CATS, CHRISTOPHER WALKEN & KARMA

Karma: destiny or fate, following as effect from cause.

I find karma very confusing. Simply put, it’s supposed to be a cause and effect thing. The masters paint it as a pool of water, and if you toss in a tiny pebble, you get tiny ripples back. If you heave in a brick…well, you can imagine. Big splash, big noise, big waves…

That makes sense to me. I guess we’re supposed to live our lives only tossing in pebbles whenever possible, in order to keep the resulting ripples down, and probably throwing in nothing at all is even better.

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Although you may need to maybe hurl a brick or slab of concrete in once in a while as a humanitarian gesture, because pebbles won’t do it.

Like I’d say Richard Painter’s lobbing pretty big boulders into the pool all the time as he shouts his outrage to the stars regarding the insane clown posse that’s taken over the White House these days.

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Because sometimes silence or indifference or inaction equals death.

On a smaller scale, here’s a few things that happened to me recently.

They’re tiny but left a semi-large question mark in their wake.

Incident number one:

We’re always really careful when getting in and out of our car. My husband and I hate when dings show up in our doors or somewhere along the side of the car, and we’re very careful not to do it to other people.

So one day when parked in a public garage on a slight incline, I opened the door, it started to slip, due to gravity, from my fingers, and I lurched after it, my fingers stretching. In a movie it would be that typical scene where important papers fall and one begins kiting away in the wind, and you’re running after it and reaching for it but it’s always yanked away, just out of your reach.

Or even worse, the opening scene of “It”, when the paper boat sweeps down into the gutter and the kid’s on his knees in the rain peering into that dark hole. And, no, he doesn’t reach into the storm drain to try to get it, but he’s leaning precariously forward, staring into that blackness when It suddenly appears, evil incarnate, heralding the end of his life.

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And that’s what kind of happened to me.

Except there was no paper boat, no rain, no monster. And I didn’t get yanked into a storm drain.

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No, instead–car door slipping, fingers reaching, reaching, close-up of fingertips swiping at the handle but missing by millimeters…and then bang! It thumped into the car next to me.

Exactly at the same time that It emerged from the darkness. Rounding the back of the car.

Or, in actuality, not a murderous alien monster but simply a woman.

She rounded the car just as my car door thumped into hers, and that was all she saw. Only that. Not the valiant effort beforehand. Only the epic fail afterwards.

As I yanked the door back, too late, and then also saw the woman a second later, I said something like, “Oh, God, I’m so sorry,” and was rewarded with, along with a super-loud, deafening silence, the nastiest look I think I’ve ever received in my life.

Nastier than the stuff the people in the back of the train were forced to eat every day in “Snow Piercer.”

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Nastier than the looks Melania gives Donald as she walks past him from her seat on the other side of Air Force One because there’s no way she can stand being in the same space with him.

If I went around banging doors willy-nilly and not giving two craps about other people and their cars, finally being caught in the act and getting a look like a loaded gun from someone would make sense, right?

Incident number two:

I ride my bike to work. It’s not very far, so don’t be impressed. I’d love to say I lived at the beach and rode to the Valley every day, but that would not only be absurd, it would be impossible. As it is, it’s just a few blocks.

But I DO ride on the sidewalk as often as I can, because I’ve had too many “close calls” in traffic, so it’s just not worth it to share the road with cars.

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When I get to parts of the sidewalk where people are actually walking (most sidewalks in L.A. are deserted, you understand, because everyone’s in their car, trying to run over pedestrians and bike riders) I always slow way down, often just stopping entirely to let them pass, or just ride behind them slowly until I have room to get by.

So the other day as I’m riding slowly by the bus stop, a petite woman holding the handle of a small suitcase on wheels turned around and screamed at me at the top of her lungs, “NO BICYCLES ON THE SIDEWALK!”

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She screamed this so loudly right in my ear as I passed that my immediate instinct was to leap off the bike and wallop her in the stomach. Then after that yell, “WHAT?”

You know, similar to that old joke about L.A. cops who empty their entire gun into someone and then yell, “Freeze!” afterwards.

If I hadn’t recognized seconds after the screaming started that she was probably homeless and mentally ill, I think there might have been an undignified cat fight at the bus stop that afternoon.

I know these are small examples, but I don’t get it.

Am I not tossing tiny pebbles into the pond?

What’s with these tsunamis coming back at me?

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The answer may lie with Christopher Walken, one of my favorite actors, who had this to say about cats:

“I like cats a lot. I’ve always liked cats. They’re great company. When they eat, they always leave a little bit at the bottom of the bowl. A dog will polish the bowl, but a cat always leaves a little bit. It’s like an offering.”

Have cats—and, indirectly, Christopher Walken—stumbled across the middle way? Have enthusiasm, but don’t overdo it. Be conscientious, but self-flagellation is so Middle Ages. Dogs are great, but they get over-excited. Existence is ineffable. Leave a little behind you for the hungry ghosts.

Thank you, Mr. Walken.

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THEY LIVE! (In Short Stories First)

I’m fascinated by the idea sometimes of writing a short story that gets made into a movie. Imagine working on something for a couple of weeks, a month max. You’re pretty happy with it. A magazine accepts it for publication. Then one thing leads to another and eventually you’re sitting in Mann’s Chinese Theater one […]

via They Live! (in short stories first) — Laughter Over Tears

Writing: The Art of War

Laughter Over Tears

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A Tale of Two Cities is apropos to what I want to say here. At least the first line, that is.

I think some of the best advice and worst advice my parents ever gave me was to say, “Keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds.”

This was after they realized that my special interest in life was writing. Meaning that I wanted to be a writer. Which, I guess, must have been almost the same as me saying I wanted to ride bulls in the rodeo or apply to Clown College.

Gasp. Oh, God. Oh, no. We have one of those kids. Not Michael J. Fox from “Family Ties,” the savvy young Republican. The other kind. She’s going to suffer. She’s going to die a horrible death. Look at Poe. Look at John O’Brien. Look at Sylvia Plath.

No–wait a minute. Poe didn’t kill himself…

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Unrepentant

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Time travel. Romance. They go together like Bogie and Bacall, thunder and lightning, mashed potatoes and gravy.

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine. And I’ve read quite a few. But then one day I stopped reading them. Because I was sick of them.

Something deep inside began to balk against the knight or highlander or king’s soldier or Earl’s wide shoulders and strong thighs and muscles for days living on a 6’ frame.

How good was nutrition back then? Not very! Did they have kale? An overabundance of quinoa?

Why is the heroine always 25 with amazing green eyes or amazing blue eyes while the male has piercing blue eyes or piercing gray eyes or piercing gold eyes?

How does the heroine get away with showing her cell phone to people and not getting burned at the stake, like, immediately afterwards?

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I’d like to write an anti-romance time travel novel.

Instead of reading about a 22-year-old with pert breasts and amazing blue eyes, I want to hear about the 45-year-old who’s really stiff ‘cause she quit yoga recently due to a rotator cuff tear.

This woman will not touch a necklace, a ring, a locket, drive her car into a fog, fall and hit her head, open a box, put on a scarf, and end up in the 1200s.

She will be a scientist/inventor, build a time machine, and be transported to the 1200s by accident after a test run.

This woman will not get a ride on a horse with a man in a kilt and, while attempting to get more comfortable, snuggle her bottom into his groin, inadvertently turning him on.

She will be a bodybuilder. A 45-year-old bodybuilder with a rotator cuff tear. And she will not fit on the horse. With him on it too.

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She will NOT go back to England or Scotland or Ireland and begin to understand Old English or Middle French because of having conveniently studied it in college.

She will not understand what anybody’s saying. Ever.

Which will cause a lot of problems and almost get her killed. Or at least probably jailed. Until they decide to hang her. Especially after everybody realizes she’s a woman and not a man (because she’s a bodybuilder).

But someone sympathetic to her situation and, of course, intrigued by her, will, at the last minute, keep her from the pyre.

At least she will have the sense not to pull her cell phone out and show it to anybody.

As for him, her romantic counterpart, I’ll have her go back to Shaka Zulu’s time maybe. Shaka Zulu actually WAS 6’2” back in the 1800s.

The creator of a revolutionary warfare style, he unfortunately became unbalanced after mother died, demanding a certain amount of mourning, and evidently murdered 7,000 people he deemed insufficiently grief-stricken. He was assassinated by his half-brothers.

Perhaps my muscle-bound scientist could travel to 1800s Africa and influence Shaka away from being such a mama’s boy.

Xiahou Dun—General Who Calms the Waves. Who wouldn’t want to get to know someone with a name like this? Can you imagine bringing him home to meet the folks, saying, “Mom, Dad, this is General Who Calms the Waves. You can call him General WCW.”

220 AD, serving under warlord Cao Cao in the late Eastern Han dynasty, Dun was a soldier who enjoyed the arts on the side and had scholars tutor him, led a frugal life and used his excess wealth to help the needy.

My heroine’s modern sensibilities and, of course, humanitarian outlook would certainly inflame this guy’s primal instincts, wouldn’t they?

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Raja Raja Chola was one of the greatest sovereigns of 10th and 11th century South India, a valiant conqueror, empire builder, quixotic yet grounded administrator, and patron of arts and letters. Nickname: Raja Raja the Great.

Folks, meet Raja Raja the Great and (let’s say) Monica Raja Raja the Great. After a whirlwind of electrifying turmoil and emotional warring between her and Raja, he would eventually accept her as his Principle Assistant and First Wife and Equal Partner.

I don’t know. My story would probably bomb. Badly.

But I know one thing.

When given the chance to return to her own time, my heroine wouldn’t think twice.

Love is grand and all that, but who in their right mind would really choose to remain in a time where a splinter in your finger could easily become a raging infection that Neosporin would have taken care of in two seconds back in the 21st century?

Although my heroine, Monica, would no doubt hightail it out of there the first chance she got, she would also probably do her damndest to talk her guy into coming into the future with her. She would help him adjust, help him get a job. They would work it out somehow.

Khawza2trainer3And although I may rail against all the usual elements of time travel romance, pooh-poohing perfect beauty and a selfless willingness to abandon all that’s familiar for “someone who finally ‘gets’ them”, somewhere deep down, I understand and I forgive them.

Because I still remain, in my heart of hearts, an incurable romantic, a sentimental ideologue. A fool, a stooge, a sucker. An unrepentant lover of love.

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Joe Vampire, by MJ Gardner

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“Joe Vampire,” MJ Gardner’s sequel to “Evelyn’s Journal,” offers a well-paced, straight-forward and often humorous look into the pros and cons of being undead.  As the relationship between Joe and Evelyn deepens, it simultaneously grows more complicated. And while Joe seems to be on the road to recovery, it also feels precarious somehow, like we’re nervously watching an inexperienced tightrope walker make his way over a yawning chasm.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to see Evelyn becoming “more” vampiric in nature, like in the way she seduces and steals blood from Joe’s roommate and friend Carter without giving it a second thought that he’s his roommate and friend. We’re also introduced to older, more dangerous vampires and finally learn the answers to some ongoing mysteries.

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Above all, though, Evelyn and Joe’s existence together is like a long-distance relationship, and one wonders if it will last. Her undead state becomes a point of contention, so he’s constantly seeking the warmth of live human flesh, flaunting his promiscuity with both sexes, a familiar pattern from his past.

As the discord between them becomes unbearable, Joe falls headfirst off the wagon, in more ways than one. And although the ending is gloomy and somewhat ambiguous, it also accurately depicts how someone like Joe, an ex-addict with a crappy past but a good heart, would be tormented by angst and indecision when thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire.

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Yeah, yeah: vampires, vampires, vampires. It reminds me of the scene in “Robocop” when Boddicker comes into the room saying, “Guns, guns, guns,” like, “been there, done that.” But there’s a vulnerability to Gardner’s writing that pulls one in, and she addresses topics that one generally doesn’t find in vampire fiction like race, interracial relationships, and gender fluidity, all of which are handled with sensitivity and add new dimensions to an otherwise worked-over undead genre.

Hopefully, maybe…we’ll see what happens to Evelyn and Joe in another book….hint, hint!

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Heaven and Hell

 

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So here’s the thing about adoption and being adopted: it’s a mixed bag.

I was adopted when I was a year and a month old. I’ll elaborate on why over a year went by before I was snatched up by someone in another post, ’cause that’s a whole different arena.

Anyway, once you’re taken in by a family, if the people who adopted you clue you in early on, you basically go through most of your life with two opposing thoughts:

Boy, was I lucky that someone wanted me bad enough to bring me into their life.

Boy, was I unlucky that it had to come to that.

How does one hold “luck” in one hand and “unlucky” in the other and somehow have them coalesce into a coherent, balanced philosophy?

And is it even possible, since they’re completely opposite ideas?

It seems like life on this plane of existence consists of duality anyway, doesn’t it? Good and bad, light and dark, hot and cold and variations of the same.

I feel like I spend my days fighting to return to some kind of center between opposing elements and extreme interpretations. It’s the Goldilocks zone. And I spend my time losing, searching for, and rediscovering that space, that feeling, that moment that’s “just right.” But mostly losing, it feels like. And I spend some days, if I’m being honest. Definitely not all days and not even many days. Some days.

Some people call it being in the moment, and it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds. But sometimes when I manage to get there, when I’m actually “in the moment,” nothing else seems capable of invading that space. Because in this moment, right now, this Goldilocks zone that feels just right, there is no past and no future. There’s just now.

In the just right space, it seems like all disparate philosophies and/or perceptions melt away. The edges melt away, the boundaries overlap. Unlucky becomes lucky, lucky becomes unlucky. I’m both and I’m neither, aren’t I? And they’re one in the same.

Wouldn’t dualities, strong emotions, opinions, perceptions and projections cease to exist and/or become interchangeable in this weird, magical space? Two sides of the same thing become one thing, because even in a world of duality, duality is just a word and definitions of words are a man-made construct.

So in the null space, minus the constructs, if I’m lucky and unlucky at the same time, I can’t feel sorry for myself or be happy for myself. It’s like that expression people have when they sort of give up trying to explain something that’s too complicated or maybe  isn’t worth over-thinking: It is what it is. In the Goldilocks zone, everything just is what it is.

The next goal, I guess, is attempting to stay in the just right zone longer than randomly and briefly, which is next to impossible without intense concentration and practice and, I would even say, training. Hey, I’m not ready to be a zen monk yet. I think I love chocolate too much. I think ranting about Trump is healthy, and I’m not ready to stuff it down inside and just say, “It is what it is.”

“Why don’t we leave him alone and let him do his job?!” Why? He won’t shut the hell up on Twitter. He won’t leave us alone. And do “his job”? Define “job”! Don’t get me started!

(See? I would have been kicked out of the monastery already)

In the end, back to the original thing, I’m glad I was adopted, of course. And, musings on duality aside, I would even consider myself one of the lucky ones. Luckier than many. My gratitude is deeper than anything I could ever adequately express.

But beyond the original thing, the adoption, the bigger thing looms: Is it true what the Buddhists say? That life is suffering, and suffering comes from simply existing? And the way out is being mindful of all the things we use to torture ourselves with? Which is, evidently, words, definitions, perceptions, opinions, expectations.

Well, my opinion of Trump will probably never change. Not in this life. And I will always expect chocolate to taste really, really good. But it’s good to know there’s things that can possibly be done to neutralize a sort of undefined, perpetual purgatory.

Maybe Freud would say I’ve only found a way to neutralize my anxiety. But if it’s real and not just denial or suppression or rationalization and it succeeds in a profound and meaningful way…well, I’d like to see if Freud has a better answer.

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Eating Noise

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I bet you can’t guess where I was last Saturday. And the Saturday before that. You might think: The DMV? Workshop for Beginners? (For what? Does it matter?) A carnival?

I’ll give you a hint. Here’s what always happens.

There’s a steady trickle of familiar and unfamiliar characters.

The woman with paperwork amassed around her; paperwork which can’t exist without her fingers plumbing their depths, caressing their edges, rearranging their order, thus gifting all around her with a ceaseless rustling like the wind through dry leaves. Except it’s not the wind. And there are no leaves.

The man with a notebook of indecipherable code who intermittently scans the pages between remaining glued to his laptop, drumming on the tabletop, and randomly emitting a low, throaty moan.

The elderly couple having a pleasant conversation in outside voices until they settle down nearby, she wearing slippers, he with pink headphones and a Hello Kitty logo on his computer. (They seem frail and somewhat sweetly eccentric, but if I were a cop I’d still search their apartment or house for bodies).

Someone asking a question as loudly as if they were standing in the middle of an AC/DC concert (or The Killers, say, for people who weren’t alive yet during AC/DC).

The resounding KA-KLUNK KA-KLUNK KA-KLUNK of a woman operating a three-hole punch with the dedication and abandon of one who has existed on their own planet for eons and is unaware of any other intelligent life elsewhere in their universe.

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Okay, I’m sure you probably guessed it already. Yes, it’s the library. The days of silence, the days of the schoolmarmish woman glaring and saying, “Shhhh!” are so far dead and gone, one wonders if they actually existed or it was only one’s imagination.

Why do I keep going back? Because I manage to actually get some writing done there, regardless of the zoo-like environment. Away from the demands of home, forcing myself to just sit in one spot. In hard wooden chairs that someone from 1900 designed for the orphan asylum. After a massive amount of time with severe writer’s block (I don’t care what people say; writer’s block IS REAL) I pushed—shoved, RAMMED—through and finally made some headway.

It hurt, too. It felt like strapping on my seatbelt and then deliberately driving my car full speed into a wall. But it worked. I guess the imaginary bone-jarring, artery-slicing collision jolted something back awake. I don’t know.

And anyway, I’m already used to all the sounds and interruptions. As long as I can recapture my train of thought again, I’m good. And now I look forward, sort of, to low throaty moan and Hello Kitty and rustling leaves. ‘Cause sometimes it’s not just noise. Sometimes I can touch it, hold it, eat it, make it something else, make it mine.

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“Evelyn’s Journal” by MJ Gardner

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For readers who would like to deviate slightly from the usual vampire tales out there, Evelyn’s Journal departs just enough to make it stand out from many others. Told from the point of view of a 17-year-old mixed race girl who has lived at her private school almost her entire life, Evelyn enters into a physical relationship with her 50-year-old piano instructor which eventually leads her into the supernatural world of the “undead”.

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At first it was hard for me to relate to Evelyn or see her as sympathetic since her character is coldly analytical and emotionally detached from the world. Severe abandonment issues and lack of love have left her bitter and emotionally cut off. She’s even initially abandoned by her creator and consequently forced to survive as a new-born vampire on her own.

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But as she makes her way through the world and meets various people, her emotional depth and ability for compassion widen and deepen. Ironic, considering most of her growth happens after she’s undead!

Another fascinating component includes her being mixed race and what that entails. I rarely run into discussions of race in vampire fiction, except on a very shallow level, so this to me was a unique road to travel down and was integrated meaningfully into the story.

The entire tale is told in a brisk, no-nonsense voice that mirrors Evelyn’s academically trained, detached mind. The pacing is good and the end contains a satisfying resolution, although it seemed somewhat anticlimactic to me. Did I want it drawn out more? More hands-on violence from Evelyn herself? Maybe. Or possibly, I’ve seen too many movies! It was still a good catharsis and overall a fast and addictive read.

I think vampire lovers AND nonlovers will enjoy this tale of suspense, passion, violence, buckets of blood, psychological battles, and ultimate metamorphoses.

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LOST ANGELES

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I was reading a fellow blogger’s post recently about Heloise and Abelard, and I feel extremely lightweight talking about “La La Land”  compared to the fascinating mini-treatise focused on the 12th century’s version of star-crossed lovers who predate Romeo and Juliet by hundreds of years.

But what are you gonna do? “La La Land” exists. It got huge crowd reactions and was an Oscar darling. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about.

Ryan Gossling’s Sebastian and Emma Stone’s Mia are sorta star-crossed, too, in their own way, like Heloise and Abelard. Just minus the nobility. And the scholarly pursuits. And the nunnery. And probably nobody will be talking about them hundreds of years later.

SPOILER ALERT, by the way, in case you haven’t seen it yet. Do not read on!

And anyone interested in taking a more in-depth gander at the famous couple from the blog I mentioned can pop in here: https://tinyurl.com/yb9e4ede, and thank you to the author!

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When I was a kid, I was a HUGE fan of musicals, but somewhere along the line I outgrew them. I can’t pinpoint when this happened. I just know that one day I looked up and if I was watching a movie where people suddenly broke into song, I couldn’t change the channel fast enough. My patience, my tolerance for the lighthearted, at least in that fashion, had died a mysterious and flinty death. My tastes had switched from the likes of ‘The Sound of Music” to “Shaun of the Dead,” and so knowing this, I did try to keep an open mind while viewing the movie.

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Immediately from the opening scene, however, I knew the brutal demise of my love of musicals, of the inconceivable which bordered on sweetness and joy, instead of that of dark humor and sarcasm, was alive and with me still.

The word “magical” seemed to be key where this movie was concerned and there were some enchanting moments like the Griffith Park “dancing among the stars” scene and a sometimes sunny, sometimes soulful soundtrack that followed the characters around, lending a whimsicality to even the most banal of activities.

But I attributed these scenarios to the universality of shared experiences rather than anything to do specifically with L.A.; the intense dopamine-enhanced sensation of new love, the incandescent view of the city at night, the ultra-brightness of the sky when dreams are still possible.

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Mia’s giant Ingrid Bergman wall painting, the ghostly mural of old Hollywood stars on a building, a pool party taking place on a bright sunny day, and Mia’s job on the movie lot were nice touches, evoking the *feel* of Los Angeles in a visually pleasing yet predictable way.

I thought maybe “out of towners” really fell for this movie, seduced by the romantic images. Maybe merely being an Angeleno prevented me from absorbing the Los Angeles + wonder connection. I don’t know. To me, it really is a lost city, having little or no solid identity, little or no loyalty, even, to itself. At least one comment rang really true when Sebastian said, “They worship everything and value nothing.”

 

In order not to come off as an inflexible curmudgeon by listing everything that didn’t sit well with me in “La La Land,” including the fact that ethnic people, apart from Ryan Gossling’s jazz buddy and Emma Stone’s mulatto roommate, were eye-poppingly missing except for intermittent scenes where they were dancing or playing jazz (in the same vein as the New York of “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” 90% white enclaves buried in a city known for–even famous for–its tremendous diversity) I’ll describe what I did like about this movie.

I liked the ending. Not being sarcastic. I liked it when, years later, Sebastian remembers the night he met Mia, and instead of rudely shouldering past her as she tries to compliment his piano playing, he sweeps her up in a one-armed embrace, setting alternative events into play involving the love and success and life they should have had together.

It reminded me of the end of Diane Lane’s movie “Unfaithful” where, after everything that possibly could go wrong has gone wrong, she imagines the windy day when she first ran into Olivier Martinez’s character. But instead of getting together and having what would eventually become a disastrous affair, they help each other up, sort out their possessions, and, laughing, each goes their separate way.

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And in “La La Land’s” case, going their separate ways was probably inevitable, doomed from the start by self-doubt and precarious hope. Their desire to “make it” ended up being much larger than any feelings they had for each other, so Sebastian’s poignant “what if” imaginings seemed fitting and appropriate for a relationship not exactly shallow but definitely not penetrating deep enough, a perfect parallel for most L.A. life in general.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against dreams and hope and aspiration and dancing in the sky. But regret is something I can relate to, as can most people, whether they want to admit it or not, and so the core of the movie seemed to me like it was baked into the very end, and there it was the most romantic, the most possible, the most real.

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