Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Loneliness: Social Media

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I suspect that most people feel this way.

On the one hand, social media has been a boon to my existence. It’s brought people back into my life that I thought were lost to me forever. It’s helped me forge friendships with people I’ve never met in real life. It’s also let me stay in contact with all the wonderful people I’ve met these last six or so years, while we’ve been moving frequently. It helps keep me informed of what’s going on in the world. It makes me laugh every day, and sometimes it even helps me feel better when I’m down.

On the other hand, social media has been a bane of my existence. It makes me feel pressured, like I need to prove to everyone how popular I am. Whether I spend too much time on it or no time at all, I feel like the message people are getting is that I don’t have a “real” life. A lot of people (including people I think are awesome when I see them in person) are jerks on social media. It’s usually so full of bad news that it depresses me, or so full of everyone bitching about inane things that it annoys me. It also frequently makes me feel like I’m missing out on something.

I go through periods where I do a lot of “nothing.” I stay home, watch shows and movies, read, write, and play games. I try not to indulge too much in these periods, because I know that I’ll never get to the end of my life and wish that I’d sat around the house more. But sometimes it feels like how I want to spend my time for a few days, and I think that’s okay. I always enjoy myself. I never feel bad about it - until I get online and see all the awesome stuff that everyone else has been doing while I’ve been a boring homebody. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

I don’t blame social media for the bouts of loneliness and inadequacy I sometimes feel. Some of the loneliest periods of my life occurred well before social media ever existed. But I do think that it’s an extension of the human problem in general, and perhaps of America’s problem more specifically. It’s not truly a place to make connections. It’s a forum for us to show everyone how many friends we have, how successful we are, how attractive we are, and how much we’ve been doing. And it’s not easy to resist getting sucked into all of that. 

There’s nothing new under the sun. Everything you’ve ever felt or thought, people before you have felt and thought for thousands of years. That includes loneliness. I think that being a living, thinking, breathing human being is simply, on some level, an isolating experience. No matter how many loved ones you have, or how much you do, at the end of the day, you’re still alone inside your head. No one else can truly meet you in there.

So I don’t think that social media causes loneliness. I think it’s a symptom of a greater problem. It just happens to be a symptom that, on the surface, seems like a bit of a cure. You go online, like and comment on your friends’ stuff, and they like and comment on yours, and for a while, you feel a little bit happier. You feel loved and validated. But then you close your browser and all that goes away. You’re alone inside your head again. So maybe you go online for longer, or more frequently, trying to get that feeling back. It’s almost like a drug. Maybe it is a drug. I sometimes feel like a drug addict with it. “I’ll just post this real quick and not get on it the rest of the day,” I tell myself. “Oh, but now someone has commented on my post. I want to see what they said, perhaps respond to it. Oh, look, that George Takei is so funny!” Ad nauseum. Ugh.

In and of itself, it’s not the problem, but how we interact with it certainly can be. 

The people in my life I feel closest to, besides my husband, are the few people that I exchange physical, hand-written letters with. While all of these people are also friends online, we rarely talk there. I’ve always been best at expressing myself in the written word, a writer through-and-through. I tend to tell people things in my letters that I don’t tell even the friends I see in person. I’m not the type of person who can easily admit out loud that I’m depressed or lonely or scared. It seems like less of a commitment to write those things down, but I’m not capable of expressing them in one or two sentences either.

And perhaps therein lies the crux of the issue with social media. While it scratches an itch, it’s not the right itch. It alleviates the immediate need without addressing what’s both deeper and more important. I think that’s why, nearly every time I log off, I’m left feeling slightly (or sometimes greatly) disappointed. The more time that passes, the more I think that I need to find a way to disconnect from it, although probably not completely. I feel like I’d be happier without it, or at least without it so easily accessible.

I’m not sure what the right answer is for me on this issue. It’s a bit of a catch-22. On a professional level, as a self-publishing author, I see that I’ll need to become more involved with social media. It’s not a matter of what I want, but of what I need to do to succeed. 

Socially, it can depend on one's circle, whether or not social media is necessary. Fortunately, here in California, my friends tend to make plans via email and text, but when I lived in Texas, most invites came via social media. Right now, it's not necessary for me on the personal level, but I think I'll stick with it so long as the positives outweigh the negatives. And when the bad begins to outweigh the good? Well, I suppose I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A-Z Movies, Q: "Quiz Show"

Recommended by:
Al (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 1994 (Canada)
American, in English
Director - Robert Redford
Stars - John Turturro, Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes

Plot Summary:
Set in late 1950s America and based on a true story. When former contestant Herbie Stempel (Turturro) accuses the producers of the quiz show Twenty-One of match fixing, federal investigator Dick Goodwin (Morrow) becomes involved. Fiennes co-stars as fellow Twenty-One contestant Charles Van Doren.

Blue language.

Bad Stuff:
Didn’t like the cold opening. It was so confusing and I didn’t understand what was going on, especially since I didn’t know any of the characters yet. I’m still not sure what it was about.

I found it painfully long, dry, and boring.

Good Stuff:
Great acting. Fiennes was, as always, a joy to watch, a true master of his craft. I also really enjoyed Christopher McDonald as show host Jack Barry. Even Morrow was pretty good. I liked his accent.

The costuming is very good.

I enjoyed the exploration of the camaraderie that built up between Goodwin and Van Doren. I thought it was really interesting and complex. I liked that, as much as Goodwin came to like and admire Van Doren, he remained skeptical of him and wasn’t taken in. It was nice to see a shrewd character (although he turned out to be naive in other ways).

The Verdict:
I’ve heard so many good things about this film. It’s one of those that people really seem to love. And here I am, scratching my head, wondering why. I thought it was a total snooze. Part of me wonders if the nostalgia factor is in play, like with Forrest Gump; the Baby Boomers loved it because it reminds them of their childhoods. As for me, I’ll take a great, big pass on ever watching it again. I could barely sit through it once. I honestly just did not find it that interesting at all. I think it would have been better if it had been a little shorter. It was definitely way too drawn out. 

I give it 2.75 stars.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A-Z Movies, P: "Pan's Labyrinth"

Recommended by:
Emily (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 2006 (France)
Spanish, Mexican, and American, in Spanish (English subtitles available)
Director - Guillermo del Toro
Stars - Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, and Doug Jones

Plot Summary:
Set in Spain during 1944, when young Ofelia (Baquero), along with her pregnant mother, goes to live with her stepfather Vidal (Lopez), a brutal Spanish army captain, she escapes into a mysterious and creepy world of fantasy. Verdu co-stars as Mercedes, the family housekeeper, and Jones as the titular faun (in Spanish the title reads “The Faun’s Labyrinth”).

Very graphic violence, including against children; minor blue language.

Bad Stuff:
My only major nitpick is that I felt that Vidal jumped to the correct conclusion far too quickly based on little evidence most of the time. Perhaps I’m just too used to movie characters being really stupid because the plot calls for it, but in this case it sort of felt like he was too smart because the plot called for it. He also borders on mustache-twirling levels of evil, almost-but-not-quite a caricature.

Good Stuff:
Almost too many to list. The acting is consistently great from everyone. Loved the strong female characters, especially Mercedes. I adored sweet, innocent, creative little Ofelia. Eight years on, the special effects still look pretty great. It’s creepy in all the right ways. Visually, it’s stunning. The story is engrossing, both the fantasy piece and the real-world piece. Each scene, the tone was exactly right; I felt grossed out when I was supposed to, scared when it was appropriate, creeped out and tense most of the film. Can I also say how much I loved that Ofelia’s fantasy world, while it promised rich rewards, was tinged with a certain level of the grotesque, scary, and bizarre, because that’s what her real life was like? It was magnificently well done.

The Verdict:
I loved this movie. It’s beautiful and touching and inventive. It’s also gut-wrenching and kicks you in the teeth at the end. Consider yourself forewarned, but watch it anyway (perhaps with a hankie on-hand if you’re a big sap like me). I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. 

I give the movie 4.75 stars.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Up with Geography: Bangladesh

Country Name:




Map of the Asian continent. Bangladesh outlined in bold,
shaded, and with an arrow pointing to it.

A close-up of Bangladesh & its neighbors.

India, Myanmar

Water Border:
Bay of Bengal

Total Area(added March 2015)
56,977 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Dhaka, Chittagong, Narayanganj, Khulna, Rajshahi

Famous Geographical Point:
Chittagong Hill Tracts

Famous Person:
Al Mahmud, writer

Book Set In/About:
Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War by Sarmila Bose

A historical account (not a memoir) of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan over an area then called East Pakistan, which eventually became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Movie Set In/About:
"The Clay Bird (Matir Moina)" (2002), directed by Tareque Masud

A coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of the same war mentioned above.

Headline of the Day:
"After Oil Spill in Bangladesh's Unique Mangrove Forest, Fears About Rare Animals" in National Geographic.

(The above story is soooo depressing.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

AIIW: Knights of Badassdom

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (Israel)
American, in English
Director - Joe Lynch
Stars - Ryan Kwanten, Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn, Jimmi Simpson, Summer Glau

Plot Summary:
Friends Joe (Kwanten), Hung (Dinklage), Eric (Zahn), Ronnie (Simpson) and Gwen (Glau) accidentally summon a rampaging succubus while at a weekend Live Action Role Play event in the woods.

Blue language, extreme violence, heavily implied sexy times, and drug use.

Bad Stuff:
It’s a tad boring.

There are only two female characters, Gwen and Beth (Margarita Levieva), and neither of them is particularly well developed. Who is Gwen? The only thing you learn about her is that she’s there to chaperone her cousin Gunther (Brett Gipson), who takes the whole thing far too seriously. I wanted to know more about her.

I guess this is a spoiler because it mentions the fate of this character. Speaking of Gunther, I didn’t understand him at all. Gwen says that he’s “always” in character (I guess that’s why he needs a chaperone since he’s apparently mentally ill) but a follow-up card at the end of the film says that after fighting a real-life demon, Gunther now thinks he’s always in-game. Didn’t he already? It didn’t make sense.

Good Stuff:
I liked that it didn’t always do the expected thing, especially in terms of who lived and who died. It gave me a sense of anticipation.

There are some very funny moments.

A lot of times, a character like Ronnie will quickly descend into caricature territory: the villainous, power-hungry nerd (see: Ken Jeong’s character in “Role Models”). Ronnie had more nuance than that, which I really enjoyed. I suppose it helps that I’m a big fan of Jimmi Simpson.

The Verdict:
We all know that this isn’t the kind of movie you go into with high expectations. You don’t watch movies like this for depth or meaning. You watch them to enjoy yourself. In that sense, this movie is immensely entertaining. It feels like one of those films that a bunch of friends got together and made. They looked like they had a blast doing it. Whenever I see a movie like that, I tend to enjoy it more.

You’ll probably get more out of it if you’ve either played D&D and/or are a LARPer or know people who LARP. It was certainly funny to me for those reasons because of how close to the truth it strays. During the big battle scene, I said to my husband, “This is basically every LARPer’s wet dream.” He agreed. 

I give the movie 3 stars.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Toys My Dog Destroys: Blue Pig

I gave Blue Pig to Major on November 9. Look how happy he is to be of service:

 Major got pretty much all of the stuffing and the squeaker out on November 19:

After that, Blue Pig was kind of hard to play with. Since he was basically flat and empty, he wasn’t conducive to throwing. I’d try to toss him and he’d go maybe a foot or so. Therefore, Major quickly lost interest in him. I threw him away on December 12, but I only kept him around that long because I didn’t have any back-up toys (fail, I know).

Look at this small hole Major made that he somehow pulled all the stuffing through:

I bought Blue Pig from a major pet store retailer for $2.50. He lasted approximately one month.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A-Z Movies, O: "On the Beach"

Recommended by:
Fark (online community)

Movie Stats:
Released 1959 (simultaneously in Australia, Sweden, USA, and W. Germany)
American, in English
Director – Stanley Kramer
Stars – Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, Anthony Perkins

Plot Summary:
Set in 1964 after all-out nuclear war has destroyed the northern hemisphere. When an American submarine lands in Melbourne, they find that Australia is still going on business-as-usual, although nuclear fallout is heading their way and they only have about five months to live. American commander Dwight Towers (Peck) meets local Moira Davidson (Gardner), who begins to fall for him, despite the fact that he’s still mourning the loss of his wife and children. Astaire co-stars as Julian Osborne, a scientist assigned to join the Americans on a reconnaissance mission; Perkins co-stars as Peter Holmes, an Australian naval lieutenant assigned to do the same thing.


Bad stuff:
Australian characters speaking without Australian accents. It drove me nuts.

There’s some stuff that’s supposed to be dramatic & poignant that just made me laugh, especially because the music was so incredibly overblown.

There’s not a lot of action. It’s more of a thinking-man's (or woman’s) movie.

Good Stuff:
The acting is superb. I thought everyone was great, very believable. I would point out who was the highlight, but they were all so good that I can’t pick just one. Everyone seems to have a scene where they truly shine.

This is the most realistic end-of-the-world movie I’ve ever seen. My problem with a lot of these movies is that they show people completely descending into chaos, like we all turn into mindless beasts when faced with the prospect of our own deaths. The truth is that disaster research shows that this is not the case. When faced with life-or-death situations, most of us resort to the roles that we play in regular life, because they’re so ingrained in our systems. That’s why I liked the reactions in this movie. I think it’s how people would truly behave.

The Verdict:
I saw this movie on a list of the best end-of-the-world movies, and several posters on Fark affirmed that it not only belonged on the list, but that it was one of the best movies they’d ever seen period. That intrigued me, so I had to watch it.

I really liked it a lot. It was both believable and relatable. Even though there isn’t a lot of action, it still held my interest. It’s definitely not a movie you want to watch if you’re already feeling depressed, or if you’re not in the mood to be brought “down” or contemplate your own mortality. This is a movie that makes you think. It’s maudlin. There are no happy endings here.

That having been said, it’s a great movie. I highly recommend it. You don’t often get to see such a great ensemble cast with such consistently good performances. Grab your hankie and give it a chance. 

I give the movie 4.25 stars.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A-Z Movies, N: "Notorious"

Recommended by:
Roger Ebert (movie critic), on his Top 10 list

Movie Stats:
Released 1946 (USA)
American, in English (some non-translated French)
Director - Alfred Hitchcock
Stars - Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains

Plot Summary:
After her father is sentenced as a traitor, Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is asked to spy on a group of Nazi sympathizers in Brazil by seducing Alexander Sebastian (Rains), a man who once had a thing for her. Grant co-stars as Alicia’s actual love interest, D.R. Devlin.

Minor violence.

Bad Stuff:
To quote my husband, “It felt like it was building and building but then nothing really happened.” To me, it never felt tense or suspenseful or creepy, which are typically the best things about a Hitchcock film. Frankly, I was bored throughout.

I really hated Grant’s character. There’s something about watching a grown man act like a petulant, self-righteous thirteen-year-old that irritates me to no end.

The special effects are dreadful, even for a 1940s film.

Good Stuff:
Bergman was amazing. She impressed the heck out of me. Her opening scene, where she’s drunk at a party, is probably the only time I’ve ever seen someone accurately portray how drunk people act.

He didn’t have much to do, but when he was given the opportunity to spread his acting wings (like in the final scene), Rains was pretty great.

The Verdict:
I always liked Roger Ebert. He seemed like a nice guy, a real class act. But I have no idea if I generally agreed with him as a movie critic. I haven’t read enough of his reviews to say. Of his Top 10 list, the only other one I’ve seen is “Casablanca,” which I love. As far as this film goes, he and I don’t see eye to eye. I don’t understand why he liked it so much. I thought it was dull, annoying, and, ultimately, pointless (What were Sebastian and his buddies even up to? They never really say, only insinuate). It felt like a waste of a perfectly good plot. 

I give the movie 2.5 stars.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Final Reflections on November 2014

I think November 2014 was the best month I’ve had in a really long time. There’s a lot to be said for achieving the things you’ve been meaning to achieve. I enjoy feeling accomplished. In November I: got the finished manuscript back from my editor; found and began working with a cover artist; and got a part-time job. I’m only working about 6-10 hours per week, but at this point it seems to be more than enough. With work, writing a thousand words per day, doing pretty much all the household chores/errands, and a much improved social life, I’m feeling very busy right now!

In addition to the huge leaps forward with the book, I also had a visit from my brother. That was a lot of fun. I took him to a few places I’d already been. He also helped me explore some more of the city, going places I hadn’t been before: namely Malibu Creek State Park and Catalina Island. I’ve already been back to the park, with friends this past weekend. I’d really like to return to Catalina Island, since we only got to spend an afternoon there. I’ve been floating the idea to my husband that we go for my fortieth birthday next year.

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. It’s my favorite holiday. I love taking one day a year to stop and reflect on everything I have to be grateful for (although I do try to be grateful every day). I also love good food, conversation, and friends. So it’s the perfect holiday for me. A friend of ours hosted and we really had a splendid time.

In December I’m looking forward to a weekend trip to Austin to celebrate my friends’ wedding. I’m also looking forward to publishing my book (hopefully releasing it by the end of the year!) and attending holiday parties. It will be a nice cap to a year that has, like usual, been full of lots of ups and downs (although mostly up I’d say). 

November was a nice month, full of so many great things: family, friends, work, writing, accomplishments, and the rain that LA has so desperately needed all year. If you’re stopping by to read, why don’t you tell me what made your November special?