Turns out it's difficult to get a good picture of one's wrist with a cell phone camera.

See: Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five.


Black Swan

There are certain films I use as litmus tests. I've slowly discovered over the years, for example, that I simply don't get along with people who hate The Princess Bride. (There are people who hate The Princess Bride? you're thinking. Why, yes, there are. Rare, but they exist. And I'm pretty sure they're lacking souls.) If someone doesn't find The Royal Tenenbaums amusing, they're never going to find me funny, either. And I think Black Swan is another litmus test, this time of some combination of intelligence and artistic capacity. People either get this movie, and love it, or they hate it because they don't understand; and (perhaps this is too blunt, but oh well) the latter group I have very little respect for.

It is, essentially, a story of the search for artistic perfection. There are so many ways the movie could go wrong--fall into the traps of stereotypes, of melodrama, of being about nothing but the dance--but instead it soars. We, like Nina, are unable to keep track of reality as she makes the psychological descent into the black swan, the evil twin version of the white swan she has embodied all of her life. Natalie Portman, who trained for a year and dropped 20 pounds for the role, never once has a false moment. She absolutely deserved the Globe she won last week, and the rest of the cast supports her flawlessly.

What is so remarkable about the movie, though, is how seamlessly the production choices support the themes of the show. My favorite element by far is Aronofsky's use of symbolism. The duality of the black and white might have overpowered the movie; instead, it is an ever-present undercurrent that enhances the action. It is most obvious in the main costume choices, but even the company's director (a divinely prickish Vincent Cassel) has an office and an apartment that are entirely done in black and white. Smaller choices--the pale grey of Nina's practice tutu, for instance--are just as effective. I was told before I saw the movie that there was a mirror in every scene, and it's very nearly true: Aronofsky uses every reflective surface he can think of to underscore not only the intense self-scrutiny of the dancer but the doubling of Nina's character. This is pulled off fantastically in not only the set design but also in some very clever camera angles.

Although brilliant, this movie is not, by any stretch, easy to watch. As is typical of what I've seen of Aronofsky's work, he brings home the physical nature of the characters in very tightly shot close-ups. There are no illusions about the beauty of the ballet dancer's body in this movie: we see the distorted feet, the split toenails, hear Nina cracking every joint in her body, watch a physical therapist dig what seems like her entire hand under Nina's ribcage; and it only gets worse as Nina makes her descent. There is a decent amount of sexuality in the film, but it's done in such a way as to leave the audience unsettled instead of titillated. Additionally, because the entirety of the story is told from Nina's perspective, we take the journey into madness with her, and that's not pleasant in the least.

Perhaps what resonates the most about this movie is the sense that anyone who is at all passionate about their art can relate to Nina's desire for perfection and the trouble with letting go enough to achieve it. There's something Thomas (Cassel's character) says about the prima ballerina that Nina replaces, Beth, that I find really embodies the artistic temperament:
. . . everything Beth does comes from within. From some dark impulse. I guess that's what makes her so thrilling to watch. So dangerous. Even perfect at times, but also so damn destructive.
Nina just ends up taking it a bit too far.

If nothing I've said sounds at all appealing, then there's probably no hope for you. But if you're at all piqued by my description, I strongly suggest seeing it--and do it soon, before it leaves the big screen. It's worth the exorbitant ticket price, I promise.


the ever-present handbag

Purses, it turns out, are a very odd thing. I don't know if it's just me, but it takes me a long time to find a purse that I'm actually alright with carrying on a daily basis. Much of it has to do with the amount of stuff it holds and in what configuration it holds it, but the other part is much more exacting: will I, no matter what I'm wearing, feel more put together if I'm carrying this purse, or less? If the answer is less, then it's immediately rejected.

I tend to vacillate between very large or mediumly small purses. I either want something big enough that I can carry it to work, stuffed with my lunch and a file with essays to grade in it, or something small enough that I can slip it in said larger bag, but enough to hold my wallet, checkbook, lipgloss, etc.

There are color requirements, too. Absurd patterns are too hard to pull off on a daily basis. I wear a lot of both brown and black, so especially for the smaller bag, it has to go with both. There's a shade of tan that's just right, or you can go with something bright that will just contrast.

Right now I'm using a yellow faux-leather clutch I got at Kohl's with a $10 gift card I got for free in the mail and a large black bag that was a Target collaboration with . . . some designer I've forgotten. However, the clutch is looking shabby and the straps are about to break on the large bag, so I've been searching for a substitute. Or two.

Time for window-shopping. For the large bag, I want something along these lines:

(They are all absurdly expensive, but this one is especially absurd, as it's real crocodile.)

For the smaller one:

This one is a bit big for my purposes, but I kind of like it anyway.

My basic shopping strategy is to notice things I like online that, usually, are absurdly expensive, and then go find something very similar--that looks like it could be expensive--for very little money. The problem with these sorts of bags is that cheaper, decent looking versions don't seem to exist. I want something structured, simple, and well-designed, but most of what is lurking in the places I normally shop at at the moment is plastered in crap, squishy, and made of cheap-looking materials. And, to be honest, after the holiday season's expenses, I shouldn't be shopping for anything new anyway. Curses.


memorial is not the right word.

I ended up unintentionally driving past UMC today, and decided on impulse to stop and see the memorial. Of course I didn't have my camera with me, so these were all taken on my awful cell phone camera. I thought those of you who haven't gotten the chance to see it in person might wish to see what I saw.

The biggest surprise, for me, is that there were very few messages of grief, fewer still of anger or hostility. They were almost entirely messages of love, of a desire for positive change. I had heard, I thought, that much of it was in honor of Christina Green, but I saw her name about as often as I did the other six who died. I am glad that they all were honored.

The front of the hospital. The flags at half-mast are a fitting backdrop to the memorial, I think.

"We were targeted, we were hit, but we will NOT be destroyed!!! Arizonans coming together." I feel like, in a lot of ways, this was the theme of the entire thing.

"Together we, our town, state, and nation, can get throgh this."

"I hopp ewe buttay gets better in the hosbdoy." So cute.

I can't read all of it, but "May the Great Spirit bless them" is part of it. I saw several different faiths represented, which made me happy.

Something about this note felt particularly heartfelt. There were hundreds if not thousands of the tall, thin candles of the kind with pictures of the Virgin Mary on them, such as the one holding down this note.

A large metal sculpture of what I took to be a butterfly. The butterfly image was repeated quite often, in balloons and drawings and photographs; the symbolism is, I think, particularly nice: the hope of Gabby emerging from her cocoon.

When people had not brought signs or papers or other things, they resorted to what was there. This message and several others was written in crayon on the slab of concrete over the gutter, with the crayons left so others could write there too.

A fabric daisy chain had been used to make a barrier.

The candles, while gorgeous at night, appear to be quite hard to maintain. Someone thought for permanence and left solar-powered lamps.

The scope of the memorial is amazing--too big to fit in the frame of my camera phone. This is the portion in front, by the road.

A message to Gabby's husband, supporting him.

L'chaim, a traditional Jewish toast that means "to life," seemed to me a particularly appropriate sentiment. (At least, I assume that's what it says, given that it looks to be translated underneath.)

This box was stuffed. I wrote something on a halfsheet from the clipboards next to it and shoved my wish in as well.

Someone had tied a flag to the "fire lane" sign on the right side of the memorial.

An attempt to get a shot of the whole thing. It borders the entire rectangle of the grassy area, with undulating sections in the middle, including a path on one side. People are setting up the stuff so as much of the well-wishing can be seen as possible.

It's hard to read, now, but it's something like, "We will miss you Bean (?), more than you know." This one struck me because it seemed so much more personal than many of the others. I think the top of the paper was addressed to Gabe Zimmerman.

"We have seen too many stars to let the darkness overwhelm us. Keep shining Gabby." The stars attached to the wings have the names of all of the victims, both surviving and deceased. I loved this one especially.

You can see in this shot that the grass is worn down around the places where people have left things, and where others have walked by to see it.

"Thank you for teaching us to love again, laugh, and believe. We love you all." The messages were often along these lines: incredibly hopeful and positive.

Another shot of the front portion of the memorial.

The line of cans reads "DONATE IN GABBY'S NAME!" She is, apparently, a big supporter of the food banks. There was a box for donations that I didn't get a shot of that was completely stuffed with food. People had piled grocery bags up around it, too.

A statue of Buddha.

"Hate is easy. Love takes courage." Many of the messages were written on tiles like this, implying the wish for permanence.

A wreath with a sash reading "U.S. House of Representatives." I was amused that the officials had contributed to this sort of grassroots expression, and glad for the smiley heart balloon in the middle--it made it look less like a funeral wreath.

"Heal the world," spelled out in tealights.

A rock garden of well wishes. When the breeze came, they fluttered like birds.

Something poignant about the fact that this person used the rock itself for their message--and I think it's written using a match or burnt stick.

There were many, many messages from children. I particularly liked this poster. "I hope you ful bettr" is about how I feel, too.

I hope so.

A view of about half of it from farther back. I overheard someone saying that the wind took away many of the balloons recently, and that people from the hospital had come out and started taking away any of the flowers not in pots in an attempt to "clean up." I saw a ton of flowers and balloons; if this is the diminished version, I am even more impressed.

I overheard someone else saying that every day it gets significantly bigger. Now that Gabby is getting transferred to Houston for treatment, I wonder what will happen to it--it will break my heart if it is simply thrown away. So much goodness deserves to be kept around.

The sea of news vans. The various cameras and crews were spaced out around the memorial so they could use it as a background. Their fake lighting and crisp suits and makeup-ed faces contrasted quite oddly with the sincerity of the memorial.

I hope that people, especially those not from Tucson or Arizona, see these pictures and realize that, despite this horrific event, there is much that is good and hopeful here, too.


the worst part of growing up

It's not taxes, or responsibility, or the mortgage I will someday have (mortgages are the final step in journey to adulthood, you know). It's not even realizing that ten years have passed without you accomplishing anything of note.

It's discovering that, unlike what you were told, it's not the crème de la crème that rises to the top. The intelligent, rational, logical, respectable people are not the ones who are actually in charge.

It's the incompetent people who slide by on a wink and a smile who somehow blunder their way into high places and "run" things.

This is a terrifying, horrifying, demoralizing realization.

There's some part of me that wants to warn my students: I am teaching you to think. You are becoming smarter. You are becoming rational, logical, critical. And this will, almost inevitably, make you miserable: you will not be able to help being frustrated with people who refuse to think. Sheep are blissful in their ignorance; you will not be ignorant, but neither can you achieve that sort of opiating bliss.

The Tree of Knowledge is perilous, indeed.


on ease and sexiness

There's a quality about this girl and her choice of outfit that I really quite admire. She doesn't look like she's trying too hard, she's not really showing any skin (at least not in this shot), but it's sexy nonetheless. Her hair is casual, the aviators and men's watch are charming, the length of her neck echoes the way her legs will look when she walks (you can tell the skirt is unbuttoned to mid-thigh). And things you can unbutton are inherently sexy anyway.

It reminds me of something Michael Kors said in a recent interview:
A lot of people think that what men like is a real bombshell. But the truth is they get more excited by the woman who, no matter how dressed up she is, always has a bit of the tomboy in her, whose face is touchable, whose hair they can caress. They don't want an icon, they don't want vulgar. What attracts them is a comfortable kind of sexy.
Now, whether or not that's universally true is probably up for debate. But it's a philosophy I've always kind of adhered to, especially because the kind of man who does prefer a "real bombshell" is not someone I'd want to hang out with anyway.