Unsolicited Advice

If you’re burnt, don’t touch the flame.

If it hurts to look, don’t look.

If it makes you mad, don’t call.

If it stresses you, don’t work.

If you’re tired, go to sleep.

 

If you’re jealous, don’t ask.

If you’re sad, don’t watch.

If it disappoints you, don’t try.

If it worries you, don’t think.

If you’re tired, go to sleep.

 

If you’re happy, live it.

If you’re excited, do it.

If it makes you proud, watch it.

If it heals you, breathe it.

If you’re alive, remember to live.

 

If you’re excited, try it.

If you’re inspired, make it.

If you’re affectionate, kiss it.

If you’re ambitious, reach it.

If you’re alive, remember to live.

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Something Borrowed

road map#NotBuyingIt

Collaging is the best because

a) you can do it with whatever materials you have on hand, and

b) you don’t need any formal artistic training. 

Sometimes the best thing to do is to make something.  

Happy weekend!

Movie Review : Snowpiercer

I had high hopes for this movie, which I should have taken as a bad omen from the start. Rule #1 of movie watching: always have low expectations. Any time a new sci-fi or fantasy movie comes out, my family waits with anticipation for the reviews– anything over 20% on Rotten Tomatoes usually gets a view from us. We entered the theater in hopes that this movie might be the gem of the summer. Sometimes we luck out and get a movie like Stardust or Pacific Rim, with the perfect balance of cool action scenes and interesting characters. And…sometimes we get a movie like Snowpiercer.

The first few minutes set up a pretty cool premise. In an attempt to cure global warming, humanity sprays a mysterious chemical known as C-7 into the atmosphere. They accidentally plunge the Earth into an apocalyptic ice age, wiping out all life apart from the small number of human passengers who boarded a highly advanced train just prior to the disaster. The train travels in a giant loop around the world, making one cycle each year. In a fairly bleak statement about human nature, a nasty caste system develops on the train prior to the film’s opening, with the decadent “front-enders” dominating the tail section, keeping them in poverty and deprivation. The oppressed tailer-enders follow Curtis (Chris Evans) in his attempt to reach the front of the train and control the engine.

The premise, along with a couple of character twists that I won’t spoil for you, might have elevated this movie to at least a B+ if not for a few serious pitfalls. This movie made similar allegorical claims to Lord of the Flies, but did it far less skillfully. Both issued highly pessimistic statements on human nature and featured a certain amount of death and violence, but at least Lord of the Flies pulled its punches to some extent. Snowpiercer made the same point by showing its audience long, drawn out, loving scenes of guys stabbing and shooting and hacking each other to bits. After a certain point, the violence wasn’t gruesome anymore–it was just boring. As I averted my eyes to avoid seeing a handsome actor get stabbed into a bloody creme brûlée, I thought, “What is the point of this again? Oh, right. Humanity is violent and hierarchical. Got it.” Allegory is great, and important. One of the chief functions of any art form is to call out flaws in society and human nature. But to take a line from the immortal Soapdish, my advice to this movie would be: let’s not underline the point, let’s just make it.

I may not be the best person to review this movie because, as I have mentioned, it doesn’t take a lot for me to make an emotional connection. With something so over the top as this movie, it’s much easier for me just to detach entirely. Also, while I appreciate an aesthetic film, visual beauty is less important to me than interesting dialogue. So a movie like Rear Window, where the visuals are limited but the writing is awesome, would get a higher score from me than a movie like Snowpiercer, where the visuals are cool but the writing is meh. So with that, let’s have a look at this movie’s rosie stats…

acting score– 7/10
writing score– 5/10
visual score–8/10
does it pass the Bechdel Test?*– no (-5)

That leaves us with an overall score of 20/30, minus 5 for failing the Bechdel Test, leaving us with 15/30, or 50%.

If you have a good stomach for violence and can take a little silliness, definitely see this movie and show your support for quirky, unusual sci-fi films. Chris Evans is not a bad actor (as my mom says “serviceable”), and there are some interesting character elements and important, if clumsy, warnings about society and inequality. If that doesn’t entice you, stay home and rent a copy of Pacific Rim instead.

*The Bechdel Test, named for cartoonist Alison Bechdel, has this criteria: two named female characters must talk to each other about a subject other than men at some point during the movie.

DOUBLE BOOK REVIEW: Because of Winn-Dixie and The Catcher in the Rye

Sometimes, we like to read fiction because it makes us feel less alone. A certain passage will stick out to us and we think “whoa, I’m not the only weirdo who thinks like this!” Other times, we read fiction because it allows us to have experiences that we might never have otherwise– what is the likelihood that any one of us will know how it feels to chase a great white whale across the Atlantic or a beautiful lost love beyond the green light at the end of the dock? What is the likelihood that we will ever know how it feels to pursue something with the kind of obsession that literary characters feel? In fact, it’s very likely, because most of us have the opportunity to crack open Moby Dick or The Great Gatsby at our local library.

But a book doesn’t have to fit into the stuffy traditional canon for it to mean something to its readers. In fact, one of my favorite books of all time isn’t even a grown-up book. It’s a children’s story about a girl and her dog.

I read Because of Winn-Dixie when I was about nine, maybe a little younger. I didn’t like what my teachers called “realistic fiction”– at that time my favorite book was Lloyd Alexander’s The Rope Trick, aka pure fantasy. I can’t remember why I picked it up or when, but I remember how it made me feel. This short little book tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Opal who lives with her single, pastor father in a trailer park in Florida. She’d just moved away from her old town and all her friends, and everyone she meets in this new town seems snobbish, awkward, or downright unfriendly. Then one day she (literally) runs into a giant ugly dog who becomes her new best friend.

It sounds like a pretty standard plot skeleton, and it totally is. But it works because it does something that I don’t think every children’s book does– it teaches empathy. The dog, Winn-Dixie, obviously cares nothing for silly human social standards and barges into everyone’s business with his awkward, big doggy-ness. That way, he introduces Opal to the good sides of her neighbors and peers. He reveals why I love about this book; every single character is flawed, fumbling, and yet essentially good. The guitar player who did some time, the sweet old lady who’s also an ex-alchoholic, the obnoxious boys who are secretly bored and lonely, or Opal’s mother–a dynamic, talented woman whose destructive habits led her to abandon her daughter and husband…Opal learns the complexities of them all. She forgives their faults as well as her own. And the book deals with all of these painful topics (alcoholism, heartbreak, fear, loneliness) with just enough sensitivity and subtlety for a nine-year-old reader to understand.

There’s one scene in particular, when Opal and her father finally have a heart-to-heart about her mother. When I read that story, I was (and still am) fortunate enough to have a wonderful, present mother. There was no way I could relate to Opal’s situation. And yet, something cracked in my chest and I felt this incredible sadness, which paved the way for the incredible joy of Opal’s reconnection to her father.

After reading this book, I truly feel that I became a far more compassionate person. I still have a long way to go towards not judging others or making snide comments about their flaws (let alone going easier on myself), but I do think that this book ushered me along the empathetic path. It would be a long time before a book would elicit that response from me again.

When it did, it came from an even more unexpected source. I had dreaded reading The Catcher in the Rye for a long time before my lit class had finally gotten around to it, and I was all ready to point out every annoying, melodramatic piece in the annoying, melodramatic puzzle of this book. No– puzzle sounds too literary. Surely this book was no puzzle.

As soon as I started reading, I realized my misconception. Holden, the protagonist, is melodramatic and annoying– the book is not. For those who weren’t forced to read it– the story mostly takes place during a few days that young Holden Caulfield,  a juvenile delinquent from a wealthy family, spends in New York City after getting kicked out of his latest boarding school. Most of the narration follows his angsty musings, worries, and fears. Soon it becomes clear that Holden has something of an existential crisis going on.

As I followed the events of the story, I kept thinking, “I know you.” I know Holden Caulfield. I’ve met him, in school and at the mall and… though I hesitate to identify with this kind of character, in myself. And I realized why this book is still taught to high schoolers so many years after J.D. Salinger put pen to paper, or busted out his typewriter, or however it was that he wrote. The Catcher in the Rye could be construed in a few different ways– it’s a story about growing up, it’s a story about learning to cope with grief, it’s a story about society and deviance, it’s a story about gender roles, it’s a story about loneliness. I think all of those interpretations are absolutely right. But the way I look at it reminds me a little bit of that cute story I read as a nine-year-old girl.

I think that at its core, The Catcher in the Rye is about learning to live in a world that disappoints you. Holden has to realize by the end of the book that life’s tragedies, big and small, are inevitable. He learns that he can’t be the “catcher in the rye” and rescue all the innocent children from those tragedies. Life will bruise them one day. I think Because of Winn-Dixie says something similar– that every single person is complex and flawed and will cause harm to others and to themselves– but it tacks on an addendum to that message. Yes, everyone is flawed, but everyone also has an incredible store of goodness and grace inside of them waiting to be tapped. And all you have to do to encourage that grace to flourish is to show some compassion.

Conclusion: Literature (scratch that– books!) teach us empathy. “Um, duh,” you’re probably thinking, but let me tell you it’s a different bear to say “Reading teaches us empathy” than it is to experience it on a personal level. And this is why it’s so important that we keep reading alive in the modern world– so that we might show a little more grace to one another.

(With that said, check out Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.)

E.B. White is Always Right

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world.  This makes it hard to plan the day.” -E.B. White

You know that person who watches gory Scandinavian thrillers about child vampires? How about that person who can read vitriolic comments on YouTube without flinching? The one who listens to the Top 100 on the radio and doesn’t constantly think, “wait…is this endorsing street harassment?” Or the person who isn’t paralyzed by fear that her doubts about cultural appropriation are coming from a position of pure privilege?

Whoever that person is…it’s not me.

I’ve always been a person who’s…shall we say in touch with her emotions? Ever since I was little people have described me as kind and caring but also sensitive– a word that carries more ambiguous connotations. Today people describe me as empathetic and dedicated, but they also ask me whether I’m on my period throughout the month (I guess I have PPDMS– Pre, Post, and During Menstruation Syndrome).

In the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of world issues. From poverty, war, and violence to controversies over ism’s in daily life and the American political system, I feel like every day I read something new to get upset about. Every once in a while, this sends me into a spiral of worry, anxiety, and deep and abiding sadness.  As a person of definite privilege in several areas, I carry a heavy weight of anxiety that if I don’t stress about things like cultural appropriation and accurate representation of disability in pop culture, then I am betraying my role as an ally. In other words, my thinking is that if I am not constantly anxious and depressed, then I’m just another piece to the (insert oppressive social construct here). That produces damaging behaviors–suddenly I’m standing vigilant over my family and friends, making sure they aren’t saying or doing anything that’s even the tiniest bit problematic.

But here’s the thing about that line of thinking. It’s a) unsustainable b) frustrating for the people I love, and c) not actually helpful!

That last one is the zinger. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in an interview on NPR that racial guilt is understandable, but not really that useful. That makes a lot of sense to me, which is how I came to write this post.

I love consuming things– art, music, film, writing, food, you name it. But this anxious cyclone has left me unable to love anything for fear that it doesn’t meet my impossible standards of correctness. I don’t want to live the rest of my life without enjoying and appreciating the creations of other people and myself. That way lies unhappiness and frustration.

And yet I don’t want to completely throw my education to the wind, either. I can never put the blinders back on now that they’re off– but maybe I can learn to look at something that has problems, recognize those problems and not be afraid to talk about them in an appropriate context, and yet still love this thing for its successes.

I’ll use one of my favorite TV shows as practice: Pushing Daises was an adorable series that lasted for only two seasons. 😥 Its two main characters were white. It had the beginnings of a love triangle that I found kind of annoying because of the way it portrayed the “other” woman. The only major minority character had many elements of blacksploitation stereotypes that were hard to watch.

But wow, were there some awesome elements to this show. The writing was witty and sharp, the aesthetics fantastical and campy; it had a supernatural crime-solving gang reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (another somewhat problematic show that I just love to pieces), the main female lead was interesting, well written, smart and confident but also kind (plus her dresses were TO DIE FOR), and not to mention the show was hella romantic.

So what do we do with that? I don’t think that blind boycotting is the answer, especially since it’s long since been cancelled. Neither is secretly watching the season finale late at night with a sharp, biting guilt in my stomach. But I can’t just ignore the problems either. So here’s what I’m going to try. I’m going to watch the show, not ignoring the offensive parts but also not getting too hung up on them. I’m going to consider it as a whole production rather than evaluating its individual parts. If, when I think about it as one entity, a certain element sticks out to me as being grossly offensive and impossible, then I can start evaluating what I want to do, if I can do anything, and how to do it in a way that’s helpful and constructive rather than inflammatory.

That feels a lot better already.

This blog is about that process. It’s about appreciation, examination, creation, consumption– all of those things. I’ll be publishing my own stuff and talking about some stuff that other people make. With this blog, I’m becoming an active participant in the cultural life in which I take such an interest. I used to think that the answer was to opt out. Instead, I’ve decided to opt in.