Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Je ne regrette rien, especially loving Édith Piaf

I enjoy being pretentious just as much as the next person. When I turn on my iPod, I find a range from the totally ridiculous and embarrassing to the occasional song that makes me feel like I should raise my head regally like a ballerina and swivel my hips just a tad more than I usually do.

Prime among these songs is anything by Édith Piaf that pops up on Shuffle.

I was slow to learn about La Môme Piaf. Considering I am nearly 19 and a half, I'm depressed to say I wasted almost two decades without idolizing and impersonating the so-coveted air of French grace.

But now that I've started, it's infected me in every way.

I learned the phrase "raison d'être" while I was reading one of my favorite books of all time, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. On the first page Oskar Schell narrates,
"I could invent a teakettle that reads in Dad's voice, so I could fall asleep, or maybe a set of kettles that sings the chorus of "Yellow Submarine," which is a song by the Beatles, who I love, because entomology is one of my raisons d'être, which is a French expression that I know."
Soon after, feigning French-ness would become my own raison d'être. I would carry this affectation with me through watching Édith Piaf portrayed by Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose and in numerous other beacons of French cinema, music, culture, etc.

This morning as I walked to breakfast before starting a horrendous day of class after class after class followed by a rushed dinner and more class, I was startled with the voice of a gravely, tortured, but beautiful angel singing "Allez venez Milord" in my ears. Already angered by the prospect of sitting through classes for hours, one of which makes me feel way in over my head, somehow the voice of the troubled woman that was my dear Édith comforted me for the day ahead.

Édith singing "Milord" on The Ed Sullivan Show

The day went on as usual, but I kept returning back to Édith in my thoughts and on my iPod. Sitting in my room for a few moments before working on assignments, I listened to her singing "Mon Dieu," a beautiful and heartbreaking song she is said to have sung for her lover, Marcel Cerdan, who died in a plane crash in the Azores at 33 years old.

Édith herself did not live long. She died of liver cancer at 47. And if you have the strength to stomach it, watching her deterioration in La Vie en Rose was one of the most astonishing cinematic experiences of my life. 

As greatly as I admire Édith for her musical prowess and her enchanting voice, it is her story that truly brings out the Francophile in me. Édith had a terrible upbringing, she was exploited for her musical talent, she suffered through heartbreak and loss at a young age and she battled with emotional baggage, depression and addiction for years. She was the ultimate fighter, even if she gave in to so much temptation and sadness in her life.

And her music truly is the essence of French culture. In "Milord" she sings "Je ne suis qu'une fille du port, une ombre de la rue," which translates to "I am only a girl from the docks, a shadow from the street." But Édith's strength was in expressing the trials and tribulations of life in the society she lived in.

The lyrics go on "Je soigne les remords, je chante la romance, je chante les milords qui n'ont pas eu de chance," meaning "I take care of the remorse, I sing about romance, I sing about the gentry who have not had luck."

She was the voice of the people, La Môme Piaf, and the perfect example of French brilliance and resilience (even though she saw little of the latter herself).

If there is any excuse to cross a street on the North Shore of Chicago like you would saunter down the Champs-Élysées on your way to l'Arc de Triomphe dans Paris, Édith is it. Even if it makes you look pretentious.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Here's to the Dance Anthems of the '90s

Back in December, back home in California and spending all of my time thinking about Disney movies, Disney music and Disneyland, I took a break one evening and decided to be nostalgic in other ways.

My friends and I, on our way back from Disneyland incidentally, were driving on Ball Road. I was sitting in the front seat flipping through a book of my friend's random CDs, when I stopped at something I hadn't seen in my own collection for years, *NSync's timeless classic No Strings Attached. I proceeded to jam the CD into the minivan player as fast as I could and was pleasantly surprised that the first track was "Bye Bye Bye," followed by my all-time favorite "It's Gonna Be Me" (or May, if you're pronouncing it correctly).

I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with my love for this silly little pop boy band that I had occasionally deigned to listen to in recent years. I recalled the memory of one excruciatingly hot day in the summer between second and third grades. Sitting at the summer camp lunch tables eating out of a disgusting Lunchables container and drinking a Capri Sun, I heard a familiar song.

This was no forbidden HitClips or small portable CD player. Someone had brought their boom box to camp and was blasting *NSync for the whole lunch area to hear. And hear, they did.

Everyone stood up and started dancing. It was like a scene out of a dorky kid's movie like Max Keeble's Big Move, Smart House or High School Musical. Everyone instantaneously knew that it was time to dance without any encouragement other than Justin Timberlake crooning "You might've been hurt, babe." And it was magical.

Since then, I've always craved the pop music kinship moments. I long to sit in the car and scream/sing (utterly indistinguishable in a minivan full of girls) "That's What Girls Do," putting on sunglasses and covering our lips with gloss.

So the evening of the *NSync car event (which was soon followed by some Backstreet Boys and Avril Lavigne), I decided to make a mix. Titled "Dance Anthems of the '90s" (a nod to Regina Spektor even though she had absolutely nothing to do with this mix), the CD consisted of such wonderful songs as Play's "Us Against the World," A*Teens' "Upside Down (Bouncing Off the Ceiling)," Smash Mouth's "All Star" and Nine Days' "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)."

The next day, I anxiously put the CD into the player, curious to see if my friends would know the songs I had put on it - even the more obscure titles.

To my enthusiastic surprise, they knew every song. And with few exceptions, they knew every word.

It's weird how you never forget these things and even moreso, how you never grow out of them.

Seven years ago I started listening to Green Day, trying to pry myself out of the preteen fandom and cheesy pop listening. I threw myself whole-heartedly into the world of (what I considered at the time) more sophisticated music. Stuff that had meaning behind it.

But looking back, I would be lying if I said I didn't equate my love of music from every stage of my life.

If someone were to turn on the radio and happen upon a station playing "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," I  would probably be singing just as loudly as I do when I put in "Dance Anthems of the '90s" and Track One ("So Yesterday" by Hilary Duff) starts playing.

There's something about music you listened to in a different stage of your life that continues to resonate years and years later.

Even the stuff that I would hate had I begun to listen to it now (see: Aaron Carter) I still happily play via YouTube. Perhaps it is for the sake of posterity, but it's also because, for some odd reason, I still like the stuff.

How many of us really grow out of the music we liked years ago? Going back even further and listening to Raffi's "Baby Beluga" has its charms.

We may decide to throw music off our "Likes" list on Facebook. Sometimes we look through our old CD collections and think "why did I buy that?" But even though we question our past decisions, somewhere deep inside they still make sense. I would never doubt that I made those choices because they are so inherently me, no matter how weird.

When I was a little older than the *NSync phase and a little younger than the Green Day phase, I bought the CD of this little-known and never really famous singer named Rose Falcon. She had this one song, "Up Up Up," that I just loved. I heard it once and I had to own her CD.

After buying Rose Falcon's album, I never got past the one track I knew. I would play it over and over again until I got sick of it (which never actually happened). Several years down the road, I don't regret that choice for a minute. Though I never took the time to really listen to Rose Falcon, that one song on her CD had such a tremendous effect on me that even now when I hear it I can imagine myself sitting in my living room dancing to the CD playing on my psychedelic CD player painted with orange paint and neon flowers.

Music preferences may pass, they may alter and change. But as Shakespeare said, "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds." And as I listen to the music of yesteryear, I tend to believe him.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm starting with the girl in the mirror

Sometimes I wonder if it looks like I try too hard to be different.

I think this is a problem that a lot of people face. We start to realize that we're watching the same movies, reading the same books, quoting the same memes and dancing to the same music and then decide that just to reaffirm our faith in our own tastes, we'll pretend we're into something completely offbeat and random.

It's like that scene in Garden State where Natalie Portman's character does a ridiculous dance and sound to make herself feel more original.

We feel we're falling too much into the space of normalcy and decide as a release to do something we think will make us special.

But what about when doing things to make yourself stand out actually makes you fall back into the cycle of unoriginality?

I've spent years cultivating my personality. As I've mentioned before, I've gone through several different stages in this process, all with the ultimate product of who I am today.

I don't think I generally fall outside the mainstream. My interests are particularly based in childhood interests, silly girly pop culture bits and pieces and random deeply emotional or darkly comedic content. And none of those things are considered going against the zeitgeist.

But just because I don't strive or necessarily attain any form of false individualism does not mean I am exactly typical either. Instead I fall into this nebulous realm that resembles either and both categories.

And perhaps I am biased, but I believe that is the best place to be.

When people spend their time trying to be unique, it seems to take over their lives. They shy away from popular culture, insisting that listening to some song with 20,000 hits on a YouTube uploaded version is better than a multi-million times viewed Lady Gaga video. They watch and read forms of media that label themselves as "off the beaten path" so that they can maintain this persona. And worse, they spend an excessive amount of their time talking about how they're so weird for being different.

It's a case of misappropriated irony. They expend so many words laughing at themselves for being strange that the line between piety and arrogance becomes thin and sometimes nonexistent.

On the opposite side, some people will drown themselves in what is fashionable, taking a page from A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Ersatz Elevator and, like the Squalors in that book, begin labeling everything as "in" or "out." By surrounding themselves by what is well-received by a general audience, they never find out what they actually enjoy, entirely dependent on the feelings of others to gauge their own reactions.

So that leaves the rest of us, the people who will listen to that new Katy Perry song and give it a fighting chance of making it onto our iPods. But also those people who will go out to see an independent movie, not necessarily because it looks offbeat and alternative, but because it resembles something we know we might enjoy.

It's all about personal preference. By becoming one-sided, by letting ourselves fall into either the world of the unknown or the world of the overplayed, we lose our sense of self. We identify with those around us, either by trying to maintain a distance from them or by getting as close to them as we can, and consequently: we never look in the mirror.

So as much as it pains me, I have to stop worrying that people will think what I do is affected. The only way to really let me be me is to halt the outside influence. If that makes me different, great. If that makes me the same as everyone else, fine too. I can only really tell if I look at myself.


[Note: It may be difficult to gauge at what time this post was written. To clear up any confusion, the first part was started around 6:30 pm on January 28th. The second part around 12:30 am on January 29th.]

Wasting time is a talent I possess in huge quantities. Just after writing the title of this post, I took a ten minute break to look at Facebook before returning back to it. But this afternoon, I made it a point to do what I had to do. To finish two big assignments so that I could stop thinking about work in general.

But then I realized that will never ever happen.

It has been two full hours since I printed out my two papers for class this week. Since then, I have spent half of my time eating and the other half wondering when I'm going to ever find the time to do the rest of the work I have left to do.

It's interesting how now matter how much time you devote to your work and how productive you think you are, somehow you can never get past that gnawing feeling of having more left to do.

As soon as I was done working on my politics in the media paper I made the terrible decision of looking at my iCal. Luckily, I was reminded that I have no more enormous assignments to complete this weekend for the coming week. But much to my chagrin, I realized that this weekend I stepped past the point of no return, into the time of year incorrectly titled "midterm season" and actually resembling more of "midterm rest of the quarter."

Because midterms are not in the middle of term, oh no. In the next three weeks I will have two midterm tests, one class presentation and two long papers to write. This wouldn't be so strange, except for the fact that in the following two weeks I will have two final exams and three final papers due.

And the stress only makes me want to waste even more time distracting myself from my commitments, just like I did in the six hours since I started writing this post and now.

It is weird to look at your calendar and realize that you will not have one moment of peace for weeks and weeks. But it is even more strange to look at your calendar and decide that all those in-between times before and after tests, before papers are due or before a presentation is set to be performed are going to be wasted on thinking about the next assignment.

When I set out to do my work, I always intend to finish it. And in the back of my mind, even when I'm spending my "free" time at plays, movies, or on Facebook, I know that everything will be done eventually and that the hour and a half I spend thinking happier thoughts can really only help.

We become so entrenched in our need to get things done. We start weeks ahead so we feel productive and then realize two days before an assignment is due that we actually only wrote an introductory paragraph and the rest of the six pages have to be done with 48 hours to spare.

Productivity is often a ruse so that we can make ourselves feel better about procrastination and inactivity.

But why spend so much time worrying about the inactivity, especially when it is only in those times of distraction that we can truly get away from the work that hounds us?

In the hours and hours of mixed procrastination and productivity it took me to write this blog post, I planned a trip into town for a homework assignment, wrote puns on Facebook, talked about a new crush with my friends and saw a comedy group perform on campus. Maybe that was time wasted, but I think it was time well spent.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I don't ravage animals, but I read the Hunger Games

This past December began quite innocently and, dare I say, boringly. The early part of my winter break was spent sitting in my room watching whatever was on TV because my dad had stolen our Roku box (through which I watch Netflix on my TV) out of my room. After a few weeks of being home I contracted a virus and was bed ridden (not a big difference from the first couple of weeks) with a sore throat, runny nose, nausea and all the other lovely benefits of illness.

So I decided to read The Hunger Games.

I bought the book in 2008, right after the death of the Twilight series in the form of Breaking Dawn. Still an avid "Twi-hard," I began searching for any reading material I could possibly find that would fill the void that penetrated my soul at the loss of Edward Cullen (I write this with an extraction of words I might have used to describe my pain when coming towards the end of Breaking Dawn in 2008).

Stephenie Meyer, incidentally, had foreseen my (and many of my weird obsessive peers) need to find a "new" Twilight. It's almost as if she heard me complaining vociferously about not getting to read about the marble statue vampire man with whom I had fallen in love despite his being an offbeat pedophile and a creep (took me a while to connect those dots).

So Meyer publicly endorsed The Hunger Games.

I don't know that I necessarily attribute Suzanne Collins', author of The Hunger Games series, massive success to Stephenie Meyer, but I definitely belief it was a contributing factor. If not for Stephenie Meyer's review, I doubt I would have even paid the series a second glance.

Yet even with my insatiable desire for a new addictive book series, I didn't pick up Hunger Games until very recently - that time I mentioned earlier: as I was getting sick this past December.

But certain things had changed since I read and loved Twilight, certain things even greater than no longer considering myself a cheese ball romantic who thought having a guy stare at you while you sleep is an attractive quality.

In those three years between finishing Breaking Dawn and picking up The Hunger Games, I became a vegetarian.

I stole this photo from the internet [Credit: Lionsgate]
As the title would suggest, The Hunger Games has a lot to do with food. Much of the book involves starvation, the capture and cultivation of food and the occasional grotesque level of binge eating that accompanies severe hunger. But it's not all picking raspberries and baking bread to spread with butter. There's a lot of animal ravaging in this book, on and off-page.

While I was reading, I had to take a few moments to just stop and regroup. Even subtle mentions of meat-eating on a daily basis can get to me and having to read about hunting and eviscerating became much too much for my delicate temperament.

But I kept reading. I kept reading because despite it being a Young Adult novel with the trappings of indelicate subject manner and a weird, alienating style (I am not a fan of present tense), The Hunger Games as a series is inherently good.

I am easily bored by what I read. I tear away from books for months at a time, realizing after a long time has passed that I've added yet another book to my constantly growing "Never-to-be-finished" list. If I am going to keep reading, I have to be captivated.

And The Hunger Games, no matter how gruesome, is captivating. Reading about Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark was like getting sucked into a vortex of time and space where nothing other than The Capitol, the forest and the tributes existed. I lived there inside my mind as I read, absorbing the height of the trees and the barren, water-less ground.

Even when Katniss hunted, occasionally with a bit too much detail on animal dismemberment, I remained absorbed in the story, turning page after page as bunnies were slaughtered just to find out what happened next.

It's a testament to a compelling story. Something I'll admit I found within the pages of Twilight as well so many moons ago. With simplistic language, these books survive primarily on their plot, carrying readers into a different world and making them thirst for more content, for resolution.

I read The Hunger Games with a discerning eye on the very barbaric nature of the text. I'll front any attacks by saying I am aware it was warranted by the story, being set in a world where many people are forced to secretly hunt for their food lest they choose to die of starvation. But regardless of context, starting this series can only be done by those who can stomach it.

And I realized I could. Because as often as I felt queazy from reading about blood and guts, I was in equal parts rewarded for standing the disturbing nature of the text at large.

Because in reality, this book is not just about starvation. It is about many levels of destruction and terror, of fascism and fatal internment. It's a book that makes you re-examine your own notion of the world you live in, and it makes you realize that everything could be much much worse.

Where I will draw a well-deserved distinction between Twilight and The Hunger Games is in the strength of character and moral. The former is a romance novel masquerading as a morality tale about decision-making, that at times falls completely off track and rewards people for stupid decisions. The latter is a book about bravery and strength and conviction. It makes you believe in the characters as well as you can picture them as you read.

The Hunger Games may be gruesome. It may at times be hard to stomach. It may be simplistic in structure. But when I read it over one day during my winter break in December, I continued to read it anyway. And if that doesn't speak of greatness, I don't know what does.

Winning a game of hearts

Going with my dad to see Mamma Mia! in London a few years ago might have been when I experienced one of the most profound, beautiful and sappy moments of my life.

About half way through the second act, father and daughter are both dangerously close to becoming absorbed in the story. Regardless of the teetering strength of the cast, the dorky quality of the production or anything else, we became subject to any attack on pathos that the play was willing to dish out.

And dish they did. As Donna sang "Slipping Through My Fingers" to Sophie while helping her dress for her wedding, I began crying like I had never cried during a musical - especially during a peppy show like Mamma Mia!. My dad, ever the man in touch with his feminine side, followed suit. By the end of the song, we had both used up my entire travel pack of tissues, sobbing together in the middle of a crowded theater.

So as I sat through the song again tonight, waiting for that same extreme response, I wondered why the tears were just not flowing.

It wasn't expectation that spoiled it, that I know. When I watched Finding Neverland the first time I couldn't help but cry at the end of the film and all subsequent viewings have elicited the same response despite my awareness of the inevitability.

So if it wasn't that then it had to be that something had changed in me. And I came to a conclusion.

The answer came to me tonight during the next song, "The Winner Takes it All," in which Donna sings to her ex-lover about feeling she'd lost everything, playing the part of victim to his winner when he broke up with her 21 years before.

Though I teared slightly in "Slipping Through My Fingers," during "The Winner Takes it All" I was forced to tilt my head back to avoid smearing mascara all over my face. This visceral response came from somewhere deep within me, signifying a recent shift in my insecurities that I did not before realize was so poignant.

"Slipping Through My Fingers" is a song about parental loss. It's about childhood separation and watching people grow up and out of our lives. At the time that I saw Mamma Mia! with my dad, I was on the cusp of leaving home and going off to college 2,000 miles away from where I'd lived the first 17 years of my life. The song had been my sister's Father-Daughter dance song, which was an emotional strain in itself. It reminded me not only of the sadness and loneliness I felt as I watched my sister and my dad dance at her wedding, thinking of losing her as part of my life. It also made me think of my own eventual separation from my dad when I'm done with college, whether that be through moving away for work or getting married.

But watching the performance of the song did not affect me tonight the way it did a few years ago. In past months, a different kind of sadness reigned over me. Not separation from parents, but separation from a romantic notion of life. It's easy to reduce yourself to the terribly effervescent cheesiness of a slice of gruyere when talking about "lost love" as it were, and I won't even begin to pretend that I have ever been in love.

Yet listening to "The Winner Takes it All" connected with me in a way that made me re-examine how I feel about loss in general. The song frames itself around this narrative of the speaker (singer) losing a romantic partner and reflecting on the feeling of not just losing the person, but actually becoming a loser in the game of relationships.

I've had my fair share of loss. By 15 I was already living without a mother. But losing a loved one isn't really loss in the multiple senses of the word. Because while it does indicate not having something anymore, it has nothing to do with feeling like less of a person.

When Donna sings "I apologize if it makes you feel bad seeing me so tense, no self-confidence," I started to feel a kinship with her character more than I had with Sophie several years ago as she prepared to leave home. Because unlike "Slipping Through My Fingers" suggests, loss in the form of leaving is not true loss. No matter where I go, my dad will follow. Whether in reality or by phone or in my heart, I was never actually left by my mom and I won't be left by my dad. But relationships are another story.

It really is so easy to feel you're the victim to the victor when you've broken up. You want to apologize for seeming weak, but the sadness at being unable to stand up for yourself just ruins you even more.

When you're moving away or starting a new life, there is no winner or loser. While on the surface things are changing, in the heart things remain the same. And that's why the tears are less of an issue.

I no longer feel sadness at losing someone via growing up. Though I may still cry when I leave my dad after summer vacation, I'll never feel utterly devastated because the comfort of his love is unceasing.

But love, non-familial, non-parental, is something that isn't unceasing. There are so many barriers on it, so many expectations and limitations, that at times it can seem virtually unattainable. And when I've risked stepping over that ledge to try and grasp it, I've found myself losing my balance, falling off the ledge and losing the game.

I am still very much the young and frightened little doe that Sophie is, more nervous than anxious about the prospect of future life. But in light of recent events, there has been a clear change in what truly makes me sad. Instead of fearing the thought of not getting to be with people I care about, I now worry over losing my heart to those who don't care.

The people I may separate from in a physical sense are always a part of my world, always a part of me. Frightening is the thought of those who don't care to be a part of my world, despite how far I extend my hand to them.

What is most scary is the uncertainty of everything. Of winners and losers, of reality versus fiction and of love in general. In the game of Hearts, a heart in your hand costs you. And often life follows suit. But at least I know no matter what happens to my heart, my dad, my mom and the rest of my family are the diamonds in the rough that will salvage me from a poor score.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The spoiled apple doesn't fall far from the tree

My photo of Mamma Mia! in London
Because I enjoy spending time with friends, partaking in wholesome entertainment and putting off homework until the last possible minute, I decided to buy a ticket as part of the Center for Student Involvement's cheap-o tickets + transportation deal to see Mamma Mia! tomorrow.

When I told my dad I was dishing out $20 to go, his immediate response was "Okay, so how much are the tickets?" And this is when I realized something about myself, my parents and how I've been raised in a weird, pretty awesome (falsely destructive) way.

As a kid I never hesitated to ask to go to an event that I wanted to attend. My relatives called me spoiled, and I guess getting to see your first concert at eight years old may imply this trait. But I think the claim of childhood overindulgence overlooks one very significant thing: the parents.

I was raised with the arts, with entertainment at the core of most everything I have done. At nine, I was so in love with the musical Carousel that I decided to listen to the CD with my finger poised on the pause button and I wrote down the lyrics myself (I'm sure I could have found them some other way, but it was so worth the effort at the time). That year I would attend that musical with my dad at the local community theater. Around the same time, I went to my first Aaron Carter concert during which one of the opening bands was a silly little pop boy band named Dream Street. After the concert, I went on the Radio Disney website and, similarly to my Carousel endeavor, played clips of the "It Happens Everytime" music video (which loaded at a speed of about ten seconds per minute) repeatedly until I had memorized all the lyrics.

So where were my parents through all of this? It sounds strange, but literally right behind me. No matter how weird, obsessive, outlandish or crazy I was, my mom and dad were encouraging me to express myself, even if that meant sitting in front of a boom box scribbling or crooning in front of my Gateway monitor.

But, contrary to popular belief among my friends and family, my parents, however open to doing crazy things, were not treating me this way because I pouted, complained, screamed or any other action that might associate me with the likes of Veruca Salt.

The truth was, I got to do crazy wonderful things because all I had to do was ask. No spoiled pleading necessary.

In the next half of my life, I would attend numerous concerts, tons of plays on and off Broadway, visit London four times per my request and many other things that under-18's subject to their parents' discipline can only dream of. Realizing how fortunate I am, I asked my dad why he had been willing to go to weird, sometimes insane measures to let me do some of these things.

He told me that it was in return for always being a good, reliable, hard-working kid.

I reflected on that, thinking how many people I know who are equally good, reliable and hardworking who have never had the opportunities that I have, the freedom to chase a band around the country or visit another city, state or continent just to see a musical. And something clicked.

My parents always planned to give me a life filled with happiness and fulfillment. From what I remember of my mom, she was a star-struck fangirl herself, fawning over I Love Lucy re-runs, horror films and John Williams music. In many ways, we were the same person (however different our tastes were). This was something she recognized.

When she was a pre-teen, my mom didn't get the chances I had to go to concerts or see plays or travel. Raised in a firmly lower middle class family, she always had to live with the bare minimum. There was always food on the table, but there was not always the chance to be frivolous. To have fun. To be a kid.

My mom only had one real childhood birthday party. It was her ten-year-old celebration and the theme was Cinderella. I remember this mainly because one of my favorite mementos of hers is a Cinderella wristwatch she received on that birthday. It no longer ticks, but I still have it.

As soon as I was conceived, my mom was already thinking of ways to make me into what she never had the chance to be. She originally wanted to name me Wendy, mistaking that as the title for the Association's song, "Windy." She loved the lyrics, "who's tripping down the streets of the city / smiling at everybody she sees" in particular, and said that she wanted me to have a life that warranted the kind of ethereal bliss that Windy had in the song. Though the name didn't work out, the plan ultimately did.

My mom strived to make everything in my life more beautiful. She enabled me to meet my idols like she would have done decades before had she had the opportunity. She took me to see concerts, musicals and movies, awarding me with a fascination with live entertainment that she didn't have the chance to experience until she was in her 20's.

Living a minimalist life made my mom all the more hell bent on maximizing everything in mine.

My dad has always been equally open to the whims of his art-obsessed daughter. While I used to consider this passivity, after a few trips to London I began to realize that even when my dad chooses to let us go beyond our means, he has a motivation himself.

As opposed to my mom, my dad didn't live so much on the periphery of pop culture. Growing up in New York he had his chance at meeting some idols, going to see Broadway plays and performances at Carnegie Hall, all before he was in his teens. And also unlike my mom, his motivation came not from being hindered, but from experience.

My dad was born into a world filled with the arts. He interchangeably listened to big band music and his brother's Beatles records, always with an eye on the strength and ubiquitousness of his fanaticism. Though he still says he doesn't regret not getting to see the Beatles perform (according to him this is because he wouldn't have been able to hear the music over the screaming girls anyway), I have to think that if my dad had grown up in this day and age - with concert sound quality miles better than it was in the '60s - he would have done exactly what he's let me do.

For him, the arts are not just a distraction or a form of side entertainment. They are a way of life. While other parents may cringe at spending $20 even on a professional musical, my dad knows and has ingrained in me this feeling that entertainment is worth the investment, worth the effort.

Like my mom, my dad supported me as I waited in line for hours to see random music acts. He waits at stage doors to meet the casts of the musicals we see together. He planned long, detailed itineraries for our trips to London. And he made all of it seem like a worthwhile investment.

Regardless of how others may perceive me as overindulged, enabled to have so many great life experiences in only 19 years, I can't help but look at this issue from its origins. My life has been filled with the compassion, expectation, pride, kindness and love of two doting people.

And if that parental devotion makes me spoiled, then yes, I'm spoiled.

And none for Harry Potter

This morning I turned on the Today Show as per my usual morning routine of lying in bed for an extra half an hour listening to Matt Lauer dole out left-handed compliments to everyone he interviews. But as I was beginning to wake up following the sound of the weather report and Al Roker's loud proclamation of "That's what's going on around the country, here's what's happening in your neck of the woods," I heard something that I had forgotten was happening so soon: the Oscar nominations were coming out.

Now I'm not going to waste another five minutes of your time making you read evaluations of the films nominated or predictions of what or who will win each category. Though, of course, I do have my opinions on which films deserve what, my attention was drawn to a much bigger issue this morning by none other than my father.

As I called my dad up at 8:30 am (6:30 his time, sorry Dad), I decided to proceed with a long rant, reciting off the names of the nominees, saying how excited I was to know that Woody Allen was getting recognition for Midnight in Paris and how neat it is that one of my favorite books has its adaptation up for Best Picture (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close). And as I started reading the Best Art Direction nominees, my dad mentioned something I had not thought of: why didn't Harry Potter get more than three nominations?

Or as my dad put it, "Why isn't Harry Potter nominated for Best Picture?"

A photo of mine from the London Harry Potter
and the Order of the Phoenix premiere.
Earlier this year I wrote an article about how Steve Carell was snubbed at the Emmys for the sixth consecutive year (his sixth nomination for The Office). While my dad was going on a half-asleep tangent about what a travesty it was that The Lord of the Rings, a movie neither he (nor I) can help sleeping through, was nominated for Best Picture three times and won once when Harry Potter has not won a single Academy Award, I started thinking about what kind of place Harry has in our pop culture, whether he is worthy of an Oscar nomination and if the snub is something to really get steamed up about.

My initial response to my dad was something along the lines of "Well yeah, I love Harry Potter, but I didn't expect it to get a Best Picture nomination." But then I started to ask myself, why not? Why shouldn't I expect Harry Potter, a series that is basically an institution of the quintessential '90s and 2000's era childhood, to receive recognition as one of the best films of this year?

So I looked up statistics.

Only six of the eight Harry Potter films have even been nominated for Academy Awards. And of those nominations, none have been among the most notable categories. While most children's movies are restricted to nominations in Best Animated Feature Film or similarly lowbrow categories, it is reasonable to expect a different kind of respect for Harry Potter. But in the last decade, our dear HP has only been nominated for art direction, costume design, original score, visual effects and cinematography.

But why? Why after ten years of box office-topping film interpretations of some of the bestselling kids' novels in a century, has Harry still not received enough renown from the Academy to warrant even a nomination among the nine other Best Picture films?

The problem is that Harry Potter's biggest strength is also its downfall. The film and book series that has captivated children, adults and children who became adults since 1997 thrives on its place as a family series. But the Oscars, already seemingly hesitant about giving recognition to any films outside of the heavy-handed drama, black comedy/drama, random artsy fartsy film and inspirational animal movie genres, are not ones to accept the alleged children's film as a viable Best Picture option.

Harry, however defined by its wide appeal spanning countries, continents, age groups and numerous other social determinants, does not comfortably fall under any of the pre-determined Oscar-bait categories. And though a film like Toy Story 3 last year was able to squish its way into the ten Best Picture nominations, new policies changing the ten nominations to a range of five to ten may have knocked Harry out of the running.

The truth is that a visually-inspiring yet slightly sleepy phenomenon like The Lord of the Rings or even lame cinematography-driven efforts like Avatar has a much stronger chance of being accepted by the Academy as a Best Picture nominee. And in the former's case, for some reason it warranted a single year 11 Oscar sweep, receiving a win in every category in which it was nominated for The Return of the King.  

It's something difficult to understand, but it just has to be accepted. We grieve and we move on.

So where does that leave our lovely boy wizard?

In a similar vein to my position on the Steve Carell snub of last year's Emmys, the real loss here is the Academy's. A phenomenon such as Harry Potter deserved better treatment, better recognition these past ten years. But just because we never got to see Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell or David Yates walk the steps to the stage of the Kodak Theatre to be recognized as directors of the series or just because we never saw David Heyman, champion of the Harry Potter film franchise and producer of all eight films, make the same walk if HP were to miraculously win Best Picture, does not mean that they have not made an impact.
As much as we like to perceive the Oscars as this sort of infallible marker of quality in cinema, the truth is that the best films do not always receive the recognition they deserve. In 1941, Citizen Kane, now considered one of the best films of all time and number one on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list lost to How Green Was My Valley. Now I'll be so bold as to say that most film classes in this country, not to mention most casual film watchers, would be more likely to screen Orson Welles' renowned masterpiece than one of director John Ford's lesser known films (his others including The Grapes of Wrath, The Searchers, etc.). This is not to say that the Oscar wins are irrelevant, but that perhaps they grow in irrelevance as the years go on and other factors surface in how people judge the "movies of our time."

Harry Potter may not be recognized by the Academy as being among the greatest movies of the year or decade, but because it is an institution within itself - regardless of its reputation among critics and people in the industry - it will far outlive most (if not all) of the films that are nominated for Best Picture in 2012.

Now you may say that this particular film in the series was not deserving of a Best Picture nomination simply on the grounds of it not being the best in the series. And it is with you that, despite my inherent prejudice, I tend to agree. There are several very great films nominated this year and this last installment in the HP series is not the best. But by the mere fact that Harry has not won a single Oscar, or even had one of its seven previous films nominated for Best Picture, speaks to a lack of awareness of the cultural landscape of this decade.

Yes, if The Artist (a favorite among Oscar predictors) sweeps this year, we may remember the feat for a few years to come like we did The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in 2003 or Titanic in 1997. But ten, fifteen, even twenty years down the road, when the current younger generation of Oscar voters is among the older generation and those of us who grew up with Harry Potter are becoming the adults of this world, when we think of some of our greatest experiences in film in the 2000's and 2010's, we are not likely to remember The Artist, The Descendants, The Tree of Life or otherwise.

As we pace through our living rooms deciding on a movie to watch on whatever cutting-edge home entertainment system we possess, our minds will wander back to that film series that originated from that book series when we were kids. That one that may not have been as critically-acclaimed as The Artist, not as visually stunning as The Tree of Life, not as heart-wrenching as Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. But it was the most significant to us. It was Harry Potter. And it was ours. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Biology? Maybe not, kumquat

I write today as a form of refuge, of distraction. These past few days I have spent staring at my Plants & Society textbook, re-reading chapters and absorbing nothing. The exam, tomorrow at 9:30 am, looms over me like an evil mutant cloud of depression, but because I refuse to let a test put me into a bad mood, I'm making the most of it by telling you a bit of what I've taken away from my Biology class thus far.

1. I am the unhealthiest eater in the world.

Since arriving at college, most of my meals have consisted of a combination consisting of the following three food groups: starch, fruit and grains. This lack of variation has led to almost every meal being completely within one color scheme, ranging from golden yellow to a dull orange-yellow.

As I sit in front of most of my dining hall meals, I start to think about where all of this stuff goes. As I've learned, starch in excess is not healthy for our bodies. It converts from its original structure to glucose which is then stored in our bodies as glycogen. Not a terrible sounding pattern until you hear the final step: glucose is only stored short-term as glycogen and eventually turns to fat in our bodies.

Fruit may seem unassuming compared to the evil starchy potatoes that grace my evening plate, but they're not entirely blameless. Fruit contains a high concentration of fructose, a form of sugar which goes through a similar process of turning to glycogen. And the rest you know.

And of course, grains, however harmless they may seem in the form of your favorite processed Wonder Bread or otherwise, are no exception to this rule.

In other words, the food I'm eating eventually all turns into the same terrible fat from not being expended as energy, leaving my body terribly miserable and making me all the more of a couch potato, literally. The yellow coloring of my plate may not seem terribly threatening, but it's certainly not the friendliest sight once I've realized what I'm doing to myself.

2. Okay, maybe I'm not the worst eater.

I'm constantly being attacked for being a vegetarian. Whether it's people waving a slab of turkey meat in my face or teasing me about eating vegan burgers, it's just a problem I've learned to face by simply ignoring the enemy. But so early on in my Biology course, I've already learned of the lack of necessity of meat in one's diet.

As a vegetarian, I eat a ridiculous amount of soy. Most of my meals contain some form of the bean, from tofu to soy sauce to fake meat products that resemble chicken or beef. And while superstitious theorists might inform you of the dangers of eating soy (i.e. there is so much estrogen in the beans that you're bound to sprout a second pair of ovaries just by eating one bite of the stuff), the truth of the matter is benefits outweigh suspected costs (if the ovary thing was true I might not be saying this, but let's be real).

Soy beans contain 30-50% protein, making them one of the healthiest beans in the human diet, and certainly a suitable alternative to animal protein. And besides, the satisfaction in knowing you are saving a life by eating a sauce-soaked bean curd is welcome knowledge in my book.

3. Biology really isn't so bad.

Since middle school, I have been completely spoiled on science. While elementary school had us studying the formation of rocks and the different properties of electrical currents, once we arrived in the old Biology classroom of seventh grade, applied knowledge went completely out the window.

Instead of seeing how like charges repelled each other and learning how different stones were all cemented together in a conglomerate rock, we were watching my Bio teacher Mr. Squid [name changed slightly] draw the Squidosaurus and the Squidosaur on the board, telling us about how those two species of dinosaur would go through a process known as natural selection and eventually one would become extinct because it is not as well adapted as the other.

Well, I am sorry to say that in the future, I was never able to apply my awareness of the Squidosaurus to my daily life. While some of us may aspire to being lab scientists or paleontologists, others of us just want a list of fun facts in our back pocket which we can pull out at a moment's notice and recite to a table filled with fellow humanities buffs.

Mr. Squid may have given me the foundations of biology, a subject widely studied and respected (and I will admit, interesting if given the right spin and not taken in an Advanced Placement course), but until arriving in my current class on Biology where we study the structure and nutritional aspects of plants on humans, I never cared much.

Science, no matter how intellectual it may consider itself, is only truly interesting when it is palatable. There is so much in our textbooks that we just skim - statistics, geographical information, percentages - but the things that stick are the facts that we can place in our own heads and whip out at a moment's notice as we stand in front of the dining hall serving platters deciding whether to pick up a helping of boiled potatoes or a few pieces of broccoli instead.

As I sit here, avoiding studying for my Biology exam yet thinking about how much I've learned in the course in less than a month, I realize that my take-away from the class is nothing like what the exam is testing me on. Ten years down the road, as I stand in a farmer's market or, God forbid, a Whole Foods deciding what I should buy to add to a stew or a risotto recipe, I'll remember sitting in my college sophomore Biology class. And maybe I won't remember that beans are an annual crop grown in warm climates. But I will remember that beans are a protein-rich alternative to vegetables and many other legumes as well. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be a healthier consumer as a result.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A shrine to several eras of weirdness

My college dorm room is absolutely filled with tchotchkes. My walls alone hold eight posters, 38 postcards, six brochures and one ticket stub. My desk shelf plays host to figurines and stuffed animals, porcelain piggy banks and a hat made to look like it might have belonged to Magritte.

So what am I trying to say with all of this?

This is not my Alcoholics Anonymous-esque declaration of fault. I am not a hoarder or a packrat necessarily (though other habits of mine may say differently, see: keeping programs and ticket stubs from plays I've seen), but the plethora of decorations lining the otherwise barren white-painted brick walls of my itty bitty living space speak to a greater aspect of my character: my tendency to be a fanatic.

It began at age three when I started dressing up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. I can barely remember a time when I didn't own a pair of red-sequined flats and a basket with a scruffy stuffed terrier. Numerous viewings of Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" led to my own repetitive rendition of the song, belting "Why, oh why can't I?" while sitting in the car as my mom filled up her tank with gas. I assumed no one heard me, but cars aren't that sound-proof.

Dressing up as Esmeralda
By four, I was singing a different tune, "God Help the Outcasts" from Disney's 1996 animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. For all intents and purposes, I considered myself baby Esmeralda. I ran around with my naturally dark and curly (but actually matted mess of) hair wearing her white and purple peasant dress and her skimpy red ensemble interchangeably, banging a tambourine and dancing to "Topsy Turvy."

For the next 15 years, there were many stages in my flip-calendar of fandom. For clarity's sake, I will list them in order with minimal exclusions:

five years old: Hercules / six years old: Spice Girls & Britney Spears / eight years old: Aaron Carter / nine years old: Lizzie McGuire / 12 years old: Green Day / 13 years old: Gilmore Girls / 14 years old: The Jonas Brothers / 17 years old: John Keats

It is because of these trends of fascination that I come to label my life in a series of periods beginning with the Disney era, progressing to the Bubblegum Pop era, arriving at the Brooding Pre-teen era, and culminating in the Other-Worldly Girly Girl era.

Each period signifies a distinctive, but also incredibly formative part of my life. None of them have completely faded, yet all of them have fallen into the past, despite cropping up in their own ways these 19 years. In fact, each of the eras has their place in my current life, a connection between "then" and "now."

Disney Era

Then: The Disney era, most prevalent from ages two until five, but extending to around age nine at a slightly lesser level, consisted of thousands of trips to Disneyland, even more viewings of Disney films and recurring karaoke sessions in which I butchered the lyrics to some of my favorite songs in the backseat of the car.

Now: Once I reached middle school, I started rediscovering my love for Disneyland after a short-lived hiatus. My expired Disney pass gave way to a few years of absence from the park, but eventually my desire to renew would replenish the whole world of Disney to my life. Now, I often annoy friends and acquaintances by quoting the films, mentioning the rides, singing the songs and practicing my "Disney Princess walk."

Bubblegum Pop Era

Then: My fascination with the film Spice World, was only half of this wonderful period in my life. From ages six to about eleven, I spent all of my time listening to the vocal stylings of such musical geniuses as Aaron Carter, Hilary Duff, The A*Teens and Britney Spears, practicing my awkward version of the "Oops...I Did it Again!" dance and trying to become a teeny bopper rapper like my dear A.C.

Now: Though I've grown tired of this style of music as my singular genre of interest, it would be a gross factual error to say that I have become completely alienated from the world of bubblegum pop. By age 14, I was back into the Radio Disney phase of my life, listening to the Jonas Brothers on a daily basis. And even now, I am not uncommonly found YouTubing N*Sync or S Club 7 in my free time.

Brooding Pre-teen Era

Then: By age 12, I was trying to find my niche in a world I didn't believe I belonged to anymore. I felt out of place in school, a chubby little middle schooler with glasses and braces who had tried to watch TRL after school, but grown tired of it. I needed an outlet for the mild angst I felt. I found Green Day. In October 2005, I waited (along with my dad) for 18 hours to stand in the pit at one of their American Idiot tour dates. I read The Catcher in the Rye because it was Billie Joe Armstrong's favorite book, I visited San Francisco because the band is from the Bay Area and soon declared that I would attend UC Berkeley.

Now: I no longer listen exclusively to Green Day, but to this day I can sing most of the lyrics to their music, tell you which album a particular song is off and proudly declare that their best work was during the "Nimrod-Warning" era. As for Holden Caulfield, he is still a character I identify with and appreciate, despite being acutely aware of his sometimes immature cynicism. While the angst that made me believe everyone in the world to be phonies is gone, my appreciation for this point in my life is not lost.

Other-Worldly Girly Girl Era

Then: After a year of obsession with Green Day, my psyche had had enough of Billie Joe's frequently indeterminate sexuality and the expletive-filled rants that were most of their songs. While I still loved the music, I had rediscovered two points of interest: intellectualism and effeminacy. In eighth grade, I started watching Gilmore Girls which, at the time, was still on the air with older episodes being played each afternoon on ABC Family. I watched every episode of the show like it was my religion and forced my dad into watching as well (though he eventually became equally obsessed). By 2007, during my freshman year in high school, Gilmore Girls came to an end, but the fascination with the Ivy League-level intelligence of Rory and her prudish daintiness would follow me throughout high school.

Following the Gilmore phenomenon came a new fascination for me that was actually a hark back to my old bubblegum pop phase. I became enamored with the Jonas Brothers, a pop-rock band heavily featured on Radio Disney whom I would eventually see in concert [omitted number, more than 10 but less than 50, for reputation's sake] times.

Sitting with a statue of John Keats at King's College London
In 2009, after watching the film Bright Star, my jB love would be eclipsed by a new romance with the poet John Keats. With an already fully-bloomed love of British culture due to a spike in my long-lived Harry Potter obsession at age 14, I was fully ready to take on a new crush in the form of the deceased poet. I proceeded to read his letters and poetry, carrying a book of his collected works around my high school with me, proudly displaying it as a trophy of my love.

Now: More than any other set of interests, save Disney, Gilmore Girls, the Jonas Brothers and John Keats have lived on. Gilmore Girls continues to be my favorite television show, I still rank the Jonas Brothers among my favorite bands (weird as that may be for a nearly 20 year old) and I regularly read Keats whether on a warm day by the lake or in my room when I'm feeling lonely. So, as far as is evident to me, I am still the ethereal oddball that I was at age 13. Perhaps a little more aware of where I fit into the intellectual structure of society, and even more aware of my place between the roles of effeminate female and feminist.

Through the years, I've learned a lot about myself through my various bouts of fandom. I've allowed myself to grow in and out of trends, never necessarily conforming to the zeitgeist that inspired my peers, but also not standing so far outside of what was considered mainstream. I went in and out of different versions of myself, from the little girl who only wore dresses to the troubled youth back to the feminine fairy-like weirdo.

Now, almost twenty and more than a decade past my Disney-filled childhood of dolls and frilly posters, I am still not so far from any of my personas. My walls pay homage to impressionist art, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, John Keats and Disneyland. I have figurines of two of The Doctors, Prince Eric and a stuffed bear dressed as Peter Pan.

Each stage has painted my life, decorating the walls of my room with my history. But my history is actually just as much of my present as it is my past. Fanaticism is not a word which most people consider pleasant or positive, but for me it has determined the many characteristics of my personality, flawed or not. And my walls, however a shrine they may appear to be, are the idols of my life.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A thank you note to Miss Jane Austen

I often wonder what life might be like would I have lived in the time of the lovely and most insightful author, Jane Austen.

I frequently claim to have a mindset most amenable to the Regency era. I wistfully fantasize on a life among the upper middle classes of Hampshire or Sussex, making the acquaintance of the Bertrams or the Dashwoods, becoming eager friends with Charlotte Lucas or spending an evening pining after Mr. Darcy. Yet as often as I dream of a life inside an Austen novel, I spend an equal amount of time wondering how constructive such a fascination might actually be to my heart and mind.

For this reason, I write to you directly, Miss Austen. My reason may selfishly be in part to aid myself in an understanding of the effect of your writing, but in a manner more pressing - I wish to express my admiration, my love, my thanks.

Dear Miss Austen,

It has not been more than five months since I last paid you a visit. I must share my gratitude at your inviting me into your home in Chawton whilst you were away. Though I had hoped to see you there, I am quite aware of our respective places in history and therefore did not expect you to arrive post-mortem.

Yet as I wandered through your home, now outfitted for a century far beyond your own and likely very foreign to you, I considered myself a guest of yours. Walking up creaking floorboards, I became a spectator to the world in which you lived, a companion invited to spend an afternoon exploring that world.

Though I appreciated the hospitality of your home, I am regretful at having left with not a word of thanks behind me, save for a simple note left to you in the gardens outside your lovely dwelling (see photo to the left).

Which is why I send you this letter today, with a bit of gratitude and an infinite level of admiration.

Firstly, Miss Austen, I wish to convey to you how greatly you have widened my view of humanity. Were you have not to put pen to page so many years ago, I would be so bold as to say that neither I nor many young women like me would have half the wealth of understanding we now possess on the subject of human character.

Your thoughts, expressed by the manners and actions of your characters, make readers privy to the many facets of the social environment you lived in as well as that which has developed since. Though the country dance is an event exceedingly antiquated and remembered only in Hollywood interpretations, the socialization of your time continues to exist, thrive and confuse many such as myself. And excepting the significant change in decorum of this age, the reticence of certain individuals and the alternative loquaciousness of these same people in the presence of their more intimate comrades is a concept that lives on.

The relative difficulty in interpreting the actions of acquaintances is therefore of equal nature, and with your aid I have come to interpret the manners of friends, enemies and those in-between in such a way as could not be found in works prior to or after yours. Through your work, more than that of any man or woman of this age or earlier, the lesson of looking beyond first impressions has gained all the more clarity. That is a feat that is yours alone.

Secondly, I offer you my heartfelt thanks for equipping me with the expectations of a woman deserving of a certain kind of affection. Though your time may have been without the damages of modern liberalism, your shrewdness in the face of the society from which you came is in direct correlation to my current circumstances.

You, Miss Austen, were never one to admit fault in yourself in your search for love. As you experienced several intimate relationships, the proposal of marriage and the perils of potential ruin, you never winced but once at the prospect of living a life fully measured by your design. Where other women may have accepted an offer of matrimony without a thought to the character of the man, you cared too much for the place of passion and near-perfection.

Your characters all met wonderful romantic ends, an achievement you did not make yourself, however happy your life may have been. But your strength, despite the troubles of dishonest men and unworthy suitors, made you all the more able to inspire a similar fortitude in your audience.

Through the spoils of passion, love and heartbreak, you have stood with me every moment. You have served as a reminder of the greatness that the heart can give and the deceit that it might accept as truth in the pursuit of fulfillment. With your constant corner in my consciousness, I have withstood many a terrible evening, battling the demons of loss and embracing the potential that manifests when the past becomes ineffectual history.

Thirdly and finally, I thank you, Jane, for giving me a refuge. With your words you have given me much more than mere entertainment. You have awarded me the conviction to compose my own critiques of the toils of the human mind, the stability of familial love, the wonders and snares of passionate love.

The beauty of the world, despite our shared cynicism, is all the more certain for you have ascertained and revealed it to centuries worth of boys, girls, men and women. It is a truth I wish to acknowledge throughout my own life.

So I offer you myself, Jane, as an example of what good literature, stalwart principles and a combined strength and sentimentality can do for one girl living years beyond your own understanding.

Without you Jane, I would be not half what I am now.

With all the respect that I possess,

Friday, January 20, 2012

How not to lucid dream

I'm sitting on a train waiting to arrive at my stop, but I'm not sure where I am. In fact, I've been sitting here for hours and somehow I'm just at a total loss. I can't remember how I got here. The car is full of people, yet despite sitting in my seat for at least a few hours I don't recognize a single face.

But for some reason it feels like it's supposed to be this way.

I always wanted to learn how to lucid dream. I used to read how-to articles on it. Occasionally I'd ask myself in real life if I was awake or not. But I never really made a sincere effort. So to this day I still dream like I have done for years and years - unaware that none of it makes sense, and fully aware of how completely boring it is.

Sometimes when people tell me about their dreams, I'm amazed by how grandiose theirs are. I've had people tell me about learning to fly, traveling back in time or talking to animals. But my dream-self, regardless of how far out of reality she is, is also firmly within the confines of the spaces I've seen, heard or felt.

When I was around 14 or so I had a very avid Harry Potter fandom phase. One night, I found myself running through a corridor with Harry, Ron and Hermione, escaping Voldemort's clutches and coming within a moment's grasp of losing our lives. But there was something distinctive about this dream, and it wasn't that it involved magic.

I was still normal, wand-less, magic-less me. I may have been with witches and wizards and partaking in their perilous adventure, but I was still exceedingly and utterly normal. And dull, really.

And beyond my own character's dullness was the lifelessness of the setting in which the dream took place. While I can't discount He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's ability to apparate far and wide, I have to wonder if he would be interested in fighting the Chosen One in an Orange County suburban home.

Am I just that uncreative?

Somehow, even though I have the imagination to bring to life the characters from the books I've read, raise events and people from my past, or imagine myself in a reality outside of my own, I'm always on the periphery of the excitement. I'm in a train traveling to somewhere great that I don't know about or I'm watching my friends use magic and I'm just a sad spectating squib.

So the goal of my week - or at least my night since I'm known to get distracted quite easily - is to make my dreams more exciting. Maybe it means actually practicing my wingardium leviosa before I go to bed instead of just watching clips from the Harry Potter films. Or maybe it means pretending I'm performing onstage in a musical instead of just listening to the music on my iPod.

Life on the periphery is not always a terrible thing, but dreams are supposed to be spectacular. Maybe I will get lost in a city outside my train or locked in a fatal battle with Voldemort. I may wake up sweating or kicking and screaming. But at least I'll have dreams worth dreaming.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

It's whatever you want it to mean

I would be lying if I told you I am interesting to read about. For me at this age and in this time, exciting events come in the form of time off - hours spent listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie. Even if given the opportunity to leave my room to do something outrageous and exciting, I can't say I would take up the offer.

After all, life right now is infinitely interesting just by the fact that I am where I am. I'm in college and by definition college means having the opportunity to learn as your job. What could be more rewarding? I always used to say that when I grew up I wanted to learn for a career - that is why I chose journalism as a major and it is why I, despite the occasional gripe and groan - love where I am and what I am doing.

And when I am not in the classroom, I don't go searching for "adventure" necessarily. Because adventure for me is what I read and hear and see, physical actions secondary. I feel invigorated when I close my eyes and lie back on my bed, feeling my heart beating and my spine tingling to a beautiful melody, or when I turn off the lights in my room and watch a movie.

It sounds very transcendentalist and I'll admit a little strange and maybe even affected, but since I arrived at college I have tried in every way I can to appreciate the smaller things. Mainly because that's something I overlooked during my high-stress, low-sleep high school days. When I walk to class I let my eyes wander as I admire the architecture of the buildings I pass. On a morning off I might go to the shores of Lake Michigan and lie back on a rock, staring up at the leaves on lake-side trees and shading my eyes under their cover. On a friday night, I'm more likely found at a play on campus or in my dorm suite than anywhere else.

I feel that this blog will end up just being me talking about anything. Perhaps no odd mentions of the crazed events of my day, no impassioned reflections on run-away emotions to keep an audience sadistically fascinated. Just thoughts. The small things. Take that to mean whatever you want it to.