Category Archives: Life

Slaying the EDNOS: Seven Months Later

EEDNOS: a medical acronym that stands for “Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified”

On August 3rd of last year, I finally started treatment for Binge Eating Disorder. I wrote about my trepidation and my decision at length on that day.

I’ve come a long way.
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Ruminations About Bad Entertainment

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been watching TCM’s The Story of Film, a 15-hour documentary series about cinema history, as told by Irish film critic Marc Cousins. If you have the time to crank through it, I highly recommend it. The series is Film History 101 in a jar, and it’s currently hanging out on Netflix Streaming, just waiting to be binge-watched.

Anyway, I was watching one of the episodes this morning, and the subject of Fellini came up. I thought about watching La Dolce Vita for the first time, just a couple of years ago, and remembering that I hated it. It’s clearly a very well-made film, and even an important one, but I didn’t like it.

A previous episode touched upon Leni Riefenstahl, too. I’ve seen Triumph of the Will more than once, even though it is Nazi propaganda, because it’s a truly amazing piece of history and filmmaking. I don’t enjoy the film, but I feel it’s an important film to know well.

And a couple of weeks ago, Peter O’Toole passed away, and a lot of people talked about Lawrence of Arabia. I adore Lawrence of Arabia. (I’m talking Top 5 Favorite Films of All Time sort of adoration. Seriously. I LOVE IT.) However, I had to agree with a lot of the backlash noise on Twitter: Lawrence of Arabia, for all its fine qualities as a piece of filmmaking, still boils down to a story about a White Guy Savior who goes to a Brown Person Country to save the noble savages. And women are nowhere to be seen.

And I also have this deep love for some really terrible films, such as The Apple (a bizarro post-disco glam musical by Cannon Films, circa 1980) and Miami Connection (which is what happens when a Tae Kwon Do master decides to make a 1980s action movie, complete with motorcycle drug ninjas). I partly love them because of their earnest terribleness, because they have failed so spectacularly that they become a different sort of joy. (Both of those films are currently on Netflix Streaming, by the way.)

Because of the Megalist project, I watch a lot of movies I don’t particularly instinctively want to see. I wind up seeing a lot of films that are deemed good or important by other people, and I do my best to walk into each one with an open mind. Films like The Shootist with John Wayne or Tom Jones with Albert Finney would never have been selected as viewing material if I’d just randomly seen them on a shelf somewhere. I didn’t particularly fall in love with either of them, but they certainly weren’t bad, either. They just didn’t fall within my sweet spot of taste.

Where is all this going? Well, here it is: I think it’s important to experience “bad” entertainment. I’m picking on movies here, but this applies to all art and media. We live in an age where so much is available at our fingertips, and we forget that we can be incredibly selective about where we spend our time. These digital tools can winnow down our selection list to such a laser-honed, tailored machine that we can easily forget the vast ocean of ideas that fall outside of our taste zone. If we don’t wander outside of our taste zone, how to we learn about new things? How do we find the gems in the rough, the nuggets of wisdom buried under crap, the moments of unexpected joy?

You can learn a lot from media you don’t enjoy. La Dolce Vita is a good example, in my case. Like I said above, I hated the movie when I saw it, because I have a great distaste for people who find life boring… and it’s an entire movie about such people. That’s not the movie’s problem; that’s my own taste as applied to the movie. That said, La Dolce Vita has stuck with me. I keep thinking about scenes and learning from them. I’ve only seen the film once, but it keeps bringing me insight. I’ve probably thought more about that movie than 90% of the films I’ve watched since. I’d even recommend other people watch it.

You can learn a lot from media that fails. I think it was Quentin Tarantino that said you can learn more about filmmaking from a bad movie than from a good one. Watching good movies is a nearly effortless task: a movie that successfully engages with a viewer sweeps them along. A movie that fails in its efforts wears its flaws on its sleeve. Most viewers don’t notice editing until it doesn’t work. Same goes for soundtrack, foley, acting, writing, etc. Once you’ve seen how the machine breaks, it becomes more impressive to see a machine that works flawlessly.

All media is problematic in some way. There is no such thing as a perfect movie. Even a movie with an enormous budget and a great team will be limited in scope. There will never be a movie that fairly encompasses characters from all races, all walks of life, all genders, all ages, all sexual orientations, and all philosophical leanings, simply because there is only so much time, and only so many angles that can be approached without making a mess of the story. Stories, as a necessity, are exclusionary. You can improve the film industry as a whole by ensuring that a year’s output of filmmaking is more representative of diversity, but there is no way to do that in a single film. Beyond that, cultural norms change, and there certainly is a lot of filmmaking that happened before our somewhat-more-enlightened times. I’m sure future generations will likewise look back on much of our work with disgust.

You can learn a lot from problematic media. A film can be downright reprehensible and still have something to say, even if it’s just being a talking point about its particular breed of reprehensibility. Triumph of the Will makes my skin crawl, but it’s a shining example of just how seductive Nazi propaganda was. It’s important to understand that sort of thing if you’re interested in preventing such things from happening again.

Tales from the Modern Family Tree

One of the rituals I’d inevitably need to perform anytime I’d dated anyone new is to attempt to explain my family. Yeah, I know, everyone’s family is bizarre in their own way. Mine is strange on a purely mechanical level.

As one former boyfriend once exclaimed, “You don’t have a family tree. You have a family hedge!”

Let me explain…

Tree

That’s my immediate family.

What you see there are only my “siblings” (blue), my “parents” (green), my step-nephew (white square), and myself (red). I’m not kidding. Depending how you count, I either have zero, one, three, five, seven, or nine siblings. There are twelve parents, step-parents, and other assorted people strung together by various marriages / former marriages / not-marriage-but-it-pretty-much-counts-because-I’ve-spent-holidays-there-for-a-decade. There are several people on that chart I’ve never met.

I have a half-brother, a step-brother, a step-sister, a step-brother-in-law, a kinda-step-sister, a kinda-step-brother, a kinda-step-sister-in-law, and a couple other people who are step-siblings to my half-brother… so I don’t really know what to call them.

Anyway, you get the idea.


Back in the 1980s when I was a kid and my dad was a bachelor, dad went all Beautiful Mind on our family tree. I remember going into the dining room of his house and seeing the walls covered with graph paper, meticulous handwriting, pins, string, and borderline obsessive/compulsive disorder. In the days prior to the Internet, he’d managed to trace our name back to Speyer, Germany in 1248… or something like that.

At one point during those years, the two of us took a vacation out to Pennsylvania, where we attended a family reunion… of people we weren’t really related to. Well, technically, there was some common ancestor back a couple hundred years ago in Germany, but that was about it. It was still kind of interesting, though, because we were in an area of the country where Kaerchers settled the land, so everything was Kaercher: Kaercher Road, Kaercher Creek, Kaercherville.

If I ever become a true megalomaniac, I know where I’m moving.


A few years ago, I was killing time in Chicago with my friend, Ian. For whatever reason, we decided that we wanted to go see Al Capone’s grave.

So, we drove to Mount Carmel Cemetery, which really is a fascinating place: a large number of Prohibition gangsters and politicians are buried there. Giant marble memorials grow like a forest, each one trying to look more expensive than the next.

Yet, when we rolled the car up to Capone’s grave stone, I felt weird about getting out of the car to go see it. I mean, it’s weird to be a tourist at a grave site, right? It’s not like we were going to pay respects to a crime lord. We were there because we were gawking.

So, there we were, sitting in the car, gawking quietly from afar.

Then Ian said, “Why does that grave say, ‘Kercher’?”

I looked. Indeed, the neighboring grave stone to Capone’s bore an American variant of my own name. We both scrambled out of the car to check it out.

Thus, my sprawling family gave me an excuse to get out of the car and gawk at Al Capone’s deadness.

(Coda: I sent photos of that grave to my dad, who had no idea who that Kercher grave was for. It was a proud moment in my life. I stumped the ancestry nut.)

The Good Ship Bollypop

Every year, a troupe of Minnesotans and I apply to attend the Butt-Numb-a-Thon birthday party / film festival. In recent years, Harry Knowles (the BNAT overlord and master) has made a video project part of the application process.

This year, Harry’s assignment was to make our own version of “The Good Ship Lollipop”, the signature song from a Shirley Temple film called Bright Eyes.

So I went to Windy Bowlsby and said we need to make a Bollywood dance number, and she pretty much took that ball and ran like hell:

Within the video, you will see the likes of Courtney Azar, Romeo Azar, Jerry Belich, Chris Bowlsby, Windy Bowlsby, Christopher Jones, Jenni Klumpp, Perrin Klumpp, Patricia Wick, Tim Wick, and myself. Romeo did the editing under the guidance of Windy and me. Fes Works was a superhero for handling the camera and supplying things like lights and a greenscreen.

Enjoy!

Trails

I woke up last night at 3:30 AM and could no longer sleep. Sometimes, my brain does this: it suddenly has a question, and its curiosity must be appeased before anything else happens.

In this case, the question is one that had already been bugging me for a few days: when did I actually meet Marcus Almand for the first time? In my remembrance of him, I noted that I remembered meeting him in the autumn several years ago, either during Diversicon weekend or Arcana weekend. It bothered me that I couldn’t exactly remember when that was. Evidently, it bothered me enough that it woke me up at 3:30 AM two days later.

So there I was, digging around in my social media trails at 3:30 AM. Livejournal had the answer.

I met Marcus on Friday, October 17th, 2008. It was Arcana weekend.

Marcus passed away on Sunday night, which was October 20th, 2013. Also Arcana weekend. I’d known him for almost exactly five years.


I remember a quote from the painter Francis Bacon: “I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail leaving its trail of the human presence… as a snail leaves its slime.”

I realize it’s a bit gross to bring up snail mucus at this point, but that quote has been rolling around in my head this week. People leave their imprint long after they are gone.

Marcus spent a lot of time at my home over the last five years. Right now, just seeing my own furniture brings up his memory. I’d been hoping to get rid of my threadbare floral print couch for months, but now all I see is him sitting on it during our First Issue episodes. At Movie Night this week, Will asked if we should leave his spot on the futon open, and the room fell quiet as the feeling of loss ran deep.

Likewise, I can dig online, like I just did, to turn up a myriad of memories. I know that on October 17, 2008, I introduced Marcus to Bryan Thao Worra, and they became friends. It was the same day I met F. Paul Wilson for the first time. It was the same day I ran into Bob Subiaga for the first time in six years.

Or I can look online at Marcus’ own social media entries, and read his own words like he were still here. Or I can see him, living and breathing, in all those First Issue videos.


Perhaps the strangest thing at the moment is that Fes Works hasn’t yet edited and posted all of the First Issue episodes yet. There are still four episodes we did with Marcus that are not yet online. It’s like the inertia of Marcus’ world has not yet stopped, even though Marcus himself is now gone.