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Entries in #community (3)

Friday
Jan312014

Notes on a TV show

A friend of mine posted a photo of her Nielsen family welcome packet with a caption that read (approximately), “Now everyone gets to know how often we rewatch Parks and Rec.”

I’m actually really, really glad that there is no Netflix counter for these things. I’m really glad that when I first moved to Stockholm, before we got our VPN set up that allowed for Netflix, no one was counting how often I watched my pirate bay-acquired first three seasons. (Swedish bandwidth is amazing. It took about ten minutes to get them all. What can I say?)

It all started, actually, when my husband went off to Stockholm to interview for the job he eventually accepted. Home alone and up too late wondering about the geography of my near-future, I took solace in binge-watching the show up to that point, about halfway through season four. And oh, how I loved it.

There aren’t many TV shows I love. They come along every few years, when I’m lucky, but once something clicks, I’m with it for life. This particular love, though, rivals even my first, Sesame Street and the Muppets in general, and that’s saying something. That something is probably about the inherent similarities—a zany ensemble cast, each with his or her own agenda, that also functions as a loving, supportive group. A team. A family. Tell me there’s no Gonzo in Tom Haverford. I dare you.

It’s not perfect. I maintain that any new viewers should start with season two, then double back to season one only when you’re already hooked and want some backstory. By season two, Parks has its legs underneath it, but the tonality of the first six episodes is different, darker, less compassionate to its characters, more akin to The Office (which makes perfect sense).  I’m also really getting tired of the whole Jerry thing. Writers, I love you, but do you honestly think no one in the office would have recognized his good qualities by now? It’s funny to a point, but part of what I love about this show is that the characters have recognizable humanity and compassion, even while being characters, that is evident in just about every other situation. (And I can’t argue with my brother—Mona Lisa Saperstein really is Scrappy Doo.)

That said, I’m in for the seventh season, even though I know it might not pan out for me, even though things may well have peaked in season four. There just aren’t many shows that manage to hit that sweet spot of flawed characters whom we love—and who, for the most part, love and care for each other.

Maybe I'm simply predictable. One of my best-loved books is, after all, Sweet Thursday, a lesser-known Steinbeck written as a tribute to his friend Ed Ricketts after Ricketts's death. It takes the Monterey community he captured in Cannery Row and gives it life one last time, really living into the row as a community in a way that the first book, with its slice of life snippets, doesn't quite do. It's Steinbeck's dream of what his friend's life could have been had that car not stalled, had that train not come, and it's glorious. Someday I'll try to write a book like that, but I can already tell that it's deceptively hard. It's not just a matter of creating characters--it's a matter of creating that larger, overarching group spirit in a way that's honest, without tipping either into sentimentality or sarcasm. 

And I’m hoping that one of Amy Poehler’s newest projects, the one that mirrors her brother’s life as a love refugee living in Sweden, turns out to be a gem as well. Amy, I’m sure your brother has it covered, but if you ever need any further observations on Sweden from an American perspective, call me.

Thursday
Dec122013

I've Been Thinking a Lot About Place

I’ve been thinking a lot about place. With my life these days, it's a hard topic to avoid. Right now I commute from one valley to another, straight up the peninsula, through San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate Bridge. I go through at least three microclimate zones, and probably more. The fog descends, then lifts. The scents that come through my cracked windows change—dry, golden grass, eucalyptus, low tide, dense fog, and finally, as I get out of my car, stretch, and take a deep breath, bay trees and coastal oaks.

I’ve been thinking about the city workers strike that happened in Hayward this summer, about the union member on the radio who told the reporter that they all just want to be able to live where they work.

I’ve been thinking about my state, the state that theoretically went from deficit to surplus in the year and change that I was gone, the state where housing prices have skyrocketed, but my friends and former colleagues at community colleges are, for all intents and purposes, losing their benefits, slice by slice. This is not just the voice of a woman who wants a full time teaching position (although I do); this is the voice of a woman who is seriously concerned about the health of her community.

 

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Tuesday
Feb052013

Everyone onto the Google Bus

Over at The London Review of Books, there's another recent Rebecca Solnit piece, and this one is provoking a lot of discussion in my previous home, the San Francisco Bay Area. Titled "Google Invades," Solnit, a San Francisco resident who emphatically does not work in the tech industry, describes the migration that takes place every weekday:

The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.

She goes on to describe the unintended side-effects of this type of commuting, not the least being that rents are skyrocketing in a lot of previously working or middle class neighborhoods, making them essentially unaffordable for anyone who is not a part of this particular socioeconomic class. And that's when you can find and respond to a vacancy quickly enough to even be considered as a tenant.

Full disclosure here: while I do not work in tech, I used to live in San Francisco myself back in 2005-2007, and for a year's worth of time, I lived with my computer engineer boyfriend, now husband. And a large part of why we stopped living in the city and moved down to the South Bay was because the commute, which he did using his car, Caltrain, and a shuttle bus, was grueling. Solnit writes that "I overheard someone note recently that the buses shortened her daily commute to 3.5 hours from 4.5," and I believe both that the speaker wasn't exaggerating and that this statement was entirely free of sarcasm.

One of the things that we noticed immediately when we moved south--as in, the very day we arrived, while still sitting in the car after pulling up to a grocery store--was that there were kids around again. And not just babes in carriages or ergonomically-designed babyslings in Noe Valley, either, but honest-to-god elementary school students. People like to joke that there are more dogs in San Francisco these days than children, and while this may or may not be true, it captures one of the qualities of the city that is growing more accute: this influx of new tech money is, as Solnit makes painfully clear, starving the city of its celebrated diversity. It's not just that you can stand on a street corner in the Mission or the Marina and watch three versions of the same person walk by (plastic rimmed glasses/skinny jeans/flannel; polo with collar popped/sunglasses/unironic baseball cap); it's that there's an eerie sense that everyone in the neighborhood lives essentially the same life as everyone else. It's the kind of creepy uniformity that used to drive mid-century novels about suburbia. 

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