A farewell to Crashing

Pete has wanted to belong here ever since we first met him. One of the central questions the show has confronted is precisely that of belonging. What is comedy now, and who belongs in it? What do we owe guys like Pete, who might be very talented but who might also, in truth, not be talented enough to be essential? In the words of Estee Adoram (playing herself), the holder of the Comedy Cellar keys: “who are you, why are you, and why now? I’ve got a lot of white guys up here talking about nothing.” She has a point, and even though Pete is understandably crushed, Crashing isn’t asking us to feel that he’s been denied some kind of rightful place.

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To me, you are the CITGO sign

It’s easy to miss the things that only get big when you’re right up close to them. If you need a reminder of how big and bright you really are, then listen to today’s episode of today’s Morning Mantra podcast by Coach MK, featuring me, you and the CITGO sign. You do a lot of things that no one else notices (call it an educated guess). You don’t want to make a big deal out of all the things you do or make them hugely visible from far away, because you don’t want to come across as self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, or any of those other terms that begin with “self-“ that we use in judgment of others. But sometimes you think to yourself, does anyone see this work I do? Will anyone care? Does it still matter if I am the only one who really knows what went into it?

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Go ahead and love something an embarrassing amount: PEN15 and best friends

Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and the writing of Tina Fey gave us the expression “mean girls” in the early 00s, and we have so internalized it that we barely even think about it when we use it. Without a doubt, Mean Girls was a huge phenomenon for a reason: it speaks some real truth (and it holds up extremely well 15 years later). Middle-school and high-school girls have the ability to behave in horrifying ways to each other. PEN15 doesn’t hesitate to show us how, nor does it exempt its two main characters from the pettiness and cruelty that we so commonly associate with tween girls. But what you will remember of this show if you watch the whole season is the unbridled generosity and fierce love of their friendship.

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I am not like other mothers

Even when I’m not thinking directly about motherhood and its claim over my identity, whatever course of thought I am pursuing often brings me back to it somehow. It seems to seep into my reading and viewing choices, fiction and non: the book I just finished, Angelika Schrobsdorff’s You Are Not Like Other Mothers. The Canadian TV show Workin’ Moms on Netflix. The news coverage of highly consequential court cases regarding abortion access. Unless you live in total isolation from society, you, a mother, are going to be getting some feedback from the world about how you’re doing in the mothering department. Maybe you’re not leaning in enough at work or maybe you’re not sacrificing enough of yourself to your children; from the moment your embryo is detectable, people are going to have thoughts for you. Your motherhood cannot fail to make its mark on every other part of your identity, even if it is one of the few characteristics you share with over 2 billion other humans living on Earth, or as Katherine Goldstein put it during a guest appearance on Mom and Dad Are Fighting, “literally the least interesting thing about [you.]”

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I just want to.

This is running at its best, for me. It is the thing that I don’t really even need to think about that hard because I just want to do it, so I do. At a time in my life when I feel somewhat less than free to prioritize myself over the needs of my family, particularly my three-year-old who still needs the kind of constant parenting that takes over one’s life, I spend most of my parenting chits on running because it is what I want to do. A long run with my coach tomorrow morning at 5 AM is my spa day.

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Beale Street didn't have to make me cry

I am a consistent crier at movies. I somehow cried all the way through Moana even the third time I watched it - as in, starting at minute one! There are, no doubt, explanations for this. I am overly empathetic, my emotions lie too close to the surface, and motherhood has likely exacerbated both things. I tell you this because a piece of media making me cry, whether it’s Oscar bait or a Superbowl commercial, tells you nothing about its quality or its emotional honesty. My tears are not a standing ovation; they’re more like the polite applause you get from golf spectators even when it takes you seven strokes to sink your putt (not that I would know anything about that).

Maybe it’s not so strange, then, that the standout movie of my recent past is the one that has lodged itself in my brain without making me shed a single tear. That movie is Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, which I’m tempted to say should have been nominated for Best Picture, but given how that race turned out, I’m almost glad it didn’t run.

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I don't want the Russian Doll takes to stop

I’m not going to spoil any of the fun surprises this show has in store for you - really! But even if I told you how it ended, you’d still love watching it from start to finish. As soon as I saw Russian Doll’s opening shot of Natasha Lyonne staring at herself in a mirror, I didn’t really care what was about to happen; I just wanted to watch her. I wanted (and always, still, want) to hear and see a story about someone like Nadia, but not just about her. It’s not enough to create a story about a woman without also creating within it an endless fascination that goes beyond sex appeal or a desire to “fix” her. We’re not going to figure her out by watching her for eight episodes; that’s not how people work. But we’re going to dive in because even if we never get to the bottom, the experience will be worth it.

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5 days till Saturday

The key to the success of the Saturday morning snuggle, of course, is the quality of a given week’s library stack, and the key to a good library stack is a good, leisurely library visit, preferably one which allows plenty of time to choose some non-tiresome books to go along with the inevitable Pete The Cat and Disney garbage that we can’t go home without. I am not saying that all the Disney princesses are necessarily garbage - that’s a whole other not-uncomplicated conversation - but the books that feature them are basically pretty-princess-picture-delivery devices rather than actual works of prose where anyone gave any thought to readability or efficiency of language. If I’m going to read Princess Elena and the Secret of Avalor (which frankly needs to drop at least 500 words) over and over again, I better have some goddamn Mo Willems to chase it with.

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A goal without a goal

When nothing has to mean anything, it feels like there are no limits. Would it be fun to run to the top of Arlington Heights? Would it be unbearable? Would I have to walk? How steep would it be, really? I used to look up at Gray Street from Pleasant Street, if I were ever running in that direction, and think to myself, “Nope.” From the bottom, Gray Street looks like a straight shot to the sky. You can’t see the top; you can barely see the top of the first huge rise (and there are three, of which the first is the smallest). Even in times of peak fitness, hills that steep used to scare me. On the many occasions that I’ve gone running in my parents’ neighborhood, in nearby Belmont, I’ve avoided Arlington Heights like it was Mordor. Heart rate cap or no heart rate cap, I have never been fit enough to approach those hills with anything resembling calm. It wasn’t that I was calm about them this time, either; they are objectively scary, and I knew there was no way they wouldn’t be challenging to climb. The feeling-in-chief, though, was one of curiosity. How was this going to go?

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Books are going back to the library, baby

I’m a little sheepish about the fact that I chipped away at John Le Carré’s A Perfect Spy for…let’s see…two months and even got 3/4 of the way to the end before throwing in the towel. I should have seen the signs much sooner that I was wasting my precious reading time with The English! The Americans (ugh, no class, those Americans)! The wives and their prattle! The Czechs! What’s the deal with Pym anyhow - is he running away because he’s sad about his father or because he’s been double-crossing the English and spying for the Czechs, or has be been double-crossing the Czechs the whole time, or is he really only loyal to the one Czech guy, the father-figure who loved him the way his asshole of a real father never could? Magnus Pym writes through all of this, addressing himself to his own son, but is he really a reliable narrator? WELL? IS HE?

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