Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Old Me: A Retrospective

My dear friend and sister-in-law, Emily, has just moved to Los Angeles and is staying at our place for a bit. Bringing a new addition to our humble home requires much shifting about and much shuffling to and from our garage. Upon one of these garage trips- which started as a search for another cat litter box- I found the "me" box. You know, one of those parcels that contains all the main books, cds, letters, journals and bobbles from a certian time in your life. Well- I found it!

It contained:

-many cds (including PJ Harvey (ANGST!!!), Miranda Lee Richards (HIPPY!), Simon & Garfunkel (SMART HIPPY!!), Postal Service (HIPSTER ROMANCE!!!), PETE YORN (HOT!) and Aphex Twin [DRUGS! DANCE!])

-A photo of the awkwardly pubescent me at age 13...again- yikes. It was the summer between sixth and seventh grade and my mom, who's from Tennessee, took me to North Carolina and other parts of the South. While there, we came to see an old college friend of hers who was a single mom with a daughter my age. While I was popping zits in hotel bathrooms and applying oil-absorbing rice paper sheets to my face every five minutes- this other girl- "Jessica"- was loftily gliding her 5'10 willowy frame down streets while every man in eye distance rubbernecked to get a view of this future supermodel. She was also on her 5th boyfriend while I had just started talking to boys on the phone.
That weekend sucked.

-many books (such as Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth," which I have read several times despite its hefty 1,000 page count, "Paris Trance-" a book that I never read and bought because I liked the cover, and "The Elixir" by Robert Nathan- one of my absolute favorites that my junior high librarian gave to me)

-My High School yearbook- where a friend wrote for me to remember "the time we got drunk at your house and were looking in the mirror and said I'd be so hot if it weren't for my face." Yikes.
(and yes that's a picture of my high school gym class doing was a weird school...we did tai chi, as well...and built a racial pyramid...)

-A crystal clock whose origin I cannot tell. I think it was probably a gift to my parents and I swiped it when I moved out.

-A toy Yellow Submarine with George Harrison figurine. After spending my childhood rebelling against my father's love for The Beatles, I became a fanatic in High School and feverishly collected anything "Yellow Submarine-y."
Remember when they used to sell the paraphernalia at Tower Records?

-One of the many journals that Rachel and I used to trade off after we went our separate ways for high school. We'd write in the journal for weeks and then trade and have plenty of reading material for math class. I remember them being rife with mean sketches of annoying teachers and mutual enemies. And we were pretty funny, if I do say so myself.

-A hot pink bustier top that I thought was so cute when I was 18. One last time...Yikes!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ode to UCLA...

After graduating in June with my hard-earned degree in English literature, I must admit that I have developed a slight aversion to writing of any sort.

After the trauma of deadlines and forced literary criticism, I had hoped that my inclination toward NOT writing would pass, but you never know.

My poor little spinner-blog has suffered as a result, but I am back here today to remind myself that I LOVE to write- no matter how many research papers and Medieval texts I suffered through.

This being said- I'd like to revisit some of my favorite things about my brief but lovely time at UCLA.

Think of it as an homage to the English Literature that hangs gently upon the softened metaphorical walls of my mind...

To begin with...the cool concrete recesses of Royce Hall. I used to sit there, beneath the arched hallway ceiling of an outdoor entryway, and watch the fellows pass by. The shining green leaves in the tall trees moved like big restless organisms...longing to be free from their oppressive trunks and branches.
I spent many mornings and afternoons in this place...studying or eating my sad little student lunch...but I always felt so grateful to be sitting there.

The next victim of my gratitude is Professor Barbara Packer. A thin older woman, with chopped grey hair, shawled shoulders, and endless information- she is the best lecturer that I ever had. She turned Paradise Lost in to story time. I took her courses on 19th century American poetry, John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer/The Canterbury Tales, and the Transcendentalists. In our Chaucer course, we had to memorize and recite the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales' General Prologue. When I had finished my own recitation, she called my pronunciation of the Middle English "woeful."
But I didn't care- I knew that after my (if I do say so) stellar performance in four courses together, she really liked me- despite my woeful Chaucer. And how great is the word "woeful?"
Here is my image of the shame that accompanies an adjective such as "woeful"...

Here is a picture of her from 1994 when she won a distinguished teaching award at UCLA...and below is the beginning of the General Prologue in Middle English (just in case you thought reciting it would be easy)...

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
10 That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15 And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Next up on our little tour is perhaps the nearest and dearest spot on the campus to me. The sculpture garden is unlike any place I have ever been. Have you ever seen the movie "Stealing Beauty?" Do you remember how the grounds of their Italian villa were littered with big, beautiful sculptures? That's what the sculpture garden is like.
During my first quarter at UCLA, I had one of the most peaceful afternoons of my life there.
Set back from the Humanities buildings where I had most of my classes, this garden is closer to the art school and up near the Sunset Blvd.-adjacent section of campus. I stumbled across it and sat down to read. It was Autumn, and the sun made everything warm and yet the outdoors glowed with the impending transition into the Los Angeles "winter." All of a sudden, I heard the low, deep murmurs of a stand-up bass being warmed up. Within seconds, a jazz trio had set themselves up and sent their lulling melodies across the garden and into the air. It was a beautiful moment.

Here is the beautiful place of which I speak...

I read many of the great works in this garden. I'd like to mention a few. One is "Nightwood" by Djuna Barnes. I cannot describe this book in a way that fulfills its whole worth, but I'll just say that it is a beautiful story of a lonesome, wandering woman who makes many men and women fall in love with her. It's sad, but rich with European scenery and intense personal interaction. It has stayed with me.
Next is William Faulkner's "The Bear." I'm usually drawn to tales of feminine woe and bucolic settings, but there is something about the Southern roots of the story, and Old Ben- an elusive and human like old bear with a mutilated paw- and young Ike's courtship of the great beast, that made me see masculinity, hunting and the American South in a different way. A more beautiful way.
And last, I suppose, for brevity's sake, is Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake." It depicts a dystopic
not-too-distant-future wherein people eat "chickynobs" and genetic hybrid animals like "rakunks" and the deadly "wolvog" roam around. There is disease, hope, love, death, porn, and painful purity. It's a deliciously painful story to read.

Also of worthy mention:
The Price of Salt
Pride & Prejudice
The Life of Samuel Johnson
Mao II

Well...I could really go on and on. Tonight, however, we are out to celebrate a friend's birthday downtown and I must go to prepare my visage.

I'll leave you with the delightful commencement speech given by Brad Delson to myself and the rest of my UCLA class of 2009. It is perhaps the best commencement speech ever.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I Heart Hampstead Heath

Last summer, I spent a month in England for a Shakespeare-focused study abroad program through my college.
I arrived in London on a Friday- depleted by the worst jet lag EVER. After the program's brief orientation in the lobby of our hotel, I crawled back up to my shared room and fell fast asleep.
The next day began with a hazy English breakfast- poached eggs, beans, toast and greasy susage. I had no plans for the day, and so was delighted when a girl asked my roommate and I to come with her to the Ladies' Swimming Pond at Hampstead Heath.
We took the train from Bloomsbury to Hampstead, prepared to take a walk through picturesque Hampstead to its namesake park. We stopped at a small sandwich shop for delicious sandwiches and pastries. I mean- we are talking freshly baked bread, cheese from a local farm, and sweets that Edmond Pevensie would sell out his sister for.
As we entered the grounds of Hampstead Heath, I was in awe. It is a seriously enchanting place. The three of us meandered dreamily through tree groves, wheat-colored meadows, and rocky paths.
When we arrived at the swimming pond for women, I felt as though my lifelong Anglophilic dream had finally been fulfilled. There was a small meadow brimming with purple and orange wildflowers. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes layed out (some sans tops!) with straw hats and read, chattered, laughed, and came in and out of the pond.
The pond itself was also small, but big enough for all of us to swim in at the same time and feel like it was ours. There were lily pads and ducks and fish. The small wooden dock at the front end of the pond was covered with women dipping their feet, and there was a changing room for us all to shower and get our swimsuits on.
We sat on the meadow, ate our delicious lunch, and basked in the surreal space we found ourselves in.
It was sad to leave, but the familiar English gloom pushed the sun out from overhead. We put our sweaters on and walked home.

Captain Gary Cat

This is Gary.
His hobbies include:

1. Eating Carla's food.
2. Sitting on people's chests while they are laying down.
3. Making his ears go in different directions.

Favorite food: Anything

Favorite person: Anybody


I have lived at my current residence for almost two years. Blue and I moved in June of '07- during a burgeoning summer season.
So our first Spring here brought a big surprise outside the huge windows of our second story residence.
Floods of purple blossoms ignite the street aglow...right into our living room! It's the most beautiful thing. And it's right here.
Last Spring, my friend Norah and I would just sit on my couch and stare out into the purple tree-lined sky.
Here is some information about my favorite tree:

The Jacaranda is a genus of 49 species of flowering plants in the family Bignoniaceae, native to tropical and subtropical regions of South and Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. The genus name is also used as the common name.
Large Jacaranda in full bloom.

In many parts of the world, such as Mexico and Zimbabwe, the blooming of this tree is welcomed as a sign of spring.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

once upon a time...

These elaborate pop-up book installations by Su Blackwell make me want to dive into her fantastical cut-out world and dance with paper dolls!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Sound of Music makes me happy-sad.

The above photograph is one of my most prized digital possessions (they are rated second only to wedding photographs and a picture of my husband dressed up like a German baker). It was taken in Austria while on my 2006 European vacation with my Mother and Grandfather. It was also taken in front of the gazebo where Liesel von Trapp sang "I am sixteen."
Being lifelong fans of "The Sound of Music," my mother and I dragged my grandfather around on a 4-hour Sound of Music tour throughout Salzberg and the surrounding towns. While on the bus with fellow fans, songs from the film blared through overhead speakers and we sang our hearts out. Little old ladies with plastic raincoats, japanese tourists, my mother, and I- boy, did we sing! Even the bus driver was embarrassed for us.
Before this musical bonding experience, I never really knew how far-reaching this childhood relic of a film was (or how many other children hold onto the same relic). I don't know why; I mean, obviously, if there is a whole tour in Salzberg devoted to the film, there were others who knew the songs inside-out.
Maybe I thought I loved it better or differently- like it was a special little ritual between my family and I that others just didn't get.
As though the unifying bus-tour wasn't enough to convince me of the universal adoration for Sound of Music, I was recently forwarded this youtube video by my best friend.
I watched it with my husband and cried! He did not understand why- it wasn't sad, so why was I crying? Because "The Sound of Music" makes me happy-sad. The songs shine with the melancholic beauty of nostalgia and the place it holds for so many makes me feel part of a world that appreciates something happy and sweet.
Then I forwarded this video to another friend, who forwarded it to her sisters- and they cried, too!
All this crying made me happy-sad.
but mostly happy :)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Watchmen: A Good/Bad Movie

Going into the theatre to watch this movie last week, I was fully prepared to scoff during brief intervals of my boredom. I have never liked comic books, graphic novels, the funnies, or any other literary/art form intended for kids that becomes a nostalgic nerd's collector's item.

It begins with a trip down America's cultural memory- but this time with super heroes- and we move through the social movements of the sixties, Watergate, and disco fever. I loved how this introduction exaggerated the way history can be manipulated and made up. It was a great way to slowly warm up my suspension of disbelief.

If art is supposed to imitate life, then "The Watchmen" is art. I am aware that, in reality, there are no naked blue super heroes towering over NYC. However, this movie is filled with so many different genres, archetypes, fictions, and facts, that it appears to be its own, self-contained reality. The mash-up that is "The Watchmen," is also its downfall. For a movie- there is too much going on. For art- it's perfectly sprawling, vast, and open to interpretation.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Twins Are Creepy

I can say that twins are creepy because my Grandpa is one.
Once when I was little, at a big family reunion, I ran up to my grandpa's twin and hugged him around his legs. When he looked down at me and I realized it wasn't my Gramps, I quickly let go and ran away because, although they are identical, the my Grandpa's eyes are warmer than his twin's. It was like meeting his doppelganger.
This is unfair- my Grandpa's twin is a marvelous man.
I'm just being dramatic.
Anyway, the subject of twins came up after I read an article about an operatic adaptation of the book,"The Silent Twins," by Marjorie Wallace.
The book is now atop my reading list.
June and Jennifer were twins who, after experiencing extreme torment in kindergarten, made a pact to stop talking. They alienated themselves from their brother, sister, and parents- they never spoke. However, their mother knew that they could speak because she would overhear them playing with their dolls and narrating out loud in a fast-pace, high-frequency conversational style.
On the twins' birthday one year, their mother gave them a red leather diary with a lock on it and they both began dedicated journals with detailed accounts of their lives and relationship with the other twin.
The two were sent to a psychologist who noticed that June would glare at Jennifer in a way that seemed to be controlling her speech and movement. But there was nothing they could do to help the twins come out of their exclusive bubble of a universe.
When the twins hit their teen years, they became sexual deviants and repeatedly-offending vandals.
They were caught and sent to a psychiatric hospital for 10 years- until they were almost 30 years old. During this time, their journaling turned into fiction writing and, while institutionalized, each twin got a book published. Their diaries give dark accounts of their parasitic relationship. They began to believe that they could not live healthy lives while both alive- one of them would have to die to set the other free.
The night they were released from the institution, Jennifer got sick and died of an inflamed heart. There was no outside influence or illness. Her heart simply gave out.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

ode to the second day of spring

honey dusted desert
musty sage sprig scattered
in royal purple wildly
dripped plains painted
bright and big and it is spring

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Please Consider on Your Afternoon Walk Home...

Looking Across the Fields and Watching the Birds Fly
by Wallace Stevens

Among the more irritating minor ideas
Of Mr. Homburg during his visits home
To Concord, at the edge of things, was this:

To think away the grass, the trees, the clouds,
Not to transform them into other things,
Is only what the sun does every day,

Until we say to ourselves that there may be
A pensive nature, a mechanical
And slightly detestable operandum, free

From man's ghost, larger and yet a little like,
Without his literature and without his gods . . .
No doubt we live beyond ourselves in air,

In an element that does not do for us,
so well, that which we do for ourselves, too big,
A thing not planned for imagery or belief,

Not one of the masculine myths we used to make,
A transparency through which the swallow weaves,
Without any form or any sense of form,

What we know in what we see, what we feel in what
We hear, what we are, beyond mystic disputation,
In the tumult of integrations out of the sky,

And what we think, a breathing like the wind,
A moving part of a motion, a discovery
Part of a discovery, a change part of a change,

A sharing of color and being part of it.
The afternoon is visibly a source,
Too wide, too irised, to be more than calm,

Too much like thinking to be less than thought,
Obscurest parent, obscurest patriarch,
A daily majesty of meditation,

That comes and goes in silences of its own.
We think, then as the sun shines or does not.
We think as wind skitters on a pond in a field

Or we put mantles on our words because
The same wind, rising and rising, makes a sound
Like the last muting of winter as it ends.

A new scholar replacing an older one reflects
A moment on this fantasia. He seeks
For a human that can be accounted for.

The spirit comes from the body of the world,
Or so Mr. Homburg thought: the body of a world
Whose blunt laws make an affectation of mind,

The mannerism of nature caught in a glass
And there become a spirit's mannerism,
A glass aswarm with things going as far as they can.

A Mysterious Tale of Two Lovers

About a year ago, I was reading the Los Angeles Times and I stumbled across an article that has held my interest since. Many of you may know about the mysterious suicides of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, and if you do, it's likely that it perplexed and saddened you.
Suicide is a subject that shakes humans to the core because it signifies the failure of the human race. We talk of a "will to live," but what happens when that dissolves in a person? It's really scary to me.
I had planned on writing my own article on these two fallen artists, but instead I find myself emoting onto my computer screen. I want to tell their story, from the little speculation I can speculate upon, but it's very sad. Maybe I shouldn't be listening to Bonnie "Prince" Billy right now...

I'll summarize Theresa and Jeremy's story the best I can.

Theresa Duncan was a small-town girl turned political pop-culture feminist. It's rumored she met Jeremy Blake at a Fugazi concert. She was 7 years older than him, and they fell deeply in love. Jeremy Blake was an artist who, most notably, did the artwork for the cover of Beck's album "Sea-Change" and the psychadelic effects in "Punch-Drunk Love." I really love his art.
As the two rose together through the ranks of the high art world, Theresa was repeatedly let down with the rising and falling of a film project she desperately wanted to conceive of: a film about two prep school girls that kidnap a rock star.
Jeremy Blake, from what I can surmise, felt her disappointment even more thoroughly than Theresa. The two just seemed that entwined with one another.
After Jeremy did the cover for Beck, they said that they were going to help Beck leave the Church of Scientology. Then the pair began to tell friends that The Church was trying to sabotage and threaten their careers...and lives. Eventually, their behavior became so paranoid that they made their friends sign loyalty oaths and cut ties with friends they had known for years.
Then they moved to nyc from venice, ca. Those who knew them say that the two held bohemian dinner parties with good whisky, intelligent and witty conversation, and that things seemed to be normal again. But once in a while, their paranoia would become invigorated and friends would receive long emails detailing the events that caused so much suspicion in the two.
Then one day, Jeremy Blake came home and found Theresa Duncan dead on their bed, her hand up to her slightly smiling face. Next to her, a glass of champagne and bottles of Tylenol pm and Benadryl.
A week later, a woman saw a man walk into the ocean and disappear. Police found Jeremy's clothes on the sand, with a note written on the back of a business card:
"I am going to be with my lovely Theresa."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

King of Kong

I was talking to my coworker and friend at work when I suddenly, out of the overgrown recesses of my brain, began proselytizing to her about the 2007 documentary "The King of Kong." As I retold her the plot of the film, my initial passion for this tale of good vs evil came spitting out of me- I kind of scared myself.

"King of Kong" is about good ol'boy Steve Weibe, a nobody in the world of gaming, going up against 80s Donkey Kong veteran Billy Mitchell, aka King of the Dipshits. Steve Weibe is humble, married, has two little daughters, and a history of failure. Billy Mitchell is a patriotic tie-wearing, hot sauce manufacturing, hot wife-having restaurant owner that has held the highest score in Donkey Kong for over 20 years.

The two go head to head in a competition for the top Donkey Kong score in the world.
Billy plays kinda dirty and the footage ends, much to my chagrin, with him winning. Before the credits rolled, though, the directors inserted an update reporting that, after they ceased filming, Steve Weibe gained the top score! YAY!

The documentary portrays Billy as a jerk with a gaggle of lackeys who do his jerky bidding. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Steve as the underdog; he was laid of of his job and spent all his time perfecting his Donkey Kong skills.

After retelling this story, I did a little "where are they now" research and came across an interview with Billy Mitchell that makes him seem a little less jerky.

Then I asked myself:

Why do I, or we as culture for that matter, root for those with unusually low self-esteem (Steve) versus those with absurdly high opinions of themselves (Billy)?

Is it like a mother's instinct to shelter the weakest of her young? Or does our Judeo-Christian culture place a high premium on suffering rather than happiness? Maybe we are threatened by the power of an ego that can't be defeated...

I'm tellin' ya, peeps- that "King of Kong" is right up there next to "Chinatown" in the realm of deep thought provocation.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

David Lynch, Aphex Twin, and a Brief Enlightenment

Maybe it was all the pot and Aphex Twin, but I once experienced a brief enlightenment.
I was living with my old roommate, a fiercely intelligent poetess and Yale Alumni, and having a pretty great time in life. I was 19, working a couple days a week, and had a much nicer car than I do now. Go figure.
My roommate thought it was time for her to start my cultural education in the right direction. With "Twin Peaks."
So began my love affair with David Lynch...

Cut to another time during that period (it's all a little hazy):
I am at the dentist, flipping through some stupid magazine, and I come across an article written by David Lynch about what he calls the "Unified Field."
I showed it to my roommate and we were instantly stunned. It made so much sense. Finally! A God we could believe in- Space!

Cut to a few days later:
I am on my way to work, nothing bothers me, and I understand without a doubt that I am filled with endless potential for deep happiness.
My bottomless enthusiasm for life lasted a couple days. And- before you have a chance to think it, I'm gonna write it!
I sound a little crazy.
But it happened.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Augmented Reality

Last night a friend came over for dinner. She's kind of a computer nerd, which I really admire because I know so little about computers and the endless possibilities they contain.

After a couple bottles of wine, I was in the mood to do a little "show and tell" (an absolutely humiliating tendency I have when drunk that is akin to a toddler's showing all their toys to you). I brought out my stereoscope- an 1840s invention by which one may view parallel photographs as 3D- and my friend was pretty impressed.

Then came her turn to show and tell- and hers was fancy!

She introduced me to this thing called "Augmented Reality." Honestly, it's a little scary. Basically, we went to GE's website and printed out a symbol associated with their new Smart Grid plan.

After updating some much needed new software to my MacBook, GE's site was able to open my computer's video camera and, after a disclaimer that said we might be recorded (holy big brother!), we held up the printed symbol which, when recognized by the site, set off a 3D graphic image of a smart grid. So, in the video projected in front of you (I'm really bad at describing this) it appears as though you are holding a mini-smart grid image.

And when you blow into the microphone, the wind turbines spin. Crazy.

I think what struck me the most about this whole experience is how seeped in advertising it is. I am now much more acquainted with GE than ever before because I have engaged with their freaky website special.
And they might have recorded it.

In the future, says my friend, our phones will have the same recognition systems that, when passing by a restaurant, will cause a 3D pop-up of the specials du jour! Complete with images and everything!

Maybe I'm just a rube, but I'd rather just put dusty old pictures in my stereoscope.

Wrestling with "The Wrestler"

Amidst of all the hype for Mickey Rourke and The Wrestler, I am pretty sure that I'm utterly alone in my opinion.
Are there ANY like-minded critics who recognize the problems for women that this film conjers?

First, how many times must one sympathize with dead-beat dads?

The scenes with Mickey Rourke and his onscreen daughter are very touching, but the Ram/ Randy/ the wrestler drops the ball on this burgeoning relationship BIG TIME. However, one is made to feel sorry for HIM.

And why?
Because he has lost his place on the chest-beating, tarzan-hollering patriarchal throne of his glory days?


Also, the viewer is led to believe that the daughter character is a lesbian. I am insulted that the film dares to make the patronizing leap from "girl with daddy issues" to "lesbian." People are not born with daddy issues. People are born gay.

Last, but certainly not least, how many times are female actors going to be lauded for their roles as strippers?

With so few substantial and authentic roles available for actresses, I feel as though the "stripper with a heart of gold" role has been manipulated into being the pinnacle for showcasing female talent.
In film, stripping is not represented as a skill or talent that has gotten women through college.

Instead, our perception of Marisa Tomei's character is dictated by the reactions to those around her-
"poor old stripper- the horny young white guys think she's an old joke."
Are such representations of meathead-mentality fit to guide our sympathies?

As my husband always says: boo-freakin'-hoo, toots.