Category Archives: Books and Movies

I like to be entertained by words.

W a i t i n g

This is a post I wrote weeks after graduating college and I think it applies to my current state of transition. Perhaps you will find something relatable in it, too…

Whilst I was reading Anderson’s introduction to Heidegger’s Discourse On Thinking the notion of an ontological “waiting,” struck a chord in me. Being in a bit of a personal limbo between college and whatever else life has to offer made this notion call to me loudly; too loudly to ignore. We, qua humans, wait in line, in traffic, at bus stops, to order food, to get a job, to fall in love, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Is the time between waiting for this and waiting for that spent waiting for something b i g g e r?

A friend once told me she thought it the most human thing to set a goal for oneself and to reach it. Is this time in between goal setting and goal reaching the waiting? If I set the goal for myself to make it to the gym before work and I complete that goal, am I no longer waiting? What if the next item on my agenda is the train ride to work. During this, let’s say forty five minute, train ride am I waiting to get to work? Maybe yes, maybe no. If I’m doing the crossword or reading a book on the train then I am doing and not waiting. Or am I still waiting?

Anderson makes a distinction between a shallower “waiting for” and a deeper “waiting upon.” These seemed to me to be not unlike Heidegger’s “Ontic” and “Ontological,” respectively, so is this waiting I’ve been referring to the ontological waiting?

Ontically, I am currently waiting for my laundry to finish. Ontologically, however, I am waiting for _______. It is a blank I have yet to fill in, so for now I must simply say I am still waiting. There is one waiting for which each person waits for all of his or her life, and that waiting is death. This answers the “what,” of the question, for what do I wait upon? But it’s not the whole answer because waiting consists in more than just a what. How am I waiting upon? Who am I waiting upon? When am I waiting upon? Where am I waiting upon? And most interestingly why am I waiting upon? These are the questions worth asking.

Even if I could answer some of these questions, the form of my answers would have to be mutable, for places, people, and feelings all change constantly. To say that today I am waiting happily on myself, in Boston, to finish my laundry hasn’t revealed very much of my waiting, ontologically as it were. And furthermore, these entities would each be different tomorrow because I will be different tomorrow. If even the ontic things change second to second, how am I expected to answer questions about how, when, where, who and why I am waiting in life? How is anyone expected to be able to answer these questions?

Perhaps we aren’t, and perhaps failure to realize that is why people end up at jobs and in relationships with which they are dissatisfied. Maybe I want something today that I’ll no longer want in ten years. In fact, the chances are incredibly high that things I want today I will not want in ten years, so maybe we’re asking the wrong questions of ourselves at this, such an important transitory, time in life.

If the “what” I’m waiting for is death, then what I do for a job doesn’t really make much of a difference. This question, however, is the one people rely the most heavily on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked what I plan on doing now that I’m not in school anymore. I always chuckle to myself because I’m not sure it makes any difference. I am sure, however, that how and why I do things does make a difference. For me, these a r e the questioning of waiting.

Even if I could answer these questions for myself, they would certainly do you no good, as both your questions and your answers are different from mine because your World is different from mine. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to finish this musing with glorious and grandiose answers to this ontological line of questioning but that would undermine my entire argument. How am I waiting? Why am I waiting? The questioning is the answering…

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Game of Thrones: A Gift

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are truly closed to the possibility that a fantasy series might in fact be “your thing,” you’ve probably been exposed to this little story Game of Thrones. Most of us have recently come into contact with this epic series thanks to HBO, however there are many tried and true fans for whom this televised version is a gift from author George RR Martin, who also writes the show. This gift he hath bestowed on them is a sort of a payment in return for more than a decade of frustrated fanship. Why frustrated, you ask? Because although the first installment of A Song of Ice and Fire was released in 1996, the subsequent volumes have been published at such a sporadic rate, with the latest one, A Dance With Dragons (Volume 5), taking nearly five years to complete.

Now is this a problem for me? No! I’m like you; I just started reading the books after I saw the first two seasons of the show. What’s worse is I skipped the first two books and went right to the third, because I had to know what happened next. Now that I’ve completed the fifth, A Dance With Dragons, my person cooly stated that he would have no sympathy for me, for having read the first 4 books as a youth, he had to wait out each of those long five years until this last one was finally released. I responded with equal sass as I respond to any of you who thinks it’s lame I skipped the first two: at least I can go back and read the first two books, you are all going to have to wait until late 2015 for any more of this man’s incredible storytelling. But before this gets heated, let me pivot to my point about the HBO series being a gift to true fans…

There are countless fantasy series out there and a very dedicated audience for whom they have been written. A Song of Ice and Fire is one of capital E-P-I-C proportions. To have read this book as a youth and conjured your own images of Arya dancing with Needle or of Tyrion tramping through King’s Landing is something I will never know. But I imagine for such intense (dare I say obsessed) fans, to actually see this expansive story realized on television must be truly incredible. Likewise, I have to imagine that this is also a gift for the author, George RR (we’re pals).

Having initially intended for this series to be a trilogy and then expanding it to a seven-parter tells me that Martin wasn’t entirely certain where each of the numerous story lines would go when he started writing them. Because of this there are certain characters whose stories disappear and then reappear sometimes books later; Theon, I’m looking at you. Now, with the television series, Martin has the opportunity to creatively explore in real time that which, in the books, he only recollects for the audience after the fact. He is able to do what all artists must want to do, improve upon his work, but he gets to do it in a way that the audience respects rather than reviles. Poor George Lucas was not so lucky.

Lucas made the crucial mistake of taking away a piece of the art from its consumers. As one said consumer, I speak for us when I say we will not abide that shit. No, we will not. Lucas took away the original Star Wars and left us only with the altered version. Martin gets a pass because, while the television show takes significant creative liberties, the books themselves remain untouched. I do have to wonder, however, if Martin’s writing of the final two books will be influenced by his writing and producing the television show. What do you all think? And what do fans of the books think of the show’s casting? I’m very curious; did Jon Snow really look like such a pretty boy in your heads? Surely not…

jon snow game of thrones

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Bossypants

For Christmas this year I was given Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” by my best friend, John, who was quick to mention that he’d like to read it, too, so could I kindly hurry up? Never one to disappoint, I finished this book swiftly in between the 4th and 5th installments of A Song of Ice and Fire. This hilarious and quirky memoir made for the perfect reprieve from Westeros and the Free Cities and led me instead into Charlottesville, Chicago and ultimately New York City. As someone who firmly believes internet shorthand like “omg” and “brb” have destroyed our grasp of the English language, it pains me to say that Ms. Tina Fey had me laughing out loud with this book (that’s “lol” for any post-millenials reading).

From her dashing description of her dad, Don Fey, to her honest recollection of taking a job from someone who needed it far worse than she did, this book felt real. I feel it necessary to admit that I do, of course, think Tina Fey is a genius. I find her particular brand of humor to be smart and effective on every level. It’s high brow pretending to be low brow. It’s Tracy Morgan making a poignant statement about social inequality while slipping on a banana peel. It’s brilliant and accessible, as was this book. The honesty with which she revisits her life is refreshing and relatable. She speaks of the struggle balancing a high-pressure career with having a child, but is quick to compare her “stress” to those who actually have stress:

tina fey, bossypants, snl, 30 rock, amy poehler See the distinction?

As someone who loves a good memoir, this was one I was ecstatic to read and it did not disappoint. It did however reaffirm my desire to be Tina Fey. We’ll see how that works out. Read the book; you’ll like it.

 

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What makes us happy?

Happiness Project, Happy, Book, Documentary, Lea SpencerI’ve been reading this book, The Happiness Project, which tells the story of a woman spending one year trying to live a happier life. Being a historian by trade, the author spends much of this year researching how difference philosophers and religions view happiness as well as how different cultures and classes view it.

I’m only half way through the book, but having this concept of happiness on my mind whilst surfing the Netflix for a nice documentary to indulge in last night, I stumbled upon Happy, which took viewers on a trip around the world to find out what makes people happy. Sold.

It explored areas like the Louisiana bayou, the slums of Kolkata, the towers of Tokyo and the villages of Namibia. The study of happiness is a segment of psychology that has only recently become a serious area of academia. Researchers have determined that most humans are born with a general range of happiness that they exist in. DNA is supposed to make up 50% of one’s range, while 40% is “intentional activities” or things one chooses to do. Only 10% (if you can believe it) is the circumstances in which one lives, or those things one doesn’t control (where one is born, to whom and with what advantages).

This “happiness measure” also broke down goals into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. In this case, intrinsic included “personal growth” “close relationships” and “contributing to the world,” while extrinsic included “money” “image” and “status.” No shocker here: the people who lived their lives in pursuit of intrinsic goals reported more happiness than those who lived in pursuit of extrinsic ones.

Happy, Happiness Project, Lea Spencer, Lea Craft Spencer, Documentary

This isn’t to say that money isn’t important. According to the film, people in the US who earned $5,000 a year reported much less happiness than those who earned $50,000, but people who earned $50,000,000 reported no more happiness than those earning $50,000. So money does influence happiness insofar as it buys the necessities of life and security of future, but once those needs have been met, earning more in terms of material possessions didn’t bring people more happiness.

So what does bring people happiness? Both the film and book reported that the happiest of people all maintain a close support system of friends and family. I suppose it’s true that we aren’t meant to live our lives alone. The film also found that people who live for something bigger than themselves reported more happiness more often. For some religion fills this need, for others it’s volunteering and for some people I imagine their jobs bring them this satisfaction.

Finally, and most interestingly to me, any activity that puts you “in the zone,” so to speak, initiates the flow of dopamine in your brain, which assists in happiness. For some people this is exercise, for some people it’s gardening, for some lucky people it’s their jobs, but finding that activity for yourself and doing it a lot proved paramount. What’s your happiness activity?

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Love is a Mix Tape

A few weeks ago I finished reading Love is a Mix Tape. I intended to write a blog about it then, but something has been stopping me. No, I don’t think it’s Game of Thrones, although it might be. I have been afraid I would be unable to capture the delicate balance of humor and heart present in Rob Sheffield’s writing. You’ve read me gush over him before, after I read Talking to Girls about Duran Duran, which was actually released after Love is a Mix Tape.

This first memoir introduces the reader to first love as Sheffield learned about it. We meet him as an odd young adult and we meet her, Renee: a crazy, carefree southern gal who made a lot of noise. We see them court and fall in love and get married and make a go of it as two aspiring music writers in Charlottesville. And then we see her die, suddenly, in his arms. (Sorry, did that feel like it did when Jaime pushed Bran out the window?)

It’s a sad story, but it’s so much more than that. Having lost a loved one last year, I might have also been afraid of how that bias would manifest itself in my writing about this book. But the truth, as far as I can tell, is that life is a sad story, but it’s so much more than that. Yes, we live. Yes, we die. And hopefully there’s something good in between, everyone knows this. However, Sheffield is able to capture that “something good in between,” in the most rare form.

He doesn’t hold back when sharing how broken he felt when she died. It’s not something life can prepare you for, which is supremely unfair because it’s something nearly everyone will experience. But he gets through it, which is the other part of the story and the other part of life. If you live long enough, and you’re lucky enough to find love, you will eventually know extreme pain and sadness. But this is no reason not to love. Rob Sheffield eventually finds love again. There will never be another “her,” that’s true. But there is always more love in the world. Never forget that.

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Einstein’s Dreams

“Each time is true, but not all truths are the same.” – Alan Lightman

This quote from Einstein’s Dreams probably sums up the book better than I can, although that won’t stop me from trying. I enjoyed this book so thoroughly and I could genuinely recommend it to anyone, particularly those with a particular interest in the concept, or concepts, of time.

The beauty of this novel, as with life, is in the details. The man who “sits at his bedside table, listens to the sounds of his running bath” is someone I can relate to, he’s someone who I know, he’s someone I’ve been. The descriptions Lightman paints with his words are transportive. When this man wonders, “whether anything exists outside of his mind,” I, too, am wondering.

With each ultra-brief chapter, this book introduces the reader to a new world with a conception of time all its own. Interspersed with this is the story of a young Einstein developing his theory of time. Both Einstein’s journey and the journeys of those in each world are revealed in the most delicate of manners. We first lean what plagues the inhabitants of the new world, and from these clues we must determine which world this is. Is it the world where time runs backwards? Or the one where with no future? Or no past?

Each world seems to be tragic in its own way. In one instance there are certain people who cannot perceive time at all. Called “time deaf,” these individuals are considered great minds and are studied by scholars all over the world. “But they are unable to speak what they know, for speech needs a sequence of words, spoken in time.” Every chapter ends abruptly, and then a new conception of time emerges, with new people, in a new place.

One of these places, in particular, stands out for me:

In this world, time is not measured. All watches and clocks are outlawed except for one. This super clock becomes a place of pilgrimage that every person in the world must travel to at some point in their lives. At any given point, there is a line of 10,000 people waiting silently in line to see the clock, but “secretly they seethe with anger. For they must watch measured that which should not be. They have been trapped by their own inventiveness and audacity.”

Yes, we have.

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Talking to Girls about Duran Duran

If you’ve ever heard a song and been so sure that the universe brought it to your ears at that exact moment in your life to teach you something about living, then Talking To Girls About Duran Duran is for you.
I received it last year as a birthday gift, which made my reading of it both personal and a shared experience, as the best always are. At times I had to force myself into another task just so I could savor the beautifully touching epic that is Rob Sheffield’s life.
His exquisite storytelling abilities and what must be an innate sensitivity make me feel like I know him. In what can only be called his love letter to the music who made him who he is, Sheffield takes the reader out of the fast paced 2012 and into the simpler 1980s, the decade in which he came of age.
Being a nineties kid myself, I had feared some of the references would be lost on me. But thanks to my family, I was instilled with a strong sense of nostalgia very early in life. I was watching Saved by the Bell when I should have been watching Animaniacs and Boy Meets World when it ought to have been Lizzie McGuire.
The countless memories drudged up by this book brought many smiles to my face, but it was the humanity Sheffield displayed that brought tears to my eyes. His writing truly captured the open heart of someone just setting out in life. He was 13 in 1980, so that decade truly defined the teenager he was and the man he became.
It’s really difficult to articulate how much this book meant to me or how it affected my very soul. I recommend it to anyone who ever heard a song and knew, just knew, it was written for them. I feel like this book was written for me. I hope you feel that way too.

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