Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year's Res recaps

2015 is almost over, and I can say without irony or sarcasm that it's been a nearly perfect year. The high points were plenty - booking my first Broadway show, getting engaged on the beach in Mexico, meeting dear friend's children for the first time, wandering around Ireland and Paris with friends and loved ones, starting the wedding planning process, and discovering the wonderful world of Zumba. But don't worry, this isn't a post detailing how awesome my life is (because that would be obnoxious). It's time for me to see how the goals and resolutions I set way back in January have held up - did I make an effort to better my life in any way, or did I just sit on my butt all year and maintain the status quo?

Read more non-fiction
Grade: A  While this wasn't necessarily the hardest goal in the world to achieve (I simply had to switch one type of book for another), I still had to make the effort to do so. And I was more than pleasantly surprised by the results! There's a whole world of non-fiction out there, and much of it is very good. Some of my favorites: Blue Mind (Walace J. Nichols), a look at how water affects evey aspect of our lives; Maphead (Ken Jennings), about the history, development, and current relevance of maps; and The Almost Nearly Perfect People (Michael Booth), an insightful and in-depth study of the people that make up the five Nordic countries.

Grade: D  Outside of an annual one-day charity event and the requisite four-hour CSA shift, I did not volunteer an extra minute of my time. I again found it incredibly difficult to find opportunities that worked in tandem with my schedule, abilities, and interests. Note to self: fix this for 2016.

Get out of my culinary rut
Grade: B+  I was a bit worried that I would fail this goal completely - but then I joined that fateful CSA and was immediately transported into a world of strange and wonderful vegetables. In addition to adding things like beets, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and bok choi to my weekly home dinner menus, I also forced myself to carry that spirit of innovation when dining out. A previously unfamiliar dish is now one of my go-to Thai orders (Pye Boat's Beef Boat Noodles), and I also found the nerve to try a shark sandwich from a stall at a street fair  - something I cannot wait to eat again next summer.

Make time for doodling
Grade: C  Except for the few nights I played with a new set of watercolor pencils, I really didn't spend any time putting pen to paper. I even bought two books to help me (an adult coloring book and a cartoon drawing guide), but they sadly remain unopened. This is a shame, because I found a lovely sense of relaxation simply fiddling with the watercolors - but every subsequent time I thought about bringing them to the table again, I let myself believe that other matters and concerns took precedence. I will make more of an effort to find some doodling zen in 2016!!

Quality, not price
Grade: B-  Three times this year I made the choice to spend a little more money on a quality product (Pyrex casserole dishes, Tom's shoes, and a London Fog coat) and I'm so glad I did - they're already outlasting their cheaper alternatives, and I notice I take much better care of these items than I would if they were cheap knock-offs. I gave myself the (-) though, because there were a few times in which I caved and bought some cheap t-shirts from Old Navy and a scarf from a street fair. So really, it's all about finding a balance that works for me while keeping in mind that in the long run, it pays to spend a bit more money on quality goods.

Grade: B+  I made a HUGE effort to remove myself from every nonessential email list in my gmail account, and except for a couple pesky companies that resurrect themselves every few months (I'm looking at you, overstock.com), I ran a pretty successful campaign. I think this is an ongoing project though - I'll never be fully done with unsubscribing (these email listserves are like cockroaches, I swear), but the push I made this year cleared out a whole bunch. In fact, I'm going to pivot this project over to my junk email account and see if I can't make at least a small dent in the hundreds of promotional and random messages I get each day.

How did you fare on sticking to your resolutions?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Literary superlatives 2015

I'm no literary critic, but I read quite a lot. In fact, whenever someone asks me what my hobbies are, my first instinct is to proudly proclaim that I took second in a recent BMX competition or that I donate all my time saving Guatemalan sea turtles from extinction, but then I realize that I've never downshifted in my life and wouldn't know what to do with a sea turtle if it bit me in the nose. So I instead meekly say something to the effect of "I kind of read a lot," which I realize a.) immediately turns me into a hapless and uninteresting creature and b.) assumes that reading is not a lofty pursuit, both of which are not true. So I need to stop downplaying the fact that I'm a pretty voracious reader, and instead shout it from the rooftops - I like to read!!

2015 was a year gloriously full of books. I had a few longer commutes that allowed me to plow through books in record time, and I finally mastered the art of the Queens Public Library (a feat I am ashamed to admit took me nearly five years to figure out), which saved my wallet from the Amazon Monster. I also started prioritizing reading for the first time in a while. One of my most cherished moments each day is when I crawl into bed and read a few pages before falling asleep - but for years I ignored this desire, instead letting myself drift off during the Tonight Show and then groggily stumble to bed never having turned a page. But this year I decided to put the kibosh on that bad habit and get into bed BEFORE I was actually falling asleep. Lo and behold, a reader was resurrected.

Instead of doing the typical "best books" roundup, my list is going to be one of superlatives and suggestions and a gentle nod to Friends (because why not). Did you love or hate any of the books I've listed below? What were your favorite books of 2015? And what are you most excited to read in 2016?

The one that made me cry
Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout) Whether you read the book or watch the movie (but please do both, and please read the book before you watch the movie), you'll need some kleenex next to you. Strout's tragically beautiful portrayal of small-town life in Maine made me question my own relationships and confront the inevitability of death, all while tears rolled quietly down my cheeks.

The one that surprised me
Magnetic North (Lee Maynard) I literally judged a book by it's cover (grabbing it off the shelf at the library and only opening it after I'd checked out), and was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that a book about a hardened Vietnam vet-turned-even-harder-biker-dude on a motorcycle ride to the Arctic Circle was a beautiful portrayal of the inability to cope with grief and loss.

The one that made me angry
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo) This one topped the bestseller's list for months, but I honestly can't figure out why. For all it's suggestions on cleaning up one's living space, this 200+ page book could have easily been condensed into a bestselling pamphlet - and I think the irony of buying a book about decluttering was lost on millions of readers.

The one that made me think
Man Seeks God (Eric Weiner) The author took a lighthearted but thoughtful approach to a serious subject (which happens to be my preferred way to face nearly every situation), and delivered a fascinating overview on many of the world's major and minor religions. I firmly believe that familiarity breeds acceptance, and in light of current political situations, it is more important than ever to understand where others are coming from.

The one that turned me into a temporary artistic ninja
The War of Art (Steven Pressfield) A thin but dense text filled with thought-provoking quotables revolving around one's artistic journey and process. Lines like "the amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The pro knows that feat can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist" will have you first rushing for that Moleskine you bought when you felt "creative" and then rallying your craft into a much more focused and driven narrative.

The one that was a classic detective story
The Long and Faraway Gone (Lou Berney) Even though I love good ole' detective stories, I don't normally read them, feeling like my time is better spent on more serious literary pursuits (note to self: it isn't). So it was almost by mistake when I checked this book out of the library - but thank goodness I did, because it was a delightful adventure through and through. Classically noir with just the right amounts of grit and grime, this was a story I could not put down.

The one that made us all argue
Sex at Dawn (Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha) My book club chose this for our Valentine's Day read and though it was way too dry and academic for my liking, it nevertheless generated a fascinating debate on relationships, monogamy, and if humans really are meant to be with multiple partners in a lifetime.

The one that should be required reading for all lit majors people
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Ann Patchett) A beautifully curated selection of Patchett's essays and short stories, this is a book to savor and digest. With the exception of one essay, she never specifically lays out tips or advice on how to be a writer, but by the end of the book you will find yourself convinced you just took a master class on the written word.

The one that nearly turned me into a hipster
Eating Wildly (Ava Chin) Here's the thing - I dislike getting dirty, I'm suspicious of unknown trees and plants, and I have a serious and nearly debilitating fear of worms. So imagine my surprise when I found myself googling "foraging trips in NYC" after having read only half of this memoir-turned-cookbook-turned-instruction-manual on digging for your dinner in urban areas. I eventually came to my senses and went to the grocery, but not before saving a few of the recipes included in the book.

The three written by the same author
The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, The Lovers, and Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name (Vendela Vida) I'm a huge fan of reading more than one work by the same author (last year I binged on all 1,191 pages of Donna Tartt's novels), and was more than excited to discover Vida's "women in crisis" series. Diver's Clothes was by far my favorite, and acts as a precautionary reminder to keep a vigilant eye on your belongings at all times while traveling. The other two novels were not as cohesive or tightly wound which made them harder to enjoy, but as a literary oeuvre, Vida creates compelling and complicated female protagonists - which I really appreciate. There are two more books of hers that I have yet to read (a novel and a non-fiction piece), but those are going at the top of my 2016 list.

The one that was my favorite
The Sunlit Night (Rebecca Dinerstein) It's probably wrong to assign the prize of "favorite" because a mother should love all her children, but whatever - this book was my favorite of 2015. A beautiful and lyrical narrative that is also captivating, charming, and with the slightest twinge of fantasy, Dinerstein created a literary cocktail using my favorite ingredients. I haven't bought a book in a while (see: no more clutter!) but I may treat myself, and my bookshelf, to this one so that I can read it again and again.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

afternoon delights

you guys, it's December already and I'm convinced this year flew by but also slogged along in some kind of time warp - does anyone else have that particular and complicated relationship with time? no? Bueller? moving on...  the internet is a wild and untamed frontier, and here's some of the best and brightest it had to offer this month. 

*Finally, an explanation for why I pronounce it "pasta guhgootz"
*King tut
*Photog crush of the month
*Pay no attention to the man in front of the camera
*I'll take one of each, please
*Another one?
*This is good advice

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Museum of Feelings

Because I'm a sucker for both long lines and over-hyped art installations, I spent my day off at the pop-up Museum of Feelings. Ok, I guess I didn't exactly spend my entire day - more like just under four hours, including the time it took me to get all the way down to Battery Park and back, and the majority of those hours were spent in transit and in line. I was emotionally prepared to wait for quite some time before getting in because a.) the "museum" is free to the public for the entirety of it's brief existence and b.) New Yorkers love lines, (see: Rain Room). Surprisingly however, I made it to the front of the line in a mere 45 minutes. You may think I'm being sarcastic here but I'm not - when I arrived 18 minutes after the museum opened, the line had already snaked back on itself, so I was legitimately impressed when I got inside in under an hour. This probably speaks volumes about what living in this city does to one's levels of expectation, but that's a post for another day.

The pop-up itself was short on feelings and high on "experience" amidst a virtually non-existent "museum." I personally expect to learn something while visiting a museum, and I can honestly say I gained no knowledge of feelings, emotions, human interaction, or the nature of human existence. That being said, it was a free event, and you get what you pay for. Each room of the museum roughly corresponded with an emotion and the rooms were designed to evoke and arouse those specific feelings in each visitor - or something. Honestly though, it was all just a bunch of (literal) scented smoke and mirrors that was kind of cool for about five minutes but then turned annoying when, at the end of the tour, I realized the whole thing was sponsored by Glade and that I was being given the opportunity to purchase the unique scents I'd just inhaled in both candle and plug-in forms.

But again, it was free and I didn't have much else going on (#gottagetahobby), and I did manage to get a couple of cool pictures. So really, I can't complain ;)

If you go: The Museum of Feelings is located at 230 Vessey St. in New York City, and opens daily at 11am through December 15, 2015. Go if you're in the area, but don't schedule your day around it!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Dear Michael Flatley,

On the evening of my 11th birthday, my parents surprised me with tickets to see your show. I was so happy I cried – both before and during the show. My pre-teen self was enchanted by everything I saw on that stage – the beautiful choreography, the gentle nod to Irish culture, and the strong dancers, both male and female. So when I recently found a $25 ticket to your current iteration of Lord of the Dance, I was elated. Here was my chance to relive that wonderful memory! I was also intrigued. I’d read that this was an updated version of your old show, and I was so interested to see what changes you made to what was originally a pretty solid dance piece. What story were you going to tell to set this beloved but cheesy show from the 90’s in our current 2015?

I knew the production wouldn’t be perfect. I was prepared for the gaudy costumes, the canned music, and the supreme self-confidence. I was even prepared for that weird nymph narrator thing. I knew that in the true spirit of Lord of the Dance, you probably had to stay pretty true to your original creation.

It appears that I was wrong.

I’m not talking about your absurd use of projections, your egregious use of pin spots, or even the color scheme of every other scene that looked as though a Lisa Frank poster threw up all over the stage. (Even though I should be talking about those pin spots. Really, you know things are bad when you notice the lighting). I’m not even talking about the minute-long commercial for the show we had already paid to see that began the entire performance.

I’m talking about your portrayal of the female dancers. Back in my day, your dancers wore exquisite, traditional, Irish step dancing outfits that perfectly showed off their carved and athletic bodies. I’m sure the actual history of the Celtic symbols wasn’t quite accurate, but I remember thinking that the women on your stage were the very ideal of Ireland brought to life. It made me proud to be ¼ Irish.

So imagine my surprise when the show I saw last night had not one gentle nod towards anything. In case you haven’t seen the first hour and 53 minutes of your show in a while (since you only graced us with your presence during the finale number and two encores), allow me to refresh your memory of the female dancers’ trajectory. They begin as Virginal Concubine (clad in all-white harem pants), then progress into Pastel Princess, and finally reach their character apex when they, wearing literally nothing more than black rhinestone bras and pantyhose, play the role of Vamp and reward the men with a sexy striptease for valiantly fighting those weird light-up lizard creatures who have kidnapped the nymph thing.  This narrative arch is repeated almost point for point in Act II, with the only exception being a bizarre scene in which the women are in sports bras and yoga pants and the men, wearing pajama pants and open leather vests, look like 90’s boy band rejects.

These tropes – Virgin, Princess, Vamp – are out of date and detrimental to young women. Where was the strength or the empowerment? How come a gang of dancing females couldn’t help save the nymph thing? Why is it that the only scene that featured a female duet was one in which the two women literally fought over another man? Mr. Flatley, you managed to fail the Bechdel Test without saying any words.

I was so looking forward to an evening of fun nostalgia and delightful dancing. What I got instead was an insulting portrayal of women. Your vapid and trite storyline and poor use of costuming overshadowed the fact that the men and women on your stage are some of the best dancers in the world – and in spite of your machismo, still managed to create some very graceful moments.

In developing this swan song of your career, it appears that you forgot about a very important demographic – the young audience member. When I went home after seeing your show all those years ago, I put on my school uniform skirt and jumped and hopped around in an imitation of the women I had just seen, because that skirt was the closest thing I had to traditional Irish dress. It saddens me to think that now, when today’s 11-year old girls imitate the show they just saw, they will instead be tempted to remove the majority of their clothing.

I’m all for updates. After all, I once put Jesus in an FDNY t-shirt and called it Godspell. But your take on what modern audiences need to see seems to be more behind the times than ever.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

month in objects: november

photos: because analogue surprises are fun / film: see #1 / koop: because we're talkin' wedding rings / iPad: because book club rocks my socks / rush: because I finally got a haircut I'm happy with / ID: because I can't seem to stay away for long / mary: because thanksgiving is not complete without place cards

month in objects is my documentation system for 2015 - each month I create and photograph a collage of items that represent that month - and then toss most of the actual items in the trash. By the end of the year, I'll have 12 photographs and (hopefully) a lot less clutter. read january's story and the origin of this project here. want to see previous months? february / march / april may / june / july / august / september / october