Home on Film

The last movie I saw in the theater was It Follows. It’s a good movie, maybe even a great movie, a sleepy horror story that embraces the idea of building dread throughout its run time rather than wasting its scare factor on jump moments. My favorite thing about it, though, has nothing to do with story or performances or score, all of which are more than satisfactory. The thing I liked most in It Follows — the thing that set it apart from so many movies like it, so many movies in general — was the setting.

(I’m going to get into personal anecdotes with this, so brace yourself or something.)

I was born in on the east side of Michigan’s lower peninsula, and though my family moved to the greater Grand Rapids area on the opposite side of the state when I was six years old, I still spent plenty of time back in Royal Oak and the surrounding suburbs. My grandma and grandpa on my mom’s side lived there, and from 1994 through 2008, my family and I would visit about once a month. As we got older, one sibling or another and their respective significant other would drop out for a month or a few, but we were all, as one, committed to sustaining our relationship with Grandpa, who passed away in 2006, and Grandma, who passed away in 2008.

I haven’t seen much of Royal Oak since then, but considering how much time I’ve spent there, my memories of the landscape are indelible. The Detroit suburbs have an indefinable midwestern beauty about them: trees that seem to drop their leaves through all four seasons, so-clear-you-can-see-forever skies, and crisp, cold air for half the year that’s suddenly interrupted by just the right amount of humidity sometime in the middle of May. The suburban streets are narrow, flanked by narrower sidewalks occupied by couples walking and children being pushed in strollers and dogs being dragged by their leashes. I always felt safe in those suburbs, however naive that may have been. Even as a charmingly jaded twenty-something, though, the thought of meandering through the streets of Royal Oak is a calming one. So naturally, since so much of It Follows was filmed in eastern Michigan was equally calming.

Don’t get me wrong here. It’s haunting, and some shots in particular stuck with me for hours after viewing. But mostly, it just made me nostalgic, even homesick. And that feeling lingered much longer than the creeping dread the movie so effectively creates. Yesterday, though, something reminded me that I have two homes now — my home state, and my city.

It happened when Scott and I were watching the Daredevil pilot. We’re not great at keeping up with current shows, but we were having a lazy evening, and neither of us wanted to commit to watching an entire movie after playing Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments as long as we had. So we tried out Daredevil, which, for the uninitiated (me), felt like a combination of the fifth season of Angel and the Toph Bei Fong black and white sequences in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In short, it’s great. And in the first few minutes, there was a single shot that really landed for me, something that never happened on Angel or Avatar or any other show I care about.

In one of the first scenes, we see the stupidly named Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson) talking on the phone as he walks down a Manhattan street. He passes beneath a few awnings and soon reaches the 50th Street subway station. There was one awning in particular that Scott and I noticed and immediately recognized. We’d seen it for the first time in 2012. New to the city, we were still getting our bearings, and some friends of ours took us to a restaurant known by a few different names: Japas 27, East 27, or simply East. It’s known for its karaoke bar and its unorthodox method of serving sushi — via conveyor belt, with differently colored plates indicating different price points. More than once, I’ve eaten cheesecake with chopsticks there after having my fill of spicy shrimp rolls. It’s not right around the corner from our place, but we’re repeat customers. And there it was, smack dab in the middle of the Daredevil set.

I realize that living where we do means I’m going to see my home on TV and in movies, hear it mentioned in songs, see it as the setting in books, et cetera, et cetera. But seeing the beacon of a restaurant I’ve been enjoying for years, one of the literally thousands of restaurants in New York? That’s different. That’s special. And, silly or maudlin as it may seem, it reminded me that I belong here, and will for some time.

The Most Outsized Reactions I’ve Ever Had to a Movie I Found Scary

1993: I was six and my family watched Jurassic Park. I didn’t make it past Lex and Tim in the Jeep, screaming as the T. rex snapped her jaws and nosed at that flimsy piece of Plexiglas that served as the Murphy children’s only protection from an actual dinosaur. Instead, I burst into tears and sobbed uncontrollably till my mom whisked me off to bed. I don’t know if she went back downstairs to watch the movie. I wouldn’t blame her if she did. It’s one of my favorites now—not the best movie ever, but certainly the one I enjoy the most.

1999: My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s version of Sleepy Hollow on New Year’s Day. He didn’t tell my mother it was rated R. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. Since I couldn’t sleep that night for fear of nightmares, my mom let me get out of bed to watch the version of Cinderella starring Brandy. It helped more than you’d think.

2008: A friend and I saw The Orphanage, a Spanish horror film, at the local movie theater that played art films and second-runs on the cheap. I was living in an apartment with three other girls that year; all three were out of town when I saw the movie. The Orphanage—essentially a ghost story in which all the ghosts are small children—rattled me so badly that, at age 20, I slept with the lights on for the first time in my life. Not just some lights, either—every light in the apartment, including the lights in the second bedroom and the bathroom. Worse yet, roughly half of the scariest scenes in the movie happen in broad daylight, so I couldn’t even spend long stretches in my apartment during the day without checking behind the door before entering a room. I remember typing the phrase “NO TIME OF DAY IS SAFE” to a friend on AOL Instant Messenger, who simply replied with a drawn out “hahahahahaha.” I understand why it’s funny now, but at the time, it was no laughing matter.

Latest Lists I Felt Like Writing, February 2015 Edition

The First Draft of My Top Ten Billy Joel Songs, Written After Vulture Published a Ranking of Every Song in Billy Joel’s Catalog (Which I’m Not Linking Here Because I Trust You to Find It Yourself if You Really Care)

“Laura”
“Vienna”
“Summer, Highland Falls”
“Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)”
“Only the Good Die Young”
“Goodnight, Saigon”
“And So It Goes”
“Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)”
“Honesty”
“Everybody Loves You Now”

Questions I Might Have Asked Nick Hornby at His Book Signing, Given More Time

“Who inspired the character of Tucker in Juliet, Naked? Cameron Crowe identified the inspiration for Russell in Almost Famous so I want you to do that now, too, although that might ruin my current visual of Tucker—basically Neil Gaiman with glasses—so never mind, don’t tell me. I love that book, by the way. It’s my favorite novel. I mean it.”

“Do you have any idea how funny that bit you wrote about The Road in one of your Believer essays was? So funny! The funniest! I read it out loud to Scott—that’s my husband—and had to read it in fits and starts because I’d start laughing or he’d laugh over my reading. Anyway, good job on that one.”

“Is it weird to you that there are people here wearing Arsenal gear, and that they call their jerseys ‘kits’? [The author realizes that’s what they’re called.] Is it wrong of me to judge them? What is judgment, anyway? Look, to be fair to me, when I got here, one of them was directly behind me, and an employee asked if we were together, and he said, ‘Not yet.’ That was gross. I read About a Boy when I was 12, by the way. That was probably too early. You’re great!”

The Question I Actually Asked Nick Hornby

“Have you read the sequel to Death and the Penguin?” (He hasn’t, and he asked me how it was, and I said that I was hoping he had so I wouldn’t have to. The first book, as I’ve mentioned, is so, so good, and I was ready for that story to be over, kind of like how I haven’t read anything Rowling has released post-Deathly Hallows. So it goes.)

Progress on New Year’s Resolutions

Listen to Judge John Hodgman: nailed it. I haven’t heard that many, but I find them absolutely delightful.

Whine less: could be better, could be worse. I’ll keep working on that one.

Exercise more: I rowed for the first time since October today, and it was so good. I didn’t do it for very long, or for much length, but it’s very reassuring to know that my body (my knee in particular) can handle it without any pain. So, yeah, I’m feeling decent about how frequently I’m exercising, and I have actual goals in mind regarding physical fitness, so this resolution? Pretty good.

Some Things I Keep Meaning to Read, and When I Assume I Will Actually Read Them

The first two books in the Fairyland series; the five days before they’re due back at the library (I did get through a substantial chunk of the first. It’s really good!)

The first two volumes of Preacher; about three days before the Oscars since one of the people I’m watching those with lent them to me

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?”, the latest book in Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series; next time my NOOK is charged all the way and there are no other books in my line of sight

Funny Girl, the book Nick Hornby was signing; as soon as I take it off the shelf, which could be tonight or tomorrow but will probably be Tuesday

Some Things You Should Read

“If Channing Tatum Were Your Boyfriend,” a piece Nicole Cliffe gifted to readers of despite being on maternity leave (The Toast)

Sarah Seltzer’s close-reading of the vocabulary used in EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey (Flavorwire)

Nathan Rabin on the Ghostbusters reboot and how much it, and other reboots and re-imaginings, won’t actually ruin your childhood entertainment (The Dissolve)

This take on the anti-vaccination movement from the perspective of an autistic person by Sarah Kurchak (Medium)

Latest Lists I Felt Like Writing, January 2015 Edition

How I Would Reimagine a Few of the Movies I Watched in 2013 and 2014 (with Spoilers)

American Hustle: Shift the focus to Louis C.K.’s character almost entirely. Cut 50 percent of the scenes because maybe then the movie would make more narrative sense (doesn’t matter which scenes, just, you know, try it). Definitely leave in the part where Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) vamps around the kitchen to “Live and Let Die” but maybe extend it to 10 minutes. This means “Live and Let Die” will have to loop three times and then begin playing a fourth time for about 15 seconds. Even if this guarantees that “Live and Let Die” will be playing on a semi-permanent loop in your head (just as it is right now), these changes would still make for a better viewing experience than the original cut of American Hustle.

As an aside, I just looked up Louis C.K.’s character’s name in American Hustle because, in the time since I’ve watched it, I’ve forgotten it. Instead, I’ve come to think of that character as “the only truly sane person in this entire film aside from Carmine Polito’s [because of course I remember Jeremy Renner’s character’s name, and his hair, and his sad face] wife, and the only one who seems to understand how dreadful everyone around him is.” As it turns out, his character’s name is Stoddard Thorsen. The more you know!

Interstellar: Remove Topher Grace. That man’s presence is very distracting.

Josie & the Pussycats: Nothing. Change nothing. It is magnificent as is. (The last time I watched Josie & the Pussycats was at a summer singalong at Videology, a video rental store/bar/screening room in Billysburg, Brooklyn. The first time I watched Josie & the Pussycats was almost certainly in 2001.)

Pacific Rim: Reimagine it as a buddy comedy starring Ron Pearlman as a man who engages in senseless violence with some frequency but is actually a big ol’ softie and Charlie Day as Charlie Day but with glasses. Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) should still be there. So should Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). Everyone else can go, with the exception of a single kaiju. This one’s affectionately dubbed Deleteri, her tail and tongue and toes are forked, and she has a lot to tell you about her backpacking trip through western Europe last spring. Still workshopping who would voice her; Jennifer Hale is a very talented voice actress, but she seems a bit sultry for this particular role. Not that a kaiju can’t be sultry. I’m sure it has the capacity to be sultry, but not “voiced by Jennifer Hale” sultry. Wait. I got it. Sarah Vowell. She’s a great disaffected teenager in The Incredibles, so she has the potential to be an even better too-earnest, slightly judgmental kaiju. Right? Nailed it.

Real Steel: 95% less family drama, 95% more robots fighting.

Snowpiercer: After Curtis (Chris Evans) delivers his mini-monologue about eating babies, have him break the fourth wall, turning to the camera and giving it a saucy wink.

The Wolf of Wall Street: Retitle it The Wall Street Wolf because that sounds funnier. Extend the scene in which Jordan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is on Quaaludes to about 90 minutes. Remove literally everything else.

Books I’m Reading Right Now and How Much Progress I Have Made

Outlander: According to my e-reader, Outlander has 822 pages. I’m a little more of an eighth of the way through, and I’m loving it.

Bird by Bird: If you have any interest in writing but don’t care for how-to guides related to writing, then this is the writing guide for you. I never feel like Ann Lamott is giving me hard-and-fast objective advice. It’s more like there are suggestions peppered throughout her stories of her own experiences—unique, but all kinds of relatable—with the frustrations and anxieties and occasional feelings that something you’ve done is right.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: I’ve read two pages of this. It seems like fun, but that’s a pretty small sample size of pages.

1 Corinthians: I just finished Acts Friday and this was the first book that came to Scott’s mind when I asked which one I should move to next. I’ve done 1 and 2 Corinthians a couple times before, but it’s always worthwhile to have another go. I’m starting it tonight.

Really Good Names for Pets I Would Consider Using in the Future Based on Characters from Fictional Properties, Plus Which Animal They’d Best Fit

Renly (A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones): a betta fish, preferably a golden one, taking into account his house sigil.

Frohike (The X-Files): a wide-eyed tabby.

15 a Day

I don’t remember if it was my idea or Mr. Zielinski’s. Maybe I borrowed his idea and shaped it to fit what I felt was achievable at the time. It doesn’t really matter where the idea came from, though. What matters is for a long time, I was doing it, and it was good for me, and I think it could be good for me again. When I was younger–and this is over a decade ago now–I challenged myself to write at least 15 lines of prose a day.

It’s likely that the bulk of that prose would be, in hindsight, pretty embarrassing. Here are just a few reasons for that.

  • I was a teenager then.
  • I wrote an excessive number of love stories. They were set in kitchens and on road trips and at playgrounds. They had a sameness about them, a theme of a boy and a girl who fall in love in rather ordinary circumstances. They usually ended with kissing. They were flowery, but they were not pretty.
  • I was enormously self absorbed. And I realize this is true for approximately 99.9% of American teenagers, but still, I don’t think I wrote about anything from an outsider’s perspective without it becoming “This is how this impacts me directly.”
  • It doesn’t do much good to look back at a time when you didn’t particularly like who you were.

And yet, the concept of writing that much daily is really appealing right now. Aside from reading and maybe riding roller coasters (maybe), I’ve never liked any other activity as much as I enjoy writing. Even if no one ever sees the words I wrote (and thankfully, the worst of the stuff was for my eyes only), it’s a healthy thing for me, jotting down thoughts on the new pharmacy tech at Walgreens or Scott’s iTunes playlist or how horrible my hands smell after cleaning the refrigerator. (And it’s bad, guys. It’s really bad.)

So I’m going to start doing that again. Sometimes, the results will show up here. It’s going to be nice to write without scrutiny, without obligation, and without rules. Teenage Christy didn’t know nearly as much as she thought she did, but she knew this was a good idea.