Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 29 - Hopes, dreams, and plans for the next 365 days

In the next year, I am looking forward to:

- Finally getting to go to Vail with Casper for New Year's
- Coachella 2011
- Trying lots of new restaurants
- Getting back in shape
- Beating Super Mario Galaxy
- Staying sober (JUST KIDDING!)
- Passing qualifying exams
- Getting published
- Becoming a better cook
- Finishing classes
- Possibly being able to afford a full-frame DSLR camera
- Mobilizing my street gang and forming a motorcycle unit
- Improving my h4x0r skillset
- Fixing the audio insulation on the right front door of my car
- Learning to drift
- Learning another language

Should be a busy year!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 28 - my year, in great detail

This past year was mostly about:

1) My first year in grad school
2) Moving back in to, and then moving out of, my parents' house
3) Figuring out changing relationships
4) For the first time, feeling uncomfortable with my body

Even though this whole post is supposed to be "in great detail," I've already written ad nauseum about #s 1 and 2, so I'll err on the side of not boring what little audience I have by repeating myself.

As for point 3 - this past year has found me in the familiar position of experiencing that managing "school-based" relationships/friendships once school has ended is just, plain and simple, kind of freaking difficult. Particularly with my not living on the Westside, I've seen very little of most of my closest college friends, and I've felt very much on the outside of a group that I used to be very much a part of due to, at least in part, geographical inconvenience.

I love where I live now, but its distance from, well, pretty much everyone, as well as my growing lethargy (another problem I'll address in #4) kind of result in an atrophied social life.

And, as for #4.

I feel like I need to make a few disclaimers here, because (annoyingly enough) I can't rely on being able to bring this up to people in person without being told, essentially, "Oh shut up, you're so skinny." So. Ahem.

Yes, I know in the past I was very much the ectomorph. I know that I am, overall, slender. I know that a lot of people would love to have my body, and so I'm working on not disparaging it as, generally, a sucky body; sadly this is kind of difficult to do . My complaints are very specific -- and very relative -- to how my body has been in the past, when I was in better shape, and to how I know my body can be if I took better care of myself.

Therefore, what may not be clear to other people, but what is clear to me, is that I dress well enough for my body to give it an overall flattering shape, and to, in fact, hide the weight I have gained. I know that in order to pull this off, I currently cannot wear more than half of the jeans in my closet, because they're giving me a gnarly muffin top. I also know that I've always had high cholesterol, despite being on the low-normal side of BMI. So even though everyone knows I'm a goddamned bacon fanatic, now that I'm starting to try (and lord knows this will take time) to eat fewer fatty and sodium-filled foods, I don't want to hear it about how I don't need to be on a diet. Losing weight would be nice, but my main objective here is to finally treat my cardiovascular system like the delicate flower that it is.

Furthermore - exercise. I've quipped here and there about how boring I find the routine gym trips and how I just generally can't stand it. But one of the things I learned in the last year from working in and with cardiovascular and obesity-related labs is that exercise isn't just about losing weight. It's about improving your overall metabolism, and how the combination of even moderate physical activity and improving metabolic biochemistry can lower your liver fat and improve your sensitivity to insulin, which means less risk of diabetes! And that's great for me since Type II runs in my family. So this exercise thing? I need to just do it.

I'm only looking to lose about 5-10 pounds in fat weight, but I know not to cry if at the end of my body makeover I'll be the same weight I'm at now, since ideally I'll have some more lean muscle going on. I need at least enough to not always be tweaking things or getting injured all the time. I need my body to be more hardy.

So, that's my story. Yay 2010!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

OMG Yes.

There is a peculiar notion that pervades Social Justice activism, and it is that the task of upholding the level of discourse rests solely on our shoulders, and we are somehow failing at it. Everyone else – the trolls, the privileged assholes, the evo-psych “men are attracted to women because x and if you aren’t doing x why are you even alive” guys – they all get passes on upholding the discourse. Because the logic goes that we can’t possibly expect them to treat us any differently. We must be constantly defending our right to exist, our right to have discussions that aren’t taken over by people who don’t want there to be a discussion, and our right to set the terms of the discussion. And whenever we stop responding, stop defending our right to speak, the other side declares that our position must be indefensible. Because when they debate, they are representing their own views and opinions, but when we debate, we are supposed to be the sole representative of the movement at large.

(A Very Special Episode of Grey Areas: Privilege Denying Dude Edition)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hey Leighton

Hey, no problem - I'm so glad I let you borrow my Pierre Hardy sandals. They looked great with that dress. But you're done with them now, so please send them on back to me any time!

It would really mean a lot to me :]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 27 - My month, in great detail.

I still haven't finished this monkey-fighting "30-day" challenge, so to that end:

Oct 20-26th
In lab, I was finishing up some DNA extractions from saliva samples. Roxy had a hipster themed birthday party, and I was studying for some upcoming midterms. I don't remember much else from this week. Apologies (?)

Oct 27th - Nov 2
I took Thursday and Friday off of lab to study for my midterms, which were on November 1. One went okay, and the other was absolutely the #1 worst job I've ever done on any test. I haven't gotten the grade yet, but if it is anything higher than an F- then the profs were very generous in grading heaping amounts of bullshit. Emily and I had our housewarming party on the 29th, and it went well. There was a lot of food and a lot of booze, which, for me at least, tends to set a party firmly on the side of awesome. It was a low-key costume party, which is perfect for me at this stage in my life. I didn't vote on the 2nd.

Nov 3-9
I drank a lot of beer in the week following my midterms. This was mostly because I hadn't had much beer to drink in the prior weeks while I was both studying and pretending to study. As a consequence of drinking so much beer, I don't remember much about this week, other than Casper and I getting food poisoning at Chipotle. And thusly falls an idol. But I'll probably get back on that horse sooner than I think, since I'm weak when faced with carnitas... just probably not at that location.

Nov 10-17
I was finishing up RNA extractions from blood in lab. Casper and I took a scenic drive through Malibu and parts of Ventura county. We ate Taco Bell, on account of this being a vendor that (dubiously) has not given us food poisoning. I am currently procrastinating while working on a take-home midterm, which involves a lot of asinine copying down of minute details from a paper about pesticides and Parkinson's disease. About 50% time I've typed Parkinson's today, I've unintentionally not capitalized the "P."

Overall notes - I've been working out. I still hate it, it hasn't gotten easier, and I'm too damn impatient to wait however long until my body starts looking like Alessandra Ambrosio's. (Ok, I'm just playing, I know I don't and won't have her body, but damn, she's had a kid, she's really kicking my ass into the ground here.) Anyway, my plan for the time being is just to utilize the gym to get into decent enough shape to try to start P90x again. By that token, I hear that 30+ minutes of cardio 4-5 days a week is what I should be aiming for, so depending on my mood I divide up that time on the elliptical and the bike, or just sit on the bike. (See? I even exercise lazy. But I still break a sweat, and my legs are definitely feeling it, so it can't be all bad.)

Also, I'm getting better at cooking, though my range is still limited to what I know and what I can afford. But I'm trying to branch out within that restriction, particularly by trying to learn about different vegetarian sides that I can pair with the enormous piles of protein that I'll inevitably want to throw on the plate. As always, I make bomb-ass salads.

Only three more posts left before I've done all 30 days! Ha.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Royksopp - Vision One

I want to have this album's babies right now.

Repeat repeat repeat

Friday, October 29, 2010

A bit more about Bechdel

I came across an absolutely brilliant write-up of Bechdel today that is a must-read if you're interested in the topic at all.

Some selected quotes:

'I'm not a feminist, but I've learned a hell of a lot from feminists on my flist about what they want in stories. This does not give me feminist bona fides of any sort; I'm not trying to make a bullshit claim to them, because I don't have one -- hell, I'm a registered Republican with a concealed carry permit; I *am* The Man, ok? -- but I do try to write stories that a fairly wide variety of people will enjoy, feminists included. And if there's one thing I've taken away from the discussions of feminism and queer politics and anti-racism that I've read, it's that I don't have to agree with people to learn how they would like to be treated.'

Right on. If more people felt this way, the world would probably be a much higher functioning and much more pleasant place.

'Why are stock roles important to the Bechdel Test? Because *men fill a billion of them.* There are many more stock roles for men than for women. As a result, the more thinly drawn a character is, the more likely that character is to be male. But the problem caused by stock roles goes farther than that. Many characters exist in order to perform a mechanical function: to provide information, to fight the hero, that kind of thing. They're not created to be a person, but to do a job within the story. This means they tend to start thin, and be fleshed out. But the fact that they start thin means that a whole lot of characters begin as some variant of a stock role.

Men are, from a dramatic perspective, incredibly useful creatures, because they fit into all manner of preconceived slots -- stock roles -- that come in handy to writers. Need a character to do something dangerous/flamboyantly stupid and risky? Men, especially young men, are great for that (when I worked in a medical examiner's office, the young men who came in fell overwhelmingly into one of two categories. Their last words were either, "You motherfucker --!" or "Hey, guys, watch THIS!"). Need a character to convey established authority, i.e., "this bank has been in business for five million years" authority? Older men, especially older white men, get that across without opening their mouths. And so on. There are all kinds of things that men are great for, and more to the point, *men are easy for.* Because we have seen men doing those things in a billion books and novels, and we have vague memories of a billion similar characters, and that makes filling the role easier -- and often, more effective -- for the author and the readers. This requires work to overcome.

By contrast, women have fewer stock roles, and most of these revolve around their relationships to other people.'

Definitely read the whole thing if any of this piqued your interest; there's a really great breakdown of EXACTLY what goes wrong when women are left out of stories.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Royksopp - Were You Ever Wanted

The whole Royksopp album, Junior, is pretty much too beautiful for life right now for me, but I particularly love this song.

I like my music longing and breathtaking.

Why I won't be paying to see The Social Network - Part 3: A synthesis.

This is the last bit, continued from part 2.

I've already written about how 1) Hollywood generally treats women like props and objects, and 2) Hollywood doesn't understand the geek experience, and it shows in movies that purport to be about geeks. Since beginning this series of posts, I've had a lot of opportunities to read various viewpoints, rebuttals, and interpretations of this film. This has allowed what I say in this post to more or less be my final say on the matter, such that I feel that I'd really be going around in circles repeating what I've already said if I had to argue any of this further.

The argument of many, including Sorkin himself, was that The Social Network isn't a misogynistic movie - it's a movie about misogyny. I'll give our fair writer and director the benefit of the doubt that their intentions were good, but it does seem that there was no insignificant failure in making this distinction, given that so, so many people have walked away from this feeling so uncomfortable. That discomfort has promoted dialogue, which is never a bad thing, but I think the dialogue would have been a very different one had the film's motives been more clear.

When your movie is in some way a biopic, there is an urge to make your movie through the eyes of that protagonist. That, it seems, is what Sorkin and Fincher have done here - the world of Harvard and geek life are being viewed as how proto-Zuckerberg saw it, which is and of itself part reality and part fantasy. It makes sense then, on this level, that if proto-Zuckerberg is a misogynist, the women on the screen seen through his eyes would not be portrayed in the most favorable light.

Now, the whole movie, basically, is more or less about how this version of Zuckerberg is a dick. So there certainly is the interpretation that, much in the way that the audience isn't really supposed to agree with anything that Eric Cartman says or does on South Park, the audience here is supposed to read proto-Zuckerberg's views on women and humanity as deplorable. I'd allow that, except that in the past few weeks I've read a frightening number of comments that claim (I'm paraphrasing) "Well, the movie is just telling the truth. College girls are like that - they show up to parties slutty and just want to get laid by powerful or good-looking men."

Obviously, a problematic viewpoint. But the thing is, that's not really a radical reading - it doesn't seem that the movie does much to actually prove otherwise. There are two women in it who are meant to be respectable: first, there is the girlfriend in the beginning, Erica, who dumps Zuckerberg because "[he's] an asshole"; secondly, there is Zuckerberg's lawyer, played by Rashida Jones. Sorkin has used Erica as evidence that there are classy women in the movie, but rather, I feel that she is a very cliched exception to the rule. Jones' character, despite being smart and a good lawyer, is still by requirement sympathetic to Zuckerberg, so truly, Erica is the only woman in the film who blatantly points out to Zuckerberg that he's a bad dude. She's the only woman who stands up to him, and she's in the movie for less than 20 minutes. The rest are all his rewards, his prizes, and his protection. That's just not realistic, but rather than take the opportunity to prove the heralded Erica right by including more women like her, The Social Network glorifies Zuckerberg's sexist fantasy.

This gets into the whole point of "affirmative action" in movies: when is it necessary, if ever, to make sure that every type of person - in "Sesame Street" rainbow fashion - is represented fairly and equally in every single movie? That's one argument that seems to come up every time a complaint is made about the treatment of a certain social group in a film. "This movie is about one man and his world. It doesn't make sense to add women. It would make for some really cumbersome movies to do this all the time," the argument goes. I think this argument is kind of a straw man. No one has suggested that every single movie needs to be this way; rather, if more movies were made that weren't primarily about white men, then the film industry as a whole would be more inclusive.

That said, there is something interesting at play with The Social Network, namely, that this is allegedly somewhat biographical. So yes, this is a movie that is unequivocally about one man. However, in real life, there isn't anything to suggest that Mark Zuckerberg was this much of a hateful misogynist. Moreover, the complaint about unnecessarily adding women to this film is ironic and off-base, because the fact is that there were real women erased from Zuckerberg's life to create this film. The real Mark Zuckerberg was in a serious, committed relationship with a woman throughout the whole time frame represented in this movie. They probably had a lot to talk about after watching movie Zuckerberg get blowjobs in the bathroom at parties! Also, people who claim to have known Zuckerberg during this time say that he was very close to his sister, and that she was very involved in the creation of Facebook at the consultant level. Finally, in real life, though she wasn't around during the representative time period, Zuckerberg became very close friends with Sheryl Sandberg, who is now the COO of Facebook.

This really doesn't seem to be the same guy who hates and can't relate to women.

Would the real-life events involved in the creation of Facebook have been as interesting to watch onscreen? Perhaps not. But the invention of this misogynistic character to apparently make a point about misogyny amongst nerds seems disingenuous when you realize that real, smart, savvy women were ablated from the screenplay and the story in favor of two-dimensional party-favor women who only exist to further proto-Zuckerberg's fantasy. The omission, to me, seems completely unnecessary. We already have enough movies where women are treated this way - why did this movie have to join their ranks, when there is compelling evidence to suggest that it didn't have to be this way?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em

I don't know what to make of this band.

I have to say, I saw them from afar at Coachella '10 and found whatever they were playing at the time to be extremely unpleasant. I kind of wrote it off as hipster noisy nonsense and I didn't understand the appeal. Meanwhile, ever since, I keep seeing this band pop up on people's "favorite bands" lists (along with Beach House, another band I just don't understand.)

I heard "Tell 'Em" on XM radio the other day, liked it, and when I found out who it was, I was definitely surprised. This led me to listen to clips of the rest of the album's tracks on Amazon, and well, the jury's still out.

One thing that was clear is that the production on Treats is meant to cover an indie-pop sound with a grunge metal veneer. You can hear this in tracks like "Straight A's" and "Crown on the Ground," where the distortion has been so exaggerated that it's supposed to sound like your speakers are blown out. Frankly, it's not a sound trick I really enjoy at all. It also explains why, at Coachella, when I wasn't right under the tent but rather hearing Sleigh Bells' performance from some 100 feet away from the tent, it sounded so harsh. I wasn't able to hear any of the melody of the vocal or instrumentals - all that really reached me was the cacophonous noise.

At the end of the day, I do like a lot of the tracks - there is something interesting there with their heavy guitar, hip-hop beats, and dreamy youthful vocals. I'm not sure overall if this band has any staying power, because it seems like if all of the hard production was stripped away, the songs would be catchy, but ultimately fluffy. It's the noisy gimmick that makes them interesting, but at the same time, that gimmick makes the album not really an easy one to listen to from beginning to end, for me, because I don't like the intentionally lo-fi/distorted shtick in large amounts.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Florence + the Machine - Hardest of Hearts

I talk about our girl Florence around here with no small frequency. This is, in part, because I love and admire her music; it's also in part because I absolutely adore her. Or at least, the ideal of her that is presented to me.

I also love that every time I listen to her album Lungs, I like it more and more. It's never static.

The song that I'm posting today is one that wasn't initially one of my favorites when I first listened to the album. But I've been listening again recently, and out of nowhere, it really jumped out at me. As with any of her songs, it's raw and tinged with poignant melancholy. Also, as with any of her songs, it's absolutely gorgeous.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Today I don't have to think about...

I came across a pretty awesome blog post this morning about privilege, which I wrote about before at length.

Here's the post, with one commenter adding a nice, concise summary:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden: Spot on. The essence of privilege isn’t wearing a top hat and cackling yar har har while lighting expensive cigars with $100 bills. The essence of privilege is not having to worry about the crap that the unprivileged do.

Bat for Lashes - Siren Song

Want to experience something beautiful today?

You're welcome! Unless of course you listened to the (tragic) lyrics, in which case: I'm sorry. But isn't pain in music often so beautiful regardless?

Why I won't be paying to see The Social Network - Part 2: Hapless Geeks

continued from part I here

Despite the seemingly never-ending barrage of celebrities, Hollywood types, and generally pretty people who insist that they were heinous looking geeks in middle and high school, I'm personally fairly certain that they all doth protest too much.

Reason being, I kinda have to think that if these people were all geeks and nerds, then they'd actually manage a somewhat realistic portrayal of geeks and nerds in the media.

When responding to the criticism of The Social Network that it was a bit unseemly with its management of women, Aaron Sorkin said "I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now." Two things:

1) Let's be real - the "cuddly nerds" of 80's movies thought about as highly of women as the misogynistic geeks of The Social Network do. It was just played for laughs. I'm using Revenge of the Nerds as my frame of reference here, but I'm sure there are more examples. For one thing, there are at least two scenes in the movie that are not only deeply disrespectful of women; they're also illegal. One is the bit where a video camera is installed in the sorority house so the nerds can watch the girls walk around topless. The second is the part where the nerd ends up having sex with the popular hot cheerleader even though she thinks it's her boyfriend. Let's be clear about this - in a court of law, that would be called rape. In the movie, she's all "Oh nerd I can't believe you were so good at t3h sex!" Yes, that's a very realistic response from a woman who just found out she had sex with some random person pretending to be her boyfriend in the dark.

2) Yes, there is misogyny in the geek world. There's misogyny in every world. This is nothing new. What's interesting is the depiction of this geek world as such a frightfully misogynistic one.

In the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields women are still a minority, except for probably the life sciences (heyo!) We know this. And yes, some geeks are mistrustful and resentful of women, dating back to whatever experience that has left them scarred. But geek men are now being raised in the post/feminist era, and increasingly with post/feminist ideals. Many geeks now are mildly awkward, but still have daily successful (even pleasant!) interactions with the opposite sex. And with so much of STEM work now being highly collaborative, chances are that there are male and female geeks working well together on a variety of projects.

This is why The Social Network rings false. Facebook is exactly the type of project that is born out of a team of collaborators that probably includes women (which real life corroborates,) but the movie instead opted for a radical portrayal of Facebook's creator as, frankly, misanthropic in general, but particularly seething toward women, to the extent that he apparently didn't want any on his team. (Well, I think one woman was spotted among the coders, but there was some kind of sexual remark made about her as well.)

So while geek women have stories to tell about sexism in the workplace - and they do - observing the geeks in this movie purports to be a surreal experience because it is so jarring against what a lot of geeks actually experience in real life. Even though Revenge of the Nerds and The Social Network are, at the end of the day, both stories about how geeks end up running shit, both treat geeks like they are a specimen to be studied. Like women, Hollywood just doesn't seem quite comfortable portraying the geek experience - male or female - because it hasn't quite lived it (as much as its members claim to have done so.)

Geeks - we walk among you. We look like you and talk like you, and we're not overall a collective group of social degenerates that do horrible things in movies out of despair against humanity. We do get laid and usually, it's by a real, live person. I know it seems like it's asking a lot for the contents of a fiction movie to be realistic, but hell, for a movie that's getting so widely praised (again, probably by people who are more than happy to make geek culture a scapegoat for sexism, human nastiness, and antisocial tendencies in general) I'd like to see characters that have some basis in real people - and not in name alone!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Third Eye Blind - Camoflauge

I like this song a lot. It's got an "it" quality for me.

I might be completely off-base with this one, but I have this impression of 3EB as a band that, despite having a string of pretty successful hits in the 90's and early aughts, is kind of under-appreciated. I'm not sure what it is, but I talk to a lot of people who I generally feel have similar taste in music to me, and they're not really familiar with 3EB's work beyond the radio singles. That could be because those songs may have had the tendency to be overplayed, which repelled people from the albums. Whatever reason, it's really a shame, because I have found each of their albums that I own - Blue and Out of the Vein in addition to the self-titled debut - to be very solid from start to finish.

One thing that I really think Third Eye Blind had nailed is the writing of witty, free-flowing stream of consciousness type lyrics, and crafting that rambling into a legitimately catchy song. There seems to be a trend now in indie rock (and all of its many, many iterations) to create rock in either of two diametrically opposed sonic camps: one is the extremely minimalistic, often dreamy and frequently twee, generally hippie style of shoegazing indie (The xx is a good example of this); the other is the densely layered, sometimes cacophonous, rich style that involves several instruments and sounds that are distinctly built on each other, created in this way to reward the listener by hearing something new every time.

Disclaimer - I love a lot of stuff that comes out of both camps, and a lot of indie in general, so I'm not really ragging on it here. I do think, however, that - perhaps in an effort to distance themselves from mainstream pop - the art of composing a catchy song has been rather discarded among those who consider themselves "serious musicians." That's not to say that catchy indie/rock albums don't exist any longer: Florence + the Machine, for instance, crafted an album in 2009 that managed to be thoughtful and musically rich while still employing a catchy hook. I think that's part of what made Lungs so successful, and why songs off of this (now) year-old album continue to be well-received as they're progressively released into the public.

So, back to "Camoflauge" - I think this song is a great example of melding a lush sonic background with an ambient vocal (like so many indie songs like to do these days,) but then hitting you with a catchy hook in the chorus. The lyrics aren't quite discernible enough to be sing-able, but I definitely get the melody stuck in my head for awhile (and I don't mind - it's lovely.)

Of course, I think 3EB is also successful even when they're sticking to a pretty "traditional" radio-rock sound.

Is there anything musically in that song that's earth-shatteringly unique? Probably not. And yet, I never get that feeling like I've heard it somewhere else before. Maybe it's because, despite a standard alternative sound, the emotion is believable, and the lyrics don't warrant putting a hole through the brain to make it stop. And honestly, I've managed to choose two songs to put up here, but the truth is that another thing that 3EB excels at is releasing albums that are consistently good, start to finish. I could have easily put up any song from any album (that you haven't already heard a million times on the radio) and felt just as confident that it was a good representation of a solid band.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yeasayer - Love Me Girl

I mentioned before that I first heard of Yeasayer at Coachella '10 and was inspired to download their album. Today, iPod shuffle gifted me with one of their songs, and it reminded me that I hadn't really given them a listen in awhile. So I scrolled to hear the full album again, and I'm glad I did. This is really one of my favorite albums of this last year, and this song is one of the main reasons why. So for the song of the day, it's "Love Me Girl."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why I won't be paying to see The Social Network - Part 1: Women in Movies in general

So apparently there is this new movie out! And apparently, it's the movie that is DEFINING MY GENERATION.

My generation - according to this movie - the geek shall inherit the Earth, by shitting all over womankind to get there.

There's always a lot of discussion in pop feminism about women's roles and portrayals in various media. The consensus is, basically, that it's not really a pretty picture. There is a gross dearth of media that allows women to be human beings rather than caricatures, and that actually bothers to tell women's stories and doesn't act like those stories are For Women Only (it's why stories with a female protagonist are 9 times out of 10 "chick flicks", but stories with a male protagonist are "for everybody".)

There's a pretty genius litmus test for whether or not your movie even pretended to give a crap about the existence of women. The Bechdel Test has three simple requirements.

1) There are two women with names in this movie...
This first criteria requires that the film acknowledge that some 50% of the world's population are women, and thus, even if your main character is a man, chances are he probably has significant interactions with women every day. So, point #1 says that if your movie exists in our reality, there are probably women involved in the protagonist's life. Because the women must have names, background extras don't count. You'd be surprised how many movies - good movies - can't even nail this one.

2) ...who talk to each other...
This speaks to the point of giving the women an actual character. They're not just props who respond only when spoken to by the (probably male) protagonist.

3) ...about something other than a man.
This is the killer. So many movies get this far, and then fail, because whoops! If you're a woman in a movie, you're probably a love interest, or you're interested in love. So even if you have a sassy female friend, you're probably talking about the guy you're interested in. Because what else do women talk about anyway?

This video sums the test up rather nicely:

What's interesting about the Bechdel test, as alluded to in the video, is that it's actually a pretty low standard and isn't really meant to be used on an individual basis to grade movies. Because the bar is set so low for including women, it's fascinating to examine Bechdel in terms of the number of movies that don't pass. When they don't pass, it's because most movies are starring men. In these movies, you may have one token female coworker, and/or a female love interest. So they stuck some women in there, but they're only there because of how they relate to the male protagonist. And since most movies default to a guy as the main character, women are more often than not very superficially written supporting characters. When the movies are about women? They're usually rom-coms, so even if a movie passes the test by having two female characters briefly talk about something other than the dude she's lusting after, women in these movies are motivated by falling in love with men (unless of course she's the uptight career-driven archetype who needs a fun-loving rogue dude to teach her to love.)

Another interesting way to look at the test is to evaluate the reverse Bechdel test. This would be:

1) There are two men in the movie, with names
2) Who talk to each other
3) About something besides a woman.

When you look at it this way, it seems almost silly, because this is true of almost every single movie (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants comes to mind as a rare exception!) We take it for granted that, in film, men have had their stories told so many different ways, and that their characters are fleshed out - it makes perfect sense that men would have a lot to talk about other than women. The Bechdel test isn't about trying to police women's conversations so that they never talk about men. Instead, the test is about trying to get the audience to accept that women aren't always just talking about men all the time, especially since we internalize that men talk about all kinds of different things in movies. Why should women be any different?

So I know that in Part I of this post that claimed to be kind of about The Social Network, I didn't talk about The Social Network hardly at all. That's because I wanted to set the stage for my critique of that film by establishing that there is, in the movie industry, a systematic disregard for giving women characters the opportunity to carry a story and exist as more than re-usable archetypes (who only talk about men.) This issue is widespread, as it rears its head in good movies as well as in blatantly misogynistic ones. The bottom line is, the dudes that write and direct these movies either feel that they don't understand women well enough to create realistic ones, or they simply can't be bothered to do it (they don't care, or they don't even realize they're perpetuating the exclusion.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Day 26 - My week, in great detail

(Last) Wednesday - Went to school, did some experiments, had class. Went home, Lacey came over, she and Emily and I made dinner. Well, Lacey and Emily made dinner and I made parfait. I used a papaya that was no bueno. It needed to be picked out of my otherwise lovely parfait. Boo. We also watched Castle in the Sky - cute, but not my favorite. There were lots of forlorn faces.

Thursday - Went to school (this is a noticeable pattern, no?) and otherwise I really don't remember anything that happened last Thursday. Oh! I started working out at the mini-gym in the building. They don't have a lot of different machines, but they have a bike and an elliptical - which is all I need for cardio - and some other weight machines that mostly seem to focus on the thighs (good) and arms/shoulders/upper back (also good) but for abs, they only have a big ball, and I'm not really sure how to make the most of that so I'll definitely have to supplement with my abs workout with some 8 minute abs at home.

Friday - More school! More class! Worked out again. I'm doing about an hour and 15 minutes when all is said and done.

Saturday - Made an egg scramble in the morning with bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, Italian sausage, and cheese. Went to visit Casper, we hung out and had some chicken corn chowder for lunch. Steak and potatoes for dinner. I watched Die Hard for the first time - I'd never seen it before.

Sunday - Went to visit Tiffany. We were going to go to Venice, but the weather was icky. Instead we hung out and talked, and went to dinner at C & O's Trattoria. I had fettucine in a lemon cream sauce with Italian sausage (okay, I guess I really like that stuff.) She and Steve and I split a pitcher of sangria (tasty) and I also ordered chocolate milk because I'm wholesome like that. Also, that place has a lot of owls.

Monday - Back to school. I wrote about it "great detail" that day, so I'm skipping it here except to mention that after I wrote, I went and got El Tepeyac for dinner.

Tuesday - SURPRISE! More school. Really long lab meeting involving critiquing presentations that are going to be given at the Obesity Society conference this weekend. I'm not going. The meeting ruined my workflow and I didn't get much done for the rest of the day other than set up a PCR. Worked out at the gym again, then went home. Casper came to visit and we watched Quantum of Solace, which I had but had never seen, and then he had to go home so I went to sleep. Exciting!

(Today) Wednesday - So far, I took care of some DNA extractions in lab, and I'm now sitting in class, so you know it's really exciting. I probably should be paying attention because these slides have absolutely no words on them, so I'm not going to have any idea what to take away from them when it comes time to study. Oh well. C'est la vie. I plan to head over to Lacey's later with Emily, where they have some dinner planned (this has been kind of a tradition of theirs that I started piggybacking on last week, so ideally I'll be less of a leech in the future and actually help more in the coming weeks.) I'll probably watch last night's Glee at some point, even though I hated the last episode and am ready to quit this show. Win me back please!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Day 25 - My day, in great detail.

Here begins the end of the 30-day challenge, where the challenge authors ran out of ideas and came up with some pretty boring shit that we're now tasked with writing about.

8:30 - wake up. Get out of bed. Wash face. Apply sunscreen.
8:45 - eat cereal (Quakers Oatmeal Squares, nonfat milk), take vitamins (Daily Multi, Calcium supplement, fish oil)
9:00 - check email. Browse internet (Facebook, AuthenticForum, whatever is on GReader)
9:15 - back to bathroom. Apply makeup. Deodorant (Degree clinical protection: sucks, do not buy.) Clean up dead ants that inhaled too much poison overnight and died on sinktop after (I imagine) writhing around sadly for awhile.
9:45 - leave for class.
10:05 - arrive at school, late. Look for failed meter to park at near classroom. After doing some circles, one is found. Walk to class.
10:15-12:00 - in class. bored.
12:05-12:35 - seminar on stem cell regenerative therapy after MI. Summary: hematopoetic stem cells don't work; embryonic stem cells do. BOOM!
12:40-1:40 - class discussion. Bored.
1:45 - walk to car, move it to different spot to avoid 4hr parking only ticket.
1:55 - Lunch. Food truck on campus: Crepes Bonaparte. It is always this truck and I am tired of it. Nonetheless, I don't feel like walking to the further cafeteria in the rain. Got a bacon, tomato, avocado, and mozzarella crepe with wheat batter. Savory!
2:05 - Inside student center, newly remodeled. Damnit - they opened the Poquito Mas and I already bought this mediocre crepe.
2:15 - I would usually sit outside and wait for my next class, but it's raining. Walk to lecture hall, choose prime seat location in back row next to electrical outlet, plug in laptop, browse internet.
3:00-5:00 - Class. Bored.
5:05 - leave, go home.
5:30 - Traffic is bad (thanks rain!) Just arrived back. Start downloading last night's Mad Men and last week's Community. Browse internet. Find interesting article defending women against ev-psych apes who think women evolved to be shitty at technology.
6:00 - on the phone with Casper, then Mom
6:20 - sit down to write horrifically boring blog entry about the meaningless shit I did today

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day 24 - Whatever Tickles My Fancy


I'm really into dubstep lately. So are a lot of people, apparently. It's catching on in a major way after being a pretty niche sound in the UK for awhile.

A lot of people also really, really hate it. And they get mad when the DJs play it at shows - I guess Deadmau5 dropped some dubstep in Ibiza, to which a lot of his stans whined "HUURRR ur sellin out mau5," to which I reply "Huh, dubstep may be catching on, but Deadmau5 is still a whole heck of a lot more mainstream than dubstep is, HURR HURR."

Also, it seems like there's this nasty family rift among self-proclaimed dubstep lovers. For instance, the divide around wobblers. Like, okay... here is a pretty wobbly dubstep song:

And here's one that's not wobbly:


So for me, I go "damn, this is considered the same genre?" And for people that don't listen to electonic at all, they're probably going "Um, this all sounds exactly the same to me." Sorry about that! But then, you probably skip over most of the music posts on my blog. And that's cool.

All of this rambling, I'm not sure it's going anywhere. I'm really sleepy. But. I did want to just post about dubstep, because it really blows my mind live (and as a kind of depressing corollary to that, it never sounds quite as good at home since my speakers aren't, um, huge and professional grade, which makes all of this delicious dubstep listening kind of a love-hate thing when I can't have HUGE BASS at home. But ANYWAY! Sheesh, sorry about the huge parenthetical run-ons. Moving on) and like I mentioned before, it really can be akin to a religious experience when there are thousands of people pulsing like one uniform organism to a dirty massive beat.


Next up - I get some sleep and write something that makes sense. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day 23 - A YouTube video

Ok, so part of me was conflicted about how cool to be with posting a video. Should I post something funny and new that's ahead of the curve, so that I get ultimate credit for "discovering" it? Well, that's hard. And also I'm not usually that ahead of the curve with stuff like that.

I also didn't want to post an obvious meme, as funny as they are wont to be, because that would be kind of obvious and overdone. And I didn't want to lean too far in that direction.

So I'm going to do a different kind of overdone, one that isn't quite as obvious, unless you know me and have seen my current bathroom decor.

I wanted to just post a video that I can rely on to make me laugh every time I watch it, so here's an old classic that I still love (and quote) pretty frequently. It's a series, but this is one of my favorite episodes (even though it's hard to pick a favorite.)

You could have guessed, right?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 22 - A website

Oh hello,

This website has been around for awhile, but I'm proud to say that I've actually been a reader since it started up (and I've got an email from the founder, Kerry, to prove it!)

-- As an aside, I have received two personal "thank you for being awesome" emails and one t-shirt from the administrator/owners of various web communities I've been involved in. Talk about having so much goddamn time on my hands that they recognize for wasting my life on their websites. Pity me!

Anyway, the notes usually speak for themselves, but I also really enjoy Kerry's witty commentary that goes along with it. It's definitely in my top 5 sites to check up on every day (and when you're a computer hermit like me, that's saying something.)

Project Runway Fashion Week collections - now with judgements!

So the images from all of the remaining PR contestants' collections are up and about on the internet! There are ten contestants remaining, so that should mean three of these are finalists and seven are decoys. (I feel like the number of decoys gets greater every season... can't they coordinate a little better with fashion week? Or maybe these designers don't mind the exposure, even if they're not in the competition.)

All links are to Tom & Lorenzo, because they posted the pictures so I don't have to.

April Johnston's Collection
I really like a lot of these clothes and would totally wear them, but I don't think this has enough drama for a fashion week runway show.
Prediction: decoy

Andy South's Collection
This is coming from someone who loves shiny, so you must know this pains me: I HATE the metallic chartreuse. Also, the fit and proportions on so many of these are terrible. Someone, please kill satin pants.
Prediction: finalist

Michael Drummond's Collection
Bored. So so so bored. Also, depressed. As per my comment on the TLo blog, I think this is what would happen if Hot Topic tried to go haute couture.
Prediction: decoy

Ivy Higa's Collection
Ivy is, by all portrayals, a massive bitch, so I'm happy to see that her collection looks like it was shat out by J Crew after an overindulgence of chili.
Prediction: decoy

Valerie Mayen's Collection
This is so hit-and-miss for me. Some of the pieces are really interesting and great, and some of them are just plain wack. Kind of like Valerie's work so far on the show!
Prediction: decoy

Mondo Guerra's Collection
Now this is what I'm talking about. There's drama and it's totally weird, but in a perfectly tailored and executed sort of way that it totally works and you know this guy knows exactly what he's doing.
Prediction: winner

Christopher Collins' Collection
I love the gold metallics that are popping up, but overall I feel like the silhouettes here are very tired and uninspired. Not to mention that one of those looks came straight out of the recent team challenge fail that the judges hated, except in different colors.
Prediction: decoy

Michael Costello's Collection
For me, this is actually not bad. It's pretty wearable. But, in perfect Michael C fashion there are some execution issues on interesting concepts, so if this isn't a decoy the sloppiness is unacceptable.
Prediction: decoy

Casanova's Collection
I kind of feel like this collection is an amalgamation of all of the others I've seen already. Maybe it's not his fault that I looked at his second-to-last, but the metallics are everywhere (ref: Andy, Christopher, Michael C) and the goofy shiny pants need to DIE (ref: Andy.) These are nice clothes, but they don't feel any different or any more amped-up from what he's already presented.
Prediction: decoy

Gretchen Jones' Collection
This collection is a shocker. The opposite of what I just said about Casanova - I would not have guessed this was Gretchen if I was not told so. Her elements are there - the nods toward homeless chic, the muted colors - but there are some shapes and silhouettes I would not have predicted from her. And some of the pieces (hot pants, patchwork pants) I would almost have expected her to pronounce "tasteless" had she not done them herself.
Prediction: finalist

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 21 — A recipe

So, here's a "recipe" for something I make at least once a week. It changes a lot, depending on what's in the fridge. But the idea is the same. So this version is the one I made this week.

Eggs on Toast (this is going to be such a hard recipe, guys.)
1. Bread. I prefer whole wheat
2. Egg
3. Prosciutto, 1 thinly sliced
4. Tomato, sliced in rounds. About 2 rounds per toast.
5. Avocado, about 4 thin slices per toast.
6. Cheese (right now I'm using Havarti) for melting on the toast.
7. Salt and pepper.

K. So fry your egg, I usually do sunny-side-up or overeasy. While that's going, prepare your toast, then throw your sliced cheese on top and zap it in the microwave for about 10-20 seconds to get the cheese shmelty. Then put the tomatoes on the cheese. Then put the prosciutto slice on the tomatoes. Then, the avocado, and then lastly your fried egg. Add salt and pepper to taste. Yum! This has been my dinner several times since I moved into my place because a) I like it and b) it takes less than 10 minutes. But if you're not a breakfast-for-dinner person like I am, then, uh, try it for breakfast.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 20 - A hobby

All right. Let's have some real talk about my life.

I think my hermit tendencies may have first started to blossom senior year of college, when I would spend an embarrassing amount of my free time watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD in my room by myself. I still went out a lot and made sure to enjoy that last year of college, but certain things (I'm looking at you, Biochem 153L) reminded me that I have, in one way or another, resigned myself to a life that's gonna involve a lot of me spending quality time with me, myself, and a box of autoclaved filter-tips.

So, my hobbies? They're a lot less social than they used to be. I used to dance and play team sports. Now, I just tend to entertain myself when I'm not at school. Don't catch yourself thinking though that my hobbies are weak-sauce. In fact, one of them would run you over and award itself shiny gold stars the better it ruined your face.

I think what this game means when it says it's appropriate for seven-year-olds is that you're never too young to learn the value of wrecking shit. Basically, Excite Truck is a racing game. But the truth is, the winner isn't the person who crosses the finish line first. It's the person who has the most points. And how do you get points?

Well, for instance, you can crash into a bunch of stuff. You get points for that. If you totally annihilate another truck, "SUPER TRUCK SMASH" gives you maximum stars. Can't stay on the road? "SUPER TREE RUN." Take a turn too wide and then crash into something? "SUPER DRIFT!" followed by "NICE CRASH!"

Obviously, this is my kind of game. Check out the theme song.

This is like elevator music, if it just had its face rocked off at a heavy metal concert and then it was transplanted with awesome. Now, imagine yourself listening to this and driving a monster truck around some kind of terrain that doesn't always make sense (tornadoes in Canada?) and tell me that you can't imagine the glee infiltrating your body as the crescendo of this wicked awesome song propels you into the back end of another truck that is gonna spend the rest of its life crying over how you totally pwned its sorry ass.

So, your hobbies might get you some cool photos on facebook, but mine will run you over in a big ass truck.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 19 - A Talent

This isn't a "pity me" post, but I've been thinking off-and-on for the past few days about a talent I have, and I haven't been able to come up with one that actually seems interesting. I mean, I'm not saying I'm not talented in any way, but I think I'm pretty transparent in terms of people being pretty aware of what I'm good and not good at. I'd think that a post like this would be good for talking about a "hidden" talent, and I'm not sure that I have one of those.

So, I guess it is best to just throw up this post and stop delaying the rest of the challenge topics.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day 18 - Whatever Tickles My Fancy

This is going to be a short one - I just wanted to show all of you a small bit of ridiculousness that graced me with its presence on the screen as I was watching last week's "Project Runway."

Apparently it was raining in New York?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Meme time! Plus societal speculation.

Part I -

I've already seen those algorithms that identify whether you 'write like a woman' or 'write like a man' based on a pasted sample of your writing. It always comes up that I write like a man, which I suppose explains why when I post under gender-neutral monikers and people decide to start shit with me, I get called "dude" or "asshole" as opposed to "bitch."

Anyway, I was never satisfied with those, even though my anecdotal experience seems to confirm it, because the ones I've seen seem to primarily function by counting certain words in the sample that men allegedly tend to use more than women and vice versa. I guess the claim that overall men and women write significantly differently is so tenuous that the only testable factor the algorithm designer could come up with was word counts.

I did find something in the "paste a sample of your writing" camp that I liked, even though I haven't been able to find where on the page it cites their methods for generating the result. This one scans your writing and tells you what famous author you write like. I like the idea of this a lot more because it has the potential to be a more interesting analysis: I'd like to believe that syntax and sentence structure could be analyzed, in addition to use of colloquialisms and the general sophistication of diction used.

I submitted a couple of different samples and received this result most often:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Now, this is a person who, admittedly, I had not heard of! But Wikipedia fixed that problem for me and now I have someone new whose work I'd like to check out. So yay for silly memes and quizzes that can teach me new things!

Part II -

A large part of feminism is understanding privilege - that is, "a special advantage or right possessed by an individual or group. A privilege is a right or advantage gained by birth, social position, effort, or concession" (thanks!.) Socially, privilege amounts to a series of factors that are completely out of our control; yet, those factors automatically form the framework for a hierarchy of status. The accepted primer on understanding privilege is a paper by Peggy McIntosh called White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Feminists have used this basic idea to create similarly worded and themed Male Privilege Checklists that, using McIntosh's framework, associate 'white' with 'male' (as the privileged class.)

Privileges do not stop there. How can you tell if you have privilege? Well, you probably have it any time you're part of a hegemonic group that you (perhaps unconsciously) consider 'normal' compared to others. Think gay people are weird or gross? That's your straight privilege. Etc. Etc.

I read an interesting article about a month ago about geeks and hacking - If You Were Hacking Since Age 8, You Were Privileged. Summarily, it's about how geeks (usually male) often cite how young they were when they started hacking as validation of their geek credentials and bragging rights, but they don't exactly realize what a privilege it was for many of them to have access to a computer at the time; thus, treating hacking-while-young as a merit badge disadvantages current hackers who had enter the computer science/hacking field several years later out of necessity.

Reading that article led me down the internet rabbit-hole to find a shorter list of items, several of which few people probably think twice about, but that can collectively serve to indicate a measure of class privilege. As in, the more of these items apply to you, the more likely it is that you're in an economic/social class that confers advantages. The blog that posted it invited others to post the list on their blogs and indicate what items applied to us, as a way of examining our privilege. So - that is what I am going to do now! Bolded items apply to me.

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college

Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18

The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs*
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs*
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp

Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house

Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child

Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family

It's crazy. I've never thought as my family as 'rich,' and I've practically never felt like my family had more money than most of the people around me. But lists like this really force me to think about things that I took for granted, that so many people in this country and around the world don't have access to. It's good to have a kick in the face like that every so often to keep us grounded.

Life 2.0

So right smack in the middle of the 30-day blogging challenge, I went through a major life transition: I finally moved out of my parents' house! Yay! As I mentioned before, it was that major move where my old room at home was completely emptied and is now transitioning into a full-use office for my parents (my mom did buy a nice sleeper sofa for me to use if and when I need to stay over.)

So, outside of all of the financial preparations I have made - including setting up a very stringent budget and documenting all of the purchases I make on credit - there's a million other adjustments that I've been working on that have kept me away from the computer a bit, and particularly away from blogging because my energy to actually put out thoughts in plain English has been, well, stunted. That thing about preparing and cooking my own food? Sucks. I've kind of been living on eggs and salad, which hasn't been the worst so far, but I do miss chicken and lamb. I've never broiled anything myself before, and I'm scared to try, screw it up, and waste money because what I've made is too gross for me to want to eat it. So I eat things I know I can make, which is eggs and salad.

There's also the problem of getting used to the way things in the apartment work and how they're different from what I expect at home. For instance, the faucet in our kitchen sink sits at such an angle that thus far I've found it impossible to not get water all over the place (including myself) when I wash dishes. Therefore, washing dishes takes twice as long because I have to turn the water pressure way down, and clean up all of the spills afterward. It's annoying.

And then there are the things that, when we move in, we notice are already broken. My screen in my bedroom window was completely busted, so I am still unable to open my window and get fresh air in my room without letting in all manner of whatever wants to crawl through my window space (humans, bugs, stray cats - you are all NOT WELCOME, sorry.) We have a major ant problem. My roommate's toilet has been running constantly ever since we moved in three weeks ago (I think they are fixing it today?) And on. And on.

But! As evidenced by this post, I'm feeling blogging competent again. And I have some stuff to say, so expect me to pick up where I left off with the challenge, and hopefully get some other posts in here too.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 17 - An art piece (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.)

I think these count:

Alexander McQueen Spring 2010

I love(d) the late McQueen's work. It was visceral and intellectual, stunning in its impracticality, and for me, the pinnacle of how fashion can aspire to be true art. I'd die and go to heaven if I could trip and fall in these shoes (because god knows I wouldn't actually be able to take two steps in them.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 16 - A song that makes you cry (or nearly)

Ok I actually love this question. For some reason recently I am very easily moved to tears. I didn't cry much or at all in middle school, a little bit more in high school but still not a ton, and then starting when I was at UCLA and up until now I'm actually kind of a crybaby. Sucks for my hardcore image! Anyway.

I've actually posted this song before as a "song of the day," but I don't mind the opportunity to post it again because it's so beautiful that it does get me a little verklempt sometimes when I listen to it. Actually, a lot of stuff by M83 has this effect on me. So I'll post two and give you something new as well. The first one, "Skin of the Night" is the re-post. The vocals are ethereal, the bass is literally a heartbeat, and the rest of the sound is minimal enough to create a truly breathtaking crescendo at the chorus. It's got a very synth-80's sound, which I mentioned before, but it doesn't sound dated - it actually moves you to be nostalgic, which I think is part of the reason why it's such a lovely song. Like Don Draper once said on Mad Men: "Nostalgia - it's delicate, but potent. [I was told] that in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone." So give it a listen, please, and tell me I'm not alone in my gushing over this song here.

"Teen Angst" is another pretty much perfect song. (There aren't many of those for me - "Bittersweet Symphony" probably falls into that category, as does "Sex on Fire") Again, the synth moan in "Teen Angst" feels like a tangible time machine sucking you willingly through your favorite memories. The background vocals are stunning. And if the song itself doesn't fill you with t3h emotionz, just go ahead and watch the video. I dare ya!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 14 - A non-fiction book

Is it cheating to write about a memoir? I think it counts! Anyway, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is the heartbreakingly factual recounting of the year in which she lost her husband to a heart attack, while meanwhile her daughter was in a coma at a nearby hospital.

The fact that Joan Didion is just an absolutely fantastic writer only makes this true story all the more heart-wrenching. It was a deeply uncomfortable read, as from her descriptions of her emotional journey I felt like I understood so completely what it was like to lose a family member and to have another one whose potential to live or die is completely out of your hands. "Magical Thinking," as per the title, refers to Didion's mental inconsistencies with reality, and how her bereavement (which she noted did pretty predictably follow the medically-dictated stages of grief) changed her very perception of her world. In her own words: "We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes."

This is not an easy book to read, but it is a rewarding one. It's one of the best written books I've ever read, and even as someone who has not personally experienced the kind of grief that she has written about, I felt that by reading her account it could help me reach out to those who had.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 13 - A fictional book

Ha, so I probably should have read what today's topic was before I wrote my whole book report yesterday. Fortunately for you, I finished another book over the weekend! Yay!

Finishing Touches by Deanna Kizis is one of those books that's written in a light way, but it's actually got some pretty depressing material. Synopsis: Wallflower-type Jess loses her best friend Cecile in a car accident, and after a few months of shared grief, she falls into a relationship with Cecile's widower. This puts a strain on the relationships the two have with their mutual friends (imagine that!) and yet, the breath of emotions felt by Jess in the months after losing Cecile allow her to come into her own as a strong, independent woman by the end of the book. Blah, blah, blah.

Ok. So. This is potentially one of those books that tricks you into thinking it's shallow, for a few reasons. 1) There is no part of the storyline that's not fairly rote or predictable. 2) The characters are stock types that we've definitely seen throughout the lit world, and particularly in chick-lit: there's the dazzling blonde best friend who is practically perfect in every way, the smart and sarcastic but still drop-dead gorgeous in a *different* way other best friend, the "perfect" guy, the asshole/bitch boss, not to mention the "rather average" unreliable narrator who lacks self-confidence. 3) There's kind of a shlocky romance. 4) The protagonist undergoes a transformation fueled by growing self-actualization.

I could continue, but I won't, because these all distract from the main point I'm trying to make, which is that actually it's a pretty well-written story that still has the capacity to make you feel something. I genuinely believed Jess' turmoil and depression, and her complete lack of any idea of how to deal with life after losing her best friend. I believed that she felt conflicted when she entered her relationship with dead-best-friend's husband. Even more, even though I couldn't relate to why it was happening to her, I could definitely relate to the theme of having to navigate changing relationships with your friends. Throughout my young life I've several times struggled with the (commonly felt, I'm sure) pressure to adapt to all of my friends and I heading in different directions in our lives, and feeling the need to reconcile those different directions and the changes they can inspire in us with the friends that I knew back before we all headed down these different paths. It shouldn't be hard to do, and yet it is, and I feel like since a lot of people can relate to that sentiment, probably a surprising number of people could relate to that exploration of changing friendships in this book.

So that's all I have to say about it, really. Despite some dark content, there's a happy ending, and it's punctuated with lightness and jokes throughout, so it definitely makes good beach or weekend reading.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 12 - Whatever tickles your fancy

So, in the past two months I read two different highly-acclaimed contemporary novels that both fall into a very specific category of book - the "Laconic, contemplative, and wise-beyond-his-years young boy" subgenre.

The first was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Its protagonist was nine-year old Oskar Schell, who lost his father in the World Trade Center during 9/11. The book is basically about the mission Oskar embarks on throughout New York to feel closer to his deceased father.

The second was Edisto by Padgett Powell. This one was about a twelve year old privileged white boy named Simons growing up in what is described as a pretty modest poor town with a population mostly of blacks. The book is about the boy's relationships with the people around him, and about examining his charmed existence within the town he inhabits.

Can I just say: I am ever so very tired of these types of books. Don't get me wrong - they were both "good reads," and "thought-provoking," and all that, but there's a few things that tend to be common amongst books of this type that rather irk me.

1. Where in the world do children like these actually exist? I just don't buy that behind every introverted young boy is an intellectual prodigy. These books don't read like they were imagined by children, even by mentally advanced children. They read like they were imagined by adults, which is why they are books for adults. I always just feel like they're trying to put one over on me when I read the perspectives of these ten-going-on-fifty year old kids. Have you read your diaries from when you were young? Did your innermost thoughts resemble these kids' sophisticated inner monologues at all? Mine sure as hell didn't, and I almost certainly thought I was super mature and smart at the time I wrote it.

I suppose it makes it more challenging as an adult author to try and pen your novel from the perspective of a child, but at this stage in the game, to me it just feels pretentious and dishonest. Kids aren't like this. End of story. If I really wanted to get inside the mind of a child, I'd go hang out at an elementary school. I know, maybe I'm missing the point with this one. After all, both of these two books that inspired this rant have received pretty stellar reviews across the board. So maybe this point by itself wouldn't bother me, but there are some more issues with this subgenre that also get to me.

2. Namely, the issue that, in the same way that women authors are routinely absent from best-of lists, young female protagonists are, apparently, not capable of conceiving poignant thoughts the way young boys are. In fact, generally speaking, the number of books with any female protagonist at all (much less a young one) that manages to graduate beyond pop-lit status to An Intellectual Novel Worth Reading is small, bordering on negligible. I guess these two books aren't particularly at fault for that. But they still eagerly fall in line into a canon of intellectual heavyweight novels that seem to be consistently by men and about men, while novels by women and/or about women tend to be considered For Women Only, like we're some kind of niche special interest group that the big boys can't be bothered to read about. I mean, they probably talk about periods and other gross stuff in those girl books - amirite?

It also tends to squick me that in these types of books, the young male protagonist usually at some point will have some kind of epiphany about Women. In the context of the story, told by a kid, these revelations are probably meant to be cute, or unusually observant. When you consider, though, that some of the opinions expressed are actually believed to be fact by lots, and lots, and lots of grown men worldwide, it becomes less funny. For instance, Simons of Edisto basically comes to the conclusion that all plump or chubby girls, lower class girls, and less-educated girls all have lower self esteem, and are more likely to be promiscuous - good news for him! Then you have the uber-enlightened Oskar, who in several instances during his travels around the boroughs of NY, is able to recognize sexism perpetuated by himself and by others. It's at this point that I refer you back to point #1: where on earth can you find a nine-year old boy that chides himself for his own sexism, unless that kid expressly grew up in a house with feminist parents that would point that kind of stuff out? I mean, good for the author for getting that kind of stuff out there in writing, but still. Suspense of disbelief.

And I know, all this is making it sound like I didn't enjoy these books. (That may actually be the case for Edisto, despite the promises made by the quote on the book jacket that it would evoke Salinger and Capote, and that it is actually better than Catcher in the Rye!) I guess I just feel that at this point, this kind of Wise Young Boy subgenre has become a cliche. Call me when people get themselves out of bed to buy this type of book about a girl, or when the kid in the book actually talks and writes like a kid. Neither situation, let me point out, requires dumbing-down of the story, particularly since a lot of kids do seem to have a knack for an enlightened understanding of adults; however, the way they express that understanding is, I feel, still leagues away from how adults pretending to be kids express it.

A valid excuse

So as it turns out for you all who wait expectantly for me to post a new entry every single day, I have a pretty good reason for not quite being on the ball over the last week or so. That reason is: I found a place to live! And I'm getting ready to move! This is one of those traumatic move-outs where I'm actually truly expected to vacate my room at my parents' for good. All of my stuff is being taken with me, and my mom has been ordering furniture to put in there to turn it into an office once I'm gone. Basically, this room is no longer mine - but I did help pick out a comfortable sleeper couch that I'll get to use when I come to visit.

Anyway, this is where I'm going to be living:

I'm about 10 minutes from school (5 in light or no traffic), 15-20 minutes from my parents' place in the Valley, but, what I'm actually really excited about right now, is that I'm about 5 minutes down the road from the Los Feliz/Silverlake area, which my inner hipster truly adores. I would have loved to live right in the area, but as it is with all trendy urban enclaves, the prices were a wee bit too much for my baby budget if I wanted the apartment itself to be any good.

I'll post pictures when I'm all moved in and settled!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 11 - A photo of me taken recently

Sorry! So I've taken some days off. Everyone needs a vacation from pointless blog postings! Anyway.

This picture was taken on Father's Day this year, when my sister and I took my dad out for a hike (one of his favorite activities.) Punk had the idea of hiking around the Hollywood sign, and even though the sign itself is closed off from about 20 feet in all directions by a really tall fence (which is enforced by more cameras than Los Angeles can probably afford right now,) this is basically the summit of Mt. Lee (yes, the Hollywood sign is not located on Mt. Hollywood, but rather on Mt. Lee) and it offers a pretty sweet view of the city of LA, plus the SFV to the north.

I'm supposed to be preparing to hike to the top of Mammoth Mountain this summer with my dad. We'll see how that goes.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 10 - A photo of me taken over 10 years ago

This is my mom, my sister, and I -

I don't even remember when our house used to look like that. It's completely different now.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 09 - A photo I took

This is probably the most awesome photo I've ever taken. It happened by sticking my camera lens just so into the eyepiece of a telescope.

Goodnight, moon...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 08 - A picture that makes me angry/sad

This is kind of a whacked question because it's not like I'd keep a picture on my computer that pissed me off, and it's not exactly like I want to go looking for a picture that pisses me off either. Nevertheless:

The first is a picture from a dance I choreographed my senior year of high school, and the second is me from one of my last dances en pointe. They make me sad because dance was such a huge part of my life for about fifteen years, and once I went to UCLA I basically stopped dancing entirely. I tried to take some classes from time to time, either through Wooden or through the WAC department, but they just became further sources of frustration because without dancing almost every day like I had been before, I just couldn't keep up with the level of difficulty that would have formerly been no problem for me.

I think now if I were to take up dancing again, it would be something that I have never really tried before, so that I could start fresh learning something and not feel like I have to compare myself to the way I used to be.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 07 - A picture that makes me happy

So I'm pulling a Tiffany and throwing up a cutesy boyfriend picture, but the truth is that I still think this picture (taken in 2005!) is probably one of the best pictures Casper and I have together. We're prom posing, but this picture was taken at a candid moment when we were laughing at something (probably something stupid) and I like that we both look happy. Especially since, Casper knows, I sometimes give him a hard time for not smiling in pictures.

Day 06 - Whatever tickles your fancy

Well, why not use this time for a general life update?

Since I last wrote, I finished my first year of grad school and started apartment hunting for a spot to live closer to campus, but not necessarily in one of the seedy surrounding neighborhoods USC is known for. Though we're currently shopping around in South Pasadena and the Los Feliz/Silverlake area, our limited budget so far seems to be yielding only some of the crappier apartments available to us. But we're hoping that someone will post a listing for a little gem one of these days and we'll snatch it up! What a fantasy, eh?

On the school front, it's been an interesting year. I've oscillated between varying poles of confidence - on the one hand, my moderate apathy about my coursework sets me apart from several of my classmates, who noticeably take more time to study and therefore tend to actually get that A. I, on the other hand, am content to just keep the 3.0 that's required of me and care more about the lab, but it still makes me feel like a slacker at times to just be shooting for the average.

On top of that, I'm finding that when I leave campus, I'm just not interested in talking about science. Does that make me a Bad Scientist? Does it disqualify me from being Someone Who Knows What They Are Talking About? I dunno - I'm just around it all day, and when I leave, I want to talk about something else. So again, I feel a little unworthy when I go out with some of my friends from the program and they're all talking about their lab stuff, and they ask me how it's going, and I'm just like "It's great."

That said, I got a huge confidence booster two weeks ago when my application was accepted to be a CIRM Fellow. (CIRM is the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, aka our state stem-cell initiative.) I didn't know how competitive of an applicant I was as a first-year grad student without any papers, but I knew that my research background was strong, and that the proposed project itself was awesome. But, I did it! This is such a huge relief to me and the lab - all of the funding (by which I mean, funding for the research materials and funding of my salary) are now covered by CIRM for one year - and potentially two based on progress of the project - and my PI mentor doesn't have to worry about scraping money together to pay me. So yeah, this is really kind of a big deal. And, by extension, since I'm using this as a motivator to actually believe in myself, I'm kind of a big deal. And I deserve to be here.

And that about sums that up!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 05 - Your favorite quote

I don't have favorite quotes, and I don't have role models. I try to be my own role model and live for myself, so my favorite quote is probably something awesome I've said.

Day 04 - My favorite book

I guess I'm kind of cheating because since I'm writing this after midnight, I "skipped" a day. Well, suck it, rules, because I'm still awake so it's the same day! Also this weekend was pretty busy, in between my cousin's wedding festivities and apartment hunting.

Anyway. This is going to be short.

So again - the problem of picking one favorite. It's still a problem. But I love it just as much as any other book I'd be likely to pick, and I've read it probably more.

Original hardcover before the film plastered their poster image all over it! Snap!

I just really liked the story.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 03 - My favorite TV show

This is a loaded question because I am of the opinion that there are few quicker ways to open yourself to judgment by others than to align yourself with or against a TV show. It would be really easy to pick a canceled-too-soon critical darling like "Arrested Development," "Firefly," or "Veronica Mars" to get some street cred. Conversely, almost everyone watches some sort of reality show, be it competition-based or the social-reality format of the "Real Housewives" or "The Hills," but no one really admits to loving those shows or calling them their favorite shows unless they're doing so with an apologetic disclaimer ("I know I have terrible taste but I can't help loving...") or a hint of irony.

Up until high school, I never watched much TV. That basically changed when my mom got tivo, but that wasn't even until mid-way through my junior year. After that, there were several shows that I tried to keep up with. Some were addictive even though I wanted to punch the participants (and host!) in the face - "America's Next Top Model" - some appealed to my high school sarcasm and cooler-than-thou affect - "House" - but, few were considered by those with taste to be quality TV.

I have some of those "good shows" in my must-watch list now. But I honestly don't know if they're my favorites, in the way that something that's your favorite is the thing you first thing that comes to your mind, the one that you know the most and can talk for hours about, the one that you're like "I have to watch it RIGHT NOW."

So what's my favorite? Honestly?

Yeah, that.

I love this show firstly because I love food. I also love competition. I love picking teams. Now, that competitive spirit allows me to enjoy a pretty solid heap of other competition shows (see the aforementioned ANTM, also "So You Think You Can Dance") but what sets Top Chef apart for me is the fantasy element. It is sometimes tough for me to watch SYTYCD and not get mad at it because as someone who danced for several years and has (admittedly) a bias toward technically-trained dancers, it frustrates me when trained dancers who excel in every style get voted out (or lose to) someone with a precious backstory or someone who basically floats through on charisma alone. Sure, sometimes the dancers at the end are pretty much all at a certain level and choosing between their proficiency is like splitting hairs, but sometimes there are obvious differences in ability and I just want to bang my head against the TV because America made the "wrong choice."

With Top Chef, the truth is, almost everything looks good, but I don't really know how it tastes. I have to trust the judges and diners, and therefore, even though I am emotionally invested in my favorites, I can't flip my lid and have a heart attack if they do poorly or are eliminated because I honestly have no evidence to suggest that they should have stayed or should have ranked higher. I like that there is that suspense, that I can't just look at what is there and know automatically that someone did better than someone else. I love the moment of anticipation before Tom Colicchio puts something in his mouth and makes ass face, because I don't know what the reaction is going to be. Even more, I love that the cheftestants don't know either, because they can't realistically taste every plate or take the time to make sure every piece of meat is cooked the right way. I love when one of them says something like "I know the judges will appreciate that my meat was cooked properly," but then they get to judges' table and it turns out Padma's was almost completely raw.

So yeah. It's reality! Out the window goes my street cred. But I'd like to think that because everyone loves and appreciates good food, almost everyone could enjoy a show like "Top Chef." Even the food-porn close-up shots of the dishes alone are enough to make me fall in love.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 02 - My favorite movie

I actually get asked this question a lot, for whatever reason. I love lots of movies, but my gut reaction, the first movie that pops into my head whenever I'm asked, is The Matrix.

There have been two movies in my life that completely blew my mind in an awesome way when I watched them for the first time. One was Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope (and subsequently, episodes V and VI since they were on a TV marathon at the time) and The Matrix. I had never seen anything like these movies at the time that I watched them, and that's what makes them memorable to me, and also, arguably, what makes them stand up so well over time. The "bullet time" effect invented for The Matrix has been used about a gazillion times since.

I actually didn't even hate the sequels all that much. Neither really compared to the original Matrix, but I actually thought Reloaded (the second one) was a lot better than people gave it credit for. The car chase scene was epic and I thought the fight scene in the foyer at the Merovingian's place was pretty sweet too.

Actually, I even wrote a Matrix-based essay for my college applications. One of the questions was something like "What does leadership mean to you? Give an example of a great leader." I chose Morpheus, the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar in the film. I thought I wrote a pretty convincing essay, and one that would definitely stand out from a bunch of other people writing about boring historical figures. So yeah, the movie has been a part of my life in at least one unexpected way!

But yeah, it's probably my favorite movie. I never get tired of seeing it, and even though the first time was the best, I still get that thrill every time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 01 - My favorite song

Let's start this off by saying that I'll never, in a million years, be able to select one single favorite song. I can't even select one favorite song from each of the (sometimes) vastly different genres of music I claim to enjoy. I once did a livejournal post that was something called "The Soundtrack to Your Life" and it was a series of instances that typically happen in young adult lives and are often represented in movies. You then would select a song that you thought would be perfect for that scene in your life. That was fun to do because it allowed me to utilize several of my favorite songs at the time based on the appropriate emotion they were supposed to evoke. So choosing one song? Tough.

That's why I think I'm going to reach for the absurd and choose a song that I love, somewhat ironically, from a genre that I generally have no interest in. But there is no denying that this song always lifts my spirits, and it's generally accepted at this point that playing this song will get me in a party mood in short order.

Yeah, that's right: Gin & Juice by Snoop. It's kinda my designated pimp song, inasmuch as I can be a pimp. I don't know all of the words yet, but I'm working on it.