Classic Holiday Movie Post #2

Jaxon and I seem to have a pattern to our holiday watching, as movie #2 was exactly the same this year as two years ago. This week it was another beauty from the World War II era, starring Barbara Stanwyck on a farm that looks eerily similar to Bing Crosby’s digs in “Holiday Inn.” A redress of the set? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me!

Classic Holiday Movie #2: Christmas in Connecticut

Does anyone know why they used to release Christmas movies in August…? Anyway, it’s a cute romp and stomp around the grand old American notion that deception and fake matrimony (not to mention childrearing and cooking) make the holidays much more interesting. Although Barbara projects cool confidence and quick thinking even in the most uncomfortable moments, ultimately I have a soft spot for Uncle Felix.

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Classic Holiday Movie Post #1

Seems like a good time to repost this. We actually re-watched this movie a couple weeks ago when the first winter storm hit. I remember I used to laugh at this depiction of Minnesota in November– snowbanks and ice fishing before Thanksgiving?? Right!!

Jaxon and I have a collection of old movies (mostly VHS) that we always dust off and watch during the holiday season. So far we’ve made it through two of them. I’ll post a classic clip each time we see another one. Got any seasonal favorites of your own? Feel free to make suggestions!

Classic Holiday Movie #1: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

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From Anger to Inspiration?

I spent last weekend at the National Conference on Social Work & HIV/AIDS, a nicely organized event that seems to attract the kind of people around whom I want to be—smart, dedicated, compassionate, enthusiastic about their work, and self-reflective. The audience is part academic, part professional; in other words, a good place to test out the concepts behind my dissertation research. It was gratifying to see echoes of my topic—organizational change in community-based AIDS organizations—throughout the presentations. I was also pleased to find others who share my own interest in history, both in the development of these services and in their origins within the gay and lesbian community of the 1980s and earlier. (I say “gay and lesbian” here knowing that our current nomenclature—GLBTQIA—recognizes a much broader spectrum of identities.)

The conference also afforded me the chance to see How to Survive a Plague, a documentary using original film footage of ACT-UP, the grassroots movement led by HIV-positive activists, which radically altered the trajectory of America’s response to the AIDS epidemic. I have to confess, I’d avoided seeing the movie before this, even though plenty of friends had recommended it to me. My response to it was as emotional as I’d expected. It was probably a mistake to watch it right before my own presentation, but on the other hand, it grounded me back in the reality of my research question: How do services founded by and for the grassroots HIV movement experience change in the age of ACA?

Anyway, I digress. The film mostly focused on the years 1989 to 1995, from the first Bush presidency up to the introduction of combination anti-retroviral therapies, which seemed almost immediately to bring patients back from near death. Much of the film depicts the push and pull of grassroots politics at the time—people screaming to be heard, to have their fears and outrage acknowledged not just in the hearts and minds of bystanders, but in the policies and practices of government, medical research, and the pharmaceutical industry of the time. As Randy Shilts noted in And the Band Played On, the usually deliberate pace of clinical trials, testing, and approval for market use were not going to cut it when the world faced a pandemic of this scale. It took bold confrontation, impassioned actions, and dedication from those facing almost certain death to move the status quo to change. The fact that some of the original ACT-UP activists—including the legendary Larry Kramer, among others—today have survived speaks loudly to their accomplishment. Medical science today is winning the battle against HIV in controlled lab settings, but a social movement that connected these institutions to this deeply affecting human narrative was absolutely necessary to prod our civic leaders to move faster, with any urgency that no one would have believed necessary in previous decades.

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Classic Holiday Movie Post #5

This one we never miss. Every year Jaxon and I have managed to watch this together, either on video at home or at a local movie house. It’s best on the big screen, for sure. And, one of the few films I’ve been to where the audience without fail applauds and sings along to the musical numbers. Try it sometime!

Classic Holiday Movie #6: White Christmas

Bing, Danny, Rosemary, and Vera dance and sing their way through a decidedly unsnowy Vermont inn, bringing together the entire population of Broadway and the U.S. military to wish their retired general a very Merry Christmas. Aside from the final act (including both General Waverly’s entrance and the final rendition of the title number) which always leaves me a little teary-eyed, my favorite scenes are always the “Choreography” number and of course Bing and Danny’s hilarious pantomime of “Sisters.” Here’s some additional video.

Classic Holiday Movie Post #4

This one’s truly in the “great” category for Christmas comedies. About 10 years ago I worked for an independent video store, and the owner wanted to make a commercial with each of us reciting a “favorite” line from a holiday movie. After a while he had to say, “No, not that one.” So many quotable lines…

Classic Holiday Movie #5: A Christmas Story

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

“Fra… geeeee…. leeeeey… Must be Italian!”

“It’s a beautiful duck, it’s… you see, it’s smiling at me.”

Any other favorites from A Christmas Story? Comment back and add to the list!

Thoughts on Hitchcock, Stress, and Weight Loss

I don’t know much about Alfred Hitchcock’s personal life, certainly not enough to judge whether the movie Hitchcock is a faithful representation of his character or marriage. It was, however, a very entertaining story, well worth the time to see Hopkins and Mirren fill their larger than life personas. While Helen Mirren’s Alma Reville certainly rises to the occasion, the Alfred Hitchcock portrayed here betrays a deeper insecurity, which is especially apparent if you pay attention to Anthony Hopkins’ eyes. I’m not giving away much by pointing out that Hitchcock’s legendary portliness, while certainly influenced by his filmmaking success and rich appetite, is also shown here as due in many ways to stress, anxiety, and insecurity. In the scenes where he’s very clearly stress eating, he looks very much like the scared little boy, hiding behind his fleshy defenses.

Without a doubt these images resonated with me. I first began to struggle with my weight around age 7 or 8, although maybe it was earlier. Looking back, I can see a combination of factors that worked against me—being a clever kid with good grades, physically awkward and awful at physical sports; social awkwardness that made me more comfortable talking to grownups than kids my own age (who generally disliked my overachievement in class and enjoyed my shortcomings in gym class and other sporting activities); and, generally speaking, just not knowing how to cope constructively with stress, anxiety, and depression.

I can identify a few key moments in my adult life when I managed to re-make my body. First, like a number of gay teens I have met I dropped a substantial amount of weight when I came out, found friends, and gained a ton of confidence in myself. Over time though, the blessing of an enriched social life (especially in college) can turn into joyful overindulgences, and college especially added some (but not all) of the pounds back on. The second time I felt a significant change came when I went to NYU for a summer, when the experience of being alone in Manhattan and needing to walk everywhere certainly had an impact. Getting a Master’s degree in social work, however, re-introduced me to food as a way to cope with stress. I’ve often said that comfort food is the social worker’s drug of choice—and after years of work in the social services, I haven’t seen much evidence to convince me otherwise.

The third occurrence came when I moved to the Twin Cities several years ago. I was single, taking walks every day over the lunch hour, and working at a job that frequently had me on my feet doing outreach in the local gay bars. Although I was able to keep that weight level for a few years, gradually it creeped upward as my job became more stressful and Jaxon and I settled into a domestic routine. I’m absolutely convinced that stress plays a major role in how I gain and lose weight. My first year in the Ph.D. program—when I was still working full-time at my old agency—led me to balloon up again, with my blood pressure spiking as well. Even though I swam laps twice a week, it was easier to grab pre-made food or order out than drag my mentally exhausted brain and body to the co-op and then the kitchen.

Over the last year or so, I’ve tried to re-introduce some balance in my life. It helps that we started making communal dinners with our housemates and changed our shopping habits so that we get fresh food in shorter amounts, over multiple trips to the co-op each week. Recently though, a big catalyst for me has been meeting a new friend, also gay and about the same age that I was during my last major weight loss period. Having someone who’s been in my shoes, who doesn’t necessarily want to adopt the hardcore “training” mentality but is galvanized by his successes so far, has given me a new motivation to get a bit more active. (Not that I haven’t been active, but given how much time I spend on the laptop with research and lesson planning, I could use the boost.) I don’t know if I’ll be able to replicate my previous successes—honestly, right now I think that significant weight loss is less my goal than simply finding and keeping a balance. More importantly, I think back on the image of Anthony Hopkins as the unquestionably brilliant but deeply insecure Alfred Hitchcock, feverishly stuffing food in his mouth in an attempt to fortify himself from his own fright. I’ve been there, and will probably revisit that state of mind at some points again in my life. Part of this journey, this struggle, inevitably involves revisiting the pitfalls of my own past. Revisiting, however, doesn’t mean that I have to live there.

Classic Holiday Movie Post #3

Not technically a holiday film, but it opens with events centered around an opulent Christmas party, with gunshots and Southern-style justice quick to follow.

Classic Holiday Movie #4: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Strong performances by Kevin Spacey, the Lady Chablis, and Jack Thompson (a personal fave from the Australian film “The Sum of Us”), not to mention the city of Savannah offered as a shimmering Christmas present. Also I’m entertained by the depiction of gossip as currency in a town where everyone knows each other’s business and not a word is said… in public at least! Note the juxtaposition between what people privately disapprove of (but sometimes covet) and what they publicly tolerate (if not fully accept).

Classic Holiday Movie Post #2

Post #2 but Movie #3! This week it was another beauty from the World War II era, starring Barbara Stanwyck on a farm that looks eerily similar to Bing Crosby’s digs in “Holiday Inn.” A redress of the set? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me!

Classic Holiday Movie #3: Christmas in Connecticut

Does anyone know why they used to release Christmas movies in August…? Anyway, it’s a cute romp and stomp around the grand old American notion that deception and fake matrimony (not to mention childrearing and cooking) make the holidays much more interesting. Although Barbara projects cool confidence and quick thinking even in the most uncomfortable moments, ultimately I have a soft spot for Uncle Felix.

Classic Holiday Movie Post #1

Jaxon and I have a collection of old movies (mostly VHS) that we always dust off and watch during the holiday season. So far we’ve made it through two of them. I’ll post a classic clip each time we see another one. Got any seasonal favorites of your own? Feel free to make suggestions!

 

Classic Holiday Movie #1: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

We watched this the weekend before Thanksgiving. Is this what Hollywood thinks of Minnesota??? (Pretty accurate in some ways.) It starts around Thanksgiving and finishes shortly after Christmas. Burgess Meredith damn near steals the movie, but it’s Mathau and Lemmon late in their careers and still pitch-perfect as a combo. I saw it in the theater on Christmas Day, 1993, outside of Toledo, OH, with my sister and cousin. It still reminds us of our relatives. (I know the clip is labeled for “Grumpier Old Men” but it’s actually the first movie, not the second.)

 

Classic Holiday Movie #2: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

I looked for this on TV on Thanksgiving  Day– didn’t NBC used to show it in the afternoon? Another one that starts at Thanksgiving and ends at Christmas. Super fun to see the mid-century architecture and decor in New York City, and the plot is endearing as well.

Notes From the Holiday Weekend

My parents have been visiting this week, which has kept me from writing but given me time to reflect on a few things over the course of several days.

First, the way we do holidays here—staying put and focusing on good food, wine, and friendships—was validated in a really nice way. Several years ago we decided not to travel on Thanksgiving or Christmas, but instead to host “orphans” get-togethers with friends who were either away from, avoiding, or recovering from their families. We’ve intentionally kept the gatherings small—the number fluctuates every year but generally stays between 4 – 8 people. This year we invited my parents to come because Thanksgiving coincided with the Michigan State – Minnesota football game, and they needed a break from their usual holiday routine. Having my folks here to dine with my “orphan” friends proved to be quite delightful, as the day stayed very relaxed and everyone contributed to the efforts for making and serving the evening meal. I’ve reached the stage where I can’t imagine wanting to fall back into the same holiday routines that used to drive and exhaust us, so having our approach affirmed and enjoyed by my mom and dad felt good.

Second, I made an interesting observation while watching the new James Bond film. While the villain maintains the upper hand by keeping people situated on his turf, i.e. cyberspace, Bond draws him out into the barren wilderness where ultimately the winner will be decided by skill, mastery of the surrounding environment and its elements, and luck. Defeat comes ultimately at the end of a dagger, not the execution of a complex sequence of numeric equations. To me that’s an intriguing epiphany (albeit one drawn from a fictional action/drama/fantasy world)— the idea that in our efforts to control the elements around us, to harness industry, technology, and nature to accumulate wealth, comfort, and recgonition, the ultimate arbiter of our influence on (and value to) each other might still come from how we navigate our face to face encounters.  As someone who’s naturally talkative and who throws a lot of energy into my in-person encounters, I’ve been a hesitant user of social media, in part because I always saw it as a tool of my past jobs, which might blur the boundaries of social and professional relationships. But, more and more I’ve had to think through and reckon with the ways that some form of interface—whether through this blog or other online channel—is necessary to cut through the vast amounts of social traffic out there in order to connect with others who resonate with these ideas.

Related to that, for a good chunk of last week I found myself stressed out over a random financial aid hiccup and uncertainty over whether I’ll have a teaching assignment next semester. Over the past few months I’ve been debating whether or not to start searching for more long-term work, to give us some financial stability while I finish the Ph.D. It’s tough to figure out—keep juggling paychecks from semester to semester, or risk falling away from my trajectory right now to make sure the bills can get paid over the intermediate to long term. I had some good advice from a confidante last week though. This was key– reflecting on my recent panic and the less than empathetic response I felt I’d received from the administrative systems involved, she said, “You needed someone to care for you, and they didn’t.” It’s so striking when someone can boil down a nerve-wracking situation to something so simple, but it was true. On top of that, echoing the thoughts above, sometimes it seems like in the name of creating more efficient and responsive systems, we risk divorcing our responses from the humans involved, who have real stakes and concerns riding on the outcome. It really astonishes me (going back to my nonprofit days as well) when people managing administrative functions would distance themselves from some truly putrid decisions by saying, “It’s not me- it’s the system!” as if humans don’t ultimately influence the way systematic decisions are made.

So, to circle back to my wariness toward certain “created” environments as channels for connecting with each other, isn’t it interesting how we seem to develop these complex systems for establishing contact—whether it be for social affirmation, material support, administrative responsiveness, or whatever—yet the key ingredient is still the human on each side of the interface? Humans who are imperfect, insecure, emotionally vulnerable, and ultimately limited yet deeply interesting, talented, and capable beings in our own right?

In person and in direct contact with others, I trust myself to know where I stand. In direct contact with others, my strength has been helping people see the skills/powers they have in their own hands, guiding their actualization in a way that invites participation and shared ownership of the achievement. Although I haven’t been a Bond fan until recently thanks to Jaxon, the final climactic moments of the new movie left me resonating more with “his” environment—the barren, naked spaces where ultimately the extent of our survival depends on how well we know ourselves and our immediate, visceral connections—than the manipulations of the virtual world his nemesis has mastered. And the reason why I think I feel this way is the certainty that a visceral connection provides, no matter what the outcome I end up having to endure.