Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What's In My Library Book Bag?: Reviews of Four Books

So it's a relatively nice day in Brooklyn, NY, if you don't mind the remains of yesterday's snow on the streets (I do), enjoy having your hair whipped into your eyes and mouth (I don't), and take grim pleasure in seeing how much more apocalyptic neighborhoods like Sunset Park look when dusted with grimy snow (I sort of do). But regardless of what I feel about today, it is The Day to Return My Books to the Library, because I've run out of excuses (i.e. holidays, snow, bag is too heavy already, day off from work, etc.) and also I need to suck it up and pay what I owe.

I'm also going to take this opportunity to do a quick review of these books before I lug them over to Central Library and beg to be able to renew the one I haven't finished (and which I therefore can't review yet). I get a lot of questions from friends about book recommendations, and find it hard to give them off the top of my head, especially when people are so non-specific about genre. Additionally, I am tired of people thinking either I've read everything ever written or I only read novels. So if you want to know what I've been reading lately, this is it (photos from my Instagram):

The Monk Downstairs by Tim Farrington
Rating: PG-13 (some language, sex, mention of drug use)
Score: 5/5

Synopsis: Rebecca is a single mom and graphic designer, reconciling herself to the failure of her marriage and her dreams of being an artist. Mike is a former monk, trying to get back into the world he left behind for a monastery twenty years ago. Unused to trusting others, Rebecca takes a risk and rents out her basement apartment to Mike, despite his lack of a job and credit history. As their tentative friendship grows, they find that though they've both gotten off the path they'd planned for themselves the world has a lot more to offer. Told from Rebecca's close third-person POV and Mike's letters to an old monastery friend, the story tackles questions of faith in God, people, and in oneself.

Review: This book is not only one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read, but also one of the most surprising. I picked it up on a whim at the library because I liked the title and cover, and upon skimming through the first few pages, I liked its practical but thoughtful style. I figured it'd be a romance, and was interested to read a romance between two people in their late thirties/early forties who aren't traditionally "sexy." This book is a romance, and it's a lovely one that had me catching my breath and giggling, but it's even more than that. It's a story of changed ideals and dreams, and hints at the Great Question of Life--the answer of which, it shows, is not "42"* but caring for others, even when it makes you vulnerable. Religion is woven into the story seamlessly and respectfully in a way that I appreciated as a Christian, but which would be meaningful even to a non-believer. Something else I loved was that Farrington (the author) actually writes a woman so well that I kept forgetting a man wrote this book. I still have a hard time accepting Farrington is a man--he gets it so unfailingly right.
Honestly, I could go on and on about this book, but I won't.

God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange

Rating: PG-13 (violence)
Score: 5/5

Synopsis: This is a biography of Mitsuo Fuchida, the man who lead the attack on Pearl Harbor, fought in World War II for Japan, and later became a passionate evangelist for all nations. The story is taken from interviews Prange had with Fuchida, whom he formed a friendship with, and supported by information and details from Fuchida's friends and family. Descended from samurai and obsessed with flying from an early age, Fuchida grew up a Japanese nationalist, and though to Americans the attack on Pearl Harbor seemed an act of cruelty, Fuchida saw it as an act of glorious destiny. During WWII, Fuchida nearly died countless times and became an honored military strategist and leader. After the surrender, he sank into depression until several run-ins with street evangelists led to his conversion to Christianity. Subsequently, he became a major promoter of world peace, believing all war evil and all peoples equal.

Review: Why isn't this a movie? That's my question. But let's be real--Hollywood won't do it because it would require a mainly Japanese cast, and the only Japanese used by Hollywood is Ken Watanabe, who has been in almost every major film that a Japanese man is needed for (The Last Samurai, Letters from Iwo Jima, Godzilla). They'd have to multiply Watanabe for every single role and there just aren't enough white people in most of the story to plant in Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt. Unsurprisingly, the only film about Fuchida is Tora! Tora! Tora!, a 1970s Japanese movie about the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Fuchida lived an incredible life and I'm sorry that most people don't know of it. The book excellently portrays him as a flawed man, with a prideful streak and having made many mistakes, but he was a brave and honorable man with a great sense of humor. As much as I love war history, especially WWII, anyone who knows me well should know my distaste for war, and to read that a soldier like Fuchida rejected war later in life was wonderful to me. It isn't a religious book, promoting Christianity above other religions, even Shintoism or Buddhism (the religions Fuchida turned away from). Instead it shows how Christianity impacted this one man's life and how he learned to forgive those who had killed Japanese at Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and was forgiven by relatives of those whose had died at Pearl Harbor. Definitely one of my favorite biographies of all time. It also breaks down nationalism, which gains points from me, and gives a fair and unwavering coverage of the realities of war without taking any side.

Love Among the Ruins by Robert Clark
Rating: R (graphic sex, strong language, some drug use, thematic elements)
Score: 3/5

Synopsis: It's the summer of 1968, what begins as a simple summer romance between teenagers Bill Lowry and Emily Byrne becomes something much more complicated. Bill, raised by a free-spirited single mother, finally acts on his crush on Emily by sending her a letter detailing his feelings. Emily is an innocent Catholic girl who shares everything about her life with her loving and semi-boring parents. But as their perfect summer draws to an end, Bill and Emily are afraid of losing what they have in the humdrum of normal life and so run away to camp out in the wilderness, an act which sends their parents into spirals of their own.

Review: Clark is a brilliant writer and the details of each scene in this book are full of the symbols and metaphors that a literary nerd loves to analyze. In fact, Clark errs on overdoing the detail, but it works--the description of every bit of furniture and decor in a room makes the story real. That being said, the sex scenes are so graphic that they were actually a little nauseating even to skim through. There were also some slight weaknesses in the plot--Emily has a sister who is so irrelevant to the story that the Byrnes run like a one-child family and makes a reader question the purpose of the sister's occasional appearances. The characters, while believable are not very likable, and I didn't strongly sympathize with any of them by the end. It's a love story, but the romantic love of the story is very selfish, and seems not intertwined with lust, but interchangeable for it. The parents of the story truly love their children, and it's that love that really has the most power, especially when the focus is on the parents' POV.
All in all, an enjoyable read, even when skipping the cringe-worthy sex scenes, and the ending took me by surprise, but I wouldn't re-read or highly recommend it.

Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess
Rating: R (sex, graphic violence, strong language, absolutely terrifying situations)
Score: 4.5/5

Synopsis: Based on the Icelandic Volsunga Saga, this is the story, of Signy and Siggy, twins raised on wealth, privilege, and violence, who are closer than close, and when they lose everything they must conspire for revenge. Their story is set in a post-apocalyptic London, cut off from the rest of the world by monsters made of machines and animals and separated by two rival gang leaders--Volson and Conor. In an effort to make peace and an alliance, Volson gives his teenage daughter Signy to Conor as wife. But the god Odin has different ideas, and gives Siggy a magic knife that creates a rift between Siggy and Conor, and thus between Siggy and his twin Signy. What follows is betrayal and the destruction of the Volson clan, leaving Siggy and Signy, bound by blood and bitterness.

Review: I first read this book when I was about fifteen, almost ten years ago, and it's stuck with me ever since, even though I can never recall its title. It impacted me hugely--physically, because the violence literally made me nauseated (if the idea of a pig eating a live human freaks you out too much, do not attempt this book), emotionally, because the conflicts make it hard to know who you support, and creatively, because my writing would not be what it is without this book. Burgess depicts the brutalities of war and violence unflinchingly, and though its entirely fictitious, the depths of evil that are plumbed are one of the most believable aspects of the story. It raises questions of humanity, which Burgess cleverly brings to light with half-animal characters who are more "human" than many of the full-blood humans.
Like Herbert's Dune, Burgess doesn't waste time explaining his world, he just dumps the reader into it, and he does it almost as successfully. It's a fascinating world, where science and magic are synonymous, and it blends sci-fi and fantasy well, but it leaves a lot of logical questions, and because it IS a retelling of the middle of the Volsunga Saga, it feels like it's missing a prequel, and the ending is awfully sudden. Sadly, the sequel, which I haven't yet read, begins years afterwards with other characters, so the sudden ending is not redeemed.
I genuinely love this book. If you read Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I say go for this one, because it has some similar elements and issues, and you can definitely handle its intensity. But it's not for the weak of heart or stomach.

And so I'm off to the library pictured above to return these (plus some DVDs I forgot to watch) and beg to renew the one I haven't finished. I'll probably also be picking up some more books, like perhaps the sequel to The Monk Downstairs, and passing the time before I go tutor SAT prep to some poor young soul.

I'm going to be trying to review what I read more regularly, so feel free to recommend books for me to read/review! I try to take in one non-fiction, one realistic fiction, and one fantasy or sci-fi novel on each trip, so I'm open to ideas.

*If you've never read/watched The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, please stop reading this post and go do so.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Yes, My Favorite Novel is War and Peace. Because It's Fun, That's Why.

Inspired by the 186th anniversary of Tolstoy's birth on Sept. 9th, this was going to be a post about the many wonderful things about Tolstoy as a writer and thinker, despite his failures as husband and father. But there is too much to say on that, so I focused instead on answering the question I've received many times--why is War and Peace my favorite novel?

Natasha on the balcony, as envisioned by Google guest doodler, Roman Muradov. For more about the creative process behind Muradov's Tolstoy tribute, read this. (1)
Yesterday I had coffee with some nice folks, and one I had just met asked my favorite book. I could feel one of my friends look at me, waiting for an answer she knew all too well after eight years of friendship. I chuckled and said a little awkwardly, "Well, it's War and Peace."

The raised eyebrows and the "wow" were expected, and I did my best to look totally casual and not snotty about saying my favorite book was this grand epic known colloquially as being so long that nobody actually reads it.

Saying War and Peace is my favorite novel has it benefits--it helps me get away with heartily enjoying some really low-brow literature and consuming some of the corniest shows on television. But the downside is that while it may make me look smart, it can make me look a little pompous. I have a terror that I am actually pompous, and so even if it might ruin my excuse for enjoying trashy literature and TV, I insist on telling people that War and Peace is actually this fun romp about people just like you and me, who goof off, have good times, screw up, and live life. As my favorite English professor said, "War and Peace has EVERYTHING, except boats."

And I'm totally sure it would have boats, if the nearest ocean wasn't the Arctic. The "war" in the title is the war with Napoleon and the French (which should be a band name), so no arctic voyages are undertaken. :/ (2)

I don't remember how or when I first heard of Tolstoy, but I know it was in reference to him being the author of War and Peace, a massive dull novel that seemed to be only invoked as an impossible read. I assumed the book was exactly what the title sounded like, a lengthy treatise on war and peace, until I was fourteen. My sister Melissa was a college freshman, and in typical freshman style, had gotten the wrong edition of the novel, one that didn't include the essay she was supposed to read. Because I liked to poke through her textbooks, I picked the book up and started reading, surprised to find dialogue in the tiny print.

It should come as no surprise that my social life at the time wasn't exactly poppin', if I actually read other people's assigned readings. Large parties made me nervous and I'd already sworn off personal birthday parties because those were even worse (I still think this). Realizing that the novel opened with a party, those most loathsome social events that filled me to the brim with anxiety, I was surprised to find an assortment of characters who were simply trying too hard. They didn't flow with the grace and elegance so common in 19th-century English classics. Princess Bolkonsky is pretty, but her upper lip is "darkened with down" and she has buckteeth that she tries to hide. Pierre Bezukhov is an educated well-traveled bastard son of a great nobleman, "afraid at every moment of missing some intellectual conversation which he might have heard," and "waiting for an opportunity of expressing his own ideas." The gossip passed between the party-goers is vicious and tinged with a knowledge of vulgarity that is only ever implied in Austen or Dickens. It was strikingly real, and as the story shifted to another party, this time a wild drunken one that involves dancing with a chained bear and downing an entire bottle of rum while standing on the sill of an open window, I was enthralled.

The book is that long because it introduces readers to a group of young people that are every bit as relatable as Holden Caulfield and shows them living, growing up, marrying, having kids, and being old. Pierre is awkward and insecure, but just wants to be loved. Natasha is impulsive and dreamy, and thinks everything's going to work out just as she likes it. Andrei is apathetic and depressed, and wallows in self-loathing. Marya is lonely and sheltered, convinced she is stupid and ugly. Nikolai is easily enraptured by cool confidence and readily conforms to whoever he's friends with. Sonya is trusting and loyal, but embarrassingly pathetic. With times of war and of peacetime as the historical backdrop, the characters stumble along, trying to be happy, trying to be popular, and trying oh-so-very hard that it's as painful to watch as if you were living it with them.

And this guy wrote this by hand. All that. And kept track of the little details. How even??? (3)

Like many Russian novels, depression is depicted vividly, but unlike Dostoevsky, Tolstoy writes with tenderness and without concern of seeming petty. As Andrei ruminates on business and his constant depression while riding in a coach, he sees a group of girls running past him, and notices one "very slender, strangely slender" girl laughing with her hair coming loose.

"The day was so lovely, the sun so bright, everything around him so gay, and that slim and pretty girl knew nothing of his existence, and cared to know nothing, and was content and happy in her own life--foolish doubtless--but gay and happy and remote from him. What was she so glad about? What was she thinking of? Not of army regulations; not of the organization of the Ryazan rent-paying peasants. 'What is she thinking about, and why is she so happy?' Prince Andrei could not help wondering with interest." (4)

Andrei's wonder continues through the chapter, to the point of silliness, which was relatable to me at fourteen and even now at twenty-four--that feeling of looking through the haze of depression and realizing that somehow, somewhere, someone is happy, and the whole world is not some plot to keep you down. Suddenly, everything seems like signs that he should be happy. The moon is bright late that night and the happy girl is talking about flying into it, and Andrei is filled with "youthful hopes and ideas" and gets so excited he goes to bed so he doesn't have to think. The old tree he associated with the collapse of his whole life is leafy and alive, and he realizes that his life isn't over, and he desperately needs the whole world to know him and be a part of him.

Romance is not the focus of the novel, but it weaves through it, with love triangles and love quadrilaterals and betrayals and passion and longing. Once again, Tolstoy's readiness to capture the utter silliness of human thoughts without any shame or mockery is seen in his romances. Watching Natasha flit about at a party, Andrei tells himself that if she talks to her cousin next, she will totally be his wife. By chance, she does and Andrei is simultaneously embarrassed and excited. Pierre falls fast for the prettiest and richest girl, and finds that his shallow choice resulted in a shallow wife. Sonya yearns for Nikolai, her cousin, and tells herself she doesn't quite deserve him, but of course he will be hers, because he promised, and will keep his promise even as he leaves her to go out in the world.

Additionally, the book doesn't end with weddings, like an Austen novel, but skips ahead to years later, which is so very satisfying and ultimately what I secretly wish all books would do. There is a picture of married life, the wife and husband talking, thinking how much they love each other, occasionally being annoyed at one another, and gossiping lightly about their relatives. Tolstoy doesn't see a need to either idealize or be a cynic about love and marriage. It's not perfect, but it can be good. The book has a happy ending, but you don't come away feeling like everyone will be happy all the time. The characters grow and most improve, but they're still flawed. One of my favorite lines is Natasha talking to her husband about how wonderful her sister-in-law is and how much of a better person she is than Natasha herself, while expecting him to "prefer her to Marie and all other women, and tell her so anew." It's not a fine thought, it's silly and a bit narcissistic, but Tolstoy includes it and doesn't criticize it.

It's little details like that which are so hard to capture on film. I've only ever watched King Vidor's 1956 adaptation of the novel, starring Audrey Hepburn, Mel Ferrer, and Henry Fonda, and that only last year after much hesitation because I was sure that it would be all wrong. I mean, if something as simple to adapt as Harry Potter was a mess on film, how could a novel as complex as War and Peace be decently adapted? I'd just watched Joe Wright's Anna Karenina (2012) and that was an insult to literature, history, and my evening. But I was on an Audrey Hepburn kick, so I gave the film a try.

Fonda (Pierre), Hepburn (Natasha), Ferrer (Andrei). Costuming is actually fairly accurate, though maybe not quite Russian enough. (5)

No doubt my expectations were ridiculously low, which probably helped. The movie is utterly beautiful, and surprisingly accurate. The casting was dictated more by star power than suitability, and Henry Fonda, while a great actor, is simply too handsome for the awkward Pierre. Hepburn and Ferrer are both more suited to their roles, and they have excellent chemistry, being that they were a couple in real life at the time. Many supporting characters and minor sub-plots are cut to keep the film at 208 minutes, and the focus is tightened to the three main characters, but watching it I felt something very close to my feelings while reading it for the first time. It was like a beautifully-illustrated abridged book--a wonderful way to experience the story, but only a taste of the real thing. That's about all I hope for in an adaptation, and for those who won't read the book, I'd recommend it, though I'd warn you that with little special effects, the war scenes are far-away and dull, so the ending drags a bit.

There are other versions as well that I haven't yet seen--a 1966/1967 Soviet Russia 7-hour version, which is thought to be the best; a 1972 BBC 15-hour version starring Anthony Hopkins; a 2007 394-minute version starring a cast made up of actors from all over Europe, including Clémence Poésy of France; the upcoming 2015 six-part BBC reboot. There's also a silent one, which I can't find anywhere, but wasn't planning to watch anyway because silent films creep me out to no end.

This all goes to say that I think most people don't realize how genuinely fun the right translation of War and Peace is, because of misconceptions from people who have either never read it or have read some shoddy translations. I don't remember what the translation I originally read was, but I currently have one by Constance Garnett, and I've been enjoying re-reading it. If you have that pretty sky blue copy translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, please toss it, because it's horrible and leaves the French untranslated, which results in the opening paragraph being entirely in French--a major turn-off for most. When reading foreign books, it is important to know what a difference the translator can make.

Deceptively pretty design. Stay far away. (5)

I've been going on about the cuteness, because Tolstoy's ability to excel in that is so under-appreciated and unknown, but I also want to convey what an incredibly deep and powerful read it is. Through his wild youth, his middle-aged years as a scholar and family man, and as an elderly philosopher, Tolstoy was fascinated by redemption--not just redemption under God, but the process of self-improvement through repentance or the struggles of obtaining forgiveness from others. He recognizes that some go to their end without redemption, not because it's impossible, but because they refuse it. As a Christian, this is especially moving, because it's much of what we worry about from day to day and read of so often in the Bible. As a human, it's striking to see such a full representation of life, woven over time.

So why is War and Peace my favorite novel of all time? Because it has the beauty and breadth of an ancient epic, but it has all the heartiness and liveliness of a modern novel. It is entirely tangible in its grandeur. It is every bit the novel I want to write.

1. "Tolstoy Google Doodle," Sept. 9, 2014. See full tribute here.
2. Map of Russia, 1820. Found image here.
3. Photo - Tolstoy, writing. Found image here.
4. Excerpted from the Constance Garnett translation.
5. On-set photo from War and Peace (1956).
6. Photo of Pevear & Volkohonsky translation from Amazon, which I will not link to.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bizarre, a Little Slapstick, but Absurdly Charming and Addictive: Review of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy

Okay, so picture this: not just a modern Peter Pan, but starring actual adults playing adult characters, and not like Hook's Peter Pan who has finally grown up and started a family, but the whole Peter Pan story transplanted to the modern world with adult problems. It takes place in Neverland, Ohio, and Peter Pan is an adorable but ridiculous man-child cartoonist who would rather play video games and party than accept adult responsibilities, but is in love with the sweet-but-tough and very level-headed Wendy Darling, advice columnist. If that sounds a little silly and a whole lot weird to you, YES. You're right. It's all of that and so much more.

After watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in 2012 (has it really been that long??), and being caught up in the fun of watching a familiar story (Austen's Pride & Prejudice) develop in new ways, I was hungry for more like it. Watching web series adaptations is a different experience than watching film or TV adaptations--you get to appreciate the progression in bite-sized pieces, which means you always can find the time to keep up and you are even more excited for the entrance of each character. The downside can be that with short episodes, more hangs on script/acting to captivate the viewer immediately. While a viewer may be willing to stick out 45 minutes for a TV episode they're apathetic about, will the same viewer click "next video" nine times for five-minute episodes?

The day I started The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, I had recently finished Emma Approved, Pemberley Digital (the superb company that put out LBD)'s adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, and had just been burned by two pretty mediocre web series that I won't name. I watched two episodes, then marathoned the rest of the season in one night. The whole story unfolded in a way that felt goofy, but was absolutely charming at the same time.

A major part of that is the small, but excellent cast, who manage to take oddball characters that could so easily be annoying, and make them lovable.

Kyle Walters (Peter) is a boy-next-door type with one of those crooked cute smiles, and he takes on his role with so much eagerness and panache that he just about pops from the screen. I'd seen him before in Welcome to Sanditon (based on the unfinished Austen novel Sanditon), where he didn't get enough screentime. He's a co-creator of Peter and Wendy, so he clearly is doing exactly what he wants and it works. I hate man-children and I tend to dislike Peter Pan, so the fact that I enjoyed Walters' Peter so much is a testament to how good the man is. Walters has the kind of comedic acting that could fit in on Parks and Recreation, alongside Chris Pratt, who made me love man-child Andy Dwyer.

Paula Rhodes (Wendy) has the toughest role--making a character like Wendy be strong, especially when surrounded by a mostly male cast. She is able to portray Wendy as a young woman really torn between growing up and staying a kid. She has a lot of monologues, which are hard to pull off and can require a stretch of the viewer's imagination, but she says everything with feeling and expression. She's also comic, which you don't see often in material given to women, and I loved watching Rhodes make extreme expressions. I also was at first taken aback by, but eventually in love with her Barbie voice (she voices Skipper and Stacie in Life in the Dreamhouse). She stumbles over lines that don't sound like lines when they come out of her mouth, because they don't sound rehearsed, they sound real.

The rest of the cast, Brennan Murray (Michael Darling), Graham Kurtz (John Darling), and Lovlee Carroll (Lily Bagha, a play on Tiger Lily as an ACTUAL Indian), are superb. Murray is absolutely ridiculous playing the childish and silly Michael, but still is somehow cute the whole time--and I'm often thrown off by adults acting like kids, so that's saying a lot from me. ;) Kurtz is my favorite--he has to play straight to all the crazy comedy, and his disdainful expressions are as hilarious as when he completely loses it (plus the guy has some serious dance skillz). Carroll plays an excellent mean girl, and powers her way through every scene.
From left to right: John, Michael, Wendy, Peter, and Lily
Of course, the actors are working with an awesome script. The show starts out a little awkward, as it has to information dump a little and has to manipulate viewers into accepting their reality. I still don't know how I feel about how they do Tinker Bell--as an unseen fairy (?) character who often has the camera--but after a while I found myself accepting that too. The dialogue is funny, referential, but not too much so, and can move well at all paces. It's also surprisingly relatable--not something I expected watching a Peter Pan adaptation. But in this series, growing up is not about biology as much as it is about the awkward transition into adult responsibilities.

The characters are total millennials, mostly college-educated and single, uncertain about what to do when they're not children or parents. Wendy's search for a better job was similar to what I've been going through lately, from putting oneself out there to the nerve-racking wait to the hurt of rejection. It's not just about whether or not to grow up either--there's also the struggle of realizing you HAVE grown up, but your life is still stuck in the same place it was when you were a kid. Rhodes (Wendy) delivers her big Ep. 13 line well, but the real credit goes to Shawn de Loache for writing it. As Wendy realizes she's in a rut, she says to Peter, "I'm old. For a girl, I'm old. I'm supposed to have it all together right now--I'm supposed to have a husband and a career and kids, and I don't, I don't, I have nothing! I'm so...I'm lost." The rest of the episode veers into romance (spoiler!), but that line is so exactly what it can feel like to be a single woman without a career. You want it all, but you actually have nothing.

It's hard for a comedy to be funny but still feel genuine. Not all good comedies succeed in seeming believable, but if they're funny enough, nobody cares. Peter and Wendy requires a little bend of imagination, but the conflicts are real, as are the tender moments, and that strengthens the comedy. The bond between the Darling siblings was one of my favorite parts of the story--it's subtle for most of the series, but Rhodes, Kurtz, and Murray are wonderful together whether they're fighting or encouraging each other. The romance is a little fluffy, but Walters and Rhodes have chemistry, and seem real even when one of them hurts the other's feelings. Through goofiness and cuteness, the series gets right to the big questions: What does it mean to be happy? What does love mean? What does it mean to grow up?

And all that being said, you can bet I'm excitedly waiting for Season 2, especially since the great Jim Beaver who played Bobby on Supernatural is joining the cast as Mr. Darling and we'll finally get to meet the mysterious Hook, a powerful CEO with a vendetta against Peter Pan.

But the Peter and Wendy crew needs a little more than pixie dust to make that a reality, so they've created an Indiegogo page that will close at 11:59 pm on August 31. They need to hit $55,000 to make a full and awesome Season 2, and as of the writing of this post are only at 70%. It's climbing up slowly but surely, but they can use every dollar they can get. They have a whole lot of cool perks even for smaller amounts and if you donate you can be a part of the unique and free story that these awesome artists are creating. As if I didn't have enough reasons to love the internet, it's stuff like this that makes me love it even more. Please donate and/or share if you can.

And check out The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, share it with friends, and give me web series recommendations because I need something to watch till Season 2 comes out!
1. P+W cast picture credit: Save Neverland on Indiegogo
2. Wendy and Peter picture credit: Ep. 5 - Pre-Game
3. Wendy picture credit: Ep. 1 - Growing Up

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Dealing with this Mortal Coil Before It Can Rightfully Be Shuffled Off

When people talk about suicide, especially suicide caused by long-term depression, you can generally split them up into two camps: 1) Those who say things like "how terrible that death was the only solution he knew to make the pain stop"and "we need people to understand how much they are loved." 2) Those who say things like "this is terrible that anyone should resort to a lazy and cowardly way to end their life" and "how selfish; they don't even think of the people they leave behind."

Now I'm not saying any of those perspectives are right or wrong. They both have a point and are a valid way of looking at suicide. Which is what makes understanding suicide and depression so confusing.

With Monday's celebrity suicide, the word "suicide" seems to be trending as much online as the late celebrity's name. Organizations like TWLOHA say their piece about how you are loved, yes YOU, and everyone should know that, don't end your life, YOU are LOVED. It's a sweet message, and while I respect TWLOHA and its supporters because I know they are doing good and hey, the more love going to those suffering from depression the better, but their words fall, as they often do for me, woefully short. The very tangible love of family and friends can mean nothing when someone is crushed by depression; the kind but bland love of a random stranger will generally mean even less. Individuals use this as a platform to talk about depression, which is wonderful in that it may help in the long fight to de-stigmatize depression (and other mental/emotional issues), but of course doesn't always help those struggling through it.

How should we look at someone who killed themselves? Are they a victim of an untreated illness, or worse, a victim of a system that treats their illness as a passing mood and misguided perspective on life? Are they a beautiful lovely loss to humanity simply by cutting their life short? Are they a strong brave individual who sought to solve their problems on their own? Are they a weak-willed coward who gave up when the going got tough?

And when you choose one of those ways to look at the situation, what does it say about those who don't kill themselves, who resist the urge? That's what always threw me off the most--as an insecure teenager, as an overachieving college student, as a graduate who sometimes can't see hope anywhere--should one be congratulating oneself for not ending one's life, or even harming oneself? Holding the blade to your skin...and only making one small cut and throwing that blade that a small victory? Then doing it again, but this time not breaking skin, and then next time, only looking at the blade before putting it away--is that bravery? Is persisting in living because you're scared of dying a brave choice?

Or, perhaps the bravest of all are those who live with sadnesses and pains but never know the dull horror of sinking into depression. These people are not necessarily living better lives; they are just able to deal with it differently. Does that make them the strongest of all?

When I was a teenager, I couldn't find an answer to those questions. I was too afraid of physical pain to make self-harm a habit. Concluding that there are remarkably few painless and foolproof ways to end life, I convinced myself out of suicide again and again. I knew I was loved by certain people, but it didn't change the feeling I had when I looked in the mirror, when I was alone with my thoughts, or when I was inadequate where I wanted to be successful. I was in a horrible living situation and I was powerless to change it then, but I knew one day it'd *probably* get better. I knew the effect hormonal imbalances can have on one's mental state, especially as a teenager. But none of that was what kept me from destroying myself, either in small ways or that one big way. What kept me from something terrible was simply fear of physical pain. One day I told myself I was a coward for not doing it; another day I told myself I was really quite brave for continuing to tote the weary load.

Things are different for me now, but when life doesn't go well, there's that switch that goes on and my perspective becomes bleak and grey and I can't remember where the exit is. I can barely remember that I wasn't always in this rut. I don't know that it's bravery that keeps me going. I want to say it's cowardice, but that might be some lingering self-contempt.

I can't answer that for myself, so I certainly can't say anything about Robin Williams' suicide. I understand, but I don't understand at all. I think it was a horrible tragedy and maybe there was something that could have prevented his making that choice, but maybe there wasn't. I can't say "he had other options" because when you're stuck in your own head and no option includes getting away from yourself except for suicide...well, it's a struggle. I'm still shocked and saddened, because I loved him as an actor, and I still find his voice so very comforting to listen to. I know this is hardest on his family and friends, and the rest of us, just fans of his work and admirers of his self-presentation and sense of humor, are only feeling a fraction of what they're going through. It's hard to not feel like my sorrow is somehow encroaching and insulting theirs, which is just so much deeper because they knew him personally.

This news came at an interesting time, as I was struggling out of a fog of depression. What drew me out was not the love of my family and friends (though that has been appreciated, and I hate that I seemed like a sad-sack to anyone during those weeks--so sorry to everyone), but reading a rather depressing book, Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country, which was gifted to me by a dear friend. It's one of those novels where the selfish heroine throws herself headlong into a money-grubbing miserable life that leads inevitably to ruin (I haven't finished it yet though, so it may surprise me), and it didn't exactly help the way I was feeling, despite the beautiful writing. But when my favorite character (not the heroine) committed suicide, it took me by surprise and jolted me out of my misery. I didn't want to just end all this, I realized. The pages after the character's suicide are empty of them, with only a few mentions to their name, which is not the way one likes to think of the world being after their death. Rather ironically, it lifted my spirits considerably.

I am not advocating that book as an anti-depressant, obviously. It worked for me (this time). Last time, it was a week doing absolutely nothing in Ohio (thank you, Katie, for taking me out of my fog without even knowing it), and when I was younger it was a combination of changes. There is no one way out of it. Suicide is possibly the worst choice of all, but it's the quickest way out. Love can help, but it might not draw you out. As a Christian, I can't even say that believing in Jesus is a surefire way to happiness, because it ain't easy and many, many Christians are depressed (seriously, the Bible is full of them too!). Being busy can help, especially since depression is mind-numbingly BORING, but you will always have some moment alone to think and be miserable. Doing things for others is definitely something I can advocate, but sometimes it's hard to do that with your soul being pulverized under all the sadness. There are millions of things that can help and that won't help.

Try them. Don't end it. Talk to people. Stop being ashamed, and know that some people will look down on you for depression, but remember that those are not the people that matter most. I don't know if you're brave or a coward, but I know that depression does not automatically mean weakness. You can be strong under pressure. Find your own way out--not necessarily alone or without help, but find what works for you and gets you through each day, and what will maybe eventually heal you.

Original image found here on Pinterest
Quote is Proverbs 18:14

Monday, February 3, 2014

Yes, I Do Take Offense If You Say You Hate Girls

Edit: When I say "girl" here, I am mainly using the words as a generic word for females, as I use "guy" for males. I also use "girl," "woman," and "female" interchangeably because I didn't want to use only one term and "female" sounds too sterile to use very often. There is of course a difference between adolescent girls and adult women, but that's not my focus here.

The first time I heard a girl say, "No offense, but I hate girls. Girls only cause drama," I got to admit, I DID take offense. That was probably when I was a teenager, but I heard it more frequently as I got older, oddly enough--adult women are even more comfortable admitting that they hate their own gender than teens are. I try not to take offense, even though it is downright offensive, and akin to me saying, "No offense, but I hate Hispanic people. They're so uneducated and [insert negative stereotype here]." My being Hispanic wouldn't make it okay for me to be a racist jerk, and your being a girl doesn't make it okay to be a sexist punk.

To the women and girls who say that, I may have offended you by saying what I just said, and I'm sorry about that. Please try to not take offense and take that personally, because I'm trying not to take offense at your telling me you hate what I am and what you are and what both our mothers are. Even when the "I hate girls" has an addendum of "I mean, I love my female friends, of course," it still rankles me quite a bit. Again, imagine me saying that about Hispanics. I would sound like a massive jerk.

Not that I think all the girls who say that actually even hate girls or truly believe that 99% of the 3.5 billion women in the world are basically drama-crazed mean girls (who possibly are Regina George clones??). I'm sure many have been burned by shallow girls, and those who are very young may have not had the privilege of meeting many genuinely kind girls in their lives thus far. 

For the women who "hate girls", I assume that they were burned in the past and saying they hate their own sex has become such a habit that they don't think it's an odd thing to say to a bunch of females, some of whom are their friends.

I do have friends who say this. And I'm including them when I say that having such an abundance of female friends all my life has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

Growing up with sisters might've helped (though girl-haters may have many sisters!), but I never saw any reason to hate all girls any more than to hate all boys. Girls could be mean, but they could also be kind--just like me, just like boys too, just like any human being. I didn't even think about the gender of my friends till I was probably a pre-teen. By then, I had spent years growing up in a church community of boys and girls. We all ran and screamed and accidentally hit one boy's dad's car with a ball, setting off alarms. One girl in our little gang wore a dress all the time, but she ran too, and later on we all played soccer on mixed-gender teams (my one sporting enterprise!) and no one thought anything of it.

As I grew older, I had crushes on the boys I knew best (if any of you are reading this, which I doubt, I had a crush at different points on all of you except one). But they were still friends. The girls were friends too and I never felt a need to choose, aligning myself to the friendship of a single gender. In middle and high school, I was part of a homeschool group, where there were strata of popularity and I was on a fairly low stratum, above the kids who smelled or who dressed like Mennonites, but definitely below most people. (I like to think that being the loser in a homeschool group proves that some people are innately popular or unpopular, and explains why some people are stars wherever they go and some will always be the geeks.)

I was comfortable with guys, though the unpredictability of new guys definitely made me more uncomfortable than my old guy friends, for whom the predictability of the years could over-ride the mysteries of their gender. Yet, for several years, I did remain friends with that guy at summer Bible camp who was always trying to stroke my leg whenever no one was looking. The first time was on the porch and I could tell from the way he asked if I was scared that he wanted me to be scared, so I said no, and pushed him away. The second time was during a prayer at lunch when he knew I wouldn't jump up and make a scene, so I just got up afterwards and I believe I had another male friend switch seats. Of course, looking back on that and writing it, I realize how truly creepy that all sounds. Not all guys I knew were like that; that boy was a rarity. But guy friends are by no means perfect and I can't imagine relying solely on the male gender as if it were somehow superior to my own. 

Guys also make drama. I remember a certain relationship drama that the guys I grew up with blew out of proportion. For the privacy of my friends, I won't say too much, but I recall being surprised at how it was the boys who spurred on the rumors and fed the drama, making an issue with each other, and making many friends feel like they had to choose sides. The girls I spoke to had heard the gossip from the guys and mostly were spectators to the drama-fest. Not long ago, a teen girl I know was getting texts from a guy friend asking if she "liked" a mutual guy friend who had just started a relationship. She kept on saying no, but the texts continued, clearly driven by a hunger for drama. Finally, the texts got argumentative and they stopped, so the friendships all continued--a drama begun by a boy but defused by a girl.

I've known shallow girls, girls who put others down and need to be the center of attention, but I've known guys like that too. Those are just people who suck, to put it in the very nicest PG terms possible. They come in all chromosome combinations, all colors, all builds, all income levels, and even all ages. If only we could establish that one single group was made up of drama-craving monsters, we could, I dunno, exterminate them ASAP  quarantine them and put them on a strict diet of kids' movies that show mean kids getting what they deserve and nice kids winning. But sadly, drama-hungry slugs are found among every group of people.

If only all mean girls made their dark natures apparent at first glance with weird dead eyes and obnoxious graphic tees!
When I think of girls, I don't think of dramarama and gossip. I think of some of the most reasonable, strong, genuine, and earth-shaking people I've ever known. I know women who have wits that make you want to give them a standing ovation every single time they speak. I know women who are determined to reach their goals and nothing stands in their way. I know women who are so kind and loving that your head will drop in shame because they're speaking from their warm hearts. I know women who go about fighting for what they believe with astounding dedication. I know women who juggle a million different pursuits--family, career, hobbies, etc. with more skill than many do with a single pursuit.

I thought of women I've befriended in all those categories (and more)...and you know, sometimes I've found those women annoying. Girls aren't perfect, just like anyone in the human race. I feel like I shouldn't be saying "heyyy, girls are people" because WE ALL KNOW THAT but sometimes, reading crap articles on the internet about women, I really wonder how many people truly understand that.

Thus the creation of Asha (Yara) Greyjoy, possibly my favorite female character ever. Also, recalling women are people will make you a better novelist, I swear, but that's another post.
Incredible females in my life showed me not to be hindered by stereotypes. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, but she wasn't a delicate flower--she was fierce. She never said, "Wait till your father comes home!..." to us; she took care of discipline herself. She taught us every day and even when I wasn't using the best curricula, I was learning independence. She told me I would go to college and get a job, and yeah, sure I would hopefully get married and have kids, but the first time I heard that a woman's main purpose on the planet was to reproduce and that was the only way she'd be happy and fulfilled was from a man (not a relative) years later. Never from my mother. 

My older sister is strikingly well-behaved and so morally upright that it makes people apologize to her for swearing in her presence and used to grate on me, but she is willing to take controversial stances and argue for it in a way that always baffled her elders, whether they're more conservative or liberal than she. I've been known to say in debates, "My sister has a really good argument for why that's actually not wrong...let me try to remember it because it convinced me." She will cry "like a girl," but she's also the most emotionally strong person you will ever meet, because she can't be actually beaten down by anything in this world. My little sister is beautiful and slender, but she also has the sharpest humor and can match wits with anyone she comes across. She also can drop down from a standing position right into a military-style push-up and that is literally her idea of fun. At the same time, she is compassionate and forgiving, which is why she has such a consistently steady following of younger kids who can't even verbalize why they admire her.

A dear friend of mine from high school is the classiest young woman I've ever met, but she is also stubbornly opinionated and deeply thoughtful. I don't always agree with her and we argue or nearly argue often, but no matter what, I always respect that she isn't afraid to have her opinion. She's actually a little scary, and sometimes I think she has the intensity and strength to play a very regal sort of queen in a movie. I remember not long ago (I hope she won't mind me sharing this story) when she told me that she could never imagine agreeing to a husband's opinions if her own understanding stood at odds with his. This may not seem like a big deal, but in a Christian community, particularly from a person who appears very demure at first glance, a woman saying that her theological opinions are solid enough that she'd argue with even a wise man till she found strength enough in his ideas to change her own is absolutely major.

My oldest friend (who isn't related by blood) is a stay-at-home mom now, and yeah, she cooks dinner for her husband and she takes care of the house. But she will also break down for you why she hates gender stereotypes and why they're damaging to individuals, relationships, and our culture. When she talks, her husband, a considerably more reserved person, listens and looks at her with respect. She is ready to look at tradition and separate what's right from what's wrong, without holding back for tradition's sake. She listens to my career dreams and my ramblings about single guys, and she has advice at times or just hears me out. She also matches my extraordinary levels of nerdiness, as was proven in a recent event that I'm actually not going to share because I'm still stunned that she and I actually DID that. Growing up, she was a second older sister, and never made me feel silly or small.

I could go on and describe more women in my life, but honestly, that was really tiring because it's hard to document awesomeness. My point is that among my female friends are some truly wonderful people who don't deserve to be hated for the stereotypes of their gender, but actually admired and sought out by people because they will challenge you and make your life better and more interesting.

This is why I've decided to not be offended by girl-hating girls. I feel sorry that they don't know the people I know. There are billions of incredible girls out there--more than I'll ever know. More are being born every day. I know toddler girls who are already wonderful little people.

Knowing how amazing my gender can be challenges me every day to be a better person. If you, as a girl, can honestly say, "I hate girls," what are you saying about yourself? You're better than most? That's a little egotistical, not to mention statistically improbable, so let's be generous and say that you include yourself as a drama-seeking little rat. In which case, are those really the standards you want to set for yourself? There's more to attain to, and lumping your whole sex in as sharing a singular flaw deserving hatred is hardly going to make you a stronger and more excellent person. It's going to make you shrug your shoulders and not try too hard. If girls can be awesome, you can too. So let's not only try to be a little more careful about slinging our "hate" around, but let's strive to reach our full potential as human beings. Gender won't hold you back, but your misogynistic gender stereotype probably will.

Written for Ink Spots Blog Initiative prompt #3: What did you have more of growing up: guy friends or girl friends? Why do you think this is and how has it affected you? 

Currently listening to:

Disney's Lilo and Stitch Soundtrack
"He Mele No Lilo"