Thursday, December 29, 2016

Suspending belief

Sometimes, getting out of your comfort zone can surprise you in pleasant ways.

I don't normally like hokey comedies, ghost stories, or bizarre supernatural tales. I'm not the biggest fan of Melissa McCarthy or Kirsten Wiig (I have come to love both Leslie Jones for her Sounders enthusiasm and Kate McKinnon for her SNL brilliance). And I wasn't allowed to watch a lot of movies "normal" kids did in the '80s, so I have still never seen the original Ghostbusters.  

But I really, really enjoyed the 2016 remake! Maybe it was the all-female vibe, or the deliberate way the gender roles were reversed, or the cheesy un-scary aspect of the ghosts, but I really liked the movie more than I actually thought I would!

In a similar vein, I'm not a big comic book fan, of either the Marvel or DC universe varieties. (However, I do love Marvel's Agents of SHIELD: even without an understanding of the Avengers' back stories, the show stands on its own.) I'm not entirely sure how Dr. Strange fits into all the nerd-dom, but as a movie it was pretty fun to watch.

The only thing I'd heard about it was the controversy regarding Tilda Swindon being cast as a character who is supposed to be Asian and male. Having no personal ties to the comic, though, made it hard for me to feel affronted, even if I sympathize with critiques of Hollywood whitewashing, and even if I generally try to support films that feature people of color.

Benedict Cumberbatch's American accent was a little off-putting, though.

...And then there are the times where you get out of your comfort zone and realize you like it nice and fine there, thank you very much.

A coworker and I were talking about bizarre mystery series we loved; I raved about Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and he recommended the Dresden Files. So I checked out the first book from the library. It definitely sounded intriguing: it features a wise-cracking wizard private investigator. But meh, it didn't really draw me in.

Usually I give a series a second chance by reading the second book. I'm still on the fence about this one.

I believe I know what I like.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Harpier cries, "'Tis time, 'tis time"

I felt compelled to to read the next installment in the Jade del Cameron 1920s Africa mystery series, mainly because I've invested so much time in it already (and also probably because I'm feeling nostalgic for my own African adventure.) The tropes are getting old, though, filled with mysterious and often supernatural-possessed natives. This one was no different: the murder-solving multicultural American heroine and her family embark on a trip to Zanzibar. They manage to destroy a cult, solve some murders, and free slaves, all despite local legends of witchcraft and sorcery.

Months ago, I accidentally abandoned my Newbery Medal-reading streak, but recently tried to re-start that by re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I liked it well enough as a fifth grader when I originally read it: after all, it features a strong teenage heroine who challenges 17th-century Puritan gender norms. Reading it almost 30 years later as an adult was interesting: I distinctly remember 10-year-old me being surprised and disgusted by the love triangle, dismissing it all as mushy crap. Re-reading it as an adult, it's a very obvious subplot. It's still a cute story, with a good message for young readers about doing good, treating all people with respect, and standing up for themselves and others... a somber lesson to take into 2017.

I'm not entirely sure how Blackbird rose to the top of my Newbery reading list, but I suspect it's because I've been listening the hell out of Hamilton. (I suspect that Hamilton's childhood in St. Kitts and Nevis reminded me of Blackbird Kit's childhood in Barbados.)

It took months and months of friends pleading with me to listen to the soundtrack before one finally had a Hamilton listening party that forced me to hear it in all its brilliance.

The play admittedly has its faults, and scores of critics have ranted about them more eloquently than I could -- about the whitewashing of slavery despite having a mostly black cast, the glorification of bootstrap ideology, failing the Bechdel test, etc. But as a history nerd, it's a freaking Tony-winning musical about the country's first Secretary of the Treasury! You can still appreciate that it's a fantastic story, without forgetting or demeaning its historical context. As a carefully crafted tale, its narrative structure is just sheer genius.

Along with Les Miserables and Newsies, it's now one of my favorite musicals. (Yes, I have a strong preference for productions with a fight-for-justice theme.)

Besides, wildly popular cultural phenomena are only relevant because they speak to something about the contemporary condition. Hamilton is actually a story about the here and now and the debate Americans have been having over national identity since electing a black president.

"History has its eyes on you.."

Carrying the banner

I bought Newsies on BluRay for my nieces and nephew for Christmas, after a conversation with Mi Hermana about exposing them to more history.

It's no secret that it's one of my favorite movies. I hope the kids like it as much as my sisters and I did.

Earlier this year, my mother took me to see the stage production. To my surprise, it featured not only new songs but a generally different character

Jack is apparently a great doodler and a talented budding young political cartoonist, rather than merely an orphan who wants to escape New York. I didn't mind that change so much, except that they revised the lyrics to "Santa Fe" so that when I was singing along at the top of my lungs, it was to the movie lyrics instead. Awkward.

The newspaper reporter (played by Bill Pullman in the movie) and David's sister were taken out and condensed into one character: a female reporter who is also the love interest for Jack. I didn't mind this change so much, either.

But the unforgivable change was that said reporter is revealed to secretly be the daughter of Hearst, and she and her rich kid friends (the children of Pulitzer and Astor) are super eager to show their support for the newsboys' strike. Rather than letting the story stand as one where near-destitute orphans empower and organize themselves to form a union and fight for a fair contract, this Broadway version makes the capitalists all friendly and nice after all. I think it detracts from the original story and lessens its power.

I left the theatre wondering why such a big change would have been written in to the stage, and the only reason I can think of is to make it accessible to the more privileged kids who are likely to be able to (afford and) see it performed.

I'm glad I finally saw the stage production; I'm just disappointed that the story took something away from the original tale that merged by tween love of musicals and history.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


The past month has not been good. Having an established professional and volunteer life in the political realm, my anxiety levels have been off the charts since Election Day. It's heartening to see and hear so many political and previously not-so-political people stepping up and taking action, resisting, fighting the good fight, etc. And I'm slowly getting there.

I volunteered at work to be sent to Nevada in the weeks before the election to help the Silver State turn blue and to help elect the first Latina to the U.S. Senate. I've been clinging to those two successes in the past month.

But I still have to change the radio channel when NPR plays interview clips of the soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief. I still haven't entirely cleaned my apartment post-GOTV. I don't have the energy to plan my annual holiday party this year. I had mild anxiety travelling to Michigan to visit my sister, nieces, and nephew for Thanksgiving: they live one suburb away from where a student hung a noose in a middle school bathroom.

A few friends posted this article about surving the next four years on Facebook, and it sparked something in the depression-and-anxiety-riddled recesses of my brain. Numbers 6 (Prioritizing Mental & Physical Health), 7 (Making Lists), and 8 (Finding Positivity Every Day) in particular spoke to me.

I agreed to summit Mt Baker next August, so that's a good fitness goal I can steer toward. As is the Seahawks 12K I think I finally want to run. I'm good at calendaring and making lists; it helps me find order and peace in the chaos around me. And recently, some glad tidings of great joy have surfaced.

Yesterday was one of the most exciting days of my life as a Seattle sports fan: the Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup in a nail-biting final that took them all the way to PKs. (I always pace during PKs, even if I don't care about the teams involved. PKs are nerve-wracking.) It was such an amazing journey for the team... and though I was quite literally hyperventilating after extra time, for the first time in months it wasn't because of anything political.  It was a fantastic win, and my season ticket seatmate and I got to spend it together in a low-key atmosphere. Then I headed off to my home neighborhood to celebrate the milestone birthday of an old friend, and spent the rest of the night with good people I've known forever, who are basically family.

Today, I went to the small regional airport to welcome the team back home, cheering and chanting as they brought the MLS Cup off a plane. If thousands of fans cheering wildly and celebrating for two days straight isn't something to recognize as positivity, I don't know what is. Everyone was so happy and proud and excited, and in a bittersweet way it was what Election Night should have been.

Over Thanksgiving, while watching the MLS Western Conference final with my nieces and nephew, I noticed that 9-year-old Harmony was silent and not getting excited about the game. I told her, "Isn't it exciting? The Sounders can win this! I believe!" She looked sad and answered, "But Tia, you said the same thing about Hillary Clinton." (I did. I called her, jubilant and hopeful, right before heading out to the E-Day parties.)

I hope I (and frankly, our country) can restore trust and hope to my little niece's eyes. (At some point, my sister and I might need to talk to her about the differences between sports wins and political wins, and which of those scenarios we actually have a chance of influencing.)

So maybe this 12-year-old blog on a very outdated blog site (2017 goal: finally get around to purchasing a domain name) can help me re-center myself.
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
    Would not we shatter it to bits -- and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
 (73rd quatrain, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Edward Fitzgerald translation)