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17April
2016

how star wars saved xmas

maura @ 6:30 pm

I’ve long been convinced that my age cohort was born at the absolute best time to experience the Star Wars movies and fandom. I’d just turned 8 when the first movie was released. My dad took me and my sister (she was just over 3) to see it in what I remember being a big deal — I think we went to a biggish theater in Center City Philadelphia, and there were definitely long lines. It was amazing, of course, unlike anything I’d seen before (partially because many of the other space movies of the 1970s were too much for kids). I was 11 when Empire Strikes Back was released (and we were just about to move halfway across the country for my dad’s new job), arguably the best of the first 3 films (fight me). And I’d just turned 14 when Return of the Jedi came out (just as my family was getting ready to move back east).

I’d wager that’s pretty much the perfect age range for those movies — starting when I was old enough to understand (most of) what was going on and ending before the teen spirit fully took me over. It’s hard to overestimate how pervasive Star Wars was (and is) to nerds in my age group. I remember it being one of the first movies we rented when we first got a VCR in 1980, so my brother could finally see it (he’d been a toddler when it was in the theater). In college the campus movie theater showed all three and the theater was packed, all of us nerds reciting the best lines in unison.

When news of the 3 prequels broke we were grown-up nerds living in NYC, and like our other grown-up nerd friends we were pretty psyched. With a bunch of our pals we lined up to see the original (though enhanced/altered, sigh) trilogy at the amazing Ziegfeld Theater in Midtown Manhattan on its incredibly huge screen. Then Phantom Menace was released and, well, Jar Jar (sigh). By the time Attack of the Clones came out we had a little baby who was adorable yet not fond of sleeping, making it a challenge to see movies. Ditto for Revenge of the Sith (though by that time he was a nonsleeping preschooler). When he was old enough we showed him all 6 films, of course, and like other parents our age experienced the intense disappointment of his strong interest in Episodes 1-3 and repeated complaints about Episodes 4-6 (“this is so boring!”). Jar Jar and the fast cuts, that’s what the kids like (have we failed as parents?).

And that was about it for me, for a long time. I don’t think I saw Episodes 2-3 more than once; they were confusing and dull, Anakin was a whiny stalker, and I just couldn’t get into it. The kid watched the animated Clone Wars series for a while which I admit did seem better, especially since there was a female main character in the Jedi trainee Ahsoka. But I still found it confusing and didn’t watch much.

I belabor all of this history as context. When it was announced that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and JJ Abrams would direct a new movie, I thought “meh.” I’d see stuff on Twitter occasionally and yeah, it was cool to see that photo of the cast beginning readings — I was pleased to see a person of color *and* another woman (also: Carrie Fisher 4eva). But the movie just wasn’t on my radar, for the most part, not something I was planning to see as soon as it was released. And then, out of nowhere, the kid up and got obsessed. I blame the internet (obvs). He started watching Clone Wars again and insisted that he really really really wanted to see the movie and, moreover, could we please watch Episodes 1-6 before the new one? After some Netflix scrambling we did, though I admit I mostly tuned out of the early ones (again).

And so it was on December 25, 2015, that we took the train into Manhattan for a dinner of Chinese food (yum, dumplings) followed by a trip to the Ziegfeld Theater to see The Force Awakens. I still hadn’t done much reading about it and was still a bit “meh,” even as we stood on line and took our seats.

It’s corny beyond belief, but I was completely, utterly blown away. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega (who was terrific in Attack the Block) as Finn were uh-may-zing; the fan service of General (yessss!) Leia Organa and Han Solo was sweet; the details — most especially the early scenes with Rey scavenging and living on Jakku, and of course with Rey and Finn on the Millennium Falcon — impeccable. I bought my 10 yr old niece the Lego Rey’s speeder set for her birthday and almost, almost had to keep it for myself; I’m considering buying the DVD of Force Awakens, too (something I pretty much never ever do).

I was also relieved beyond belief that the movie was so good (and the dumplings, too). Last xmas was the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, and the month before that, the first anniversary of our good friend’s death. We saw many, many nerd movies at the Ziegfeld with our friend in the 23 years we’d been friends, and most certainly would have geeked out on Force Awakens with her. We almost always visited (or traveled with) my mother-in-law at xmas. We didn’t have any travel plans or visitors for xmas last year, and as the date approached I was pretty nervous about how we’d all feel on that day, whether we could push back on the weight of it all even if only for just a few hours. And then Poe sent BB-8 off with the plans and Finn stole a TIE fighter and Rey ate that magical puffy bread and it was awesome.

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12January
2013

trips to faraway lands

maura @ 2:02 pm

We took a trip for the holidays, a longish trip to a warmish place, not the usual for us at xmas. It was lovely, which took me somewhat by surprise: as someone who is especially sunburn-prone I don’t tend to seek out sunny places for vacation. But I’ve also become more and more grumpy as I age about winter’s short dark days (even worse when there’s no snow, which is pretty much the whole point of winter), so I was happy to find myself with the opportunity to relax in a warm place with beautiful scenery and few obligations.

I ended up reading more than writing while on vacation. Partly because I was reading a book about Lynda Barry and partly because I’ve been thinking more about zines recently, I’m mulling over making a zine about the trip, though I might cave and just write about it here. Not sure how I would illustrate the zine since I can’t really draw. I could cut pictures from magazines? The only paper magazines we get anymore are the New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly, Ranger Rick, and Science Illustrated, which might actually cover it.

Before that, a couple of weeks before thanksgiving, I took the train up to Saratoga Springs to speak on a panel at the New York Library Association annual conference. It was a fun time presenting with some of my favorite folks in the CUNYverse. Because there aren’t that many trains to Saratoga I ended up having to get one very very early in the morning the day before our panel, and took advantage of the travel (and the rest of that day alone in my hotel room) to finish up our book proposal. It’s been so hard to get more than a few hours at any one time to work on the book that it was just incredible to have one whole day — I got so much done!

Saratoga Springs was quaint and odd and dreamy. I called a taxi and when it pulled up was delighted to find that my cabbie was a lady! The ride was fairly short, maybe 10-15 minutes, and it cost FOUR DOLLARS. 4. $. I couldn’t help myself, I gave her a huge tip and blurted out “you can’t even get into a cab for $4 in the city!” On the cab ride we chatted about the fact that there was no snow at all, nor damage from Hurricane Sandy, that far upstate (this was right after the weird snowstorm). She called me a downstater — not in a mean way! — which I found surprising.

Wandering around the town I came across a carbonated spring and took a picture. Skidmore College is just up the road and I have to say that, now that I’ve been to Saratoga Springs, it brings Steven Millhauser’s writing to a whole different plane in my brain. I mean, of *course* you’d write stories like that if you live in Saratoga Springs. Or maybe you live in Saratoga Springs because you write stories like that? It’s hard to explain, but between the carbonated spring and the huge beautiful public library and the sullen yet charming teens hanging out on the swinging bench in the Ben & Jerry’s parking lot and the carousel on the edge of a pretty park overrun by fat noisy ducks… I could almost see the edges of the flying carpets whizzing by or the dust of the invasion from outer space settling onto the sidewalk.

Anyway, I started writing a blog post on the train on the way up to Saratoga and feel weird leaving it abandoned and unfinished, so here it is:

So much water. The river seems high, seems somewhat threatening now, even though it’s a lovely crisp fall day and the sun shines bright.

I don’t know that I’ve ever taken the train on this route before. This is the way we should have traveled to Montreal last year, but we took the bus instead, silly us. This train goes up up up along the Hudson River. Not through the old brick factory towns in Massachusetts like when we used to train to Vermont. Not through the Eastern cities like when I last took a train to a(n) (un)conference. This route’s all bluffs and cliffs and hills and trees and houses nestled in. And the wide river, I forget how wide it is in parts.

I still feel all kinds of messed up about living near water, the hurricane wasn’t long enough ago, so many folks (esp. in public housing) are still powerless and displaced. But it’s hard not to enjoy a train trip, train travel is just intrinsically delightful, Amor de Dias in my headphones and my laptop plugged in so I can work on the book proposal as the trees fly by. Jonathan called this my traincation, and he’s right.

2January
2011

and they call him sandy claws

maura @ 4:07 pm

This holiday season was fun and hectic, and it’s going to take me a while to process it all. I’m going to try and write it out in a couple of posts as a way to get myself back on that writing train again, which I’d fallen off of so successfully so many times last semester. New year, new resolutions, blah blah blah — I’m not really going to make them because they are always the same, and always things I try to do all the time anyway: write more, read more (esp. non-work-related stuff), exercise more, stress less.

So, the holidays! This year the Santa situation came home to roost. You may remember my ambivalence about Santa from previous posts around this time of year. My mom didn’t want to lie to us so we never believed in Santa (though I never burst anyone else’s bubble when I was a kid!). We always put Santa on gift tags + stuff, though, just for fun. Before Gus was born Jonathan and I used to visit some of his relatives at xmas and it was fun to do the Santa thing for their little kids, so it wasn’t too hard to convince me to do Santa w/Gus. But I’ve always been kind of jealous of Santa — he does none of the work and gets all of the credit, lucky fatso! — so in our house the *best* gifts are always given by actual real people, and Santa has been known to bring socks + underwear.

There were some cracks in Gus’s Santa belief showing last year, but they were easy to ignore. He wrote a note on xmas eve that read:

Dear Santa,
please fill in a box that tells me if you are real.
_ Yes _ No
From Gus
P.S. Merry X-mas

Jonathan got out his fancy red calligraphy pen, checked “yes,” and wrote “Love S. Claus” on the note, and that was the end of that.

This year things were different. About 3 weeks before xmas we were coming in from somewhere and as I was unlocking the door to the apartment Gus just asked me out of the blue: “Mom, is Santa real, or is he just parents buying presents for kids?” Now, this is where I need someone to be with me at all times as an adviser, because when I told this story to a friend later she said “why didn’t you just say: ‘what do you think?'” But I don’t and I didn’t, instead going for the whole truth.

And of course Gus got angry, threw “you lied to me!” at me and everything. I felt really bad, tried to explain that we can still write Santa on gift tags because it’s fun, right? Nope, no dice.

Luckily after a week or so of moping he mellowed out, and we ended up having a perfectly nice Santa-free xmas. And in the end I was relieved because I hadn’t been sure how Santa would fit in with our plans to be on vacation on xmas day — when we went to London two years ago Gus was very concerned with whether Santa would deliver the presents in time (we traveled on 12/25). As you can probably guess, I’m really pleased to be done with Santa, and glad too that we’ve safely navigated our first xmas in which Gus doesn’t believe but his younger cousins (still) do.

And the obligatory funny ending? A week or so after the revelation, Gus turned to me out of nowhere and exclaimed: “you and Daddy eat the cookies!” And the carrot sticks, too.

les tags: , ,