Sunday, May 19, 2013

On The Great Gatsby

I don't usually write movie reviews, but after watching The Great Gatsby I had so much to say. I had heard many mixed reviews about the movie, so I went in with low expectations, which the movie exceeded. 

My initial thoughts about the soundtrack were justified. The use of contemporary tracks was an unnecessary risk that didn't pay off. The music's best moments were when it stayed true to the era, which unfortunately did not happen often. There was, of course, a rendition of "Jazz History of the World," but aside from a brief sax solo, the music never again evoked the Jazz Age spirit of, well, jazz. The lesson here seems to be that the obvious choice is obvious for a reason, and to depart from it for the sole sake of not doing the obvious is not a good enough reason.

Does it really matter what the music was? My answer is a resounding yes. All the glitz and glamour of the party scenes in Gatsby's mansion in West Egg, when layered with a Kanye West track (is that even who it is? I don't know), are suddenly reduced to what could easily be a costume party in 2012 that's trying too hard. Perhaps my disdain for hip hop in general is what sours my view of the soundtrack, but I don't think so. Is it asking too much to be able to watch a period piece without having to hear rappers in the background? The exploration of mixing the old with the new did not work in this case and was, in fact, quite jarring.

I said that my expectations, though somewhat low, were exceeded. The most convincing part of the movie, the most compelling, was DiCaprio's performance. Was it everything I imagined Gatsby to be? No. But was it a heartfelt, authentic, layered, and complex portrayal of the subject of The Great American Novel? Yes. DiCaprio captured the spirit of a man in the endless pursuit of the elusive American Dream, one trapped in the unyielding jaws of his own past. His performance alone won my favor. Even Toby McGuire, who was more awkward and naive than the Nick Carraway of Fitzgerald's novel, grew on me as the movie progressed. 

Unfortunately, Carey Mulligan's Daisy Buchanan was less compelling, though not as disastrous as I had expected. The truth is that Daisy Buchanan and her complexity as a symbol of fickle America, among other things, was too big for sweet, demure Carey. I found myself sympathetic to her character, which is not what Fitzgerald intended. Daisy Buchanan is among the most disliked literary characters, one of the best creations of Fitzgerald's genius (because we readers are not entitled to likable characters, so long as their lack of likability is purposeful, and in this case it is, but this is the matter of a completely different essay). Though Carey captured Daisy's elegance and chemistry with Gatsby, she doesn't manage to capture much else.

I think Luhrmann's adaptation of one of my favorite books is definitely worth seeing, so long as people understand that there are many facets of Fitzgerald's novel that don't manifest in the movie, such as the beautifully crafted language (the floating words in typewriter font failed miserably with me), but I suppose this is the case with many book-to-movie adaptations. Luhrmann succeeded, once again, in creating a visually stunning piece, and though his ambitious attempt to recreate Fitzgerald's masterpiece on screen left me wanting, it didn't completely disappoint, and his efforts to remain true to the novel's themes were much appreciate by this fan of The Great Gatsby.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

epiphanies and cheesecake.

At times, life seems to be the same from day to day. The days blend into weeks, and months, and years, and somewhere in all that time we know we’ve changed, but we don’t know exactly where or how. But there are rare moments that show us who we are as opposed to who we once were, and hopefully those moments are good.

A few days ago, Blair and I decided to celebrate a small milestone (me getting an interview with a grad program) at The Cheesecake Factory. We waited about ten minutes before a host even greeted us. There was a big party, and with managers toting entrees, it was clear they were understaffed. While we were waiting, an older woman came in with her middle-aged daughter. She saw us waiting at the counter, but despite that I noticed her inching forward. Eventually, she had her elbows on the counter, leaning forward on her toes. When the hostess finally came, she had no choice but the address the woman that looked like she was going to climb over the counter.

“Can I help you, Ma’am?”
“Yes, we need a table for two, please.”

That was when 24-year-old Dorothy said something that 20-year-old Dorothy would have been embarrassed for her mom to say; maybe something 22-year-old Dorothy would have said, but only timidly and with her heartbeat pounding in her ear.

I raised a finger. “Actually, we were here first.” The counter climber slammed her palm down. I turned to look at her with an expression on my face that I imagine could be described as blank. She looked baffled and turned to her daughter. The two talked in harsh whispers while I try to process what had happened. Did a grown woman just throw a hissy fit in front of her adult daughter? And did I really just say what I said without having to muster up the courage first? Without having to force myself, or rehearse the line over and over in my head?

It was a simple statement, not profound or particularly remarkable. Yet it did show me just how much I’ve changed and grown over a few short years.

The hostess pretended not to notice anything and brought us to a corner booth. Our entrees were great, and we ordered a cheesecake to go. It was a perfect meal.

 Love and (a book) light,


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Spring Semester 2013

I know I’ve been a very bad blogger lately. My classes have been largely to blame (I think I made the same excuse the last time I posted about my classes) so here’s a roundup of what they are.

Creative Writing –Fiction I –Last semester I tried my hand at creative writing for the first time. I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to continue working on my writing. I got great feedback on my portfolio last semester. My professor said my stories, with a bit more tweaking, are publishable! It’s great to have a challenging creative outlet, so I really want to stick with it. This class focuses primarily on point of view. I can already tell that my work for the weekly assignments and in-class exercises are much stronger than they were last semester.

Applied Grammar This was a requirement for the grad program. It’s really easy so far; I feel almost a bit guilty that I’m actually getting credits for it since I’ve hardly had to do any work and it’s online. Still, it’s good to refresh my knowledge of grammar and learn names for rules I’ve always followed but for which I’ve never had the terminology.

English Literature II This class is also online. We started off learning about the Romantic Period. I’m really excited about it since I never learned this stuff in high school (where we studied Filipino literature).

American Literature II –I saved this one for last because it is my favorite class so far. Like English literature, I never got to learn about American literature in high school. In the four weeks that I’ve taken this class, my love of literature has skyrocketed, and that’s saying something since you know how much I already loved it. Before you dismiss literature as a bunch of highbrow nonsense (like I did in my early college years), hear me out. You are doing yourself a great disservice if you think that it’s silly to read “too deeply” into a text, be it a short story or a novel. Literature is a lens with which to see not only into the mind of brilliant authors but also the complexities of their societies. I was talking to someone the other day about wanting to teach English. They then went on a rant that sounded something like, “What’s the significance of the tree? I don’t know! It’s a tree! That’s all it is.” Let’s set aside the sheer rudeness of this person’s response to my dreams and passions for a moment. I can understand her frustration. Digesting a text is a lot of work. But we would be sorely remiss to think that the yellow wallpaper in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story of the same title is only wallpaper with no larger significance outside of the story. (I highly recommend reading this story; a post will follow soon about other short stories I think you should read.) The insights we learn by closely reading these texts are well worth the scholarly attention they demand. No, we don’t always have the time(or always want) to sit and contemplate the larger meanings of a ten-page story, but don’t dismiss it as nonsense.

Anyway, all this is to say that I am learning so much more than I expected to learn taking prerequisites for the grad program. I’m so glad that the burning passion I feel for what I’m doing is only getting stronger.

Stay tuned for another post in which I discuss “what counts as literature,” at least to me.

Love and (a book) light,


Monday, January 14, 2013

on yoga. on gratitude. on my body.

I’ve talked about yoga. I’ve talked about wanting to practice gratitude more. I’ve talked about learning to be kinder to myself. And I’ve recently learned a connection between all of these things.

I do yoga about three times a week, but the Tuesday class is my favorite because of the instructor. Her teaching style really works for me; I challenge all of the elements that I’m there to work on —my mind, my body, my soul. I find peace and rest while my muscles and joints find their edge and surpass it. At the end of each class we always do a meditation and relaxation period. As we were settling into corpse pose, the instructor said, “thank your body for giving you this hour.” It wasn’t something that she hadn’t said before, but this time it struck me. I felt a lump forming in my throat, and it was like I was doing my best dancer’s pose all over again.

I started seeing my body as a separate entity and as an extension of myself at the same time. I know this might sound confusing, but I’ll try to explain. When I saw my body as a separate entity, I realized that I spend so much time criticizing it —when I get dressed in front of the mirror, when I shop, when I shower. I am quick to point out all the lumps and bumps, the squishy parts, the stretch marks, the veins, the different places I want to lose an inch or two. A shopping trip for clothes results in a tirade of insults as I curse my body for being too short, wishing my legs were long and lean rather than disproportionate in the thighs and hips. Viewing my body as its own entity made me realize just how hurtful I was being. Imagine if there was a person you insulted every time you saw them.

And so I took that time, 7 minutes or so, to thank my body for getting me here and there, for being healthy most of the time, for letting me get restful sleep every night, for not hurting, for craving fruits, for loving vegetables, for not having allergies, for giving me an hour of yoga three times a week, for holding dancer’s pose longer than I ever thought it could.

And as I started to see my body as an extension of myself, I realized that my inner mean girl wasn’t as quiet as I thought she had gotten. She was quieter than ever now, but still cruel when she spoke. I still struggle to be kinder to myself; I am still my own worst critic. But that revelation there on that yoga mat helped me realize that being grateful not just for my body but toward it is a big step to being kinder to myself. Namaste.

Love and (a book) light,


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bonjour, 2013.

In 2013, I want to:

-read more poetry
-blog more; write more
-do yoga three times a week
-live with compassion at the forefront of my mind rather than in the background
-embrace vulnerability
-do a 10K
-venture into DC
-use the library more
-do more volunteer work
-practice gratitude
-practice mindfulness
-become conversational in French
-dare greatly

Happy New Year! What are your goals?

Love and (a book) light,


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Au revoir, 2012.

2012 has been full of changes for me, both big and small. On the small scale, I stopped drinking soda and coffee, though I do indulge in a decaf latte once in a while. Has it made a difference? I would say so. I used to drink coffee in the morning, which made me jittery and unproductive. I’ve since taught my body to get its energy from sleep, exercise, and healthy food. I gave up soda to avoid the sugar and sodium and to protect my teeth. So far so good!

I also tried yoga for the first time this year. I’ve always been intimidated  by it. I had a picture of the type of girl who did yoga. She was skinny, fit, self-confident, flexible, and looked great in spandex. She was not me. But I did it anyway, and I’m so glad I did. It does wonderful things for my mind, body, and soul, and it’s something that I know I’ll practice for the rest of my life.

One of the biggest changes I made was in my career path. I used to work for a large consulting firm. I learned a lot and I grew as a person, but the time came for me to move on. I didn’t feel fulfilled. When I imagined myself in that career ten years later, I didn’t feel joy or satisfaction. I knew I wanted to do something more. I didn’t figure out what I wanted right away —that was the scary part. If I wasn’t going to continue in a path I had spent two years on, what was I going to do? I felt like a failure. I felt lost. I felt horrible for being discontent with my job when so many people were trying to find one, but I knew that wasn’t a reason to continue in that direction. As a starting point, I thought about the things that I enjoyed. I considered going back to grad school for a Master’s in industrial/organizational psychology, but that would have likely put me back in the consulting world where I already knew I wouldn’t be happy.

I finally realized I wanted to teach. To be honest, it wasn’t such a revelation to me. I had been running from that calling for a very long time. I used to tutor college students, and they would often tell me that I would make a great teacher. I still flinch when I remember my response. “Oh, no,” I’d say with a dismissive wave of my hand. “I’m not going to be a teacher. But thanks.” I was going to do research, or maybe open my own practice —anything but spend my days in a classroom for a laughable salary.

Turns out, I will be spending my days in a classroom, and my salary as a teacher after 20 years won’t be anywhere near what my salary would have been in the consulting world after 10. But I will be doing something that matters to me. Something that makes me feel whole. And even at the end of a very bad day, I can say that this world is better because of what I do. As a lifelong people pleaser, I worried about what people would say. They might call me na├»ve; they might say I was selfish. Foolish. Rash. Ungrateful. Thankfully, people were overwhelmingly supportive, and Blair’s support was the only thing that mattered, anyway, which he gave fully and without hesitation.

Perhaps the biggest change of all, even bigger than a career change, was the decision to become a vegetarian. I first started to slowly reduce meat in our diet because of health and financial reasons. Then we got a dog, and then another one (which is another big change for this year). That really changed my perspective in a lot of ways, including the way I viewed the meat that I ate. As I started to educate myself about the meat industry, I realized becoming a vegetarian was the right thing for me, for animals, and for the environment. This is a very personal choice that I elected to make for myself. I don’t judge my friends for eating meat, and for the most part the people in my life don’t judge me for abstaining from it. If anything, the response has been very supportive.

There are many other less tangible changes that I’ve made this year — I’m still my own worst critic, but I’m much kinder to myself these days; I’ve learned to slow down more and give each event in a day its own time and space; I’ve embraced the fact that I’m an introvert, but I’ve gotten a lot better at making new friends; I’ve started to live with more vulnerability, which I now view as a positive thing. (Please read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.) Basically, 2012 has been a good year full of change and growth. I hope 2013 tops it.

Love and (a book) light,