31 December 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 12

  • Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon
  • In the Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson
  • The Go-for-Gold Gymnasts: Balancing Act, Dominique Moceanu & Alicia Thompson
  • Tokyo Heist, Diana Renn
  • Ender in Exile, Orson Scott Card
  • Unemployment, Aaron Lake Smith
  • Miss Fortune Cookie, Lauren Bjorkman
  • Prophecy, Ellen Oh
  • The Central Park Five, Ken Burns & Sarah Burns & David McMahon
  • Killing Them Softly, Andrew Dominik
  • Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard
  • Anna Karenina, Joe Wright
  • Pitch Perfect, Jason Moore
  • Les Miserables, Tom Hooper
  • Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino

Made it Ma, top of the world! If this was a race, I would have stumbled across the finish line at the last second, timing it so that I crossed just as the alarm went off. (There are some inept analogies in there. I am not a runner.) The point being, I successfully finished the fiftyfifty.me challenge, with 50 books and 81 movies knocked out in 2012. Anything is poooosssssible!

Moving into December, it really looked like we might not finish. I was eight books short and Lilly had a few more of each to go. As co-founders of fiftyfifty.me, I felt like we had to finish. We had a moral obligation to get through it all. I mean, we can't fail our own challenge right? That would just be embarrassing.

Some travel woes really helped me out, as I got through three books in record time. Mid-December I was stuck in Baltimore due to heavy fog and then had to reschedule my flight back to San Diego. Let's just say that there's nothing better for uninterrupted reading time than delayed flights -- and also long train rides.

During the last week of December, Lilly was jamming through both movies and books while entombed on her couch, while I selected a few short items to rip through myself. I mean, Unemployment by Aaron Lake Smith is a smallish zine. Are zines books? Existential fiftyfifty.me questions like this came up often the past few weeks. In this case, the answer is a resounding "yes." I do feel slightly guilty though, as anything that short really shouldn't count. At least by my personal standards.

However, in my defense, there were some books I read this year that I didn't count on my total because they were for writing research and I didn't want to put them on my list for fear that someone would read those same books and then steal my idea and make it better. A very real possibility since the idea is only so-so. Taking those research books into account, I can honestly say I read fifty books this year. Scout's honor. Here's a chart showing my reading/watching for the year.

Yes, I watched thirteen movies in June. Clearly I must have had summer mumps or something. On the reading front, I totally collapsed in August-September, so that resulted in my year end cram session slash panic. Currently we're working on getting fiftyfifty.me ready for 2013 so I'll post about that when the new site's good to go. I also want to take more time to reflect on what reading fifty books did for me this past year. I mean, besides making me ultra-smart.

Some notes and recommendations from December stuff. While locked out of my apartment one sad morning, I sat in the bookstore and read through Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist. It's real short but there are some great graphics in it and the book was pretty inspiring. Camped out at the lone chair in Greenlight Bookstore, I felt a surge of creative power flow through me. I itched to do something wildly productive and thuddingly artistic. Unfortunately, I was keyless, phoneless, and wearing no socks. C'est la vie. By the time I got back into my house, it was nap time.

Reading through Ender in Exile, I got mad at how lazy it was. Of course I had to read it but I wasn't happy about it. There were literally chapters of just talking heads and exposition. Having been recently admonished that my own writing suffered from the same problem, I was frustrated/jealous that Mr. Card was getting away with it. "Look, he can do it, why can't I?!" Oh right, he's a bestselling author who can do what he wants. Ah, power. How I lust for it. Mainly I was just upset that I didn't know about Ender in Exile, published in 2008, until now. And I call myself an Ender fan, for shame!

As for movies, it was a good run to end the year. I thought Anna Karenina was beautiful, and now I think I should probably read the book. Going movie to book probably saved me a lot of hand wringing over inaccuracies, although I can't imagine how even the biggest Anna Karenina fan couldn't appreciate Joe Wright's clever adaptation and much discussed staging. It was brilliant. And even though I saw Kick-Ass twice, I couldn't place Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky. This ridiculously handsome guy is the same actor? Seriously?

We were going to double down on Les Miserables and Django Unchained on Christmas but nobody else wanted to sit through five hours of movies so we split it up between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Les Miserables got mixed reviews from our group but I loved it all -- even with some of the spotty singing. Django was, well, Django. Not as good as Inglourious Basterds but close enough.

And if you're looking for a light watch, Pitch Perfect is the way to go. It's not like Glee on the big screen (thankfully), and it's also not "this generation's Clueless," but it's got plenty of hilarious lines and now I have a problem resisting the urge to prefix "aca-" to everything. Aca-bitches, stand up! Sidenote: If I could sing I would be so obnoxious with my talent. I would harmonize to all your sentences and statements. A goal for 2013 is to get invited to a riff off. Also, I have begun casting for my Les Mis wedding flash mob already, just in case I ever stumble into a relationship, an engagement, or an acoustically perfect venue. Remember, love is nothing compared to "One More Day."

Lastly, I think I want to recommend Rust and Bone, but I'm not sure who to recommend it to. The movie features killer whales, Katy Perry's "Fireworks," and Marion Cotillard, so it should be irresistible to all humans, but it wasn't exactly the film I was expecting. I'd hoped for Rust and Bone to stay with me longer, but it slipped away quietly. Rust and Bone did make me want to check out Jacques Audiard's other work though, starting with A Prophet.

So here it is, the end of 2012 and mission accomplished. I'll leave you with a photo of Shamu and friends that I took myself earlier this summer, from the first rows of the Splash Zone. We got completely drenched but it was worth it. The Shamu show is not nearly as good now that the trainers don't go into the water -- for good reason -- and I am torn between loving Sea World and reading too much about how orcas suffer in captivity. Is there really more we can learn from them? Set them all free, even if that means my season pass will purely be used to eat funnel cake.

Sea World's savvy secret: the funnel cake is killer. Another not so secret secret: alliteration and puns suck. Especially together.

23 December 2012

Stuff I've Been Consuming 11

  • Just Kids, Patti Smith
  • Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, Kirsten Miller
  • Gear School Volume 1&2, Adam Gallardo
  • A Story of Debt, Ashley Riordan
  • The Trip, Michael Winterbottom
  • Skyfall, Sam Mendes
  • Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2, Bill Condon
  • Life of Pi, Ang Lee
  • Lincoln, Steven Spielberg

November was all about the books, as I'd cleared the fifty movies months ago. Plus, there wasn't really a standout of the bunch, unless you count how much anticipation there was to watch the conclusion of the Twilight Saga. I can't even talk about the best part of that movie -- or rather, my theater experience -- because then I would be spoiling the ending. Twihards, ready your hearts.

One thing about Life of Pi: If you were hoping to see more bioluminescent whale in the movie, you will be sorely disappointed. The trailer contains most of the glowy blue whale the movie does. Watch the film to support Ang Lee, but set your expectations low for the whale.

I already gushed hard about the Kiki Strike series, and it's to my great relief that there's a third one in the works. It's called The Darkness Dwellers and it drops in late January. I haven't been this excited about a series in awhile and I'm already sad that I'll probably consume Book 3 in a few hours and then have to wait for more. I have some people say that they start to read slower to prolong a book experience. Usually I speed up to get to the end. However, with this next Kiki Strike I may have to try the slow down strategy.

The other book I'm 100% behind is Patti Smith's Just Kids. Part of me was resistant to it because it was ubiquitous -- you know how that happens -- but I'm happy to report that Just Kids is every bit as good as the critics claim. Having no prior knowledge of Smith's work prior to Just Kids, I found myself wondering what the heck she was famous for. The book starts with her as a young poet trying to make it in New York, then she paints, then she writes music critiques, then she kind of acts, then she gets a haircut and becomes popular for her androgynous look, and eventually she becomes a rock star. The other main person in her memoir, Robert Mapplethorpe, undergoes a similar all over the place artistic journey. Reading about their struggles and successes was both depressing and inspiring.

What Just Kids did for me was to make me realize that if you're an artist, everything can/should be your art. Your interests, your obsessions, your life, it can all just be a part of it. In fact, it pretty much has to be. Smith's book led me to think about how being an artist is more about a mentality than what you can do. "I take photographs, I paint, I sculpt, I write, I sing, etc."

The reality is that you set out to explore the world and take it in with an artist's curious sensibility and expression, and then you see where that goes. And if you don't have the necessary technical skills, you learn'em.

For quite awhile, I followed Ashley's blog, Writing to Reach You, as she chronicled her journey getting out of over $20,000+ in debt. Using an impressive amount of discipline and sacrifice, she cleared it all out in under a year and half. That's pretty amazing, especially since she was concurrently getting her PhD, working multiple jobs, and still being a regular person with regular social obligations and stuff. Ashley's been out of the red for a few years and now she's compiled all those blog entries into a free eBook! Go to A Story of Debt to check it out and download it.

I wish more of my favorite blogs did this actually, as I'd love to have complete copies of old favorites like Technicolor.org or Hipstomp. Instead I find myself trolling through the Wayback Machine to read everything. Is there a service that can turn websites into ebooks? I'd pay handsomely for that.

12 December 2012

Outrageous, So Contagious

Having been in New York for awhile now, I've slowly accumulated some items and detritus of staying here life. Like a bed, got one of those. (Well, a mattress.) There are towels on hand for guests too, a big step forward. And I have three types of hangers. It's all impressive stuff. My roommate has started making noise about getting a toaster oven, although I prefer a plain old toaster. So many decisions when you stay put in one place for longer than three months yeah?

Also, my friend lent me his big JBL HLS810 speakers. These make any space comfortable, as I think I'd rather have music than couches. I mean, living room dance space is always at a premium right? Our apartment is right above a street side window, and across from a school, so it's important that we blast age appropriate music. Luckily my collection of teen pop is quite extensive. Don't kid yourself, the Carly Rae album is actually kind of good. "You were here, and then you left / Now there's nobody, nobody / Now they're all just second best..."

Having decided to remain here for a little while longer, there's also been a slow accumulation of winter clothes. Jackets, scarves, long sleeved things, beanies, gloves, what is this madness? And when you peel it all off and need to put your pile -- plus you -- on that single narrow bar stool? Impossible.

My purse recently went through a harrowing experience -- it was jacked from me on the mean streets of Fort Greene. All of its contents were stripped bare but the purse itself was unharmed, left discarded on the street next to a subway station. I won't go into the gory details as my purse is still suffering from inanimate object PTSD, but the thieves clearly had their own definition of spread love, it's the Brooklyn way. I should probably consider carrying a more threatening bag. Something spiky.

In honor of its courage front in the face of danger, here's a winter version of Purses Organized Neatly. Last fall's version is here. Two things I'd like to highlight. First, if you're an iPhone user, you know how hard it is to keep your phone charged. I recently got an external battery pack for it and now when I go into a room, I'm no longer sweeping my eyes around for outlets. For $25, the Monoprice 3000 mAh charger comes recommended. I can't recall if we learned about milliampere hours in school, but if I ever get a chance to make up SAT questions, I'd frame everything in terms of practical electronics stuff. Then kids will be sure to pay attention. "If the iPhone 5 has a battery capacity of 1440 mAh, what's the best price/power ratio for Mophie's line of products? Please show your work."

Also, to sing the praises of whoever makes these ubiquitous convertible fingerless gloves to mittens. The convertible part isn't new to me, but the thumbs are now covered and designed with a slit so that you can pop the top down to use your touchscreen. It's likely this is not a novel thing for you cold weather regulars, but to me this is genius. I want to say bravo to the glove designers, and to the many copycats who have since made this item widely available and affordable. I have purchased two pairs of these magical mittens from vendors on St. Mark's -- the first ones were whisked away with the purse -- and am on the search for the perfect color. At $5-10 a pair, my thumbs have never been warmer, or more efficient.

While I'm here, I'd like to R.I.P. my Canon camera. Not so much the camera itself -- nobody uses a point and click these days -- but the Delkin Snug-It's case that I housed it in. That case was the coolest thing in my "protect all electronics" arsenal. Its black skin was pleasurably tacky but not sticky, supple yet strong, much like how I'd imagine Shamu would feel like. And the best part about the case was how the opening for the lens flowered open like a sea anemone. Without this surefire conversation starter by my side, I don't even know how I'll talk to people anymore.

Speaking of killer whales, the unexpected use of "Fireworks" in Rust and Bone was just the best. I wouldn't recommend the film to everyone, but it had some wonderful moments for those with patience. Plus, orcas!