George G Smith Jr. | The words and works of George G Smith Jr
1815
paged,page-template,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post,page-template-blog-large-image-whole-post-php,page,page-id-1815,paged-4,page-paged-4,ajax_updown_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-theme-ver-1.7.1,vertical_menu_enabled,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.3.5,vc_responsive

The Work and Words
of George G Smith Jr

How You Let Me Down: A review of the final episode of How I Met Your Mother

I’m not one to wax poetic about sitcoms. The situational comedy has devolved into one of the most base forms of entertainment in today’s modern culture. Still, when done right, they have a way to speak to audiences and entire generations in ways that very few mediums can. The series “How I Met Your Mother” was one of those series. I didn’t think it was going to be when I first started watching it 9 years ago – I didn’t think about much back then – but it slowly grew on me. Why? Because the show was about growth. And that growth was ruined by the sloppy writing of the finale. The ending was not the way I wanted it to end – but what I realized after a day or two – was that wasn’t what bothered me. It was how it was told. How the characters were treated in the hour long finale that tried to cram too much in. When every ounce of growth that all the characters had accomplished in 9 years unraveled completely.

Let’s take a look at all the characters:

1) Barney – I’ll start with him because his character arch was probably closest to my own personal narrative, so there’s a bit of a bond that may taint my opinion. Over the last three years, we’ve seen Barney evolve. Truly evolve from the “ladies man” pick up artist cliche that he once was. His marriage to Robin was the culmination of that evolution – but it wasn’t the only part of it. Barney had looked to settle down multiple times. And while Robin was something he pined for, he still illustrated that, for the most part, he was moving on from the sex obsessed days. The divorce isn’t what bothered me. It’s the total downgrade in his character back to the beginning. And while their were moments that touched upon the deeper part of it all – when he said “if it wasn’t going to work with Robin, then it won’t for anyone” and his first words to his child – they paled into comparison to the presentation of Barney that the past few years had developed. When Robin and Barney got together, people liked it not because they belonged together (although I’m in the camp that felt that way) but because Barney had matured. A divorce may prove a hiccup in that maturation, but I feel like they went too far. After all, he wanted real relationships after him and Robin broke up the first time. He had conquered a bit of his own parental issues and was looking for stability. It was the post-divorce sexcapades – it was the 5 years later, the unnecessary “perfect month” and the unplanned baby with #31. That turned him into a caricature and not a real character – ruining almost 9 years of development, regardless of the sweet things he said to his newborn.

2) Marshall and Lily – We will put Marshall and Lily together because, ultimately, that’s how they were written. I thought, overall, they were handled well but they were also mundane. They served as exposition characters – repeating “the crew needs to get together for the big moments” to illustrate that they weren’t together, even when the moments weren’t big (or weren’t made big yet…like when Marshall became a judge). It made me think – is this big because they are all together (minus robin) and it happens so infrequently? Or does Lily do this all the time? Regardless – it felt that they were simply used to ground us in the moving timeline in a way that the Mother/Ted’s relationship and Barney couldn’t. So, by being the center of gravity of this show, ultimately Marshall and Lily were right back where we started 9 years ago. A little older. A few kids. But not much different.

3) Ted (and the Mother) – Ted and the Mother were wonderful together. Amazing chemistry. I think Josh Radnor just has a knack for establishing great chemistry with his on screen counterparts. I know the “ending” was filmed 9 years earlier based on the chemistry between him and Cobie Smolders, but he honestly brought that to every date he went on with the show. If anything, it was Ted that ruined all the relationships – any of the potential moms could have worked for a time – which made the show great. And as much as I hated Ted as a character, I also realized that’s a bit of the point. Ted was supposed to be hated – in a sympathetic sort of way. And that was pulled off completely. And the relationship with the mom – the brief snippets – brought 9 years together in a way that I did not imagine. The way they connected – the few lines that Cristin Milioti had – just made it all make sense. Ted found his soul mate. And the fact that she dies – that’s real. And beautiful. And if that was the shocker, the beautiful twist, that would have been one of the most touching and wonderful endings to the show. It would have made sense on why he was talking to the Kids. It would have put a great bow on it. But it didn’t end there. It ended with Ted back with Robin. It makes the show go full circle back to the pilot – but it forgets the other 8 years of the show. Him chasing down Robin with the blue french horn is not romantic – it’s a regression. It’s him pining for an old love, someone who he does not seem to know very well anymore (as of 2020, seeing Robin was a sporadic thing. If the mom died in 2024, when did Ted start hanging with Robin again? Before her death or during? Does he even really know her? Is the chemistry the same – after all, it’s been 15 years or so. Things that go unexplained). Ted does the same foolish, stupid, over the top romantic things that never worked with Robin before. He is the same person he was when he started this whole thing – again, throwing out years and years of character development along the way.

4) Robin – If Barney and Ted’s character development washed away in the hour long finale, it was Robin’s character development that was reinforced. During the entire 9 years of the show, there was one thing that was evident from the very beginning: Robin was selfish and self-centered. In the 16 years up to the 2030 finale, that was reinforced time and time again. The divorce was because she focused on her career and did not take her husband’s career seriously. And while the “lifestyle blog” may have been a joke, that’s not a supportive environment. When she gives him the “off-ramp,” she’s being selfish there too. She’s forcing him to make a decision when the balance of her career and their relationship never is discussed. The lack of discussion around that is totally in character for Robin and further illustrates the fact that she wants her life one way and that’s it. As we proceed forward, we see her slowly drift out of everyone’s lives. The ex-husband thing is real but she doesn’t continue to have a relationship with Lily? She can’t see her on Lily’s schedule? Lily and Marshall seem to find time for Barney and Ted – you’d think that, even being parents of three kids, they would find time for Robin. But, if you remember, Robin drops out of people’s lives when they have kids. Add her career – which she obviously values more than the relationships around her – and it makes sense why they never see her. It’s her own selfishness. Even telling Marshall and Lily that “she should have married Ted” is selfish – what kind of emotionally messed up, self-centered person would proclaim that about someone you had multiple chances at to people you barely see anymore? It’s a selfish confessional – not one built from love, but one built from “I didn’t want that toy but now that someone is playing with it – I want it.” When you put that behavior next to the limited action of the Mother – well you see, how can you even begin to think that Robin and Ted belong together? When Ted and Robin reconnect is glossed over – there is no romantic rekindling that we can see, no change in her character that seems driven from personal discovery and not selfish intent – and it makes Ted’s grand romantic gesture much more hollower.

So – at the end of the story – we’re at the very beginning. Nothing has really changed except some children were conceived and grew up. All the character faults that were being worked on for 9 years dissolved in a single hour. Perhaps that’s the deeper meaning behind all of this – we will forever be who we are. And that, to expect change and personal growth is only an illusion of circumstance. That’s the message that I picked up from this episode. That’s why it sat poorly to me. It’s not a happy ending. Ted and Robin don’t end up together long term. It’s a lonely widow pining for the next best love he ever knew and over-romanticizing it. Sure, that’s real and there’s something to be said for that. But it’s not an ending, just a character flaw. It leaves the audience just sitting there – the ultimate hanging chad – waiting on the rooftop, for the time when that show we loved can return and the magic of those 9 years can be enjoyed once again.

#ColorStudies by Matt Hollingsworth

The brilliant colorist Matt Hollingsworth (Hawkeye) recently posted these brilliant experiments with color on an issue of Hawkeye. These are amazing and inspiring. Follow Matt on twitter at @MDHollingsworth

Daily Rituals

article-0-1CB0E6E800000578-265_470x410

article-0-1CB0E6EE00000578-817_470x410

article-0-1CB0E6A300000578-44_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6AA00000578-327_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6B200000578-453_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6B600000578-844_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6BE00000578-154_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6C200000578-584_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6C600000578-179_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6CB00000578-262_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6D200000578-918_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6D600000578-16_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6DA00000578-655_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6DE00000578-341_964x651

article-0-1CB0E6E200000578-871_964x651

article-0-1CB0E69A00000578-849_964x651

article-0-1CB0E69E00000578-147_964x651

So apparently the key to successful daily rituals is to be in the position where you don’t have to make “ends meet” – only Kant seemed to have a day job.

Seriously though, I started to create mine before I got frustrated with the elliptical tool in Photoshop, and I spend the majority of my day “making ends meet.” I don’t have a daily ritual that is designed to birth ideas or work on something for myself. It makes me wonder what I need to do to change that…

Via the Daily Mail about the new book by Mason Curry called “Daily Rituals”

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Saved My Life

Preface:
For me, one of the most beautiful contradictions in the world is the fact that an artists intent and the receivers response are not always inline. The way I consume art is the focus on the latter, which perhaps may be selfish of me. But to me, the reason I consume art is the way that it makes me feel. And while the lapsed academic in me often searches out the root of an artists intention, I still hold true what the piece of art meant to me when it first entered my life.

And that first time is often times the most important. Sometimes art comes into an individuals life at a time when they need it most. Sometimes it speaks to them when nothing else speaks. Maybe when nothing else can.

I rarely talk am direct with the reasons I love the art I imbibe. I critique things on their technical merit. I’ll critique them on their social implications. But the reasons they jump out to me is a combination of all of that and what is going on inside me. And, for all the introspection that I have attempted in my life, I have never held the mirror that close to me out of fear that my “intellectual” or “artistic” interpretations won’t be that up to snuff. But, I was sitting with Nick in the MoMa discussing art, life, creation, sex, and all the random thoughts that jump out when we are together – and it made me want to write about this particular moment. So without further ado…

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot saved my life.

It was post-9/11. Post-College. Post-Heartbreak. I had so many things inside of me – screams, thoughts, images, pictures of the future muddles with dreams of the past. I didn’t know how to get them out of me. I didn’t know how to communicate. And to me – no matter what anyone else ever says – is exactly what Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is about: The inability to communicate.

I am Trying to Break Your Heart” starts off with the line “I am an american aquarium drinker. I assassin down the avenue.” There are many arguments as to what those lyrics mean. The Tweedy fanboys – of which I consider myself a member – often discuss his disembodied poetics and extrapolate meaning from the personal and professional problems that occurred for the man. While I have engaged in those intellectual jousting matches, what spoke to me on the album wasn’t those first lines – it was those first lines juxtaposed with the end of the album. The closing song, “Reservations,” is the most honest song on the album – perhaps ever written by Mr. Tweedy.

It was when the album went to repeat the second time (I usually listen to albums 3 or 4 times when I first purchase them) that I noticed this. The poet that starts off the album is talking jibberish – obscure symbolism aside. And yet, at the end, he’s pouring his heart out in such an honest and straight forward manner. What a journey! It gave me hope that I could finally forget about my tongue tied lightning and finally get to the point where I could have the honesty and clarity that I need.

After “I am Trying to Break Your Heart,” came “Kamera.” The protagonist – let’s be honest, it’s no longer Tweedy it’s a mixture of his words and my heart- is now hiding behind the lens. Hiding from the lies. The distorted memories. He’s lost. And he knows it’s not okay. He keeps searching for the clarity. For that cure. On “Radio Cure,” the silvery stuff flicker in his mind, the clouds of fluff. He’s holding on to something. To a romanticized vision of the world. All those apples that he’s picking – they aren’t for him. They are for things he’s never seen. In modern tongue, perhaps he’s admitting that he’ll never be a royal. And it all doesn’t matter, because it will never be something he understands. Distance, in this case, is not about meters, miles, and movement. It’s about time. The protagonist needs closure. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Often times, the wounds just get infected and amputation is the only way to save the patient…

“You have to learn how to die if you want to want to be alive.”

That line, on “War on War” is the crux of the entire album. It’s telling the protagonist to let go. It’s telling him that this vision – this romanticized notion of how the world is and how it fucking should be – is no longer the truth. The protagonist is pleading with himself – YOU HAVE TO LET GO IF YOU WANT TO LIVE – but isn’t confident. He questions himself. “Okay?” he asks. Okay? That question implies the larger question: Do you want to be alive?

“You have to learn how to die if you want to want to be alive.”

The album turns a corner here, narratively speaking, but the protagonist is at the bottom. He’s still searching. His language is still looking for metaphors. He still still isn’t speaking plainly, romanticizing all around him. On “Ashes of American Flags,” his actions are more literal. At an ATM. And he’s questioning it all. “Why do we listen to poets when nobody gives a fuck?” And yet, in that questioning of it all, he’s using the words of Henry Miller, a point that will be addressed later.

The next three songs are the relapse – that moment when you start to feel yourself becoming that person again. Yet, you still miss that love. You have regained your strength, you’ve built yourself back up, and you want what you know – what you used to have. Sincerely missing those carefree days, pining for the moment when you can just hold her hand again. To tell her that you love her. You can convince her. Until that moment when you realize – perhaps years after the fact – that you were wrong for each other. That the love that you’ve been pining for has been gone and perhaps isn’t even real. It’s the pot kettle black moment. You see the dischord in your thoughts, you memories. What you want doesn’t exist, perhaps never existed, except in the romantic urges that have clouded your judgement for years.

“He takes all his words from the books that you don’t read anyway”

Poor Places” is the denouement of the album. The true closure. The protagonist is finally learning to really communicate. The person he’s talking to is no longer a lost love, but himself. It’s the confessional moments. He’s a plagiarist. He’s a thief. A liar. The sins of the father are passed down. And it’s the number stations – the repeated call signs that end “Poor Places” – that bring this to a head. Used by spies, the number stations were their only method of communication. These people – trapped in foreign lands, living lives that are lies – huddle by makeshift radios waiting for that moment, that pattern, that lets them all know that they are loved. That they are not forgotten. That they can come home…

Reservations” is the epilogue. It’s a conversation not with someone that he loves but with himself. How to live with himself. With the lies he’s been told. But he’s come around. He knows that he believes in himself. That he is worthy. That none of these lies are to condemn himself. That all the reservations and reluctance in life is not about himself. It’s about the world around him.

Books on Books on Books


The Air Conditioned Nightmare / Stand Still like The Hummingbird by Henry Miller – Life Changing Books 4 of 6

I write about Henry Miller a lot.

He’s been my favorite writer since I read Tropic of Cancer in college and I’ve read everything he’s ever written – at least everything I’ve been able to get my hands on. Tropic of Cancer is in my top 3 favorite books – swapping places with Lolita and The Bell Jar for #1 all time favorite.

So why isn’t Tropic of Cancer listed here?

Well, that book gets credit for opening my world up to Miller, but It was the politics and morality that was brought to the forefront in books like The Air Conditioned Nightmare and Stand Still like the Hummingbird that helped shape who I am. I started reading those when I had graduated college – the post-college/post-9/11 time that had me alive with a desire to understand the ever changing world. What I found in Miller is that the world is not ever-changing. His writings paralleled my thoughts. His observations on the world seemed to be written about the same world I was living in. It was comforting in a time where I felt very alone in my politics, in my world, in my art.

I could pull out the details that struck me most, but I feel that would be a disservice to the whole. Miller’s writing is best not to be taken out of context – even if I do quote him far too often. It’s best to follow him around America in The Air Conditioned Nightmare or dance with his thoughts in the essays collected in Stand Still like the Hummingbird. Anyone who reads those books will learn a bit about me. Probably find some of the words that I steal from Miller, and maybe even see his impact on my personal philosophy in a much more profound way.

On a side note, I recently read this amazing essay about Miller that perfectly summer up how I feel about his writing. I recommend reading it (and the other essays) if you enjoy that kind of stuff…