Assorted Bob Movie Bob Uncategorized

A Holler Against Generational Poverty

I saw the film Holler with my friend Laura recently as part of the From the Hills and Hollers film series. It’s an incredible movie. We were so floored that we sat there as the audience drifted out of the theater, credits rolling, lights still dim, talking about it, processing it. I think we were the last two people to get up and leave our seats. I asked, “Why is it called Holler? It’s not about some backwoods Appalachian place where coal miners retreat each night to lick their wounds, drink moonshine and get ready to do it again tomorrow. It felt more urban.”

The setting, Jackson, Ohio, reminded me of the decaying steel towns I roamed in Pittsburgh’s Mon Valley as a teen. Urban Blight seems more appropriate than Holler. But I started thinking about Holler as a metaphor. These people in Jackson are every bit as trapped in a dark , subterranean place as those miners. They’re not descending into the ground to extract coal and contract black lung for some mining company; they’re working in abandoned buildings, stealing scrap metal in the dark of night. It’s the same, really. And the camera work is phenomenal, showing the dark, claustrophobic work that Ruth (Jessica Barden) and her brother Blaze (Gus Halper) are engaged in, the injuries they suffer, the soul-sucking fact that there is no viable alternative to the holler they’re mired in. This is caving. This is unrelenting earth-bound gravity holding them in place. Truly a “dark hollow where the sun don’t ever shine.” Just substitute concrete and brick and mortar for trees and stones and mine-tainted streams.

Before the film, writer/director Nicole Riegel spoke to the audience, awkward at first, noting she is an introvert and prefers to be behind the camera, but warming to the task, explaining how her film came to be. Her love of the final product was infectious. Riegel scrapped her initial version of the film as the money and people around her pushed for something more like Deliverance (another upcoming film in the series) or Coal Miner’s Daughter. She doesn’t question the validity of those films. But they weren’t her experience of Appalachia. Her Appalachia was Jackson and that sorta urban blight, those decaying factories and smokestacks. Appalachia is a diversity of experiences, she told us. That’s why it’s important to have a diversity of voices telling its stories.

Riegel returned to Holler after setting it aside, blowing it up, rewriting it, and creating something so moving and visceral that it left Laura and me unable to exit the Athena  until we’d made some rudimentary attempt to process it.

Holler is a shout against crushing, generational poverty. It doesn’t judge. Even Ruth’s jailed mom (Pamela Adlon), whom Ruth judges harshly, is trapped. Her addiction isn’t as simple as a preference for partying over raising her daughter and son. The mother’s former co-worker, who visits her in prison and gives Ruth safe harbor when things go from bad to worse, tells the young woman her mother’s addiction is rooted in a work injury and a doctor who liberally prescribed opioids. The mother is using a stint in county jail as a sort of rehab, though Ruth doesn’t seem convinced it’s going to last any longer than the jail sentence. Ruth’s brother, Blaze, steps in to serve as her parent and best friend in their mother’s absence, sacrificing everything for his sister, hoping to give her the inertia she needs to be propelled out of this dark, brooding holler. Blaze suffers a vicious beating at the hands of the guy who runs the illegal scrapping operation, and that proves a christlike sacrifice, allowing the film a glimmer of hope as it concludes.

My subconscious continued mulling the film after I arrived back at Innisfree, my cabin-in-the-woods hermitage, to an ecstatic Althea bouncing around to greet me after spending the evening in the complete darkness of a power outage spawned by vicious winds that swept through after an afternoon kiss of spring. As I walked Althea earlier , before heading out to meet Laura for dinner and the movie, I caught myself looking for ramps pushing up through the leaf litter. I lingered as I passed my morel mushroom spots, hoping to spy a wrinkled head pushing up into the warm air. But “Morels Come Up In April,” as a good friend/former boss used to say repeatedly. And definitely not in January.  My drive home from the movie was a study in dodging downed tree limbs before I arrived at the dark cabin, where I indulged Althea, had a scotch in the candlelight and went to bed, where I dreamed of turbulent waters and maelstroms determined to drag everything into the depths. Still processing. Still sifting  through Holler’s wake.

You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive



Assorted Bob Music Bob Transcendental Bob

RIP David Crosby: ‘junkie sleazebag, criminal, paranoid fool’

That’s been my view of him over the past few decades

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, despite his obvious talent. The quote in the headline of this post was from a 1989 Toronto Star interview. Crosby’s words, not mine, though they largely reflected my view of him. But it’s hard to deny he made beautiful music. CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu still ranks among my favorite albums and provided the soundtrack for a particularly memorable psychedelic experience in the ’80s that still bubbles up every time I revisit it. I also love If I Could Only Remember My Name, another album I revisit frequently. That’s why I was thrilled to see Jorma Kaukonen’s tribute to Crosby the other day. Jorma is complete class and doesn’t seem capable of dissing anyone. His fond memories of Crosby are a great antidote to the drooling shit-talking caricature that Crosby seemed to be in his later years.

Maybe he’ll get another time around the wheel …

Déjà Vu

One Two Three Four
If I had ever been here before
I would probably know just what to do
Don’t you?
If I had ever been here before on another time around the wheel
I would probably know just how to deal
With all of you
And I feel
Like I’ve been here before
Like I’ve been here before
And you know it makes me wonder
What’s going on under the ground

The class of that focus is false. Economic medications were forward based as a case for the economic advice of antibiotic. The use of claiming video and the locations of extensive forms and much dispensers in the cold lasted false to the owners.

, hmmm
Do you know? Don’t you wonder?
What’s going on down under you
We have all been here before, we have all been here before
We have all been here before, we have all been here before
We have all been here before, we have all been here before

Books Solenoid Transcendental Bob

Solenoid revisited, McCarthy’s Passenger, Chopin’s Awakening, and the I Ching

We are embedded in existence, we are woven into its great tapestry, we are not expected to make decisions, since everything is decided ahead of time, the way the rungs on a chair don’t decide to make up the chair, they just do.

– Solenoid

I finished this brick of a book by Romania’s Mircea Cărtărescu. In my initial post on it, I was a tad wary of the hype around it. It turns out those concerns were for naught. It’s an incredible read, unlike anything I’ve encountered to date. I liked to so much that I’ve added Cărtărescu’s Blinding to my reading list. (This one also is translated by Sean Cotter, whose work on Solenoid is incredible.)

I’ve been finished with it for over a month and its themes and images keep bubbling up, sometimes while I’m trying to keep my footing on the muddy trails around here, others, quite appropriately, in my dreams. Four things really struck me:

  1. The idea of pre-destination, as exemplified in the quote above. It’s a notion I would have rejected categorically a few years ago, before I rambled through Alan Moore’s Jersualem. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I’ve heard it said that the zip code you’re born into has more to do with your prospects in life than the decisions you make, the efforts to chart your own destiny. And statistically, it’s true. It’s pretty easy to predict someone’s path through life simply based on the situation they’re born into. There are exceptions , clearly, and it’s those exceptions we cling to when we talk about social mobility and the ability to rise above current circumstances. But there is an intense gravity that pulls you back from whence you came, and for every Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story there are tens of thousands of stories about people who make little upward progress, often clawing just to maintain the circumstances of their birth. Most of us simply drift through our lives, clinging to whatever life raft it takes to navigate these waters.
  2. The fourth dimension. This idea that there are shades of “reality” that are beyond our senses and constitute an entire , alternative universe from the one we are accustomed to wading through. Again, Alan Moore explores this deeply in Jerusalem, and while there are definite differences, Cărtărescu mines the same recesses of human consciousness and how it interprets the world around us. I think of it in simple terms, thanks to Althea, my happy-go-lucky mutt. I often wonder, while watching her careen through the woods, hearing things I can’t, smelling things that are beyond my ability, what it would be like to have five minutes with her superpowers. But then I think about how overwhelming it would be, that my mind would be drowned by all those sensory inputs and unable to process them, lacking the evolutionary filters required to sort through them. There a spectra of light and sound that are beyond our senses’ ability to comprehend and interpret. I’m starting to think that’s really just a tip-of-the-iceberg thing, and that something like infrared light is a small, relatively insignificant example of what is out there that’s beyond our perception, our ability to impose order on the reality around us that is governed by evolutionary needs to survive in this world. Salvador Dalí and the surrealists clearly were rooting around in this area, and Solenoid has deep roots in their thinking.
  3. Solenoid actually has a satisfying ending. It’s definitely not a car chase, shootout, good guys win, everyone lives happily ever after type of finish, but the last 100 pages of the book provide some sense of closure, as much as anyone is permitted in this world. It doesn’t just drift off into the ether or segue into a never-ending dream state. It takes a stand, and I found that stand to be immensely satisfying.
  4. Dreams. I generally don’t remember my dreams, with only vague emotions and images remaining when I open my eyes in the morning, and I’m not a fan of dream sequences in fiction. I generally find them boring, kind of like someone trying to describe an acid trip. It was incredible for you, but your words just aren’t capable of conveying that to me in an impactful way. Solenoid is a dream state, with the line between the narrator’s dreams and reality are largely blurred. One night after I was reading Solenoid, I dreamed about a massive bat that was hanging from a tree, upside down, as bats do. Althea was running around and I was hoping to keep her from noticing the bat, and vice versa. I was afraid initially but also fascinated. I’d never seen a bat like that. And it was a big-ass bat. I didn’t recall any of this when I awoke that morning, but as I read a passage of Solenoid where the narrator and another teacher are exploring a labyrinthine abandoned factory where the students hang out, my own dream suddenly emerged, much the way I’d encountered that bat in it.

After Solenoid, I rolled into the first of what likely will be Cormac McCarthy’s final two works, The Passenger. Another strange, introspective novel that is maybe a second or third cousin to Solenoid. There is a lot of discussion of physics and tearing at the fabric of ostensible reality here, too, as Bobby Western tries to make sense of his sister’s suicide. It bounces from New Orleans to Knoxville to Spain. I’m currently thinking about how this book is a descendant of McCarthy’s brilliant, brutal Blood Meridian, especially that strange final scene, a coda, of sorts, where we see someone planting fence posts on the open prairie. Some people argue that it adds a hopeful spin, a suggestion that order is coming to this chaotic world of blood and brimfire, but I always saw it as a bleak comment on the emerging “order,” so-called civilization, paving the way for more towns like the one Judge Holden is dancing in, and will continue to dance in, as the war god moves toward the Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War … The carnage will become more organized, more “civilized,” if you will, but it will carry on. Instead of riding through the desert of northern Mexico, killing everything that moves, tasting the blood as it sprays into the air, we’re moving toward an age that will be just as barbaric but perhaps more … scientific? In The Passenger, Bobby Western’s father is one of the nuclear scientists at Oak Ridge who helps to develop The Bomb. There’s a progression here. The Kid of Blood Meridian, this man-boy who came from Tennessee and waded through all the bloodshed of the Wild West, becomes The Passenger’s Thalidomide Kid a hallucination of Alicia, Bobby’s schizophrenic sister. (And Bobby and Alicia’s last name — Western – struck me as an echo of Blood Meridian). Slaughtering and scalping are replaced by an atomic nightmare that melts people like wax candles. But the latter is done on the 20th Century altar of science. The Thalidomide Kid invokes the pharmaceutical science that arrogantly tried to fix everything but instead causes genetic mutation and deformed children. The scientists talk about Einstein and other dimensions of reality, but how different, really, is their work from the Captain’s rampage across the desert in Blood Meridian? Civilization has changed only in its scale, in its ability to wipe out entire cities instead of entire villages in a few short moments of insanity. McCarthy is no optimist. I don’t fully understand some of the Agnostic underpinnings of his thinking, but it’s clear his assessment of the basic nature of man is not optimistic and while he concedes our ability to rise above these bestial displays, he also understand that time and again, we are more likely to indulge them. (A sort of pre-destination?)

The third book I’ve tackled recently is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which is considered a key text in modern feminism and a precursor to modernist writers like Virginia Wolfe. It’s set in New Orleans and features Edna, a woman living a comfortable upper middle class life with a milquetoast husband, servants, and all the trappings of wealthy white people a few decades after the Civil War. I picked it up while watching a Netflix slow called 1899 that features a boat full of immigrants who are bound for New York that suddenly “disappears,” leaving them in some strange alternative dimension. It turns out to be a simulation, and the show was canceled almost immediately after season one concluded, but there was a scene where the female protagonist is shown reading a book, and the camera lingers on its title. It’s The Awakening. So I downloaded it from Gutenberg and just finished reading it. I get why everyone loves it, but I found it tedious in sections as Edna frets over about her would-be lover and sometimes comes across more like a bored suburban housewife than a paragon of feminist virtue. But both can be true, and I think they are in this instance. I found it maddening that she and her husband leave the care of their children largely to a “quadroon” who doesn’t even get the dignity of a name. While the rich little white girl has time to think about sexual and individual fulfillment, the black folks of New Orleans are just struggling to get by. But that’s the story of America, I guess, and in the end it is a great book, a Great American Novel, as the podcast of the same name decreed it. And I had forgotten about it, but the novel also was pivotal in the storyline for John Goodman’s character in Treme. The book is even more remarkable when one considers the world in which it was written. Willa Cather, while complimenting Chopin’s writing ability, cast moral aspersions on the work as a whole, particularly Edna’s infidelity and general indifference toward her children. Cather seems fine, however, with the husband’s almost total absence from the children’s lives. This is still a man’s world, and Edna refuses to conform to its restraints and petty demands. Her only solution, in the end, is an apparent suicide as she walks out into the ocean to drown herself having realized it’s the only real path toward truth and freedom. Her lover failed her. Her family life failed her. So maybe there is a line from Jerusalem to Solenoid to Blood Meridian to The Passenger to The Awakening. Our perceived reality is a construct, whether it’s imposed by the mind in an attempt to order the universe or by society in an attempt to keep people from de-evolving into a herd of murderous savages killing everything that moves in northern Mexico or Nagasaki. It’s not to say the novels are the same. Just threads I’m seeing that link them together.

I also picked up a copy of the I Ching that I’m reading sporadically. I’m a bit leery of its premise, never having been sold on things such as Tarot readings, but the Wilhelm/Baynes  translation I found provides perspective on the Book of Changes and, not surprisingly, there’s a tie to a recent TV series I watched (yes I’m watching more, probably too much, TV, these days). The Man in the High Castle features a Japanese “trade minister” who uses the I Ching to guide him as he throws yarrow sticks and reads passages that offer insight into his moral dilemmas.

As I read the I Ching, I was a bit put off by how complicated it is to get to a “reading.” But I listened again to an episode of the What’s This Tao All About podcast that focuses on the I Ching, and at one point Dr. Totton suggests sidestepping the complication and opening the I Ching randomly after thinking about the issue you are facing, which really is the equivalent of tossing yarrow sticks or coins to generate that random in-road into the Book of Changes. It’s definitely something I plan to delve into more deeply as 2023 progresses …