Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Kooples.

European fashion line The Kooples has been doing this brilliant video ad campaign that features real life couples, dressed in fabulous Kooples clothing of course, talking about the beginnings of their relationships and generally bragging on each other’s awesomeness. It’s a really clever and cute marketing tactic and the couples are undeniably stylish, but its the stories that have won me over and compelled me to watch every single video.

I love hearing people talk about how they met their significant other, and even more than that, I love hearing couples tell the story of how they met each other together. It’s truly one of my favorite things. Each story is different and distinct, and there’s so much joy and affection that reveals itself in the telling. I think having a great how-I-met-my-boyfriend story of my own has only heightened my appreciation of the unique scenarios and circumstances that bring two individuals together… it’s a subtle form of magic. Ah, love.

Watch more The Kooples videos here!

In Defense of ‘Girls.’

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In the weeks since Girls first aired on HBO, the topic of the show’s apparent lack of racial diversity has truly been beaten to death. I’ve read so many opinion pieces on different blogs and news sites that criticize the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, for making four white girls the epicenter of the show and for ignoring the miniority-majority population of Brooklyn in its story lines. I had planned to write a big long treatise on why these race accusations are flawed, but the more essays I read about it, the more I realized that they aren’t entirely wrong. The world of Girls is a really white world, but Lena Dunham is not the only person to blame for that.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to confess that I love Girls. I think it’s hilariously brilliant, and not because I’m a white girl who only likes to watch television shows about white people; it’s hilariously brilliant because it’s really well-written. A person’s 20s has its own language and lexicon that Dunham captures so well, and the level of specificity employed makes these characters and the situations they find themselves in feel real in a way that most television shows don’t. I can’t help but compare Girls to the early seasons of Friends (which, interestingly enough, never received much criticism for its glaring lack of diversity during the ten years it spent on television), and when I compare the girls from Girls to Rachel, Monica and Phoebe, they seem so much more fully-realized and multi-faceted, containing multitudes the way that women do in real life, than the one-dimensional archetypes of Friends. Additionally, Girls doesn’t glamorize aspects of female life that have always been unnecessarily glamorized by male television writers; it is jarringly honest about the bleakness of dating in your 20s, the awkwardness of sex, and typically taboo topics like abortion and STDs, and that honesty is refreshing. As Maureen Ryan wrote on The Huffington Post, “This is a show in which a particular female point of view is not filtered or adulterated or otherwise bastardized. It’s not a show in which female characters are neutered, cute-sified or created to please male viewers… part of what makes it so refreshing is that it isn’t editing itself or censoring itself in order to avoid offending any particular audience segment. The specificity of the show’s female point of view is part of what makes it a good show.”

That being said, I’m confused at why so many people are up in arms about this show.

A television show about the travails of women in their mid-twenties that’s actually written by a woman in her mid-twenties should be a victory for women everywhere, should it not? Why is everyone putting the responsibility of representing marginalized groups squarely on Lena Dunham’s shoulders? She’s a young girl who’s just starting out in the world of television writing, so it seems unreasonable and unfair that people are so upset with her for not getting it exactly right on her first try. Perhaps it’s the broadness of the show’s title that has caused people to expect an all-encompassing and wholly universal account of the female experience, but the show itself has never claimed to be that. It’s a show about a very specific demographic of women and Dunham’s writing is largely autobiographical. As Dunham herself said, “The idea that I could speak for everyone is so absurd. But what is nice is if I could speak for me and it’s resonant for people, then that’s about as much as I could hope for.” If we’re really concerned about a lack of diversity and unique female perspectives in our television programming, then we need to hold all television shows to the same standard instead of targeting one individual show as the sole embodiment of these problems. Girls is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that is widespread and too often unchecked. I can’t help but wonder if a show called Dudes that centered on the lives of four white guys would receive the same level of criticism that Girls has, and I can say with certitude that the answer is no. The overrepresentation of white male perspectives on television is largely accepted as the norm, and that is a problem in itself. The fact that a show like Girls is on television is sort of miraculous, and I don’t think it’s naive to think that this well-written, refreshingly unique and honest show about primarily white women could end up being the foot in the door that’s needed for well-written, refreshingly unique and honest shows about women of color to find a welcome place on television rosters. That this isn’t a present reality is not Lena Dunham’s fault; it’s television’s fault.

Have you watched Girls? What do you think of the show?

The Importance of Reading and Writing, According to Lamott.

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“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Things I Miss About Europe.

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During the six months I spent in Europe, there were lots of things that I missed about the good ole U.S. of A: the Pacific Northwest’s abundance of greenery, self-check out lanes at the grocery store, and Chipotle burrito bowls, just to name a few. Now that I’ve re-acclimated to the AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE, there are things I find myself missing about Europe on a regular basis. (You’ll notice that half of them are food/drink-related).

Fanta. Euro-Fanta is not like Fanta in the United States. Euro-Fanta is less like “orange soda” and more like a tart, citrus-y fruit drink that happens to be carbonated. It’s delicious and American Fanta doesn’t compare.

Cheek-kissing. I love the cheek-kissing culture of Spain and Portugal in particular because it’s such an intimate and personal way to greet someone or to meet a new person, and after having experienced that, handshakes feel so sterile and impersonal. I’ve tried to do the cheek-kissing thing in Seattle a couple times, but I get weird looks from people. #boohiss

Euro coins. Having 1 Euro and 2 Euro coins was awesome. I’m not exactly sure why I liked them so much, but they just felt more practical and convenient somehow. I wish 1 Dollar and 2 Dollar coins would catch on in the U.S.

Speculoos. Speculoos is made of Dutch cookies that are processed into a peanut butter-like paste, and it’s insanely delicious. I ate speculoos almost every single day that I was in Amsterdam. The good news is that I’ve recently discovered that Trader Joe’s sells speculoos, and even though it’s not quite as good as speculoos from Holland, it’s an acceptable variation on the cookie butter I love so much. Nom nom nom.

Riding a bike everywhere. The bike culture in Amsterdam was kind of scary at first, but once I got used to it, I loved riding a bike.  It was really fun to navigate a new city on two wheels instead of four, and riding a bike just made me feel healthy and awesome. I’m excited to buy a bike that I can cruise around Seattle on, but it won’t be the same as the magic of cycling in Holland.

Cheap flights. Since everything in Europe is so close together and there are multiple budget airlines, it costs next to nothing to fly from country to country. I think the most I ever paid for a round-trip flight was $200, and that’s only because the budget airlines didn’t fly to Sweden. I probably couldn’t even make it to Denver for $200 roundtrip, and that’s not even halfway across the country! I miss those cheap flights, and so does my wallet.

The way Guinness tastes in Ireland. I kid you not, it’s amazing. And it tastes completely different than it tastes anywhere else in the world. I’ve been told it’s because the Irish double-pour (the way Guinness is meant to be poured), which allows for a more rich flavor and creates a delicious velvety head of foam, and also because they only export the inferior brews and save the best for themselves. Whatever the reason, it’s a drinking experience that can’t be replicated elsewhere and that’s why, despite my love for Guinness, I will never drink it again unless I find myself in Ireland. Which, I guess, just means I need to find myself in Ireland sometime in the future.

Read This: Blankets by Craig Thompson.

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What do Jane Eyre, The Catcher In The Rye, and David Copperfield have in common? Aside from being three of my favorite books of all time, they’re also incredible coming-of-age stories. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever met a bildungsroman that I didn’t like; each tale of childhood unfurling into adulthood is distinct but also utterly relatable, because everyone has had to learn hard lessons and struggle to make sense of the world as they grow up. They’re the type of stories that are easy to get wrapped up in.

Blankets is definitely one of those types of stories. In this autobiographical graphic novel, Craig Thompson recounts his years as a child and teenager growing up in central Wisconsin in the early 90s. We see him constantly bullied by his peers at school, we see the emergence of his faith as a striving toward “an eternal world… that would wash away [his] temporary misery,” we see him struggle to reconcile his artistic abilities with his desire to serve God in everything he does. The conclusions that he reaches about God and religion and heaven at a young age are touted as incorrect by nearly every religious adult figure he comes into contact with, and as a result, he spends most of his teenage years fighting an internal battle over what others assert is Truth and what he believes in his heart is Truth. That internal battle is only heightened when he begins a relationship with Raina, a girl he met at a winter youth group retreat and his first love. He travels to Michigan to visit her for two weeks, and amidst her complicated family dynamic including her parents’ crumbling marriage and the stress of caring for her two special needs siblings, Craig and Raina find love in a hopeless place, even if it’s only temporary.

Though technically a memoir, Blankets tends to feel more literary than anything else. The way Thompson chooses to unfold his story is very nuanced, and there are certain events and feelings that he doesn’t unpack fully, almost as if those memories are still too raw for him to touch even now, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking in a way that is all too familiar and real. As much as this story chronicles Craig’s religious upbringing and subsequent loss of faith, the tone of the narrative never once borders on anger or bitterness; there are many adults throughout the story who “turn his magic to static,” as Raina says, and that the reader would be eager to label as villians of a sort, but Thompson always presents them as human beings, well-intentioned if not a little misguided, rather than monsters. There’s a tenderness in the way he’s so forgiving of these types of characters that is really beautiful, and even admirable.

I loved that the title had so many different meanings throughout the story: blankets are the memories that Craig has of sharing a bed with his younger brother as a child, when they would fight over the covers and wrestle each other in the middle of the night and make-believe that they were caught in a storm at sea in their boat-bed, and the youthful innocence that marked that time; blankets are the handmade gift that Raina gives to Craig when he visits her, as well as the thing that covers them the first time that they fall asleep in the same bed, bringing two together as one, keeping them, and their love, warm and protected from the outside world; blankets are the heavy snowfall of both Wisconsin and Michigan, covering everything until its simply a blank surface, a fresh start, and then receding with the spring to reveal the temporary nature of all things. It’s a really lovely and versatile metaphor that adds so much depth to the story as a whole.

The narrative is stunning, but the illustrations are what make the story really come alive. Thompson is an incredible artist, and there is so much detail in each panel that bring a wholeness that the writing probably couldn’t achieve on its own. So much of the nuance of the story lies in the illustrations and the subtle minutiae that fill the background of each scene, and I found myself pausing before turning each page so that I could study what was going on in the images. While Blankets is a pretty quick read, its a book that you want to spend some time with so that you can fully absorb the richness of the illustrations and how they work together with the narrative to create a truly beautiful story.

I loved this book and could scarcely put it down, and I suspect you will feel the same way. It’s funny and tender and existential and heartbreaking, and when I finished reading it I felt more human somehow. If that’s not a strong recommendation, I don’t know what is. I encourage you: read this book.

Writing Rituals.

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A couple weeks ago, I saw a great post by Courtney Maum on Tin House’s blog called “Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers: Part 1” (yes, there are two parts). Maum asked writers to reveal their weird writing habits and rituals, partly, I think, to prove that she’s not the only writer afflicted by this pseudo-superstitious approach to getting the words on the page, and the answers she received were at once bizarre and hilarious. From obsessive compulsion to hedonism, these writers hit just about every mark on the writing rituals weirdness spectrum. A few of my favorites:

Adam Levin (Hot Pink, The Instructions):
“I eat one 6 oz. serving of Fage yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and fifteen whole almonds, then respond to email while drinking cup of tea #1, glasses #1 and #2 of water, and smoking cigarettes #s 1-3. After that, I get more tea, more water, and then try my best to stop counting stuff.”

Justin Torres (We the Animals):
“There are about 13 songs for which I know every word sung, every breath, every pause. These songs cover the range of human experience. I sing these songs into an air microphone, and dance before an imagined, disinterested audience in an imagined smoky bar. I’m pouring my heart out, dancing sadly, or grandly, and no one cares. I find this prepares me perfectly for the day’s work.”

Janice Erlbaum (Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir, Have You Found Her):
“I go into the bathroom, smoke half a joint, and stare at myself in the mirror until I figure out what needs to be said that day. Then I sit down at my desk and wind up writing something totally unrelated.”

William Giraldi (Busy Monsters, Fiction Editor Agni):
“My office/library is a bunker of books, maybe 2000 titles stuffed into the medium front room of our Boston condo. I’ve put a firm mattress on the floor, and I write cross-legged sitting against a bookshelf. But before I begin, I stack five-foot piles of books around the mattress, so I’m buffeted and bulletproofed by books (plus my toddler can’t see me in this mini bunker). If I’m writing criticism, I move the stacks of Wilde and Pater and Dr. Johnson near my head; for a short story, I’ll move the stacks of Hemingway and Conan Doyle and Flannery O’Connor; for a memoir, the 12-volume edition of Casanova, plus Grant and Graves; for a novel, stacks of Cervantes, Sterne, Nabokov, George Eliot, and Saul Bellow. By some medieval abracadabra I hope that the talent in those pages makes its way onto my own.”

Alexi Zenter (Touch, The Lobster Kings):
“I’m a big believer of simply getting your ass in the chair, but most mornings my ritual consists of getting my daughters off to school and then making a Starbucks run. I’m actually pretty embarrassed to admit the Starbucks run, not in the least because I order a Venti Decaf Mocha Frappuccino Light, otherwise know as a crappy milkshake. A lot of times I pretend I’m ordering it for my wife.”

I noticed that a lot of the rituals involve some form of procrastination, which naturally got me thinking about my own writing rituals. I think I might do things a little differently if I weren’t currently living as a guest in someone else’s house, but for the past month and half or so that I’ve been back in Seattle, this has been my ritual: I wake up when my boyfriend is about to leave for work and I eat a bowl of yogurt/granola/raisins/chocolate chips; I then spend an hour or two checking the main social media platforms I participate in (Facebook, Twitter, BlogLovin’, and Pinterest) so that I’m all caught up and (in theory) have nothing to distract me once I start writing; I then put make-up and a kickass outfit on, and curl my hair, because I can’t be productive if I don’t look presentable; around 11am, I then walk to a coffee shop that’s about half a mile away from where I’m staying, settle into a chair on the second floor that faces a window, plug my laptop into the wall and open Worpress so that when I come back to my seat with an 8 oz. latte (which I always set to the right of my computer screen) I’m ready to dive in to writing immediately. I put earbuds in my ears, even though I don’t listen to anything most of the time, I spend two to three hours writing and then I pack up and walk home. I guess it’s a pretty boring ritual compared to some of the others, but it works for me.

Ever since reading Maum’s post, I’ve been thinking about why writers create these rituals for themselves, and I think there’s a simple answer and a more complex answer. The simple answer is that writers are prone to avoidance when the time actually comes to sit down and write (which is a whole other topic in itself), and rituals, no matter how silly or superstitious they may be, create a routine that serves to train one’s brain into a creative and productive space in conjunction with those rituals. The more complex answer is that perhaps writing is sacred to people who write, and writing rituals for writers are akin to what sacraments are for Catholics: an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual significance of writing. Writers observe their rituals because it’s an expression of the seriousness and reverence with which they approach the task of writing (even if the rituals themselves are kind of silly), and every time one of these rituals is carried out, it’s a reminder of why they chose a writerly life. But maybe that’s just me trying to assign a greater cosmic meaning to something that is simply a result of quirkiness.

What’s your take on writing rituals? Important? Idiotic? Innocuous?

Music Video Monday #49: Drake’s “Take Care.”

I had to make a roundtrip drive from Seattle to Portland in my grandparents’ car a couple weekends ago, and since the CD player was broken, I spent a good deal of time searching for an acceptable radio station to listen to during my journey. Refusing to settle on a country or gospel station (and in lieu of a classic rock station, which would have been my first pick), I reluctantly left the dial on a Top 40 station and have been on a big pop music kick ever since. I really dig this song, and Drake in general I suppose, and the video is surprisingly avant-garde for a pop song. I love the way the temperature of the video shifts tonally between a cold blue and a warm sepia and a neutral monochrome, and the extreme detail of the slow motion shots, of a bluejay’s wings flapping and a bull trotting as dust flies off its back, paired with the thumping beat and repetition of those piano chords is absolutely hypnotic. I also really like that there’s no other visual stimuli beyond the moving subject of each shot; it serves to reinforce that earnestness with which Drake is trying to convince this lady to let go of past heartbreaks and give things a go with him, in the same way that Rihanna’s looks into the camera as Drake holds her convey the trepidation, the resistance to starting a new relationship when the hurt of an old relationship is still fresh in one’s memory, that Drake is trying to assuage. The song itself is a persuasive speech, but the video turns it into a dialogue and I love that.

Happy Monday!