Do you have any idea how many plans, both well-planned and highly productive, I had for this period of self-isolation while I would be stuck at home? Let me tell you—many and various. Including but not limited to: a consistent posting schedule for my blog; a poem for Easter; a hymn competition submission; at least two stories (“Whistler” and “AJ Burnes is a Double-Crossing Weasel”), perhaps even three (“The Drs. MacWitts’ Contribution to Overpopulation”); a significant start on the illustrations for “Apples Are Apples.”
But then I fell in love. So what can you do? Enjoy it, even while the rest temporarily falls by the wayside. Fortunately, I’m only planning on doing this once; these days and this season in my life will flow forward and become my new normal and I’ll return to my writing.
So just for the moment, I’m setting my personal projects aside. I’ll pick them back up again in due time. But not this month, and probably not the next. In the meantime, I’m still writing. Mostly by hand in my personal journal these days, but I’ve pecked at my keyboard a few times too and added a sentence here, a piece of dialogue there, to my stories.
I’ll never be able to lay them down to sleep for good. They’re simply enjoying a nap for now.
Here I am, sort of quarantined, still officially working full time but with fewer interruptions than normal, and I don’t have anything to show for all the extra hours I’ve discovered in the day on my blog. I should by all rights. But it turns out if you’re lazy before a pandemic, you’re still lazy during it.
I have actually written more on some of my [short] stories in an attempt to finish something before the world comes screaming to its inevitably fiery end, but I can’t show any of it off as it’ll be far more compelling within an actual completed story. So instead, here’s a piece of a scene written long ago, for a story I will tackle later:
“Oh Scott,” she said, looking past his shoulder at Fitz. “I assumed you’d be the one with the criminal record.”
It was so unexpected that it took a moment for Scott to understand. He caught up suddenly, and whipped his head around to take in Fitz, expression neutral save that he’d gone an awful white. He seemed unaware of the entire room gaping at him, but pretty clearly wasn’t.
“It’s a part of the public record,” he said, tone just the slightest bit strained.
“Oh my,” Claypoole continued, reading the sheet of paper in her hand as though she had just discovered it. “Trespassing and assault? My my, I never thought you were the type.”
“It was a mistake,” Fitz said, looking at Scott now as John accepted the sheet from the witch. Terry forced him to set it down on the table so they could both read it, and Amanda came over to join them.
“A mistake?” she interjected mockingly. The paper – a printout from a California government website, Scott could see – was now making its way over to Hal’s table by way of Dawn.
“A crime,” he amended, turning back to her. “I made a very foolish decision, and I paid for it.”
“And that’s all that needs to be said about it,” he said, picking the absolute worst way to try and shut down gossip.
Scott was still gaping at him, and trying not to. “Does work…”
“Of course they know,” Fitz snapped. “I had to put it on my application. I don’t get work easily, let me tell you.” He seemed to realize he’d lost his temper and reined it back in so badly that Scott – not in the least perturbed by Fitz’s criminal record, though certainly intrigued by the unknown story behind it – almost laughed. “As well I deserve. I’m sure.”
I also love this story, as I love all my stories that fall under the category of “later.” But in the meantime I’m working on “Whistler,” which begins with the smartest man in the universe about to be executed and, naturally, at some point devolves into an argument between navy personnel about the proper use of English grammar. Excellent stuff, I assure you.
I love movies. I have long loved them, and even though I like to pick and pull (and complain) about their narratives too, there’s almost always something to love in every movie, no matter how stupid, insulting, or ideologically infuriating. I could give you a long list of my favorite movies, but I certainly couldn’t rank them because my favorites swing wildly across genres and change according to my mood and age.
That said, I do have a short list of my top three favorite scenes of all times. Some of these come from my favorite movies, but not necessarily. So here they are, beginning with:
#3: If I Could Save Time in a Bottle
I slowly started to lose interest in the X-Men series after the first couple of movies, but for awhile I still watched every new iteration because they’re almost always guaranteed to be fun, even if not always tightly told. X-Men: Days of Future Past sits near the top of the pile for the sheer fact that they came up with an entertainingly direct way to just retcon away the movies that annoyed everyone. While that doesn’t push it onto my massive list of favorite movies, this two and a half minutes featuring Peter Maximoff (Quicksilver, for you nerds out there) officially ranks as my third favorite scene of all time. It’s visually pretty, strategically clever, and solves several problems over a Jim Croce song while highlighting a (still mostly unknown) character’s abilities and temperament.
It worked so well, in fact, that immediately after this scene they had to come up with a reason to dump him from the main plot. Their remaining problems would have been solved in a quarter second if they’d had him on reserve. Speaking of: why didn’t we ever get that movie? Writing a good script for a character that is almost impossibly powerful would have made a fantastic film. I’m thinking general cockiness would be his downfall at about the midpoint of the movie and through to the climax, with some well thought-out superhero mumbo jumbo to add more surface tension to a deeper character flaw.
Oh, and extra shout out to the music. Not just because I like 60s/70s folk rock, but because of the way they stuck it right into the middle of a dramatic score by pairing it with his headphones. The song enters almost casually, even naturally, but by cutting it mid-bar at the end (leaving no music over the sound of pots and pans hitting the floor), we’re brought immediately back into the other characters’ perspectives. We suddenly understand how absurdly and incomprehensibly abrupt these powers look to everyone else, before the silence eases into the resolution of the tense action score. So cool.
#2: Let Us Go and Fly a Kite
Saving Mr. Banks is my favorite kind of drama: sad in a quiet way but ultimately offering resolution and hope. This was such a tightly written script – even the title is a puzzle that comes together at exactly the right moment – and seeing Mrs. Traver’s feet begin to tap and fly upwards with the music is visually small but, to the overarching plot up this point, huge. To then have a character not only notice but actually extend his hand to this bitter old woman, reaching out with the kindness that she has never shown anyone else, makes my feelings swell. I love redemption stories, and this one is so beautifully told. Never melodramatic nor embarrassing to watch, which melodrama can be—I can barely stand watching obviously fake characters recite prepared speeches at each other and respond like no one, in the history of sad, bitter pasts, have ever responded to a cringily overdramatic speech in their life. It’s just about the smaller kindnesses and happiness that we grant to one another, even when we don’t deserve it.
So yes, while this ranks as my second favorite movie scene, Saving Mr. Banks is also one of my favorite drama movies. This scene encapsulates why.
#1: Two Beautiful Birds
Tim Robbins tricked me into liking him forever (despite the actor’s insultingly loud opinion of people like me, which I only discovered after the fact thank goodness) with this portrayal of Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption. He plays a very quiet character whose feelings run deep; watching him act mostly through facial expression will now and forever thrill me. I’m a sucker for every action hero cliché (particularly any violent, vulgar, and/or clever defiance of the bad guys), and yet the moment where Andy Dufresne leans forward to turn off the music, only to realize he’s still got the freedom of choice – even in a prison – and then pointedly decides that the consequences are worth it, beats any one liner in history. There’s an attest to the directing and camera work there too as it literally moves with the music, but I have never heard a louder, more triumphantly resilient “Make me,” than in this scene where the actor doesn’t speak a word.
As you may have noticed, The Shawshank Redemption is also one of my favorite movies. But this scene could exist in a vacuum and I would still love it, which is why it ranks in at first.
Looking at these gathered in a single place, I’m realizing that I have a type: great character moments shaped by and around a distinct piece of music. You’d think I’d have noticed before, but somehow I didn’t. Also, it isn’t necessarily the music itself, just like it isn’t necessarily the movie itself (though that helps). Opera will never rise high in my favorite music genres, but its use here just *kisses fingers dramatically* Mamma mia.
(Culled from thousands more and listed in no particular order)
“The King and I” isn’t my favorite musical (though there’s a lot of fascinating history and cultural pride around why the Thai people, a famously cheerful and easygoing culture, banned this movie from their country), but watching Yul Brynner throw Deborah Kerr around the floor will never get old. She practically flies when she jumps into her turns, but that’s Yul using inertia and gravity to his advantage with one magnificently strong arm.
(Also, they never so much as kiss in this movie and yet, holy bananas, that romantic tension.)
Good heavens, Katharine Hepburn. Overall, the 1960s version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is interesting but not ranked among my favorite movies. There are standout scenes with standout acting throughout, but the film kind of careens from scene to (occasionally bizarre) scene, starting at about the midpoint. (Though what’s really interesting about this movie is realizing that it isn’t actually about race but the tension between the generations.) But this rake down – woo baby – is simultaneously the classiest and yet most brutal “You’re fired,” I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
This bit of dialogue from the original Overboard plays in my head every other week, usually around dinnertime. Specifically:
“I thought you might be hungry.”
“Oh that’s excellent, excellent…well I was hungry.”
I own a ridiculous looking notebook that is decorated with about forty line drawings of cats surrounding the words “Live. Laugh. Meow.” I’ve taken to writing the best points of my day before I go to bed, and though I don’t actually manage it every night, I’ve done it enough this past week to gather some shareable highlights:
What a joy to sing among Lutherans, good voices and bad joined together as the harmony breaks out.
Had the rest of the afternoon to myself. Love the quiet after a nice brisk walk in the freezing rain.
Found my favorite brand of conversation hearts at Walmart. Ate 1/3 of a bag within the course of an afternoon. I love chalky sugar.
Bought a new exercise game for my VR and now I can’t lift my arms.
Played soccer. Remembered why I liked it.
Feb. 5: I should do something for my birthday. I always tell myself I’m not going to bother, and then I change my mind at the last minute.
My legs ache so good after playing soccer both Wednesday and Thursday. There is no pain so satisfying as that of micro-tears in your muscles healing stronger.
Feb. 7: Never bothered to make plans or even tell anyone about my upcoming birthday, but my parents succeeded in tipping off my coworkers to the fact that my birthday is tomorrow anyways, by sending flowers to my workplace. Likely to make doubly-sure, Mom ordered the bouquet shaped like a birthday cake. Look at this absurdly pink thing—it has candles. As my niece would say: I LOVEIT.
(But seriously: I LOVEIT.)
Consequently, I now have birthday plans for tomorrow. Dinner followed by a Komets hockey game with one of my favorite families here in Fort Wayne.
Feb. 8: the Komets (down all their best players due to either injury or fighting-induced suspension), finish at a dismal 3-6 against the Oilers, but the Johnsons and I laughed through and spent the time we didn’t grumble about the Komets making fun of the row behind us, who showed up in the second period and filed out five minutes into the third, taking their 90 decibel rated voices with them. (FYI: 60 dB is normal for conversation; they conversed at the approximate volume of lawnmowers.)
Happy 33rd birthday to me! What a satisfying day.
Writing accomplishment of the week:
Johnson looked like a dad. He had the wife, the kids, and the dad bod, and though he rarely told jokes he always enjoyed them; the subtler the better. He was also the only member of the team whose entire family history didn’t hail from Europe, and it hurt Patty’s misplaced sense of advocacy every time Hench called him Token Black Guy, which was why Johnson sometimes called himself Token Black Guy too.
Bonus points this week awarded to best spam:
First place: “You should be a part of a contest for one of the greatest websites on the net.” I will take it under advisement, totally not fake username ΝΤΕΤΕΚΤΙΒ.
Runner-up: The spammer who copied and pasted “âàæíî” into a comment 54 separate times, which, naturally, made me think of a cartoon character falling over a cliff.
(Admittedly, not the best example, though a magnificent dub. UUUUUUGGHHHHHHH. A better representation for AIEEE!!!: Sid from Ice Age.)
If I was unknowingly the main character in the Truman Show (which, full disclosure, would have been canceled years ago for lack of compelling action and character development)—but say it hadn’t been canceled and there were secret cameras telecasting my every move—I’m pretty sure there’d be fan theories on those TV show discussion forums about whether or not I was secretly insane. I live alone in a single bedroom apartment with a cat and a loftice, which means I go no holds barred crazy person, especially at night when the sun goes down. What it has to do with the sun going down is beyond me, but there it is. I leave the bathroom door open at all times, talk to my cat in a Muppet voice, and laugh suddenly and without warning as amusing thoughts come to me.
Case in point: tonight I was getting ready for bed, thinking about the original Star Wars (like you do) and about that awful CGI George Lucas added to his series because he can’t keep his mitts to himself, and I was specifically visualizing that moment in the special edition of the first movie where Han Solo walks on Jabba the Hutt’s tail like the crime boss wouldn’t have immediately had him shot by his minions for blatant disrespect, and, naturally, Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs popped into my head. So I’m standing there in the shower in a dead quiet apartment, save for the sound of running water and the quiet desperation of an old bathroom fan trying to keep up with the steam, and out from behind the dark of the full bath’s curtains (because I find it relaxing to shower in low light with only a nightlight casting weird shadows up the wall) comes this single, dramatic line:
“…and he ATE himself to death.”
I have said nothing else out loud this entire evening. I am going to giggle once, a little shrilly, tell my cat I love her in Mokuba Kaiba’s voice, and take myself off to bed. Check back here tomorrow at 8/9 Central for our next installment of the Truman’s Going Insane Show.