Sunday, June 18, 2006

Balancing Act

As the sands of time begin to pile up into my own private dune at this stage in my life, I find myself in the precarious position of dealing with my own mortality. I really don’t want to dwell on it much only because I’d rather not waste whatever precious time I have left in this form of existence on introspection. Instead I’d rather carpe a few diems and sort it all out later.

Still I have to ask myself some questions, like “What the hell do I really believe in anyway?” I could go through the list and tell you everything I either don’t accept as absolute truth or am not completely sure one way or the other. But that’s all about as self-serving as…well, these first two paragraphs.

I can honestly say that, unequivocally, that I do believe in the concept of karma. The “whatever-goes-around, comes-around” dogma is something I have signed off on many moons ago and will do so until I sign off myself. There is a natural balance to all this chaos that somehow makes that whole experience bearable, even in the worst of all possible times. But I also recognize that sometimes it helps to maintain a little balance in one’s life if karma’s a little slow on the uptake. It’s a little thing called personal responsibility

With that tedious build-up, I’ll admit to the world right here that I just got laid-off from my most recent job this last week. In fact, this is the second job I’ve held in a row where the position I held was eliminated once and for all. I have the feeling these two companies were trying to erase any trace of me out of existence. (I could say that the reality is that I was more invisible working for these places to begin with, but that’s just sour raisins.) The last time I was canned, I held up in my apartment for five months, venturing out only for job interviews for places I would have loathed with every fiber in my being. At least I was able to complete the novel I was working on, a book I’ve been trying to sell since that time. Ugh! The rest of the time I denied myself any pleasure or leisure activity whatsoever and dedicated the bulk of my unemployment on moping about the joint, feeling about five kinds of miserable at any given moment.

Not this time, Jack. Sure, I’ll have to devote a great deal of effort getting reinstated into the land of the gainfully employed as well writing up a storm, but I’m also not going to become a recluse in the process. I have to keep my spirits afloat one way or the other because becoming a shut-in again just ain’t healthy or, if you will, unbalanced.

So the first step toward this step in the right direction was to see one of the summer films on my own personal list (see blog entry titled: “Summer Blogs Office”). A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION was right up my alley. What I needed more than anything was to be taken out of myself for a couple of hours and placed into the comforting arms that this movie provided. It gave me some laughs, a bit of nostalgic glow and a damn fine way to pass a couple of hours, much like a rest stop on a seemingly endless drive. I am not a big fan of the radio show. In the past I’ve found it amusing at best, sometimes cloying and precious in that public broadcasting kind of way, much like the cartoons in The New Yorker. But I do admire its longevity and Garrison Keillor’s tenacity to keep the whole enterprise afloat all these years. I am, however, a fan of Robert Altman, one of my top five favorite filmmakers. At the age of 81, I hate to admit that he is not long for this world and this could very well be his swan song. That’s why I felt obligated to see it on the big screen. For something so steeped in the days of yesteryear, there sure is a lot of feisty energy pouring through this piece. Altman’s camera never sits still. He’s on the go more than Michael Bay’s editing team and with better results. That vitality flows through the cast as well. They seemed to have had the best time on this picture and it shows in their performances. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin’s sister act is so natural that I can’t believe they’re not actually related. Kevin Kline’s bumbling “house detective”, while a bit overdone, reminds me of just how damn funny he can be. Keillor himself translates well on the screen and could be cast in the kinds of roles George Plimpton used to play. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are a riot as two singing cowboys. The luminescent Virginia Madsen is perfectly as an angel, almost an extension of the character Sally Kellerman portrayed in Altman’s BREWSTER MCCLOUD. And it was just a kick in the butt to see the great character actor L. Q. Jones in a role that his counterpart, Harry Dean Stanton, could have easily been cast as well. (The less said about Lindsay Lohan the better. This is supposed to be a positive role. It’s not that she wasn’t very good. She was merely passable. Anyone could have played this part. The things one has to do to get financing.) I guess PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with its theme of the end of an era for the show, the theater it was performed in and that particular form of radio entertainment just resonated with me. It kind of reminded me of my beloved Pollardville, the theater I was closely associated with back in Stockton that also featured a dying form of Americana. Maybe it’s mortality staring at me in the face again and realizing that as I skate on the edge of old farthood, that goddamn clock is ticking for all of us. It’s been said that you can’t hold back the hands of time. It’ll pull your arms off. It’s also been said, this time by Dr. Sidney Friedman, “Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

I also took time this week to see one of my current idols, Anthony Bourdain of The Travel Channel’s NO RESERVATIONS and author of KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, among others. He was in Portland to promote his latest book, appropriately titled THE NASTY BITS. He is exactly as he appears on his TV shows-opinionated, passionate about his work and readily approachable in that regular guy kind of mode. For two hours, I stood in an all too crowded room, sweating profusely due to my mild claustrophobia and the fact that I was wearing a corduroy jacket in June. In my damp palms, I clutched Bourdain’s cookbook to be signed sign like a pasty faced Trekkie waiting to meet his idol, Wil Wheaton. (“Holy Klingons! It’s Wesley Crusher!”) After his hilarious Q & A session, he sat for his signing and after about a half hour, I stumbled up, shook the man’s hand and thanked him. KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL was the last kick in the ass for me to finish my first book. That book, as well as his Food Network show, A COOK’S TOUR, gave me some ideas of how to take the final approach to IN THE DARK: A LIFE AND TIMES IN A MOVIE THEATER. (Cheap shameless plug: Now available at Amazon. Hey! Gimme a break! I’m unemployed here!) Anyway, I wanted to thank him and I did, which was the real reason I was there to begin with. Why should I have denied myself a moment like that? Previously I would have felt too depressed to have bothered, falling into what is known as The Dread Depths of Despair and wallowed in it.(Self pity? You’re soaking in it!) Instead I did what I set out to do and I felt the better for it.

I’m not above bouts of depression as I trip over the light fantastic on a daily basis. But if I try to stay on my feet, maybe this time around and for the rest of the ride on this cockeyed caravan, I’m going to try to maintain a little balance. Watch out for that tree.
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