Monday, February 28, 2005

Multi-Million Dollar Babies


OK, last Wednesday, I made my predictions (see Feb. 23 below), and... I did OK, considering (and here's the clincher) I'd only seen two of the nominated films. I'd say pretty good indeed. Again, personal kudos to "Sideways" and above all, my convoluted biopic of the year, "Eternal Sunshine..."

Years ago (the year Marisa Tomei won for "My Cousin Vinny"), I was invited by an elegantly slim and leggy woman with great skin to attend a way upwardly mobile Academy Awards party in Austin, I mean the monied movers and shakers of the city, and I was a grad student bum, basically, but my GOSH, my date looked great in "a little black dress," and this IS what these evenings are about, sort of - that and good wine. (I hear Pinot Noir is in this year, even if film noir is out.)

Upon entering, each of us was to fill in a slip with our predictions, and a very nice bottle of (real) champagne would "go to" the winner with the most correct predictions. Well, this was not just a monied crowd, it was, generally a movie-going crowd as well.

But you got it: I won. Got 'em all right. And I STILL have yet to see "My Cousin Vinny" and probably several other of the films nominated that year. Well, cut to 2004, an abysmal year for me and movies - my nadir, frankly. In college, in American Studies, I often wrote about film and sometimes went to see 3-4 movies a week in a theatre, taking notes, the works, insinuating my best Pauline Kael imitation.

2004: I saw ONE movie in the theater - oh, to admit this, one who has in the more distant past had so many memorable dates in the darkly flickering light of the big screen.... That film was none other than "Farenheit 9/11" on the first day of release, of course, as a group protesting the fact that the former guv Bush still had a job (seems that F 9/11 was not the plowshare turned into a sword it was meant to be - meaning the dumb voters who really vote and always have and always will didn't give a shit).

Anyway, that was it for me and theaters - not an "out on the town" year for me. But I did happen to see two of the nominated films on DVD before Sunday night: "Eternal Sunshine" and "Ray." So who was I to know that "Million Dollar Baby" was SO powerful it could pull the red carpet out from under "The Aviator"? I did think Scorsese had it in the hanger, under wraps like the Spruce Goose. But Clint and Hilary. Who'da known you could follow through the knock out punches, deftly delivered, right down the line?

Why did it happen? (And believe you me, I'm joining a crowd of those surprised.) Because, I see it now: "The Aviator" was a spectacle, but Mr. Hughes leaves us rather cold, feeling the need to wash our hands - not wipe our faces for the tears. But Hilary the dominant and then doomed boxer, she and Clint and Morgan set us up for a major tear fest, and it is emotion that is the heart of drama, not just action. (So why DID that damned Lord Thing win last year? Ugh!)

OK, in closing, as a guy, I'll revert to the red carpet, on which the awards seem to depend as much as ever, if not more. (I hear David Bowie singing "Fashion" in the background.) Yes, the gents all look nice in tuxes - most dweebs do, only more so weight-height proportionate males with cheekbones, debonair grins, $300 haircuts and $10,000 teeth.

This is about the multi-million dollar babes:

Annette is a love, a delight, a shining twinkle, elegantly aged, and if Warren is ever out...

Kate is my babe, the fleshy girl next door with a face and bod and girl-friendliness to feast upon.

But then there are the three current goddesses of the carpet, and they are unmistakably these: Halle, Hilary and Charlize.


(And I didn't even watch the show. I've got a LIFE, you know.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Movie of the year


No, not a prediction for an Oscar, but the actual recipient of the "Movie of the Year" award here at A Better Nation. (For my Oscar predictions, see Wednesday's post.)

There were some good movies this year and even a few great ones, but even most of the "great" ones are really just works of high craft, not art, certainly not ART all caps.

Rumor has it that the Academy intentionally avoided controvery by playing down the significant roles of those cantankerous and contentious icons of pop culture, circa 2004, "Farenheit 9/11" and "The Passion of Christ." Both, partly to spite their sacriligious directors, were relegated to the category of partisan devil worship. But word also has it that viewership of this Sunday's Academy Awards would be much higher (and with a lot more buzz at your local Starbucks, even your local Pizza Hut) if both had been nominated for Best Picture. (Interesting that both essentially spring from the same hunk of holy wasteland, just set 2000 years apart.) The showdown would have kept some viewers hanging in there to the bitter end, even with the same final result, Scorsese or Eastwood in a walk - and the same for one of their more deserving pictures. Too bad the Academy warded off this salient Hollywood version of a cultural OK Corral before the red carpets were even yanked from storage.

As an aspiring screenwriting relative of mine, who until recently lived just two blocks off Hollywood Blvd, has said, Charlie Kaufman is one of the few screenwriters who has achieved a sort of literary stardom, as if he were writing significant (and consistently inventive) books for the Random House and NY Times Bestseller list set.

What's the name of that movie again?

"Eternal" what?

Something "sunshine..."

I feel that more than the other big and notorious films released in 2004, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is THE work of ART, all caps, and I'm far from alone in thinking and saying so. It remains a fave among critics, and Kate Winslet's performance, which has received an Oscar nomination for best actress, may remain under-rated, even after a night of glitz - and a smashing new look, I'm sure, way to go, Kate!

But it is the film itself, as a whole that triumphs even over that great performance (which I'll asign Reason Number Three). Reasons One: the film's universal theme - tarnished, disparaged and disjointed romantic memories. And right up there, Reason Two: the film's intricate and ingenious construction. Kaufman and director Michel Gondry have created an appropriately akilter, offbeat, haunting and whistfully heartbreaking yet encouraging masterpiece. It's not "big." It's not "HOLLYWOOD" ALL CAPS, but it will last a long time - and, I predict, over time, become among the very favorites of more viewers than any film this year. And, as a bonus, it IS the kind of film for which once is not enough - which seems apropos.

Kaufman lifted that hard to remember (and get right) title from a long poem, by Alexander Pope (or Pope Alexander, depending on your point of view).

I'd never heard of the poem until I googled it after seeing the movie. It is a lovely work that fits brilliantly. Kudos to Kaufman.

Here is a passage from the even longer poem, "Eloisa to Abelard":

In these deep solitudes and awful cells,
Where heav'nly-pensive contemplation dwells,
And ever-musing melancholy reigns;
What means this tumult in a vestal's veins?
Why rove my thoughts beyond this last retreat?
Why feels my heart its long-forgotten heat?
Yet, yet I love! — From Abelard it came,
And Eloisa yet must kiss the name.

Dear fatal name! rest ever unreveal'd,
Nor pass these lips in holy silence seal'd.
Hide it, my heart, within that close disguise,
Where mix'd with God's, his lov'd idea lies:
O write it not, my hand — the name appears
Already written — wash it out, my tears!
In vain lost Eloisa weeps and prays,
Her heart still dictates, and her hand obeys.

Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains
Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains:
Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn;
Ye grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn!
Shrines! where their vigils pale-ey'd virgins keep,
And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep!
Though cold like you, unmov'd, and silent grown,
I have not yet forgot myself to stone.
All is not Heav'n's while Abelard has part,
Still rebel nature holds out half my heart;
Nor pray'rs nor fasts its stubborn pulse restrain,
Nor tears, for ages, taught to flow in vain.

Soon as thy letters trembling I unclose,
That well-known name awakens all my woes.
Oh name for ever sad! for ever dear!
Still breath'd in sighs, still usher'd with a tear.
I tremble too, where'er my own I find,
Some dire misfortune follows close behind.
Line after line my gushing eyes o'erflow,
Led through a sad variety of woe:
Now warm in love, now with'ring in thy bloom,
Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!
There stern religion quench'd th' unwilling flame,
There died the best of passions, love and fame.

Yet write, oh write me all, that I may join
Griefs to thy griefs, and echo sighs to thine.
Nor foes nor fortune take this pow'r away;
And is my Abelard less kind than they?
Tears still are mine, and those I need not spare,
Love but demands what else were shed in pray'r;
No happier task these faded eyes pursue;
To read and weep is all they now can do.

Then share thy pain, allow that sad relief;
Ah, more than share it! give me all thy grief.
Heav'n first taught letters for some wretch's aid,
Some banish'd lover, or some captive maid;
They live, they speak, they breathe what love inspires,
Warm from the soul, and faithful to its fires,
The virgin's wish without her fears impart,
Excuse the blush, and pour out all the heart,
Speed the soft intercourse from soul to soul,
And waft a sigh from Indus to the Pole.

Thou know'st how guiltless first I met thy flame,
When Love approach'd me under Friendship's name;
My fancy form'd thee of angelic kind,
Some emanation of th' all-beauteous Mind.
Those smiling eyes, attemp'ring ev'ry day,
Shone sweetly lambent with celestial day.
Guiltless I gaz'd; heav'n listen'd while you sung;
And truths divine came mended from that tongue.
From lips like those what precept fail'd to move?
Too soon they taught me 'twas no sin to love.
Back through the paths of pleasing sense I ran,
Nor wish'd an Angel whom I lov'd a Man.
Dim and remote the joys of saints I see;
Nor envy them, that heav'n I lose for thee.

How oft, when press'd to marriage, have I said,
Curse on all laws but those which love has made!
Love, free as air, at sight of human ties,
Spreads his light wings, and in a moment flies,
Let wealth, let honour, wait the wedded dame,
August her deed, and sacred be her fame;
Before true passion all those views remove,
Fame, wealth, and honour! what are you to Love?
The jealous God, when we profane his fires,
Those restless passions in revenge inspires;
And bids them make mistaken mortals groan,
Who seek in love for aught but love alone.
Should at my feet the world's great master fall,
Himself, his throne, his world, I'd scorn 'em all:
Not Caesar's empress would I deign to prove;
No, make me mistress to the man I love;
If there be yet another name more free,
More fond than mistress, make me that to thee!
Oh happy state! when souls each other draw,
When love is liberty, and nature, law:
All then is full, possessing, and possess'd,
No craving void left aching in the breast:
Ev'n thought meets thought, ere from the lips it part,
And each warm wish springs mutual from the heart.
This sure is bliss (if bliss on earth there be)
And once the lot of Abelard and me.

Alas, how chang'd! what sudden horrors rise!
A naked lover bound and bleeding lies!
Where, where was Eloise? her voice, her hand,
Her poniard, had oppos'd the dire command.
Barbarian, stay! that bloody stroke restrain;
The crime was common, common be the pain.
I can no more; by shame, by rage suppress'd,
Let tears, and burning blushes speak the rest.

Canst thou forget that sad, that solemn day,
When victims at yon altar's foot we lay?
Canst thou forget what tears that moment fell,
When, warm in youth, I bade the world farewell?
As with cold lips I kiss'd the sacred veil,
The shrines all trembl'd, and the lamps grew pale:
Heav'n scarce believ'd the conquest it survey'd,
And saints with wonder heard the vows I made.
Yet then, to those dread altars as I drew,
Not on the Cross my eyes were fix'd, but you:
Not grace, or zeal, love only was my call,
And if I lose thy love, I lose my all.
Come! with thy looks, thy words, relieve my woe;
Those still at least are left thee to bestow.
Still on that breast enamour'd let me lie,
Still drink delicious poison from thy eye,
Pant on thy lip, and to thy heart be press'd;
Give all thou canst — and let me dream the rest.
Ah no! instruct me other joys to prize,
With other beauties charm my partial eyes,
Full in my view set all the bright abode,
And make my soul quit Abelard for God.

Ah, think at least thy flock deserves thy care,
Plants of thy hand, and children of thy pray'r.
From the false world in early youth they fled,
By thee to mountains, wilds, and deserts led.
You rais'd these hallow'd walls; the desert smil'd,
And Paradise was open'd in the wild.
No weeping orphan saw his father's stores
Our shrines irradiate, or emblaze the floors;
No silver saints, by dying misers giv'n,
Here brib'd the rage of ill-requited heav'n:
But such plain roofs as piety could raise,
And only vocal with the Maker's praise.
In these lone walls (their days eternal bound)
These moss-grown domes with spiry turrets crown'd,
Where awful arches make a noonday night,
And the dim windows shed a solemn light;
Thy eyes diffus'd a reconciling ray,
And gleams of glory brighten'd all the day.
But now no face divine contentment wears,
'Tis all blank sadness, or continual tears.
See how the force of others' pray'rs I try,
(O pious fraud of am'rous charity!)
But why should I on others' pray'rs depend?
Come thou, my father, brother, husband, friend!
Ah let thy handmaid, sister, daughter move,
And all those tender names in one, thy love!
The darksome pines that o'er yon rocks reclin'd
Wave high, and murmur to the hollow wind,
The wand'ring streams that shine between the hills,
The grots that echo to the tinkling rills,
The dying gales that pant upon the trees,
The lakes that quiver to the curling breeze;
No more these scenes my meditation aid,
Or lull to rest the visionary maid.
But o'er the twilight groves and dusky caves,
Long-sounding aisles, and intermingled graves,
Black Melancholy sits, and round her throws
A death-like silence, and a dread repose:
Her gloomy presence saddens all the scene,
Shades ev'ry flow'r, and darkens ev'ry green,
Deepens the murmur of the falling floods,
And breathes a browner horror on the woods.

Yet here for ever, ever must I stay;
Sad proof how well a lover can obey!
Death, only death, can break the lasting chain;
And here, ev'n then, shall my cold dust remain,
Here all its frailties, all its flames resign,
And wait till 'tis no sin to mix with thine.

Ah wretch! believ'd the spouse of God in vain,
Confess'd within the slave of love and man.
Assist me, Heav'n! but whence arose that pray'r?
Sprung it from piety, or from despair?
Ev'n here, where frozen chastity retires,
Love finds an altar for forbidden fires.
I ought to grieve, but cannot what I ought;
I mourn the lover, not lament the fault;
I view my crime, but kindle at the view,
Repent old pleasures, and solicit new;
Now turn'd to Heav'n, I weep my past offence,
Now think of thee, and curse my innocence.
Of all affliction taught a lover yet,
'Tis sure the hardest science to forget!
How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,
And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence?
How the dear object from the crime remove,
Or how distinguish penitence from love?
Unequal task! a passion to resign,
For hearts so touch'd, so pierc'd, so lost as mine.
Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state,
How often must it love, how often hate!
How often hope, despair, resent, regret,
Conceal, disdain — do all things but forget.
But let Heav'n seize it, all at once 'tis fir'd;
Not touch'd, but rapt; not waken'd, but inspir'd!
Oh come! oh teach me nature to subdue,
Renounce my love, my life, myself — and you.
Fill my fond heart with God alone, for he
Alone can rival, can succeed to thee.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;"
Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymeneals sing,
To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day....

Thursday, February 24, 2005

February Blue Gray & Saffron


What do people do in February?

According to the sun, it's not the darkest month of the year, but according to the weather and the mind's eye (in the Northern Hemisphere) it often is the darkest month. As we all know, bitter, icy, ass-busting blizzards just aren't the same without Christmas lights and eggnog.

December is the month with the most shopping, and January is the month with the least shopping - except for big screen TVs (so the pre-Superbowl ads would have us believe). And are there really that many people who want to be sure they pick up a few extra boxes of Valentine's candy before it's even February? Those are the most serious addicts of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. I'd bet February is our second least busy month for shopping - though I hear eBay does a whopping business in the dreary days of Feb, when so many are stuck sitting at home. And I'm sure it's likewise for the Home Shopping Network - especially since it ought to be called the SJN, Shopping for Jewelry Network - and even guys look at jewelry around mid-February (after their significant others have said "on that's the one" about a dozen times more than usual).

Of course, yes, mid-autumn proves it - lots of people are busy making babies during February, ostensibly to create a little extra warmth on those long February nights (and certainly millions more are just practicing, going through the motions, so to speak), without many new shows or sports to fill them with glee. Gotta rustle around a little bit to fight off that cabin fever.

So those are the competing glows of February... The glow of the TV screen, for the masses leading lives of ad-filled/sit-com desperation. The glow of the computer screen, for the gazillion eBay-ers and indoor e-surfers (or maybe now it's just the little glow of your phone screen in the privacy of your own room, ooh la la). AND, ah, X O, the glow in the hearts of romantics and in the beds of those who have thrown the flowers aside, swallowed the chocolates and polishing off the champagne and are finally getting down to business.

Weather-wise, it's been like a civil war out there this month - all competing blues and grays, especially after mid-night the 14th, when all the Valentine's displays disappear, and the candy isle comes down. But at least that majesterial whim known as "The Gates" has come to (and will so soon be gone from) Central Park to bring some lyrical undulations of saffron to the walkways and paths, orangish/golden glowing embers and floating fire to the eyes of all who go to stroll and gaze - and all who can catch a glimpse on a glowing screen - and see that such a work of art could so please the palette-deprived and sunset-starved eyes deep in the heart of February. Variations on good old international orange never looked so good against those earthy grays and browns and blues.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Oscars come in for a landing

Yes, the buzz is about as loud and fast as that zippy little plane that young Howard Hughes flies into the camera in the TV ads and trailers and, yes, that big rambunctious movie.

This year's Academy Awards will be about Hughes and Ray Charles and a boxer's best friend, some 'incredible' animation, wine (especially pinot noir) and eternal sunshine (maybe a little film noir, too). The wonderfully acted set and period pieces will be the elegant and slightly dusty window dressing on the main event - the raucous, racy, racing-paced movies that drew big crowds, minus Michael Moore's ire and a certain savior's passion.

At least the Oscars aren't the predictable popularity contest the Grammys and Emmys tend to be. The nifty thing about the Oscar race, right or wrong, is that it is as much a balancing act as a reward for straight merit.

Remember, when the public votes, they tend to side with the films they've seen. But the Academy members have REALLY seen the films - and even had some behind-the-scenes ideas about how they were constructed. But they ALSO come to the festivities with a sense of carefully weighed history and sentiment and who "deserves" and who is "due" an Oscar this round (and who can afford to be an oh-so-honored nominee. And they - the Academy elite - divy things up accordingly.

The big news is... Martin Scorsese has never won an Oscar, and by golly, that is about to change. "The Aviator" is Scorsese's acceptable and not so grim all-American extravaganza (not a mafia snuff fest), so give it to him. The guy made "Goodfellas" (best of those said fests) and "Raging Bull" and plenty of enduring stuff - he's got it in the bag.

And so does Howard Hughes. The guy's sprawling story is hard to beat. So the Big Pic takes it, if nothing more than to reinforce the fact that the Academy made the right choice in picking Scorsese - that way the director's shoe in is not seen as a mulligan. (Poor Clint, but you see, he's got his.) "The Aviator" in a fly by - no big surprise (unless it doesn't win).

Hughes may have had a more amazing life, but folks, Ray Charles died recently, and that alone gives Jamie Foxx the edge. It'll be a tear fest, and Foxx deserves it anyway. (His chances for a repeat may be a little more slim than Leonardo's - who's got a long career - and the second half of Hughes life - to give us another nod.

I think Hilary Swank is fabulous, even just sitting in a chair, and when she moves, watch out, better duck. And many more people have seen "Million Dollar Baby" than have seen "Being Julia," but I'm putting my chips on Annette Bening for best actress. Remember, all the voters have to have seen all the nominated films, and Bening almost won for "American Beauty," and this is partly payoff for that loss - to Swank five years ago. So this round, it's Bening in a KO.

But "Baby" needs something, since the Academy's sidestepping Eastwood and Swank, so Morgan Freeman takes the prize for being always good AND the most resonant black performer since Ozzie Davis, who also just died.

When it comes to supporting actress, I think things get a lot tougher to predict. The people's choice Oscar seems to be going to Cate Blanchett because they've all seen her "channeling" Katherine Hepburn wooing that fly guy. But the actors' actress in this case seems to be Virginia Madsen for "Sideways" (gotta throw "Sideways" a golden grape at some point). BUT another actors' actress is the underappreciated Laura Linney, who plays the complexly libidinous Mrs. Kinsey. Wonder what the tally will be.

Now finally, I'll throw out my final two predictions not as predictions, but as my own personal ABN Oscars for screenplay. These two movies "spoke to me" more than any other two this year BY FAR. They got the closest to my life, and so I'm giving them their just rewards:

"Sideways" gets the ABN Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

And last but most, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" gets my most beloved Oscar this year for best (and most original) original screenplay. This film will have an eternal shine (and evoke a few significant shadows) in my many-spotted mind.

One last thing I can predict - a nostalgic salute to Johnny Carson, who hosted the ceremonies for so many years, as well as tearful tributes to Ozzie and Ray and the gang gone by. Farewell ladies and gents.

Enjoy the show.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The five things that carry us through







And how about some of the runners up: freedom, satisfaction, contentment, art, aspiration, dedication ...


Monday, February 21, 2005

Then Brooks bitchslaps Bush


I first discovered David Brooks through his brilliantly breezy bestseller, "BOBOs in Paradise", a widely admired take on the yuppification of America, land of the pricey logo lapdogs and home of the civilly depraved. Over the last few years, I've become enamored of Brooks' equally attractive prose in his NY Times Op-ed column, even when he seems to have gone out of his way to defend the neocon's house of cards - what Paul Krugman just called the administration's "three card monte" - as he (Krugman) bitchslapped Fed Chair Greenspan in his column late last week.

Well, it seems Brooks read Krugman's piece and - astonishingly - lept right off the Bush bandwagon. In his column Sunday, Brooks seems to have had some sense knocked back into him. Apparently, enough's enough, and Brooks isn't buying the Bushies' fiscal hall of mirrors, at least this week. Some of us closet Brooks fans knew he had it in him. The guy's just too bright and has such a winning smile. I mean, I know out and out proud, card carrying Liberals who have (virtual) crushes on the guy - even when that smile comes across as a Cheshire grin.

This week, Brooks decided to tell it like it is. Thanks, whoever knocked some sense into him.

[more to come Tuesday morning]

Friday, February 18, 2005

Krugman bitchslaps Greenspan


In today's New York Times, erudite economist and savvy columnist Paul Krugman basically bitchslaps Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, saying that the uniquely (and unwisely) esteemed chairman has become nothing more than "a partisan hack."

In testimony this week before Congress, Greenspan offered flimsy to NO excuse for supporting the Bush administration's plan to privatize Social Security. Krugman says that in 2001 Greenspan at least offered up some far-flung reasons to support weak, risky and even tragic fiscal policies. But now, with the Dems dog-tailed and the Bush-men entrenched for a few years at least, the godly Greenspan sees no reason to come up with spurious reasons why such privatization might really strengthen the nation's fiscal health. Why be quoted later for gutting your own good record?

Really, it just seems Greenspan and the Bush guys see Wall Street as their own multinational-conglomerate casino. Ah, yes, the legislature goes to Las Vegas. It seems these money-mongers would like nothing more than a nation of giddy bettors - as if we weren't already risking it all, leveraging ourselves to the eyeballs and stocks and stuff and gambling our home loans to pay off our credit cards.

It's a plasic house of cards around here, and these guys are fiddling with the foundations of any chance of fiscal stability we've got left - just because they resent the stamp of a Democratic legacy? Kill it, any legacy but one of greed and the "ownership society." Too bad those self-same guys won't own up to the consequences of such a society themselves. Instead, it seems they just as soon disown the rest of us, and sail their yachts in the wake of the Titanic, out amongst the icebergs into the afterglow of the American empire and the grim, cold dawn of whatever comes next.

[Thanks to friend Steve, who these days is an expat in Shanghai, for this topic and for that bitchin' title. Keep 'em coming, Steve!]

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Post Valentine's flinty days


Some Valentine's are more successful, more bountiful and kissingly blissful than others. Maybe some Valentine's for some of us are like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's are for so many - a holiday that rolls around once a year (with a certain amount of headiness and DREAD) to take us on a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, on the one hand encouraging us to share our affections openly, on the other reminding ourselves and our significant others of our troubling 'wanting to be wanted,' eager to please and 'cain't get no/satisfaction..." As for the pinch and prick of Valentine's - what seems to so many NOT like Cupid's arrow but more like a double-edged sword. Thus, Valentine's can bring into sharp relief our desires and disappointments.

And hey, these flinty gray/gun metal blue days of February don't help.

A holiday for whimsical expressions of love and romance seems more like an tiny island in a sea of harsh realities in this course and crass country. Delicacy and grace just aren't our strongsuits. We're more often than not slapped down for seeming "needy". It seems the luckiest people are not, in America, the people who need people. It seems, as much as we might desire closeness and declarations of attraction, when it gets right down to it, we often have the urge to turn away as our flinty gray independent streaks kick in.

Some of us take the risk, above and beyond, to express our deep needs and wishes anyway - our earnest neediness going against the grain of this get-yours nation. I'm not sure many of us even trust undue generosity, gifts from afar or far afield, even just verbally "purple" sentiments. Us romantic idealists find ourselves adrift far from the suspicions and machinations of modern romance, set apart from the hucksters, the pros, the resume-sifting headhunters (yuppie romantics???) and other flinty-hearted connivers who feel that even an acquaintance's "inconvenience" or lack of proximity is excuse enough to go dead with silence. He or she's just not that into you? Well, maybe he or she is just not that into manners. Manners - regal manners - matter more than most know or are willing to acknowledge. Partly because it might seem such manners are too old-fashioned or naive or too much work. Well, good things are good work, and that shouldn't go out of fashion.

Irony and distrust and distance (and virtual threads - more irony) have eroded our goodness and silted in the depths of our goodness. Time to do good deeds for our hearts and our friends, dredge up the good, rich river bottom...

And make a gray day shine.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Hockey takes a HIKE

Oh, I could have come up with lots of profound posts for today, believe me, but HEY, all you substantial news fans, tough luck - the bozo buffoons of spurious sports once again win the day.

As of today, professional hockey in the U.S. and Canada has taken a HIKE, meaning all bets and GAMES are OFF.


All for money and contract negotiations? Nah, it's not even something as noble as income or even money. It's a FIVE letter word, friends: GREED.

As if sports were worth paying (a SHITLOAD OF MONEY) for. Are you kidding?

I do what I love, and I lose money at it, and it's generally been that way for almost twenty years. That doesn't make me a fool, though it may not make me exactly a "hero" either.

But who makes more than about $200,000 for playing a game and complains about it is doing anything BUT making a fooooool of him or herself??? It's a game, for chrissakes! Millions of us are doing work that is essential or at least helpful to making headway for human culture.

Meanwhile, the most modern of sports people are merely gladiators with foolish and outlandish union wages - market-driven madness - legal pissers and moaners with really good health insurance and a rabid fan base. $200,000 to fucking wack a puck or hit or catch or dunk a ball? Are you kidding?

And when I ask "are you kidding?" I'm not just asking the players, I'm asking the FANS? Who'd be FOOL enough to buy a ticket?

Are you NUTS? Or maybe, sports fans, you deserve what you get?

Grim, and bear it... really? Worth it?

Fucko dah pucko. Let 'em GO.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Eyes Wide Shut/Eyes Wide Open

When it comes to the REAL costs of WAR, are Americans' eyes wide open or wide shut?

Have you heard about the "boots exhibit" "Eyes Wide Open," which I saw with friends in Austin this afternoon? "Eyes Wide Open" is sponsored by a Quaker group, the American Friends Service Committee. It travels next to Dallas, then to Los Angeles.

"Eyes Wide Open" is like a cemetery of about 2400 pairs of shoes, laid out neatly in rows on an open grassy area. The immediate sight of the display seems like a stunt, but soon the effect echoes and resonates and deepens toward that of a graveyard, and that's the idea. What seems at first a curious and strange arrangement gains of military boots and civilian shoes representing the American and Iraqi deaths resulting from what I must insist on calling the American war in Iraq.

As of February 15, 2005: 1462 military dead, 269 American contractors and service professionals, and between 14,000 and perhaps as many as 100,000 Iraqi citizens.

We - many Americans - would like to think that our investment of tax dollars and machinery and effort and trouble and misfortune and lives on both sides would be a good investment for a good cause - that our choice to start a war would slow or end the mistreatment and murder of Iraqis, but in fact, the death rate in Iraq has tripled since the coalition forces (90% American) launched this war March 20, 2003. Before that date, the top three causes of death amongst Iraqis were natural causes. Now the top cause is violent death by military action.

The costs are clear, or are they? This symbolic display intends to add some focus and clarity to those costs, in a visually poetic way, apparently merely curious to some visitors, wistful to others and heart-breaking to some.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Valentines, USA


One and ONLY?

No, actually there are nine (count 'em, NINE) towns (or blips on the map) named "Valentine" in the United States. And there is one that's plural - Valentines, Virginia (so Virginia really is for lovers).

The nine "towns" of Valentine (singular), according to my best research, are in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Texas.

Seven of these Valentines, such as those in Arizona and Montana, are virtual ghost towns or cross roads, mostly disappeared from their heydays a century ago. A few, such as Valentine, Indiana, and Valentine, New Jersey, have been swallowed up by sprawl and mightier suburbs or just bypassed by the highway.

Of the ten (nine Valentine, singular, and Valentines, VA), only three, in 2005, are big enough, independent enough or intact enough to warrant their own post offices: Valentines, Virginia, a sort of Mayberry RFD berg, tiny but proud, far to the south near the North Carolina line; Valentine, Nebraska, hub of the northern sand hills and sweeping prairie, on the wild and scenic Niobrara River just south of the South Dakota line and the immense Pine Ridge lands of the Sioux; and Valentine, Texas, not a lot more than a way station for the railroad in the land of "Giant," west of Alpine and Marfa.

There is some controvery about how Valentine, Texas, got its name. The staunchest and starchiest historians insist that it was named after a railroad engineer whose last name was Valentine. But local lore poses a more romantic story: that the town was named by the crew building the mail line of the Southern Pacific because that was the windswept and desolate spot the crew had reached on Valentine's Day, 1882.

Indeed, railroads are a theme with most of the towns called Valentine. Those in TX, SC, AZ, NE, and AR are on busy lines of major railroads. And the long lost hamlets in Indiana and Louisiana are on spur lines. Valentine, Nebraska, and Valentine, Texas, are considered to be two of the most isolated towns in the lower 48. Maybe that Valentine guy got around.

The Louisiana Valentine is at the end of a line on the banks of Bayou Lafourche, ripe with Spanish moss, aligators and Cajun accents. The Arizona Valentine is a cactus-studded spot southwest of the Grand Canyon, many miles out of the way. But Valentine, AZ, didn't used to be out of the way: it sits on old Route 66, west of Winslow and Winona, between Williams and Kingman, where "the highway that's the best" veers north from I-40.

It's a good thing three of these towns have their own post offices, with their own postmarks, because there's a Valentine's ritual that now goes around the world. The post offices in Valentines, VA, Valentine, Nebraska, and Valentine, Texas, will resend your Valentine's mail for you not only with a postmark from their proud town but also with a specially hand inked Valentine's stamp as well. The Texas post office, in a desolate town of about 200 people, now has a design contest at the high school each year to come up with the next Valentine's stamp design.

So here's what to do for next year: Write or make Valentine's cards for your various significant others. Address and stamp them (commemorative and symbolic stamps stand out and make a statement). Put them all in a large envelope, and mail them in late January or early February to POSTMASTER (POSTMISTRESS is OK, too) at Valentine, Texas 79854, Valentine, Nebraska 69201, or Valentines, VA 23887, with a nice note on the big envelope for the postal person to please hand cancel and mail the Valentines inside. Hand cancelled and stamped Valentines from "Valentine" are a charming way to show you planned ahead and cared enough to send the very best, with love.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The heart of Valentine's: mouths and minds

Ummmmm, this holiday of sorts, this ribald and romantic repast, this license to let your seductive cats and claws (and candlelit whispers) out of the bag, this red-blushing ritual Valentine's IS the holiday of the senses, up close and personal.

Sure Christmas runs the gamut as well - with its chestnuts roasting over an open fire, its carols and lights and pine fresh ornaments and the rustling sounds of wrapping paper and creatures stirring around the house (and making mad dashes at the shopping mall). But Christmas is about sharing with one and all. Valentine's is about harboring, secluding, getting daringly suave and dangerously up close. It's the holiday of electrolysis and see-through lace and silk boxers and candlewax and tables for two and, as Santa hibernates and snores, Valentine's is, alas, for as many as possible, about beds galore.

Like Halloween, Valentine's has its perverse ironies in a country founded on rather Puritanical phobias and principles. In this country, for centuries, witches and wanton women have seemed to so many to go together. A year ago, a single breast made headline news - and surely that gave the French and the other topless tanners of the world another reason to poke fun at our stuck up ways. Yes, compared to some cultures, Americans think sex is a saucy advertising tool, a centerfold, a slip up, a SIN. And because of this, to be sure, sensuality suffers.

That's why we need a holiday to remind us that sensuality is 'a good thing.'

The sights and smells of Valentine's are so cliched yet rich still. The provacative petals of the rose, the phallic uncorking of the champagne. The blush of hidden skin, the flush of proximity, the richly human pinks and burgundies of throbbing love.

And where do those sights and smells and sounds of seduction lead? Ah, ummm, yes, the most personal paths of the bodily road - no, not phalluses and labia, not mere genetals, shrouded in secrecy and the sudden florish of orgasm. No, all of Valentine's leads to what we can always share, privately and in public, never anonymously, always up close and personally - the touch of faces, tongues, lips, kisses.

Valentine's, in the end if not the beginning, is about oral gratification - and how closely intertwined those satisfactions are with very significant others, lust and love.

We are Americans, but we are animals first. And therein lies that goofy disconnect. How to reconcile our pilgrims' baggage of shame and sin with our absolutely ancient natures? Many Americans, both in the middle and toward the right, are in a detrimental denial. To them, millions of them, sex is something to be closed off and conquered. That sounds too unhealthy to me. Yet, they persist in screwing up our culture, thinking and legislating the more liberated liberals as too open, too guilt free, too permissive, too lax, too shameless, too sensual. It would seem natural that, without the sickly sweet cards, saccharine endearments, chocolates and dinners, the right would set its sights on de-sensualizing Valentine's. They'd take our most adult holiday away and put it back in the closet.

But none of our sensual urges or experiments are new. They just take on new forms, new media. The message - that we are exquisitely and elaborately sensual animals, underneath and for all time, remains the same.

So now, put your money - and your endearments, your quality time, your minutes and hours - where your mouth is - or longs to be.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Like Olives for Chocolate

OK, I'll answer one of life's (and yesterday's post's) persistent questions:

Favorite holiday (besides, perhaps, the childlike whimsy of Christmas): Oh, yes, Valentine's, XO!

I know, I know. Lots of parents and nerds lose track of this holiday and think it is somehow for the kids - getting all those cheap little paper Valentine's - with red and pink polka-dotted pictures of porcupines, unicorns, Ninja turtles, Pooh and Piglet and friends and green FROGS and other cartoonish princes and princesses charming - inscribed to every member of the third grade class. But NO! Valentine's is an ADULT holiday - one of the few holidays adults have left and which adults, both naughty and nice, should defend as their own, xO.

The Easter Bunny, Christmas and even Halloween are mostly for kids. Hell, some kids get a holiday when The Tooth Fairy comes. But let's face the facts on VD Day: Kids know a lot less about lust and love and the nefarious shadings of seduction than they do about horrific horrors. (Monsters and murders on TV look pretty real, but courtships on TV look like even "Friendly" thirtysomethings are transported back to third grade.) Presents and scary stuff are a lot more accessible than the wayward ways of the Mr., Miss, and Ms. Lonelyhearts Club.

But just because those elementary school cards (used to be 20 for $1) are the start, doesn't mean Valentine's should end with flowers and chocolate, satin and lace. Even Barbie is an expert there, so be creative, you grownups. Play with a few of the cliches (yes, what FUN!), but beware becoming predictable. Make it more than a obligatory reminder, more even than an elaborate but trite ritual. Make it an incident, an inventional, an expression, an epistle, an episode, a grand gesture, a subtle drama, a lingering feast, a mystery.

Valentine's is - or should be - like a fine wine or chocolate or food or adult drama - full of subtle and not so subtle nuances. It is the juxtaposition (among other positions) of plaintive innocence and absolutely prurient seduction, boldness and covertness played off each other.

Valentine's might have started with paper cards for Jimmy and Jennifer in third grade, but it quickly graduated to a "special" card by sixth grade, a kiss (?) in seventh and after that, watch out. (OK, more ambitious sexual aggressors, submit your seedy stories here, but you''ve already skirted - so to speak - the first rule of romance: make yourself known, then make 'em wait. And the second rule? Sex can be a mere stunt - and an act of stunted growth, so to speak. But Sensuality (with a capital S) is a philosophy, a body AND MIND game (or avenue of pursuit, shall we say?), a witty and wily art form, a wonder, a world (at least for a day or two).

Take the chocolates out of that heart-shaped box, and ever so carefully insert an array of exotic olives, some small, like oily coffee beans, some tart Calamatas, some huge and green and glistening, stuffed with pungent and ambiguous things... garlic, onion, jalapeno, anchovie and yes, shiny, happy, red pimientos.

Leave the chocolates in their own suggestive arrays.

Romance and this most adult of all holidays are about the newly lit match of longing as well as the glowing embers of love - and ALL the colors in the Crayon box....

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

"A Better Nation" Q & A

In lieu of ranting or raving this round,
how about some questions?

Of course, these may be taken rhetorically,
but I welcome your responses, epic or quick.

Here are a baker's dozen, with bonus:

12. What gets us from here to there?

11. Who are your heroes?

10. What qualities make your heroes heroic?

9. Do you have a "golden rule" or maxims by which you live?

8. What do you consider to be "involvement" in democracy and/or "service" to your nation?

7. What traits best define "the American character"?

6. Is your life as passionate/as sensual as you would like? How so or not?

5. What is your favorite holiday and why?

4. Is this the "land of the free and the brave"? (OK, how free and how brave?)

3. What is the greatest lesson you learned from your parents, a teacher or mentor?

2. What or WHO is the most FUN in your life these days?

1. What or WHO is the greatest CHALLENGE in your life these days?

And the bonus question...

For extra credit:

What would you like to say something about that nobody has asked you about lately?

As you might suspect, these questions all hint at future topics here at "A Better Nation" - and I invite you to offer your own Q's and A's as well.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The elephant in the budget office

Well, this is it, folks. The elephant is out of the bag, and it's a damn big elephant, heavy as hell. Big enough to squash a donkey. Big enough to squash a country. Even THIS country.

President Bush has just released his most honest, forthright, post-haste government-hating budget to date. Give the guy re-election, and watch the not so lame duck try to gain the low ground (calling it the high ground) even without using up much if any of his "political capital."

That budget is the elephant meant to not look like the Trojan Horse it really is. This budget represents the clearest cut turn toward outright, anti-democratic militarism ever presented to the U.S. Congress. Do we have enough Congress members BRAVE enough to turn this elephantine budget around and make it not only Sane but Sensible and Responsible?

The 'conservative think tank' chain gang behind Bush intend OUTRIGHT to GUT the federal government. They'll escalate their ploy to make government perform poorly (insult it, confound it, starve it, corporatize it) and then turn around and say, "See? It doesn't work worth a damn. We can do without it. Who needs government anyway? The poor? To hell with the poor/those IN NEED. Let's PRIVATIZE the whole thing. Let the 'free market' run things."

Which really means let the rich investors run things - and profit from their Mephistopholian bargains. Give me a "U" for RepUblicanism, yes, the BUsh Republicans. Yep, it's the party of "U" - "U" for the dUmbest and most cUnning of all our citizens, the dUmbest at the bottom of the heap and the most cUnning at the TOP. who but the richest 1%, raking in so many tax cuts it would make the middle class feel it had won the lottery, can be running this country into a blizzard of defense spending, social program defeats and run amok debts and deficits? Who but the most cUnning?

This sort of budget has been headed our way for most of the last 25 years, ever since "trickle down" Reaganomics turned out to be a myth (and a government-dismantling machine) the American people would REALLY FALL FOR. Father Bush was wise enough to call it for what it was, "voodoo economics." Son G. W. Bush was cUnning enough to buy into that very same "voodoo economics" hook, line and (unfortunately, whether he knows it or not) SINKER.

And if budgets such as Bush's current proposal make it past the Congress, we will be using the verb form - "to sink." As in: you and me. Brother, can you spare a lifesaver? So deep in debt, so at the mercy of foreign banks and nations and global pacts ganged up against our arrogance, we'll be leaking like a sieve and sinking fast.

How do you spell S.O.S?

Monday, February 07, 2005

Eternal war vs. internal war

Good GOLLY, miss molly, it's rather difficult to be chipper / upbeat / light-hearted / hopeful these days, when it comes to Mr. Bush's axe-grinding prospects for our federal well-being. He's not just grinding his axe, he's starting to swing the damn thing, lopping off programs left and right that just aren't performing well enough to line his friends' pockets.

When these guys have a pow wow to decide what programs and services need to go, I think it's just Dick Cheney casting a surly eye at his portfolio (in "blind" trust) and seeing what's good for him and his and James Bakers' vacation homes in Jackson Hole.

The rich are not just getting richer these days, they are getting absolutely brilliant at ripping off the rest of us.

And how? One great trick George Orwell predicted in "1984." Eternal war, a never ending state of war, where military spending runs rampant and everything else is expendable and can fall by the wayside. And boy HEIDI, are things falling by the WAYSIDE!!!

Amtrak is a good example. This country ought to be spending BILLIONS - YES BILLIONS - MORE on a first class nationwide network of superior train service. Trains aren't a thing of the past so much as they are a thing of the future, and the good ol' (fasioned) USA just ain't getting on board, much less "all aboard." Bush has had his axe-cutting eye on Amtrak all along, even as he is eager to subsidize the less efficient (and more decadent) alternatives - autos and airlines. He's gonzo for those, but why are so many the enemy of rail? It's great stuff, and if designed and built to the standards of the Japanese or the Europeans, we'd have another world class transportation alternative (very comfortable, SAFE, and fuel efficient) to choose. But NO. Bush is lumping Amtrak is with scores of other 'under performers.' He says all the government's struggling programs need less, but sometimes, as we know, programs and services need MORE to COMPETE.

So Bush is using "war time" to pervert our priorities. What a crock! What war? I don't see a war. I see an imperialist aggression. Seems like there ought to be a distinction there between a "WAR" and some oil-friendly/Muslim-averse nation building.

Instead, it's about time we had an INTERNAL war. It's time the Democrats gave up the soft sell and went for the HARD sell, a la Roosevelt, a la Truman. Don't just politely reprimand the Republicans - RIP them, SHRED them, SHAME them. Maybe that's why Howard Dean is making such a strong comeback to lead the DNC. There are lots of us who know NOW is the time to fight for what's best for America and the world.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Is Bush channeling "providence" or Ahab?

[DRAFT to be revised/amended]

So is Social Security Captain Bush's Moby Dick?

Perhaps Air Force One is the modern version of the Pequod?

Post "State of the Union," as he calls it (leaving off the word "address"), and as Condi Rice flies east to duly and rather dully rattle her recycled sabers and Powell Points, the prez, Cap'm Bush, is on the fly to the West to sell the hinter red heartland on his gutting of some of this country's favorite programs - not just A Few Big Ones BUT, by his own count, about 150 programs that are bloated or obsolete [quote Bush here].

After his $44 million half time show, the president seems ready for the second half. He declared he had earned political capital, and he said he would spend it. He may well spend a heck of a lot of it trying to bring down the great white whale of The New Deal.

Social Security is a keystone in the Democrats' contributions to this country, and Bush, as Cap'm Ahab, has his pirate-wannabee crew and harpoons poised.

I gotta go - back soon to finish this post. Thanks.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

This is REALITY?

So-called "REALITY TV" is more like "ADHD TV" or ANXIETY TV.

There is not enough narrative or plot to call it anything more.

But them maybe that is "reality" these days - a jumbled montage of anxious and inattentive disconnects.

Indeed, the way Reality TV shows are edited is actually anti-plot, anti-narrative, so that the viewer will get yanked back and forth. The shows are edited to lead the viewer one way until after the next commercial break, when the viewer is then led in another, often opposite direction. One segments is cut to suggest the blue team will win. Then after the next slew of ads, the red team comes back for the kill.

Vengeance and anxiety are the "TRUMP" cards of post-modern reality TV. Meaning is subserviant to a mishmash of smirks and subterfuges.

And speaking of trump, could "The Donald" Trump possibly be that abrupt and rude with his real employees? Would his consistently telegenic apprentices be hot properties among any Fortune 500 movers and shakers? Would any corporate board room be lit like a smarmy scene in The Young and the Restless?

I mean that's what reality TV is - the young and the restless go at each other with sharks, slugs, dollar signs in their eyes and jousting - either with verbal barbs or a good gag reflex. They're doing plenty of moving and shaking but not making much sense we might expect from anyone older than about 17.

Ah, the real life, the American life, good and true.


COMING UP NEXT: Diane Sawyer, of the ABC News division, interviews the anorexic yet 'very real' stars of "Desperate Housewives."

It seems in this reality in which we find ourselves swimming up or (more likely) DOWNstream, TELEGENIC is just about everything. It's a cocktail for twitchy boredom. Just ad a little cutthroat competition, a snide mouth, a propensity to tears or smirks, more than a few hints of skin, a pinch of sin, and STIR.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

State of the Union: Bush sees his shadows

President Bush is a confident groundhog, if no longer as cocky. The president's State of the Union address this evening, on Groundhog Day, saw the president seeing his own shadows, past, present and future.

Bush's past shadow: the cocky, young gunslinger, the smarmy suck up oldest son of the father George, the "dead or alive" guy, trying to live up to his father's tinny expertise and rather shallow shadow. That was the vengeful Bush. That Bush had two main "enemies" supposedly shadowing him - Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, both notably absent from tonight's speech. Mr. Bush would like to move beyond a whole host of skeletons in his closets.

Bush's present shadow: In the startlingly subdued wake of the Iraqi election (almost all quiet on the Euphrates front), and in spite of his crinkly and quixotic facial expressions that seem to bely Mr. Bush's nervy insecurity, the president seems more self-assured than ever before. He still pronounces "nuclear" "nucular," but otherwise, he can obviously pass for commander in chief with a majority of Americans, if not a majority of our allies. Mr. Bush kept VP Cheney right where he wants him, and he is finally getting the cabinet he wants as well, with no one to outweigh him. He is at last truly coalescing his forces at home, if not quite abroad. Bush's present mirrors tend to hang out in a hall of mirrors/spectres and a house of fiscal cards - wanting us to live without fear and yet to fear fear itself, and meanwhile to take on faith the future health of a nation hanging on the cliff of his coalition's political and fiscal audacity. This is an administration smart enough and conniving enough to create the "crises" it needs when it needs them (whether a war on terror or social security). That connivance is quite a skill, albeit sinister.

Bush's future shadow: Of course, the one word for that future shadow is that forward-leaning urge of the lame duck: LEGACY. Mr. Bush would obviously like to temper the raw edges of his early days, and he would also like to make not only palatable but attractive his administration's aggressive goals to downgrade and even dismantle many of the social services and federal protections a vast majority of Americans would prefer to keep and not only keep but increase and strengthen. Bush's future shadow shades the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, democracy in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq of course.

Bush's strongsuit is now the same as what carried his through the troubled waters of two tough campaigns - certitude. With all of their altruistic eloquence and nuanced agendas, the leaders of the Democratic Party just aren't able to match the fortitude and force of Mr. Bush's certitude. But then Bush's strongsuit could be seen as the emperor's "new clothes," meaning the same old empty suit. Will the historians a decade from now be the first to see how naked this president really is? He'll need to keep his cards in his cloak, or things could stay very chilly.

Mr. Bush saw all of his shadows tonight, and so it looks like for progressive values, we're looking at at least four more years of winter.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Resolutions: the February update

"People with goals succeed because they know where they're going." --Earl Nightingale

So here it is, February first. January was 31 short days long, but this year is still pretty darned new. And so, it's been about a month since SCADS of us mumbled something about easing off the cheeseburgers - or gin, quitting the coffin nails, thinking we'll sign up at a gym, start yoga, start using our turn signals, stop the gossip, stick with whatever resolutions we dropped LAAAAAST January (that would be '04), get back on the quest to make a good habit of whatever we've been missing most (or felt guiltiest about) in our lives.

So don't let those good thoughts slip by the wayside. It's 2-1-05, another first, so let's (some of us) show some stick-to-itiveness.

How about this for a resolution: review and renew your resolutions the first of every month.

January is sort of a dazed month - and dark, too, in more ways than one (see my Jan. 25 post below). I have been gone from home myself since January 11th - better than cabin fever, I suppose.

I did keep to my resolutions to write my blog M-F and to read four books a month.

One of those books recommended that we look at our use of language regarding these things that really matter - the things we most want to accomplish, the ways we most want to be. In his book "Life's Greatest Lessons: 20 Things That Really Matter," Hal Urban urges us to transform our "dreams" and "wishes" and "hopes" and RESOLUTIONS into "GOALS."

As Urban says, "goals are dreams with deadlines." I'm sure many of us can relate to the absolute necessity of having deadlines we have to take seriously. We know: we've got to make ourselves not just "positive" and hopeful, we have to get ourselves to be accountable as well.

Supposedly, that's what resolutions are about. But to really become resolved, we've got to prioritize, focus and persist. And I'm agreeing with Mr. Urban - deadlines are the bottomline on getting and staying resolved.

If we get focused on our goals and persist, our resolutions will take care of themselves. Going for the goal, we'll BE resolved.