What to Be or What Not to Be, That is the Question

Lately as I contemplate my next career move I am caught in a familar internal struggle: do I look for meaningful work or do I look for work that provides a meaningful paycheck? I have had both kinds of jobs and the resulting joys and sorrows of each have not helped clarify which I prefer. Of course I could try and find one that does both, but that seems less likely than my time travel fantasies.

It was in this frame of mind that I watched “History Detectives” on PBS while I made dinner last night. I have never really been much interested in the show before, but last night it really piqued my interest. For those that don’t know the show, the history detectives on “History Detectives” take some artifact (last night: an abolitionist banner, a WWII LCT “boat”, photo cards for a Victorian era marriage introduction service) and do primary source research around the country to find out more about the story behind the object. Kind of like an in-depth Antiques Roadshow without the valuation part of the show.

As I watched the history detectives talk to experts and visit libraries and archives, I kept thinking of my undergraduate degree in History and wondering what it might be like to be a history detective. But then I just go back to the fact that I am never happy in any job–they never really keep my attention long enough to turn into a career. On top of that, I tend to work really fast and usually finish my work in about half the time allotted. You would think that would be a good thing, but in my experience employers are rarely resourceful enough to keep me busy, and the “free time” becomes a burden after a while.

No doubt in these days of high unemployment I am whining way too much. But the economy isn’t going to stay bad forever, and I am going to need a career track that will sustain me for the next 20+ years. And as 40 rapidly approaches, I realize employers are going to start seeing me as an unfocused dabbler rather than a hard-working rookie.

I have spent time with a career counselor. I know what I am good at and what I am not good at. I know what types of things I want to do and what types of things I don’t want to do. My biggest fear is that I will never be happy with any job. And for me happy in a job doesn’t necessarily mean a brilliant career. It just means getting paid to do something that keeps me reasonably occupied for 8 hours a day. Shouldn’t be a tall order right?

No Room for This View

The other night on Masterpiece Theater on PBS they showed a new film based on E.M. Forster’s novel A Room With A View. I was more than a little surprised that someone would try and best the 1985 Merchant-Ivory dramatization of the same novel. Having seen it at least 25 times I think the Merchant-Ivory film is one of the most perfect films ever made. Fantastic casting, stunning videography, beautiful soundtrack, perfect pacing, and a wonderful love story to boot. Why would anyone mess with such a work of art?

But, being a sucker for a good English costume drama, I wasn’t about to miss the new version no matter my reservations. I even tried to get over the fact that this new version was presented as a flashback. The movie starts in 1922 with a now single Lucy back in Florence having, one learns later, lost her husband George in the Great War. If that uneeded plot device had actually added something to the story it might have been forgiveable, but it added nothing. Maybe this was meant to be a treat for all those who couldn’t stand not knowing what happened to Lucy and George after they got married. Then, once the filmmakers show that George was killed in the war, they feel the need to tie everything up with a nice happy ending. Apparently destroying the happy ending that Forster created in the novel, they felt they had to come up with their own absolutely atrocious happy ending. Honestly, the new ending is so poorly written it makes movies on the Lifetime Channel look like works of art.

Perhaps even more ridiculous is the fact that PBS fuzzed out the bare butts in the pond scene. I guess they were worried that legions of 11-year olds would sit through an hour of PBS drama just to see a little flesh. I remember seeing the Merchant-Ivory version about a decade ago when it was shown on PBS and they showed all of the nudity, front and back, without fuzzing anything out. I am surprised the new version had a scene where they showed a postcard of Michaelangelo’s David without fuzzing out his junk.

I must admit I did enjoy seeing some of the characters played from different angles than the Merchant-Ivory version. But overall none of these new interpretations were compelling enough to save this clunker of a movie. But what actor would benefit being compared the the orginal cast that included Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Daniel Day Lewis, Denholm Elliott, Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Simon Callow…you get the picture.

Oddly enough the shoe will probably be on the other foot with the new film version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. The PBS mini-series is the absolute zenith of made-for-television drama, it is hard to understand why somone would tinker with it. I love Emma Thompson who will be playing Lady Marchmain…maybe she can save a bad idea and make it worth the effort.

What’s Good on TV?

Well maybe rather than “What’s Good?” I should ask “What’s Entertaining?” Without regular access to new scripted programming (like new episodes of The Office and 30 Rock) because of the writer’s strike, our television watching time has definitely drifted toward “reality” programming. So a list of our favorites…(in no particular order):

Extras. HBO and Ricky Gervais’ recently concluded, and far too short, series Extras is absolutely brilliant. Rent the DVD, if you are lucky it will have closed captions so you can read all the jokes you are missing due to the language barrier or your inability to hear over your own laughing. The first season seems a little dry and is a lot funnier when you go back and watch it after you have seen the second season and the finale. The show really hit its stride in the second season, and the finale was a hilarious and touching 85 minutes. A little longer and I would have gladly paid to see it in the theater. Stephen Merchant, Gervais’ pal, co-creator, and co-star makes me bust a gut everytime I see him on the screen. His animated face make me think of a live action depiction of Wallace of Wallace and Gromit fame.

Masterpiece (Theatre) on PBS. I am not entirely sure what I think of Masterpiece Theatre’s new incarnation, but I am loving the complete Jane Austen that they are showing. It almost feels like too much all at once, an embarassment of riches as it were. It would be better if they were spread more throughout the year rather than what seems to be feast or famine.

Question: How many different versions of a novel adaptation do you have to see before you can claim that you have read the book? The only Austen I have read is Northanger Abbey, but I have seen two different versions of Persuasion and at least two different versions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Does this mean I can pretend that I have read them? The most recent version of Persuasion on PBS seemed, in many ways, like a differnent story than the cinematic version from the late 90s. Maybe I just need to read the book.

Project Runway. A perennial favorite regardless of what else is on. I love to see creative, talented people doing what seems to me like the impossible. I feel the same way about Top Chef. I can’t get enough of it and I can’t wait until the new Chicago Season starts. In general Bravo does a good job with kind of show. Low on personal drama, focus on the creative process. I only wish they aired more of creative process and more of the judges’ deliberation. Remember when the initial thought behind the Bravo network was to focus on the performing arts. With the exception of Inside the Actor’s Studio, there ain’t much of that goin on anymore.

Real Housewives of Orange County. The people we love to hate. Makes one ask the question, How do all of these seemingly dumb people end up with so much money? We haven’t watched the Lauri wedding episode/season finale yet. I can’t wait for Real Housewives of New York to begin. Check out this NPR story.

Kimora: Life in the Fab Lane. Mindless entertainment. Just saw it for the first time–no one could ever accuse me of being an early adopter–and I kind of like it. At first I thought she was a bit annoying, then I realized that I kind of her, she seems to have a good sense of humor.

Planet Earth. We missed this when it was originally on the Discovery Network, but we have been Netflixing the DVDs and are amazed. It is like all of those nature shows we loved as kids but so much better. Some of the scenes they are able to capture are like none I have ever seen before. It is mind-boggling to think that we share the same planet with all of the flora and fauna shown in this series. It makes me want to travel a lot more but it also makes me even more worried that our planet is in trouble even though so far we have only noticed one mention of global warming. This is not to be missed, especially if your TV and DVD are HD capable.