Christoph Waltz explains his love, and mine, for Tarantino's dialogue

christophwaltz_big Christoph Waltz spoke to Terry Gross on Fresh Air on December 19, 2012, to talk about Tarantino's new movie, Django Unchained--which is the second of his films for Waltz. They talk about a lot of things, including Django, and how Tarantino finally found him, an actor who is fluent in English, French, and German, but also had the skills to deliver his signature dialogue. That delivery ability is what got him the part as the Jew Hunter in Inglourious Basterds, and it's what won him the Oscar for it, too, easily. If you haven't seen that movie, watch it for Waltz's performance alone. Seriously. And if you have seen it, go watch it again. And call me and I'll come watch with you.

In the meantime, read Waltz's answer to Terry's question, in which he perfectly explains Quentin Tarantino's insane ability to keep us totally enraptured by seemingly pointless moments in the lives of his characters. I could swim in his dialogue, and he clearly agrees.

TG: So when you had your audition for Inglorious Basterds, how well did you know Tarantino’s movies?

CW: I knew all of the movies.

TG: You’d already seen all--?

CW: I had seen all Tarantino movies as they came out, as they were released. Starting with Reservoir Dogs, and I even had seen Death Proof. So I knew them all.

TG: So you already had an ear for what he was doing [in terms of dialogue and delivery of Tarantino’s writing]?

CW: In a way, in a way. I had a fascination. You know, even in Death Proof, which is somewhat, you know, not as easily accessible, but somehow watching Death Proof, I understood something about the dialogue, because these girls were driving in a car and one had her legs out the window, and the other one was just bored and getting on with it somehow, and they were talking about nothing in particular, for a long time… and… I was mesmerized. And I always wondered, what is it that I’m so interested in? There’s nothing interesting. But why am I captured, why am I at the edge of my seat, even though nothing is happening other than two bored girls driving along?

Exactly! But we are. The first time I saw Pulp Fiction, it was only a portion of it, playing on cable television (which in retrospect seems a shockingly inadequate way to watch Pulp Fiction), and I kept watching out of pure intrigue, because I loved how the characters were talking. That was it. I wanted to listen to them talk to each other all day. It was the superfamous scene at Jackrabbit Slims, the retro restaurant Vince Vega takes his boss's (Mrs. Mia Wallace) wife to for dinner. I was in high school, maybe seventeen years old. I bought the dang DVD because I had to hear more, after I kept seeing only snippets when it aired on TV. Then over time, I devoured all his other movies. I even like Death Proof; yes, what is it about those girls that I'm so interested in, every time? But I cannot look away.

I would easily take Tarantino's dialogue over Shakespeare's any day. That is all.

Dispatch from the edge of recession: the in-between.

The in-between: in which I have an emotional breakdown and lament on the trials of the day

I hope that years from now this phase of my life seems really carefree, days upon days of taking time at my own pace, and that my worry and fear will appear silly in the face of the career I am in. I will be able to look back and laugh confidently, wondering why I ever doubted myself, my goals, and my hard work and perseverance, because, of course, it would all work out. It will seem funny, youthful, and I will wonder how I didn't enjoy all that freedom a little bit more.

It is hard to enjoy freedom when you haven't figured out the end game. Bills need to be paid. I love the life I have and the people and pastimes and little bits in it, and I want it to be able to continue; that means, employment.

That's a lot of pressure. Days tick away, one after the other, and I have no resolution, no out to save me at the end of this little game, of this not-working thing. I have been blessed with a connection that lead to the current project I am doing, archiving the 1960s-era falling-to-pieces scrapbooks of a woman who lives in Buckhead, which has gotten me through August.

On top of that, I've been working on the bindings of some quilts that a local woman (Ellen Baker) is featuring in her forthcoming quilt/sewing book, and I'm even getting credit in the resources section. Had I not been in this in-between situation, I never would have approached others for outside-the-box ways to use my skills to earn money, and I wouldn't have been involved in this project at all. Instead, I have done two quilts and am working on a third.

When I think about opportunities and the proverbial doors and windows opening and closing, I know (well, I really hope) that this period of pause is really because the right thing hasn't arisen. Maybe I still have to work a few more shitty jobs in order to really appreciate the life that is ahead of me. But that doesn't make it any easier for my pride or confidence when I ponder walking into restaurants and the mall to inquire about minimum-wage work. I have two degrees. As I said, maybe someday this will all be funny. I can write about it in my memoir, laughing lazily on the other side of all this, a la Stephen King and Tina Fey. It was immensely pleasing to listen to both their memoirs on audiobook, as each of them reads his and her own to you--it's like having a conversation with them--and hearing them recount the jobs they had on the way to their lifetime jobs. Stephen King did the laundry for hospitals and restaurants--all blood and maggots and old food--and it truly calmed me down. At the time, last summer, I was working at the worst job I've ever had, in miserable conditions, and I was probably truly depressed (a first in my life). I just hated my job so much, I was viscerally angry at work. It helped having Stephen and Tina to remind me that, yes, when life sucks, you do appreciate the good so much more when it comes along.

Likewise, as I am facing now, when life is a giant, enormous question mark with a blurry and mysterious future beyond that, I will appreciate the security and steadfastness of the next chapter when it comes along. It is a luxury like no other to receive steady paychecks; what a peace of mind that is. I miss it. But, there is also liberation and sweetness in this edge of the comfort zone; nothing is stopping me from exploring other possibilities, in terms of what I want to do, what kind of work I like or want to try, and considering routes I might never have imagined if I had been able to hop cozily from school to professional life.

The in-between.

(Because did I mention, there are no jobs to hop into? I fit in no easy categories like "Healthcare" or "Engineering." Try finding the Public History category on a jobs site.)

It is easy to wax about how everything will work out, this too shall pass, take it one day at a time, relax, it will all work out. That doesn't make reality any easier though, really. Not right now, with no end game. Having a month of not working would be seriously excellent if I knew I was starting a job September 1 or something like that.

The stress of it all reached a head yesterday, quite unexpectedly and quite publicly. It began with something entirely unrelated to the terrible economy and the miserable job hunt.

I had to mail two packages, for Ben, because yes, he is employed (ugh). I do not to go the U.S. Post Office enough to ever remember that they do not share free tape and use of scissors with you. So if you don't have boxes in your homes to prepare before you leave, you must bring your own tape and scissors. The man at the counter was so rude to me, unwarranted, that it kind of spiraled out of control from there. I was pulling and ripping and finally tearing the tape with my car key, making a huge scene because I was so annoyed with this rude man. I used a pair of my own pants as packing material for this expensive package, because darned it anyone was going to provide any old newspaper for me there. By the time he was chastising me for having used the wrong type of tape on the wrong type of package (the tape he gave me!), I actually yelled back at him. If you know me, you know how surprising this is--it was surprising to me. I am very non-confrontational and I really try hard to give people in crappy jobs the benefit of the doubt. I am never rude to people even when I am really angry in a store; I just feel it leads all of us nowhere fast. I've been yelled at before working retail, and there's nothing to be done by it, no resolution. I am kind and helpful, but some people are just awful people who are angry. Not my problem. But I defended myself about this ridiculous issues with the tape. And immediately after speaking my mind, I broke down. Slow at first, but then I could not speak, and then, as the woman, the other postal worker, tried to fix the wrong-tape issue for me, the tears ran down my face and I was just outwardly crying. At the post office. Over tape and a mean man.

I should have known then there was a lot of emotion right at the surface, and it would have been best to just head home and call this day shot. But the tape thing didn't seem at all related to the job hunt, and it probably isn't, so I drove to do my next errand: return some public library books and then walk to the Georgia State University campus to utilize some of the resources of their Career Services Center.

Three minutes into a conversation with one of the career services counselors, I'm literally sobbing. Heaving. We're sitting at a long conference table in their open offices, and a couple of undergrads are waiting in their hoodies and sandals for their own resume help after me. Oh, but I am a mess, and they nervously sit there as the counselor ushers me off to a private little table where I can recollect. She had simply asked me why I was there. My own explanation was so depressing, so disheartening, so hopeless, I couldn't even explain myself without breaking down in tears, voice cracking, nose sniffling. Oh, how professional, Jessie; just put on your cute clothes and bring your cotton-paper resume down to the Career Services center and cry like a friggin' baby. I felt utterly ridiculous. I was also acutely aware of frightening the undergrads, who are still in that nice little coccoon of school, not a worry or care about how impossible it will be for them to find a job after graduation. Yes, guys, I've been applying to jobs and networking and tailoring my resume to every single job for nice months now, and applying to jobs I really felt qualified for, and I've had one phone interview.

Maybe the economy is always something people complain about, but I would like to submit a formal complaint to it right now. This sucks. Generation Screwed, as we were recently called. Maybe in ten years this will all be hilarious, and we will all be stronger and better-adjusted for it. That would be the least it could do, for all the underemployment it breeds now. It was never unemployment that scared me--I have always held down multiple part-time jobs and gotten top grades in school, finding a job wouldn't be too hard. Finding a job that is neither food services nor insurance sales--now that is the real and true challenge.

The staff of the career services center were all wonderful and helpful, and the woman in particular who helped me was very kind and supportive during my meltdown. I'm meeting with a guy later this week who will help me nail down some sort of plan on applying for jobs. Because apparently the plan I've been mentored to take for the past nine months is absolutely worthless. I do not feel confident that this will make much difference, but I damn well need to try it anyway, because October rent is calling already, etched out there in the not-so-distant future. I salvaged the day after a chat with my mom, as I just wanted to hear about someone else's life, and not think about my own for awhile. We eventually got on the subject of my two very public breakdowns within an hour of each other, and she suggested I also set myself up with career services at the Georgia Department of Labor. So I went to waited in line and got myself into their system of job postings and referrals. There are a lot of insurance sales positions on their job lists, too. Ugh. But there are a few tiny hopefuls too.

Leaving the Department of Labor office, I stopped at a trifecta intersection that has a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Caribous all facing one another and got myself a chai tea, which was my greatly needed sweet heaven and relaxation. (I went to Caribou, the one I find least often.) And I got in my car to drive back home and NPR was there with my daily reminder, my essential perspective on this wide world. I kid you not this is what I heard:

A 14-year-old girl in Afghanistan was recounting her plight: sold to another family when she was eight to pay off a debt, and married to a boy from that family at around ten, while being sexually abused by uncles and others in the family. A few years later, she is drugged and wakes up married to a different man in that family, and the assault continues. She tries to kill herself in the street at age fourteen, but someone stops her and takes her to a shelter for young girls and women. This girl is living in a culture where even when you work up the courage to defend your rights as a woman, the men in your family will strike down harder and with more violence for your wanting to defend yourself. It is a real and dangerous conundrum. While my problems are real to me, they did seem so small comparatively. Yes, that is true, I still have my freedom, I can speak my mind, I can even blog about it online, with my high-speed internet access in my own home. I can drive my car down to the resource centers that have been created to help people find work. And in a few days, I will be fortunate enough to be able to pay my own rent, with money I earned. That is quite a lot to be thankful for. Leave it to NPR to shake me back into a larger perspective. This too shall pass. One day at a time. Someday you'll back back and laugh.

Ten years later.

We'll call this the requisite commentary-on-the-anniversary blog. Probably every American is reflecting on that Tuesday, September 11 ten years ago, in their own way, to many different degrees of emotion and disconnection, both and neither at once. It has been a decade, and what made it perhaps most poignant was a story posted on Public Radio International's website, on the difficulty of teaching 9/11 in high schools now that so many kids who are in high school recall the event only in vague and foggy ways--if at all.

The story tells of the teachers interviewed for the piece and their experience year by year: how in the years just afterwards, classroom discussions "were much more visceral." The 4- to 7- year olds mentioned in the story, who are in high school today, remember reactions of their parents and other very responses very near to them, but not the same way many who are older (adults, now, like me) remember the images on TV clearly--even if, as in my case, I didn't see them until I got home from school. (At the middle school where I was attending eighth grade at the time, someone higher up made the decision not to tell any of the students what was going on. By lunchtime, teachers around us were in tears and we all detected something was not right. I went home on the bus that day knowing only that "someone had bombed the Pentagon." For real)

Looks like it's history, now, really and truly. I remember in the wake of the tragedy, people saying this would be the moment for my generation that would long be recounted as a universal American experience. The endless and epic tale we each, we all, have. Where You Were When It Happened, much like President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. But really, here it is, a whole decade later, and it has become a part of history, and event that marks a clear delineation in this nation's history: a Before and an After. Strange to be at a stage, in adulthood, where things I experienced are "history." Guess this is what growing up feels like, right?

There was another truly interesting--and also disturbing and crazy and wholly logical given the world we live in today--report on the ten-year-later mark in this world: on the technology of facial recognition, and its birth in the government funding that allowed its remarkable development in the post-9/11 scared, reactionary, and technology and internet-savvy environment. NPR's Marketplace had a segment on the stunning course it has taken, as two enormous events dovetailed in history:

Fred Cate is a law professor and privacy guru at Indiana University. He says after 9/11, two independent trends dovetailed and reinforced each other. The federal government was investing hundreds of millions in surveillance technology and research to try and keep us safer. And companies like Google and Facebook were remaking the digital landscape. There was a data-collecting revolution.

FRED CATE: 9/11 and the sort of huge growth in social networking and in profiling and collecting Internet traffic -- those events are really parallel with each other.

And Cate says:

FRED CATE: We have gotten more used to more surveillance. And it's not clear that that's just attributable to the events of 9/11. But particularly when you think of the types of security we all go through now -- would have been pretty close to unthinkable a decade ago.

What we have created, as the story reports, is technology that fairly easily recognizes your face and identifies you based on photos it draws from the internet, and several other features both amazing and scary at once. The creepiest part: new technology can actually take a stab at what your social security number is, if it can determine from internet sources where you were born. Rest easy, though, because this stuff isn't on the market, and there are no intentions by its creators to put it there. As it stands, as I understood anyway, is that this is for governmental purposes. (You can decide if that makes you feel better about this.)

How interesting to think our post-9/11 perspective has provided the incubator for things like this, and our Facebook pages have fueled the flames, made it all the more possible. We are willing participants, at some degree, of the worlds we create. Ten years later, look at us now. To be honest, I have little memory of what adult life was like, even in a purely observational point of view as mine was, prior to 2001. And now it's a part of our past. Huh.

StoryCorps and the lives of ordinary people

Recently I've taken a keen interest in oral histories, and in the technical and artistic feats behind creating audio stories and making them powerful and relevant. I am overwhelmed by how natural the journalists on NPR and its member stations make it seem. There is a lot of work, a lot of practice--and a lot of talent, really--behind making a compelling audio story. I'm interested because I am starting the groundwork on my own podcast project, a history podcast. The topic or range of themes, I don't know yet, but I have a few ideas I am working on. I want to take the notions of community and of roots, and really challenge notions of identity and nationality through the stories I seek (or happen to find) and the questions I ask. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am fascinated with the fluidity of nationality and its meaning in lives and across national boundaries. So when I sit down to think about communities, I inevitably return to this thought, to this theme in the multicultural lives we live today. There are more specifics that I can expound on later when I have solidified my project further.

But one of the first places I began looking for inspiration, of course, was the StoryCorps project, which is an initiative of NPR, and both are funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The StoryCorps project records regular people (with often far beyon regular stories to tell) who are interviewed by a friend or family member in booths located at various spots throughout the country (and in the traveling booth). Interviews are housed in the Folk Life Collection at the Library Of Congress, where they stand as historical record that the lives of everyday people matter in our past and in the present.

Beside the fact that NPR is absolutely my primary source of news, and I am admittedly an NPR-podcast junkie, the goal of StoryCorps is valuable and significant in ensuring that people feel both connected to the past, and feel that they matter themselves. This project cannot disappear now, just when technologies are allowing us to share stories in more ways than we ever could. It is a brilliant way of collecting oral histories, focusing on whatever the interviewer wants to know about their loved friend or family member. I am thinking I will take my dad sometime very soon.

I was reminded the other day of one of the most memorable stories ever to air on Morning Edition, the morning program that regularly airs a brief interview from the StoryCorps booth: that of mother Sarah Littman and her then-12-year-old son Joshua, who  has Asperger's. Their poignant conversation (which you can read more about and hear, here) received an incredible response, and is still considered a milestone event in their lives. Littman wrote about it recently, in an effort to illustrate how important StoryCorps's mission is, and to remind everyone how much it meant to her, her son, and everyone who heard and was moved by their story.

She had this to say:

I’ve tried to analyze why our interview had such an impact on so many lives. I’ve wondered: Is it because it helped raise awareness about Asperger’s syndrome? Is it because the interview helped people understand that seeing the world “differently” isn’t necessarily a bad thing? Is it because—and this is the gift of StoryCorps—it showed how much we learn from “ordinary” people (whom, it turns out, are really anything but) if we take the time to sit down and listen?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all of these things, but at the core of it all is that last question from my son. This question is at the root of what all of us, no matter who we are or what our age, gender, race, religion, or social status, wonder. Deep down, we all have the desire to know—Do you love me the way that I am? Am I who you expected me to be?

Josh is now 17 and a senior in high school. When applying to colleges for the fall, he chose to write his application essay about our StoryCorps experience. I plan to take him back to the StoryCorps Booth after his first semester for another interview to talk about this next chapter in his life.

StoryCorps’ single largest funder is CPB. The elimination of federal funding for public broadcasting would essentially be a death knell for StoryCorps, which not only has brought so much joy to so many, but in our celebrity-obsessed culture is an incredibly important reminder that every individual matters, and that there is so much to be learned from our stories if we’d only take the time to stop and really listen. This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s about what really matters.

Her sentiment and thoughts on the matter really got to the heart of how I had been feeling about the issue, and about how NPR and the programming I love could take a huge hit in the very near future. She just expressed those thoughts much better than I. So I ask you to also stand up for the value of all of our lives, big and small. Let Congress know everyday stories and lives matter in our collective past. I got a response from Sonny Perdue's people last week.

Do it for me! Where else will I get my daily 2+ hours of news and entertainment?

 

Historian Sean Wilentz on Glenn Beck: "Confounding Fathers"

Historian Sean Wilentz, a professor at Princeton University, was on Fresh Air talking with Terry Gross about the roots of the Tea Party in 1950s Cold War politics. He has an article on it, "The Confounding Fathers: The Tea Party's Cold War Roots,"  in The New Yorker this week as well, on the same subject. It was an interesting discussion; now looking forward to reading the story. Thoughts?

Steve McCurry's Kodachrome career, and legacy

You may not recognize the name Steve McCurry, but I bet you have a vivid memory of this photo, and maybe a vague notion of the story behind it. McCurry has made a career out of photographing the world's faces, many of which have appeared on the pages of National Geographic over the years. The Afghan girl's eyes are what struck McCurry, and subsequently, the people who picked up the June 1985 issue.

In 2002, the saga of this young woman and the mystery and enchantment she beset upon McCurry continued, when he finally found her again--seventeen difficult years later. I remember reading that story, and the fact that the first picture he took of her was the first time she'd ever seen a camera; when he found her again, it was the second time her photo had been taken. In rural Afghanistan, traditional customs still rule, and McCurry was allowed unusual access to this woman--now married with several children.

What I didn't realize until now is that McCurry's photographs are known for their very saturated color, an effect which he gets by using Kodachrome. I have sen hundreds of his portraits, of people across cultures, and never knew what was behind this rich and fascinating quality.

Kodachrome was discontinued last year, and the company gave the very last roll to McCurry. He's currently working on taking the last 36 shots with this film, and taking his time to ensure each one will live up to the responsibility he has been given. (There's only one place in the country that even develops them, in Parsons, Kansas.) Based on the book of his portraits, and his lifetime of vision, creativity, and global exposure, he's got a proven set of eyes.

An idol for the "emperors"

On the way to work this morning, I heard part of this report from NPR, about a wildly popular young writer who defines himself as "the voice of a generation." He is a pop culture figure in China, a twenty-five-year-old who sounded a bit narcissistic to say the least. His appeal to the "little emperors"-- members of the one-child generation-- rings true, apparently, and that is a little bit frightening to me. He seems obsessed with expensive labels (that few could even buy in the People's Republic), concerned entirely with money, dismissive of previous generations of writers. The report does say he speaks to the isolation and pressures faced by urban Chinese students today. Just as impressionable as any group of young people, Chinese adolescents (particularly girls) might be taking these material values too much to heart. I wonder to what extent they will begin to long for Gucci and Dior apparel and accessories, and to value those things more than their nation's older literature. I may be looking at it from too different a perspective, concerned for no reason at all. After all, I am a firm believer in the value of Harry Potter, and vehemently defend the series when faced with an anti-Harry opponent. Maybe there are many redeeming values in Guo Jingming's seven novels, and the writer's Cadillac will spur no sense of jealously in a Chinese youth's eyes.

Read the report and tell me your thoughts.