Out to pasture — June 4, 2015

Out to pasture

Loved this sketch a few weeks ago on the hilarious Inside Amy Schumer, which illustrates the point I was making in an earlier post about what it’s like to be an aging actress in Hollywood.

(sorry about the commercial)

In related news, Hollywood’s Love Affair with Old Dudes Romancing Young Women

RIP David Carr and Harris Wittels — February 23, 2015

RIP David Carr and Harris Wittels

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I’ve been really sad lately about the loss of two talented writers, neither of whom I knew personally, but both of whom struggled with addiction and died too young. Both men were brilliant and – in spite of being hooked on drugs – achieved enormous professional success. David Carr was the media columnist for The New York Times and succumbed to cancer Feb. 12 at the age of 58. Carr relapsed and recovered from his addictions several times and wrote eloquently about his weakness for crack cocaine. In The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own, Carr wrote:

Where does a junkie’s time go? Mostly in 15-minute increments, like a bug-eyed Tarzan, swinging from hit to hit. For months on end in 1988, I sat inside a house in north Minneapolis, doing coke and listening to Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and finding my own pathetic resonance in the lyrics. ‘Any place is better,’ she sang. ‘Starting from zero, got nothing to lose.’ After shooting or smoking a large dose, there would be the tweaking and a vigil at the front window, pulling up the corner of the blinds to look for the squads I was always convinced were on their way. All day. All night. A frantic kind of boring. End-stage addiction is mostly about waiting for the police, or someone, to come and bury you in your shame.

It’s worth noting that being an addict never slowed down his career. When interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air by Terry Gross, Carr spoke about how he managed to reach such professional heights in spite of his demons:

I did try drinking again. It didn’t go very well. My work never suffered, per se. My work rarely did. It’s always the last thing to go. But if you took all of the functioning alcoholics and addicts out of the American economy, you’d be taking out a lot of firepower and a lot of talent.

But my favorite part of the interview is when he discussed turning his life over to a higher power as part of a 12 step program:

So am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person, or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? And so that’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with the higher power thing, as is I’m – you know, I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of terrible things, and yet, I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me.

Harris Wittels was a brilliantly funny stand up comic and TV writer, who wrote for The Sarah Silverman Show, Eastbound and Down, and Parks and Rec. He died at the age of 30 on Feb. 19, after what police say appears to be a drug related incident at his home. The night before he died, he performed a set at Meltdown (a favorite spot to see alternative comedy in a dumpy room behind a comic book store in Hollywood), and according to those in the audience, he implied that the was off drugs and spoke about how he was in a “good place.”

Here’s an article in The Atlantic about Wittels’ popularity among other comedians and comedy writers, and chronicling his many appearances on TV shows and comedy podcasts. Here’s another tribute on A.V. Club.

Comedian and actor Aziz Ansari knew Wittels from Parks and Rec and was developing a TV series with him at the time of his death. Here is a link to the Tumblr post Ansari wrote this week, about how devastated he feels about losing his friend:

His jokes were so weird, unexpected, often brilliantly dumb that they were in that ultra-exclusive club of ones that made comedy people laugh — and laugh hard. This was why Harris was such a go-to for everyone. Anyone that was ever in a writers room with him knew he was probably the funniest comedy writer out there. He was just a machine.

So there are two sets of professional colleagues reeling with loss, two bodies of work ended far too soon, and two more reminders of the insidious nature of addiction and its heavy cost.

impossible standards — October 24, 2014

impossible standards


On a regular basis, an actress will come up in conversation, and my husband will say, “Whatever happened to her?” and I’ll say, “She turned 40.” He’s no dummy, my husband. And he’s not naive about aging actresses, either. He works in post production for movies and has to oversee digital retouching for actresses all the time. But the few actresses over 40 who work steadily, like Julia Lous-Dreyfus, Julianna Margulies, and Connie Britton, are expected to look freakishly toned, dewey and fresh at all times.

As Jessica Goldstein points out in ThinkProgress  in defense of Renee Zellweger, Americans insist that actresses look flawless and nowhere near their age, then make fun of them if they go to “extreme measures” to maintain their appearance.

She isn’t some freak show; she’s an average American woman who is older now than she was the last time you looked at her or really gave her any thought. She is older than she was in Jerry Maguire, older than she was in all the Bridget Jones movies, older than she was in Empire Records, she is older than she was when you started reading this story. And soon, at the end of this sentence, she will be older still.

Also, some other things are happening in the world that might be considered more important.

Wyoming — October 8, 2014



When I moved from Boston to L.A., I drove across country with a boyfriend the summer after we graduated from college. We packed up everything we owned into his mother’s Pontiac Parisienne and took the scenic route, criss-crossing the country in a W shape. We visited most of the fifty states, and many of our biggest parks and monuments, camping in a tent most of the time. We didn’t drive through Wyoming, and I haven’t gathered the enthusiasm to visit since then.

I always associated the state of Wyoming with two unpleasant things: the birth of Dick Cheney and the death of Matthew Shepard. I’m sure there are many people in the state of Wyoming I’d really like if I got to know them, but I’ve never tried.

This is the sixteenth anniversary of the week Matthew Shepard was kidnapped, tied to a split-rail fence, beaten with a pistol butt, then left to die. A bicyclist saw his body and at first thought he was a scarecrow. Matthew lay comatose in a hospital bed for a few days, then died. Many people have been gay bashed before and since Matthew. But his murder was notorious for its sheer brutality and media coverage. It spawned an activist movement, which has gotten anti-hate crime legislation passed.

If you don’t know much about Matthew Shepard’s life, watch this HBO movie called The Laramie Project. The “project” was a series of interviews with 200 residents of Laramie, WY where Shepard died. The playwrights turned the interviews into a script, and HBO cast a bunch of movie stars in their adaptation.

Yesterday, the Supreme denied appeals attempting to block Marriage Equality in five states, including Wyoming.

You can get gay married in Wyoming now.

Here, Rachel Maddow lays out the recent history of the gay rights movement. Prop 8, the Supreme Court decision on Edie Windsor and Thea Spire, and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Justice Scalia lamented the ruling in the Edie Windsor case was gonna mean gay marriage everywhere… He said I disagree with this ruling and its gonna be the end of the world. Justice Scalia was right, it turns out, if your world is held up by legalized discrimination against married gay couples. Since the Edie Windsor ruling last summer, what has followed is an almost unbroken streak of 40 straight rulings in state and federal courts states upholding equal marriage rights for same sex couples and striking down state laws which ban the recognition of those rights.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation points out that October 6 is once again an important day in LGBT history. It may be time to start planing my first Wyoming trip.

Looks pretty nice, actually.

239 wyoming grandtetonnationalpark feature

Louis C.K. on parenting — October 2, 2014

Louis C.K. on parenting

Splitsider just posted an article about a call in radio show that Louis C.K. did in 2007 on SiriusXM satellite radio. Eddie Brawley writes that Louis had absolutely no plan, no clue what he was going to do for three hours on the air. He flails around for a while, and then the show takes on an advice giving format. About forty minutes in, Louis delivers some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard, completely off the cuff, to a guy who complains about his toddler daughter throwing a temper tantrums. Whenever he tries to discipline her, his wife caves in and gives their daughter what she wants.

Try this, man. The next time you’re sitting with your wife watching fucking “Dancing with the Cunts” – or whatever it is – turn to her and say, “Can I talk to you for a second?” You gotta bring it up out of nowhere when everything’s okay. Here’s the thing. Being a parent is like being at war. And the way we do it – it’s as if we were a platoon in the army who didn’t even kneel down and draw some pictures in the sand and say, “Here – you go here and you go there.” Like if you’re a platoon and you’re going take a building or something full of brown people that you want to kill? You have to draw a picture of a building in the sand and say like, “You go here and Johnson, you go there,” and that sort of thing. Otherwise it’d be like, “Let’s just go get the building!” and people are shooting at you and you’re going, “You fucking idiot! Go over there!” That’s what parents do. You’ve got to set some time and decide: “When I say ‘stop that or I’ll take that away,’ you’ve got to back me up.” And she has a better plan let her come up with it. And if your kid is declining in behavior instead of getting better, then one of you is fucking wrong. So you gotta work that shit out. But never back down. Never, never.

The entire show is fascinating, in part because it’s got so raw and unscripted and Louis sounds as miserable as a human possibly can, about his marriage and career. Splitsider sums up all that works and doesn’t work during the show, and puts it in the context of Louis’ career and writing.

If you’re going to make scenes in your show that address really tough, touchy topics, you’ve got to practice somewhere. And if that Fat Girl scene in Louie is like a nice well-made cocktail, this is a bucket of crazy moonshine that will probably make you go blind.

Totally agree. The part about parenting is from 41:20 – 42:46

Here’s the whole show:

Queen Bitch gets existential — September 22, 2014
Happy birthday — September 13, 2014
The shadow — September 8, 2014

The shadow


This Salon essay was written by Chris Schumerth, whose brother Shane killed the headmaster at the Florida high school where he had just been fired as a Spanish teacher, and then turned the gun on himself, back in the Spring of 2012. The writer describes what Shane was like growing up, and how he and the rest of the family were increasingly puzzled by Shane’s behavior in recent years. Part of what makes the story so captivating is how mundane it all sounds. Social awkwardness, difficulty talking to women, friction with members of his family. Many of the warning signs were so trivial, they were easy to dismiss. But very slowly, in incremental steps, he went from a sweet, shy and sensitive kid to a deranged killer.

In an effort to find an explanation for what happened to his brother, Schumerth explores Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow. The shadow is the dark and unloved side of all of us, that wishes to remain unknown. All the qualities we’re ashamed of, or deny, or repress, because we can’t bear to think that we have them. They all get shoved out of the way, into our unconscious. The shadow is partly personal material and partly collective material, meaning it comes from all of us. Civilizations have a shadow, too, and America’s shadow is loooooooooong.

Jung wrote that “The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach.”

So applying Jung’s theory on shadow material in the unconscious, one might say that Shane Schumerth’s personal shadow material might have been triggered by a surge of collective shadow material from the society he lived in. He had strong political and religious beliefs. He also had access to an AK-47 and a hundred rounds of ammunition.

On the one hand, this view of mental illness is terrifying. It says that “falling into the volcano” is possible for any one of us. But part of why it appeals to me is that it doesn’t say that mentally ill people are wrong and sane people are right. It doesn’t separate “us” from “them.” It says we all have a dark side. The best we can hope for is to acknowledge the shadow inside us and bring it to the surface in healthy ways.

My Brother’s Unspeakable Crime


The Price of Admission — August 29, 2014

The Price of Admission

Here’s a video of Dan Savage, breaking it down beautifully and simply, as always. A reader asks why he (or she) never manages to stay interested in a guy for longer than two months. Savage goes on to explain what one must do to stay in a long-term, romantic relationship. (spoiler alert: it’s not easy)

His reply rings brutally true. If this is something you want but has eluded you so far, you might want to spend the next five minutes watching this.


Discovered on Brain Pickings

Louis C.K. makes it look easy — July 11, 2014

Louis C.K. makes it look easy


Louis C.K. was nominated this morning for the show “Louie” on F/X and his role in it. Chances are you haven’t been watching – the ratings were below a million viewers per episode at the start of the 4th season – but you should. It’s confident in a way that only a show that’s written, directed, edited and starring the same person can be. It was nominated in the comedy category, but manages to be deeply moving. But it’s also surreal and absurd, throwing continuity out the window in a way that implies that entertaining himself is more important to Louis C.K. than making sense.

This interview in an issue of GQ magazine earlier this year calls him the “undisputed kind of comedy.” It provides a little glimpse into why he’s so good. The hard work, the attention to detail. The willingness to explore the darkest parts of himself and human nature. Louis C.K. is trying to reach a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do. Watch his stand up if you want to hear him lay out his philosophy. But on the show over which he has complete creative control, he’s a jack-ass and a clown about 85% of the time and the rest of the time he’s a hero. Some scenes are jarring, including a cringe-worthy and awkward attempted seduction and Louie punching a beautiful woman in the face.

Your move, every other show-runner in Hollywood.

“So Did the Fat Lady” introduces perhaps the most fully realized, complicated female guest starring role I’ve ever seen on TV. A waitress at a comedy club points out a sexual double standard that nobody ever talks about. Actress Sarah Baker delivers a jaw-dropping monologue about what it’s like to date in New York in your 30’s as a fat girl. Although Baker wasn’t even nominated this morning, the academy should deliver a truck full of Emmys to everyone involved in the production of this scene:


In “In the Woods,” Louis creates a deeply touching short film (90 minutes, including commercials) about adolescence, starring a bunch of fantastic, unknown child actors (and one Academy Award winning actor in Jeremy Renner). That’s really hard to do well. But Louis does – and calls it episode 12. At that point, he’s just showing off.

And then in the season 4 finale “Pamela, part 2,” he does what could arguably be the bravest thing he could possibly do on screen. Viewers see as much of Louis C.K.’s body as cable TV will allow as he strips and gets into a bathtub while a beautiful woman makes fun of his body.

“Louie” had a stunning fourth season, and deserves all the critical acclaim it’s getting, and lots of awards. My only complaint is that the show has too many commercials. But I can’t even hold a grudge at F/X because I’m so glad they give Louis C.K. his own show and let him do whatever he wants.

Entertainment Weekly review