August

Books:

  • Calm, Cool, and Contentious: Essays by Merrill Markoe ~ A delight from start to finish.
  • Adoption for Dummies ~ This is a real book. On a topic about which until recently I was pretty dumb. But you have to start somewhere, and I’m learning.

Movies:

  • Boyhood ~ I don’t think I could ever love a Richard Linklater movie more than the Before Sunrise-Sunset-Midnightrilogy, but this was quite a feat and ultimately very moving to me, especially the scene with Patricia Arquette in the apartment at the end.
  • Ghostbusters ~ How fun was it to see this on the big screen for the first time in 30 years? Fun. Very fun!

TV:

  • Playing House is obviously my comedy of the year, and the drama of the year slot is now officially filled by Rectify. Holy crap, did this show make me cry. I’m still kind of working my way around this one in my head and heart. But I can’t recommend it enough. First season is on Netflix, and you can buy the second season’s episodes, which just ended their run on Sundance. Or maybe they’re on Sundance On Demand if you get that channel. I truly, really love it. I love the actor who plays Daniel the best, but they’re all so good. And it features Luke Kirby, who played the actor who played Romeo opposite Rachel McAdams’ Juliet in my beloved Slings and Arrows, and that makes me happy, too. Mostly this show is like a boot on the heart but with bursts of beauty that made me sigh and weep about a million times. I can’t believe I am done. I remain devastated.
  • Happy Valley is my latest and greatest marathon experience. Thanks a lot, Allison! I’d never heard of it until she wrote about it, and now I think I am probably obsessed and I’ve only watched two episodes. It’s really upsetting and REALLY good.

Music:

  • I’ve been listening to my Vince Chao’s band’s new album a lot. It’s excellent!

Podcasts:

Favorite things on Internet:

 ”Rectify” wants to know everything about its finely drawn characters. It wants to examine, rigorously yet gently, all the things that bring them both joy and despair. It’s deeply interested in what makes Holden and his family members tick, and each one of them is realistically messy and complicated. As the second season progressed and filled out each person’s psychological backstory, Holden and his friends, family and enemies grew into some of the most fascinating characters on television.

Gravity yanks us down, even a man as stunning in every way as Robin. We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can’t be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity.

As many know, my performance as Olaf in Frozen is inspired by the great Robin Williams. When I first met with the film’s directors, I told them I wanted to create a character as free and as wonderfully surprising at every turn as the greatest Disney sidekick I had ever known: the Genie. Olaf will never remotely touch the tour de force that is Robin’s Genie. Because there is only one Robin Williams. But the joy and laughter that my little snowman has brought to children is because of the man who has left this world far too early. A man who taught me to be free, to be childlike, and a man who taught me to get out of my own way as a performer. His gift was to take all of our pain away and to allow us to escape. If only we could have returned the favor.

But I know how tired he must have been. I know how tired I’ve been with it. I wish this weren’t the only way he could find to rest. I hope he does rest; I hope all you other Robin Williamses out there know that someone will come. We’ll get to you somehow. Please stay.

  • Still loving Price Peterson’s SYTYCD recaps with Joe Reid’s editorial comments very much.

Best Food Eaten:

This ice cream cone beside Lake Harriett in Minneapolis. It tasted like summer and everything good about the United States of America.

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I wish I had taken a photo of the pre-game spread concocted by my friend PG before the first LSU game because it was a meaty spectacular featuring chicken grilled in a muffin tin. But I was too busy eating my face off. I am so lucky to have the friends that I do; I will never know what I did to deserve them.

Best Trip:

I drove to Monroe for Anna Beth’s back surgery and watched the sun rise through the car window and drove over one of my favorite old bridges. Even though this trip wasn’t for the merriest of reasons, it was nice to see my sweet friends.

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And I flew for a mini-First Descents reunion with my friends Katia and Bourbon to Minneapolis, where we visited cute shops, practiced Yin, sampled delicious bourbon, ate hundreds of fried cheese curds, wore pajamas, walked around beautiful lakes, pet a sweet dog, and celebrated outliving it together.

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Best walks:

My favorite walk was a sunny day through some gardens in Minneapolis. Just lovely summer goodness.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

In a garden in Minneapolis I saw what I think is the most beautiful rose I’ve ever seen.

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Pets Still Alive:

Both! Though Marley is still barfing on the serious reg despite all kinds of thyroid medicine adjustments. Who even knows anymore?

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Best August events:

S. and her family have returned from Japan, and we’re all just very stoked about it. And my sister had the cutest and best baby ever born in the whole wide world.

Bullets Being Bitten:

My friend Allison sent me this tiny wooden box. We’ve talked a lot over the years about her adoption experience and how it’s something I was thinking of pursuing, and every hesitation or question I’ve ever presented her to her, starting years ago but especially recently, has been met with the following: “Yeah, but if you want to do this, you just have to bite the bullet.” How do regular humans afford adoption? “Well, there are loans and cash-out refis and HELOCS and such, this is what people do all the time, you just have to bite the bullet.” Home study? “It’s a pain, but it’s not that hard, it’s just a lot of paperwork, you just have to bite the bullet.” Child care? Pediatricians? “Just ask your friends for recommendations, it’ll all work out, just bite the bullet.” But will people think this is a good idea? “Of course they will, you lunatic. You just have to start biting the bullet and telling people what you’re doing.” And she’s right — everyone is psyched and being super supportive all over the place. It’s basically short-hand at this point: “BULLET.” And I think it’s good advice and now I look at this box all the time as I basically bite bullets left and right. One wild and precious life. Whatever your bullets are, bite them. The End! Namaste.

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July

Books:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart ~ I think I was one of the few people who was not in love with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I did like this book – I found it very cinematic, and it was a fine airplane read.
  • Winger by Andrew Smith ~ I liked We Were Liars, but I liked Winger more. It’s just such a lovely boarding school / rugby / first love / brotherhood kind of a book.

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  • Memoir of a Debulked Woman: Enduring Ovarian Cancer by Susan Gubar ~ I recognize the importance of Susan Gubar as a scholar and the importance of this work, but that doesn’t mean I could get through the whole thing. Maybe one day.
  • Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns by John Green ~ Re-reads. They hold up pretty well. I liked Paper Towns more this time around, mostly because I kept picturing Nat Wolff as Quentin, which made the whole thing that much more delightful. I don’t think I’m emotionally prepared for the Sarah Polley film adaptation of Looking for Alaska, but I trust what it will become in her hands.
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ~ Probably the best book I’ve read this year.

Movies:

  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes ~ Perfectly enjoyable. I really like these ape movies.

TV:

  • No TV of the year has matched Playing House for me, so I just keep watching it. It’s currently available on USA On Demand, at least on my cable box, and here.

Music:

  • In keeping with that theme, I’ve been listening to the opening titles song a lot this summer. Back Before We Were Brittle by Say Hi:

 

Favorite things on Internet:

  • Price Peterson’s recaps of So You Think You Can Dance. Anyone who loves Cat Deeley as much as I do is fine in my book.  He and Joe Reid, who contributes excellent parenthetical editorial comments, just get it:

Seriously, is there a more joyful show on television than this thing? The question is rhetorical, because no there is not. For two hours every week SYTYCD presents a total reprieve from the seeming nonstop darkness and cynicism of nearly every other hit show, reality or otherwise. It’s earnest, it’s unhip, it’s undeniably celebratory.

  • An intensely wonderful essay about The Fault In Our Stars. I keep wanting to go back and read this again, but I don’t know if I can because it’s so beautiful it hurts to read it, much as Jordan Catalano was so beautiful it hurt Angela to look at him. But seriously. I’ve read a lot of things about John Green, and about this book. I’ve read mostly everything there is to read. I mean that in all seriousness. But this one is something special.

Best Food Eaten:

A very saucy First Descents friend came down to New Orleans, and we had a rather crazyballs delicious brunch, including bacon stickybuns at Dante’s, which is always perfect. And there’s a new pork place nearby, and I don’t know what has come over me, but I’ve wanted to eat all of it.

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And this was God’s perfect cupcake at my beloved neighborhood coffee shop.

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Best Trip

I flew to Hilton Head to visit my friend who moved there, and I’m here to tell you that Hilton Head in the summer is a beautiful thing. We biked on the beach, ate at Chow Daddy’s, kayaked in a creek, jumped in the warm waves, went to a low country boil, and I just kept thinking about how much Pat Conroy’s books meant to me when I was a teenager, never mind how cray they seem now, and about the Wingo kids rescuing the porpoise.

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Best walks:

I went on a long walk one day with the boy next door and his dogs, and we stared up at the trees and sang songs and I will always be so grateful for my neighbors. The best baby of the month was his baby brother, who was born and is so yummy and delicious.

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Best visitors:

My sister and her family and our brother all came to town at the same time in July, and there was lots of swimming and eating, swimming and eating, and guitar strumming and fun.

Best reading:

I went to church one Sunday in July because my dad the deacon was giving the homily, and this was the second reading, and it struck such a chord in me that I whipped out my phone and took a photo of it right in the middle of mass.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

Crape myrtle season blazes on, and I trespassed on a walk one day into someone’s yard to take a photo of his lily, which I guess is a spider lily but I’m not 100% sure. I’m kind of obsessed with it, though.

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Poem of the month:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,

then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,

go to the limits of your longing.

Embody me.

Flare up like a flame.

and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.

Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.

You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

–Rilke, Book of Hours

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June

Books:

  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell ~ Grateful that darling Melissa sent me this but I was honestly disappointed in the book. I still love RR and believe in her as an outstanding writer and human. This one just wasn’t for me.
  • The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham ~ Will anything ever be as good as The Hours? Probably not. But this was mighty beautiful even though not much happens. It is so gorgeously written that I didn’t care.
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying by Carol Leifer, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour ~ All decent airplane reads, none life-changing.

Movies:

  •  The Internship ~ I thought this was kind of hilarious, but I watched it on a plane, when things are always way funnier or way sadder, so it’s probably not a valid assessment.

TV:

  • Playing House ~ The obsession continues. I also went back and watched every episode of Best Friends Forever, also created by and starring Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham; sadly, there are only six episodes. Thank God for these two women. They just make me happy. I can see myself going back to watch these shows over and over. If Playing House is not renewed, all is dross.

Music:

  • This is currently my favorite song.

Favorite things on Internet:

  • Ramin Karimloo’s final vlog for Broadway.com. Worth watching if only for his adorable children at the end and his nice Avetts cover.

Best Awards Show:

  • During my final round of chemo, my dear friend/neighbor was sitting with me and declared we needed to plan something big and fun for when this was all said and done. Apparently I said, “Let’s go to the Tony Awards.” I have no memory of this as chemo days are basically lost to me thanks to Ativan + IV Benadryl, but she booked our plane tickets and when Tony tickets went on sale she bought those, and so she & my sister & I put on fancy dresses and up and went to the Tony Awards like it was a totally normal thing to do.  The day before the Tony’s, I was in Brooklyn with Molly, who told me she wished I could meet her friend Emilie’s friend Elizabeth. And when I got to my seat, who was in the seat next to mine but this very person. That was just one tiny part of what made this night so crazy and unreal. And I also got to meet lovely Emilie in person for the first time.  Also – Hugh Jackman hosting. Alan Cumming performing as the emcee! Performances by Sutton and Idina. Carole King joining in the Beautiful performance. Too much. Anyway, the whole thing was surreal and dreamy and wonderfully fun and it still feels impossible that it happened.

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Best Food Eaten:

This bowl of goodness at the bar of Totto Ramen, where the noodles and cooks are serious business.

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And God’s perfect sandwich at good old Grey Dog’s Coffee, which S. introduced me to a million years ago and still tastes exactly the same.

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Best Shows:

  • Beautiful – Saw this Tony weekend, and while it wasn’t a perfect show, the music was great and Jessie Mueller was FANTASTIC, and in the opening line and chords of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” the whole audience held its breath and the tears started to flow. “Tonight you’re mine, completely…” Ridiculous. So beautiful.
  • Hedwig & the Angry Inch ~ Seeing this with NPH was one of my New Year’s resolutions.  I fell in love with the movie/music in 2002 and it’s been in my heart ever since. (This is a good oral history.) It was spectacular and thrilling to see it live onstage in ways I cannot explain, and Neil Patrick Harris was perfect. I knew he would be, but he is such a master thespian and was so strong vocally and embodied the bravery and heartbreak of this character so profoundly, from his high heel boots to the tips of his eyelashes, and it was just magical on every conceivable level. “With all the changes you’ve been through, it seems the stranger’s always you.” Devastating! It felt like a dream coming true.

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  • tick, tick … boom! ~ Much like Hedwig, I have loved this show for more than a decade but had never seen it onstage. When I read that it was being staged for Encores in a four-night run, I knew I had to be there, so I trekked back to New York at the end of the month to meet up with my beautiful friend Anne to see it. The best parts were seeing Jonathan Groff, possibly my most exciting celebrity spotting of all time, sitting right in front of Tommy Kail and Andy Blankenbuehler (director and choreographer of In the Heights, both major celebs and rock stars in my eyes), and being there with Anne. The show was wonderful and what my beloved Lin-Manuel Miranda may lack in the singing voice of someone like Raul Esparza (who played Jonathan originally) he makes up for in overall genius and heart. Read this. I will love this show and obviously beautiful Anne forever.

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Best walks:

Walking through Central Park with my sister at the beginning of June and through miles of Ikea with her at the end of the June.  Walking all over Manhattan with my friend/neighbor, looking up and thinking about Nora Ephron. Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and turning around and seeing lower Manhattan from a whole new perspective. Walking through Molly’s neighborhood with her and through the Brooklyn Flea and eating fancy hot dogs and buying this ring (much cheaper at the Flea than on this website, score) for myself.

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Flowers, Plants, and Trees:

Central Park is a very green and very beautiful place.

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Best Fountain:

My sister and I went to visit the Bethesda Fountain and read the end of Angels in America: Perestroika, which I read over and over through the winter, and it was basically tears and sunshine and love and life. And then we sat on a bench and ate popsicles.

This is my favorite place in New York City. No, in the whole universe. The parts of it I have seen … This angel. She’s my favorite angel. I like them best when they’re statuary. They commemorate death but they suggest a world without dying. They are made of the heaviest things on earth, stone and iron, they weigh tons but they’re winged, they are engines and instruments of flight …

The fountain’s not flowing now, they turn it off in the winter, ice in the pipes. But in the summer it’s a sight to see. I want to be around to see it. I plan to be. I hope to be.
This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
Bye now.
You are fabulous creatures, each and every one.
And I bless you: More Life.
The Great Work Begins.

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A story for another day:

June was a banner month in so many ways and some of the highlights are posted here to help me remember. What will have to wait for another day is the story of what was ultimately the most important thing to happen in June and probably all year, the week I spent whitewater kayaking in Oregon with First Descents. I don’t have the words yet but will hopefully find them soon.

Lyrics of the month:

I have often asked myself the reason for sadness
In a world where tears are just a lullaby
If there’s any answer, maybe love can end the madness
Maybe not, oh, but we can only try

You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face
And show the world all the love in your heart
Then people gonna treat you better
You’re gonna find, yes, you will
That you’re beautiful as you feel

–Carole King, Beautiful

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