Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Trip to the Movies

On my last post on Big Island Rachel's Books, I reviewed a long essay by James Baldwin called "The Devil Finds Work," which is about the portrayal of blackness in American movies. To quote myself:

"I'm not what you'd call a film buff. Movies unsettle me for their ability to deliver a huge emotional wallop in a relatively short amount of time. I prefer novels, which give me space and time to inhabit the characters' worlds and absorb their struggles; or television episodes, for the the same reason."

Today I'm going to explore this a little bit more, because the truth is, I love movies but I'm also scared of them, which is a weird way to be. I'm not scared of movies themselves, but of the experience of watching movies, especially in a theater. Film is an incredibly powerful medium. Books are, too, but the reader has a great deal of control over the experience. I can pick up the book when I want to, put it down when it gets too much for me, read as fast or as slow as I like, and basically experience the book on my own terms.

Movie-goers do not have control over the experience of watching a movie. I'm stuck in a dark room in a state of sensory deprivation and the movie has complete control over me--not just what I see and hear, but also how I perceive the events on the screen. The movie controls not just my senses, but my thought processes, hijacking my consciousness and forcing me not just to see, but to see how the movie wants me to see. I can argue against the movie's viewpoint after the fact, but while it's happening, I have to accept the world the movie presents and the morality of that world.

As an example, let's look at "Django Unchained," the last movie I reviewed. I took "Django Unchained" to task for having problems with tone, specifically the way it portrayed events that were horrific in content but lacked an correspondingly serious tone. My visceral reaction on seeing many of the scenes in this movie was to be horrified at the awful ways humans can treat one another; but the movie commanded me to feel a different range of emotions than the ones I was naturally inclined to feel. I think I was supposed to feel anger, humor, intrigue, satisfaction in vengeance--a range of emotions that was a tad inappropriate and simply not what I wanted to make of the material.

"Make it cool" is not an acceptable answer to the question "What's your take on slavery, Mr. Tarantino?"
The way I felt about what I was seeing struggled against how the movie wanted me to feel, and I ended up having to leave the theater for a bit and go sit in the bathroom to preserve my sense of agency. It was frustrating because I knew I was missing out on key plot points, and unlike a book, I couldn't just put a bookmark on a scene and come back when I had collected and organized my reactions.

On a related note, people who watch movies with me in the comfort of a living room or bedroom now know why I so frequently hit pause and get up to make tea, or read a book, or surf the web on my tablet. Agency. I preserve it.

I reiterate: I know this is a very weird way to feel about movies, and I'm not trying to make an argument against the medium because I'm not Holden Caufield in "Catcher in the Rye" (obscure literary reference for the win!). It's just that being in a movie theater sometimes makes me feel like Esther in "The Bell Jar," watching a terrible technicolor movie one evening in New York City and suddenly being able to guess the entire plot and ending, and hating how trite and contrived it all was while simultaneously being completely overwhelmed by it (second obscure literary reference for the win!).
I just leveled up in the Literati Scouts.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you're probably wondering how all this fits in with the fact that I saw "The Avengers" in a theater six times last summer.

I can feel you judging me.
In the case of "The Avengers," and the "Indiana Jones" franchise, and most Batman movies, and "Lord of the Rings," and any of the other fantasy/scifi movies that I love, I think the short answer is 'splosions. The long answer is scale. I don't mind being overwhelmed by movies that are about grandiose and unlikely things. I don't mean to say that I want stupid movies or movies about uninteresting and predictable characters. The older I get, the less patience I have for stupid bullshit, and fortunately the type of movies I like have followed me to maturity--my friend R and I talked for over an hour about the family relationships in "Thor" alone.

The further removed the movie is from my own life, frankly, the more I enjoy it. I guess the truth of the matter is that I like escapist movies. (Why I like the escape into superhero fantasies instead of action movies or romantic comedies where every man is a handsome architect and loves the soulful heroine just the way she is while completely submitting to her efforts to change him, well, that's a topic for another post.) I know I'm not alone in using movies to escape to better, more interesting worlds.
When they get out of their rocket, do they have to walk through puddles of moon-eye goo?
Escapism is what the most profitable wing of movie industry is based on. Most people spend their money on movies that get them outside of themselves and take them to other, more interesting worlds: fantasy kingdoms, spaceships, bygone eras, battlefields, and perfect worlds where everything happens for a reason and all your problems are solved by the end.

But then there are the other movies, the ones that challenge and discomfort and implicate. I want to like them. I want to say I enjoy a movie that makes me cry or cringe, that requires me to work at understanding it on its own terms, because I am both a deep, thoughtful person and an incredibly shallow person who wants others to think she's deep and thoughtful.

And yet, there I am in a bathroom at Cobble Hill Cinemas, hiding from the sight of Leonardo DiCaprio sawing a human skull in half, and wishing I was in the theater next door that was screening "The Hobbit" because I can hear the dwarves singing through the walls and it comforts me deeply.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Things I like

In no particular order, here are some things that I like:

Black beans with cheese. Right out of the can. I don't even wash the black sludge off first. In fact, that's kind of my favorite part of the beans-and-cheese experience, slurping up the black sludge after the cheese has melted into it. My sister says that I'm supposed to rinse that liquid away because it's so full of sodium. So now I get low sodium black beans.
Yep. These are they.
White sheer curtains. I like the way light comes into my apartment through them. And I also hope they block outsiders views of what's happening in here. I haven't seen my ass on the Internet yet!
Why? Why did I leave the Catwoman suit on?
Keeping plants alive. I've just got my bonsai in the apartment, which has been doing a lot better since I started watering it every day and leaving the blackout curtains open so it can get sunlight. At work, though, I've got quite the jungle in my cubicle. Big spider plants, so little speckled things I got for Easter one year that I don't know what to call, and a great big bin of wandering jew vines. I swear that's their name and I'm sorry that botanists are so racist.
"Does this remind anyone else of oppression?" - Botanists
Cartoons. Some of my favorites include "The Simpsons"--a student worker and I got into a Simpsons quote-off today in the office that escalated pretty quickly into a full-blown quote-off war that ended with "Paul Newman's gonna have my legs broke--"Futurama," "Daria, "Batman: The Animated Series," and most recently, "Avatar: The Last Airbender." R bugged me for months to watch this last show and is officially my latest pick for Best. Thing. EVER.
It's all on Netflix. Go ahead, you deserve it!
 And finally, this 1928 map of the Big Island of Hawaii from the Bishop Museum Press.
Sometimes I just like to throw this sort of thing out there to see if advertisers can come up with more useless crap so perfectly tailored to my tastes that it's downright eery.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My 200th Post!

So very late at night on Valentines Day, this happened at work:
No one was hurt because the fire started around 3 in the morning, but it took the NYFD over an hour to put it out. The fifth and sixth floor were gutted and the there's water damage all the way down to the basement.

I don't work in this building, so except for the extra hours my office put in to relocate all the classes held there to other buildings on campus, the fire didn't really affect me.

Except it did.

I feel like someone played a cruel joke on me, that as soon as I write a post smugly congratulating myself on my happy little comfort zone with my well-watered plant and my clean rug, the building I look at every day from my office window goes up in a fiery inferno of hellfire and destruction.

Further compounding my anxiety, it felt so trite to be celebrating my 200th post on my little blog when a fire had just destroyed years of people's artwork. The sixth floor of that building was all senior thesis artists' studios. They lost everything they'd built, painted, drawn and sculpted in their years at the institute.

The incident put me in this head-space where I looked over the five years I've spent in New York, and the 200 posts the precede this one, and no longer felt good about what I've achieved creatively.

In 2008, a few months before I left Honolulu, my computer's operating system crashed (first version of Windows fuckin Vista, it had to be rebooted more times than Wonder Woman's origin story). Because I'm a fool who didn't have external backups, I lost everything. All of my writing from high school and college, gone. Sure, a lot of it it probably wasn't great--over a hundred pages of a fantasy novel no one would ever read, over a hundred pages of a Garcia Marquez knock-off I never want to see again, lots of false starts and pretentious bullshit. But it was all very honest and raw, and a lot of it was downright bold, in the way that only new writers who don't know enough to doubt their own work can create. Not to mention all of my academic work from college, which was the only record of my time there because I always sold my textbooks and threw away my written notes at the end of each semester.

One hour with "Ira" on tech support, trying to get my computer to start so I could play Solitaire while I watched "The Daily Show," and it was all gone. He told me the only way the computer would start was if we re-installed the entire operating system, which would overwrite all the data I had in the hard drive. I did it, I had to, because otherwise my computer was just an very expensive coaster for my teacup.

I was devastated.

After it happened, I went to taiko practice and tried to pretend everything was normal, but the other musicians could see my head wasn't in the game. I lay in the parking lot outside of the practice hall, on the north slope of Diamondhead, and cried for over an hour with another person in my class, a woman I barely knew who was also a writer and refused to leave my side until I had enough strength to get up and walk home to Waikiki.

It didn't end up being as bad as I thought. My old computer, which I'd sent back to the Big Island, hadn't been wiped clean yet and I managed to get back everything except what I'd written a year after I graduated college. The vast majority of my writing survived intact, but there was a while where I was certain it was gone for good. Now I have two external backups, one in a box at home and one that rides around with me in my purse wherever I go. Lessons were learned that day.

However, if the fail-safes all fail and that happened again, if I were to lose everything I'd written on this blog--I don't know how, say the Internet explodes or something--I don't think I'd feel like I did then. This has been my main creative project for four years, and I don't care enough about it to be devastated if it was lost. It wouldn't be the Valentines Day Fire for me; it would be more on par with the Great Christmas Bra Burning.

I'm not saying that I'm breaking up with my blog, I'm still going to be  here every Wednesday and Sunday, and Saturdays on my book review blog. I'm still going to be here for the same reason that Neil Gaiman keeps a blog and a tumblr even though he's an enormously successful and busy professional writer: it's fun and I get to meet new people.

Just last Tuesday, my radio show's Facebook received a message from the artist who draws my current favorite webcomic. The artist tracked me down through my book review about Will Eisner's "Into the Heart of the Storm." She wanted my input on a her webcomic, just some fact-checking and little history, and she reached out to me based on nothing but this once-a-week book blog that I didn't think anyone but me and my mom paid attention to. This artist lives thousands of miles away from me--farther away than Hawaii, even--and we've never met each other. But through the powers of the Internet and this small project I do to keep my writing skills sharp, an artist I really admire found me and said, "Hey, what's up, got a second?"


This interaction is what brought me back to my blog today. I don't know if many people read this artist's little side project done in her spare time between work and other creative projects, but I read it and it certainly makes an impact on me. And something about my blog, which even fewer people read (when I look at my page views I think about Dean in "The Venture Bros": "Our readership numbers well into the teens!"), moved her enough to track me down.

I had to come back here. Because there's a stranger out there who reads what I write and is wondering where I went. Again, incredible. 

Not that I don't appreciate all the people I know who read my blog. It's just a very different feeling to know that a stranger, who has no obligation to pretend to like my writing, reads it, too.

So I guess that's my 200th post. I got bummed out about a fire, loved my blog a little less, then decided it didn't matter and I should keep at it anyway because someone in New Zealand likes it.

Man--I really need to start working on some other creative projects.