Monday, October 31, 2011

South Riding - Riding Backwards in Time

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

For me, time travel would be up there, high on the list. It might not unseat the ability to fly, turn invisible or read people's minds, but, yeah, I think its a solid 4th.

The other night, by tapping into the powers of a mini-series called South Riding, I traveled to the 1930s so completely and effectively that I can still smell the dusty shelves and moldy sofas.

In a fabulous stroke of luck, I both learned of this production and discovered that my public library had a copy. Starring Anna Maxwell Martin who I loved so much in Bleak House and in North and South, set in the sadly overlooked 1930s, and dealing with the well-worn but always dramatically interesting topic of inspired teacher introducing a new vision of education to a languishing student body, this sounded perfect! As if this all weren't enough, and truly it was, the production also starred Peter Firth and Penelope Wilton, both of whom I have tremendous respect for.

If you have a predilection for period drama, you, like I, can easily appreciate the value of immersing yourself in a different time period. But if you don't -- well, I'm not really sure how to explain the attraction. I think it lies with that feeling of time travel. When every piece of furniture and clothing, the props, caricatures, music, and cars, the look of the street, and the glimpses into whatever tools and technology were available to people in the period du jour are "correct," there is a sense of transportation that is just heady. I can picture my grandparents and their struggles and style of living so well (though I accept that rural Ohio and Yorkshire are a long way apart).

South Riding simply excels at the art of time travel. It is gorgeous and evocative. And because the 1930s is such an interesting time that is not often done (I'm thinking I Capture the Castle and Cold Comfort Farm), I was fascinated. Such an odd time stuffed in between two world wars with a strangely modern feel, as cars and telephones pepper the background, but still so poor and rural and lacking in most of the social innovations that are more important to our modern life than iPods, the 30s are an era that should be remembered. Doing so is like bringing old photos back to life.

Here, our themes of love, loss, politics with a very small "p", clashing world views, changing times and small time money grubbing were skillfully handled by the astonishingly solid, deep cast.

I hadn't noticed this before, but in this production Maxwell Martin, as Sarah Burton, reminded me greatly of Nicola Walker as Ruth in Spooks. (I know it would be easiest to chalk this one up to my MI-5-obsession rather than anything real, so I almost didn't include that observation in the post, but I really, really think its true.) They have similar hooded eyes and their voices and manner of expression are alike as well. In any case, Sarah, whether Ruth-like or not, is an extremely appealing main character - sharp, confident, driven, hard-drinking, fun and kind, she carries the production well. Her main love interest, Robert Carne (played with great sex appeal by David Morrissey) -- a man she dislikes and disagrees with, but is very attracted to -- is also wonderfully done. He's a passionate, interesting person who is also a loving devoted father.

Penelope Wilton was outstanding as the supportive council member, playing a key role in both Sarah and Robert's lives with subtlety. And Peter Firth was hilariously slimy with a serious birth-control haircut.  Not a role for the Firthies to relish as he is small time slick and priggish. Revel in his acting but not in his attractiveness here! And his scenes with his cat were purrfect. Actually, the cat was a great actor as well : )

The whole thing is cloaked in a thick, sluggish, dreamlike mood. And all is not happy and wrapped up cleanly. But the sad plot points seem to match the time frame well and suit the story.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A King is a Queen is a Princess is a Prince

One of the problems (if you can call it that) with being American is that we really just don't "get" Royalty. Oh, I'm not denying that we enjoy what royalty (see, look at that, I don't even properly know whether to give it a capital "R") provides in the way of interesting drama and great castle-touring. Top notch stuff.

But it isn't deeply entrenched in our understanding of politics.

I read today that the succession rules for British monarchs have been modernized to a nice, egalitarian, "girls can play too" approach. That sounds awesome to me. The article I read on NPR online had a nice little piece about this, but once the piece launched into the "what if" section, playfully speculating on how this new rule would have affected world events, I glossed over.

I just can't keep this stuff straight. And I have a fairly decent working knowledge of British royalty and the chains of succession. That is, I brush up on it anyway prior to watching The Madness of King George, Young Victoria or The Tudors. But when I turn off the TV it evaporates, so when people talk about Queen Victoria's daughter and Kaiser Wilhelm the Second, I find that I can't keep it all straight.

Who did she marry again? And why were they German?

Its not that my American private school education was really that bad. I think chances are pretty good I was exposed to all of this both at high school and later at college, its just that these royal change events don't catch fire in my imagination. I don't have an intuitive grasp for when "we" switched from Tudors to Stuarts (or was it the other way 'round) or why.

Royalty to Americans is like the periodic table to non-Chemists. I am absolutely sure that it all makes sense and I'm even sure that it is potentially comprehensible and possibly useful. I'm just not sure it will ever come freely and naturally to me.

But good luck to all those future princesses. I know this will all be second nature to you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ending the Relationshp (Mine with Spooks) on a Disappointing Note

So, let's say you're in a relationship and, for whatever reason, you also know that it's maybe not the best thing for you. (Maybe its stealing too much of your free time, or you know it is going nowhere, or maybe you're worried that your husband will find out so you know it has to end... haha -- just kidding about that last one) In any event, its a comfortable relationship and you get a lot out of it, so it's far easier to keep going than to wrench yourself away.

In such cases as these, it is a stroke of luck when your partner goes and does something really bad -- something really stupid. Maybe he sleeps with your best friend. Its a blessing in disguise because now the dumping is easy! Its all been done for you. Like pulling off the band-aid fast.

So in the fast-band-aid-sense-of-thank-you, "thank you Spooks" for making this break up so easy.
OBLIGATORY ALL-CAPS SPOILERS WARNING! -- that messes up my flow of words but nevertheless must be placed prominently and without further ado -- BIG SPOILERS for the last ever episode of MI-5/Spooks (Episode 6, Series 10). Please don't read if you aren't up to date on your MI-5/Spooks' watching.
Open letter to Spooks:

Yes, we're through and I see now that it's for the best. I'm just sorry it had to end in such a way and you left me with this bad taste in my mouth. It's clear I gave too much of myself to this relationship that was always destined to be one-sided. We had a pretty good run -- I've been with you since February and we've crammed a lot of good living into those 9 months (about 10 years' worth). I loved you and I think you cared for me too, but our time together is over. After all we've been through I would have hoped for a more elegant finish to our time, but at least the waiting is over.

You made a lot of mistakes along the way. Some of them (read, "Lucas North"), were very, very hard to take, but I gave you a second chance because I loved you that much. But we've reached a point we can't recover from. Really, I understand about you and killing. It's what you do and I try to be indulgent and just look the other way. I understand you have "needs". But not this one; not this time. When your deaths are gratifying or shocking or move the plot forward or serve any other sort of purpose, I can abide with them. But Ruth? Well, you've crossed a line, because this time you did it just to prove that you could. It was contrived. It made me feel dirty.

Did you really think I wouldn't see what was going on? Was I really supposed to believe that together Harry and Ruth couldn't have overpowered the guy with a piece of glass? That Dimitri and Erin wouldn't have stopped him sooner? That a single stab with a bit of glass would kill a very healthy woman in a couple of minutes? Or that a medivac helicopter would take longer to get to the scene than it took Ilia to drive there? No, this is too much. This was gratuitous and, yes, I'll say it again, contrived. I expected so much more from you. You used to be such a class act and Ruth was worth more than that. If she and Harry were really so pathetic that they couldn't have dealt with this situation, she deserves to die (so does he). But why did you have to soil our memories in this way?

No, our love can't survive this. But I will try not to let it steal all our memories. We had such good ones.  I will treasure them. ...Though I don't know why you felt the need to throw "Tom" in my face the way you did last night. That wasn't like you. What was that all about? Do you even know? Yes, he represents a lovely time from our past and maybe you were feeling desperate. . . . I'm just sorry it got to that point.  I do appreciate your bringing up "Jo" for the sake of old times, even if it was just her eyes and voice. You can't hide that from me, and, really, I don't think you wanted to.

But no matter what you may have said or done last night, I won't live with your version of things. I can't. I know you are just too beaten down to be responsible for what you were saying. Your version is false but mine will comfort me....

...the version where Erin saw Sasha approaching Harry and Ruth, and took him out just in time. How Sasha slashed Ruth on the way down, and the adrenaline and shock caused Harry and Ruth to fall madly together on the ground kissing while he pressed her wounds. (Honestly, we can even leave it ambiguous and end without knowing whether her wounds are fatal or not. I've told you this a thousand times: I'm OK with ambiguity). Then of course, how Dimitri stumbled out and some clever acerbic exchange loaded with eye-contact, broke the mood and pulled focus away from Harry & Ruth. I'm even prepared to remember how Calum came up and made some cruel or smart-ass comment. I laughed at it...
Photo credit image galleries
Yes, you must see that this is the way it has to be.

With much feeling and regard, but mostly deep disappointment,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thank Heavens for Downton Abbey, My Second Love

It is important to have two loves. That way, when one disappoints you, you can turn to the other. A girl can only take so much and tonight I am very thankful for Downton Abbey. Great show.

So on that note . . . SPOILERS for Episode 6, Season 2 of Downton Abbey : )
And if you want to see how it all ends, here's my post on the final episode

I don't like or trust this "Patrick" guy. First of all, Canadian? Far too convenient for any opportunist to come up with this one. " I really didn't die on the Titanic ... I really have just lost my memory. Oh, yeah, and burned beyond recognition. Oh, and of course, having lived awhile in Canada, means I don't sound familiar. ... but trust me, I really am heir to Downton Abbey and I can't believe you don't remember me." No way. I'm glad that Lord Grantham is at least properly skeptical.

And, come on, Anna and Bates, enough barriers for them; this is getting rediculous. It's time to be together. Just run away and live together. She's already offered herself to you as a mistress, Bates. Get out there and enjoy life.

Seriously, time for some middle-aged fun for Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson. They have such a sweet chemistry.

And any time Maggie Smith is speaking is a moment I am in heaven. Especially loved this short exchange with her and Isobel Crawley:

"Cousin Violet is in part to blame. . . "
"-yes, I usually am."

Can't help but notice more and more of the upstairs/downstairs barriers breaking away. And along those lines, the previews look suspiciously suggestive that Lord Grantham is more interested than propriety would strictly allow in the new maid who looks like a younger version of Sandra Bullock. I say, go for it. I need something passionate to cheer for.

. . . by the way, believe it or not, I think I've found the down side to British television. Not enough passion. So if anyone wants to rescue me and suggest some British programs that are typically wonderful in all the ways British programs are . . . but also allows our main characters to consummate their relationships with a bit of passion, let me know. That would be nice for a change.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Spooks Episode 5: the End is Near and It Is Set Up to Be a Fantastic One

It is the sign of a good Spooks Episode when you have to watch it twice because you are so on edge you can't absorb it all the first time. So after watching it a second time I just have to say a few quick things about Episode 5. 

(Oh, and it case that isn't clear, that means SPOILERS here, for episode 5 of series 10.)

First, I have to pat myself on the back. No one can say that I don't know my Harry Pearce. I am so vindicated in my impressions of Harry's feelings for Elena. Last week, if I remember right (and I do), wink. . . I said that I could see that Harry felt only responsibility, history and unpleasantness, but no active love for Elena. See my post about episode 4. I couldn't have been more right. Not to say that I wasn't nervous as hell that "they" were going to "make" Harry be with her in some way, especially when they walked into the safe house together. But what did we ultimately learn about all that this week:
  • that guilt and love can look a lot alike (a ha! they were trying to trick us! And, double ha!, I wasn't fooled, tho maybe Ruth herself was);
  • that he feels reposible for Elena and Sasha; when he sees them he is thinking about past guilt;
  • that he doesn't currently love or even know Elena;
  • that Elena wants him but he's not having any of it, nuh uh...;
  • and that Ruth owned to feeling jealous.
  • Yeah, it was a good episode for Harry and Ruth with no less than 3, count 'em 3, scenes where they are getting real about their feelings,
  • and, though tucked in at an unpleasant moment, as Harry's about to be taken into custody of the Americans', we even got another kiss. I waited a long time for that.

Once again, and on an entirely different note, the episode as a whole was fantastic and exciting.

I hadn't noticed the first time how insanely cool the scene when Erin, Dimitri and Harry are interrogating Jim Coaver and its all in silhouette for a very long time. Its beautiful.

It was followed by some amazing stunt driving with cars whipping around on London streets and Erin hanging out of a car to take a shot. Great spy stuff.

I suppose it goes without saying, though I'll say it anyway: Calum is still an ass.

The scene where Ruth is breaking into the American embassy is brilliant pure perfect Spooks at its best. Love that Ruth got to do that before the show closes its doors once and for all.

The previews for next week were maybe the best part of all. They are setting us up for what looks to be an incredible series finale -- that's "series" in the American sense. The end of the show for good.

. . .brave? Want to see what comes next? Read my post on the final episode.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Six that Shocked -- the Most Jarring "Spooks" (MI-5) Deaths

Everyone dies sooner or later. And if you have the misfortune to appear on MI-5 (Spooks), your chances of going "sooner" are greatly enhanced. ...As are your chances of going horrifically.

Though there have been a few killings on this show that felt gratifying, I admit -- such as those prompted by vengeance after one or another of our team members were killed -- generally all the deaths on Spooks are disturbing.  However, to narrow that list down a bit : ) I am including the deaths that are not just disturbing in the ordinary way, but shocking or upsetting on a magnitude that lasted for days... Deaths that seemed particularly wrong or unfair - - deaths that have burned images in my mind that may live there a while along with a strong residual emotional reaction.

Oh, by the way, big time SPOILERS in this post for various episodes up to Series (season) 8 -- but none for Series 10.

The List:
Helen in Series 1, Episode 2: I can still hardly type what happened to her. The scene where she was plunged, first her hand, then her head into the deep fat fryer was astonishingly horrible. Haunted me for days.  Add to the sheer horror that someone actually dreamed up this idea, that they applied it to a newbie agent on her first field mission. Wow.

Samuel Walker getting tossed over a balcony in Series 8, Episode 4. He was a minor character, sure, but he had just been introduced and was just starting to gel . . . and I was definitely finding him sympathetic, not to mention the major bonus that the British actor who plays him, Brian Protheroe, was brilliant as an American -- neither his accent nor his style were too over the top. He really got how to play American. Then, boom. Dead. And not just any dead, but tossed over a railing for a 20 story drop flailing all the way down dead. Way out of the blue, that scene was a conscionce-shocker.

In Series 5, Episode 1, Poor Colin should not have had to die.  He worked in the office on computers for heaven's sake. Its one thing when the field officers who are knowingly risking their lives are put in jeopardy but another when a sweet innocent lovely man like Colin gets it. And to be hung in a tree in the woods is all just too much. No, this one was way too jarring.

Ros & Home Secretary Andrew Lawrence dying together in Series 8, Episode 8. So unfair to give Ros this great new spark of chemistry with the very coolly-awkward-in-a-Hugh-Grant-sort-of-way Home Secretary and then kill them both by making him paralyzed dead weight that she couldn't rescue. Watching the explosion while Lucas is running back in to save her was horrible. Hated that Ros had to die being ineffective. Yes, of course she was brave here, but she should have been allowed to die diffusing a bomb or actually saving the H.S..

The teenage boy, Dean Mitchell, who Lucas spends the show protecting in Series 7, Episode 6: This was a powerful episode in which Lucas and Dean were a fascinating pair struggling and unraveling and fleeing. To get to a place of almost resolution, to reunite him with his mom, and then get them on the threshold of safety -- only to shoot him in the head in front of Lucas and to watch his mom grieve -- is deeply disturbing and one of the saddest moments in Spooks.

Ben Series 7, Episode 7. This one struck me as (in the Colin mode) just so unfair and out of the blue for someone who didn't have it coming. Ben was just looking through files in the Spooks basement (or whereever the heck he was) and "we" had no reason to be on our guard. To have the double shocker of Connie being discovered as the evil mole and then having her kill him by slitting his neck with a piece of a file (I think that's what it was) was horifying.

If I'm missing some other important glaringly horrible death let me know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Series, a Season, a Show. A Word (or Two) About TV Semantics.

Before I started watching British television, I never gave any thought to whether the word "season" was an appropriate or useful term to denote the set of shows that airs in a given year. It's just what it's called, right? As in "The new season of Hill Street Blues is coming up!" Or "Are you watching Cheers this season?" It all made perfect sense.

For the sake of argument, I suppose that a string of shows might be better served by being called a "series" in that, well, it is a string, of shows, all shown in a nice little row, you know, in a series . . . It's just that we already have a use for the word "series". It means the program, on the whole -- the show (as in, "Little House on the Prairie is a good TV series, isn't it?") But, if series means the show, then why can't we all just call the series a "show" and be done with it?

Because "show" is already taken. It also means the particular program, ... you know, the "episode."

Wait. This is getting hard. ...if "show" can mean "episode" AND "show" can mean "series", but "series" only means "show" to people in America, whereas in Britain, "series" means "season", how can I ever write a meaningful blog post about the show I watched last night in the series that I've been watching this season??

Figure it out and let me know. Until then I intend to freely use whatever words come off my fingertips while typing and hope that you can make sense of it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

There's Nothing Like Harry and Ruth on a Park Bench

Warning! Spoilers for Series 10, Episode 4. No major plot spoilers, but still, please don't read if you haven't been following the show this Season.

Series 10 had been a bit disappointing in the Harry/Ruth department, but this last episode set things to rights. Harry's been so restrained and distracted recently that these two have hardly connected at all. But Episode 4 has caused me to know that they've just been holding it in. Nothing massive moved their relationship forward, but there was an awesome park bench scene full of emotion for both.

...There's just something about the way that man loves Ruth that tears me up. I can't get enough of it.  
... Well, wait ... I say that, but honestly, this is starting to remind me of a time when I used to watch soap operas in the 1980s and I would rush home from school every day so I wouldn't miss anything. But I never missed anything. Because the action moved forward at such a snail's pace that you'd have to miss a whole week (or two) to escape any important plot development. Seriously, Harry and Ruth have been in a holding pattern for too long -- they need to just do SOMETHING, or they risk living perpetually in a soap opera.
But, anyway... overall, Episode 4 was fierce for many reasons:
  • I love it when Harry Pearce makes threats. Especially when he's threatening CIA bosses.
  • The central plot was excellent and tension-filled! And formed a great threat of the week counterpoint to mix up the developing backstories.
  • Loved the scenes of Dimitri tearing down the street in his car rushing to save the day (which harkened back to the days of Adam).
  • There is a nice little burgeoning friendship now between Dimitri and Erin. --Better still, they actually have great chemistry.
  • Erin gets better and better every week -- which is a great treat, since I didn't expect to like her.
  • Calum is still an ass. But that's OK. Not every Spooks character has to be likable, and at least he got a really funny line ("OK, so its the 5 of us against the CIA").
  • I got to enjoy Harry's fine reaction to Elena throwing herself into his arms after the failed field-operation where she was almost harmed. Don't care what anyone else reads into this, but I saw: unpleasantness, responsibility, and history on his face -- no active passion or interest.
  • Brilliant Ruth, out in the field and ahead of the game. Don't know what she's up to with her bridge talk with CIA-man, but you can bet its good.
  • Wonderful exchange between Harry and Ruth, when she asks if she would have ever learned about Sacha and Elena had they not come back into his life right now. The ability of Peter Firth to convey Harry's emotions is nothing short of spectacular. There simply aren't enough adjectives to assign to the plethora of emotions he expresses in that moment. To call them all "love" is the best I can do. Ruth says to him: "Do you know what it's like to feel something for someone and then one day realize you don't even know them?" He lets out all those bottled 'adjectives' when he almost moans: "you DO know me!"
  • Favorite line of all time comes next, from Ruth: "Stupid man. People don't love each other on a need to know basis." Great line. Great delivery. Love Ruth and am elated that she got to call Harry a "stupid man".  I think I can die happy now : )

. . . thoughts on the next episode, Episode 5 (Series 10) 
Or, if you want to go back in time, try my thoughts on the previous episodes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Top Five Reasons Why Brtish TV is Better Than American TV

It is no secret that I enjoy British TV and find it much more satisfying than the fare offered in the U.S.. Which is not to say that I don't like any American programs at all, but my impression of it is the reverse of British TV. In short: with American TV it is the rare program that I like and with British it is the rare program that I don't. Why is it so much better over there? I'll tell you, with my Top Five Reasons Why British TV is Better Than American.

1. Women are Routinely Portrayed as Rich Multi-Dimensional Characters.

  British TV shows portray women in a much fuller deeper light than American shows do. Even in shows like Spooks where the women are all gorgeous . . . they're not objectified the way American women are, focusing heavily on their beauty and sex appeal. They aern't strutting around in flashy clothes and primping as if their "look" is what they are all about. They are real - dressed in reasonable clothes, with flaws showing, with figures that are not perfect, and with no problem in showing that. They get to be fully developed characters who are interesting, inspiring, powerful, and multi-faceted.

And almost cooler still, though flawed and imperfect, these women are treated and viewed by other characters on their shows as if they are beautiful and attractive! So refreshing and so unlike American screen characters where the less-than-perfect women are viewed by the other characters as "plain" or relegated to the role of "fat friend" or "funny sidekick". British women on TV get to be real AND beautiful. They get to be interesting, intelligent AND desired.

2. Grown-ups (and Retirees) are People Too.

Most Amercian shows cant manage to show mature people in a sympathetic interesting light without it feeling condescending. But in British TV, middle-aged+ characters get to have a full array of interests and feelings -- including romantic feelings that are not just based on lusting after their youth and what young people have. They're not just doddering old fools and points of humor - at least no more so than the younger ones are.

Astonishingly, this British approach to maturity holds for women as well as men. And it is amazing to see someone like Auntie Joan running her farm with a full and happy life, having friendships, personal struggles and even romance. And its all just done as a matter of course, not as a "touching story of the week" approach that we get in America so everyone can sigh and feel good about the old people before getting back to business as usual.

3. In Casting, Acting Talent Takes Precedence Over Beauty.

No intent to cast aspersions on the attractiveness of British actors, but rather to praise their talent.
The way the Brits rank talent above beauty when casting parts for TV and film seems more like what we do here with stage productions. On the stage, Americans' accept less than perfect people in title roles, because on stage you have to be able to sing and dance -- so talent wins out over anything else. But on screen, American casting directors seem to be searching for that balance of talent/looks that favors attractiveness and body above all else. In British shows, the balance seems to fall on the talent side.

The British actors are also good looking most of the time -- its just that "good looking" takes in a broader range of physical attributes than it does here and won't be sought above basic acting skill. Recently listening to commentary on a Spooks dvd, I was struck by one of the director's comments about Adam and Fiona: "that they just look so good." What he meant and went on to explain was that they were interesting, engaging to look at. Its a subtle difference from what looking "good" means here, but an important one. It means having something in the character or structure of the face that is interesting to look at. Obviously the two qualities often overlap (as in the case of Adam and Fiona who are both very pretty). But I liked the idea that looks were spoken of in a subtler deeper way than I'm used to hearing.

To look "good" in British TV, a face has to have the capacity to express ideas and emotions, to convey deep meaning and serve the story. ...not just to look pretty while reading ones' lines.

4. The Fact that Often Fewer Than 10 Episodes Comprise a "Series" (What we Call a "Season").

So much less of a committment. One of the reasons I stopped watching American shows was that it was just too much of a committment to find an hour a week for 20 or so weeks. I could just never do it. :)

With a much shorter run of shows in a season, there's so much more flexibility to try out different shows or to catch up with a show you've never seen before its current run starts.

And, I think a byproduct of making fewer episodes is that the episodes that are made can have more resources directed at each so the production dollar per episode is higher overall. ...though maybe not higher than in America where we have the deep pockets of the advertising dollar to throw at our inane TV shows.

5. A Self-Depreciating Self-Awareness and Subtlety.
The Brits seem to be so sweetly in tune with what makes them British. Although not an emotional people, they seem to be an introspective people. I like that.

They are not unemotional out of lack of understanding, but more or less by choice. Their shows are touching, if lacking in crying and ranting. There are plenty of moments with an emotional punch, but they are also intellectual moments. Although maybe not effusive, flailing around in anger or in hugs, these shows demonstrate fully human characters attentive to each other and the reality around them. Characters can be hurt but are more likely than not to suck it up and move on.

I am now realizing that this emotional subtlety may be at the core of why the acting coming out of Britain, seems so good. From a restrained people, the power of a lifted eyebrow or a tensing of the mouth can be amazing.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs: A Life Well Lived

As I sit and type this post, I do so on a Mac and with a heavy heart.  On a Mac, but not this one -->
This is my first computer ever. Bought in 1990 at the time I graduated from college. And if I remember right, I paid about $2,300 for it. The dot-matrix printer I got as an accompaniment, was another $700. (Funny that $3,000 is about what I paid for my last Mac + printer combo a couple of years ago.)

My Mac SE was a piece of genius engineering. Back when everyone else was doing things that looked like this:


my computer looked and behaved, well . . . pretty much just like the one I am sitting at now.  If you transported 1990-Amy to the present and sat her down in front of this laptop (or pretty much any computer in any home) she might be surprised and impressed by it, but she would definitely be able to work it -- to open up Word and type up this post, to load programs, move or trash files, play games, design some art, set a screen saver and maybe even get on the internet. Because she did all those things in 1990 on her  amazingly innovative Mac. You can't say that for the C-prompt-set.

Oddly enough, I remember that that old SE even came loaded with a program they kept trying to excite everyone on, called "Buttons" or something like it. Made absolutely no sense to me; it had to do with strange mumbo jumbo called hyper-links with these crazy clickable buttons . . .

Anyway, there were a lot of remarkable things about that little rectangle. For starters it came with a 40 megabite hard drive. You heard me right. That's 40 big ones. Twice as big as the MacPlus. (1990-Amy might be surprised to learn that her entire computer could only store about 4 photos today). It also came with a 3.5" disc drive. (We Mac people didn't actually like calling them "floppy" disks, because we had the cool hard plastic little discs, not those clunky old-fashioned flexible ones.)  Other remarkable features about my Mac were its serial ports and its phone jack which could be used to link computers to one another and make a daisy chain network, or even get online and send e-mail, or do things with those silly Buttons, if you could figure them out.

I don't know much about Jobs as a man - what kind of person he was, whether he had children, or a happy childhood; whether he went hiking or went to church. All I really need to know resides in this little box in front of me and the one pictured above. Jobs' vision for how computers interface with humans now completely dominates how we live. I will think of him when I write my blog, when I do my work, when I organize my photos, when I listen to music, when I make a phone call.

He was far too young to die, but in his short time, made a massive impression on me and the world. A far-seeing, far-reaching kind of genius that has left an indelible mark on how we live today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Best Jane Austen Heroine? The Clear Choice is. . . Elizabeth Bennett of Course

Ah, to be a Jane Austen heroine. . .  The hairstyles, the regency gowns, the suitors in breeches. But, who would I most want to be if I could change places with one of our fair ladies?

  1. Elizabeth Bennett. Come on. As if there was any other possible answer. I know that it is fashionable for educated women to pick Anne Elliot. And Anne is awesome no doubt, but no one can touch the perfectly developed character of Elizabeth Bennett. Lively, witty, fun, charming, grounded, and self-confident, Elizabeth, like Anne Elliot and Fanny Price, is aware of the better things in life she lacks but not jealous of these things. She is simply content and complete. But unlike like Anne and Fanny, Elizabeth is a brilliantly sparkling person with great vivacity and wit.
  2. Marianne Dashwood. I like both of the Sense and Sensibility sisters - who are two halves of one whole, but if I had to pick the half that more closely resembles how I want to live it would be the passionate half. Maybe Marianne is doomed to suffer sometimes for feeling things too deeply, but her deeply held sensibilities are what allow her to experience a life fully lived. Her passionate and powerful personality feel like a force of nature. She has a more modern style than most Austen heroines and she will live with great happiness, plowing through life with lust and kindness in equal measure and willing to make a fool of herself over her strong feelings. Passionate, musical, elegant, beautiful, Marianne is a wonderful heroine.
  3. Anne Elliot. Anne is elegant, lovely, gentle, and caring. She knows just how to act and is comfortable no matter where she goes or what she does. She is the quiet leader -- taking charge in subtle ways by simply setting an example of how to live right, redirecting others (gently) through literature suggestions, by simply listening and withholding judgment and by refusing to be taken in by flash and circumstance. A classy person through and through.
  4. Emma Woodhouse. Lively, young, caring and surprisingly classy, Emma may go bumbling about the countryside making mistakes, but she is in charge of her little domain, devoted to her friends and family and basically happy.
  5. Fanny Price. Fanny lives a complete life, reliant on herself and her own sense. It would be wonderful to trust oneself so deeply that it can guide all your decisions and offer utter solace no matter what life tosses at you. Fanny is a bit dull, I suppose, but excitement and beauty are all around her. She is so stable and grounded that she is rescued from a life of little consequence by her own absolute conviction that she is living the right life for herself.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Shame and Regret, Satisfaction and Relief

The post is about blogging. The title doesn't really have to make sense.

These are simply two phrases which popped into my mind simultaneously last week. They are nice word pairings, and somehow, by the end of this post, they will have something to do with the topic. I'll figure it out. You go ahead and read.

"Satisfaction and relief" comes from a scene in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett is chatting with her then-boyfriend, Mr. Wickham, and explaining that Mr. Collins is now going to marry Charlotte Lucas. Wickham says he thought that Collins' affections were inclined elsewhere (i.e. toward Lizzy herself). She tells him that "they took a turn, to everyone's satisfaction." ... "And relief" he adds with a fair amount of self-awareness. Trigger momentary stomach flips; the other suitor is seeking romance elsewhere. Woo hoo! . . .  The "shame/regret" pair comes from a similar stomach-flips moment. In Spooks our resident almost-couple Harry and Ruth have a lovely moment on a bus. Harry has been (temporarily, it turns out) removed from his job as head of the spies. Ruth is riding home from work. He sits down and she wonders how he knew she'd be there. He explains that one night while being driven home he passed her waiting for the bus in the rain. He says that "to his shame. . . and now regret . . . he drove past." Its a sexy moment. His eyes are opening to Ruth and he can imagine that night ending much differently. . .

Meanwhile back at the blog, last week I hit a milestone I'm excited about: 2000 pageviews. And since I don't track my own activity and I don't have a grandma in Iowa happily clicking away, I know that's a fairly real stat that feels great. In fact I had a great month in many bloggy ways -- a lot more consistently good traffic with fair numbers of people finding me by searching on topics I write about. Which means I have already realized the main goal I set for myself when I began writing this a couple of months ago: to be searchable enough that interested readers might conceivably find me.

Yes its a modest goal, and I'm aware that there's probably a much greater likelihood that a person seeking a discussion of "He Knew He Was Right" won't come across my post than that they will. But they might. And that's cool. I guess thats the satisfaction part of this post. And maybe the relief too. Like Wickham, its nice to know that this little experiment hasn't been a waste of time.

Yes it feels odd to put thoughts out there and ask people to read them, which they obligingly have :) and simultaneously wondering "what is my job here?" Harry, adrift on a bus. What do I have to add to the world's knowledge that makes me arrogant enough to blab about it?

I've been thinking about that question a lot, given that others have far more in-depth and intricate knowledge, and it makes me feel weak and ineffective chatting about my TV preferences when I'm a self-described dilettante with no particular knowledge of directors, behind the scenes, locations, or the recent gossip, or any other thing that can electrify my topics with heretofore untold meaning. I think this is the shame part of the post.

I realize my strength though, is in finding relationships, connections and viewpoints -- sometimes out of nothing, like I'm doing with this post here (lol). Connecting life to TV, thoughts to one another, finding shows that are similar or performances that are not -- is something I can do and add to the blogosphere. And, along these lines, can conclude that while blogging has brought satisfaction, relief and shame, I have no place for regret either in this post or in life. As long as I can live each day in an exploration of ideas that are stimulating and in pursuing actions I am proud to own, then there is no place for that.

Sorry Harry you're on your own there. (If I had been in the driver's seat that rainy night you would have definitely stopped for the girl, and probably gotten invited in for a nightcap.)