap than the house-on-the-market thing.

And still.

I'm not complaining, exactly. Definitely not ranting. I'm just... confused. Did I, as usual, miss some opportunity by a scant inch? Was some wonderful window of opportunity open just a second before I shut so many doors to better notice it, only to close when I finally got up the nerve?

Will I ever know?

Probably not. It just seems like time is running down even as it runs faster than ever, and yet nothing seems to be happening. I go to work and I sleep. I haven't written a word in longer than I'll admit to (though, like I said on Joely's blog, I feel something pushing and am just trying to get it all the way out). I'm trying to stay in touch with friends instead of hermiting, as I usually do when I'm not sure what to do but don't want to bother everyone with it.

And... though I can't put my finger on exactly why... I really want to get a dog. A big one. An inside/outside dog. God, I love dogs.

But I'm planning to get an apartment of some sort when/if the house sells, so I definitely can't get a dog. As you all know, I don't do small dogs, and no sane apartment manager would countenance a big one without an ungodly sum beforehand as a deposit. And I don't blame said land-person.

I guess I just felt, when I made the first of those big changes -- quitting the old job -- that once such a positive change happened, others would tumble along. Instead, I've had to make those changes myself, and I'm not sure all of them have been for the best, though I swear I tried to be rational and logical.

I'll just have to see, I guess.


Stupid rest of the world, taking its own time and not working things out for me in MY time instead of its. Sheesh! Where does Fate get off??

EDITED TO ADD: One less thing - I got my website to agree with my assessment of tables. Go check it out! My Gigolo: The Care and Feeding of a Male Prostitute on the Upcoming page! And I even got The Sweetest Kiss moved to the new Bookshelf page for stuff that's currently available. Holy crap! I am ON it tonight!

And now... totally time for bed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Dear Charlie:

A lot of people would probably be surprised to find out that I played a lot of sports when I was a kid. Every sport available (to girls) in my town, actually. Basketball, volleyball, track and field. Softball.

Of the variety, I probably liked softball the best. At least, I played it a lot longer than any of the others. Probably five years, all told, though I don't remember for sure when I started. I do remember when (and why) I stopped, but that's not really the point.

The point is that softball encompassed a large swath of my childhood.

I wasn't great. Don't think that at all. I was a good outfielder, decent at short stop, not fond of first base, and only an average catcher (though I had no trouble with the throw to second). I was a reliable batter, though I never hit a homer. A decent base-runner who scored every now and then but wasn't much for stealing bases because I had more endurance than speed.

So no, I wasn't great by a long stretch. And I didn't always enjoy it, especially toward the end. I was a valuable member of the team, but never the star. I guess, for me, softball was a social activity, like going to the swimming pool.

See, we lived way out in the boonies, a good eight to ten miles out of town, and Mom wanted to make sure we weren't stuck with only ourselves for company, so she always made sure we had opportunities to hang out with friends, to be in town, to socialize. So, even though we couldn't always afford it, she made sure we had season passes to the pool and the proper equipment for sports. Bless her mother's heart.

But why am I suddenly waxing half-poetic about a sport that holds equally as many bad memories as good for me, you ask? Excellent question.

The answer: because every once in a while, I watch The Sandlot and remember that softball was an important part of my youth and not always a bad one. The Sandlot reminds me of everything fun about the sport, tinged with a fond sense of nostalgia that makes me want to get out my bat and old glove.

Yes. I still have my old glove. And two bats. And a beat-up old softball that looks like it's had one too many trips over the gravel.

We never had a sandlot. In fact, I can't even remember just hanging out and playing softball when it wasn't either practice or a game. Sometimes me and the adored brother would throw it around in the yard, sometimes with Dad, but that was more practice than anything else.

Man, could Dad throw a pop-up like you wouldn't believe. I remember looking up at that white ball in the blue summer sky, thinking he'd thrown it so high it would never come down.


So maybe The Sandlot isn't so much nostalgia as wistfulness. I don't remember ever playing the game just for fun. It was sometimes fun, but never just for it.

I think that, if I ever lose my mind and decide to spawn kids, I'd much rather they have a sandlot team than a "real" one. There are good things to organized sports, of course, but... sometimes fun is just supposed to be fun. Kids are just supposed to be kids. It really isn't about winning or losing.

It's just... playing the game. The game that never ends.

The game in The Sandlot.

Oh, yeah. And I gotta get 'em some PF Flyers. I'm just sayin.