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.


Recapping Coachella - Day 3

Okay! So! My last post about this was in May for a festival that happened in April? Who cares! I still have pictures and videos and reflections, not to mention major nostalgia about the event and ANTICIPATION for next year. Seriously - I'm not missing another Coachella in my life until I die.

Anyway, Sunday started off pretty chill - we needed to relax after the epic-ness of Saturday. I started off the day back at the Sahara tent - where else? - to see Rusko. It's interesting now to remember his set, because since then he's released his first solo production album, O.M.G. (see the reviews? they're mixed. that's because this album is, er, mixed in terms of quality,) which was in some ways a lot like how he plays a set and in other ways not at all like how he plays a set. Basically, Rusko's main genre is dubstep. But, when he plays live, he doesn't just play all wobble dubstep. He mixes in d'n'b, some reggae-inspired dub, basically just big beats. That's what the Coachella set was like: insanely danceable for a genre that can be syncopated and even arrhythmic.

Much like the Bassnectar set from the night before, the bass blasted out of the speakers with all of the subtlety of one of those magic hammers from Super Smash Brothers (N64 edition, obviously.) And it was delicious. The album is mixed in a different way, a bad way in my opinion, but this isn't about that, so I'll move on. The set was awesome.

Next we mosied over to the Gobi tent for Florence + the Machine. I don't have any pictures of her, but she was one of my most anticipated acts before the festival, and I was not disappointed. Watching her live recalled some of the performances I've seen from veteran rock goddesses on VH1 Classic - a little bit insane, but overall demonstrating powerful showmanship. Not to mention that VOICE. Miss Florence has got some pipes on her, that's for sure - and not in that kind of generic heady pop voice way that we hear so much of these days; rather it's a solid, earthy, grounded voice that I feel like would be equally great for summoning pagan gods during a cultish ritual and for entertaining a crowd. Bottom line, she's great, buy her album, she deserves to have more people know about her. (And she was recently featured on So You Think You Can Dance, which probably means more publicity for her - yay!)

I next romped back over to Sahara for Infected Mushroom, followed by Orbital. Infected Mushroom played a live set rather than a DJ set, which was very interesting because detractors of electronica will typically bring up the point that there are no instruments so it's not like, real music man, but that's what makes their live sets so engaging: there are instruments. They're actually playing their whacked-out sound live. I'm frankly not sure what to call Infected Mushroom anymore - they used to be known for their wicked psy-goa trance sound (which regrettably has fallen almost completely out of style with trance today, but it was awesome) and they've understandably evolved since then since it's kind of dated sounding now. Nevertheless, they're still making their dark beats relevant, and performing them fantastically well live. A very fun set.

Orbital are just mind-blowing to watch, partly because you have to appreciate how much they've done for the genre, and partly because they've still got it. Their sound is distinctly Orbital, but updated, and allegedly they're putting together some new stuff? I can't wait to hear it. It was in the middle of this set that my camera died, partly because it was spent from the weekend, but also partly because I was trying and failing to get a million good shots during this set of the spectacle of lasers they had going on all over the place. Much like their music, the lights lacked the obvious punch of many sets before them in the Sahara, but instead the visuals opted for a darker ambiance with finessed projections of colors across the top of the tent. Some faceless guys along the side of the stage kept tossing out bucketfulls of multi-colored glowsticks, so that by the middle of the set the front half of the audience participated in the overall lighting effect - lots of colors in lots of thin straight lines. It was rather minimalist, and it was very complementary with the music.

So yeah, I'm glad I got to see them.

Finally, we headed over to Thom Yorke. I had no expectations for this - I had no idea what his solo material was like and half went in the hopes that Radiohead would make a surprise appearance. To my pleasant surprise, I found that I rather liked the stuff he was playing (and he even played a few Radiohead songs, though the band did not join him.) Unfortunately by this point my body began reminding me that I'm no longer a spritely youth that can subsist on about 8 hours of sleep in three days, so I was kinda unable to fully enjoy the set. But I was prompted to check out some of Thom's solo material when I got home, so I guess marketing-wise (if not experience-wise) at least his set was a success.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Blogging consistently - a work in progress

So I haven't written since my Coachella posts, and I didn't even exactly finish that! I'll try to get the Sunday recap up tonight (maybe?) so that even if everyone else stopped caring by now, I'll at least have it on record for myself :D

Anyway, what really brought me back was this post by Tiffany - the 30 Day Blogging Challenge. I know it's going to be a lot to go from nothing in several months to um, a post every day for 30 days, but I'm sure as heck going to try. This ought to be good especially since Week 1 promises to be particularly difficult - I'm hesitant to ever profess anything to ever be my 'favorite' of any category.

Day 01 — Your favorite song
Day 02 — Your favorite movie
Day 03 — Your favorite television program
Day 04 — Your favorite book
Day 05 — Your favorite quote
Day 06 — Whatever tickles your fancy
Day 07 — A photo that makes you happy
Day 08 — A photo that makes you angry/sad
Day 09 — A photo you took
Day 10 — A photo of you taken over ten years ago
Day 11 — A photo of you taken recently
Day 12 — Whatever tickles your fancy
Day 13 — A fictional book
Day 14 — A non-fictional book
Day 15 — A fanfic
Day 16 — A song that makes you cry (or nearly)
Day 17 — An art piece (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.)
Day 18 — Whatever tickles your fancy
Day 19 — A talent of yours
Day 20 — A hobby of yours
Day 21 — A recipe
Day 22 — A website
Day 23 — A YouTube video
Day 24 — Whatever tickles your fancy
Day 25 — Your day, in great detail
Day 26 — Your week, in great detail
Day 27 — This month, in great detail
Day 28 — This year, in great detail
Day 29 — Hopes, dreams and plans for the next 365 days
Day 30 — Whatever tickles your fancy

Wish me luck!