Finishing posts

I am not one for New Year’s resolutions. I am one for setting concrete objectives and not sticking to them (much like the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions), but New Year’s resolutions themselves connote empty goals and promises, a resolution made with the expectation of being broken within the first few weeks of January. I don’t want this to happen to the most recent set of goals I have set for myself, one of which is directly related to this blog: post at least one full and thoughtful entry a week. And finish what you start.

I was just reading through my drafts accumulated over the past couple of years (if you read through this blog’s short history, you’ll notice that I post very sporadically–maybe a couple posts at a time, then radio silence for the next six months or so), and I’m kicking myself right now because there are some great entries in there that I cannot share on the blog because they’re unfinished. They stop abruptly, and at this point in time, I’ve forgotten too much to go back and complete them. I wrote thoughtful entries about Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009),  American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000), and Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre, 2013), and The Escape Artist (Masterpiece Theatre, 2013), among others, and it’s a shame that I can’t yet add them to my meagre collection of posts. (I did, however, add my unfinished post about the Up! series because while my second point is completely unfleshed out, at least it ends with semi-complete thoughts. Okay, okay, to tell the truth, I was probably grasping at straws to save something, anything from the dreaded Drafts folder.) While there’s no use mourning the past, I can learn from these mistakes by always finishing what I start, no matter how hard it becomes. Finishing things and writing a lot is the only way I’m going to get any better.

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Top Five Update: 2016 Edition

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Film

1. Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)—for helping me to appreciate thought-provoking films above all else

2. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)—for showing me the importance of passion and the resilience of the human spirit   

3. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)—for its style and surprising tone

4. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)—for grounding a tired fantasy genre in today’s reality, thereby delivering a stark, incisive critique on today’s society

5. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)—for being a damn stylish movie on passion and pursuing one’s dreams with no compromises

Honorable Mentions: Singin’ in the Rain, All About Eve, Citizen Kane, The Truman Show, Midnight in Paris, Whiplash, Babette’s Feast, L’Enfant

Film of 2016

1. La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)

2. Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015)

3. The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015)

4. American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

5. Sing Street (John Carney, 2016)

Other movies I remember watching: CreepSpotlight, Brooklyn, Spy, Deadpool, Clouds of Sils Maria, Air Force One, Zootopia, Finding Dory, Trumbo, The Lobster, Captain America: Civil War, The Revenant, Straight Outta Compton, The American President, Sausage Party, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Love & Friendship, Terms of Endearment, Certain Women, King Georges, Rogue One

TV

1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

2. Veep (HBO)

3. The Office (NBC)

4. Sherlock (PBS)

5. Downton Abbey (PBS)

Honorable Mentions: Black Mirror, Cranford

TV of 2016

1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)

2. Black Mirror (Netflix)

3. Veep (HBO)

4. The Crown (Netflix)

5. TIED The Good Place (FOX) AND Westworld (HBO)

Other shows I remember watching: Modern Family, Fresh Off the Boat, Downton Abbey, Endeavour, The Good Wife, Bachelor in Paradise 😳, Silicon Valley, Stranger Things, John Adams, Seinfeld, Bob’s Burgers

Books

1. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

2. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

3. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

4. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

5. Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace 

Books of 2016

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

2. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

3. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Other books I remember reading: Blink, Modern Romance, Outliers, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, The Dinner, Girl on the Train

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

This doesn’t count as me having finished another book, as this was at least my fourth time reading it (if not more). Some might wonder why I read and reread depressing memoirs like Angela’s Ashes. (1) It reminds me that others have it much worse, (2) it shows the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, and (3) it’s a masterfully written book. Stark and unsugarcoated, but not self-pitying, Mr. McCourt tells it like it was, matter-of-fact and with a sense of humor, through the innocence of a child. This book will always have a special place in my heart for introducing me at an early age to my love of memoir and biography, but deservedly so because its poignant portrayal of love, hardship, endurance, and shame.


Some passages that caught my attention this time around:

I think my father is like the Holy Trinity with three people in him, the one in the morning with the paper, the one at night with the stories and the prayers, and then the one who does the bad thing and comes home with the smell of whiskey and wants us to die for Ireland. I feel sad over the bad thing but I can’t back away from him because the one in the morning is my real father and if I were in America I could say, I love you, Dad, the way they do in the films, but you can’t say that in Limerick for fear you might be laughed at. You’re allowed to say you love God and babies and horses that win but anything else is a softness in the head (McCourt, 210).


Ah, pension my arse. Sixteen years of age an’ talking about the pension. Is it coddin’ me you are? Do you hear what I said, Frankie? Pension my arse. If you pass the exam you’ll stay in the post office nice and secure the rest of your life. You’ll marry a Brigid and have five little Catholics and grow little roses in your garden. You’ll be dead in your head before you’re thirty and dried in your ballocks the year before. Make up your own bloody mind and to hell with the safeshots and the begrudgers. Do you hear me, Frankie McCourt?…’Tis your life, make your own decisions and to hell with the begrudgers, Frankie. In the heel o’ the hunt you’ll be going to America anyway, won’t you? (McCourt, 334)

The Dinner by Herman Koch

I don’t really get why this book had to take place at a dinner. It feels a little gimmicky, if you ask me. All the dinner backdrop really serves to do is (1) break up the progression of the book into digestible portions (aperitif, appetizer, main course, dessert, digestif), and (2) underscore the problematic nature of this family (going out to dinner at a seen-and-be-seen restaurant to discuss a crime committed by their children seems like they’re not taking the crime seriously)–both of which could be just as skillfully done without a waiter interrupting every so often. But alright.

Despite the gimmick, The Dinner is a fun read highlighting the power of the unreliable narrator. I know I litter all my entries with dozens of spoilers (they’re reflections after all)–but let me just say this: that family is psychotic.

Reflections and Moving Forward

To reflect on my summer: In June I was frustrated and depressed. In July I had my perspectives shaken up by family changes and my first visit to the motherland (aka Korea). In August, I started making active efforts to move forward in my life.

I didn’t do much reading or watching of films. I did, however, watch an enormous amount of television, I’m ashamed to say.

 

MOVIES

Zootopia (Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush; 2016; USA)

Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton, 2016, USA)

The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2016, UK)

Captain America: Civil War (Joe Russo & Anthony Russo, 2016, USA)

Sing Street (John Carney, 2016, Ireland)

Sausage Party (Conrad Vernon & Greg Tiernan, 2016, USA)

 

TELEVISION

Silicon Valley: Season 3 (HBO)

The Good Wife: Seasons 1-7 (CBS via Amazon Prime)

Seinfeld: Seasons 1- (NBC via Hulu)

Stranger Things: Season 1 (Netflix)

…Bachelor in Paradise: Season 2 (ABC)

 

BOOKS

I’m halfway through The Two Koreas by Don Oberdorfer

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

 

A few reflections on all this:

My favorite movies of the summer were Finding Dory and Sing Street. Finding Dory had great heart, beautiful animation, and excellent storytelling and character development. Sing Street had spunky characters, amazing soundtrack and wardrobe, and nostalgia for the 80s on it’s side. That being said, the most creative movies I watched this summer were undoubtedly Zootopia and Sausage Party. Zootopia bravely took on the hot button issue of racism and turned it into a sweet yet complex animated movie teaching children and adults alike the dangers of racism; Sausage Party took a simple yet creative premise and kept the fun going with button-pushing raunchy jokes and political humor. Both were bold risks that paid off.

I watched way too much TV this summer. The Good Wife was a mediocre show–at times, excellent (Season 5: Episodes 5 and 15) , but mostly procedural and full of frustrating recurring characters. More often than not, I found protagonist Alicia Florrick  to be an unsympathetic character–perhaps part of the character’s complexity, commentary on the corrupting influence of the law, but nevertheless rendering the show irritating to watch. It’s hard to root for a stone cold bitch denying responsibility left and right. Few of the other characters are much better. I started watching Seinfeld to replace the gaping hole the end of Curb Your Enthusiasm left on my life. I love these shows about nothing in part because I can relate to what they’re doing–blowing tiny situations out of proportion and playing with the possibilities. In terms of shows actually on air now: Silicon Valley was slightly less brilliant than seasons past, but still funny and I love how each season tackles a new stage in the progression of a start up–this season, the expansion of a great idea into a company. Stranger Things is excellent–scary, 80s-nostalgic, a little bizarre and all over the place, but it works. I’m ashamed to say I watched Bachelor in Paradise. It’s just so damn addicting to see this unnatural dating simulation, where people have limited options, feel pressure to cling to someone in order to get a rose and remain in paradise even if they’re not actually into them, and expect to feel instant connections and be engaged by the end of it all. It’s so fake. I’m going to stop there, lest I launch into judgmental critiques of real people who I don’t actually know. Let me just say this though–the only guys that I would be remotely interested in on that island would be Wells and Vinny.

I hardly read this summer. Even though Don Oberdorfer’s post-Korean War history of the Korean peninsula is supremely fascinating, I’ve been such a couch potato that I only am invested in such a political, fact-heavy book when I have nothing else to entertain me–namely, on the subway to and from work (that is, if I’m not tired or anxious). The only book I’ve completed this summer has been the Harry Potter fan-fic play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I cannot believe JK Rowling attached her name to such an awful piece of writing. The plot is stupid, the characterizations are terrible, and the dialogue? Truly cringeworthy. There’s so much audience pandering going on here, insultingly assuming that the audience are a bunch of idiots who need comic relief at every twist and turn. I know it’s a fictional work, but so was Harry Potter–you only put jokes where they make sense. During a tense situation in which your son might be lost forever, you don’t look around and comment on how many farmer’s markets a town has. That’s just dumb and unnecessary. Ignoring the terrible plot (the premise was great, the actual plot line the playwrights decided to go with? So stupid), the play tried way too hard to be entertaining that it’s actually hard to read.

 

I really need to sleep, but first–in terms of moving forward, my cultural goals for the September 2016-August 2017 year are these:

MOVIES: watch at least 1 movie/week

BOOKS: read at least 1 book/2 weeks

It’s week 1 of the new year, and I’ve already finished my first book: Herman Koch’s The Dinner (coming up on the blog! Probably should have devoted more time to the entry, but whatever–some of these posts will be more about speed for the sake of practice and documentation, then quality, well composed pieces).

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I read this back in July 2015 while in Spain with friends, celebrating our recent graduation from college. I’ve decided not to pad my blog with musings written in my personal journal because that’s making things quite messy, timeline-wise, but this was such a fun read for someone obsessed with movies–as one of the most prominent film critics in history, Roger Ebert’s memoirs is chockfull of anecdotes involving Hollywood’s biggest names–that I just had to include it. Here are two quotes that I noted down, either for the sake of humor or wisdom.

(1) “Roger, when I need to amuse myself, I stroll down the sidewalk reflecting that every person I pass thought they looked just great when they walked out of their house that morning” (Gene Siskel, 330).
(2) “The lesson Studs [Terkel] taught me is that your life is over when you stop living it. If you can truly ‘retire,’ you only had a job, but not an occupation” (398).

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

NOTE: WRITTEN ON APRIL 26, 2016

And in that moment, the longing he’d felt for Sasha at last assumed a clear shape: Alex imagined walking into her apartment and finding himself still there–his young self, full of schemes and high standards, with nothing decided yet. The fantasy imbued him with careening hope.

Alex felt an ache in his eyes and throat. “I don’t know what happened to me,” he said, shaking his head. “I honestly don’t.”

Bennie glanced at him, a middle-aged man with chaotic silver hair and thoughtful eyes. “You grew up, Alex,” he said, “just like the rest of us.”

Alex closed his eyes and listened: a storefront gate sliding down. A dog barking hoarsely. THe lowing of trucks over bridges. The velvety night in his ears. And the hum, always that hum, which maybe wasn’t an echo after all, but the sound of time passing.

A sound of clicking heels on the pavement punctured the quiet. Alex snapped open his eyes, and he and Bennie both turned–whirled, really, peering for Sasha in the ashy dark. But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys.

-Selections from pg. 339-340 of A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

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What is this book about?

At first I thought it’s simply about life and people, in all their glorious shades of messiness; snapshots of humanity. A chapter focuses on a character or a group of related characters in a period of time in their lives; the next chapter hones in on a secondary character mentioned in the previous chapter but during a completely different period of time in their life, providing some sort of backstory glimpse into that character’s future. Many chapters feature insight into both past and future. Essentially, the book is a non-chronological scrapbook of the lives of multiple distantly related, very flawed, very human characters.

Take Sasha for example–the klepto who spent her late teenage years wandering around Asia and Europe, filching wallets and goods, scrubbing floors, sucking off older men, and when desperate, wiring her worried parents for more money in order to survive. Though she always retains at least a bit of her rebellious streak, she finally comes back to the States at 21 and starts studying Business and Music at NYU, where she befriends a very confused boy with self-destructive tendencies who soon dies in a drowning accident, and dates the boy she will marry and have two children with much later in her life, after she gets fired post many years of service as the assistant of a prominent music producer because of her klepto tendencies, and after many years of dating and sleeping with random guys–Alex, among them (they had one date when Alex first moves to New York. He annoys her, but they sleep together anyways). By the time she has had her family, Sasha has calmed down and become a responsible human being, a loving wife and mother.

Sasha’s story starts with a story told with her as the central character. She’s 35, still an assistant for Bennie at Sow’s Ear music production, in therapy seeking help for her kleptomania. The story describes an unmemorable first and only date with Alex. Many chapters later, Sasha’s story resurfaces in a chapter focusing on Rob, her college best friend who drowns. From Rob’s story, we get a glimpse of the college Sasha–less cynical and jaded, still full of hope. College Sasha scorns drugs, whereas the next glimpse of Sasha clearly does not. Via her uncle’s story of when he was sent to Italy to find a post-high school pre-college Sasha who has run away from home to wander around Asia and Europe, we get a glimpse of a wilder more reckless Sasha, stealing and sucking off older men to survive. And finally, through her daughter’s PowerPoint deck retelling, we get a vision of a tame Sasha–a loving wife and mother of two who teaches her children to love and appreciate music, but without all the sex and drugs and rock and roll (and stealing of her youth).

Sasha’s story was of one who slowly grows up (though not completely successfully). Many of the other characters do not.

When late in the book “goons” are finally mentioned–”Time’s a goon,” Bennie says to Scotty–I feel good that my analysis of the book is almost correct. The book is about time, specifically the lives of people across different periods of time in their lives and in society.
But the last chapter completely threw me off guard. It’s told from Alex’s point of view, set in the future. In the 2020s at least, 2030s more realistically. Whereas the other chapters seem to capture very real portraits of humanity, this one seems like satire on the way that society is moving: everyone is glued to their phones, babies especially (dependence on technology, short attention spans); babies become the next most important target audience (the media is targeting increasingly younger demographics); bloggers are immensely powerful and shamelessly promote the opinions of whoever gives them money (the rise of bloggers and the ethics of sponsorships); words like “connect” and “transmit” are outdated (pace of technological advancement–transmission of information becoming increasingly instantaneous) and “identity” and “friend” are rendered meaningless (falsity of social media); texting language changes, curse words disappear from the vocabulary, and tattoos and piercings fall out fashion (generational fads–the self-righteousness of newer generations)–the satire is endless. This chapter seems like the only overt commentary on society; everything else seems to be more about the self-destructive choices that we make (so there’s some other chapters that can be construed as commentary, for example the one centering on La Doll/Dolly and her far-fetched experience trying to make money after her fall from grace, but this one is more rooted in reality than in a futuristic society obviously satirizing society today). But I suppose even through the satire, Alex’s story is still very relatable and rooted in the human experience of going back on your morals to get ahead, and longing for the past when everything was still before you–hope, not cynicism on the way the world worked. And that’s ultimately what this book is about. Loss of the starry eyed hope of youth.