Saturday, October 25, 2014

Intensely Felt, Sensitive, Promising Prose

Something dangerous happened the first half of this fall semester. I avoided fiction like the plague. I tried to write a line or two every so often, but I panicked. My prose was far from perfect. I wasn't enthused about my ideas. So I just didn't write. I pulled a Paul from Breakfast at Tiffany's. I was sitting around, "writing" my novel, but I didn't even own a metaphorical typewriter ribbon. It was downright depressing.

Is it okay if Breakfast at Tiffany's is my favorite movie now? Hope so.
Well, the past week I've been home on fall break with plenty of time to mull over NaNoWriMo e-mails and sift through old dreams, and you know what? I've decided I don't care if my prose is perfect. I don't care if I write the most trite piece of work to ever grace the planet. I just want to write something. I'm going to write something that doesn't look like "real literature" in the least because I've got to do something with all the scenes and voices in my head. Let there be irrational inventions and historically inaccurate societies and entirely fictional wars fought by impossible people sidelined by highly illogical romances. Let there be days where I don't write enough, followed by days where I write too much and the ideas all putter out into cliches and ramblings. Let there be early Saturday mornings complete with coffee and fall breezes and chapters only I will ever see because they are so atrocious. Let there be something, anything with my name on it. It's the only way I'll ever get better.

So there you have it. I'm doing NaNoWriMo 2014. I probably won't win. I probably will only get one decent paragraph out of it. And you know what? I don't care. And not caring feels positively glorious. Goodbye, Mean Reds. Hello, November.

November Mantra: Channel your post-Holly Paul and for heaven's sake, just write something.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Web Series Review: The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy

I don't think it's any secret, but in case you aren't already aware, I have an affinity for all things Peter Pan. I am a self-proclaimed J.M. Barrie junkie who wrote a biography on Barrie in 10th grade and thought that made me an expert. Imagine my excitement when I found out that there were folks making a web series adaptation of my darling book, entitled The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy. Cue the happy dancing!

Let me preface my review with this statement. I am all for the adaptation and even modernization of classic tales. The fact that there are people out there re-telling this hundred year old book is a testament to its classic lit status. Peter Pan contains universal themes and questions that deserve to be revisited. I'm not a purist. I'm not expecting a direct translation of the book to modern times. That being said, I have to admit... I'm a little disappointed in this web series. I know that there is an entire fandom out there just waiting to shoot this Wendy-bird down, but trust me, I have my reasons.

First, the age of the characters. When I first heard that there was going to be a modern take on Peter Pan set in a small town called Neverland, I figured the main characters would be college-aged. It's perfect, right? Standing on the brink of adulthood -- college and careers knocking on the door -- and Peter doesn't want to leave Neverland, but Wendy knows she has to in order to pursue her dreams and grow up. But in the web series, the main characters are in their late twenties. Not mid-twenties. Not early twenties. Late twenties. Paying bills. Working jobs. Living out of apartments. If the question of "growing up" is an issue at twenty-seven, then we have bigger problems than the immediate conflict in Peter and Wendy.

Of course, this detail reflects the extension of adolescence in our culture. However, Wendy at twenty-seven? Peter, practically a thirty year old man, still swearing to never grow up? For me, the ages detract from the conflict. Every time Peter starts to pull on my heartstrings (and he does, Kyle Walters is excellent in the role), my logical side kicks in. There are no excuses for anyone being this childish at this age. Goofiness and irresponsibility is problematic in someone approaching twenty, but seriously disconcerting in someone approaching thirty. If the characters' ages were dialed back a few years, I think I would be more disposed to believe the plot... and like the characters more. Instead I find myself disturbed by the immaturity of fully grown adults. Yes, adults. The childhood Peter is grasping at left years ago, hence why I am not a fan of this aspect of the series.

Secondly, I don't particularly care for TNAoP+W's more mature content*. I can tolerate it in small doses (think The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), but I think certain parts of the series were excessive. This is open for debate. I know not everyone has the same sensibilities I do and may beg to differ, but even if there are those who do not mind such elements, the fact is that by including mature content (not graphic, but mature), the series further distances itself from the original novel. Which brings me to my final conclusion: For whatever The New Adventure of Peter and Wendy's strengths, at the end of the day, it isn't Peter Pan. It's good. The acting is great. But it isn't based on the book. It's based on some of the concepts of and popular myths surrounding the book. The times where it deviates from the plot of the original aren't just minor changes, they change the heart of the story. When all is said and done, the "take away" from the web series differs from the book, which is inevitable when romance is at the forefront of the series.

I'm still thrilled that there is interest in this web show, though the jury is out on whether or not I can give it a stamp of approval. I disagreed with a lot of things in the series, which can sort of suck the fun out of it. If the indiegogo campaign goes well, I should have a season or two more to make up my mind.

So there you have it, my thoughts on The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy. If anyone else has seen it, I'd love to hear your take on it.

* "Mature content" in this series includes an instance of doing drugs, passionate kissing, drunkenness, co-habitation, etc.

Images: one, two, three

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Inner Conflict of a Self-Professed Bibliophile

There is nothing quite as thrilling nor as painful as purchasing books for the upcoming semester.

First, the exciting bit. I get immense satisfaction from the steady stream of packages containing bound volumes of knowledge. The books always look so smart lined up next to each other, making a proud display of their motley titles. Shall I line them up according to size? Color? Subject? My preferred look is "absent-minded professor style": no system, giving the row the pretty effect of a rainbow gone awry. Then comes the insurmountable pleasure of getting to actually read those books, and to share my wonder (or sometimes, lack thereof) with my fellow scholars. There is a special bond that arises from suffering through a text or sharing its joy. Finally, there comes the contentment of looking over the titles on the bookshelf knowing that I've read -- or sampled -- every last one. The process of ordering books is a promise of new experiences. Of course it's exciting!

Then comes the terrifying part. With every book comes this dreaded little thing called a price tag. Instead of seeing numbers, I see hours spent at work. "Ah, I see this one is going to cost an hour and a half. There's a closing shift... Early shift... Paid break..." I mean, I knew this day would come. I knew there would come a time where I would have to dip into the little horde of payroll checks I had stowed away in my cave of a savings account. Yet no amount of foreknowledge could prepare me for the emotions of this day. And I know that soon the trickle will turn into a rushing river of bills, bills, bills...

This double-edged sword of perfect joy and perfect fear practically cuts to the heart of me, especially while staring at the comparative prices of Amazon Marketplace. My passionate love affair with books is pitted against my practical side, the side that lends thrift stores their charm and transforms free grocery store samples into feasts. Used bookstores play to the different corners of my heart and like sirens lure me towards their own fatal rocks.

See me? "Good condition". Don't you like good condition? And I'm cheap, gloriously cheap! Never mind if my dust jacket is missing, I'm beautiful on the inside, that's what counts. That extra three dollars could go a long way towards buying you a pizza this semester..

My mouth waters. Did I mention I love food as well?

No, don't mind him! Choose me! "Acceptable condition". Who cares about a few annotations, anyway? Perhaps I'll turn out to be just like Harry Potter's potions book. I could be your Half-Blood Prince. I could instruct you in literary insights so grand your mind would ache! Besides, don't you love the idea of reading someone else's handwriting? Surely there's a story there!

Well, I do love the idea of finding some little treasures in the margins. But what if they're distracting? What if they have wretched penmanship and doodle caricatures of classmates in between paragraphs? I'm not sure I could stand that!

Over here! See me? I'm brand new, straight from Amazon. No surprises here. I'm strong and steady, predictable, familiar. I smell like fresh ink and possibility. No torn pages, highlighters, or pencil marks. Never mind if I cost a few cents extra. Since when did $1.99 ever break the bank? 

You do have a point. But how long until my collection of $1.99 splurges add up to a whole book-worth? In just over a month, I'll be attending social functions with the express purpose of picking up free food. I don't have change to spare! I'm on the brink of being a starving college student again! No longer will sandwiches be free and made with love. The tip will not be taken care of and there will not be half a dozen types of cereal to choose from at any given moment. What say you to that, oh leather bound temptress!?


Sigh. Being a Hermione Granger can be tough in this economic climate.

Images: one, two, three

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book vs. Movie: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Earlier this month, I finally got around to reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I heartily enjoyed it and highly recommend it, albeit with a note of caution to younger readers, as it has quite a few mature themes in it. When my father caught me reading my copy while we were driving through Brooklyn on summer vacation (I couldn't resist the irony of reading it in New York), it reminded him how much he had enjoyed the movie and he bought it for our whole family to watch. I had been planning to watch it and blog about it anyhow, but I think watching the movie with my loved ones, especially my dad, made it extra special. So now, without further ado, here it is. Book versus movie. Which one shall come out on top?

There is no doubt that while the book and the movie share major plot points, there are some serious differences. Certain story-lines were condensed, combined, or cut for the purposes of the film. For the most part, I felt like these were good decisions, since the novel is a rich book with lots of details that are difficult to convey in a few hours onscreen. For example, the book ends with Francie and Neeley as young adults, but the movie stops while they're still children. The movie does just fine without the latter parts of the book and I think shortening the story was a prudent decision.

However, while some of the changes were true to the nature of the story, others were not. The movie definitely waters down the grittiness of poverty that the novel captures so well. Some of this can be attributed to the censorship in the 1940's. For instance, pregnant women were not allowed to appear onscreen. The notion was unthinkable in those days. Needless to say, my sisters were amazed at how thin these women of a bygone era were, even when months with child! There were other more mature themes that didn't make the cut: the complicated details of Sissy Nolan's multiple "marriages" and miscarriages (simplified and glossed over in the film), the pain of childbirth, and rape/sexual perversity. While the simplification and sometimes omission of these difficult issues certainly gave the film a level of charm, I think it came at a high price. The impact of the book was not fully present in the movie.

Even themes that did make the movie were weakened, due to the sensitivities of the Greatest Generation, its audience. Johnny Nolan's drunkenness was present, but kept off screen much of the time. More time was spent on Katie Nolan's faults than the complicated vices of her husband. The constant struggle for money wasn't as prominent. There were some allusions to Sissy's strange past, but it was never fully explored. Basically, while all the difficult questions and ugly sides of people were there, they were airbrushed to a certain extent in order to make them screen-worthy.

There was one scene of the film that definitely outdid the book, in my opinion. (It's a minor detail, so I don't think I'll be spoiling the larger plot for anyone interested in reading/watching A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!). Just after Francie and Neeley graduate, they all go out for ice creams and sodas, and a young boy comes over to the table to ask Francie to the movies. The moment is short in the book -- it's only meant to indicate that Francie is growing up and things are changing -- but it becomes a hysterical and somewhat longer ordeal in the movie. There are no clips of the scene online, but even if you don't plan to watch the whole film, watch that scene for a good laugh. It's adorable.

Book or movie? Perhaps this is a cop out answer, but I'm going to go with both. I think that while both novel and film tell the same basic story, in the end they are different tales. Betty Smith's novel is a little more beat up, with more grime and dirt and some holes in the knees of the jeans. The Nolan's poverty doesn't have the novelty it does in the movie. The morality of the characters is more complex and questionable. And following Francie and Neeley into adulthood certainly changes the message a bit. Meanwhile, the film is wonderful. I cried, and so did my parents. The acting is superb. I especially love the girl who portrays Francie, Peggy Ann Garner. She's absolutely darling. Sure, the movie isn't as gritty as the book, but it still addresses universal questions and does a great job. So my answers is "both", which I think is feasible, as the movie takes on a life of its own separate from the book.

Isn't this is a beautiful scene? This captures the predominant questions of both the novel and the film. The themes of education, truth, beauty, morality... All set in an impoverished neighborhood in Brooklyn. It's so awesome.

If you're interested in reading the book, click here. And here's where you can find out about the movie. If anyone here has read it or seen it, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back to First Principles

My apologies for having been on radio silent for the past few weeks. I'm calling it a "vacation", but in reality, a fatal combination of life and blogger's block was keeping me at bay. If you could see me, you would see that I am gracefully curtsying and honoring you in return for your patience and understanding. *curtsy*

So you know what's kind of funny? How often on this blog I speak with a certain air of authority, like I'm an expert or something. Yes, I write, but I'm no published author. Yes, I read, but I have met way more voracious readers than I in my travels. What have I got in my court? Well, enthusiasm. Interest. A whole two semesters worth of higher education. Nothing to make me an authority on much of anything besides how to survive high school. It's almost laughable to read my older posts. REVISION: My older posts are laughable. I should definitely stick to telling funny stories about my experiences with cute boys and middle-aged women. And waxing poetic about Jane Austen -- I'm pretty talented in that regard.

Having accepted the fact that I am unskilled yet ardent in my pursuit of noteworthy prose, I give you the two-pronged process that is guaranteed to make me (and you) a better writer: reading a lot and writing a lot.

Step one, read a lot. While some people will advise you to read anything and everything, I offer a cautionary note. I could go all PHIL 102 on you and explain the relation of the imagination and the intellect and how crucial it is to fill your imagination with good things, but it took weeks of study and one fork-truck-thing analogy (compliments of Emily, whose dad works in construction) to make sense of it, so I'll just give you the general idea. Your imagination determines what images you have to think about and contemplate. So if you constantly fill your mind with trashy romance novels and the like, well, those are the images and words you'll have to think about and work with. By all means, take notes and learn from that poorly written mystery novel you had to read in seventh grade, but be selective in your reading. Learn from the poor books that come your way. However, I personally believe a focus on the "good stuff" is essential. Fill your imagination with beautiful imagery, good character development, quality dialogue, and a rich vocabulary and you'll be able to rearrange all those lovely things into a mosaic-story that is entirely your own. First principle: Read what you want to write.

Step two, write a lot. At some point, you are going to write something and absolutely loathe it. It's inevitable. There is a disconnect between that intangible image in your mind of what your story ought to be and the concrete print of what your story really is. You are bound to get lost in translation at some point. But if you sit around, waiting for blue skies before setting a pen to paper, all that poor writing will make up a much higher percentage of what writing you have to work with. It will take you twice as long to reach the editing phase, which is where the real magic happens and your diamond in the rough becomes a polished gleaming stone. Write on good days. Write on bad days. Write to yourself about how you have no idea what to write. Every day, you'll be the slightest hint better at the craft, and eventually that will add up to something marvelous. First principle: Write as often as you can manage.

I am hardly a master of these two principles. I say these things with borrowed authority from authors more impressive than I. This post, more than anything, is a promise to myself: to read more and write often. I'm going back to the first principles. Should be fun.

Images: one, two, three, four

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Peace and Quiet

I'm not really sure how to go about this post. I've been agonizing over it in my head for days now, searching for the right words. I just finished Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, and let me tell you, it was good. Honestly, it was the literary equivalent of a cup of tea, piles of blankets, and a late night talk with your mom. It was an oddly comforting read, mainly because I finally felt like I had found someone who understood. Susan Cain tackles the topic of introversion with all the detail and emotion it demands. Part of her success is the fact that she's an introvert herself. She is able to combine the scientific and the personal with ease, and the end result is a book that I believe everyone ought to read.

As Cain states, "America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality -- and opened up a Pandora's Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover." The American emphasis on charism and self-expression honestly leaves many exhausted. There are those among us who abhor small talk, who actually enjoy observing the party from the corner of the room, who avoid group projects, and who excel in private pursuits. Yet the culture will have none of it. Businessmen who fail to project their ideas with eloquent, vocal confidence are overlooked. Students who choose to remain silent during class discussions worry their teachers. Children who select one or two friends over a score of acquaintances concern their parents with their apparent lack of social skills. Individuals who delve deeply into their unique passions are labeled weird and sent to the fringes of society. America likes talk and openness and activity. I mean... It's all about presentation.

I couldn't resist adding this.
For some people, this comes naturally. Extroverts tend to think out loud, love to flit from person to person to engage in quick conversation, and have no problem contributing in a group setting. This is part of the reason why we love them. They can lighten the mood and bring people together. They play off of others well. They can switch gears with relative ease. If you have ever met an extroverted person with a good heart, you know firsthand just how wonderful they can be. However, not everyone is cut from the same cloth. What does America do with the one third to one half of the population that doesn't think aloud, openly share, or enjoy networking?

Good question. For the most part, it seems, we don't do much of anything with them. We certainly don't accommodate them. Extroversion is more or less mandatory in our day and age. Many folks don't realize they are introverted: They've spent their entire lives playing the extrovert game with the rest of us. As a result, we as a culture miss out on the special gifts of introverts. Introverts tend to be focused, independent workers, passionate about one or two things, and genuine in their social interactions, and while these qualities sound lovely on paper, they don't always fit well with the Extrovert Ideal. Moreover, our extroversion obsession creates a lot of tension. Societal pressure to be extroverted can be overwhelming and damaging. Combine this pressure with the slew of misconceptions regarding an introverted temperament and you have a recipe for a zombie apocalypse: a bunch of burnt out, overstimulated introverts who instead of hungering for brains, hunger for peace of self.

In order to really appreciate all of this, you'll just have to read Quiet. Susan Cain resolves a lot of misunderstandings and proposes solutions to common problems introverted individuals (or their parents) face. In my humble opinion, however, the main achievement of Quiet is Cain's inherent understanding of her fellow introverts. Throughout the book, as I sifted through the psychology and anecdotes, I was constantly cross-checking her words with my personal experience. I'm pretty solidly an introvert: I detest small talk, though I love deep one-on-one conversation, I enjoy working independently, I prefer to observe before joining in, and I relish time alone. Yet there were times where I didn't match the introvert prototype. I kept scouring the pages for my doppleganger, a unique combination of homebody and public speaker. I thought that if I found my twin, her story would be followed up by the answer to all my questions and anxieties over my personality. Yet no such look-alike came along. My anxiety continued to build, and then, on page 226, I found the question that I had been asking all along, the question that had pestered me no matter how much data I looked at or how many inspirational stories I read:

Is there something wrong with me?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has wondered if there was something wrong with my characteristic caution, my reservation to share my feelings, or my distaste for large parties. (Unlike Jordan Baker, I do not think "large parties are so intimate".) The question was answered a few lines later:

Probably the most common -- and damaging -- misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But as we've seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social. 

Hipsters like me dig 1960's Jordan better. And gosh, I'm in love with 60's Nick Carraway.

There it was, in black and white, what I had known all along. Printed confirmation that my preference for a few close friends was perfectly valid, and that my need to close the door some nights and watch a movie was normal. I know I'm not alone in this regard, and I'm betting that there is someone out there who is going to read this and know what I'm talking about. This is why I cannot recommend Quiet highly enough. I not only understand myself better for it, but I better understand my friends, my family, and my classmates. Social temperament can't explain entire people -- that would be ridiculous -- but it certainly helps one to understand them. With understanding comes acceptance, and with that acceptance comes a brighter future. "Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches," Cain says. "To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn't choose to go to Wonderland -- but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own."

Basically, read Quiet. It's good. Goodreads link is right here.

* NOTE: There are various connotations of the words "introvert" and "extrovert". Cain takes a broader definition of introversion, and Quiet includes a note on her definition. I'll simply include the introductory sentences: "This book is about introversion as seen from a cultural point of view. Its primary concern is the age-old dichotomy between the 'man of action' and the 'man of contemplation', and how we could improve the world if only there were a greater balance of power between the two types."

Images: one, two

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hitting the Books

Alright, folks. So I had a whole "I'm back from college" post planned full of poetic verses about how much I love school, how summer presents a new beginning, la di da di da...

And then I realized that no matter how much I labored over that post, I still hated it, and I should really just jump back in to be blogging about actual stuff. So let's talk books, shall we? I do ever so love books. I don't read enough of them for fun at school, since every time I have a window of free quiet time I'm like guess I should be studying ho-hum study study study. However, now I am free! Blissfully free to read whatever I please (more or less), whenever I please (within reason), wherever I please (with some minor limits). It is my goal this summer to read as many books as possible and chart my experience here. I read over every meal I have alone and on every car ride, so hopefully even with work and whatnot, I can get quite a few under my belt before next semester!

I'm storing some of Em's stuff at my house since she lives across the country and she was kind enough to let me borrow the books I'm keeping for her. I've successfully read Snow White and Rose Red (now re-printed as The Shadow of the Bear), Black as Night (also a first edition, now re-printed and edited), and Waking Rose, all by Regina Doman. I had read another one of Regina Doman's books a few years back and honestly did not like it. I still don't care for it, to be frank. The Catholic elements felt fake and I was not a fan of the characters nor the plot -- too far-fetched. However, I decided to take a chance on these three books, all of which share the same characters and form their own little trio within Doman's larger fairy-tale series. Let's just say I'm impressed, and may or may not be experiencing a little bit of character separation anxiety since the four main characters were my constant companions for the past week or so.

First, pros. The characters in these books are wonderful. As for female heroines, the quiet and timid Blanche paired with her outgoing, colorful sister Rose make for a good balance. They are a healthy blend of strong, gentle, and feminine. Male characters Bear and Fish are both solid, consistent characters, although I am totally biased towards Fish. He's the best part of the whole series. Plot-wise, the books were very clever in their adapting old Grimms fairy-tales to the modern world. There were a few plot twists I did not see coming (primarily in Black as Night). Catholicism was woven into the book rather than tacked on. One of my greatest pet peeves is Christian books that stick God on at the end to magically resolve inner conflicts! Oi. So annoying. Another pro was the dialogue, which improved steadily with each book, and was quite good in Black as Night and Waking Rose in particular. In my opinion, while Snow White and Rose Red was an enjoyable read, the latter two books were the ones that really showed Regina Doman's talent for writing a very natural narrative. Also, she wrote one of my favorite comebacks ever:

"I took a few nursing courses at the community college, but I'm not sure I'm going to keep it up."

"Why not?" Brother Matt asked.

"She's trying to get an M.R.S. degree," Leon said in a loud whisper.

Indignant, she raised her eyebrows at him. "My mother didn't raise me to be a fisher of men," she said.

Unto the not-so-good things. Among the cons would be the occasional bit of flowery prose. Some of these parts might have been edited out in a later edition, so take my words with a grain of salt. Sometimes the identity of "the secret bad guy" could be a tad predictable, depending on the book. Also, there were a few corny parts, more so in the first book than in the others. Other than that, I have minimal complaints. The books proved to be the perfect way to unwind from a long school year of serious reading material and to segue into a summer full of stories. If you're interested in reading these books for yourself, links to Goodreads are here, here, annnnnnnnnnd here.

Next up, I've started Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. So far it has been an excellent and enlightening read that extends to various topics, from cultural changes to education and beyond. I cannot wait to finish and tell you all about it. It's a smashing read and even though I'm not finished, I would highly recommend it to anyone, be they introvert or extrovert.

Images: one, two