Sunday, February 27, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

Glitz, glamour and gaudiness will be making their 83rd annual appearance on ABC tonight. That's right, the Academy Awards have finally arrived, celebrating the best in film, or perhaps, the most popular?

Last year, I have to admit, I was one "Avatar" best picture away from losing any respect I had left for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I was convinced that they'd sold out to the money-making crowd-pleasers, simply feeding the mob what they wanted. I was convinced it had become about who made the most money. The battle, for me, came down to spectacle over substance. "Avatar" represented spectacle, a term Director James Cameron seems to have made his own genre. It was the same with "Titanic," grand in terms of scale, not-so-grand in terms of writing and substance. Now, not to be too harsh to Cameron, he's good at what he does. His movies aren't bad. I just don't think they're great.

"The Hurt Locker" represented the substance for me, last year. And sure enough, the Academy shocked me by awarding the low-budget, little-known film about the psychological effects of war on one man, with Best Picture. It was a subtle yet powerful character study with strong writing and strong performances. It didn't need spectacle.

Hence, the awarding of Best Picture to this movie restored my faith in the Academy.

Now, this year, while I still think 10 Best Picture nominees cheapens the category, I at least approve of all 10 in the category. It should be an interesting race, while I think the big prize is going to come down to "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network."

If there was an equivalent to the "Avatar" of last year, I think it'd have to be "The Social Network," as far as popularity and public impact. "The Social Network," however, I feel has far and away more substance. May the best movie win.

I'm optimistic about the new, young blood they've brought in to host this year's ceremony, James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Should be entertaining. I did love Hugh Jackman, too, so we'll see how these two stack up.

And as always, gotta love the fashion watch. Really, the only hope I have for the night is an absence of bad jokes, presence of musical numbers and Natalie Portman taking home Best Actress. Otherwise, I plan to sit back and enjoy it, not as a night to worship and pander to the Hollywood elite, but a night to celebrate the reasons that filmmaking truly is an art form.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Grub and the Lost Boys (and Girls)

Who would've thought ten minutes in a tiny eight-lane bowling alley would turn out to be the best part of my Friday.

I recently had a brief conversation with a worker at the Lincoln County Courthouse about how neat my job is because it allows me to meet such a variety of people. That is the best part, the people I get to meet. The writing is my second favorite part. People put the life in the writing.

From 9 a.m. until about noon this morning, I sat at my desk and retyped old newspaper entries for a "this day in history" type thing. For three hours. It felt like the longest Friday morning of my career to date.

Thinking I would be doomed to regurgitate who was who's coffee guest in 1961 Beloit for the next four hours, my boss gave me the welcome news that I could take off early. I did have a short appointment at 4 p.m., but we decided I could just run back into town for that.

While I didn't mind starting my weekend early, I wasn't terribly thrilled about having to go back into town at 4. All I had to do was stop by the Canton bowling alley and photograph the owner and his dad, the former owner, for a story I had already written about them.

So, at 3:45, I made the jaunt back into town. I'd already met Jeff, or "Grub," the owner, but today I also had the pleasure of meeting his dad, Don, for a brief few minutes. I learned that he used to not only work for my newspaper, but also the Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus Leader, as a printer. You know, back when they did it the old-fashioned way, by hand, laid everything out. We talked about changing technology, "funky gadgets" and the wonders of digital cameras. I got to see "Grub" interact with 30-some middle schoolers at the alley for their weekly bowling league shenanigans. He playfully told a girl shoes would cost her 10 million dollars.

When I finally got around to taking the photo, they suggested I take their picture along with all the kids. The kids, after all, are one the biggest reasons Don and Grub keep coming back to this place.

Their little family lined up in front of the bowling lanes, the kids giddy that they were going to be in the newspaper and Don and Grub playfully grumbling that people were going to have to look at them.

"Now, pretend you're normal," Grub told the kids.

We took one normal picture.

"Ok, now go crazy!" I told them. They were very obedient.

I snapped my last photo, thanked the kids, told Don it was nice to meet him and smiled and waved at Grub as I made my way out. I caught myself singing as I walked to my car.

That dingy little eight-lane bowling alley transformed into the magical equivalent of a summer tree-house, almost like their own crew of lost boys (and girls). I don't know if that makes sense, but it sure gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

One Of Those Moments

It's ten minutes to four. I'm in the office alone, impatiently watching the second hand tick away towards closing time.

In comes a customer. What could a customer *possibly* need to do at 3:50 p.m. on a Friday afternoon? Go out and get a life, I (rudely) thought to myself. Really, I was just spectacularly annoyed by the thought that this person might keep me here past four o'lock.

Of *course,* this person needed to make what seemed like 2,000 copies of *something,* something I was convinced could not be anything more important than my schedule. I put on a fake smile and tell the woman, of *course* you can use the copier, no problem! Take your time!

And, she did. A whole TWO MINUTES past closing time. Queen of Sheba here, I was thinking. Take your time, NOT.

As it turns out, while not the Queen of Sheba, she *was* the reason I was able to complete a story I'd been working on all week that should've been done that afternoon.

The final copy finally pumps out of the copier. The woman makes some friendly small talk as she heads towards the door, of which I remember nothing because all I recall was thinking, "Stop talking and LEAVE already!"

The second I hear the *ding* of the door closing, I grab my key and violently propel myself towards the front door and lock that sucker like there's no tomorrow. Flipping off the light switches, I briskly walk back through the now-dark office, grabbing my things and bolting for the time clock. Just as I grab my time card, the phone rings.

Now five after four, my first thought is to ignore it. We're closed, I say aloud to the indifferent walls. But then, for some reason, I sigh very loudly, as if the darkness will sympathize with my annoyance, and stomp over to the phone.

"Sioux Valley News, this is Laura."

"Hi, my name is Lisa, you had e-mailed my mom and said you needed photos for your story about my brother?"

You know those moments, when people say it was a "God thing?" This was one of those moments. I'd been trying to track down photos for a story I had written for several days, and was slightly worried going into the weekend without them. We put the paper together on Mondays, and like to have everything in order on Friday.

Had I not answered the phone, they would not have known we put the paper together on Mondays and would not have had them sent in. Had the copier lady not stayed two minutes after closing time, I would have been out that door at 4:01, missed the phone call, and had no photos for my story on Monday.

I suddenly felt very sheepish for being so childishly annoyed. And very thankful that God just shakes his head and chuckles.

It Is What It Is

It's amazing what a little perspective can do to over-used phrases.

I learned something from a Marine today. He told me war is what it is. I understood the idea of what he was going for when he said it, but it wasn't until I'd had an hour-long conversation with him that it became saturated with meaning.

"It is what it is" isn't a new phrase. But it is something I've never heard someone use to cope with a battered battalion suffering 20+ casualties and coming back, angry, to a society that complains about long check-out lines when he was thankful for clean concrete to sleep on.

But he wasn't angry. Well, not after a few days of adjustment. That's all it is, he said. An adjustment. It is what it is. He said bitterness isn't something you choose to stave off. You either let it get to you or you don't.

His ability to say that, and accept it, astounded me. His descriptions of a day in Afghanistan, what he saw, heard, felt, will never forget, would be enough to make anyone bitter. He lost close friends and even his own foot. What happened...happened.

Taking things one day at a time, one step at a time even, is sometimes easier said than done. But that's exactly what he's doing. If you dwell too much on the pain, it overwhelms you. It'd be too painful. If you get your hopes set too high on expectations for the future, it hurts too much to let go.

You don't forget the past, but you don't dwell on it. You don't ignore the future, but you don't obsess over it. It is what it is. Move with it, take it as it comes. We're in good hands.

The closest I could come to understanding his application of the phrase to war was a line from the movie Black Hawk Down: "When I go home people'll ask me, "Hey Hoot, why do you do it man? What, you some kinda war junkie?" You know what I'll say? I won't say a goddamn word. Why? They won't understand. They won't understand why we do it. They won't understand that it's about the men next to you, and that's it. That's all it is."

It might start about the politics, or patriotism, or a even a personal vendetta. While I've never been in their shoes, I think they might tell you that changes pretty quickly. He didn't over-sensationalize or underwhelm. He just said it is what it is. He came back to a God that never left him and family that never stopped loving him, with two years behind him he'll never forget.

NOTE: This outlook reminded me, while in a completely different circumstance, of the outlook needed to push forward in the wake of losing my then 3 1/2 year-old sister Tarah. Too painful to dwell on, too hard to imagine how you're going to live without them down the road. All you can do it take one step forward and trust. While I don't think I'll ever be able to chalk losing her up to "it is what it is," the philosophy behind it, and behind a loving God that isn't going anywhere, seems like a pretty good place to start.

Hello 2011!

Blog, welcome to 2011. I haven't dusted you off since before the New Year. Boy does time fly.

So far, it hasn't been too shabby. The year. Almost three months in already, I've had a birthday, visited a new city, chased bald eagles, seen my football team win the Super Bowl and gotten a hair cut.

Well, more than that has happened, but I guess mostly, things are comfortably the same. Little quirks save most days from boredom, so not a bad comfortable; life is what it is.

Nine months out of college, I'm just glad I'm not clawing the paint off the walls, bemoaning that I'm not a young hotshot somewhere living the dream. This is how the dream starts...wherever you happen to be! And I'm here, Canton, South Dakota. Well, why not?