Month: June 2015

slowPhoto by Fabrik Bilder

You can order “Reuben, Reuben” online —  on VHS. It’s not available on DVD or any of the streaming services. It’s an all but forgotten 1983 film starring Tom Conti as “a drunken Scottish poet, who hasn’t written a word in years, (who) feels compelled to regain control of his life and work after meeting a beautiful young woman.”

The quote from Conti’s character, “Gowan McGland,” that’s stayed with me all these years comes early in the movie, when he’s dining with a group that includes men from decidedly white-collar professions that in no way call to mind poetry. One of the men extols the virtues of a speed-reading workshop, citing an employee of Allied Fertilizer who, previously unable to be productive on the job because of the stack of reports piling up on his desk, went on to read “War and Peace” in 55 minutes.

McGland puts on the brakes.

But he read the book the way the fertilizer man reads reports; he did not read it as a book. I, for example, would like to read Fitzgerald’s ‘Tender Is the Night’ as slowly as possible. In fact, I would pay vast sums for anyone to teach me to read the books I love at a snail’s pace.

The others are not impressed, but McGland isn’t finished making his point.

Why restrict oneself to reading? Why not also listening? A ‘Minute Waltz’ in five or six seconds, or one could go to the ballet and by 9 o’clock be home in bed with your wife, or if you’re lucky, somebody else’s wife.

There you go: a bonus quote, and a little more insight into the movie’s main character.

His resistance to speeding up, and his desire to slow down, resonated with me when I saw the movie in the cinema, before I’d written or edited hundreds of thousands of words for newspapers, magazines and websites. The appeal is greater now, and not just because the current incarnation of newspaper copy editor often feels like a combination of some of the dynamics of air traffic controller, caffeine-fueled proofreader and fact-checker, all while making sure the B.S. detector is working, and all of it approximating a game of speed chess.

In advance of National Get Outdoors Day, we urged people to embrace it by unplugging from the iLife, as we put it. Plugged in, wired, wireless, connected, networked, linked, encircled, notified, alerted, reminded, messaged, instant-messaged, emailed, texted, tagged, geotagged, located, tracked, spotted, tweeted, quoted and retweeted, we live in a world our man McGland couldn’t have imagined — and would have railed against.

As I actively pursue opportunities to slow down and simplify, I metaphorically raise a glass (and literally, a cup of coffee) to Gowan McGland.

“Movie Quote Stuck in My Head” is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dig inside an old quote for new meaning, or a new quote for an old truth, or to chew on a line for fun or sustenance. It’s also inspired by and a tribute to “Real Time Song Stuck in My Head,” a popular feature on the Twitter feed of the late Craig Stanke, a former editor for CBSSports.com and, for too short a time, a leader by example to me during my time working there. You can read about him here.

feelingsPhoto by Lopolo

About a week ago, a friend and I were talking about feelings, and how difficult they can be to embrace. It’s hard to let them simply be, and we think we have to do something about them, or wait for them to disappear, never to return.

These are thoughts we have about what we perceive as negative feelings; it’s never the ones that bring us joy. We’re glad to keep those, and we invite them to return often. We search for new ways to bring them back to us.

The conversation prompted me to think about something that happened years ago when a small group celebrated my grandmother’s birthday. She was well into her 80s, and although we didn’t know it at the time, she had only a short time left to live. When we gathered to sing to her around a cake with candles burning, she started crying and talking about visions she had of a daughter who had died many years before, 15 months after her birth. The atmosphere in the room sharply shifted. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, and not like a person who is about to blow out candles on a birthday cake.

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“The Judge,” the 2014 film starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. as a father and son, judge and lawyer, left a lot of good lines in my head, but the quote stuck in there right now wasn’t spoken by either of those Roberts.

Halfway through the movie, Vera Farmiga, who plays the former girlfriend of Downey’s character, explains to him the origin of the name of her establishment, the Flying Deer Diner, telling a story about a close call on the road one day while she was driving with her daughter in the car. “This deer jumps, flies over the hood, his back hoof taps the glass; one mile an hour faster, he’s coming through the windshield, all antlers and hooves killing me for sure, maybe both of us.

“I make a decision right then and there: Whatever had or hadn’t happened in the past, I was gonna be the hero of my own story.”

Their history has an unresolved storyline, as do several relationships in the movie, which reveals those loose ends along the way — sometimes just to us, sometimes to us and to the characters. What has or hasn’t happened in the past invests much of their motivation, and it drives the film through its twists and turns, toward its denouement.

I watched the movie on the recommendation of a co-worker, someone with whom I’ve had more than one conversation about Duvall and what he brings to his characters. “Watch ‘The Judge,’ ” my co-worker said when he left the office Monday night. The next day, I checked to see if it would be on cable soon. I discovered it would be on HBO a little more than 24 hours later, during what is my weekend off work. Perfect timing.

When I asked my co-worker for some background on the movie, he mentioned that critics were split about “The Judge,” that some called it contrived, among other unflattering things. I can understand that now, even as I found much to like about the movie.

The quote stuck in my head planted itself there even as I knew what some critics probably said out loud when, after telling the story, Farmiga’s character took stock of what she’d just said and asked, “Was that corny?”

I liked it because it spoke to self-determination in a way that perhaps sounded corny but elevated the idea of shaping one’s life to something heroic, with the hero appearing from within rather than from without. It felt like something someone who survived a near-fatal collision and decided to start her own business might say to herself, and then to others.

spoileralertThere was much in the movie that I could identify with, in small and larger ways, that fit the film’s darker subtexts of mortality, regret, unfulfilled promise and more. On a different day, I might have chosen to write about the dynamics of a son fishing with his father, or about a son watching his father suffer the effects of terminal cancer, or about a son visiting his mother’s grave during a time of crisis in his life, or about moving on with life after the dream of an extended baseball career ends, all of which I’ve experienced — or about the relationships between brothers, which I’ll never experience.

But not today. Today, the movie left me with something else I wanted to make note of here.

It’s unexpected, really, that the quote stuck in my head isn’t one delivered by Duvall, who could read the newspaper aloud for two hours and I’d buy a ticket and some popcorn and sit down to watch and listen. But on this particular day, the line that sank its hooks in me was the one about becoming the hero in one’s own story, and I think everyone could use at least a little belief in the possibility that they could make that happen.

“Movie Quote Stuck in My Head” is self-explanatory, but it’s more than that. It’s a chance to dig inside an old quote for new meaning, or a new quote for an old truth, or to chew on a line for fun or sustenance. It’s also inspired by and a tribute to “Real Time Song Stuck in My Head,” a popular feature on the Twitter feed of the late Craig Stanke, a former editor for CBSSports.com and, for too short a time, a leader by example to me during my time working there. You can read about him here.