September 21, 2013
September 2, 2013
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I’ve only been here for two weeks. The first week was spent in a frantic effort to find a place to live before the day I was scheduled to check out of the hostel. Since then, I’ve settled into a house with three lovely girls and two crazy kittens. Then the second week was spent doing equally important things like getting an Irish SIM card for my cell phone, opening a bank account, and convincing people that I really do have other interests than football/soccer, really, it’s just that Liverpool have a big game this week so…*
Still, now that I’ve had what will most likely, finally, be my last first day of school (unless I go for a PHD—unlikely) and I’m watching SSN to see how many players I love are going to be sold to teams I hate (I seriously do have other interests, but it’s Deadline Day), here are some words of wisdom to people who may find themselves new to Ireland like me.
*which they won, by the way.
July 15, 2013
Early Morning Runs
I am not a morning person. By any means. I am the opposite of a morning person, the kind of person who would stay up until dawn and then drag herself out of bed at noon to drink an entire pot of coffee if she had the chance. But lately, although my job forces me to get up before 8 anyway, I’ve been taking things a step further and setting my alarm for 6:30 or even 6am. I do this so I have time to go for a run before work. Not only do I beat the heat (temperatures in the 90s all this week—ugh!) but it really wakes me up, and then I don’t have to worry about it in the afternoon when I all I want to do is sit on a beach towel and read trashy fashion magazines.
Welcome to Night Vale
The podcast radio drama about a surreal little town in the desert, has been in production since last year, but I just started listening to it recently and I’m completely hooked. It’s creepy like a campfire ghost story but with an absurdity to it that reminds me of a paranormal Parks and Recreation, is narrated by Cecil, the DJ of Night Vale Community Radio, and listening to each of his reports on suddenly appearing pyramids and time-travelling pteranodons (or is it pterodactyls?) is brilliantly bizarre (or is it bizarrely brilliant?). I’m not caught up yet but I’m dying to know more about the unknowable dog park, the hooded figures, and if Cecil ever gets a date with beautiful Carlos.
Footwear isn’t something I’ve ever thought about too much. I don’t remember wearing anything last summer except for cross-trainers, Toms, and those $2 flipflops from Old Navy that come in every colour imaginable. But I’ve had a recently growing obsession that started when I finally gave in and, after coveting them for months, bought a pair of Jeffrey Campbell Lita boots in the fall. Since then I haven’t purchased any shoes quite that expensive—$30 flats from Zara don’t exactly break the bank—but it’s been fun to branch out. And the combination of working in an office and no longer living on the steep hill that is the Ithaca College campus does make wearing heels a lot easier.
8tracks.com is a website where users can upload their own playlists and share them with others. It’s been around for several years but I only became aware of it recently when some of my friends (and also all of tumblr) started making “fanmixes” (playlists themed around a television show, movie, book, or other form of media) on it. It’s fun to see what songs people associate with summer or studying or Welcome to Night Vale. And it’s nice to have a playlist to listen to so I don’t have to deal with constantly clicking through iTunes on shuffle until I find the one song I wanted to listen to the whole time when I could have just taken two seconds to maximise the window and search for it.
Summer means that all of my usual television addictions are on hiatus until the fall, but it also brings a whole new set of shows that I love. Of course there are the obligatory reality shows, like The Voice and my guiltiest of guilty pleasures Masterchef. For more refined fare, summer brings excellent programs from places where the September-May schedule is meaningless, like cable and the UK; Luther and Skins are returning favourites, I’m eagerly awaiting (and simultaneously dreading) the return of Breaking Bad, and I enjoyed the pilot episode of The Bridge. There are the summer miniseries, put on by networks to fill in the spaces where their regular shows would normally be—I’m hoping CBS’s Under the Dome has a better ending than the one in the book. And obviously summer is a great time to catch up on the shows I didn’t have time to watch during the year: I’m almost finished watching season 1 of Orphan Black, and I watched the pilot of Hannibal yesterday.
July 4, 2013
I’ve never quite understood patriotism. It’s not that I dislike America or that I’m unhappy to be American, but I’ve never felt the need to express it through a $5 Old Navy flag t-shirt (after the age of 8 or so). I find the USA USA chants that break out during every sporting event (even those where both teams are from the states) almost as cringeworthy as that awful, sappy “Proud to be an American” song.
What’s especially weird to me is that the people who are most invested in this kind of materialistic patriotism are often the ones who don’t understand how others may not benefit from the “land of the free” as much as they do. The people who say they “don’t see race” and then take seriously the idea of the President’s birth certificate being a forgery. The people who would try to stop a female Senator from preventing a bill restricting womens’ rights because of “the sanctity of life” but would, in the same week, justify the 500th death penalty execution in the state since 1982. The people who put up signs in their businesses reading “This is America; speak English” but don’t know enough about their country to know it does not have an official language. The people who would keep secret a program spying on peoples’ internet activities (but only the foreign-seeming ones) but who would tell those who complain that if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to hide.
At the same time, these people aren’t the only people in the United States who feel proud to be American or to be living in America. There’s that Senator, Wendy Davis, who stood on the floor of the Texas senate for over twelve hours, even after her filibuster had ended, to fight for womens’ rights, and the other senators like Senator Leticia R. Van de Putte who stood up for her right to do so. There are people like Jose Antonio Vargas, a journalist and activist whose status as an undocumented immigrant would make some people accuse him of being un-American, but whose advocacy for the DREAM Act is helping to support a path to creating new American citizens. There are people who live here, work here, go to school here, raise families here, and so on, and these people, for the most part have two things in common:
- They love America.
- They think it could be better.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that Americans have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and while that signing room may have been full of white, straight, Christian, upper-class men (as legislative bodies still so often are, these rights are for everyone. This “greatest country in the world” mentality doesn’t work when it’s only great for the people who fit into a narrow set of ideals. There’s nothing unpatriotic about wanting improvement; in fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re in a minority group, you deserve to be equal. If you’re in the majority, you should want everyone to have the same rights as you. If America is the land of opportunity, then living up to that nickname is more important than how many flags you can display around your house. And if there’s an America I’m proud of, this is the one. Happy Fourth of July, to everybody.
June 24, 2013
This is the part where I pretend I haven’t been gone for a month even though I promised I would post within the week. The part where I pretend I have something to say. Like maybe I can sum up four years at Ithaca in a thousand words now, a month after I graduated and moved back home for the summer before I move to Ireland in August.
Like I have something to say about working as a receptionist for part of the day and spending the rest of it in my house because all of my friends have moved away (this sounds sad; it isn’t—I’ve been watching Homeland and the Confederations Cup).
Speaking of football—aren’t I usually?—I could act as though I have something to say about seeing the Spanish national team play a friendly versus Ireland in NYC last week. Just a friendly, but it brought back memories of watching them lose the world cup, watching them win the Euros, not watching them win the World Cup because I was on a boat in the middle of a lake with no cell reception let alone a television, watching them win the Euros, and seeing them play in person, even in a friendly, even on the two small field they converted Yankee Stadium into, was pretty incredible.
I should have something to say, maybe, about going to concerts, or how I haven’t written in ages because writer’s block is an endless struggle, or maybe I should just write and say something that way.
But life’s been quiet this summer. That’s okay. I want to keep this blog updated, and I intend to do that, but I don’t want to say nothing just for the sake of saying something, you know? Instead, for today at least, I want to share some things.
Now, videos? As I may or may not have mentioned at this blog, I spent most of the semester invested in making a documentary about the hospice in Ithaca. After Erin and I volunteered there at the start of the year, we decided we wanted to tell the stories of the volunteers. It was an incredible and emotional experience, and we are so proud of the finished product. You can watch the trailer below and find the full documentary HERE. Also, one of our interview subjects wrote a beautiful blog post about the documentary and her experience with it; she’s an amazing woman and I’m so glad to have met her as part of this production: Elaine Mansfield: Gifts of the Heart.
I’ll be back soon enough. I’ll make a list of something. It is very humid today but the sun is shining and it’s a good day.
I’ve been feeling as though I should write some sort of meaningful emotional thing about graduation, as it’s less than a week away. I probably will, at some point. But I’ve been thinking about how to wrap up my time at Ithaca College and I’ve decided to turn to my favourite method of summarizing: lists. So I’ve gone back to my scrapbooks from August 2009 to now, and I’ve picked some favourite things. Later this week I’ll make a post about memorable events and school-related stuff, but for now, pop culture!
Books: If I’ve added it up correctly (which, being a journalism major, I’m not sure I did) I’ve read 274 books in the past four-ish years. That’s a lot of books. It doesn’t help that Ithaca has the greatest book sale in the world, and if I can get out of there with under $60 dollars worth of books, I consider it frugal. But here are the best I’ve read since starting college.
Honourable Mentions: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, At Swim Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill, The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky.
- Translations by Brian Friel (3/3/10): I read this play as part of a class called Staging History, one of my favourites I took at IC. When the IC Theatre Arts program did a performance of it last semester, I was excited to finally see it live.
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (10/8/10): I love books about writing, and I read a lot of them the summer after freshman year. This was one of my favourites.
- Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (23/11/10): My school has had some amazing speakers come to campus, everyone from Naomi Klein to Amy Goodman (okay, they’re quite similar, but still). Eugenides spoke when I was a sophomore and it made me want to read his books. I loved this one.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (28/11/10): I discovered Chabon’s work toward the end of high school, and I’ve read most of his novels by now, but this is still my favourite.
- The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox (29/12/10): I always consider a mark of a good book to be how much it makes me cry, and this one had me tearing up for hours after I finished, so I would definitely say I enjoyed it.
- Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter (7/2/11): Josh Ritter is one of my favourite musicians, and his novel is just as lyrical and beautiful as his songs. Also I met him at a book signing last summer and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered.
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King (9/1/12): Stephen King is one of my favourite authors but he has a tendency to have unmemorable endings. That’s definitely not true of this alternate history novel’s intense final scenes.
- Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (29/3/12): I’ve always enjoyed soccer but it was in college that I really came to love it (some would say obsessed). Hornby and I don’t support the same football club, but everything he says about loving your team and the joy and heartbreak that brings rings completely true.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (5/8/12): I somehow had never read Hemingway in high school like most people had to, so I decided to remedy that. I didn’t know much about the Spanish civil war before I studied in Spain but I learned a lot about it, and reading this book a week before I left just pulled it all together.
- A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut (9/18/12): One of my goals over the past few years was to read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s works. I recently finished all of his novels, and I have a few short story and essay collections to go but this mix of fiction and memoir is one of my favourites.
Movies: I’ve somehow seen even more films than I’ve read books, almost 350 since arriving at Ithaca. Here’re a few I loved.
Honourable Mentions: The Avengers, Shutter Island, The Artist, Whip It, The Dark Knight Rises
- Inglourious Basterds: It seems to surprise people sometimes when I say how much I love war movies and other films with a lot of crazy violence, but Tarantino is one of my favourite filmmakers and this one ranks just behind Reservoir Dogs for me. Also, once my friend and I saw him on the streets of NYC and recognised his weird hairline.
- The Boat that Rocked: This movie combines everything I love: sixties music, dysfunctional friendships, and the director and half the cast of Love Actually. I’ve seen it countless times and it never fails to make me happy.
- The Damned United: My roommate and I saw this by accident. Relying on good old public transportation, we missed the bus up to Cornell to see a movie there, so we picked one pretty much at random at Cinemapolis. It was a good decision.
- Inception: The film that spent the summer blowing everyone’s minds. I still hear people arguing about what the final scene means, but even if I’ve decided it’s not as complicated as I originally thought, it’s still an awesome action movie.
- Easy A: My roommate and I see a lot of movies together (three out of four on this list, plus countless others), but this one has a special place in our hearts because, for better or worse, we think our friendship is a lot like Olive and Rhiannon’s.
Television: I have a bad habit of watching television when I’m procrastinating. Now I don’t know when I’m supposed to watch television because I turned in my last essay and have nothing to procrastinate on. Weird.
Honourable Mentions: Skins, Mad Men, Sherlock, Luther, Six Feet Under
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel: I had seen bits of Buffy and Angel before, but it was early on in college that I decided to watch the whole series through. It was awesome, and I’m looking forward to seeing David Boreanaz as the commencement speaker this year.
- Arrested Development: I think if you didn’t come into college obsessed with AD you’ll be obsessed by the time you leave. I’ve heard as many comments about the new season as I have anything else that’s going to happen after graduation.
- Leverage: I don’t really know how or why I started watching this show, but I love that sort of misfit found family, and this show does that so well. I still haven’t watched the series finale so I can pretend it isn’t over.
- Friday Night Lights: Football is my least favourite sport and most high school-set shows are ridiculous, but this one has so much heart and also it has TAMI TAYLOR, queen of the world.
- Shameless (US): I’ve never seen the original UK version of Shameless, but I’m very content with this one. William H. Macy plays the most hatable character ever, but I love everyone else on the show.
- Game of Thrones: I mean, obviously. If you’re not watching it, you probably know nothing, Jon Snow.
- The Wire: This had been on my to-watch list for years, but when I signed up to take a “Politics of The Wire” course last fall I decided I didn’t want that to be my first experience with it, so I watched the series over the summer and was blown away.
- Elementary: This one caused some controversy since it’s the third Sherlock Holmes adaptation in the past five years and the second set in present day, and also because Watson is, GASP, a woman. But I think it’s by far the best of the recent adaptations, and Holmes and Watson’s dynamic is absolutely perfect.
- Breaking Bad: Another one that everyone in college is obsessed with, and another that we’re all counting down the days until the new, final season. I hope Walt gets what he deserves, and that someone wraps Jesse Pinkman in a blanket and feeds him soup.
- Friends: A few months ago I wrote that I was starting Friends for the first time and everyone couldn’t believe I’d never seen it before. Well, I finished the series a few weeks ago and while it might not have been quite as good as everyone had hyped it up to be, I still loved it.
I don’t know much about the Liga Mx. I follow the English Premier League and the Spanish Liga, and I’ve even started watching a bit of Bundesliga recently (although I’ve yet to find a broadcast with English commentary so the only words I can pick up are things like “Dortmund” and “das fitness coach”), so I hardly have time to watch yet another league anyway, although I sometimes catch a match on Univisión while I’m at the gym. I know a few key words and names in Mexican football, Hérculez Gómez and Chivas and Chicarito and the Azteca, but comparatively, I’m in the dark. Before reading Robert Andrew Powell’s gripping book, This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, I had certainly never heard of Los Indios de Ciudad Juárez.
After reading Charles Bowden’s Murder City in a journalism class last semester, if I’d had to guess I would’ve said that Juárez wouldn’t have time to play football in between all the murders. This would probably be a commonly-held thought but, as Powell’s book shows, there is more to Juárez than just violence and death, even if these elements are intrinsically linked to everything in the everyday life of a Juarense. The violence and death is ever-present, of course—there’s no ignoring the thousands of bodies that turn up in Juárez each year, some in front of Powell’s own house, he recounts chillingly—but the book paints a fuller picture of life in “murder city” than most people would guess.
April 6, 2013
Roger Ebert died this week. And I’m glad to see that in the countless articles and blog posts eulogizing him, he is never referred to “only” as a film critic. As someone whose dream job used to be entertainment critic, I’ve sometimes felt like my ambitions were less serious than my peers who dreamed of parachuting into a war zone armed only with a notebook and a tape recorder, even of dedicating their lives to small-town papers to report on their city council meetings.
But entertainment journalism, although it has the potential to be “soft” when reporting on the comings and goings of D-list celebrities, has its place. As the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Ebert demonstrated not only the value of film itself in reflecting or subverting the values of society, but also in discussing and critiquing film and the way it reflects or subverts those values.
In the thousands of reviews he wrote over four and a half decades at the Chicago Sun-Times and other media outlets, he was never afraid to digress into a commentary on social and political issues. Ebert was criticized over the summer for speaking out in favour of gun control in the wake of the movie theatre shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and many of his opponents said that he should stick to talking about movies. But as Ebert so often proved, there are so many times when you can’t talk about movies without talking about life.
This isn’t to say, however, that for a movie to be good, or valid, or worth discussing, it must relate to life or have a deeper meaning. Sometimes film can just be fun. That’s another thing I always enjoyed about Ebert’s reviews; he compared films to other films like them rather than with complete objectivity. A well-done romcom may not be as “objectively” good as Citizen Kane, but Ebert wouldn’t mark it down simply for the error of not being Citizen Kane. This is something that I’m sure most critics do, because otherwise the majority of films would probably be given two stars or fewer, but Ebert was so unapologetic about it—sometimes films are important and sometimes they’re not, and that’s okay.
At the same time, he could get outraged about a bad movie. Some of his reviews read as though they are accusing the film of personally insulting its audience for making us watch such an awful film. As much as he did not look down on films for not aspiring to brilliance, he also didn’t give a pass to those which only reached for the lowest bars.
Roger Ebert was witty. Countless lists have been written before and since his death ranking some of his best zingers. But he was was also thoughtful, intelligent, and kind. Unless you are a journalist, or very interested in journalism, most people don’t remember many journalists by name, even if you like their writing. But everyone knows Ebert’s name. He was like a friend, the kind of friend you asked before you went to a movie, to see what he thought of it, and afterward maybe you’d nod in agreement or maybe you’d argue, even only in your own head.
Whenever a writer who means as much as Ebert did dies, there are dozens or perhaps hundreds of tributes to him, and in the grand scheme of things mine is hardly meaningful. But he was meaningful to me. He showed that loving pop culture and wanting to critique and discuss it is not shallow, doesn’t have to be. Movies are a less-appreciated art in that they are not considered as sophisticated as books or paintings despite decades of evidence to the contrary, but Ebert showed that everything is worth talking about, and that discussion can critique who we are along with what we watch.
Now I recommend you read Ebert’s final blog post, which ends with this beautiful line:
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies. – Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
March 3, 2013
Today was a good day at the gym, television-wise. There are four TVs in the fitness center of my apartment complex and generally when I arrive to exercise, unless it’s just as the gym is opening (annoyingly late on weekends—some people want to work out before noon, Ithaca College), I end up watching whatever’s already on. That tends to mean the Food Network or endless episodes of Say Yes to the Dress (there’s usually only girls at the gym, which probably explains this). Today was a good day because I was the only one in the room for a while and so I got put a football game on one screen and a hockey game on another*, but that’s not the point of this post.
*I’m in the market for a hockey team. I’ve just started watching the sport and I was watching the game today because one of my friends is a big Blackhawks fan and another is a die-hard Red Wings supporter. I still haven’t determined my allegiance yet but I figure I have to give the Flyers a chance, at least, even if it’ll destroy my “hates all Philadelphia sports except Union because their fans made that John Terry sign that one time” cred.
Point is, the other day some fellow college student had chosen MTV’s Catfish TV show as their workout soundtrack. Since it was on, and I was there, I watched half of two episodes (the second half of one and the first half of the other). Now, I remember hearing about the Catfish documentary when it first became famous, but I have never seen it and this was my first experience with the tv show, and the first episode I watched surprised me. In it, a girl who had been friends with a boy for ten years went to meet him in person for the first time. It turned out that the only reason he hadn’t wanted to meet was that he was embarrassed about his weight. They ended the episode as friends; it was very sweet.
February 17, 2013
Yesterday the honours program at my school took a day trip to Ottawa to visit the winter festival. Here are a few of my photos!
Also, shameless self-promotion, I have a tumblr of my photography at thebestpossibletime.