Sunday, January 17, 2010

Odds & Ends for the Week Ended Jan. 16, 2010

NEW YORK—I have just a few brief things I feel like mentioning, so I'll pool 'em all in one all-over-the-place post.


Every week, I try to put aside a couple of long train rides to listen to the podcasts of two public-radio programs: Studio 360 and This American Life. Last week's This American Life program was, I found, unusually compelling, especially its first act, which focuses on a prison lifer in California who maintains hope, against all odds, that he'll eventually be released after his prison parole board, on his seventh try, decides to finally recommend that he be freed. [SPOILER ALERT] Alas, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger overturns the parole board's recommendation, and, maybe a month after the prisoner experiences this bitter defeat, he's heard castigating himself for getting his hopes up too high. (There is an eventual happy ending to this story, however, but I'll leave that for you all to hear for yourselves.)

This story resonated with me in a particular way—not so much because of the man's story, but because it reminded me that I myself tend to get suspicious of ever getting my hopes up too high for something. Ever since high school, I've always had a habit of keeping expectations guarded—because, that way, I'll be pleasantly surprised if those low expectations are fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams, and if things don't go the way I want, I won't be too disappointed. To wit: I applied for the Dow Jones copy-editing internship in 2006 on a whim, and didn't expect much to come out of it; so imagine my delight in receiving a phone call from my to-be-residency director Dr. Edward Trayes a couple months later offering me an internship at The Wall Street Journal's now-defunct copy desk in South Brunswick, N.J. On the other extreme: I had high hopes for Lorin Maazel's performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in his last few concerts as music director of the New York Philharmonic last year; alas, the performance turned out to be more workmanlike than inspired, really only coming fully alive in its concluding "Alles Vergängliche" prayer—a rousing, reach-for-the-stars finish in Maazel's hands, but perhaps too little too late. (It was the kind of performance that turned me, for a moment, into a doubter of Mahler's unwieldy Eighth—and that is never a good thing in Mahler performances.)

I don't know if this is necessarily a good way to live a life, and certainly it's not an approach I consistently live by. But, as with most things that you've grown up with, it's a way of thinking—of perhaps controlling emotion, to be more precise—that, I suspect, will stay with me as long as I live, whether I like it or not.

Anyway, if you have an hour to set aside, give this particular This American Life radio episode, entitled "Long Shot," a listen. If nothing else, its first story, about the prison lifer, is gripping, affecting stuff..


Turning to the personal front, two notable events, one positive and one negative.
The positive event: Remember that irritating clusterfuck over auto-accident-related medical bills and unprocessed claims that inspired me to post something about an image from Terry Gilliam's Brazil? Apparently someone over at Aetna's Hartford, Conn., corporate headquarters was listening! I got a call from someone there last week who says she saw a tweet I had made about a recently denied medical claim. Thus, I explained my whole situation to her, and a couple days later, I started to see all those as-yet unprocessed accident-related medical claims (plus a claim for an H1N1 vaccine I received in December) finally get processed. I'm not free and clear from all this: I still have some payments to make to Robert Wood Johnson for services rendered (my mother had insisted I wouldn't have to pay anything related to that August car accident, because I wasn't at fault; not quite right, it seems), and it turns out one of the claims I thought had already been processed was done incorrectly.

Nevertheless, I'm stunned. Even this Twitter fanatic didn't expect it to carry that kind of power! And who knew that someone at Aetna would, I assume, be looking for these kinds of tweets, and would actually respond to them (or, at least, to mine)? I guess they really do take public relations somewhat seriously.

The negative, however? In a snap of uncontrolled frustration on Friday night (don't ask me why), I stupidly landed a fist on the area to the left of the trackpad and below the keyboard on my MacBook and thereby fatally damaged my hard drive. Yesterday, I was able to get an Apple "Genius" to look at my computer, and he said they could replace the hard drive (for no cost, either, because I have AppleCare). But my external hard drive had been on the fritz for a while now before this happened—lots of clicking noises and such—and thus all the stuff I backed up onto that drive, thanks to Mac's Time Machine feature, may be gone for good. On the bright side, I have some of my important documents backed up on a flash drive, and of course my music files are still on my iPod, so it's not quite a total loss. I will see today, once I get my computer back. Stay tuned...


Movie time!

As a favor for a friend, I agreed to sit through Avatar, 3-D but not IMAX, again yesterday—and surprisingly enough, I found myself enjoying the film, in all its verbally cheesy, politically problematic, visually entrancing glories, a bit more than I did the first time. That extended war climax is still the same retro-'80s bombast and noise, but oddly enough, I found it less sleep-inducing, and even a bit more rousing the second time around. And that moment near the end when Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) finally glimpses Jake Sully's (Sam Worthington) human form is stirring enough to almost be considered visionary. My take on the film remains essentially unchanged: it's silly but dazzling eye candy. The formalist in me finds the eye candy satisfying enough.

I still wish, however, that I had been able to squeeze in that critically praised sheep-herding documentary Sweetgrass at Film Forum this weekend. Maybe tomorrow night...?

Tonight, however, will be all about the start of the new season of "24." Yes, hipsters, I still watch "24," and I'm not ashamed to admit it. (Whether it's something still worth watching this late in the game is, of course, up for debate. Maybe I'll elaborate on this in a later post.) Tonight will not be about the Golden Globes, however. That I could really care less about. Besides, the supposed "biggest Hollywood party of the year" cuts into valuable "24" time.

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