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Archive for January 2015

As I’m sure is typical among the kids today, I first heard about Sting’s new album The Last Ship when I caught the music being performed on PBS. I was immediately intrigued. Not only does the music fall into the very specific sub-genre of Songs About Ships Being Built and On the Water that I love*, it also, as I discovered after buying the album, seemed to be a sequel to The Soul Cages. Which, truth be told, is the last of Sting’s previous solo albums that I was interested in; everything after it, though skillful, was a bit too committedly Adult Contemporary for my tastes. It was nice, then, with The Last Ship, to hear Sting return, if obliquely, to some of the more interesting diversions of his youth. Or perhaps it is simply that, in the intervening years, I have become more of an adult. Which, while there are a lot of things about aging that I disagree with, that I am now a contemporary of Sting’s is an unrestrained positive.

Either way, when I  legally purchased the cd, again following in the footsteps of today’s kids, I discovered that The Last Ship was not just a concept album but was also the basis of the stage show. Which was a little exciting, even though I am not generally a fan of the theatre. Primarily because embracing it would mean having to leave my house, but also because it tends to be expensive. It also takes a lot more planning than staying in, or even a trip to the grocery store, which requires a list. Too, what comes to Boston seems primarily to the Lion King, which I did not care for as a movie; or The Book of Mormon, which always has discounted tickets available so it seems like a good idea, until I remember that it’s probably going to be incredibly smug, and then I lose interest.

The Last Ship, though, does not suffer from being either of those things, and so, despite my aversion to the thea-tah, I decided to see it. Fortunately, because I am an overwhelmingly lazy person,I did not act on that decision for quite a while, a delay which allowed me, when I finally got around to purchasing the tickets, to see the show with Sting himself in the cast. And so it was that I took a bus to New York last weekend (as opposed to a plane to Chicago several months ago, as originally planned) to see my peer, Mr. Gordon Sumner, fret and strut his weary hour upon the stage. Oh, and also sing.

And the man can sing. Not that, at this point in time, anyone needs me to point that out. He actually opens the show, singing the very first line of “Island of Souls,” which was delightful and unexpected; when I read that he had joined the cast, it said that he was taking a rather small part. I don’t know if that reviewer, being a more experienced theatre-goer, has different definitions of “small” and “large” than I do, or if perhaps Sting had changed roles since that article was printed, but the show was basically the two leads, and then Sting. So I got an unexpected abundance of Sting in matinee, and that was unequivocally great.

So the show starts off on a high note (pun unintended but not regretted), and throughout, the music is quite good. I was familiar with most of the songs from the album, but I still appreciated the novelty of seeing them fleshed out with perhaps a bit more of the stories that inspired them. “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance,” already a favorite, was especially well-served by the context of the play, and vice versa; while “August Winds” was just so lovely as sung by a woman whose first love has finally returned that I actually payed attention to all the lyrics instead of just the chorus.

There were also a few original numbers included in the production. Far and away, the best of these featured the aforementioned woman. The first, “If You Ever See Me Talking to a Sailor” was a fiery rebuke to her returned first love about why she’ll never trust a seaman; the second was the lovely “What Say You, Meg?”, sung to her, which succeeded as an earnest and heartfelt declaration despite being sung by someone with an almost complete lack of charisma. Although, as the third leg in the central love triangle, and the sensible option at that, perhaps that was a deliberate actorly choice.

Despite it still being stuck in my head almost a week later, “What Say You, Meg?” points up the major, and considerable, problem with The Last Ship, which is that the story itself is just not very good. Tonally, it was a bit all over the place: many of the scenes played like they were straight out of the British sitcoms that I’ve also seen on PBS (I swear this blog is not sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), and though they were actually quite funny – Sting himself lands a very good punchline as the head of the shipbuilding crew who has serious seasickness – the play itself is not a comedy, making these scenes seem jarring when juxtaposed with those of the young man who ran away from his abusive father, or the woman he left behind and returned to, who has maybe not entirely moved on with her life.

I understand not wanting to make an overwhelmingly bleak show. The album, according to the liner notes (which I finally read after returning from New York and before I started writing this, so: just about a week ago) was an attempt to portray a more balanced view of the shipbuilding life than in The Soul Cages, an attempt to capture the joy and successes in many people’s lives, even if those things were absent from the Sumner family itself. And while that effort comes across very well on the album, I think the play suffers from trying to integrate too many disparate stories into one cohesive telling. In my mind, the play would have worked much better as whatever would be the theater-equivalent of a series of stand-alone short stories. The son who ran away and then returned 15 years later can have his story, but make it separate from the father who teaches his teen-aged son to dance; and maybe allow someone who had not been absent for 15 years to speak at the priest’s funeral. Not just because the kid who ran away still returned as a bit of a brat, but because, if you want to present a picture of life in an industrial town – a dying industrial town, at that – show us more about the people who actually live there, instead of focusing on the one who’s just passing through.

That being said, I am very glad that I saw the show, even if it is now closed. There were a lot of very impressive things about the staging of the production – which I feel like sounds like faint praise, to say that the sets were impressive after busting on the story – and maybe people who see more shows would not be as impressed as I at the use of lighting to make it seem that the last ship they build actually sails into the sea. The songs were very good, and the cast – even those with both a first and last name – are obviously very talented. Mostly, though, I’m very glad that, after all this time, I’ve found some new music from a(n slightly) old(er) favorite. It’s comforting to know that, even as we both mature, Sting and I can still find things to talk about.

 

*I tried really hard to make a reference to my wheelhouse here, but it just couldn’t work. Please don’t think I cast aside a nautical pun on purpose; I would never do that.

Unlike Oola, my previous cat Mokie was very easily affectionate. Mokie had lived in several different homes before finally finding her way to me; one might assume that the likely response to being passed around so often would be for a cat to become standoffish, and I assume one would assume this because it is, in fact, the assumption I made. Which is why I was surprised when, at bedtime on her very first night with me, Mokie comfortably curled herself at the foot of the bed, right by my feet.

This, as I said, was unexpected. Certainly, Mokie was obligated to spend the night in the room with me, as that’s where her litter box and food were, but I had anticipated an apparently unnecessary need for privacy on her part and purchased a small cat bed, placed as far from my bed as possible. I kept the cat bed for several months, thinking that it might be nice for Mokie to have options, but she made it quite clear that she had no interest in a small and cozy cat bed when there was a big-girl bed she could sleep on. And when I say “made it clear,” I of course mean that she peed on the cat bed and I had to throw it out.

Mokie never peed on the big-girl bed, although it was her preferred place to cough up hairballs, which is another story for another time, although I may have perhaps already shared that one at a previous time? Regardless. Mokie slept on the bed with me from the outset, which I thought was very sweet. In her gently needy way, Mokie would be persistently close by, but she wasn’t so needy that she needed to be any more than close by.

Or so I thought. Because, what I eventually realized was that Mokie was only sleeping down on the end of the bed because she didn’t quite know me yet. And I discovered this when, after several months together, Mokie began making her way up the bed in the evening and sleeping on the pillow. The same pillow I was sleeping on! She stretched out right above my head, a furry, affectionate hat keeping my head warm in the winter months.

This, clearly, was something special. Not only was there now trust between myself and Mokie – trust, I should make clear, I had no idea wasn’t there before – but, even while closing the distance between, Mokie still managed to sleep in such a way that my own physical presence was completely unimpeded. Increased affection, without increasing demand; surely, of what one could expect from a cat, this was the apex.

But it wasn’t, as I discovered several months later when Mokie began wriggling her way under the blankets. Her true goal all along, it turns out, was to curl up in a little furry gray ball right next to my stomach. The business of sleeping by my head or my feet, both of which had seemed like such achievements and ends in and of themselves, turned out to be nothing more than pit stops along her way; now that we had been together for almost a year, Mokie could finally trust me enough to put herself in a position where we were close but not touching, yet carried a risk that I might crush her if I rolled over during the night.

From that perspective, I felt a little silly for thinking that Mokie’s initial presence on the bed had meant anything at all. And, even if I’d actually preferred it when she slept on my pillow (so warm and out of the way!), I understood that this, at last, meant that Mokie felt at home. Which is really what counted.

Oola, of course, is different. Because it’s winter, Oola will now sleep on the bed. Unlike Mokie, she will actually plant herself right on top of my legs. But, also unlike Mokie, she will stay decidedly on top of the blankets, regardless of how much I encourage her underwise. Which, honestly, is okay – I do like to wake up and discover a kitten sleeping on me – but, especially when it’s cold outside, I think it would be great if she were comfortable coming under the blankets, at least for warmth. And also for affection.

But that’s not the kind of kitten Oola is. Which, as previously mentioned, is something people tend to find sad, that an utterly untrusting Mokie offered just about the same level of affection as an Oola who trusts no one but me, but, as previously mentioned, those people are weak and their cats are probably terrible. What I realized early on with Oola is that you have to play the long game. A game, as I learned from Mokie, that is a persistent campaign of affection, gentle correction, and reward, and that only one of us needs to realize is being played. A game in which, today, I came from yoga to discover I scored a major point from my opponent :

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

Sleeping kitten. Still fierce.

That’s right – Oola is now sleeping on my pillow. Sure, I’m not in the bed, but I’m still counting it as a victory. Peace in our time, and, more importantly, one day Oola under the covers. Today, we’re one step closer.

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I’ve always considered it poor form to brag about things that don’t make me look stupid. Probably this stems in part from the same natural humility that leads me to write about myself online in the hopes that strangers will read it and adore me. However, I also like to believe that another root of my tremendous self-deprecation lies in a firm, and completely well-grounded, belief in my own competence; because I am a capable and intelligent person, expected, in addition to poor form, seems uninteresting to me, and, more importantly, seems like it would be uninteresting to you. Which is why, then, instead of a stream of unending mundanities, I try to share only the truly exceptional, such as the occasional profoundly stupid things I’ve said or done (which, interestingly enough, are very often related to transportation).

This, I’ve learned over the years, is not a guiding principal for how everyone operates. Indeed, it seems that there are many people for whom the everyday is a constant source of amazement, and a potential source of wonder and inspiration for others. And while I would be the first to agree that the very basic fact of existence is, perhaps, the most remarkable thing that could possibly have happened, I would also be quick to point out that the basic details of that existence are not so remarkable that they must be constantly remarked upon. Which is, of course, what I am in the very process of pointing out.

Despite the at least two episodes of Frontline and multitude of articles detailing how they’re just the worst, this behavior is not limited to the young people of today. If commercials are any indication of societal mores, and they obviously are, this behavior – at least, in the workplace; did I mention that’s what we’re discussing? – can be traced back to no later than the year 2000.

(I’m going to be honest here – this next part would be a lot more effective if I’d been able to find a video of the commercial I’m about to discuss online. Alas, despite this failure, the blog must go on, particularly since the stats on this site show that very few of you actually follow the links I painstakingly cultivate for your entertainment. Regardless: please trust me that this commercial did indeed exist, and also happened to be very funny. )

Inspired by the tidal wave of Dilbert’s success, marketing executives believed, if but for a moment, that the most effective way to sell soup was through trenchant workplace commentary. This spot, lost to both internet and history, revealed the many techniques that the coworker who appears utterly overwhelmed and far too busy to have any lunch other than soup you can drink directly from the can employs to convince everyone of that state of busy-ness, when, in actuality, said coworker who is always carrying a folder and responding to your statements louder and in the form of a question has very little to do.

There were a lot of really good things about this commercial, not the least of which was that, although no one had to actually work with this particular buffoon, anyone who’s ever had any job, anywhere, has worked with that guy. However, to make the commercial at least moderately successful in its profit-driven efforts, the coworker who would be irritating in real life had to be likeable; to achieve this end, the character of the coworker had to undergo two key changes: 1. He never actually says what he’s working on; and 2. He knows that he’s completely full of it.

It’s possible those two points are actually related; after all, someone who knows how full of hot air they are would, theoretically, at least, be unlikely to provide substantial detail of the efforts that in turns out they’re not actually involved in. But I say “theoretical” because, to date, I have found no evidence of this person existing in the workplace. On the contrary, what I have encountered manifests in one of two ways: abundant details about nothing, or – as mentioned at the outset, when this whole mess got started – a self-administered pat on the back or expression of amazement that work was done in the workplace.

As is probably self-explanatory, the abundant detailer will provide unnecessarily detail about everything they do. This often presents as a running commentary, as though to themselves, of all the things they have to do in the day, “all of the things” being, literally, all of the things. Such activities as going to their office, and carrying this upstairs will be listed separately despite the redundancy that their office is upstairs, and thus anyone could have intuited that by carrying that upstairs, they would be going to their office. While most things are of equal weight, the utmost importance is, obviously, given to somehow working in the walk they’ve got to find time for, although I’m sure that if they could manage without sounding ridiculous even to themselves to mention their need to breathe while speaking, that would shoot right to the top of the list.

What never, ever get mentions, however, is anything substantially related to work.  I suppose, if one were feeling generous, one could assume that the speaker believes it is implied that they will also be doing the tasks for which they are being paid, and that the litany of the mechanics of their day is simply to demonstrate how much other stuff they have to do, on top of the mountain of work they’re obviously doing. But, as we all know, the internet is no place for generosity, and so I call bullshit on that idea, that I myself just suggested, because if a person is genuinely believes their excruciating minutia of their own life to be fascinating, they probably have neither the time nor the mental energy to devote to anything else.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the person who finds the simple fact of doing work at their job to be astounding. Rather than an endless stream of tasks, this person will not only find it remarkable that they were called upon to perform a work-related task, but will also express a great deal of amazement that they managed to accomplish it. And, in some cases, this might very well be justified. There are certainly jobs where heroics are called for on a regular basis. And while some of these heroics might very well take place in an office type setting, it’s very difficult to take someone who emerges from a 90-minute meeting wherein they sat in front of a computer and discussed the layout of 1 individual web page that has zero life-altering implications for anyone anywhere in the world proclaiming that they were just working so hard seriously.

Which, I suppose, again, if one were to be generous, perhaps these things are challenging to these people. Perhaps a competency baseline can be located at different levels, and it should take a long time to write up a summary of a 10-minute interaction. In fact, you’d think I’d be on board with that example, what with this particular entry, which granted, is a summary of multiple interactions, took several days of writing, and several days of breaks, to complete.

I am not on board with that.  Which is what makes these people unbearable in real life, as they do regularly expect accolades for their accomplishments, unlike our charming fellow in the soup commercials who just wants to get through the day without anyone noticing that he’s doing nothing. Worse though, is that, as in the soup commercial, it seems like it works. And that is the trenchant workplace commentary no one expected.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, not every topic I think about writing about makes it into this blog. Usually, it’s because I’m just lazy and never get around to writing about something, but there are other reasons – or, as some might call them, excuses –  for why a topic will be cut. Of these “reasons”, the most common is that, although I’ve come up with a killer punchline, I can not for the life of me gracefully reverse-engineer the rest of the joke; other times, I’ll actually start writing something, only to realize that it’s not actually all that interesting; other other times I’ll start writing something only to realize that the contortions I’d have to go through to get to the ostensible point would render the whole thing unreadable (that’s the Romantic in me, what with my reach exceeding my grasp); sometimes, I briefly think that I shouldn’t get too complainy about things; and then finally, we come back to lazy and are confronted with all the posts I just never got around to writing.

As we greet the new year, I could resolve that I will, this year, definitely blog about all of these topics. And not just these topics, but any new topics that should occur to me. After all, what is a resolution for, if not to be broken? Instead, I decided to start the new year off with a favorite old stand-by – the list – and just present, all at once, and in no particular order, those topics that I really thought I had something to say about, but did not, and why it originally occurred to me.

Ready? Here goes:

True Detective : this show is so good, but the best way to watch it is the binge. Otherwise, you may use the time between episodes to come up with crazy and ridiculous theories, forgetting that True Detective takes place in the world, and then be disappointed to learn that Carcoza is not some mystical revelation but simply the name bad men gave to the place where they did bad things, when you should be utterly creeped out by exactly how bad those men were. Other points that would have been made : McConnaissance? Yes. Absolutely. But don’t overlook Woody Harrelson; his role is less showy, but I think it’s actually the more difficult of the two, since he has to get you on his side while being utterly oblivious to his own many failings. Plus, his joy at seeing his family in the final episode will completely break your heart. Also, big ups to the director for letting us know exactly how awful things were without ever showing us, and to the writers for turning the simple word “flowers” into something again unseen but unquestionably terrible, as well as for tricking everyone into thinking this show was a murder investigation when it really was just a chess game to get Rust and Marty back together.

True Detective, season two : I am excited, but I have concerns. Primarily casting-wise. Taylor Kitsch, please don’t get stuck in a Rust-lite role. Yes,  Texas forever, but not Riggins forever, even though we’ll always love Tim Riggins. We want more for you, is what I’m saying. I’m equally concerned about the chemistry among the rest of the cast. Plus, if it’s set in California, does that mean no more investigating the Tuttles? Expectations are high, but, as with Serial‘s looming second season, they may be impossible to meet.

Serial, season two : Seriously, what could be as compelling as Season 1? I worry. Also, what should I listen to, podcast-wise, before season 2, to keep myself occupied?

Mail “kimp” : the only reason this is funny is because “chimp” is such an easy word to recognize. However, in finding the “kimp” pronunciation funny, we’re all agreeing that “mail chimp” is a perfectly logical juxtaposition of words. It is not.

Rumpelstiltskin : Rumpelstiltskin should not be considered the bad guy in that story. Bartering for a baby aside, all he really is is a skilled, independent craftsman who expects to be compensated fairly for deploying his skill to benefit another, and who probably should have learned that, when you want to keep something a secret, maybe don’t write it into a song that you sing while dancing around a campfire, no matter how deserted you believe the woods to be. Also, is it really a happy ending that a woman who traded away her baby for a chance to marry the king gets to keep it? Particularly considering that the king the child’s father is so stupid that he believes a woman can spin straw into gold, and yet she comes from a family of laborers rather than nobility? And that the grandfather of the child is a greedy, grasping liar? Why is the child necessarily worse off with Rumpelstiltskin, again?

Things everyone seems to love on the internet that I do not : Oh my god, I hate The Oatmeal so much you guys! I’m not even going to link to it, it’s that terrible. People seem to think it’s funny, and I tried to, I swear, but it’s not funny; it’s mean-spirited mediocrity wrapped up in bright colors and oversized text. There is nothing even remotely paradoxical about a different species eschewing foods that we enjoy, there are zero good reasons to punch a dolphin, and if you engage the services of a sex worker, stick to the terms you agreed upon, you asshole. I can not at all understand why wonderful, intelligent people like this horrible, hateful site. It’s the Two and a Half Men of websites.

Other things I don’t like about the internet include : Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Louis C.K; – Stop quoting these 3 yabbos all the time; other people say things that matter sometimes, you know? Especially about feminism – there must be a well-spoken funny lady somewhere who could provide some quotable perspective on feminism, right? And yet all I ever see are these 3 guys. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch, who, to be fair, does seem like a very charming individual, but the obsessive mania that he inspires is a little too much to take.

Star Wars, Dr. Who, and Nerd Culture : the widespread acceptability of nerd culture can probably be traced directly back to Star Wars prequels, the first of which (The Phantom Menace) was released in 1999. Because those movies are terrible, and universally recognized as such by even the most ardent of Star Wars fans, they put said fans in the position of being able to bust on the franchise even while liking it; it wasn’t uncool to like Star Wars, as long as you could still make fun of the prequels – those were the real nerds! Which doesn’t actually hurt anyone, because nobody liked the prequels. Although, I should confess that I did cry at Revenge of the Sith, which I saw in the theater; the montage where the Jedi get slaughtered was very effective.

Similarly, the relaunch of Dr. Who, which took place in 2005. I’ve never actually watched a full episode of Dr. Who, which I imagine to be just unbearably whimsical, but I did have to suffer through my brother watching the original series in the 70s and 80s. To me, this is what Dr. Who looks like, or this; intelligent, probably easily befuddled, a little old-fashioned even at the time – kind of like a British Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones were a professor of theoretical archaeology who never left the safety of the university and always wore a sweater.

And then along comes 2005, and suddenly Dr. Who is this guys, who I can only imagine was free for the role because the new James Bond went to Daniel Craig. The new Dr. Who has clearly never worn a sweater in his life, much less a scarf covered in question marks, because that would be a liability in all of the bar fights he probably gets into. Subsequent doctors were this guy, who at least looks smart and not like a bruiser, but is also very cute and someone I would make out with, hard; this fellow here, who is not my cup of tea but I imagine appeals to the same sort who like the aforementioned Mr. Cumberbatch; and finally, this guy, who is at least appropriately old and could conceivably wear a sweater or scarf or any other garment knitted with question marks for warmth, but is again someone I would make out with, although this time more gently so as not snap his surely brittle bones. And, while I know that there have always been posters of Dr. Who for people to hang on their dorm room walls, I don’t imagine that they were ever supposed to be pin-ups; my understanding is that’s what the companion is for.

Anyway, the point of this was going to be that, while equal-opportunity ogling is always appreciated, as a people, we haven’t actually embraced nerd culture, we’ve appropriated it

Working life – I actually do still plan to go into a great detail on this topic. Primarily, though, the big lesson of this year is that having a boss who has no regard for their staff, be they a piece of garbage so devoted to cheating on his girlfriend (now wife, the lucky lady) that he thinks it charming to disregard when a woman says no, or just a garden-variety crazy person who must have been good at something to have failed upward to the level of Director yet shows no sign of understanding anything, is terrible under any circumstances. Co-workers everywhere, too, be crazy.


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