Drifting: The Slow and the Curious

So ask me why yesterday turned out to be the day I would start watching the Fast franchise? What in the actual crazypants hell? How many years have these movies been in the world? How much have I never had any interest in watching them? And then yesterday …

I was thinking about Paul Walker and the farewell video with him and Vin Diesel taking different forks at the end of the road. Why have I seen that video when I’ve never seen the movies? And why was it in my head yesterday? #TheEternalQuestions

While I certainly wasn’t a Paul Walker hater, I was never a fan, either. I often confused him with other generic-white-guy actors (Ryan Reynolds primarily … yes, I know, they look and are nothing alike). And I was pretty much unaware of most movies he was in. I knew about the “Fast Family” (as, apparently, some people call it), but not much. I love a good action movie, love car chases and crime capers and all that. Still, the Fast movies have never called my name.

Until they did yesterday.

There’s a moment pretty early in the first movie where Walker gives a smirky smile and delivers his line, and a lightbulb came on over my head. “Oh,” I thought. “So these are just really not good.”

(Because, well … yeah. I mean, isn’t that why I knew not to watch them in the first place?)

But I kept watching that first one. And then rolled right along into 2 Fast 2 Furious, which is a clever naming thing, but that’s not enough cleverness when there’s a whole movie to watch. Not by half. But Devon Aoki with her can’t-be-a-real-girl face is in it, and Ludacris’ afro is in it, and Eva Mendes’ mole … I watched it. Of course I did. I had bought in, wanted to understand how the whole Family was going to be corralled into one crew, wanted the backstory that would lead to Tyrese’s social media meltdown over Hobbs and Shaw. Sure.

It’s good that yesterday was Tuesday. That meant I needed to draw the line, close the curtain on this nonsense before it got too late in the night. I did, however, start watching Tokyo Drift. Because yes, now I’m totally bought in. I watched this overseas Part the Third through the opening plot device that gets Sean, the lead character this time around, sent to Japan. Watched a long chunk of it as I ate dinner tonight. Pretty sure I’ll watch the rest before I sleep.

Aside from being all-in with this nonsense, I’ll also watch because of Lucas Black, the actor who plays Sean, because of the mind-blowing realization of who Lucas Black is. All through that opening sequence, I tried to work out where I recognized him from. When his plane landed in Tokyo, I paused the film and turned to Google for the answer. And immediately saw that yes, of course I recognize him because he’s on NCIS: New Orleans. Okay … but then I got dope-slapped by the not-actually-believable-but-clearly-true reality of him being the boy from American Gothic. I still can’t process the fact of that. I spent at least 30 minutes scrolling through stills from the show and having to admit that yes, that boy’s face is obviously the same face as the man playing a boy in Tokyo Drift. I have to admit it, but it’s just entirely impossible.

So yes, as long as I can find them for free, I’ll keep watching these movies.

But … WHY?!

I keep watching, but I can’t lie and say that I’m enjoying them. Paul Walker had a great smile, and his face in these movies was definitely the face of a guy you’d have fun hanging out with. He looks and moves like a nice guy. Maybe he was a jackass. I have no idea. But he doesn’t look like one. It’s sad that he’s dead and that he died young. It’s still not enough of a reason for me to be watching these movies instead of the many other things I could and should be doing, could and should be spending my mental energy on.

Oh.

That last bit is the missing piece. Yes, of course it makes sense that I would choose this moment to submerge myself in something that will wash over me with little impact (aside from the Lucas Black shock).

Because so many things are whirling together in a vortex of awful, and so many of them are imploding and exploding very particularly in this moment, and it’s more than I can manage. The destruction of our system of government, the earthquake in Haiti, the building wave of delta-Covid, the instant and catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan.

It’s too much. My heart and head just … can’t.

And, frustratingly, I can’t seem to do any of the things that usually distract me from the world. I just sit and stare at my Spanish homework. My writing projects collect dust. My apartment has still not been organized into a home. …

But I can watch these movies. I can stare at these things in which I have no investment, stare at the screen and not have to think. And it didn’t have to be this franchise, of course. It could be any series, any set of movies in which I have no stake. Somehow, this just happened to be the one this time.

And it has perks. Paul Walker was cute. And this third installment has introduced me to Sung Kang, who is also cute. Eventually the Rock will make an appearance, and he’s always a pleasure to look at. Perks.

*

I’ll have to start reading the news again. And before too long, too. I’ll have to find the strength to step back into the maelstrom that is this moment in our history. But I’ve got six and a half more of these distractions to go. And I welcome the oblivion of that. I’m not completely submerged, but there’s a buffer space around me that I hope is deep and high and wide enough to give my head and heart the time they need.

I’m on the drift … and it’s exactly the ride I need.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve kept working on personal essays, kept at my #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join, it’s never too late! Find the group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

What I Didn’t Do

Content warning: Atlanta shootings

I had a crap day today. I’m overtired and cranky. I discovered a huge error in the big project we’re slogging through at work. There was a worsening of a pain in my right arm that feels distressingly similar to how my rotator cuff tear started four years ago. I left work too late to make it to the UPS store, which likely means it’s too late to return a nonsense purchase I made a while ago.

I had a crap day on Monday when I hurt my hip and smushed my finger in a door and had a snarky interaction with a neighbor who refuses to wear masks or respect socially-distant space.

I could have an entire blog dedicated to writing about the crap days I have. The days when I come home feeling defeated. The days when it’s hard to get out of bed because what’s the point when everything sucks. The days when I’m more sad, angry, lonely, tired, fed up than I am anything nicer. I generally have pretty good days, but I have quite a number of super-bad ones, too.

I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual. Don’t we all have crap days sometimes?

I had a lousy day. What I didn’t do was pretend that my unfortunate day was a reasonable catalyst for terrorism. What I didn’t do was go on a killing spree and explain my actions by saying I was in a bad mood. What I didn’t do was make my victims out to be villains who left me with no choice but to end their lives. Somehow I managed not to do any of that.

I had a crap day and this is what I did: some impulse grocery shopping when I was finally on my way home and got back here with watermelon, tortilla chips, and ice cream (hey, my binge doesn’t look like everybody’s binge). What I didn’t do, it bears repeating, was kill anyone and then blame them for my violence.

I’m not surprised that a police officer (one who has been revealed to be — surprise! — a racist) would talk about Robert Aaron Long’s act of domestic terrorism in a way that offered up excuses for the murder of eight innocent people. I’m not surprised that this racist police officer told the killer’s story and erased the victims from the narrative as easily as Long did with his racist, misogynistic violence. I’m not surprised. But I am, too.

I had a bad day. And it was made worse by the reverberations of this latest act of white male violence against people of color. Robert Aaron Long isn’t some lone wolf, some individual crazy guy who had a bad day, some unfathomable mad man. Long is one more in a line of violent white men we are asked to ignore over and over again. This morning I wrote on FB that he looks like all of his brothers — like Dylan Roof, like Tim McVeigh, like Biggo with his feet up on Nancy Pelosi’s desk, like every murdering incel. They all look alike, because they are all alike. And we are asked to ignore everything that is plainly similar about all of them, asked to pretend that each of them is a stand-alone case of mental illness rather than force the conversation about the violence of angry white men, rather than act.

I had a bad day, but I’m still here. I wish I could say the same for the eight innocents who were gunned down yesterday.


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

When life was slow and oh so mellow …

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no-one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
That dreams were kept beside your pillow

Try to remember when life was so tender
That love was an ember about to billow

I was talking with a friend this morning. She was telling me about a party she’d been to in the Before Times. We were laughing about the situation she described when she said how much she missed parties like that, how much she was looking forward to being able to go out like that again. And I agreed … but then I realized that I couldn’t actually remember what it was like, going out to parties, getting dressed up to go out, seeing my friends in small and large groups without a second thought, laughing and drinking and dancing and flirting. This afternoon, another friend texted me to ask what things I miss because of Covid. She was missing, among other things, travel. I miss travel, too. When I read her text, I thought about travel and going to the movies and not having to use hand sanitizer and … everything.

And still I am struck by how completely I can’t remember how to do any of the things I miss doing. I can’t imagine planning a trip. Can’t imagine getting on a train or plane. Can’t imagine dancing with a stranger (I mean, okay: I didn’t do a whole lot of that pre-Covid). Can’t imagine sitting in a crowded bar laughing and talking with a bunch of friends. Can’t imagine sitting in a crowded theater and leaning over to whisper snarky asides in my friend’s ear. Can’t imagine holding hands. Can’t imagine kissing.

I’m approaching the time when I’ll be able to slowly try anew some of the things I’ve had to go without for the last year. And that feels both long overdue and impossible. It’s certain that I can’t “go back” to anything. There is no “back.” We’ve left “back” so far in the past, isn’t it pretty much in another world at this point? Isn’t there only whatever’s next? Yes, I will start to find a way to do things I used to do, but will I ever do them in the same way? Will it ever be casual and easy to stand next to another person? Will I ever shake hands again?

I keep hearing “Try to Remember” from The Fantastiks. That song makes the past sound like a soft-focus, satin-smooth dream. My life pre-Covid was hardly dreamy, but the cruel space of this pandemic year makes that life feel ever out of reach. So what does that mean? We can’t go back, so what do we make of the future? How do we shape what comes next?

… it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt, the heart is hollow

No danger there, right? Plenty of hurt, so my heart is anything but hollow? Is that a lesson I’m supposed to be taking from the last year? That’s … frustrating at best. No, my heart isn’t hollow, but it wasn’t hollow before Covid, either. Is it all of our hearts, our hearts as a human race, that I should be thinking of? Has the world had to find its way through this horror show so that we can (finally) learn that every single life is “wild and precious,” that we have to fight for everyone in order to save our individual selves?

Try to remember and if you remember
Then follow
Follow

It’s all of it, of course. I (we) need to start figuring out how to live among people again. And I (we) need to find a way to stretch out into my (our) whole self again. And I (we) need to keep fighting for everyone, for every single wild and precious life. It’s the only way.

I still can’t imagine holding hands, still can’t imagine kissing. But I have to figure it out, find a way forward that includes all of that and more because our closeness, in all the ways that we should and need to be close, is what will save us.

__________

* Also, I swear I’m not always trying to put ear worms in your heads, dear reader. I can’t seem to avoid thinking of songs that fit in some way with whatever I’m posting, however. Sometimes I manage not to include the song in the post, but other times …

And more also? It’s Pi Day. Hope you had some. ❤


It’s the 14th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Yes, totally fine.

How’s my pandemic going? The tl;dr? I have become the human embodiment of that crazy-eyed cartoon dog in the flaming room. Fine. Totally, totally fine.

Let the list below be more than an iceberg-tip of an answer. I’ve reached the phase of the pandemic where …

  • I have placed my first Drizly order.
  • I started planning my second Drizly order before I uncorked the first bottle of the first order.
  • I have given up all the I’m-stuck-at-home-but-I’m-totally-handling-this-lockdown-like-a-boss things I’d kept up for the whole of last year.
  • I am no longer comforted by chocolate.
  • I have added more than a dozen fountain pens to my already outsized collection.
  • With the exception of graphic novels, I have gone all-audio-books-all-the-time. The attention and energy required to hold a book, to turn page after page has become far too much.
  • I have proven to myself that yes, I can eat a quart of ice cream in a day … or, to be most exact: I can eat two of the no-longer-a-full-pint containers that ice cream makers sell now and charge more for than they used to charge for a pint and act as if we won’t notice the difference.
  • I have purchased not one, not two … but four manual typewriters.
  • I have binged every episode of Forged in Fire on Netflix. Yes, the reality show/competition for blacksmiths. And that’s because I’d already gone through both seasons of Blown Away, the glass-blowing reality show/competition.

Again, to be most exact: Forged in Fire is about bladesmithing. The contestants spend all of their time making various knives, spears and other killing tools, the testing of their weapons involves a lot of fake blood and a judge who grins and offers the reassurance that their tools, “will kill.” It’s a weird-ass show. And I have already searched “blacksmith training near me” and found two different forges that offer classes. I don’t need a new craft, a new hobby. And certainly not one that could cause serious bodily harm. But I also need skills to carry into the post-apocalypse that are more useful than being the crotchety old lady shouting for kids to get off her lawn.

We’re closing in on a year of lockdown. It’s hard to believe. It feels both longer and shorter, feels both impossible and obvious. And realizing that the one-year mark is about to come up also made me realize that March is practically here, which means back-to-back months of daily blogging for Slice of Life and National Poetry Month. When I’ve been doing almost no writing for a year. It has taken me over an hour to scrape this bit of fluff together. And I’m supposed to post 61 days in a row? Wishing me luck!

Soul-less

I was skeptical about Pixar’s Soul. I love animated movies, but watching the trailer and seeing the Jamie Foxx-voiced lead, Joe Gardner, morph into a little glowy orb thing gave me a stomach ache. Soul looked as if it would be yet another animated movie in which a BIPOC character spent a major portion of the film not visible as a BIPOC character but as an animal, or an object, or whatever.

I read a little about the film before seeing it – very little because I hate spoilers. (There are, in fact, spoilers coming up, so be forewarned if you haven’t yet watched the movie and hate spoilers.) I did that recon because I wanted to know what other folks were saying about this “mighty morphin’ BIPOC” crap. Some were sharing the same disappointment and concern that I felt after seeing the trailer. Others were talking about how hard the filmmakers had worked to not fall into those traps. I remained skeptical.

I read excellent pieces by Monique Jones (Shadow and Act) and Andrew Tejada (Tor). I even found a Change.org petition.

I knew I was going to watch the film, but I still had a stomachache about it. My bits of research did nothing to resolve my doubts. A good friend called with a rave review – so beautiful, what a great story, such amazing animation. I still had doubt. I raised the issue, and they said they didn’t think it really applied to this film. Which actually made me more doubtful.

Okay, before was just a casual heads up. This now is an official SPOILER ALERT. If you keep reading, you’re absolutely getting spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So I watched the film. And it is beautiful, and the animation is amazing, and the story is good … ish.

Yes, Joe Gardner turns into a little glowy orb thing pretty early on in the film, really early. And I gather from some of the pieces I’ve read since watching the film that I’m supposed to be charmed by the fact that – after a brief time in the “soul world” – I get to see the Black man on screen again and see him for the remainder of the movie. I’m supposed to be charmed … or perhaps lulled into acceptance/acquiescence/inability to see what’s actually going on. Yes, I get to see a Black man on screen again …

Except not. When the body of the Black man returns to the screen, the man himself – the magical essence that makes him Joe – is in another character’s body and Joe’s body, the Black man’s body is inhabited by … wait for it … a white woman. I’m serious. We do get to hear the Black man because his soul winds up in the body of an animal. We get to see the Black man’s body – moving awkwardly and with the voice and thoughts and ideas of a white woman. Just typing it makes me tired.

All of the significant moments the Black man experiences in this section of the movie – which is, of course, the bulk of the movie – are  worked through and experienced by the character called “22” who’s voiced by Tina Fey. If you watch the trailer, most of the moments in which “Joe” is shown having a moment of joy or a significant realization are moments when Joe is actually not Joe. All of those moments and realizations are happening for 22. Yes, Joe – in his furry, animal form – is there to observe these experiences, but he is removed from the direct experience himself. This is most telling in an important scene sham-Joe (Joe’s body without Joe’s soul inside) has with his mother. It would mean so much more for Joe to be the one speaking, for Joe to be the one having that moment of understanding with his mother, for Joe to be the one embracing his mother. Instead, real-Joe gets to watch 22 have a beautiful moment. When real-Joe acknowledges his mother at the end of the scene, of course she’s not paying him any attention because she’s focused on sham-Joe and, even if she were looking at real-Joe, all she would hear would be animal noises because real-Joe’s soul is bottled up in an animal.

And then there’s the fabulousness of 22 deciding not to give Joe his body. Yes, the white woman decides that she’s quite comfortable living in Joe’s body, thank you very much, and isn’t interested in returning it to him. Yeah, that.

Joe does get back into his body and gets to spend some time on screen as Joe’s-soul-in-Joe’s-body. There is a return to the soul world in which we, of course, lose Joe’s body again. And then comes a brilliant bit of original writing, a kind of plot point we’ve never, ever, ever seen before: Joe decides to give up his body all together to help 22. It’s clear that I’m supposed to be moved by Joe’s sacrifice. Joe is that good, that giving, that heroic. No. I mean, I was moved … to being totally pissed off. Joe is going to sacrifice himself so that a white woman can go enjoy her life? Really? Haven’t enough Black bodies been sacrificed? Even just in the past year, forget about decades and centuries of history.

Back in October, Kristen Acuna wrote about the work the filmmakers did to avoid racist tropes:

“We were unaware of that [trope] as we started, but we certainly became aware,” Docter, who’s also Pixar’s chief creative officer, said […]

“My hope is that when you see the whole film, there is plenty of Joe on screen,” Docter continued. “I think we have over 50 percent on Earth that follows Joe’s life, his places of where he goes, people he’s with, and then the other part is in the soul world.”

Yes, sham-Joe is on screen for the majority of the movie. Sure. But sham-Joe is just that. We get to see a non-Black person move through the world wearing a Black man’s body like a costume. We see sham-Joe interact with the Joe’s friends better than Joe has interacted with them. We see sham-Joe live Joe’s life more fully than Joe. It’s pretty aggravating.

There are other annoying things about this film. There’s the ham-fisted microaggression of another Black man being mistaken for Joe – He’s Black, get it? That’s comedy! – and then being terrorized as a result of that botched identification. And the entire story arc of the hunter from the soul world who comes to earth to capture Joe is problematic. The character, Terry, is a little too slave-catcher-y for my tastes, bringing to mind John Sayles’ The Brother from Another Planet.

Soul frustrated and disappointed me, but I have to acknowledge that some parts of this movie are pleasing. Some of the ideas about how our souls develop and how our personalities are shaped are great — at turns funny, a little wrenching, thought-provoking. Some of the animation is stunningly joy-inducing. When Joe (real-Joe) plays the piano, the sequences are gorgeous. His hands, especially, are everything I could ever want and more. I read about how Docter worked hard to capture pianist Jon Batiste’s playing style so he could create it for Joe, and I give him full marks and extra credit for the finished result.

Those pieces of the film that are stellar actually make me more annoyed with the film as a whole. The time and attention taken to create them is clear. The filmmakers wanted to be sure to get them right, to wow us with just how right they got them. (The simply perfect animation of a samara fluttering down from a tree and into sham-Joe’s hand is quietly extraordinary, beautiful.)

All that care and attention … and not once did someone think it might be a mistake to have the body of a Black man inhabited and controlled by a white woman? Even if, as Docter said in interviews, the filmmakers were unaware of the issue of Black animated characters disappearing from center stage almost as soon as they arrived, surely someone in this current world we live in should have seen the tone-deafness of having a white woman take over the body and voice of a Black man. We’re years into the constant barrage of news stories showing white people white peopling, showing Beckys and Karens raising the alarm when they see Black men doing nothing more egregious than talking to their wives at local brunch spots.

And yet, the care taken to create Joe’s beautiful piano playing, his gloriously long and graceful fingers, his nearly tangible joy in the music … that same care couldn’t be extended to the embodiment of the primary character?

Soul isn’t a “Black movie,” isn’t a film that delves into the Black experience. It is, instead, a movie about learning to value yourself and your time, about living your life fully. It is a movie about all of that, and the central human character is a Black man. His Blackness isn’t key to the unrolling of the storyline. His Blackness simply is. And that’s great. Black characters written as multi-faceted beings going about the business of living their lives, unburdened by the stereotypes they’ve been written into forever is excellent.

Soul isn’t a Black movie, but it is, too. It wants to take advantage, with a kindly nod and wink, of the double connotations of its title. And it for-sure wants credit for the gentle dive into showing some aspects of Black community – the barber shop, the tailor shop. So, not claiming to be a Black movie, but … trying hard to be one all the same.

Whether Soul is considered a Black movie or not, Joe’s Blackness can’t be ignored. If anyone reading this hasn’t yet learned, colorblindness isn’t real, and pretending to be colorblind is insulting, is racist, is hurtful and damaging. True acceptance of others isn’t about being able to magically not see the things that make them different from us. It’s about seeing those differences and having them not make a difference. So Joe’s Blackness, while not a plot point of this film, can’t be ignored. Joe’s Blackness is. We want to be able to watch his everyman story play out, and we need to see that his Blackness is in good hands, that the filmmakers understood their responsibility for Joe’s Blackness.

They didn’t. At least not fully, not enough to see some glaring missteps.

Docter said he was unaware of the disappearing-animated-BIPOC problem. And I find that easy to believe. BIPOC folks have been aware because we’re the ones it’s happening to, ours are the faces and bodies that are being disappeared. Docter has had the cozy privilege of not having to pay attention to such “details.” He has been able to simply watch and laugh as a frog or pigeon or llama or whatever bumbles along through the film instead of the BIPOC character whose story is supposedly being told.

I can play along and believe that Docter didn’t know about this pattern of erasure. But it’s also true that he was made aware of the issue and still didn’t take enough care to avoid errors like the ones written into this film.

And yes, as part of his efforts, Docter brought in Black folks – writer, director, various consultants – to work on the film. Soul was already three years into it’s five-year development. It’s great that Black folks were brought in to work on this film The fact that there weren’t already Black folks involved is a red flag, but it’s also true the lead character wasn’t a Black man in the first versions of the story … I want to believe that the moment the character became a Black man, someone looked around the table, saw all non-Black faces and said, “Oh, we need to do something differently here,” and set about to shake things up.

Kristen Acuna’s article about the effort to avoid racist tropes includes this comment from Kemp Powers, a Black filmmaker who joined the Soul team:

“This film is that first effort. Keep in mind, I was invited on as a writer and then made a partner as a co-director. And, it’s a sad reality that there haven’t been many Black people in general in positions of power in animation,” Powers noted. “Just in the couple of years that I was at Pixar, I watched the number of Black animators and Black story artists increase. I just love the fact that rather than just talk about it, Pixar was moved to action and I can speak to that having witnessed it.” (Acuna. Insider, October 2020)

It’s easy for me to believe that much (all, I really should just say all) of the gorgeousness of the portrayal of Black people in Soul exists because of the inclusion of Black creatives on the film crew. Still, I was left feeling that those creatives were brought into the production to serve, in part, as shields. When folks like me raise concerns about the movie, those creatives will be shoved in our faces and we’ll be reminded that they — the some-of-my-best-film-crew-friends-are-Black Black folks — thought the film was okay, so we must just be overreacting and seeing bias where there isn’t any. Again.

Soul is beautiful, and it has a lovely message in the end. It also left a bad taste in my mouth.