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An Amateur Wannabe-Film Critic’s Response to the Academy Award Nominations

I don't know who this is and I don't care. It was the craziest picture I could find related to the Academy Awards and is therefore my title pic because it makes me LOLZ

I don’t know who this is and I don’t care. It was the craziest picture I could find related to the Academy Awards and is therefore my title pic because it makes me LOLZ

Yay! It’s award season! I’m excited about the Academy Award noms even though Anthony Hopkins and Jaoquin Phoenix told me not to be. Even though I worship the ground Anthony Hopkins walks on (I’m not even sure why, I think I saw Meet Joe Black at a very impressionable age), I’m excited anyway. Jaoquin Phoenix’s opinion is entirely another matter, because no one listens to Jaoquin Phoenix, especially Gwyneth Paltrow.  But whatever, I’m a lowly peasant who can’t even afford the free subscription to GOOP, so I’m gonna get my jolly on.

In response to Jaoquin Phoenix's supposed burgeoning rap career, Gwyneth said "go live in the projects for a few years to get some authenticity, maybe." UM OK BECAUSE RAPPERS ARE ALL POOR BLACK PEOPLE, right Gwyneth?! How did no one call her on that shit. In response, my girl Bristol famously said one of my favorite things of all time, "If he raps about cheese and his shit is dope, who cares what his background is?"

In response to Jaoquin Phoenix’s supposed burgeoning rap career, Gwyneth said “go live in the projects for a few years to get some authenticity, maybe.” UM OK BECAUSE RAPPERS ARE ALL POOR BLACK PEOPLE, right Gwyneth?! How did no one call her on that shit. In response, my girl Bristol famously said one of my favorite things of all time, “If he raps about cheese and his shit is dope, who cares what his background is?”

Ok I’m only going to talk about two of the movies I have seen that got nominated, but beware, SPOILERS BELOW!

Les Miserables

Nominated for:
Best Actor – Hugh Jackman
Best Supporting Actress – Anne Hathaway
Best Film, Best Costume Design, Best Film Mixing (what the hell is Film Mixing? Is this a new category? Why do I not know this?)

I know this isn't the main poster for Les Mis, but Borat and Bellatrix LeStrange killed this number, even though Sascha Baron Cohen was the only actor in this movie based in France to actually use a French accent

I know this isn’t the main poster for Les Mis, but Borat and Bellatrix LeStrange killed this number, even though Sascha Baron Cohen was the only actor in this movie based in France to actually use a French accent

UGGGGGGHHHH ANNE HATHAWAY. She is the  WORST. Ok, no she’s not, but I h-h-haaaaaaaate her acting. It became apparent to me in this movie that she missed the mark as far as her career goes and should have been a Broadway musical star. Her acting is just WAY too overdone for film and it makes me cringe. I just end up yelling at the screen: “I can see you emoting, bitch!” and it just ruins it for me and everyone else in the theater . She’s like that drama-nerd in high school who got the lead in EVERY play and musical and then also had straight A’s and the teachers loved and you hated. She is basically my version of Liv Tyler in Empire Records, and I’m the emo head-shaved chick hating her silently in the background.

I first started hating her when she got nominated for Rachel Getting Married, which I didn’t see and maybe she deserved. But that was the year that they brought out all the old-school Hollywood A-listers to announce the nominees, and Shirley MacLaine got to announce Anne Hathaway and go on about how cool she is, and of course she overdid it because she’s Shirley MacLaine. And there’s Anne Hathaway in her chair all glowing and thanking Shirley and like blowing her kisses while she’s crying and shit and it was just TOO much. Ugh. Then a year or two later she hosted the academy awards with James Franco, and my feelings about that can be best described by the Great and Wise Gabe Delahaye of Videogum who summed it up best by saying she “took too many insufferable pills.”  HAAAAAAAAA so on point Gabe, as always. Dial it down like twelve notches, Anne Hathaway.

shout out to my girl Lady Baltimore for posting this on facebook. CA-LASSIC

shout out to my girl Lady Baltimore for posting this on facebook. CA-LASSIC

Her nomination points to a  failing in the Academy that ALWAYS nominates EVERYONE who sings in a movie and proves they aren’t tone deaf. Like the singing makes up for their shit acting somehow? No, that’s not how it works, Academy. You are WRONG. Hugh Jackman was nominated for the same reason, and he is ALSO over the top, but he plays Wolverine for chrissakes so no one expects so much from him. But, ugh, the scenes with both him AND Anne Hathaway just like exploded with saccharine. GO BACK TO BROADWAY, KIDDOS.

The movie itself was fine, although honestly I was bored. I don’t know what the musical is like because I’ve never seen it, but I really don’t think they did a great job adapting it to film. The great thing about film is you have more than 10 square feet of stage and set design to work with, so you can really create something sweeping and awe-inspiring. Les Miserables did NOT take advantage of the medium, however, so the audience has to spend their time  staring only at the face of the person who is singing. Is that what the musical is like, for real? People just standing around singing?? BO-RING!

"I am Le Miserable that I did not get nominated, no?"

“I am Le Miserable that I did not get nominated”

I will say that Amanda Seyfried was on point, and knocked it out of the park with both her singing, which is stellar, and her acting, which is perfect and understated as the medium of film demands. Also, the chick who played Eponine kicked ass on her solo “On My Own”; that was great. True confession: I’ve loved that song since Katie Holmes sang it to a clueless James Van Der Beek on that talent show episode of Dawson’s Creek. The song was a perfect pick, but whoaaaa Katie could not hit those high notes.

Silver Linings Playbook

Nominated for:

Best Supporting Actor – Robert DeNiro
Best Supporting Actress – Jennifer Lawrence
Best Actor – Bradley Cooper
Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay

Don't you just want to pinch Jennifer Lawrence's cheeks? She must have been terrorized as a child by all her great aunts

Don’t you just want to pinch Jennifer Lawrence’s cheeks? She must have been terrorized as a child by all her great aunts

This movie left me feeling kinda torn. I didn’t realize it was a “dramedy” (terrible word) and so when I started laughing early on I felt kind of guilty, because I knew it was about some guy who gets out of an institution and his life is in shambles. No one else was laughing at first, but by the end people were CRACKING up. And then I got that yicky feeling like we were all laughing at something that should be treated more delicately, namely, mental health and it’s portrayal and treatment in American culture. Chris Tucker’s character in this was a perfect example of the lack of sensitivity; he was Cooper’s friend who kept escaping from the looney bin and appeared in drive-by appearances only for comedic relief and to advance the plot. Tucker’s character was one-dimensional, and though entertaining, an insensitive and un-dynamic portrayal of someone struggling with mental illness.

I know Bradley Cooper’s character was diagnosed as Bipolar, but I felt like the only scenes that treated his illness fairly were the ones where he’s in session with his psychiatrist, in which he describes his experience and how he was handling the recent developments in his life. These were Cooper’s best scenes by far, and I was impressed by his range and ability. I went to see the movie with my friend Peter and we both agreed that his career has unfortunately limited by his douchebag face. Ok, that’s kind of harsh, but there’s something about his face that leads you to mistrust him, let alone the fact that he’s played the douche in several films (Wedding Crashers, The Hangover). I realized it’s the length of his nose that does it. Don’t ask me to elaborate on that.

Spikey hair + long nose stem + sparkling pale blue eyes = DON'T TRUST THIS GUY

Spikey hair + long nose stem + sparkling pale blue eyes = DON’T TRUST THIS GUY

The interesting part of this movie, which I felt could have been developed more, is that everyone else in this movie who was NOT  diagnosed with a mental illness, is, in fact, their own brand of crazy.  Bradley Cooper sees the world as it is, says what he feels, and reacts as is fitting to the distressing reality of his circumstances, whereas everyone else stuffs their crazy so far down that it manifests as neuroses. Robert De Niro plays the OCD Dad, the Mom is so far up the river of DE-NIAL that she thinks it’s totally ok to check her very ill son out of the mental institution, Cooper’s best friend is completely unaware that his wife is a controlling wacko, and his brother says every thought that passes through his head, regardless of how hurtfully honest it might be.

The one exception in this room full of repressed neurotics is Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is also supposed to be the second passenger in Cooper’s “crazy boat.” She sees things as they are and calls it like it is, hence their attraction to each other. Your kneejerk impulse is to be like “Yay, the crazies found each other to love,” but I think this take on her is an oversight of the reality of the truth of Lawrence’s character’s, which is that she is a grieving young widow who, while eccentric, does “crazy” things like sleeping with all her former coworkers because she’s severely grieving and not just eccentric.

Only CRAZY people want to go running with other CRAZY people who are so CRAZY they wear garbage bags in the middle of the day, right? Ugh, Hollywood.

Only CRAZY people want to go running with other CRAZY people who are so CRAZY they wear garbage bags in the middle of the day, right? Ugh, Hollywood.

Basically I was left to assume that the novel this film is based on deals with the subject more sensitively and in-depth. But I think it’s kind of a cop out to give a movie a pass for not handling a sensitive subject well just because it’s a movie that’s meant to entertain and earn big bucks. Aren’t those like the worst parts of American culture — to push aside compassion and fairness in favor of money and mindless entertainment?

Other Movies that Got Nominated that I Haven’t Seen but Have Opinions About Anyway:

Lincoln – so one of my good friends told me that this movie made her cry and I decided not to see it. I know I’m depriving myself of some apparently amazing filmmaking, but I have just seen waaaaay too many movies that represent African Americans in some way and leave me feeling horrible and conflicted (Amistad, The Help, etc.). So I have nothing to say about this except that Daniel Day Lewis can be as much of a weirdo method actor as he wants because he knocks it out of the park EVERY time, and I’ve loved him since Last of the Mohicans, when he ripped my beating heart out my chest.

Ok that's not Daniel Day Lewis but you get the idea. That guy's cool too.

Ok that’s not Daniel Day Lewis but you get the idea. That guy’s cool too.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – I actually have seen this movie, but it was so long ago that the opinions I had about it I no longer really care about it. Basically I was disappointed that the Aurochs were some sort of metaphor or some shit and weren’t the main characters, and my inner motherly instinct was appalled by the conditions those babies were living in. I was just like “Eeeew don’t touch that, it’s dirty!!”

The Master – Everyone I know who has seen this said it sucked. But apparently, every movie Phillip Seymore Hoffman  does gets a Best Picture nod. Which is good news for Hunger Games: Catching Fire — apparently going to be a shoo-in.

Life of Pi – I really want to read this book before I see the movie. The reason why I am the last person on earth to read this book is because it got so popular and I was like trying to be all counterculture and was just like, “Pshaw, NO I did not read Life of Pi and I CANNOT come to your book club, ok?” But I’m not cool enough to be truly counterculture, so…guess that’s next up on my reading list. Anyway, you just can’t go wrong with a CG Animated Tiger. Kudos to Ang Lee for making this a PETA-friendly flick! I think the 1980s equivalent would have been a cartoon tiger drawn on the ship with homeboy ala Pete’s Dragon, which would have been both badass and ridiculous.

petesdragon

Zero Dark Thirty – does Katheryn Bigelow only make war films? That’s cool if she does, just asking! As the first woman to EVER win an academy award for directing she can do whatever the hell she wants, in my opinion.

Django Unchained – Oof. I heard this was good, or at least it was popular, but I just don’t really want to see slaves beat up, even if they get their revenge and beat up their former masters in the end. There’s all this hullabaloo out there about Quentin Tarrantino pissing off a lot of people who don’t believe he has the right to make a movie representing the point of view of African Americans because, last time I checked, he is not African American, but I have a hard time taking a stance on that either way. I see their point; if a major movie director is going to do a revenge fantasy about slavery, it would be really cool if he were black. But I’m also excited that a movie that sympathizes with the African American point of view is out there in the mainstream, even if it was made by a white director. It’s kinda cool though that a white director who has no historical or ethnic ties to the plight of African Americans wants to portray them kicking ass and taking names, but, oy, this is a heavy topic and ripe for debate.

The Sessions – Yay, Helen Hunt is back! Good for you, girl. This movie seems sad though so I will probably never see it.

 

Click here for a complete list of the 2013 Academy Award Nominations

Click here for a complete list of the 2013 Academy Award Nominations

 

Generosity, Guilt, and Gratitude

I found a $100 bill on the sidewalk the other day. It was drizzling on a damp winter evening, and I had just exited the doors of Walgreens. I turned the corner, and that’s when I found it: a hundred dollar bill. I think I was bending down and picking it up before the conscious part of my brain even realized how spectacularly awesome this was, let alone what were the chances of stumbling on a bill that big.

“Oh wow!” A voice rang out above me just as my fingers were grasping the wet paper. I turned to look up at the woman stopped on the sidewalk beside me, holding a small child by the hand. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and for a moment I was happy to share my joy with someone else. But I felt guilty just as quickly. Who was I to take this money, when this woman, no matter how rich or poor she might be, had a child who wasn’t out of diapers; which, by the way run twenty bucks a box.  “Good for you!” she said with an earnest smile.

This is a pic of the $100 bill I found. It didn't occur to me at the time to take a picture of it with ME IN IT, so you're just going to take my word for it when I tell you that that's my grey carpet, OK?

This is a pic of the $100 bill I found. It didn’t occur to me at the time to take a picture of it with ME IN IT, so you’re just going to take my word for it when I tell you that that’s my grey carpet, OK?

I held the bill out to her, “Do you want it?” I asked. After all, she had seen it almost as soon as I had.

“No, no, no! You take it.”

“Are you sure?” I stepped hesitantly towards her with the bill in my outstretched hand.

She waved it away and kept on smiling. “No, no, it’s yours! Go ahead, take it, buy yourself a nice dinner. Congratulations!” As I continued on my way,  I couldn’t help but feel an uneasy mix of joy and guilt. Did I even deserve it? Should I have insisted she take it? What if the person who lost it wasn’t even a drug dealer or a pimp and really needed it? I checked the bill for any residual blow. It was too wet to tell.

Since uprooting my life and moving to the West Coast, this has been the only serendipitous stroke of dumb luck that I have ever had. The rest of the good fortune I’ve had has come from the generosity of the people in my life, whose hearts are as kind and big as this anonymous mother on the street.

I’ve been thinking a lot about generosity, giving and gratitude ever since Thanksgiving (go figure). Right around the holiday I was wondering why no one moaned about this holiday the way they do about Columbus Day. Both holidays symbolize the oppression and obliteration of millions of indigenous people. But Thanksgiving has remained largely untainted in its reputation, I’m guessing because it was transformed into a ceremony that people actually enjoy, one that forces them to put down their iPhones, pick up a fork, and share some food, and by proxy, their love and appreciation for each other.

Thanksgiving kicks off the season of gratitude, when we all buy gifts for the people we are grateful to have in our lives to show them how we feel. This year, as I struggled to find my footing out here in a new geographic coordinate, I felt really, truly grateful for the warm-hearted people in my life . I was thrust into a period of great need, living somewhere I didn’t know, with only newly minted friends to help me. I quickly learned how uncomfortable it is to take something you really need, even when it’s offered by a friend.

"Professor Dan Brook of University of California, Berkeley condemns the 'cultural and political amnesia" of Americans that celebrate Thanksgiving, saying that "We do not have to feel guilty, but we do need to feel something.'"

“Professor Dan Brook of University of California, Berkeley condemns the ‘cultural and political amnesia” of Americans that celebrate Thanksgiving, saying that “We do not have to feel guilty, but we do need to feel something.'”

I recently met someone who knows what it’s like to receive the gift of another’s generosity, and the bewildering mix of gratitude and guilt that comes with it. My friend Sparkle Thornton, who I met at my yoga studio, is transgender and in the process of transitioning from male to female. She is planning on completing her transition with gender reassignment surgery this spring, but the operation is extremely expensive, and not covered by health insurance, which she can’t even afford. So she decided to start her own online fundraiser on the pledge site GiveForward.

Sparkle and I chatted about the success of her fundraising, which has garnered $7000 via word of mouth alone, and she admitted it was overwhelming to her. “I felt like I was inside a miracle,” she told me. “To be so honest and vulnerable with people, and  to get support through that is a treasure. I was in shock at first, but now it’s sinking in a bit and it’s inspiring me to keep following my gut and my heart, and to create my own life with an even more empowered approach.”

There is an expectation that you should pull yourself up by the bootstraps, regardless of whether or not you can afford to buy boots.

After hearing about her experience, I shared with her my own gratitude for the people who have helped me throughout the year as I struggled to find my footing. There were many times when I felt ashamed to accept any kind of financial help from friends, even if it was just in the form of a slice of pizza.  I think the sense of shame I felt came from a trait that is deeply engrained in American culture.  There is an expectation that you should pull yourself up by the bootstraps, regardless of whether or not you can afford to buy boots.

When I told Sparkle this, she acknowledged that it’s natural for someone to want “ to give to a friend in need, because you know it’s going to mean the world to them. And at the same time, we are just not really encouraged to be given the world. Or to be given anything at all. I was confronted with my own conditioned sense of what I was worthy of, and I was shootin’ low. And I didn’t even realize.”

"Once I get surgery, I am so there to help someone else go through the same experience with as much love as I had and have now.”

“Once I get surgery, I am so there to help someone else go through the same experience with as much love as I had and have now.” ~ Sparkle Thornton

Unfortunately, our communal sense of rugged individualism often prevents us from creating the space and opportunity for charity on a personal, one-to-one level. But when you do have enough, when you are OK, and you see someone else in need, it feels so good just to be able to DO something. We are so conditioned to focus on ourselves and on getting ahead that we create a mentality of scarcity for ourselves, which, as Sparkle points out, circles back to feeling like we’re not worthy of anything we receive, unless we fought tooth and nail to get it.

“This society and my upbringing did not set me up to receive things from other people. It was all about making everything happen on my own and working really hard; never asking for anything and not expecting anything. We are so programmed to be prepared for not having what we need. And that’s what keeps everyone trying to get what they think they need all the time,” Sparkle said.

“But giving on a personal level is creating a small bit of happiness that is actually making the world happier just between the two of you. I feel like once I get surgery, I am so there to help someone else go through the same experience with as much love as I had and have now.”

Please consider donating to Sparkle's fundraiser! You can do so by clicking on the picture, which will take you to her story and donation page.

Please consider donating to Sparkle’s fundraiser! You can do so by clicking on the picture, which will take you to her story and donation page.

I, too am grateful for the love I had and have now. So without naming names, I will write a short list of the few of the things I was given or gained this year by people I feel so blessed to have in my life.  I want you to know if you gave me one of these things, I am truly grateful—it meant more than you know:

  • an open-ended invitation to live on my friend’s couch in her junior one-bedroom
  • the slice of pizza I mentioned earlier (which I was actually gifted more than once) ~ the voice on the other end of the line (or the text message, or the coffee shop table) who listened to my frantic, panic attacks and fretting fits
  • wisdom and reflections on leaps of faith you have taken in your life
  • invitations to family barbeques and parties that made me feel at home
  • the new friends I made who made me feel loved and taught me so much more about myself
  • encouragement to follow my gut and make the big, albeit, scary move into a new life so far away from everything I’ve ever known
Happy Holidays! May all the love you give out come back to you tenfold.

Happy Holidays! May all the love you give out come back to you tenfold.

A Legacy of Affirmation

Abigail Fisher

I have been avoiding writing this blog post because even thinking about the supreme court case opposing affirmative action makes me blindingly angry. There’s been a lot of sputtering and pacing around my house and impromptu rants at my sympathetic and all-too-patient roommate, Ceylon.  I don’t think I can say everything I think all at once without writing the first draft of a dissertation, so I’ll try to focus this post as much as possible.

So, in case you hadn’t heard, Abigail Fisher, who applied to the University of Texas at Austin and did not get in, is contesting UT Austin’s use of race as an admission’s factor, claiming that the University’s failure to admit her violated her 14th Amendment rights. The New York Times piece on this matter says that Fisher is pissed (ok my word, not theirs) because she doesn’t have access to UT Austin’s extensive alumni network, which could have landed her a better job. “I’m hoping,” she said, “that they’ll completely take race out of the issue in terms of admissions and that everyone will be able to get into any school that they want no matter what race they are but solely based on their merit and if they work hard for it.”

Ok. Ok. Deep breath. I’m going to try to sum up what’s wrong with this like a rational adult. I have a larger point, but there a few things I feel I need to say before I can get to my main argument about the elephant in the room here, which is the sense of entitlement that comes with the policy which admits legacy students. So I present you: bullet points!

  • First (but not most importantly), Abigail might not have gotten into her top pick school, but she did get into Louisiana State, which gave her what I think is a crucial opportunity to live out of state and out from the yolk of her family, and perhaps gave her some perspective on what life is like in other parts of the country. Then again, perhaps not.
  • Second, Ms. Fisher is arguing that since she did not graduate from Austin she did not have access to UT’s extensive alumni network and this was a detriment to her career. “Just being in a network of U.T. graduates would have been a really nice thing to be in. And I probably would have gotten a better job offer had I gone to U.T.” . UM, WHAT WAS THAT YOU SAID? A better job offer? You mean a better one than the position you MANAGED TO LAND IN A SHIT ECONOMY as a financial analyst STRAIGHT out of college? Do you have any idea how lucky you are to have a job at all, and a good job at that? I know people with master’s degrees and PhD’s who can’t find work in this economy. FAHDGHDGHAGHDAH (this is the noise one makes when they feel compelled NOT to turn off their caps lock).
  • Third, but no less important, nobody likes the idea that they are being discriminated against based on their ethnic or racial background, regardless of what their skin color is. We would all love to live in a country in which everyone had equal chances and opportunities and educational backgrounds. However, neither you nor I nor Abigal Fisher  live in that world. Only when everyone in this country has equal access to affordable, quality primary and secondary school education (not to mention food, public transportation, and job opportunities, to name a few more) REGARDLESS of their race can we throw race out the door as factor to consider in college applications.
  • Last: Was the editor of the New York Times asleep at the switch when he let this section of very awkward demonstration the benefits of an “integrated” classroom go to press?? The journalist who wrote this exceedingly crucial piece sat in on a freshmen seminar at UT Austin, and this was the most profound thing he had to say about it: “It was only the third week of class, but the 18 students, of all sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds, talked easily and earnestly about contemporary echoes of slavery. An Asian student mentioned cheap labor in China. A Hispanic one talked about the ways employers in the United States take advantage of illegal immigrants. Other comments ran counter to possible stereotypes.” Um. This sounds like it was published in 1959. It’s like a journalistic cheap shot. “Oh how grand! The minorities are educating us all about the drawbacks to being brown. “

Okay, thank you bullet points. You really helped me narrow this blog post down from long-winded rant to a short-winded argument, and now I can get to my main point. The thing that really infuriates me about this case is the underlying implication that Ms. Fisher’s legacy rights were violated. According to the NY Times article, Ms. Fisher “had her heart set on” UT Austin, a school both her father and her sister had attended before her. If she had been accepted, that would have made her a legacy student. A legacy student, for those of you who don’t know, is someone who is admitted to a university based on the fact that other members of the family are alumni. The Economist referred to this as “affirmative action for the children of alumni.”

Does it seem fair that someone should feel entitled to getting into a certain school because other members of their family did? Aren’t those individuals who edge out other applicants because of their legacy status are also threatening potential students who also can’t benefit from affirmative action? In an article published last year in the Harvard Crimson, William R. Fitzsimmons, the Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid for Harvard, admitted that “Harvard’s acceptance rate for legacies has hovered around 30 percent—more than four times the regular admission rate—in recent admissions cycles.”Fitzsimmons went “It does no one any good to have a student come here and have an unhappy experience,” Fitzsimmons said. Translation: if we piss off their parents by not admitting their kid, they won’t give us money.

Click here for a link to Kahlenberg’s book

I learned a lot of things in college, the most poignant of which was that colleges are businesses just as much as they are institutions of learning. These particular business rely on the investments of their alumni to keep them afloat. However, according to Richard D. Kahlenberg, editor of the book “Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions,” “these policies have succeeded in  relic of European-style aristocracy that has no place in American higher education.”

Yet legacy policies continue to be overlooked as detrimental to the development of a fair, just, and egalitarian society. Why? Because they benefit those members of the ruling elite that want to continue being the ruling elite. In an Op-Ed piece in the NYTimes, Kahlenberg says, “Affirmative action policies are controversial because they pit two fundamental principles against each other — the anti-discrimination principle, which says we should not classify people by ancestry, and the anti-subordination principle, which says we must address a brutal history of discrimination. Legacy preferences, by contrast, advance neither principle — they simply classify individuals by bloodline.”

On another note, I can’t help but wonder what prompted Ms. Fisher to bring her case before the supreme court now, when our nation’s first and only non-white president is knee-deep in a battle for the white house against one of the biggest swells of right-wing conservatism this country has seen in a long time, with two of the most fervent and foamy-mouthed Republicans at the helm. It also seems strategic that Ms. Fisher is a female. If she weren’t, would her case have gotten all the way to the supreme court? Me thinks not.

this image scares some people

Body Imag(ination)

Every now and then I start to wonder how much more I would be able to get done if I was able to redirect the time and energy I spend worrying about my physical appearance and put it towards my creative work. I have a feeling it would be a lot.

If you were to mine the minutes each day that the average woman spends picking out her clothes, worrying if she’s gained weight, exercising, and meticulously engaging in her daily skin/makeup/beauty regimen, my best guess is you would probably be left with, on average, about two and a half hours a day of solid time. That adds up to 17.5 hours a week, and over a year that’s 38 days straight. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Anyone who spent almost 18 hours a week focusing on any one discipline would become a master in a relatively short amount of time.

I happen to like to shop, and I happen to like making myself look pretty. This is not to say I want to do away with these pastimes altogether. To a certain extent, they’re fun, a source of recreation. But I do realize that they are  aligned with a larger, more consuming, and significantly less fun aesthetic anxiety that takes up way too much of my time.

THIS IS WHAT A SUCCESSFUL HOLLYWOOD ACTOR LOOKS LIKE. I love you, Steve, but how is this fair?

You know what really drives me nuts? That there are men is this world that, at best, walk around looking totally fucking ordinary  and at worst, look like they don’t give a damn about their physical health or appearance, AND that these men are in no way hindered in their professional pursuits, and quite often aren’t held back when it comes to their social lives, either. The amount of successful ugly actors in Hollywood astounds me. It can only be assumed that the success of these men is an indicator of their talent, their connections, and their tenacity. Their female counterparts, on the other hand, are being measured by all of the above, as well as their ability to live off egg whites and kale alone and workout six days a week, and, oh yeah, maintain an unhealthy relationship with their bodies and appearances.

So why is it that there are men in this world who walk around feeling completely confident and have a relatively healthy body image when they can’t remember the last time they saw the inside of a gym, and I freak out if I go more than two weeks without exercising, even if it’s because I’m recovering from a pulled muscle? Perhaps my personal neuroses plays a part; I have to admit that. But that neuroses came from a lifelong diet of swallowing the “here’s what you need to look like” messages I’ve been fed from a variety of societal sources. These sources are not limited to the media but also to other influences, both subtle and overt, from family members, teachers, coaches, mean girls, insensitive boys, and the like.

One of Lady Gaga’s posted twitter pics

I would not call Lady Gaga an author of many profound statements, but her most recent “fuck you” to the general media by showing off her supposed twenty-five pound weight gain by tweeting semi-nude photos of herself is nothing short of inspiring. Particularly because she looks so real, the way most women who are not in some form of show-business actually look, and completely unworthy of the moniker “Fatness Overdeen,” which my friend told me popped up in the comment section on Gawker.

This embrace of normality is more than refreshing, it’s a rare and critically needed divergence from the same horse manure the mainstream has been feeding us for a millennium. But it’s not enough — not only because it’s just one drop of pure water in a sea of toxicity, but because the status quo for the average women’s body image is a unhealthy, unrealistic standard that leads to feelings of self-hate and the all-too errosive criticism that flows so easily between the female community. I’ll give you an example.

I finally got around to watching HBO’s “Girls,” which I was resisting for a long time because of the issues swirling around the show concerning racism and privilege. I’m going to put those concerns aside for right now and focus on something else: the role of body image in this show, namely that of the Director/Creator/Star Lena Dunham. I’m also going to go out on a limb and admit that my inner Mean Girl came out when I was first introduced to Dunahm through her film “Tiny Furniture.” I was horrified by her attitude (which is pretty entitled and annoying), but moreso by the scene in which she is wearing nothing but a T-Shirt, putting her cellulite buttocks on full-display. That was the point I turned the movie off.

In the show, Lena Dunham’s character Hannah is slightly overweight and by no definition a universal standard for beauty. Yet, she embraces her physical incarnation by eating cupcakes in the bathtub, telling her pseudo-boyfriend that she just doesn’t try to lose weight, and even proclaiming to her boss while she’s propositioning him for sex “I’m disgusting, but so are you.”

Lena Dunham. Whatever happened to a little self-love…

At this point, I was charmed despite myself. It was uncomfortable for me to admit that I did NOT want to see a female on camera who was not physically attractive, mostly because it points to what my problem is, which is the same for many other women: that we’ve internalized an unrealistic standard which we will never obtain, yet we continue to expect it of ourselves and project that expectation onto other women. And who are we doing this for? It’s certainly not for us, and after talking to several men, I happen to know that most of them do not expect, or even want, women to look like they squeeze in an hour on the treadmill in between yoga and Pilates sessions everyday.

You know who else we’re not doing it for? Our daughters. It makes me interminably sad to think that someday I might have a little girl, and without intending to, I might pass along the message to her that beauty and physical perfection is a standard that she must always strive for, but will never succeed in obtaining. If I’m not careful to re-evaluate my own attitude about what’s acceptable and what I need to look like physically in order to happy, her inheritance from me will be a lifelong lack of self-acceptance. Instead of looking just to the media and public figures to make change and set new standards, I think we all need to start a  revolution on an individual level as well.

Constantine Say Relax

I’m gonna make a “Constantine Say Relax” shirt, and it will fit EVERYONE approximately 8 sizes too small

I’m not gonna lie; shit’s getting real. The funds in my bank account are dwindling, the thought of writing YET ANOTHER cover letter makes me dry heave, and I’m not inspired enough my any of my ideas to bring myself to write them down. Between worrying about having enough money to buy food and pay my rent, the possibilities that my health will fail at some point and I’ll end up in the ER with a big fat bill, and the confusion about which way to turn next to get some desperately needed funds, I’m having a hard time remembering why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, let alone mustering up the courage to put words on paper.

The funny thing is, when I’m distracted by other pressing matters, the writing I want to do doesn’t just go away; it finds a way to squeeze its way out  into the world when I let my guard down a little. You know how when you’re a kid and getting one of many immunizations and you’re all scared because they’re going to poke with that big fat needle? And so you tense up your teeny little bicep and it hurts like hell. And then afterwards you emerge from the examination room, your face red and splotchy and your breathing just a string of ragged sobs, and your big brother tells you, “You know, if you relax your arm, it hurts less.”

It’s so counter-intuitive to relax in the face of stress and uncertainty and a lack of inspiration. But I find that my words often tend to eek out of my pen and onto a spare receipt or envelope late at night, when I’m winding down and getting ready for bed, or in other words when I am able relax a little and let my guard down.

The other thing that helps me relax are encouraging, snark-free words from other, more established wordsmiths. I really appreciated Brendan Constantine’s post on Poet’s & Writer’s today, which speaks to the importance of getting it out:

“…it will always be true that our poorest work lies ahead of us. We’re going to write something truly awful in the future. We have to. Why do we have to? It’s often the only way to uncover the good writing. Like going through a kitchen drawer, sometimes we have to take out things we don’t need in order to get at the things we do.”

Constantine goes on to pinpoint what holds me, and a lot of other people, back,: the fear of writing crap, or even worse, crap that someone else has already written less crappily.

“Where I see many of us get stuck, again and again, is in forgetting the role of “chance.” No sooner are we enjoying a sense of success (even if it’s just saying “Well, that didn’t TOTALLY suck.”) than we are forgetting the experience of discovering our art as we went. Chances are (sorry), we’ll attempt to create something else, but this time out of sheer will. Under these conditions, we’re totally screwed…The best we can hope for is something almost as good as we used to be.”

Thank you, Mr. Constantine, for reminding me to stop gritting my teeth and letting me know its ok to sift through the kitchen drawer a bit until I find what I’m looking for.

You be rockin’ my world, Mr. Constantine. Click here for the artist’s website.

The Music Makers: On Everlasting Gobstoppers, Regina Spektor, and Making Art

“We are the music makers. And we are the dreamers of the dreams.” ~ Willy Wonka

So in the past couple of weeks a few people have asked me “Where do you get your ideas for your writing?” To which my response was precisely: “Uh….I dunno. Life?”

Most of my inspiration to write probably comes from a desire to fiddle around with the rules of the universe, because some day, if I’m very good, I’ll be a God and writing stories is just good practice in the meantime. But in all seriousness, I don’t really know how to answer that question, especially since I write mostly science fiction/fantasy type stuff. Most of my ideas come from something I see or think about in my actual waking life, and then I say to myself, “Huh. well, that kind of sucks. But what if I wrote about it sucking, and then I threw in some zombies/unicorns?” I have yet to write anything involving zombies OR unicorns, but that’s beside the point.

Click to watch video of the gobstopping action!

The point is, for me at least, the inspiration to write a story usually comes from a series of events and occurrences, T.V. shows, coincidences, chance meetings, observations, things people say to me, and my own wish that there was a larger range of possibilities when it comes to realistic expectations. The whole process kind of reminds me of the Everlasting Gobstopper Machine in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the one with literally all the bells and whistles that makes machine farts and a whole lot of other hullabaloo before it poops out these little magnificent pieces of candy.

Regina Spektor, who was recently interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, spoke about this process when asked to describe how a specific song she wrote came into being, so I thought I would end this post with her words on the matter. You can listen to the entire podcast here:


Speaking of unicorns, don’t you think that Regina Spektor could be the real life version of Princess Amalthea from the Last Unicorn? If you were born in the 80s and haven’t seen that movie, you are highly unlikely to write any high fantasy.

Terry Gross: Do you want to talk about the inspiration for this song?

Regina Spektor: Um…you know, I’d love to talk about it. It’s always so hard though because I feel like I don’t fully ever understand exactly a specific lineage of a song. It sort of feels like lots and lots of things happen, and then I just write a song. It’s a combination of books and thoughts and stories and things I saw in the streets of New York and just a million things, and then, oh, I wrote a song.
And then Regina Spektor grew a horn on her forehead and Terry gross turned out to be a zombie and they fought to the death over the radiowaves. The end.

The Struggle for Silver

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – some smart ass

You’re never guaranteed a reward equal to the amount of your suffering, but you can choose how you suffer.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Olympics just happened. As a former athlete, I had a lot of sympathy for the competitors, and I wondered what it was that motivated them to even try so damn hard. A lot of them are obviously in pain, few achieve their goals; and is the lifetime of regret for falling short of gold worth taking the chance at all? But, then again if they weren’t struggling at this one thing that they were really good at, they would for sure be struggling in one way or the other.

There is something about struggling that is just intrinsic to living. My roommate told me a story about watching a frigatebird in the Galapagos struggle to free itself from the mud, but it couldn’t take off because it’s wings were too weighed down to take flight. It was a pointless struggle; the bird wasn’t going to make it, and my roommate could do nothing to help it, as the general code on the Galapagos is to let nature take its course. Struggle is one of those circular consequences; we frigatebirs are alive because we’ve struggled against being otherwise, and because we are alive, we continue to struggle.

“Waiting room at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic – the first modern free clinic in the United States.” (click the pic for more info)

I was thinking about this bird the other day as I waited at the free dental clinic in Berkeley. If you’ve ever been to any kind of social services dispensary where people are waiting to get food stamps or unemployment checks or free health care, then you know what struggle is, and that suffering is perceptible, a natural gas that you give off when you burn through all your resources and some of your resiliency.

In the clinic, I sat in a white plastic chair next to a burly, freckled man who smelled of misfortune, probably because some circumstance or another prevented him from bathing regularly. I sat there for about thirty minutes, pretending to read my book, but really listening to the forty or so other potential patients complain about how the dental assistant took the lottery jar (which, no joke, looks like the Reaping Bowl from the Hunger Games) into a back room to select the “winners” instead of choosing the names in front of everyone. The dental assistant came back out moments later, announced the three lucky winners, one of which was the silent and smelly man to my left, and offered free toothbrushes to everyone else. The crowd quickly closed in on her with complaints about the drawing having something to do with racial profiling. I slipped out the door as quickly as possible.

I really wish I could predict how many more analogies I will make to the Hunger Games in this blog, but my better judgment is often derailed by my inner fourteen year old.

As I walked home, I crossed a street with the same name as one of my ex-boyfriends, the one who I thought I was going to marry once upon a time. I felt a pang of remorse and wondered, not for the first time, if I would have been better off going with this guy, my ‘Plan A’ oh so many years ago. If I had married him, I probably wouldn’t be gambling for a chance to get my cracked molar fixed at a clinic across the country, a long ways away from where I met and fell in love with him.

I don’t have anything poignant to say about why we struggle, because I actually don’t think there is any good reason for it. You’re never guaranteed a reward equal to the amount of your suffering, but you can choose how you suffer.  If I had ended up with that ex-boyfriend, there would have been other discomforts and uncertainties. I chose to struggle this way, and that is basically all you can ask for in the best of circumstances; to determine what your fight looks like.

Liu Xiang’s swan song. To see a real struggle, click the image to watch the video of his one-legged finale