Wow, it has been a while.

I come back to this forgotten blog after a year. I want to put some roots down, more now than perhaps ever before. I have moved back to Florida from Michigan and am teaching K-12 again, and I’ve also pursued my writing enough that I have actually published a few things. One, “Words Fail Him,” you can read in Cartridge Lit here.  It helps if you’ve played Chrono Trigger, one of my favorite SNES-era RPGs. Another piece is coming out in print later this year.

Now is a time when I’m trying to simultaneously achieve more and be realistic about expectations. It’s a time when I’m pushing myself harder and also trying to accept myself for who I am. It is a time for reconnecting with friends I made 3-7 years ago, for driving around mired in nostalgia for a time when I was newly an adult and bad at pretty much everything–yet I am also craving new experiences and fresh starts. And even though I still am wondering exactly what I want this site to be, now is a time when I want to take care of it.

So I hope this is the first of many new posts, and if I become ambitious enough, an entire site redesign.

 

Week Five–My Cooking Week

When I look back on this week, I think it will be the one where I learned to cook a lot of different foods. This experience was fun, I got a product out of it that I like, and I feel like it will be a useful skill throughout my life. I made TWO cakes, a stir fry, some soup with dumplings, and some chips with leftover potato skins. I also made a less successful hash with old waffle fries and eggs, and I ate a lot of fried eggs this week in general. As for my other goals…

Well, I finished the third Harry Potter book (I’m doing a reread of the series) and got about halfway through The Cuckoo’s Calling, though I could have done a lot better. I started a story that I’m very excited about, though I did not get very much work done on my thesis (my perennial shame). I think my goal for next week is to write a little bit every day, and to do it in a way that makes me happy.

I have been exercising pretty regularly thanks to discovering Spotify, which allots me with unlimited music every month. That alone has made me excited about getting outside and running a little bit from time to time. Well, that’s about it!

Week Four–Learning All the Time

This was a very elucidating week. I moved into a new place with some roommates with whom I really get along. I read a few books–finished Haruki Marukami’s Norwegian Wood, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, and the second in the Harry Potter series. I got most of an issue of Crazyhorse read, and I started working on something that I think will be really fun to write. (I could be doing a lot better on my thesis, but I guess we need to have limits at some point!)

Interestingly, I learned that I have a cognitive breaking point and that just like I want to be super productive, there is such a thing as being too productive. Yesterday I ended up reading for most of the day, and by the time 11:00 P.M. rolled around I was both a little stir-crazy and had a bit of a headache. This made me realize that I need to have a balance, and sometimes that includes a bit of unproductivity. I did REALLY well last week with staying offline, so I’m going to continue that. I also think I will strive to finish a few books this week and (ESPECIALLY) revise some of my work and send it out.

Til next week!

Week Three–Starting Over

I had some super highs and super lows this week. Among the highs were that I got to visit my brother and his girlfriend in Houghton, and because they have no TV or internet, I got a lot more done in those two days than I have gotten done all summer.

The lows were that I crashed on a lot of my goals–in fact, pretty much all of them. I am trying to be positive here and say that I learned some things. For example, I learned that having goals only works if you are really committed to the outcome, and if breaking those goals is something that hurts your life overall. (I think one of the most difficult aspects of healthy eating for me is that eating a little unhealthily every once in a while has no negative consequences; it is hard to tell when a line is crossed, and usually only evident to me long after it happens.

So this week I am trying to feel things out a little bit more. I want to listen to what my body and mind are telling me about what I really want and need. I am hoping to have more specific goals at the end of this week, but for now it is to try to spend a lot less time online–that was one of the huge successes of last week.  I have also decided that one concrete goal per week is probably beneficial for me right now.

Til next week!

Week Two–Deciding on Priorities

This week I finished two books: Patti Smith’s M Train and William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life. I enjoyed both of them but also found myself putting them down and picking them up a lot, which means I might not have actually enjoyed them as much as I thought. The Irvine book in particular was interesting in that it was all about Stoicism, in which a life of tranquility is sought over a life of fame or material prosperity. The book argues that materialism is an addiction that will never be fully satisfied, and that a life full of peace is the best type to sustain.

In reading that, I began to evaluate what exactly I want out of my own life. I wrote a decent amount this week (ten pages or so–not great, but at least a start) and had a blast. Sometimes it is hard to remind myself that my biggest goal in life is to have fun and enjoy things day-to-day. I also watched the first half of season 1 of The Leftovers, made it to the gym once, ran a little bit, and visited family for Mother’s Day. I was also pretty inefficient, and my new goal is to try to get rid of those times of the day when I am all-out wasting time. I don’t mind the video games or the TV so much as the internet scrolling, so I’m trying to minimize that. I’m also trying to decide just how much to cut down on sugar, alcohol, and unhealthy food.

What was great this week: I applied for two jobs that I would be thrilled to get, I spent very little money

What was okay this week: working out, reading, writing

What could really be improved still: eating healthier.

Goals for this week (something new I’m doing):

  1. Finish an essay about the Edmund Fitzgerald
  2. Read two books
  3. Make it to the gym twice, and make sure to run at least 4 days this week

Til next time!

Week One–Figuring Things Out

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(This is a picture from the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, FL, where I went for a conference earlier this year.)

Well, I realized this week that I have a lot further to go than I thought. I attributed all my bad habits to the fact that I had a lot of stress in my life from finals week, and I figured that as soon as I got rid of that, I would have all sorts of energy to devote to the things I truly cared about.

That didn’t happen, exactly.

I ate terribly this week and went over my budget for the first time in six months. I only got out for a run a few times. I read MAYBE a hundred pages this week, and all my writing was for class. (I am at least pretty happy with a few micro-essays I wrote for a class). I did manage to spend a bit less time online, and I also managed not to overextend myself with friends and social events, but I want to do better.

This week, in addition to any positive habits I managed to cultivate last week (which are few), I am going to try to eat healthier and work out every day in some form. I also want to try to write. Last week, I was at a lot of MA and MFA thesis readings, and one of my friends at one of them said his dream life is to have two hours a day to write, and one hour a day to work out. He followed this with “And I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in that.” I liked both the sentiment and the time frame of these things, so that is what I am going to do.

Next week, I am hoping to be able to say what media I consumed, as well as how my working out and running went. Wish me luck!

I’m Changing This A Little

I have decided to do something a little different.

I have finished my M.A. program at Northern Michigan University, and I find myself in the current situations:

  • I have a lot more free time than I have had in the past two years. I am looking for summer work, but because I am living very frugally, I do not need to make very much money in order to pay my bills.
  • Many of my personal goals during this time happen to be non-job related. I want to write and read a lot and get into excellent shape.
  • These goals are going to require months of dedication—basically, I need to make sure I’m accountable and always working toward them.

For those reasons, I have decided to amend this blog a little bit, so that each week I make a post about what I have gotten done that week. It will include what I’m reading, what I’ve written, and how my physical training is going. It’s will probably be really boring to anybody reading it, but I think it will help me, and eventually, if I reach my goals, this can be a space where people can look back and see how I got there.

I have made a vow that each post will be pretty short—right now, I’m shooting for around 500 words.

This is the beginning of Week 1.

I’m Updating This Again

Hello,

Blogs can be really annoying. Last winter I was unhappy with my job and decided that I would try the proven method of starting a blog and, within a year, having 50,000 followers and enough leeway to do whatever I wanted, vocation-wise. Yes, I was stupid. I was also writing for all the wrong reasons. I didn’t hate writing the posts, exactly, but I felt a lot of pressure to churn out “content” at a regular rate despite how I was feeling about said content.

Now, it’s about a year since my previous post. I’m attending grad school. Recently, I’ve discovered a newfound pleasure in writing every day. I am trying to focus on this process rather than the product. I’m starting to publish a few things, such as this review at Ploughshares: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/review-bright-shards-of-someplace-else-by-monica-mcfawn/. I am also having urges to write, even when I cannot really think of something to write about. I think this blog will serve both those purposes for me.

My goal is to attract people here not by incessant posts on Facebook (something I always felt guilty about) but by plugging this blog when I get something published. I’m no longer very worried about the 50,000 followers. I’m much happier simply to have a place I can write whatever I want. Hopefully it can be a place where I can consider myself a writer even if the ideas for short stories and nonfiction essays come less frequently than I want.

Happy belated New year, all. It feels great to be writing again.

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa Has an Unexpectedly Good Point

 

ImageI have a weird compulsion of needing to watch every movie nominated for an Oscar in any category before the awards every year (or, at least the ones that are available, which is usually all but about 5 or 6).  This year, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa was nominated for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, which just pissed me off, seeing as 1) I hate the type of humor in these types of movies and TV shows, 2) I think the Academy likes to nominate a film like this every year just to seem edgy, despite the fact that there are many legitimately good edgy ones that could be given a chance (even in one of the major categories), and 3) I didn’t think covering Johnny Knoxville in old man makeup was really all that impressive.  In fact, halfway through the movie, I started to see right through the disguise, and I imagine many of his “marks” (the word they use to describe the people they are going to prank) did as well.

In short, this is a 90-minute quasi-narrative about an old man who is unfit to be anybody’s father figure, taking care of a foul-mouthed grandson whose mother abandons him.  It would be quasi-accurate to say that the father corrupts the boy and teaches him a slew of bad habits a la Adam Sandler in Big Daddy, but the kid is honestly kind of a little brat even before the grandpa interacts with him.  The film is shot to be a road trip wherein the “bad grandpa” is ostensibly trying to get the kid to his biological father, but he slowly learns to appreciate his grandson along the way.

The reason this doesn’t really work as a narrative is kind of ironic: most of the “side characters”—the people whom the grandpa and grandson interact with—are real people reacting to what they think are real situations.  This seems like a semi-neat effect in theory, but it makes for a weak narrative because the story is largely based on these people’s reactions to the family.  Never once do we feel like we are watching a story in the form of a movie; we instead feel like we’re watching a Punk’d or Jackass marathon featuring the same idiotic crew. 

Another weakness is that almost every scene of the movie could be classified as some sort of vulgar prank.  There are a few semi-funny pranks, though they tend to be overly crude and scatological in nature; there isn’t a hint of subtlety to them.  If I had to pick a best one, it is a certain “dance scene” performed by the boy (in drag) at the end of the film—but I don’t think I even laughed then. 

A much more interesting aspect to the movie, though, is in the reactions that this lewd group of actors got from the unsuspecting public.  The people’s reactions and comebacks were often funnier and more clever than anything the Jackass crew had written (as I’m typing that, I realized that will probably not surprise anybody). 

Example: a good 30% of the movie features the grandpa character hitting on middle-aged women who most people would not consider conventionally attractive.  None of the featured women get offended or insecure at this guy asking them to come back to his hotel room; instead, they often brush him off calmly with a laugh.  This happens on the street, at a fast-food drive-thru, and at a Ladies’ Night at a strip club.  The women look like they’re from the middle class or even lower class; there is even a scene shot in a Bingo hall with several people on oxygen and/or with missing teeth.  They generally at least pretend to be flattered, and some of the women even quasi-flirt with the old man, though I’m sure they thought they were just being polite. 

Another genuinely touching scene involves a group of bikers at a bar towards the end of the film, who are watching an act of emotional child abuse take place.  It is heartening to see them make the right choices as soon as they see what is going on, but at the same time I felt bad knowing that they were just minutes away from figuring out they weren’t really committing a good deed.  (They were all told about the nature of the movie after the scene had filmed, but I couldn’t figure out if they were given any monetary compensation for their time.  In many cases, they deserved to be.)

There are a few people in the movie who overreact, though what’s a store manager to do when two hooligans are eating groceries without paying for them?  There are also a few who for some reason don’t say anything during the cruder setups (such as the boy “chugging a beer” with his grandpa at a picnic table alongside a running trail).  For the most part, though, this is a movie about people who are good-natured, kind, and often funny even when faced with actions that are extremely rude.  I don’t know if that is what the Jackass crew was looking for, but it’s what they got.  (I also don’t know what implications this has for our society—does this mean that our everyday lives are so full of these kinds of situations and characters that we no longer blink when confronted with them?  I hope not.)

In the end, I learned a good lesson from this movie, even though I don’t think it was the one its makers intended.  Good lord, I hope the Oscars next year are Jackass-free.

A Netflix Streaming Movie You’ll Probably Love

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If you have a Roku or any device that gets Popcorn Flix, go through it just for fun and look at all the hundreds of titles.  Do you see a single movie that a) looks good and/or b) you’ve ever heard of before?  Nope?  I didn’t either. 

When I first got Netflix, that is what I expected—to be watching B movies or rejects from the SyFy Network.  I’ve been impressed with the variety that the company has been able to maintain (though it did have somewhat of a lull about 2 years ago).  In terms of independent movies, it is often the first place you’ll be able to see one affordably if you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York City. 

Today, I am imploring you to watch one of these indie movies: Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha.  It is a wonderful story about a 27-year old NYC resident trying to figure out her life.  If most of the movies you watch are the mainstream variety, there are a few things in this one that might throw you off at first.  There aren’t many big-name actors in it.  It’s shot in black and white.  It often seems like an 85-minute episode of Girls.  There are swear words in it–which will apparently be a deal-breaker for some people…

Noah Baumbach directed Greenberg before this, starring Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig.  When it first came out on DVD I was working at the customer service department at Target.  A lady brought the movie up to the register, complaining that it was “just trash.  Everything that came out of [Ben Stiller’s] mouth was so vulgar.”  She demanded her money back, and because it was the holiday season and nobody wanted to endure another minute of her moralizing, we gave it to her.  What I wanted to say was, “Ma’am, you’ll have to take this up with the Motion Picture Association of America.”

Back to Frances Ha.  It stars Greta Gerwig, who is mostly known from being in Greenberg.  The only other person in this movie you might know is Adam Driver, who plays Adam on Girls.  Not that this is a badly cast movie—everybody shines, and Gerwig is even currently nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.  Here are other things you might like about it.

  1. It has the same kind of humor as Girls (a show I just LOVE), but it doesn’t have some of the aspects that so many people hate about Girls.  There isn’t a lot of nudity, and Frances comes of (in my opinion) less entitled than Hannah Horvath. 
  2. It is about being in your 20s and not having a clue what you’re doing.  I am currently in this phase of my life, and there are points of the movie that captured exactly what I was going through.  If you’re in this stage as well, my bet is that you’ll love it—but my mom watched it and enjoyed it despite being a lot older, too.
  3. There are also plenty of light-hearted moments.  Frances tends to mess things up, and even though I think we’re supposed to like her, we’re also supposed to laugh at her.
  4. It isn’t super long.  At 86 minutes, you can just watch this instead of going on Facebook or playing Candy Crush for one day, and you’ll hardly notice the time difference.
  5. It does have some great lessons to teach, but it doesn’t go over the top with preaching.
  6. If you mostly watch mainstream stuff and hate “artsy films,” this is a good one to watch to make yourself feel sophisticated, but you’ll still enjoy it and get it the first time you watch it.

Well, that’s about it.  It’s on Netflix streaming, which pretty much everybody has on every device they own, so you have no excuses.  Then come find me (or just post something below) and tell me what you thought about it.