What I Did on My Summer Vacation

It’s September! Students are finally returning to school, trying to figure out whether room 206 is on the first or second or maybe even third floor, turning their heads in every direction in an attempt to read an analog clock, and eagerly composing the perpetual return-to-school essay: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. Do teachers really assign this topic? I do not recall ever once being asked to write about what I did on my summer vacation. I remember being told not to fill my Language Arts journal with Beach Boys lyrics but instead my own original thoughts. Nobody wanted to know about my summers, though, and I consequently feel deprived. Even as an adult, when people ask, “How was your summer?” I respond, “Pretty good.” And you know what? They accept that! They don’t beg for details about what I did or what I saw or what I thought or anything substantial like that because apparently I’m not as fascinating to the rest of the world as I am to myself. Lacking original thought (still), let’s talk about what I did on my summer vacation.

Not update this blog, obviously. Mainly because I didn’t really read or watch anything of value or anything that provoked thought or inspired love (and obsession) as much as Love and Mercy did. Speaking of Love and Mercy, I think I saw it a total of four times. Maybe five. I’m not sure. I quit counting after I ran out of fingers, and I think I only have ten of those. I am sure of a few things, though: Love and Mercy is the best movie of the year, Love and Mercy is the only movie that matters, Paul Dano deserves an Oscar, and it comes out on DVD on Tuesday (tomorrow!), and I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for every member of the family. Merry Christmas.

Speaking of Paul Dano (who else?), I’m working on a family of popsicle sticks with this guy’s head on them. (See previous post for an explanation of popsicle sticks and men’s heads. I am a well-adjusted, mentally stable, healthy individual. Promise.) I’m slowly working through his filmography, and so far he hasn’t really disappointed me. Except for that one movie where he played a homeless guy. Let’s not talk about that. Let’s not talk at all. Let’s communicate solely by writing messages on a compact spiral notebook because that’s what Dwayne does in Little Miss Sunshine, a film I chose as the subject of my Individuals with Disabilities in Film paper because if there is a way to be graded for being obsessed with Paul Dano, I am going to find it, goshdarnit. A+!

While we’re handing out grades, let’s grade the long-anticipated second novel of Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman. When I first heard about this new novel from Harper Lee, I was under the mistaken impression that it was actually a new novel by Harper Lee. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Go Set a Watchman, otherwise known as A First Draft of To Kill a Mockingbird In Desperate Need of a Plot and Editor, STAT! Seriously. Whose idea was it to publish this? The whole process of reading and digesting the book was equal parts depressing, confusing, and frustrating. Save your time.

I did start to read a book called Why Sinatra Matters, published almost twenty years ago. I didn’t finish it (yet…because of course I’m slowly–oh, so slowly, am I getting old or what?!–reading about six books simultaneously), but one of the opening pages passages has stuck with me:

“The world of my grandchildren will not listen to Sinatra in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives. Long after his death, Charlie Parker still plays his version of the urban blues. Billie Holiday still whispers her anguish. Mozart still erupts in joy. Every day, in cities and towns all over the planet, someone discovers them for the first time and finds in their art that mysterious quality that makes the listener more human. In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals, they relieve the ache of loneliness, they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E.M. Forster: ‘Only connect.’ In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter.”

I guess this quote has stuck with me not only because it is true but because I’ve been thinking a lot about the things I like, why everyone doesn’t like these same things (and thank goodness for that! Except for the people who do not hold the belief that Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire is the most attractive man ever aka the people hanging out at the water pump with Annie Sullivan), and how these things can mean so much to me and nothing to someone else. What does it mean? What does it matter? I guess I just don’t believe that people come into our lives by accident–and that includes the artists we admire. In response to the question, “Why do I write?”, I explained that writing is like a puzzle, arranging and re-arranging words so that the rhythm and flow is a perfect fit, that writing is a search for the connection between the quiet wonder of the first (but not twenty-first) snowfall of the year and the expression on Scout Finch’s face when she sees Boo Radley for the first time. I guess that’s why Sinatra–and any artist–matters to me. There’s a unique connection there that not every one else feels. And maybe it is because that artist transcends isolation or maybe it’s more than an earthly connection. These things matter, and I spent (part of) my summer contemplating this, looking to find another artist that mattered and discovering Paul Dano and wondering what link (if any) exists between the single tear that runs down his cheek in a scene of Love and Mercy and the feeling of overwhelming comfort that comes from listening to The Verve’s “On Your Own” for the first time in eons.

I also spent more time than I care to remember in Iowa, disobeyed a sign (which I coud not see, in my defense) and jumped off a pier, and made From Here to Eternity references that nobody appreciated. Sigh. It’s tough being a ninety-something in a twenty-something body sometimes.

Until next time (which is hopefully less than three months from now with a more interesting topic),
The Count(ess) Petofi

P.S. Please don’t kill yourself tonight.

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