Personal time

I haven’t had any, which is why this blog hasn’t been updated in a week. Between seven hour meetings, location and tech scouts, and getting 7 hours of sleep or less each night, there’s hardly any time to write or relax.

Someone who had read my blog and then met me in person said that I hadn’t said anything bad about Michigan yet. There’s really not much to say though. I like it here but I wouldn’t want to live here. We drove through Detroit a couple of days ago. This city is tragically empty – full of enormous gutted buildings, and I’ve never seen so much destruction. Detroit is the post-apocalyptic city of our time. I told a girl last night that I imagine that this is what the cities of the future will look like after everyone has moved away. Not that there aren’t other abandoned cities in the world today, it’s just that there aren’t too many in the United States, at least not on this scale. In a couple of weeks I’ll be going downtown to explore.

I cut my head in the shower a couple of days ago. I think the curtain rod fell on top of me after I tore it out of the wall with my momentum. I bled for almost an hour but it seems to be healing really well.

I can’t believe I’ve been here for two and a half weeks already. We start shooting on Wednesday and there’s tons of work to be done before then.

Speaking of personal work…revision revision revision.

Hey, soul sister

I used to listen to Train a bunch when their first single came out 12 years or so ago. Damn, that was a long time ago. Their new single seems like a step in a more pop-oriented direction, complete with weird references to gangsters and thugs, as if Pat Monahan and the songwriters were paying homage to the newly minted listeners of the late 2000s. He sounds great but if you listen to the lyrics you’ll notice little idiosyncrasies.

Today I spent nine hours doing a script breakdown on Scenechronize, a web solution to production management. It’s a cool website but the learning curve is somewhat steep. I think other people will have some trouble. Seems like I’m the only one updating anything right now, and I’m pretty sure the other ADs won’t be logging on at all. I still prefer the old paper chase.

We start shooting on the 31st and go for six weeks. I’m thinking about stopping in Iowa on the way back or maybe going to NYC or something of the sort. I’d like to meet some friends from Canada. Maybe they can make it out one of these days.

I keep thinking and thinking about J and I can’t stop. All the losses keep adding up.

Whoa

I didn’t realize it had been nearly a week since I last posted. It’s not that I don’t have time to write, it’s that I’m spending too much time doing other things, so the blog was put on the backburner for a short time. I’m going to San Francisco tomorrow, then leaving for Detroit on Thursday. I will try to write more, but I will be in Detroit for six or seven weeks, so it’s hard to judge how much free time I will have. I guess it depends on whether or not I’ll be working six day weeks and if I will have access to a computer.

Finished 2666 about four days ago. Amazing novel. I’m still processing it. In the meantime, a couple of book recommendations: Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” is a pretty good collection of short stories. I wouldn’t say it’s amazing, but it does keep on making me laugh, so I recommend that you pick it up. Alice Munro’s “Too Much Happiness,” her new short story collection, is exquisite. Or at least the first story, “Dimensions,” is horrifying and heartbreaking and amazing. That’s all I’ve had time to read out of that collection, but if it’s any indication of the quality of the rest of the collection, it will be amazing. Pick up both of those for a marvelous contrast between voices and styles. Literally.

Sundance wrap up

Yes, this post should have been written a week ago, but I’ve just been too emotionally exhausted to do any thinking about anything.

I saw just one other film besides “Restrepo” at Sundance. It was called “Double Take,” and you can see its IMDB page here. It was an interesting mashup of original and archive footage, a Hitchcockian thriller as well as a history lesson on the Cold War. I highly recommend it if you ever see it on DVD.

I didn’t get to see any other films, mainly because I couldn’t bother to stand in another waitlist line after we stood for an hour in a room packed with five hundred people and no air to see Hesher, which we ultimately could not get tickets too. It was also snowing for most of the time we were there, and while it’s a beautiful thing to see snow again, I did not relish standing outside in the cold to wait for tickets.

So, that said, if you’re rich you’ll probably enjoy Sundance enormously. If you’re the average person with an interest in good films but can’t afford to buy the tickets, you will probably be wasting your time, unless you’re with some beautiful women who can get you into all the parties. Needless to say, I didn’t get into any parties. But I was also with my parents, and there was no feasible way to go anywhere without a car.

All in all, I enjoyed Sundance and would definitely go again to see some really good films, as long as I had tickets.

Sundance Day One – Restrepo (war is hell)

Day one of Sundance is now over, and it was quite interesting. Though we came at the absolute worst time of the week because all the films are showing next week, I still got to watch one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen, “Restrepo.” I think many people felt the way I did about it, because after we left the screening, people looked, for lack of a better word, stricken and in despair.
The film, named after a soldier who is killed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, an area that was, for a time, called the deadliest place on earth, follows a platoon of combat infantry for one year through the first person perspective of two embedded journalists, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington (they co-directed the film).
We don’t really know Restrepo. What we see at the beginning of the film is a video shot by Restrepo, in which he and three other members of the platoon are goofing off on a train heading to their deployment site, most likely in Italy. At the end of this short video (shot for family/friends back home), Restrepo says that when we next see him, he will be “going to war.”
We never physically see Restrepo again, though there are echoes of his presence throughout. Instead, we get a harrowing demonstration of one year in hell, during which the soldiers that Junger and Hetherington follow are constantly besieged by enemy fire, and in interviews conducted after their tour (15 months later), we see the emotional toll that their time in Korengal has taken on them.
The film is powerful because of its honest portrayal of what it means to be a soldier and, really, what it means to retain one’s sense of humanity when people around one are dying. There is very little violent content, and we never see who the soldiers are fighting (and neither do they), which is ironic. Perhaps we’ve seen too many violent films, because throughout the first twenty or so minutes, I had the sneaking desire to see someone actually get shot, which is a wholly disturbing idea.
A few touching moments stand out: a soldier who has just been involved in an act of hazing is told that “we’re making a man out of him” while a black lab puppy licks his hand. In another, three soldiers unabashedly dance to a pop song inside their makeshift barracks. A third, more tragic scene shows a soldier having an emotional breakdown on the battlefield while another tells him “Don’t look. You don’t want to look” in reference to another soldier (not Restrepo) who has just been killed. In a fourth, a post-tour interview in reference to the dead soldier, a soldier says “I wanted to cry but I couldn’t.” In a fifth, a soldier fixing the placement of a machine gun has a radio conversation with another soldier who asks about what kind of ranch he lives on, and whether it has “cows and stuff.”
We see glimpses of violence – a soldier with a blood stained back and hands, an IED exploding under a Humvee while the cameraman is inside, and a child inadvertently killed during a mission, but most important and profound are the testimonies of the men themselves, taken after the fact, in concert with the footage shot by Junger and Hetherington.
Films that stand alongside this one in terms of thematic structure and their ability to expose the humanity evident in every soldier: “Jarhead,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Platoon.” “Restrepo” is more subtle about its ends, but no less forceful.
Two quotes come to mind when I think about how best to sum up this film. One is from another Afghanistan film released last year, “Brothers,” in which the main character says, “Who was it that said only the dead have seen the end of war? I have seen the end of war. The question is, how do I go on living?”
The other quote is from Sebastian Junger, who was present with Hetherington at the premiere and answered a few questions. When asked about how people as citizens should go about helping these soldiers recover and readjust to society, he said that “no matter how you feel about the war, and no, war is not fun, no one should like it; no matter how you feel or what kind of political stance you have, just tell them you understand.”
This film goes a long way towards showing us how we can all understand.

What I’m looking forward to this morning

I hope you enjoy your new year’s parties. I’m off to Berkeley this morning. I won’t be posting any updates until I return on the 9th.

I’ve been thinking about all the things I’m looking forward to on my short trip this morning. Here are a few:

I bought Jonathan Franzen’s novel “The Corrections,” along with David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas,” and I hope to read either one or both of these novels on the trip. There’s going to be lots of dead travel time on buses and trains and an hour on the plane. I decided that I should finally buy some books, and so I did, starting with “Never Let Me Go.” I’ll be doing a lot of reading this week.

I get to see my friends and engage in lots of random activities.

I’m going back to Berkeley to not only see friends, but to hopefully see a professor of mine who greatly supported and inspired me in my writing during my time at Cal. I owe him lunch and I think I owe it to him to tell him what has happened to my writing during the last six months. That should be an interesting story.

I get to leave Los Angeles for more than three days, which is an enormous pleasure for me. I hope to leave here permanently by the end of 2010.

I get to meet a new person. Thanks N, I look forward to meeting another writer.

I’m also going back to a cafe I used to frequent, where I spent time reading and writing. It’s one of my favorite places.

I suppose that’s a good list for now. When I get back, more interesting stories will be told. I should mention that I’m slightly nervous about flying and the associated dread it brings with regard to identification and security. Hopefully nothing will happen. I do have the advantage of being a white male whom no one considers dangerous or suspicious.

A lack of focus


From downtown Oakland, the Pittsburg Bay Point and Richmond trains leave in tandem at night. After reaching MacArthur, the lines diverge, the Richmond heading North through Berkeley, the Pittsburg Bay Point heading Northwest through Rockridge and the Caldecott Tunnel. I forget the number of times I caught the last train from the city, alone and sober, or drunk with Chris. We’d board the Pittsburg train at the Embarcadero, catching our breath from running to get to the platform before 12:25, when the last train left the station. Sometimes we missed it, like the time we ended up taking the overnight bus over the bay bridge, hanging out on the corner of Broadway and 12th for half an hour, waiting for a connection that didn’t end up saving us any time. A couple of cops had been patrolling the neighborhood, chasing off hookers and being berated by a homeless man.

When I first moved to Oakland, I tended to take the BART more often than the bus. I lived just under a mile away from MacArthur, on 34th and Market. Cal was about four miles away, and I walked there once, taking Telegraph, because the buses weren’t running on schedule. When I did take the train though, a half hour bus ride turned into a picturesque ten minute BART ride. The distance between MacArthur and Downtown Berkeley is covered by a section of elevated track between MacArthur and Ashby, from which you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate to the left, and the Berkeley Hills to the right.

At Ashby, the train descends into the tunnel, a steep descent that feels more like a controlled fall into darkness. We are now just three minutes and one stop away from disembarking at our destination.

I’m stuck in my memory

I hate blogging. Whenever I think of something to write, I sit down to write it here and instantly forget what I was going to say. Some blog posts stay unwritten, while others are written over the span of three to five hours.

I came dangerously close to calling JJ the other night. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve decided to do something and then gone back on my decision a couple of days later. Only this time it’s been three weeks. At least I think it’s been three weeks. Each day has blurred into the next.

I don’t have anything interesting to say today, except that I’ve found a place to live, and hopefully this whole thing works out. I’m still deciding on a day to fly out, but it will most likely be the 25th, and I’ll be flying to Raleigh and taking the Greyhound to Roanoke. Flying to Roanoke isn’t possible because every airline that flies there charges for bags.

I’ve been practicing my southern accent. Hopefully I’ll be able to impress some of you in the future.

Itinerary and decisions

For a moment, I wished I had stayed in Berkeley and accepted USF’s offer of admission. There are several compelling reasons to stay in California. I’d be close to my family, and for an undocumented student who hasn’t been able to get a steady job, moving to Virginia is a really stupid idea. I also like California, at least northern California, and love San Francisco. If I could choose a place to live at (in?) for the rest of my life, it might very well be the Bay Area.

But Hollins seemed like a better fit that USF, mainly because it was unfamiliar. Staying in SF meant seeing the people I’d become used to seeing, spending time with them instead of spending time writing. Hollins was a good choice a couple of months ago.

I remember when I first came to Berkeley (or Oakland, rather) and went to be in my new room in my new home. I had an intense feeling of disorientation and fear, as if going to bed in a strange new place were the most frightening thing I’d ever experienced. I’m pretty sure that when I go to bed in Virginia on the first night, I’ll be quite terrified, if only because now, help will be three thousand miles away instead of three hundred.

I think I’ve figured out my itinerary for the next three weeks or so. I’ll fly out of Los Angeles, connect somewhere in the midwest, and end up arriving in Raleigh, NC. After that, it’ll probably have to be the Greyhound bus to Roanoke, although I’m a little scared of traveling at all at the moment, because of the increase in deportations.

Two things before I crash for the night, both relating to different aspects of friendship:

1. To my new friend – don’t give up. I hope fate sends you here again for this message.

2. Thank you for saying this: “The undocumented immigrant thing must be really hard. I was reading through your blog and it hit me suddenly that it hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for you. You must have really worked to get where you are– America can be really hard, I guess– and I really admire that.”

I don’t think anyone realizes the difficulty of being undocumented, and so I appreciate what you said. I have tried to work hard. I think I’m very optimistic about everything because I know things couldn’t really be any worse for me. I always think about those people who aren’t really doing anything with their lives and what I would give to be them, to have a chance to do something.

It looks like I will be able to take part in a class action lawsuit against the USCIS (US immigration service). If the court rules in our favor, I’d get my priority date shifted six years back, to 2001, meaning I would get my green card in a matter of months. I hope the case goes to court very soon.