doggerel, occasioned by cocoa butter

If you aren’t brand new here, you know that I’ve got mild depression, which gets a bit less mild when the weather turns colder and the days shorter.

Thalia has long commended cocoa butter to my use, for days when ye olde brain chemicals are not leaping to attention as they should be, and promised to send me some back in September to sample.  “Maybe you won’t love it?  Maybe it won’t be worth your while, in which case you would REALLY hate spending $16-30 on a pound of it.  But maybe you’ll put it in your coffee and it will make you want to SING!”

I have been advised that this parcel is now in the mail, and shall reach me next week!

It’s certainly too early for Christmas carols, and a skosh too early for Advent hymns, but…now is the acceptable time for this silly rhyme:

Come, O long-expected cocoa,
Fashioned to aid our minds as we

bear the pangs of Eve’s transgression,
mood swings that join her legacy – 
You, O therobroma unguent,
You, O moisturizer sweet,
Come and allay our gloom and sadness,
In our coffee, or as we eat!

cocoa butter

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Review: Loving Vincent

My roommate and I went to see Loving Vincent at the Michigan Theater yesternight.  I’d heard about it on Tumblr – that some enterprising folks had labored to make a movie about Vincent van Gogh where every frame of the action was a painting: 65,000 frames in all, either based directly on van Gogh’s pieces or in imitation of his style, to a rich and striking effect.

The animation of it – stroke by stroke changing, flickering, the whole scene rippling and shifting – was more remarkable than the storyline initially.  The postman’s son, Armand Roulin, is charged by his father to deliver one last letter (recently discovered, a year after Vincent’s death) to Vincent’s brother Theo.  Armand goes in reluctance, remarking on van Gogh’s peculiarities and how he wasn’t so close to the man as his father was.  He consults Père Tanguy, who informs him that Theo died shortly after Vincent, and suggests that Armand consult Vincent’s doctor – a close friend to his patient – to learn the address of Theo’s widow.

armand

Armand as painted by van Gogh, and as played by Douglas Booth

As Armand goes from his father to Tanguy, talking to Dr. Gachet’s housekeeper, to the innkeeper’s daughter, to the boatman by the river, to Dr. Gachet, and still others, he learns more and more about Vincent: his personality, his habits, the melancholy that hung over him, the brother he loved, the financial worries they shared, and the circumstances of his death.  These perspectives sometimes conflict (“You can’t trust any gossip from the Gachet household,” then “I suppose that’s what the Ravoux girl told you?” and, later, “You’ve been talking to Dr. Mazery, haven’t you”), but in Armand’s search for the truth, sifting through opinions and hearsay and unofficial reports, he finds his own appreciation of and love for Vincent.

The conflicting reports – Vincent was completely calm; he was cured; how could he experience such abrupt shifts within 6 weeks; don’t you know that melancholy can cause rapid shifts in 6 hours; suicidal people don’t shoot themselves in the stomach; normal people don’t cut off their ears; the angle indicates he received this stomach wound from someone else; well, he told me he’d shot himself – turn Armand’s errand into a bit of a crime scene investigation, but without losing sight of the human players involved.

The framing is straightforward but intriguing in its revelation of different lights on the subject: the boatman reckons van Gogh and the doctor’s daughter were close, closer than the doctor wanted.  Others thought the doctor, an aspiring artist, envious of Vincent’s skill.  Several characters refer to a huge fight between Vincent and Dr. Gachet, which preceded Vincent’s death by a couple weeks, before the doctor himself reveals what horrible thing he’d said.

These bits of exposition, or flashbacks depicting the story as the bystanders relate it, were painted in black and white, in a more realistic style, setting them apart from Armand’s journey.  When the letter finally reaches Theo’s widow, Armand receives a copy of one of Vincent’s earlier letters to encourage him on his own path.

It is a beautiful film, especially rewarding to those who recognize The Zouave, The Night Café, The Yellow House, The Sower at Sunset, Wheatfield with Crows, and the many other works used in the storyboard.  The facts of the matter – that Vincent’s youth was hallmarked by failure, that his prolific work did not sell in his lifetime, that he struggled with poverty and mental illness, that he died at 37 – are never hidden, and as presented, they made me cry a lot.  But rather than focusing solely on the blue and grey of van Gogh’s life, the movie is awash in shades of amber, saffron, and goldenrod: contemplative and hopeful at the last.

Reactions: Thor: Ragnarok

This (again) is not a review so much as a collection of reactions – in bullet point form, because there’s nothing like shooting my thoughts out into the wild.  Assume spoilers are ahead, if you’re the sort of person who fears that sort of thing.

  • For a film called Ragnarok, whose trailer had huge dramatic shots of Hela crushing Mjolnir, fire over Asgard, and lots of fighting in general, this was a colorful, light-hearted movie.  
  • Pretty 80s.  Sakaar made me think of Ready Player One for some reason, as did theGrandmaster Grandmaster, despite the fact that no egg-hunting of any sort was involved.
  • A+ use of “The Immigrant Song.”
  • Thor and Loki were both goofier than I expected.  I keep getting surprised by how effective tasers are against the god of thunder (and the god of mischief, to boot)
  • Likewise, it’s odd to me that Dr. Strange’s reflexes are fast enough to surprise them. 
  • Loki playing Odin and watching plays about himself makes perfect sense, while simultaneously confusing the part of me that expects more gravitas of him.  Maybe that is my fault for expecting the consummate Slytherin where I should be braced for the Weasley Twins.
  • On the other hand: surely the Weasley twins would never be ashamed of “Get help” if it continued to work.
  • Karl Urban and BTCC’s accents always make me laugh so hard, because what are you?  
  • Hela’s pretty one-note, but she’s more interesting than the Destroyer, Laufey, Malekith, Algrim, or Surtur.  Not as interesting as Loki, I guess.
  • I looooved Korg, who was apparently played by the director.  Something about motion capture + straightforward delivery + his voice = instant hilarity.
  • Valkryrie’s arc was very satisfying to me.  The old battles and painful defeats, the escape to a life of drudgery, the heavy drinking, the decision to face death on her feet: all this was conveyed so neatly.  
  • I cackled at the idea of Odin being left in an old folks home.  
  • I don’t like the concept of leaving actresses out just because you don’t feel like paying them…but…I was relieved Jane was gone.  Farewell, Utter Lack Of Chemistry Foster.
  • The Grandmaster is a good time.  
  • Fenris is just a big puppy?!  I couldn’t suspend my disbelief and see him as a huge wolf.  He just looked like a puppy on a tiny-scaled set.
  • Mjolnir being a mere focus of power reminded me of silent, wandless magic.  Thor going all lightning-punchy was amazing, but it reminded me of nothing so much as Pikachu.

    Thor lightning.png

    I choose you!

  • Thor swearing with Midgardian curse words struck me as…impoverished, really.  Why would you say “I want to get the hell out of here!” when you used to say things like “Know this, son of Coul” and “This mortal form has grown weak!  I need sustenance!” and “Do I look to be in a gaming mood?”  Presumably this was part of the “less grim, more fun!” action plan, but…semi-archaic verbiage IS fun.   
  • I was amused to see Tessa Thompson’s Scrapper 142/Valkyrie described as ‘Thor’s love interest’ in articles thereafter, because I didn’t get any such vibe.  But he knows her enough and respects her enough that any further development would be more believable than anything with Jane Foster, so I’m all for that.


In short: good times!  Now, if only it didn’t take 37 hours to watch all 17 of the movies involved in this universe.  

Reactions: Macbeth

Y’all know me.  There’s still so much that I haven’t read, despite the passing years and my unending reading list.  I’d never read Macbeth before this week, and still haven’t seen it performed.

There are probably others in this same boat, and yet I figure that it’s a familiar enough play that what follows is a casual assemblage of thoughts rather than a proper summary or review.

To start with: I don’t feel guilty for having missed MacScottishplay until now, but I do feel mildly regretful.  How many allusions to this have I missed?  How many did I catch, but not understand as fully as I might have?  I recall a story that quoted “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” verbatim, and based a horrible, torturous curse on a blade which is invisible to all but the victim.  If I could find that story again, I might find that scene to be richer than before.  I’ve also let references to Banquo’s ghost slip by, because who’s Banquo, and what’s his ghost up to?

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But there are certain references that get explained somewhere or other – English classes,playgoers’ conversation, Startled By His Furry Shorts, etc.: witches tell Macbeth he’ll be king; prophecies get fulfilled one way or another; Lady Macbeth becomes a compulsive hand-washer; someone named Macduff gets addressed; and, if you read enough about Tolkien, apparently some copouts happen concerning the movement of Birnam Wood and the nature of vaginal childbirth vs. c-sections.  The former inspires the Ents, the latter Eowyn’s greatest moment.

Here are some things I missed until I’d read the text for myself:

– There was a moment where Macbeth thought “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me Without my stir.”  ‘If fate wants me to be king, maybe it’ll happen without me having to, you know, kill anyone.’  It’d make for a quieter play, presumably, but also a less direct plot.  I’m checking Ao3 to see if that fanfic’s been written yet.

– Despite the one moment of “Hmm, murder might not be necessary,” Macbeth really gets down to his bloody business quite swiftly.  I didn’t expect him to be Hamlet, but I also didn’t expect him to stab three people before the second act ends, hire a couple murderers to stab two more people in the third act, somehow get a third murderer involved (possibly to ensure the silence of the first two murderers, which means it’s turning into one of Doze Plans Vere You Lose You Hat) thereafter, and have all of Scotland at war by the end.  

– I read a few pages of lit crit, analyzing whether Macbeth is guiltless (or…less culpable, anyway) because his wife egged him on; these conclude that she didn’t take up the knife herself because her nerve failed her, and the fact that Macbeth did, in fact, stab a bunch of people indicates that it is not solely his wife’s ambition, but also his own, that drives him.  

– On account of this, it is the witches who say “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes,” of Macbeth.  I had never realized that the witches say this line, for some reason, nor had I realized that in so doing, they are referring to Macbeth: a man so full of evil that he is no longer a man, and is above all else a wicked Unman.

– Macbeth’s ambition and how it plays out strikes me as somehow naive.  Okay, you’ve been hailed as king-to-be…but…is that throne what you really want, if you can’t have it without killing your kinsman and your friends in a complete inversion of every rule of hospitality?  Do you really want this power if everyone hates both how you acquired it and how you wield it?  One commentary on “She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word” submits that Macbeth recognizes how much shorter and unhappier his wife’s life became because of their actions.  Idjit.

– Relatedly, “To be thus is nothing, But to be safely thus” is a pretty ridiculous thing to say when you’ve killed so many people to BE thus.  There is nowhere to fly from death even when you aren’t a murderous villain, but, you know.  Being a murderous villain doesn’t really protect you from the people who frown on that sort of thing.  Killing a castle full of civilians just gives your enemies more motivation for revenge!

– Also seemingly foolish: to rely on “Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth” and “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him” without turning the verbiage inside and out.  I suppose we 21st-century readers have the benefit of centuries of hindsight/textual analysis here, but…I dunno, it’s not like they defined their terms for you.  “None of woman born Shall harm Macbeth,” but no one said you couldn’t get attacked by an animal, or a virus, or a natural disaster – leaving aside the verb “born” and how thin those hairs can be split.  Or, where the Wood is concerned…the 2015 film apparently involves Macduff burning the wood, and the ash thereof floats on the wind to the castle and retains its role as screening the soldiers’ numbers.  Or perhaps it could be made into paper.  If you’re going to be guilt-wracked and paranoid, then by golly be thorough about it.

In sum: Macbeth is a short but crazy ride, chock full of memorable lines and well worth the read.  May it take you less time to get around to it than it took me, and may you share all your own thoughts and reactions to it below!

Review: This Close to Happy

Daphne Merkin, formerly of The New Yorker, spent at least a decade assembling this memoir, subtitled A Reckoning with Depression.  She labors to exorcise her own demons while shedding light on this murky condition:

If there is something intangible about mental illness generally, depression is all the harder to define because it tends to creep in rather than announce itself, manifesting itself as an absence – of appetite, energy, sociability – rather than as a presence.  There is little you can point to: no obscene rantings, no sudden flips into unrecognizable, hyper-energize behavior, no magical belief systems involving lottery numbers or fortune cookies.  It seems to me that we are suspicious of depression’s claim to legitimacy in part because it doesn’t look crazy.  

After 2.5 months without finishing a book, I tore through this one in less than a week.  This Close to HappyMy own mild depression has contributed to how few books I’ve read of late, so it was a relief to complete this one promptly (not least because I am one in a long list of folks requesting it from the library, and I’d feel guilty making those after me wait).

Merkin’s stated goal was to give “a report from the battlefield,” “to describe what it feels like to suffer from clinical depression from the inside” – without making depression out to be some rare, elegant condition that only proves incapacitating on occasion for dramatic effect, but rather “as the all-too-common, unexotically normal psychological albatross it often is, against which one tries to construct a flourishing self.”  

Overall, she succeeds.  There is no glamour surrounding her battles.  The three chief facets of her particular struggle with depression are how it arose chiefly as a consequence of her childhood; how it has resulted in at least three stays in psychiatric hospitals; and how, despite a plethora of drugs and hundreds or thousands of hours of therapy, the thought of suicide (whether idle or longing) is never too far away.

“I can’t tell anymore whether it’s my chemistry acting up or the ancient griefs I carry with me rearing up in response to a present provocation…I only know it hurts to have to go on,” she writes, after pondering whether she is doomed to depression by her genetics or by her upbringing.  The latter sets the stage for a life of grieving and anxiety: well-to-do parents who hand their six children off to a grim nanny (chosen so that she would not usurp the mother’s place in her children’s affections); scarcity of food and paucity of clothing despite a household with a cook, chauffeur, nanny, et al; a general lack of attention or comfort or encouragement.  “With all that bothers me about myself,” Merkin says, “it is too large a stretch to imagine myself as someone else, sent into the world on a current of love.”  Phillip Larkin’s most famous line has never been truer than in her case.

The shadow of Daphne’s mother hangs over the entire book, as over her whole life.  Her desire for closeness, affection, comfort, and love – never satisfied in childhood – manifested in a clinging adolescence and adulthood: always and everywhere sharing her thoughts, her doings, her sex life, and the best of her writing with her mother (who, as described, reminds me of nothing so much as the Other Mother from Neil Gaiman’s Coraline).  I do not often regard a piece of media with the thought “Daddy issues,” but it is impossible to read This Close to Happy without summing up at least a portion of it with “Mommy issues.”

Accounts of depression must be as many and varied as those suffering from it, which means that Merkin’s mother, her Jewish background, her home of New York City, her reading and writing, and her work in publishing are as much a part of the story as anything else.  So though it is an account from the trenches, bravely and openly assembled, it is not the report I look for – though I would be unsurprised to learn that what I seek is my own account: milder, less suicidal, but still given to the occasional numbness, the apathetic listlessness, the oxymoronic nature of a joyless Joy.

I came away with a sense of relief that I have not had to live Daphne’s life, but also questions: is my own dysthymia strictly a product of genetics, or is my own family somehow more dysfunctional than I’d thought?  My Christian faith, if not as vibrantly faithful as it ought to be, is not Merkin’s etiolated fragments of her Orthodox Jewish childhood; should I in fact have “a dazzling sense of purpose” because I still believe in God?  If my faith were stronger, would the cross of my own neurotransmitters be easier to bear?

I’ll report back when I know.  In the meantime, it’s safe to say that I’m even closer to happy than Merkin.

On the Reading of Books in the Bath

Back when I did that series of Why I Haven’t Read that Book YetThalia submitted that she might leave a book unfinished because she had dropped it in the bath.

I noted that my fear of getting a book wet had dissuaded me from ever trying to read a book in the bath, and for the most part, this remains the case.

However.  It would be remiss of me not to share this image with those of you who would love nothing more than to take a book and read it amid the delight and bubbles of outrageous bathtime:

Bath book trick

Joy’s Joys

Back on Dorothy’s birthday, I spent the day sharing quotations of hers on Facebook. They came from her fiction, her non-fiction, and, in at least one instance, from her letters. Among these choice bits was the beginning of “The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers” – better known here as her description of the Egotists’ Club:

The Egotists’ Club is one of the most genial places in London. It is a place to which you may go when you want to tell that odd dream you had last night, or to announce what a good dentist you have discovered. You can write letters there if you like, and have the temperament of a Jane Austen, for there is no silence room, and it would be a breach of club manners to appear busy or absorbed when another member addresses you.

Somehow, the idea of announcing one’s dentist, of all things, captured my imagination the most.

In the spirit of sharing one’s humblest joys, one’s most quotidian triumphs, one’s practical delights…here are my joys of late:

– Yesterday I bought a MacBook Pro. Not without trepidation, mind, as I have always been a PC user. But after my beloved Samsung fried, and my far-less-beloved Asus came to have an inoperable wireless card and tracked poorly…well, I basically went without a home computer for a year, using my smartphone instead, and growing steadily more frustrated by my lack of keyboard.  The new model glows with promise: the promise that updates will not overwhelm me, that I need not pay a subscription to store my own documents, that I might go forth to join others in sub-creation.

– Not unrelatedly, having obtained the equipment to do it, I have started learning about the nuts and bolts of coding in HTML.  My programming brother recommended this course of action to me, and it is perhaps the closest a Muggle gets to reading a book of spells: when you assemble the necessary elements (be they ever so boilerplate) and press “Run,” behold!  These curious ciphers and characters LIVE!  If you did it properly, anyway.

– I have been getting so much delight from the Ann Arbor District Library Summer Game.  But that’s a whole other blog post, it turns out!
AADL summer game top graphic

– The people around me have reminded me of delightful things.  My flatmate reminded me of how delightful Brideshead Revisited is, by preparing a picnic for us to eat on the solstice while reading excerpts of “Et in Arcadia Ego.”  Emily reminded me about that most adorable composition tool, Written? Kitten!   Katherine and Ike, friends from Hillsdale that I hadn’t seen since 2012, drove through the UP before meeting me in Lansing for lunch and a good few hours of catching-up.

There have been other delights this summer – volunteer dill, stars-and-stripes pie for Independence Day, reading Gaudy Night aloud, brunch at Aventura, the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter coming out, revisiting The Great British Bakeoff, and watching The Tempest in the Arboretum.

Truly, these be joyful days!

2048, and other dated thoughts

In a world of hot takes and instantaneous reactions, where we’ve generally moved on from thinking about United Airlines and April the giraffe already…I keep having idle thoughts better suited to 3 years ago, when Frozen and “Pompeii” and 2048 were more freshly on our minds.

So.  Idle question the first: did Elsa control all snow or just that which she caused?  If my car is buried under a foot of snow, can she magically shift it?  Honestly, what are the limits to her powers?  How much effort would it take her to freeze an entire lake or ocean?

Second: Are there any youth pastors who got really into Bastille and did more overthinking of “Pompeii” than I did?  The line Oh, where do we begin?  The rubble or our sin? BEGS to be made into some kind of ridiculous Bible study, all “In a broken world full of distress, is it most needful to address physical needs and realities, or first see to spiritual wounds?”  Or something.  This is preposterous and I want it.

heu

Latin memes = best memes.  Yes, even in 2017.  Even when this song was overplayed so much you stopped hearing it.

Third and lastly: 2048.  When this first became a nationwide (worldwide?) phenomenon, I got really into it for a while – to the point of adding squares in my sleep, you know how it goes – until I gave it up for Pentecost.  As you do.

Lately I’ve gotten back into playing it, and thus keep ruminating on the following: 2048 is like a microcosm of relationships and personality.

You’re young.  You’re a 2.  There are so many people and ideas for you to meet with, and any 2 will combine with you.  You’re a 4, an 8, a 16.  The combinations flicker by so fast, it’s hard to keep up.  And all around you the same: 4s, 8s, 16s.  The 32s fall into line beside each other.

At first, it’s harder not to run into a match, or a fit.  Even a 64 or 128 can match up.  There’s space to maneuver, 2s and 4s are doubling up 8s and 16s all the time.  It’s quite fun, and nearly mindless, because very nearly anything will work out.

2048gif3

Until the board’s worked up to a 512 or 1024.  Suddenly you’re a 64 or 128 or 256, perfectly reasonable – there’s even another 64 and 128 and 256 on the board.

You can see it.  But you can’t reach it.  You have no idea what would have to shift to bring the two together.  Trying to calculate it – trying to predict whether 2s or 4s will appear (is there a formula?), figuring if it’s easier to reach the Largish Number on the other side of the world, or if you have the space/time to wait for a new one to double up – it all leaves you feeling overcalculating, frustrated and impotent if not outright insane, and, unsurprisingly, makes it all feel like work rather than play.

Sometimes your careful machinations work out (o frabjous day!)  Sometimes they just give you a brief reprieve from Nothing Working Out At All, Ever.  Nothing will move.  Helpless, you know that if you could only shift this thing that way, all would fall into place beautifully.

Maybe you bungled it so many moves ago that you can never arrange things as they’d need to be arranged.  Maybe you were so focused on a strategy involving one piece that you missed the opportunity to find or fashion another double elsewhere.  Maybe you forgot that most elementary of facts about how pieces connect with the first match they run into, leaving that second match alone and forgotten.

Then the regret: if only you’d flicked things up instead of left.  If only there weren’t such a plethora of skinny, pretty little 2s gumming up the works.  All the cunning manipulation you’ve got, navigating all the blasted 2s in the world doesn’t change the fact that sometimes you’re a 256 or 512, and there just isn’t a 256 or 512 in sight for you.

It might all change, and quickly!  Or you might just lose.  Again.

You find you’ve run your battery down to 9%.

You feel that you’ve wasted your time and energy even playing.

…but even so, you wonder: what must it be like, to finally achieve that elusive, shining 2048?

2048 win

Watching this is basically like going through someone else’s album of wedding photos.