Three movies I love

By Caitlin Kelly

As followers here know, I watch a lot of movies!

I don’t watch horror or animation or kids’ stuff, but probably watch five or more a week, mostly because I dislike most network TV and have seen most of Netflix’s offerings. We live a 20 minute drive south of an excellent indie art house, so I’m there sometimes two or three times a week to see something in the theater.

I’m going to rave today about three of my favorites:

McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The English Patient and Days of Heaven.

Maybe not surprisingly, given my age, two of them are from the 1970s, a period I think produced some terrific films.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

It’s not your usual Western — filmed in Vancouver and Squamish, B.C.

The snow scenes are real.

It includes three Leonard Cohen songs, The Stranger Song, Sisters of Mercy and Winter Lady.

It took longer to edit — nine months — than to shoot.

From Wikipedia:

The film has received critical acclaim in the years since its release and earned an Oscar nomination for Christie in the Best Actress category. The film was deemed the 8th greatest Western of all time by the American Film Institute in its AFI’s 10 Top 10 list in 2008 and, in 2010, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

Why does it resonate for me?

Visually, it really replicates the mud and squalor of a late 19th century frontier town and its rough and tumble economy.

Julie Christie is excellent as the lead, madam Mrs. Miller, and Warren Beatty as McCabe, trying to carve his fortune from the wilderness.

The final scene, for me, is also visually and emotionally unforgettable but also feels very much of the period…the 1970s and women’s emerging consciousness and economic power.

The English Patient (1996)

I happily re-watch it whenever it appears, bewitched by its locations (Tunisia, Italy), the gorgeous music, the passionate affair between Kristin Scott-Thomas (as Katherine Clifton, a bored/married Englishwoman) and Ralph Fiennes as Count Almasy.

It won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress Juliette Binoche, who plays a French-Canadian nurse, Hana. If you’re a fan of the TV series Lost, it also stars Naveen Andrews as Kip, a Sikh soldier Hana falls in love with while nursing Almasy, the title character, burned badly in a plane crash, in an abandoned Italian monastery.

It has, for me, some of the most beautiful images ever captured on film: Almasy and Katherine flying over the desert in a biplane; their passionate affair conducted to haunting Hungarian choral music; the desert sky at night and, the best, Kip’s unlikely way to show Hana the frescoes in a nearby church — hoisting her high into the air holding a signal flare. She sways, awed and delighted. How romantic is that?!

I love its mix of love and horror, truth and deception, the unlikely connections between a Hungarian count and a Canadian nurse and a British wife and a Canadian spy, their lives thrown together in an unfamiliar time — World War II — and places.

There’s nothing about this film I don’t love.

Days of Heaven (1978)

Every frame of this film is a painting, thanks to astonishing cinematography by Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler and their unusual use of low light, natural light, firelight. Almendros, speaking to a a trade magazine about his craft, said he had to unlight every scene when arriving on location to shoot, since his Hollywood-trained crew assumed he wanted a lot more light than he did.

The music is by two of my favorites — legendary film composer Ennico Morricone and guitarist Leo Kottke.

It barely made money beyond its $3 million budget.

Yet, from Wikipedia:

Days of Heaven has since become one of the most acclaimed films of its decade,[11] particularly for its cinematography. In 2007, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.[12][13] It continues to appear in polls of the best films ever made, and appeared at #49 on a BBC poll of the greatest American films.[14]

It stars a young and ggggggorgeous Richard Gere as a worker fleeing a murder he committed in Chicago who flees with his partner, Abby, played by Brooke Adams, and his younger sister, to the plains of Texas (shot in Alberta.)

They arrive to work as farmhands for a wealthy owner, played by Sam Shephard, whose health is failing — they plan to grift him by having Abby marry and survive him.

Plot twist!

Have you seen any of these?

Did you enjoy them?

Why read a grim book?

By Caitlin Kelly

There are happy books and there are books you think…really?

I’m expected to get through the whole thing?

There are books, whether novels or non-fiction, about alcoholism, drug use, family abuse, that can feel like a real slog. The subject is undeniably depressing, frightening, even terrifying and most of its characters are people you would never want to meet.

I admit, I didn’t enjoy reading a huge 2018 best-seller, Educated, by Tara Westover, about the terrible family she grew up with, eventually escaping to a better life. I was (however unfairly) impatient with her for staying so long in an environment that was so awful. An earlier best-seller, also by a white woman, Jeanette Wells, was 2005’s The Glass Castle. But I did enjoy a Canadian book like this, North of Normal.

One of the best books I read last year was also emotionally difficult, In The Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado, a memoir of lesbian domestic abuse. Now that sounds appealing! But her writing is extraordinary and it’s a great book.

I recently read the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain. As I described it to a friend, a fellow journalist, she said she just couldn’t do it. I found that interesting as journalism, with our decades of exposure to some very tough stories, tends to harden us somewhat.

I did enjoy it, but it’s rough — a young boy, Shuggie, living in Glasgow poverty with an older brother and sister and a severely alcoholic mother, abandoned by his father.

I also found elements of it painful and hard to read because my mother was also an alcoholic, and the novel is filled with his hopeless hope that someday, someday, she won’t be — a fantasy painfully familiar to any child of an alcoholic.

The author, Douglas Stuart, survived a very similar childhood, so his ability to turn such grim fare into a compelling novel is impressive. And his background isn’t the standard trajectory of writing classes, workshops and an MFA — he worked in fashion design for decades and was writing it while working as the senior director of design for Banana Republic.

From Wikipedia:

In a conversation with 2019 Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo on 23 November, livestreamed as a Southbank Centre event, Stuart said: “One of my biggest regrets I think is that growing up so poor I almost had to elevate myself to the middle class to turn around to tell a working-class story.”[22] Discussing the “middle-class” publishers’ rejections he had received for Shuggie Bain, he told Evaristo: “Everyone was writing these really gorgeous letters. They were saying ‘Oh my god this will win all of the awards and it’s such an amazing book and I have never read anything like that, but I have no idea how to market it’.”[22] Stuart said in a 2021 conversation with the Duchess of Cornwall that winning the Booker Prize transformed his life.[36]

But I also liked a very tough book, Triomf, from 1994, by Marlene van Niekirk, the most celebrated Afrikaans author of South Africa. It’s dark as hell; the family she features even includes incest.

What, then, is the appeal of such books?

For some, voyeurism….thank God it’s not me!

For some, curiosity, having never experienced poverty and/or alcoholism, or life in a cult in the woods.

I hope, for some, as a way to develop or deepen empathy for people whose lives are wholly different from their own, as — in non-fiction — the storytellers have clearly been able to survive and thrive despite a really difficult earlier life. It becomes a narrative of resilience, not despair.

I admit, I cried hard at the end of Shuggie Bain, as it brought up a lot of unexpressed and painful memories of my own experiences of being “parentified”, always worrying about my mother’s health and safety instead of my own, (even though we were not, thank God, poor), and tied to a woman who was unable or unwilling to create a larger social safety net for herself. So reading a similar book can be painful but also cathartic — someone else really gets it. And, God forbid, someone else had it much worse.

Do you ever read books like this?

Which ones?

How have they left you?

NOTE: I refuse to use Amazon for any purchases, (I loathe its labor policies), so links to these books will not connect to their site.

10 reasons to watch Succession

Logan Roy, media mogul (played by Brian Cox)

By Caitlin Kelly

This is not a television show for the faint of heart!

There’s no physical violence — not the endless gunfire of cop shows or the bloody murders of Dexter — but every episode means someone, and likely several, will feel a verbal knife between the ribs.

This much-lauded HBO series has been booked for a fourth season, its finale of Season Three tomorrow.

It follows the fortunes, (which are considerable), of the Roy family: the father, Logan and his three hapless adult children, (in age order), Connor, Kendall, Siobhan and Romulus. The family business is Waystar-Royco, a global media conglomerate, and the succession is who, if anyone, will take over from Logan.

Ten reasons I think it’s worth your time and attention:

Peeking into how the 1% live

They call their private jets PJs. How cute! No one ever drives because there is always a gleaming black Escalade, with driver, waiting for them. No cabs or public transit. No commercial flights. So many servants.

At the end of Season Two, the Roys convene in Croatia aboard a luxury mega-yacht — you know, the kind with a helicopter landing pad and its own swimming pool. If you’ve never boarded one (and lucky you, if so!) it’s an interesting peek at opulence. Their Hamptons house is enormous. Their Manhattan townhouse, typically, has its own elevator and is both restrained and very luxurious.

Siobhan Roy, (played by Sarah Snook)

Sibling rivalry!

It’s both absurd and scary to see the sniping between these supposed adults, especially between Roman and Shiv, endlessly jockeying for Logan’s fickle favor. Connor is a low-key buffoon and Kendall is determined to bring down the whole castle.

Here’s a profile from the Hollywood Reporter of Kieran Culkin, who plays Roman.

The endless courting of investors

It all looks so shiny and effortless, but if your company’s health or survival relies on fellow billionaires investing millions of dollars in your abilities, things can get dicey very quickly — as they do in Season Three.

Tom Wambsgans (played by Matthew MacFadyen)

Marrying into money? You’ll earn every dime!

The marriage between Tom Wambsgans and Siobhan is…troubled. He’s a midwestern schlub — and I still have no idea how they met or what she ever saw in him?! — and she’s a spoiled rotten heiress who’s never held a job, apparently. She’s a skilled manipulator but, especially in this current season, he’s become wary and withholding. About time!

Ethics, schmethics!

It’s all about the power, baby! If your lawyer can’t get you the results you want, hire another one!

Nicholas Britell’s unforgettable theme music and score

Here’s a fascinating look at how he makes these musical decisions; a 5:24 video explaining his choices for Season 2.

Once you hear it, you’ll never forget it, a mix of discordant notes played with abandon. He uses his music in so many ways, from a funereal dirge to a gentle acoustic guitar to a stately symphonic rendition.

Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong)

Kendall

This is one deeply sad human being. He has no apparent relationship with his two children. His current flame, another heiress, seems less than. There’s a deep sadness in his eyes and everything he says, with hearty bravado, just feels off. Actor Jeremy Strong is extraordinary.

Here’s a very long New Yorker profile of Strong.

Siobhan

How perfect that her nickname is Shiv — the home-made knives prisoners make to stab a guard or fellow inmate with. Played by Australian actress Sarah Snook, Shiv is a slippery shape-shifter, all cooing suck-up to her father and cold-as-ice to her hapless husband. She desperately wants power but never seems to find a way to legitimately earn it. Even when she does (in Season Three), her achievement is undercut and dismissed by Logan. It’s brutal to watch.

Here’s a Harper’s Bazaar profile of Snook.

Logan

He is a true brute, whose tactics may make this show unwatchable for some. His typical reply of “uh-huh” speaks volumes — by never committing to anything he hasn’t already planned or sabotaged. The definition of ruthless.

Wealth doesn’t protect you from abuse

Read this brilliant analysis, from Vox, of how deeply traumatized the Roys really are.

And this, about Kendall and the actor who plays him, Jeremy Strong.

If you’re already watching it — here are some interesting re-caps/analyses.

If you have been watching it, what do you think?

10 reasons to love Mame

By Caitlin Kelly

Starting a new occasional series here, dedicated to cultural things I love — and hope to inspire you to check out as well: music, books. films, art and more.

Do you know the book, musical or movie of Mame?

If you’re below 50, probably not!

Written in 1955 by Patrick Dennis, it sold more than two million copies and stayed on The New York Times best-seller list for 112 weeks. Then it became a play, a musical and a film, nominated for six Academy Awards.

The 10 year old boy at its center — also named Patrick — is sent to live with his madcap aunt Mame, who defines fabulous; in the 1958 film, Mame re-decorates her apartment almost every scene.

I adore Mame, and its spirit of joie de vivre.

I know all the songs by heart and love singing along, although “My Best Girl” always makes me weepy.

From Wikipedia:

A June 1958 Los Angeles Examiner article named six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, “Syrie Maugham” a French style named for writer Somerset Maugham’s wife; English, Danish Modern and East Indian. When the Upsons visit Mame, they run afoul of the Danish Modern furniture, which is equipped with lifts[5] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins).

The costume design for the film, which includes outfits for Mame that coordinate with those sets, was provided by Orry-Kelly,[6] who had worked with Rosalind Russell on a number of films. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther observed: “The lavish décor of Mame’s apartment is changed almost as frequently as are her flashy costumes, and all of them are dazzling, in color and on the modified wide-screen

Ten reasons I adore Mame, and hope you will too!

— Although Patrick lands abruptly in her care after his father suddenly dies, she’s thrilled to now be taking care of him, not resentful.

— Her glamorous Beekman Place apartment is a froth of over-the-top fun and fantasy.

— That cigarette-holder!

— The characters are great, including lock-jawed snob Gloria Upson and gloomy Agnes Gooch.

— Mame can not stand snobbery!

— She reminds me so much of the wealthy, profligate Chicago-born heiress who was my late maternal grandmother, all raw silk turbans and custom-made raw silk muumuus and gold-topped canes and limo’s everywhere.

— Like me, Patrick is sent off to boarding school but treasures his visits with Mame.

— Despite moving in wealthy Manhattan circles, Mame is always urging Patrick to be curious and adventurous: “Open a new window, open a new door, travel a new highway you’ve never tried before…”

— She knows how to cheer everyone up, singing: “Haul out the holly, put up the tree…We need a little Christmas, right this very minute, candles at the window, carols at the spinnet!”

— She’s a figure we can all enjoy in our lives, whether we’re a lost little boy or a happy play, musical or film-goer. She stands the test of time.

A perfect Manhattan afternoon

By Caitlin Kelly

What a luxury it is to live so close to New York City!

I can drive in from our suburban town and (if lucky!) be parked on the street within 30 to 40 minutes.

I seem to have tremendous parking karma — which means, very often, I’ll find a spot on the street where I don’t even have to pay (on Sunday, for example), saving me as much as $50 for garage parking for 3-5 hours in fancier neighborhoods.

So I drove in last Sunday to Lexington and 83d, a neighborhood called the Upper East Side, UES, to meet a young friend for brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop, which is a tiny diner on that corner that opened in 1925.

They’re touchy about guests staying too long and by noon there was a line-up.

Then it’s an easy walk west along 83d to the Metropolitan Museum, which, for now has timed admission you reserve in advance.

If you’ve never yet been to New York or to the Met, the whole experience of the UES is well worth it; even the walk, across Park and Madison leads you past elegant townhouses and uniformed doormen, a guy smoking a stogie leaning on a car, a dog-walker with a huge, shaggy something and two pugs. The people watching is always good, and there are so many lovely architectural details to enjoy — from flower-filled window-boxes to carved gargoyles to the wrought-iron frames of pre-war apartment building entrance doors.

The Met has wide steps that make great seating, and musicians — competing! — settle in to entertain. There are plenty of food trucks — for $14 I got a falafel wrap and a lemonade.

New York state residents can pay as little or as much as we want for the Met’s admission fees — everyone else pays $12 (students), $17 seniors over 65 or the full fare of $25.

It’s tempting to think you have to see everything there if you’re a tourist, but that would be impossible! If you really do pay attention to objects, and read labels and wall signs, you’ll soon feel overloaded.

I find it all so moving — the Roman marble family sculpture from a cemetery; the tiny metal pins in the shape of animals that Roman soldiers wore (!); red and black Greek pottery; exquisite enamels of the 17th c; medieval tapestries —- and that’s just a few main floor galleries!

What amazing things have been produced by so many people. To see them close up is such a joy.

I love to visit a pair of gold earrings I find totally enchanting.

The place is quiet and civilized and there are plenty of benches to rest on. Everyone must be masked.

You can have the oddest moment of looking at something millennia old — and stare out the Fifth Avenue windows at the millionaires’ apartments across the street.

The gift shop is full of gorgeous things, jewelry and scarves, pens and pencils and books and puzzles and posters.

I remember it being full of astounding art and art history books — but not now?

It’s an interesting reminder that, without rich people’s generosity, many museums (certainly in the U.S.), would have a lot less stuff to show us; labels tell you what an item is and how old and maybe what it was used for, but also when it was acquired and using what funds. So the Jayne Wrightsman Galleries, for example, are huge and full of very ornate French material, not my taste at all.

Every room in the Greek and Roman galleries had the name of some wealthy benefactor.

These eyes, which would have been added to Roman or Greek sculptures are creepy — but also amazing.

I have a favorite painting I like to say hello to as well, on the second floor, of Joan of Arc, painted in 1879.

Have you been to the Met?

What are some of your favorite local museums?

The van Gogh immersive show

By Caitlin Kelly

This show is making the global rounds — at least in North America — currently in Manhattan at Pier 36 until September 6.

I recently saw it with a good friend and recommend it.

It is not cheap! Our tickets were $66 each, for an hour of entertainment, although we were able to see the show more than once by just staying in the room.

There are three rooms, the first being long and fairly narrow, the third, the most interior, is enormous — and has a totally different and overwhelming sense of scale; it also has a few benches, otherwise you’re sitting on the floor.

If you know some of his work, you’ll enjoy seeing some old favorites — like the Postman. If you’re new to it, dozens of images will move past you in a hypnotic array.

I have no idea how its creators got permission to use any of the images, or if anyone in the van Gogh family is getting income from this — I sure hope so!

They have somehow managed to make some of the images come to life, through animation — like this windmill.

The show, designed by three Italians, is accompanied by a variety of music, from a Mussorgsky piece to Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien” and it enhances the experience.

The site design also includes a variety of reflective elements, from bubbles to tall columns to what look like huge rocks — which bounce the images around the room even further.

It’s all very beautiful.

My main issue with it may seem pedantic — there’s nothing said about Vincent van Gogh, who died at 37, and who created this amazing art. The gift shop is, to my mind, overkill — crocheted keychains?!

But I enjoyed it and am glad we went.

Turns out there are many many versions of this idea!

Like this one…

Have you seen this one?

What did you think?

Ten reasons to love”Billy Elliot”

By Caitlin Kelly

I know, not a new film!

But one I’m so happy to watch over and over again…

Filmed in London, Esrington (Durham) and in studio, it’s the story of a young working-class boy , played by Jamie Bell, who dreams of studying ballet, despite the initial anger and shock of his coal-miner father — broke, scared and out on strike.

“Ballet?!” he shouts (sounding like Bally)

“Boys do things like…football, wrestling!”

The film was made for a small budget of $5 million in only seven weeks, and they could only shoot during weekdays because of the actor’s young age — child labor laws!

It has since earned $109 million.

Bell had to endure seven auditions before finally winning the role — beating out 2,000 others!

A few reasons I love it so much:

  1. If you love ballet and/or have studied it (as I did for years), it shows what discipline it really takes to even get started in this demanding art form as young Billy, then 11, learns turn-out and plies and arabesques.

2. Determination! Billy lives in a working-class neighborhood, surrounded by people whose dreams are usually small and local. It will take a lot of determination to break free, which he does.

3. How much a small boy misses his late mother. She has died young and there’s a lovely scene in the tiny kitchen where she appears to him again.

4. How the local, overwhelmingly macho ethos shapes a young boy — and what if you don’t fit the mold? His friend Michael, gay, is terrified Billy will reject him (set in 1984) and then what?

5. Why sometimes it’s someone far from your family who really sees you for who you are and will fight to make sure you get what you need — Mrs. Wilkinson, his ferocious local dance teacher.

6. The scenes of police chasing down striking coal miners — set to raucous tunes like the Clash’s London Calling — are both poignant and funny.

7. That opening scene with Billy bouncing on his bed!

8. Maybe my favorite scene of all — Billy and Mrs. Wilkinson on a car ferry, The Tees Transporter Bridge, while listening to Swan Lake as she explains the plot to him. The contrast between the industrial surroundings and the ethereal music is perfect!

9. The moment Billy is asked, at his audition for the Royal Ballet School, why he loves ballet…”I just disappear. It’s electricity.”

10. The final image of him soaring above the London stage, his father, brother and Michael there to watch him with pride.

And if you want to watch dancers in rehearsal — getting endless corrections to what already looks physically impossible! — check out the Australian Ballet’s Instagram feed.

Have you seen it?

Do you have a favorite scene?

Six great journalism movies

By Caitlin Kelly

There’s no way past it. If you’re going to read a blog written by a journalist…

The Devil Wears Prada

I’ve seen this 2006 film so many times I know much of the dialogue off by heart and always look forward to my favorite scenes.

It follows the trajectory of Andrea Sachs, a gormless fresh graduate, who is very serious about journalism, stuck in a first job — at a NYC glossy fashion magazine — she neither wants nor respects. It’s a job.

This one always hits me!

It’s set in Manhattan, with key scenes in buildings and locations holding some great memories in my own writing life.

It’s really about what it takes to pay dues, to go along and get along in a rough and unfamiliar environment.

The price of ambition.

There are some lovely scenes in Paris as well.

Lots of arguments about whether her friends are true friends, or people who have no clue what it really takes to get ahead in this brutally competitive industry.

Plus, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci and acres of gorgeous clothes and accessories.

It was made for $35 million — and has earned almost 10 times that since.

Spotlight

I know of no other film that so abundantly makes clear what it takes to do really slow, really detailed, really deep reporting work, aka investigative journalism. It won Best Picture for 2015 and richly deserved it.

It follows a real team of four reporters at the Boston Globe who dug up a rats’ nest of priest’s abuse. There are scenes that should be required viewing in every journalism class, like the one where Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) has to coax grim details from a male abuse victim.

No one who hasn’t done this work — and especially those who loathe and insult journalists — can really grasp the emotional intelligence (empathy, compassion, patience) it takes to get victims to share the stories that can, sometimes, create tremendous political and legal change.

I’ve watched this one many times and never tire of it.

It also makes very clear the tremendous pressure often placed on senior newsroom management by powers-that-be eager to shut down some unwanted attention.

And the military chain-of-command that still runs most newsrooms.

And the balls-to-the-wall determination it demands of reporters to keep chasing elusive answers.

Plus, again — Stanley Tucci!

Absence of Malice

This is an older one, from 1981, with Sally Field as a reporter and Paul Newman as the subject of her story.

Nominated for three Academy Awards, and written by a former newspaper editor, it addresses when, how or if a reporter should ever have a romantic relationship with someone they’re writing about it.

It also shows that speaking to “civilians” — regular people who don’t understand how journalism works — can wreak havoc on their lives.

Some of our collection of laminated press credentials….

All The President’s Men

Better known to those who love it as ATPM, this follows the Watergate scandal that brought down former U.S.President Richard Nixon, and the two Washington Post reporters — Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) — who broke the story after many months of reporting and a lot of internal and external doubt whether the story was true and verifiable.

Jason Robards is terrific as the Post’s patrician editor, Ben Bradlee, with his Gucci-clad feet on every desk.

It’s a total boy-fest, with almost no women involved in the editing or reporting, but still so worth watching.

For an entire generation of would-be journalists, Woodward and Bernstein were the ultimate role models.

The Paper

Hilarious!

Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei — and Glenn Close — star in this send-up of New York City tabloid journalism. Having worked at the NY Daily News, I get it now!

If you want a glimpse of what newspaper tabloid life is like, this is it.

A Private War

This is a recent film, from 2018, about the legendary American foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin, played by the excellent British actress Rosalind Pike.

Colvin had already lost an eye covering the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka but never stopped worked in dangerous places.

She was killed while on assignment in Homs, Syria, Feb. 12, 2012.

And guess who’s in the cast?

Stanley Tucci!

What word games do you play?

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve always been proud of my vocabulary and I’ve been writing for a living since university.

But it’s humbling indeed to realize how many words I still don’t know or just don’t use.

I recently began playing the New York Times Spelling Bee and am officially addicted!

It’s shaped like a flower, with seven letters — six around a central letter that must be included in every word of four or more letters.

Its feedback as you play is so New York-ishly competitive….as you make more words and score more points (with more points for longer words) it goes from Nice to Solid (!) to Great to Amazing.

The highest level (which I have yet to attain) is Queen Bee.

And I’m such a nerd that when I come up with a word that uses all the letters — that they didn’t include — there is much gnashing of teeth. How dare they!

It teaches me a lot about how I perceive, how I think, how I see (or don’t!) see patterns.

And words I never use or have never heard before.

How could I have missed anime?

I don’t follow it as an art form, even as I know what it is. So my eyes didn’t discern it.

And let’s not forget tontine — an obscure 17th-19th century word for a kind of insurance.

DONEE?!

It’s really interesting to work hard at it for a bit, get tired and frustrated, then go away for a while. Maybe an hour or more.

Almost without fail, the minute I see it anew — boom! –– there’s a word right in front me I hadn’t noticed.

I like that it forces me to take breaks and refresh my brain.

I also play Scrabble with my husband, but more often now solo against the computer at the advanced level. It drives me nuts when it — often — makes obviously French words! Like quai.

I also need to memorize a lot more words using q, j, and z.

He and I play Bananagrams and he’s gotten very good!

What I like most about it, other than it’s easily portable (the tiles come in the cutest little yellow cotton sack that looks like a banana), is it forces players to move fast and be super flexible. If the word patterns you’ve made aren’t allowing for the next letters, break ’em up and move them as needed.

This is huge, this sort of instant destruction. It’s the opposite of Scrabble, where you aim for the highest possible score every time. With Bananagrams, the goal is to use up all the letters as fast as possible then shout “Bananas!” when you win.

It’s a little odd that I work with words and also play with them. But I like that they’re not only my bread and butter but a source of real pleasure and relaxation.

These games are a fun and easy way to stay mentally sharp, to grow my vocabulary, to savor a bit of competition.

Do you play any word games?

Seven pandemic questions

By Caitlin Kelly

I really enjoyed this New York Times special section where they asked a range of artists — 75 in all –these questions:

Some produced nothing.

Some went into overdrive.

Some did a lot of cooking.

Some binged on much older works of art, from the Iliad to old movies.

My replies:

If you’d known you’d be so isolated for so long, what would you have done differently?

I would have rented a house somewhere upstate and fled our apartment. It’s been a challenge with two people home all the time working, between no privacy and noise and endless cooking and cleaning. Even fled overseas or back to Canada.

Did you find a friendship that helped you through this time?

My husband has been the best and most consistent.

What’s one thing you made this year?

My book proposal.

What’s the one moment you’ll remember most?

Two…my last gasps of non-COVID travel, seeing friends in D.C. in early March 2020, and a Degas show there. And the (thank God) defeat of Trump.

What art have you turned to?

I watch way too much television: new shows, older shows, new movies, older movies. Have tried to read books but with less success. My Insta account includes several people who highlight works of art and this has been really sustaining. Music, every day, thanks to my vinyl and global radio and Sirius XM.

What bad idea did you have?

My book proposal — so far proving impossible to sell. Very frustrating.

What do you want to achieve before things return to normal?

Lose more weight. Get really thoughtful about who I will spend time with.

How about you?

How would you answer any or all of these?