grief has no wide angle


Normally I’d post a spoiler cut for a movie still comparatively recent in its release date, especially one with a limited distribution. But that doesn’t apply here, obviously. What’s new isn’t what happens but how you get to see it, and how Jackie shows us grief is really powerful.

Namely, you’re smashed into close-up after close-up — I wouldn’t be surprised if something like a third of the movie was a close-up — in an endless too-close encounter with grief you’d prefer to see from a bit more of a distance. I can’t emphasize how valuable that is. What you want, as a viewer, is distance, and context. You want the camera to back up so you know where you are, what the room looks like, what the surrounding territory looks like. Hell, you’d even in some scenes settle for a view of someone’s coat or shoes, versus being trapped in the lines of John Hurt’s face or the smears streaking Natalie Portman’s cheeks and chin. But you don’t get that distance. You don’t get to pull away, even when you want to.

There is no wide angle on this grief, no neatly-arranged tracking shot that tidies up a personal disaster. This, of course, is where Jackie tries to go — not the route of national disaster, which is a story we know well by now, but a personal one. And the camera brings us too close to it. Not because of decaying statues of decorum vis-a-vis presidential families but because no one wants to be that close to grief, famous or not. The camera doesn’t give us a choice in Jackie, and that is so powerful. You’re trapped. You don’t get to pull away, even to try to understand this constant shattering within its own national landscape. That would require the distance that people cavalierly summon when they write obituaries or biographies or dissertations. This is not that.

There is also, as perhaps was known to people more familiar with the subject matter than I, a great deal of anger, and that was fantastic too. Glued close to the drooping eyelids and withered lips giving voice to the same old platitudes about everything being for a purpose, you are smashed up against the ludicrousness of those platitudes in a way that I hope hurts people who still use them. I hope it cuts deep. See how grandiose and all-knowing you appear when all you are is a frail face full of wrinkles squinting in a strong wind. See how much comfort you offer, and understand why anger in the face of that grotesque hollowness persists. The film doesn’t let you pull back from that.

Nor should it.


the clicks and whirrs of home

Your air conditioning huffs a certain way. You can tell where the trains are by how hard they’re struggling up the hill — and there are hills to struggle up, here. The fire department is just that far from your house, making the sirens just that, well, close to home. The dishwasher cranks a familiar pattern. The fridge wheezes. The mailbox, when closed, sounds like someone got cut off in the middle of a sentence. Someone who never, ever gets to finish their thought.

These are things I don’t know how to construct or reveal for someone else,  because they weren’t constructed for me. They fall into that no-doubt huge for everyone pile of things kids recognize as signifiers of home, that passed unnoticed by the people who actually built those homes around us.

What would a kid of mine remember? The hairline crack in the ceiling paint, like a messy signature? The constellation of little epoxied-over dents in the wall from the previous owners? The one worn flagstone that doesn’t match the others? It’s not that the cementing of imperfections as memories troubles me. That’s ridiculous; such things are inevitable and natural to boot. It’s more that I’m sure there are all these signs I’m missing. Just lying on the floor in the midst of yoga I see things I wouldn’t otherwise. And if you’re always down there they become standard for you. Expected, when you conjure up memories of home. Or even when you don’t — when you are home and notice them and suddenly realize, ah. 

It’s more that I know my images (visual and aural) will never match up with anyone else’s, I suppose, that is troubling. The first home I remember us renting, when I was little, had a window that sent in brilliant shafts of sunlight in the kitchen. That was when I learned that the glittering sparks I saw in that light were dust motes. That they were everywhere, and that I could only see them then because the sun fell a certain way. I thought it was sad that all the invisible motes didn’t get to glitter.

I wouldn’t remember things like that as an adult, I expect. I’m concerned with leaks and fixing them, or getting the paperwork filled out for a fence or  cutting dead limbs off a tree. I’m not looking at shimmering dust motes. And again, I get that that’s natural. But all those little, glittering things would be shaping someone else’s experience of the world, and I wouldn’t even know. And that makes me sad.

greetings from tamriel

I hadn’t logged into ESO in some time, but popping in for some Saturday morning pvp last weekend in the middle of a snowstorm proved to be an excellent idea.


Since I was already there, I figured I’d work a little more on the Dark Brotherhood questline I’d abandoned when I realized my shiny new character might be wasting all those sweet set bonuses, causing them to scale to her very low level and make them essentially worthless later on. (I left off right before One Tamriel, which I didn’t entirely understand anyway, such that I didn’t know that there are way more set pieces, now, all of which scale. So I wasn’t losing as much, armor-wise.)


Governor Fortunata, of Anvil (which was always my favorite town in Oblivion, I think because of its seaside locale and taverns rife with pirates? plus the Grey Fox of course…), is apparently a woman who knows what she wants.


You get to share a drink with her. Sort of.


Then the holiday quests came out. Again, I hadn’t understood One Tamriel properly — I figured I had little to gain from it since I’d already purchased the Imperial Edition when the game came out, allowing me to create any character on any faction. That was not what One Tamriel did. It made all zones scalable, and all factions playable, whether or not you’d finished the main quest. This is huge. This lets you, for example, run all the way to Kynesgrove from wherever you started, so you too can participate in the holiday quest there. And since that quest sends you all the way across the continent to other places you haven’t been, you get to see a ton of content you haven’t before! Or which you hadn’t seen in awhile.


Reaper’s March is the last zone I’d never seen on a proper playthrough before — my AD character was just shy of this zone before I tired of playing her sans pvp** and switched back to my DC main for necessary Cyrodiil time. Reaper’s March is beautiful.


This is the town they have you visit for the holiday quest. And see that building on the left? looking out onto the waterfall? That’s the khajit-style house you’ll be able to buy come February, when the Homestead update comes out. They’re already in the game, scattered throughout, and that’s one of them. Want. The reason I’m leveling up this character is to once again attempt to get her skilled at all the crafts — since the teaser trailer for the Homestead said we could use our crafting abilities to furnish our houses. Thus, I must learn ALL THE CRAFTING ABILITIES.


Seriously this is the prettiest town. Once I finish the holiday stuff I’m heading back to do the whole zone. And it won’t matter that I’m only in the 20s because it scales now! Yay.


One holiday quest has you entertain the masses. And you thought the only swords you’d have to face whilst adventuring would be held by adversaries. You were so wrong.

**Some clarification for non-players: you can of course pvp on all your characters. But for understandable reasons (see: spying) you can’t play two characters of different factions on the same pvp server. Since the kind of pvp you enjoy (under level 50, with or without champion points, 7-day vs 30-day, etc) is generally only going to be hugely active on one server, you have to reserve most pvp for one faction, or pay huge alliance points costs to shuffle characters around servers. My mains are all DC, so that means any EP or AD alts I make aren’t going to be able to access the highly-active pvp servers my mains do. Thanks to One Tamriel, I could hang out and do everything with you no matter what faction you were — except pvp, where faction counts, because that’s the point. So if I want to pvp — and sooner or later I always want to pvp, because ESO’s is the best — I have to do it on my DC characters. At least if I want to end up on a fully-populated, active Cyrodiil.

random music fridays : to build a home

If you’re not familiar with The Cinematic Orchestra but this song sounds familiar, it’s because its instrumental version is currently playing in a State Farm commercial. Lacking tv, I did not learn this until visiting my father a few months ago, where I dropped what I was doing and cut straight across the house to see what had occasioned this song’s playing. I know it’s easy (and knee-jerk) to sneer at ads, since their goal is to get your money, but this one put a lump in my throat. Yes, I’m obviously easily susceptible to songs that contain lines like I misheard:

By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top
I climbed the tree to see the world
When the gusts came around to blow me down
Held on as tightly as you held on me
Held on as tightly as you held on me……

And I built a home
for you
for me

Until I disappeared
from me
from you

I always (until, well, I just looked those lyrics up right now) misheard that as “until I disappeared from me / from you.” So I mean, *cough*. I’m susceptible to that. But it’s still a fantastic song. Even if the actual line is “Until it disappeared from me / from you.” They mean the house.

I didn’t.

why overshare?

I’ve had great bosses. One of them had her life fall apart while she was my boss. Her mother had died, sending her into clinical depression, her father was succumbing to dementia, and her husband lost his job in the economic collapse. Things went to shit for her. And I know this because she didn’t try to hide it. She didn’t sit there crying at her desk or anything, but she took calls from her paranoid father and then his facility, she set up frantic health care for her husband in the vacuum of his job’s lost health care, she warned everyone she’d be sad on the anniversary of her mother’s death.

She had two options. She could bury everything and pretend everything was fine, or she could not. She chose not, and she stayed sane. Maybe there were some people who felt she was oversharing? Who resented the intrusion of her grief upon their lives? Well, fuck them. You’re fooling yourself if you think closing your eyes to decline and sorrow is going to save you from it. You can shut your eyes or learn from it, in the hope of helping the person going through it — and maybe yourself, later. Your pick.

I did the latter. And what I learned from her is that, contrary to most of the literature I consumed prior, there is no great honor in burying all that so no one can tell it’s there. It eats at you. Do you really want to be the This Is Fine dog? Do you? Have you seen the other four panels of that comic, which is usually shared with just the two? Spoilers, his face melts off. It melts. Off.

So maybe think about how noble it is to hide stuff like that. I’m not saying scream it from the rooftops (not if you don’t want to anyway) and demand no one ever forget your frustration and despair. No. But when ads come on showing happy older mothers becoming grandmothers, and someone notices your face harden at the casual ease of the surety of that, the grandmother’s cognizance and capability and love, just admit to it. Doesn’t have to be a big deal. But creating some other reason, and then the next and the next, piles up. It’s not a good idea. You think you’re sparing the people around you a glimpse of something dark, but it doesn’t go away. It just burrows into you, a lurking sequel no one signed up for, to debut at some unintentional and grossly mistimed moment in the future.

So, you know. Try not to do that.

#tbt christmastime edition

— to that time I fell asleep against my mom with the little Christmas incense-in-a-wooden house thing lit, and the tree lights on, and the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait playing, waiting for Dad to come on tv. He was at sea, and we were told CNN had had a crew on board, but they didn’t air the segment until very late, and suddenly Mom was shaking me awake and we were bouncing around because there he was, looking very tired but still, dad. Dad!

I think he threw out the little incense house because it reminded him too much of her? But I wish he’d kept it. I still can’t find incense that smells like that. I can’t get it back.

Here’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” from the best Christmas album ever:

there is no autopilot

As a kid, I kept waiting to become somebody else. It couldn’t be me that would graduate. That would go to college. I wasn’t that person. It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable of studying — I was a good student and loved school, at least until fifth grade. It wasn’t that I was sick. I was fine. But the part of me that felt “me” — that thought up games and read stories and wrote them — had nothing to do with degrees, bills or expectations. I kept waiting to divide, and send autopilot me forward to jump through life’s hoops, while real me hung back and did what mattered.

As a college student, I was still waiting to retreat to the backseat of my life. Everyone was so full of ideas of who I should be — professors saying I should study this or that; parents hoping I might study something a little more lucrative. Graduate school was the same — “study what I do, only slightly different, so you don’t impinge on my topic!” I wanted their attention and their accolades, so I complied. I studied what I was told to, with only slight adjustments to suit my fancy. I just wanted them to like me. When I did what they thought I should, I was rewarded with their affection, and I was content. Until they drifted off and away, impelled by their own lives elsewhere. So there I sat, with all this knowledge I’d acquired to impress them, and they were gone.


Working life, same thing. I had no interest in this last degree I took as part of my job. I took it because my boss said I’d be good at it. I don’t know if I am or not. I thought was, but then everyone who said so left, and not many notice me anymore. I’m 30 now. It’s probably time to stop waiting to divide myself, one public version trotted out to do the boring things expected of adults, one private version reserved for the things I always found value in. I should probably resign myself to what I do, and that I’m the one having to do it, as one entity. It is the time of life to become introspective and depressed, our culture tells us. Sometimes gently, sometimes not.

Except…I’m not depressed. I never stopped doing any of the things I cared about. I just stopped talking about them. The older you get, the more careful you have to be about revealing the things you love to others. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing them. I always worried I would be a bad example to others; that people would hold me up as a cautionary tale. “Don’t become a boring adult like she did!” While it’s true that I would now tell younger me “hey, maybe don’t spend years obtaining a graduate degree in a field which doesn’t move you,” I’d also temper that advice with the acknowledgment that that graduate degree was free (they both were), obtained through fellowships only granted to me, I assume, because I bothered to do all the other boring things like show up and study and get enough sleep to be productive. Etc. etc. And that the stipend it granted me as I obtained it allowed me to subsist through the worst financial crisis to date in my lifetime.

And that…I don’t know. I traveled the world and chose where to feel home was. In this, I didn’t wait for someone to praise me for it, or tell me it was a good idea. (Often they said the opposite, ha.) I chose the people (and, sure, animals) in my life, and their permanence to the extent that I can influence that. Maybe I’m not such a cautionary tale.


A group of us talk a lot about the messages we received about 90s kids, re: the future. I don’t think it’s sensible to blame the well-intentioned media message of “you can do anything! reach for the stars!” for millennial angst. Messages written in bubble letters on your second-grade classroom bulletin board are not responsible for the sum of the decades that follow. But all the same, there may have been some unrealistic expectations set. Not so much re: the heights to which you might reach, but the heights to which you were supposed to aspire.

We were supposed to want to be great. To fix everything in one fell generational swoop. That is a fine (if necessarily unattainable) goal for a generation, but not for an individual. You can’t be the doctor who cures cancer AND the astronaut who saves the space station AND the rehabilitator of gorillas AND the guy who speaks 100 languages. But those were the goals that were lauded. Those were the goals that were held up as worth aiming for. Such goals were always accompanied by superlatives. The best, the brightest, the most. The most everything. But that’s a terrible goal. There will be nothing of you left, if you spread yourself so thin.


That, I think, is the real hiccup of the (again, extremely well-intentioned!) messages broadcast to kids in the 90s. We may be able to reach the stars, sure, with enough work. But it shouldn’t be our goal to fling ourselves toward all of them — to stab our flag into every boiling mass of rock and gas out there and claim it as our own. To obtain — to demand! — every outcome.


No. Pick one. Let the rest fall aside. You don’t have to be the best and the brightest at everything. You don’t even — and I suppose this is where the originators of those heartfelt messages might balk the most — have to be the best and the brightest at anything. Your value is in no way dependent upon how you measure up to others, intellectually, financially or otherwise. Maybe in thinking as much I am too much the 90s kid still: the shows were just as fond, after all, of telling us how special and unique we all were. But, gooey good feeling aside, they have a point. Doing what you love while still managing to make enough to eat and obtain health care and shelter isn’t settling. It isn’t a cautionary tale. It means you’ve made it. You found one goddamn star and called it home.

Now take good care of your humble rock pirouetting through the galaxy, and try not to fuck things up for anyone else along the way.