Sunday, August 17, 2008

Holy Super Blogger, Batman!

I've decided that my vast beauty, intellect, and athletic prowess are just not enough in this life: I also want to save the world. "But Meg," you say, "you have already saved me. Isn't that worth something?" Well, loyal readers, no. No it is not. The thing is, we all consider how we would make decisions differently from politicians. We ponder how we would solve the problems of famine, sarvation, the spread of disease, and unfair treatment of others. But then all we do is sit back and smugly make fun of our president and the silly things he says. If only there were a simpler way to fix everything without exerting too much energy. I know! Genetics! Why can't I just have some magnificently powerful, useful, and cool genetic anomaly? I seem to have basically inherited my mom's eyes and my dad's grouchiness. Why not also the ability to fly? Or superstrength? Maybe just laser vision? Actually, no offense to Cyclops, but that was never a trait I desired. Then again, I'd take it over nothing. And if mutated genes aren't the way to go, I'd be willing to get electrocuted, nuked, or pushed into a vat of acid if it meant I came out bigger, better, stronger. The good news? Last week I was bitten by a spider (no, really). The bad news? So far the only outcome is a disgusting oozy mess. I'm still waiting...

Top 5 Super Powers

1. Bamfing

This is the clever word used to describe what Nightcrawler does in X-Men. I don't exactly want to be a blue, devil-tailed Mensch, but when it comes to teleporting, we can't be too picky, can we? After much deliberation about the rules and scientific possibilities of such an attribute, I came to the conclusion that you couldn't travel through space in such a way, without also being able to manipulate time similarly. Apparently Tim Kring thought the same thing when he created Hiro Nakamura. This is totally a double-whammy superpower. I could go back in time, travel the world, and I'd absolutely never, ever have to sit in traffic. Heck, I wouldn't need a car. Or pay for an airline ticket. I could jump off buildings and bamf out of there before landing. I could explore under the ocean for the 47 seconds I'm able to hold my breath. I could freak people out by waiting for them in their living rooms as they open the front doors of their just-unlocked homes. Okay, maybe not that last one. Thing is, I've always put teleportation at the absolute top of my list. Just imagine a typical lazy Sunday. I could vacuum and then take a walk around the local park. Productive and nice, but why not bamf over to Paris for the day and shoot right back home before bedtime?

2. Sponginess

I'm still working on a name for this one. Help me out. This is basically the ability to absorb all knowledge. I would know anything the first time I heard it. I could read books very quickly and understand everything about them. Learning languages would be a snap. (Useful if I'm heading over to France for the afternoon.) There is something very sexy (and nerdy) about infinite knowledge. Just think what I could invent. I would be great at diplomacy and every type of problem-solving. People would line up for my advice. I would write thoughtful, inspiring books on every topic. I could truly examine all sides of an issue and know which was best. People would demand that I run for president, but I would turn them down, because I know that with knowledge comes wisdom.

3. Shapeshifting

Who doesn't want to transform her physical being? One day I could try blonde hair, and the next double as a celebrity for a day. I could look like anyone. This doesn't sound that cool at first, until you think about what it would be like to be absolutely anyone. Although shapeshifting wouldn't change my mental self, appearing to be other people completely changes how others treat you. I could conduct psychological experiments comparing beautiful vs. ugly, agile vs. disabled, male vs. female, black vs. white. I could see what it's really like for a starlet to deal with papparazzi, for an athlete to run the 4/40, or for a senior citizen to deal with youth. Truly, this would be a lesson in perspective with endless possibilites. Plus, Halloween would be a snap.

4. Regeneration

This power prolongs life. It would be difficult to watch those around you age more quickly and die (especially those you love), but how interesting to be able to watch the world change to such a large degree. This is a power that allows a lot of fun, as well as risk, in one's life. I could climb mountains with lungs that don't suffer from asthma, travel through Africa knowing my immune system would beat nearly any disease, and maybe even play Russian roulette every once in a while. I wouldn't even need health insurance, because my body would take care of itself. I still don't think I'd take up smoking, but it might be fun to learn how to throw knives.

5. Badassness

Technically, this is the only one on my list that isn't so much a super power as a statistically nigh impossibility. We are talking Ghost Dog, here. Batman. Lone Wolf. Badassness involves lightning-fast reflexes, intense focus, physical perfection, strict moral code, mind-blowing coordination, impeccable timing, and a clear, zen mind. I am a loner at heart, but that is where the similarities end between my biggest fictional heroes and myself. Since this could arguably be achieved in real life makes it somehow the most difficult power to truly imagine attaining. Why? Because I'd have to count on myself instead of a freak accident or genetic coincidence.

And that's the thing. How much did I really talk about helping other people and bettering the world? Perhaps super powers don't exist because some higher being knows we'd only use them for selfish (albeit mind-expanding) reasons? I'd save some poor souls, but oh, wait, I'd like to visit every country in the world before I started that whole crime-fighting thing. Perhaps we should view many of the things humans can do as super powers. After all, we are the only animals on Earth who can invent new ways to communicate. We create art. We have learned to enjoy recreation beyond survival. We have realized our own mortality, and think where the human race would be without that. You think we have problems now? Thing is, man is a very well-intentioned creature. We all want to save the world, but we have such different ways of seeing how to do that. The really super power would be figuring out how to organize large groups of people who all understand one another. In the mean time, we'll just have to marvel at those individuals who really do seem to have a slight evolutionary edge over the rest of us: Albert Einstein's brain contains levels of chemicals different from the average person; Michael Phelps is--physically--a freak; and Socrates chose hemlock over exile. Blessings and curses run hand-in-hand. I'm really not a fan of Spider-Man, but we must all remember that "With great power comes great responsibility." Keep that in mind with whatever you do.

Friday, August 15, 2008

No Top Five -- Just an Update

Inspired by the "50 Reads Challenge" on Shelfari, I'm adding a list of the books in my sidebar that I've read (all the way through) this calendar year. That's 2008, people. I invite you to comment on these books or my choices, etc. As you can see, I'm a bit behind schedule, but I'm hopeful. Also note that I've added my Top 100 Movies and Books of All Time. Do not be fooled: they are in alphabetical order, not ranked in any way. My Top 100 Albums of All Time is coming.

What have YOU been reading this year?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Consistency, I Have Yet to Master Thee

I've never claimed to be good at blogging. In fact, I never wanted a blog in the first place. Ironically, that is because I thought that if I ever had one, I was for sure going to waste hours and hours doing that instead of other productive things. Over the past couple months--okay, FOUR months--I've had tons of entry ideas, from my Top 5 drummers to the Top 5 songs that kept me company while living in Europe. I hope to one day get to those topics, but for now, I think I just need to let everyone know what's been going on in my life.

Top 5 Things I Should Have Been Blogging About Since April

1. The Job Search

I've had a rough time securing employment before. When I moved to Ames, Iowa after teaching in Prague, I spent the entire summer trying to find a job--any job--just to pay some bills. I even went store to store at the North Grand Mall, before finally landing a primo spot hosting at Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican Cafe. Yeah, I know you're jealous. After graduating from Bemidji State with an ever-useful degree in creative and professional writing, the best I could muster was three jobs: writing for Static, coaching lacrosse, and dealing baked goods at Panera. But I thought it was different this time. I did everything right. I got into a top-ranked M.Ed program, got good grades, did a nice job student-teaching, and then applied to 23 different schools and districts with absolutely no phone calls or communication from prospective employers. Former instructors have admitted that hiring teachers this year is slower than usual, but with no explanation. Apparently getting a job is like going to a restaurant, however; you know how whenever someone goes to the bathroom, your food arrives at the table? If you go out of town, that's when people call you for interviews.

It's been a frustrating (understatement of the century) summer trying to find a job, but I would now like to announce that I will be teaching at at a nearby suburban high school this year, and I am super excited. Oh yeah, their mascot is the
Trojan, and their school colors are blue and yellow, just like my high school in Austin, Texas. Let's not think of how much I hated that school as any kind of omen. Now, I'm only worried about my friends and fellow cohort members still searching for a teaching position--I'm here for you guys--I wish you the best.

2. Roadtrip
After spending almost a decade in Los Angeles searching for her big break in film, my sister decided to go back to school to study medicine. From actor to doctor: what a natural progression! Either how (that was for you, Lisa), long story short, my sister got into the University of Chicago MD Ph.D program, which means she is locked in for eight long years of cutting up dead people. I flew out to L.A. to help her finish packing her things, and then we drove from the shallow hell hole that is Hollywood to the windy city, with a few stops between.

The first day was a short six hours into Las Vegas. A friend of my sister's got us a great steak dinner at half cost, and then free tickets to a show. Unfortunately, that show was the
Blue Man Group, which is possibly the dumbest thing I have ever seen in my life, and I've sat through The Butterfly Effect starring Ashton Kutcher. I only managed to keep myself out of a coma by imagining George Bluth and Tobias Funke auditioning for this ridiculous performance troupe. Seriously, why do people go so nuts for these guys? All I could think as I prayed that a balding blue freakazoid would not choose me for audience participation was, "Some things are inexplicable--the French love Jerry Lewis."

The longest drive was from Vegas to Denver, but I got to briefly see Taylor, one of my favorite people in the whole world, and definitely one of the coolest. Next day, we drove to Des Moines and stayed with my friend Sarah, another favorite. On the drive we helped rescue a
stray dog, and we marveled at our now two-story high school from days of yore. We finally made it to Chicago on the last day's drive in our Penske (MUCH better than U-Haul), only to find that my sister had no mail box, no washer, no dryer, no storage space, no air conditioner, no microwave, but many, many workers who didn't speak very strong English. Nice guys, though. She seems to be thriving in med school, luckily, but she's still on the phone with her landlord every other day. To put it bluntly, he sucks. She's pretty happy at least, because her school gives her lots of free stuff, she's dating a tall, skinny redhead, and she lives three blocks from Barack Obama.

3. Moving

Brian and I have had some landlord issues of our own. The original plan was to stay in our duplex until I had a job for a year or so, and then we were going to buy a house. We really liked the last place, living on the top two floors of a hundred year-old Victorian style in Minneapolis. Over the past year living there, our landlady never really fixed any of the problems in our house, including a leak in the roof, loose light fixtures, and exploding doorknobs. We chalked it all up to casualties of renting until a few months ago when she decided she didn't want our dog going to the bathroom in the yard anymore. You know, that place which she referred to as a dog yard when we were moving in. She said it was okay if the dog was still in the yard, but Zelda just wasn't allowed to poop OR pee in it. Oh yeah, and the guy who lived downstairs was moving out for the exact same reasons. We came to two conclusions about our landlady that day: 1. She has never owned a dog and 2. She is an idiot. The day we decided we'd have to move out, Brian and I went for a walk to eat at the nearby
May Day Cafe, and found a "for rent" sign outside a house. Our new place is a disaster, as we're now putting everything away, but the move was not bad, since it is LITERALLY (tee hee) one block away from our old place. No, really. And, despite a leak here, our new landlord has already dealt with it, and we no longer have dripping water. Much better, thank you.

Disney World

We were saving money to go to Germany and the Czech Republic, but then the value of the American dollar went down the crapper. Then, we thought we might go on an Alaskan cruise, but it was just out of our travel budget range that we'd have to wait until next year to go, so Brian and I decided on Disney World. Snicker if you like, it really is the happiest place on Earth, and we had said a long time ago that we'd really like to go once before we have
kids (if that ever happens). We stayed for eleven days/ten nights, which you would think would have been plenty of time to do everything, which was the original plan. In the end, we spent a couple days alone, then Brian's parents came for a while, and the day they left, our friends Mike and Andrea joined us. The trip was much crazier than when first planned, but we had so much fun seeing everyone. Disney World is the one place I feel I can completely let go and embrace the cheese. I would never go see something called Finding Nemo: The Musical anywhere else, but it wound up being really impressive. The actors are controlling puppets while singing, prancing around, and sometimes doing wire work. My favorite new attraction since I last visited Orlando is probably Fantasmic!, the nighttime park-closing show at Hollywood Studios combining projected movie images on water, fireworks, boats, and live-action sequences including the cutest dance by Mickey Mouse, you can't help but smile. Mission: SPACE was also very cool, since the simulator is likely the closest I'll ever get to actually achieving my lifelong dream of breaking the stratosphere. Expedition Everest is a pretty sweet coaster in the Animal Kingdom. This park was brand spanking new during my last trip to Disney nine years ago, back when it was tiny and all the animals were dying. It's much nicer now, tree-lined and shaded all the way through. The Tree of Life truly is a beautiful work of art, and our party got to see a lot of active animals close-up, such as white rhinos, tigers, gorillas, and even a baby giraffe. They've done a really nice job with that park. My favorite ride since I was a little kid is still Peter Pan's Flight, which we went on a total of four times during our trip. You get to float around in your very own Jolly Roger while witnissing the narrative of the classic Disney film.

And the food. We ate breakfast with Cinderella in her
castle, watched fireworks from the top of the Contemporary Resort, and racked up the most expensive single meal bill of our lives at Victoria & Albert's which is on many Top 10 lists of restaurants in the U.S. Clearly, I'm still a kid at heart, because a lot of adults think Disney World is lame, but I loved every second of it. They say Las Vegas is Disney World for grown-ups, but I hate Vegas, and have no desire to ever go back. (Except maybe to Red Rock, because it's gorgeous and away from the strip.) The main thing about Disney is their attention to detail. Whether people like working there or not, they are super friendly, and really want to make your trip feel special. We spent a lot of time searching for hidden Mickeys, to little avail, and it really was nice just to look around and point out signs on Main Street and Lady and the Tramp cameo brooches at Tony's Town Square. Where else is it actually interesting to wait in line? I felt a real respect for Walt Disney while on the trip. Sure, the company has taken some missteps since his unfortunate demise (The Swan and Dolphin, anyone?), but they have primarily kept his sensibility in mind. He was clearly a curious man with genuine interest in animals, technology, traveling, storytelling, and just the idea of being happy. I know it's not perfect, but even getting stuck on It's a Small World wasn't so bad. I don't really appreciate people who only go to Disney World for vacation, but it's definitely worthwhile. Oh, and in case I didn't have enough other desired destinations in mind, the World Showcase in Epcot really makes me want to visit every country represented.

5. The Olympics

They have begun! Brian has already worked out his schedule for the next two weeks, which includes going to bed at 1:00 AM, getting up at 7:00 AM, and running both the television and online feeds at all moments. I make fun, but really, his obsession just means I don't have to do any work to see the Olympics. I don't know why, but I love watching the games. Sure, George Bush was a complete moron during the opening ceremonies, and I'm not thrilled that our tax dollars have paid for a vacation to Beijing for him and every relative you can name, but it's still just too cool. Sadly, Mr. Must from Estonia was crushed during his badminton match in the wee hours of the night, but who knew the Americans would sweep women's sabre? What a love story between the Emmonses of air rifle fame! How about that guy from Africa who couldn't swim in 2000? I bet someone else won't know anything about their sport and NBC will do a human interest story on it! Even though I prefer the winter games because I get to watch a lot of biathlon (not joking), the summer Olympics are cool, too. I can't wait for gymnastics to start. I don't really like most sports with such a level of subjective judging, but gymnastics was my childhood love, and I dreamed that I'd one day compete in a world arena such as this. No such luck, but I still get to watch it on TV. Oh, and even though lacrosse is not played by enough countries to be a sport included, I get to watch stuff that's never on ESPN, ESPN2, or The Ocho, like hand ball, water polo, and rowing. Now I just have to make sure Brian bathes in the next fortnight.

So there it is. What's up with you? I hope you haven't completely given up on this blog. I'm going to try to do better. If a chick can run a marathon in under three hours, I'd like to think I can sit my butt on the couch and type for half an hour every once in a while. Vote for next week's topic!

Friday, April 4, 2008

"She's the Man" Is Funnier than You Think

I just wrote most of my blog post, and then accidentally hit control + n, which promptly gave me a new, blank blog. I was going to just list my top 5 blog posts for the week, but I'm not quite that lame.

Oi with the poodles already.

Top 5 Shakespearean Plays

1. Hamlet
2. Macbeth
3. Much Ado about Nothing
4. Twelfth Night
5. King Lear

Ask me why later.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Time Is on My Side... Yes It Is

Without going into any detail whatsoever, suffice it to say I feel surrounded by people in the midst of change. What's funny about drastic change in one's life is that it is never speedy. It seems as though if something huge were going to occur which would change your entire future--love, health, career, what have you--that it would be sudden. You can be a certain person one day and once you've made a decision, or fate has thrown its fist upon you, or you've heard different news, things would suddenly then be different. Alas, it is not so. You must make arrangements once things change. You must plan your calendar. You must make many calls. You must balance your budget. Then, you must wait.

I once heard about some survey that said Americans hate waiting more than anything else. Though vague, I guess I can relate. Sometimes bad news is better than "wait and see," and sometimes you already know exactly what's going to happen, you just need to sit around and let it come. There are great things to wait for, too, though we don't need surveys to explain the things we like to do; we'd rather just enjoy those things in the moment. We use words like "anticipate" and strangely "can't wait." I hope the people I'm thinking about can find ways to sanely get between now and what they're waiting for. In the mean time, you can waste your waiting on my lists, or even make your own.

Top 5 Things I Love to Wait For

1. Someone's Plane to Arrive
Maybe you're not really into picking people up at the airport, but I love it. These days, I tend to take the light rail into the airport and then I wait for friends or family at the baggage claim. The first great thing about waiting for people to arrive is that they have endured nauseating take-offs and landings and breathing in stale air just to see me. The second great thing is that the second I see someone I am expecting, and the second they see me, I grin and everyone walks a little faster and we hug each other, and there's so much to say. For the most part, these are happy occasions. On top of all this, I get to be an expert. I have usually planned all the fun things we'd do in my hometown, and then we get to go do all those things. What's better than a trip?

2. Class to Start
I never leave work for the last minute. I used to, but these days, I'm so anal retentive about getting my work done ahead of time that I set the time right before class aside. I ride the bus or Brian drops me off, always with tons of time to sit around and wait before class starts. (Yeah, I'm also anal retentive about being on time.) So, before classes start, before the work and thinking begin, I can sit and relax. I always have a book to read. I listen to music on my headphones. Those are two of my absolute favorite activities. When other people get there early, I get a few minutes to talk to my classmates and better get to know them. We must cherish our stress-free moments.

3. A Movie
I love going to the movie theater. I will go and see some of the most awful moving pictures ever made if it means getting to go to the theater. I get my ticket, maybe some popcorn if I'm in the mood for it and my budget allows. Once I'm in the theater (preferably early) I pick my seat--in the center and little towards the back so I'm looking slightly down at the screen. After all the annoying ads for Coca-Cola and undoubtedly a recruitment mini-film for one of the armed forces, most theaters play their ridiculous rules across the screen. You know, don't smoke, be quiet, turn off your cell phone. Most of these sets of screens are highly entertaining in their own right. Then comes the best part of the movie-going experience: the trailers. Somehow when you see them at home they're just annoying commercials, but in the theater, previews can be so fun and entertaining you're sorry they're over. If you see enough of them, you can't even remember what movie you came to see in the first place.

4. Christmas
You can blame the malls and superstores all you want, but Christmas starts in September for me, too. I actually usually start my shopping before that, at the end of the summer. I go way overboard for this holiday, shopping for people, spending my allowance money on gifts and decorations, and making things. I get very crafty at Christmas. I bake a lot. I make handicrafts and force them upon people. The thing about Christmas is that it evokes happiness. Even the people who "hate" Christmastime are laughable. They never have a good reason. If they hate commercialism I just tell them not to buy anything. If they aren't Christian I tell them that doesn't mean they can't like sparkly lights. If they have a problem with winter, then they have a problem with nature--and that is way bigger than a holiday. Oh, I love December 25, but I love December 24 more, because it all lies ahead.

5. The Alarm Clock
I hate nothing more than waking up in the morning. It doesn't matter if I've gotten plenty of sleep with a great day ahead of me--I just don't react well to the waking process. Once I hit that snooze, I don't mind the time before it goes off again. In fact, I relish it. What's even better is when I somehow--miracle of miracles--wake up before the alarm goes off at all, and I just lay there. It's warm and snuggly. Sometimes Brian is there, sometimes my dog or a cat. Sometimes I curl up and hug the spare pillow, and other times I stretch out to all corners of the bed.

May you all make it to the time you're waiting for. Do what you can not to waste the time until then. If you're that bored or anxious, give me a call. I just might answer my phone.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

If Food Be the Music of Life, Eat On

My god, did I eat today. Erin and Scott came up from Rochester to shop and hang out. Do you ever just make a list of everything you consumed in one day? Hmm... let's see:

1 cup hot black tea
1 cup grapefruit juice
1 bowl Caramel Crunch cereal with milk (not as good as it sounds)
2 large Irish breakfast iced teas from Caribou
1 hunk French bread with dip
3 pieces crunchy breadstick-thingummies
2 more glasses of iced tea
1 egg salad sandwich
Side of fries
4 more glasses of iced tea
3 lettuce wraps of black laab
2 scoops fried rice with guacamole
1/2 skewer of chicken tikka masala with rice and vegetables
3 small spoonfuls of elote
bunch of marshmallows with chocolate, hazelnuts, and a cinnamon cookie

It makes me never want to eat again. Yet, how satisfying is it to just feed yourself really well with delicious food for a day? When I know I'm going to have a great meal, I look forward to it days in advance. I just enjoy food. Perhaps you can tell by looking at me, but I'm definitely going to have to find a way to get in shape by exercising, not in giving up my favorite foods.

I've had some great meals in my life. Victoria and Albert's at Walt Disney World serves ridiculously good multi-course meals (and they're a little pricey), but it's nice to get a little gussied up only to suck in my gut two hours later. My sister has taken me to The Lobster a couple times, the restaurant where's she's worked in Santa Monica Pier for the last eight years. I even make some killer (and perhaps artery-clogging) quesadillas on my stove at home. Perhaps the best meal I've ever had in my life was at our hotel on our honeymoon in Pärnu, Estonia. Brian and I were served a five course meal complete with two bottles of wine and cognac. For the record, I will never drink cognac again, but I'm glad I tried it. Each course was brought into our suite, which had windows overlooking the beach, and was decorated with red roses.

What makes food so great is the rest of the experience. The following are my favorite restaurants. They're not 5-star cuisine, but I have good memories from these places, hanging out with friends and family. I could go back to any of these restaurants and have stories to tell.

Top 5 Eateries

1. Dunn Brothers North, Rochester, Minnesota
"Seriously?" you're probably thinking. Besides the delicious Mocha Ice Cremas, this is one of my favorite places to eat lunch with my lady friends when I visit Rochester. I tend to order the veggie quiche of the day and a Caesar salad. For a special treat, I'll get a loaded shortbread. Who wants much more than that for the midday meal, anyway? Sure, the food isn't spectacular, but I was mighty disappointed when I visited a Dunn Bros. elsewhere in the state and realized that there was nothing good to eat. My favorite memories from Dunn Bros. are my old Fridays with Brian. When we still lived in Roch, I'd pick Brian up early from work every Friday and we'd go hang out at the DB and play Trivial Pursuit while the live musicians set up for the evening. I love dating my husband.

2. Pearl Cafe, Denton, Texas
The best things I got out my time at the University of North Texas are a few great friends and a plethora of learning experiences. That's code for being around a lot of idiotic people and figuring out how to avoid similar people for the rest of my life. Jen was right there learning alongside me. After both being ousted from a certain social group, she and I would walk to this now defunct Chinese restaurant about a mile from campus every single Sunday. We would proceed to spend about five bucks while the servers brought us plate after plate of delicious MSG-infused food, while we attempted to make sense of the splintered relationships we possessed with this particular group of people. Best crunchy noodles ever.

This is why I can't stand Domino's. I don't even acknowledge most national chains as producing food remotely related to pizza. I grew up eating pies on the boardwalk by the shore. This is the stuff you have to fold in half because the slices are so thin and huge, they'll otherwise fall apart. Throw a little pepper or basil on that stuff and it's perfect. You can load it with toppings if you want, but cheese is just fine with me, because the sauce and crust is nothing to cover up.
4. Bohemia Bagel, Prague, Czech Republic
I practically slept at this place when I was living abroad. Once, twice, or even three times a day I'd dip my bagel in their tomato soup before spending some spare crowns on the Internet to email all my friends back home. I'd entitle all my letters according to the lyrics of the song I was listening to. This was where I met--and met up with--other expats. I had to cross through Old Town Square to get to the place from my Metro stop, and once I even saw Matt Damon briefly on my way to Bohemia Bagel. He was in town filming The Bourne Identity.

5. Magnolia Cafe, Austin, Texas
I had dropped out of high school and was waiting to find out whether I got into college or not the summer my sister came home from her freshman year at UCLA. A little after midnight, Sarah and I wanted to find a cup of coffee, so we went cruising around South Austin. That's when we found Magnolia, the digs I can't go without patronizing every time I visit Austin. I bring everyone there, and all the food is delicious. Every town deserves a 24-hour greasy spoon. Every person deserves their own Magnolia Cafe.

I have stories from all these places, just like I have stories behind the most delicious meals of my life. As I look forward to the next couple months, I know I'll be eating in Las Vegas and Denver with my sister. Brian and I hope to vacation somewhere we've never been before, and I'd even like to explore Minneapolis a little more. I hope I come home from these experiences with a little more than a full stomach.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My Approval Is the Kiss of Death

Okay, so I didn't quite get my blog in under the wire last night, 'cause the post was just after midnight, but I figure it was before I went to bed, so it counts for Monday. Maggie doesn't believe that I can do this every day this week, but I consider that more of an incentive to accomplish my goal. It's so sad when I feel like someone doesn't believe in me. You know, that makes me think of how people just don't give enough chances to others sometimes. Don't worry, Maggie, I'm not talking about you anymore. I'm talking about this corporate world that art must somehow find a place in.

It's strange how individuals or groups of people put their hearts and souls into dance, movies, paintings, writing, what have you, only to have some dink with a business degree say it's not good enough. What's more, getting a big break often isn't big enough. There are constantly critics, agents, managers, executives, producers, and any other number of gate keepers ready to slam you out the door without notice. You're only as good as your last moment, and if the general public didn't receive it well according to who knows what kind of arcane system, you're out, and you might never see the inside again.

I know a lot of people ready to poo poo television without a second thought. Don't get me wrong, it's fine by me if you don't really watch the tube. There are plenty of mediums I don't like: online gaming, musicals, roleplaying. However, I'm not about to say I'd never enjoy any of those things, or that there's no possibility I'll ever find myself addicted to one. So here's the thing--television, like all art media, is full of a lot of crap. But if you can sift through the crap like I have, you'll find some real gems. And just when they show you enough for you to fall in love, they'll cancel it on you. Hey, I'm defending television here, not CEO's.

*Note: Brian has requested that I link to more external sites on my blog. Look out for clicking fun, and may the interaction begin.

Top 5 Brilliant but Cancelled Television Programs

Before The West Wing and long before Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Aaron Sorkin created and wrote this half-hour comedy about the behind-the-scenes life of the employees of a SportsCenteresque highlights show. Yes, it's like he stole his own idea for Studio 60, but decided to make it a lot lamer. If you can get past the horrible (HORRIBLE) laugh track, you will find yourself rolling on the floor. Peter Krause is cute but manipulative, his usual MO. Joshua Molina is cute but dorky, again, his usual. Josh Charles is just cute. None of the women are cookie cutter, and the dialogue is fabulous. If it weren't for his ear for human speech patterns, I wouldn't have a shred of respect left for Sorkin. He's great at what he does, but it's no exec's fault this show went off the air. He left it in order to do West Wing, and when you're as big of a control freak as he is, you leave no one behind to pick up the pieces. If any of you did watch Studio 60, Matthew Perry's character is Aaron Sorkin, complete with autobiographical relationship problems projected onto the small screen for all of America to see. I really feel bad for Kristin Chenoweth.

Boy, do I like puzzles. You might remember this show as the mystery produced by Ben Affleck and that other guy where some lucky viewer would win a million+ bucks for putting the clues together by the end of the season. It was only supposed to run for a total of 13 episodes anyway, and it made it through 7. It had to have been pretty bad, right? Unfortunately, the gimmick wasn't necessary, and it might have even dug a deeper grave for the show. This one just turned out being way too weird for most of America, and if viewers hadn't tuned in for the first one or two, they might have felt it wasn't worth catching up, since they hadn't seen the presentation of the first two episodes' clues. I'm not sure how Lost can do so well and Push couldn't, but perhaps it was a little ahead of the curve on prime time esoteric entertainment. What I really loved about this show were all the little details, the red herrings, the interconnected touches which turned out to be literary allusions and historical references. It was smart, and I was upset that Mr. Daredevil wouldn't just front a couple more bucks to finish out the season himself. Well, 'vongilnail' you, Mr. Affleck.

Jason Bateman, marry me. Talk about tying up loose ends. Nothing happens in this show that doesn't come back later, and that might be what killed it. There can be a line at the beginning of season 1 and you've got to wait until the middle of season 2 to hear the punchline. Continuity is the key to such writing--that and a lot of ad libbing, planned bleeped expletives, a hook hand, a seal, a cooler, and something that looks like a photograph of the Iraqi desert but...well...isn't. This show effects my daily life. Every time I call up Jimmy, I greet him with a "Hey, brother." I like to yell "No touching" at every available moment, and I still think that breakfast is the most important thing, not family. I will never hear "The Final Countdown" the same way again. Countless lines just pop into my head from this show, and it seems the critics were really happy with it, too. Apparently when the movie finally comes out, it will be me and six other people with light-up clicky pens in the theater. Unfortunately, it wasn't making enough money for the execs. Perhaps they should have looked in the banana stand.

The tagline says it all: "What high school was like for the rest of us." Think My So-Called Life without the drama. And that's the thing about high school really, isn't it? There was pretty much zero drama in my life as a teenager. I've made more of an interesting story out of those years now that I'm well into my twenties than how I felt about them at the time. I was over high school. I was over the drama. By the time I dropped out, I was over every kind of organization imaginable. Enter the kids of Freaks and Geeks. They're a bunch of rag tag kids who don't have anything figured out, don't talk like psychoanalysts, don't get into any real trouble, and don't really accomplish anything either. For those of us who didn't have our lives mapped out at 15, this is the show to watch. Plus, it's a Judd Apatow program, so virtually everyone who starred in it is now recognizable to anyone who went to the movie theater last year.

The mother of all cult shows. You've got this dead girl. Everyone in town is a suspect. Throw in a giant, a dancing dwarf who talks backwards, a smiling bag, a man with only one arm, and the smell of burning motor oil, and you've got yourself the most fascinating murder case ever seen on TV. K Mac plays the lovable FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper with a penchant for damn fine coffee and cherry pie. By the time you find out who killed Laura Palmer you're so much more interested in the goings on of the rest of the town, it just might make you a little sad how soon the dead are swept away. Or are they? That new girl looks so familiar...

I've done little justification for these awesome shows. I considered a lot of other options: Journeyman, Love Monkey, Lucky, My So-Called Life, Firefly, Eerie, Indiana. I guess I just shouldn't ever become a network decision-maker--I'd drive it into the ground with fabulous programming.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Internet Killed the Video Star

You know how you have those "go to" things? As soon as all my laundry's clean, the first thing I put on is my navy and grey striped long-sleeved "favorite tee" from the Gap. If I've got twenty minutes on my computer before my bus leaves, I do a crossword puzzle on When I need to throw a snack for later in my backpack or for a car ride, it's a peanut butter chocolate chip Quaker granola bar. In junior high, I used to walk to my friend Andrea's house with her because it was just a few blocks away. We'd sit in her basement and pretend to do homework while we talked and watched MTV-- back in the video days.

We have these patterns, comforts we zone in on while running on autopilot. But every once in a while, the "go to" changes, or something surprises us. I'll grab that shirt that's been hanging in the same place in my closet for months because suddenly I feel like wearing something else. I'll completely forget to do the daily crossword. We run out of granola bars and I don't bother to pick them up on the next grocery trip. And the ultimate happy surprise: the mundane strikes me. Dozens of viewings of "Black Hole Sun" and suddenly the conversation with Andrea stops because another video has come on, something I've never seen before--the song is great, the video is innovative--it's terrific. Thing is, art can do that to you. It creeps up in your life without warning, and you must suddenly concentrate on something you didn't know existed ten minutes before. You think about it driving in your car or falling asleep. I wish I had come up with it first. I know that somehow I could have come up with it. Yet somehow, I wonder how anyone came up with it.

The following is my salute to the music video, the ultimate in collage art. It starts by taking someone else's art, and then a team of people work together to interpret it for mass consumption. I have respect for that. So, this is for Andrea, who was a teenager with me. It's for my parents, who wouldn't let me watch MTV, even though I always did. And it's for all of you who remember watching videos on MTV. Perhaps we can all now appreciate our parents' and grandparents' "when I was your age" stories. Next time some teenager mentions The Hills, I dare you not to think, "When I was your age, they had music on music television."

Top 5 Music Videos

1. "Sledgehammer" Peter Gabriel
The first time I saw this video I just thought "What the heck is this?" Granted, I was five or six years old, but that didn't mean I couldn't watch crazy claymation and animation timed up with bizarre lyrics I didn't understand. When I think of the phrase "music video," I go straight to dancing chickens; every time I see them, I become nostalgic for the time I was a teenager in the 80's--which I never was. See how art can take you to a different time and place?

2. "Sabotage" Beastie Boys
I'd like to start this explanation with a shout-out to Bakes, who managed to work this piece into as many M.Ed projects as possible. A little director known by the name of Spike Jonze is responsible for the funniest fake detective show ever to grace the small screen. Beastie Boys + rugs and 'staches + hood slides = high art. Check it.

3. "You Can Call Me Al" Paul Simon
I have known all the words to Graceland for as long as I remember. Seriously, how many little kids can recite "Boy in the Bubble" without the music playing? At any rate, the video's got Paul Simon wandering in and out of an all white room playing various instruments heard in the song while Chevy Chase lip syncs along. I know I'm not the only Gen Xer who thought Chevy Chase was Paul Simon for a while.

4. "Undone (The Sweater Song)" Weezer
Spike Jonze strikes again. Maggie commented on my last entry that Rivers Cuomo was in her Top 5 guys, and he hasn't ever been far off my list. I have more of a love affair with the entire band, though that hasn't stopped me from naming my car after the lead singer. (Come on, my car is blue, rivers are blue, and Rivers is blue). Anyway, The group is just singing the song on a stage in an empty auditorium, but things start to go a little strange. By the time a bunch of dogs are released from backstage, I'm sold. My favorite moment is when Pat runs around his drum kit hitting the cymbols, and he barely makes it back to his seat in time to keep the beat. There's something so simple about this video, yet it is an excellent metaphor for the song itself.

5. "Reptilia" The Strokes
And here it is: my "go to" video. Every once in a while, I just need to watch this. It's like a fix. No matter what is going on in my life, this three minutes and forty seconds is always there for me. Please don't take my lust too seriously--this is not merely an opportunity to watch Julian Casablancas for a couple minutes while I listen to a good song. As soon as I hear the opening notes, I'm giddy; my heart flutters like it did in eighth grade when a certain boy walked into the room. This is, in my opinion, the perfect video. You can't beat a well directed performance video, and this so nicely, so eloquently, so minimally shows the viewer exactly how those boys play their instruments. This is all about control, and knowing when and what not to show. In fact, the faces of the band members are secondary to tight shots of hands on strings and frets. I believe Mr. Casablancas' face is shown only as much as it is because his mouth is his instrument, not because he is the lead singer. When you do see the other guys, they are too into what they're doing to care that a camera is there. It's so personal, like the viewers are invited into a private session. By 3:08--for lack of a more vulgar expression--I lose it. Best use of split screen ever. If you don't get this video, you don't get me.

So go spend some time on YouTube, or, ironically, I bet it's been a while since you sat around watching music videos, and I bet you've missed it a little bit. Despite no real fruitful outlets for showcasing, there are still a lot of great videos being produced out there. You might not consider it art, but I do. It's a lot of work to interpret someone else's story, whether it be a book, a painting, or a song, and when a group of people can come together to create one coherent vision of that art, I'm impressed.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Am It Love? Meee Think So!

Right, so, my apologies to all my adoring fans. In recompense, I promise a new entry every day next week from Monday through Friday. It has been way too long since last I made a list for all to view. Thing is, no school excuses allowed. That was my excuse for three weeks, but I haven't been stressed about that in a while. To be completely truthful, something with my health came up and I've been pretty worried and didn't want to blog until I found out the results. Long story short, the doctor does not have to slice my neck open and remove one of my vertebrae. But don't worry, we're checking again on that next year. I'll keep you posted... ha ha! Get it? It's a blog, and I'll keep you posted. Oh, I slay me.

Well, moving right along... let's talk about love. Not very many of these posts will be directly influenced by the sitcom Friends, but this is one of them (no, I will not be listing my five favorite "Friends"... aww, poor Monica). In an episode around season three, the friends are hanging out in the coffee house and discuss "the list." Basically, everyone gets five celebrities that they can sleep with sans any ramifications from significant others--that's right, a free pass. I'll spare you the details of the episode (you can go Netflix that gem, if you simply must know), but the point is, Brian and I have been a little obsessed with our lists since about the time we moved in together around the turn of the century. Our deal is that we can rotate the people on our lists, but the other one must be familiar with the current roster of the other. It actually winds up being fun, and has really opened up our relationship to comments such as "He's hot" or "I'd do her" while participating in pop culture-related activities. We're truly on a whole other plateau.

Top 5 Celebrities I Get to Do and Still Stay Married

1. Topher Grace
I love him. He's been on my list since I knew this clause was allowed within a committed relationship. His comic timing is phenomonal. What can I say? The tall, skinny boys get to me, and even though the Pong-playing-Star Wars-loving-boy-next-door Eric Forman is fictional, I sense he is not all that different in real life. What other celebrity holds weekly Monopoly games with only non-famous friends?

2. Jon Stewart
The host of the Daily Show is the only other guy who's managed to stay on my list since its inception. When it comes to an older man, I will definitely take one who is hilarious, smart, and hot. Who doesn't like this guy? My quippy vocabulary will never be the same after I saw that man shake his fist and yell, "Ratzinger." And, despite wearing suits and hiding behind his corresponence desk, I'm pretty positive this man has exceptional legs, because he was a college soccer player. Oh, and he lives in New York City, the best town in the world.

3. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
You might know him as the kid on Third Rock from the Sun, but I don't. I never watched that show, but I've really fallen for this guy in Brick and The Lookout. He has true acting talent, and he is a good reason to go see something like Stop Loss (sorry ladies, Ryan Phillipe is not an acceptable justification to shell out $8.50). Rumor has it he's even good Mysterious Skin, directed by Gregg Araki. Araki is the guy that brought Nowhere into this world, a film only topped on my list of worst movies of all time by Anti-Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Seriously, unless your definition of a great film is spotting the acting triumvirate of Staci Keanan, Denise Richards, and Shannen Doherty don't bother. Gregg Araki: I will hunt you down and kill you... no, I don't make threats, I'm just a fan quoting. But I digress... Mr. Gordon-Levitt owns his roles and picks interesting ones when he could be doing romantic comedy shlock.

4. Julian Casablancas
Lead-singer of the Strokes. He writes great lyrics, he's part of one of my favorite bands, and he doesn't really worry about bathing. He's got the right priorities. All the boys in this band are totally fab... okay, one of them is Fab, but... I'm sorry. I'm officially checking the puns at the door. I don't know what's wrong with me today. At any rate, the Strokes is one of the rare bands that I fell in love with instantly. I generally have to listen to an album once or twice, leave it alone for a while (often months) and then go back to it to form a general opinion. In the case of all three of this band's records, I loved them immediately, and I remember that this is one of the groups I really did get to first. I got Is This It right when it came out and told all my friends about it. I don't take credit for their success (I think it's stupid when people feel they have more of a right to art because they discovered it first), I just feel good that I let other people know about great music. Oh yeah, he's also cute.

5. Thom Yorke
The rock stars are taking over. At one point, my list was completely actors, but music's more my thing. Beck was on it for a while until I found out he was a scientologist. Not attractive. Either how, Yorke is truly a musical genius, as I've mentioned once or twice in the past. There are not very many people in the world I truly consider to be genius, but he is. His music is like no one else's (and he's got a kickin' band with just as much talent). It's Radiohead, man. What can I say? Just go listen.

And the runners up...

Christian Bale has been the sixth guy on my Top 5 List, and Brian even accepts this, but for purposes of this blog, 6 ≠ 5. Perhaps we could call this the "Top 5 + 1 Celebrities I Get to Do and Still Stay Married." My co-heart will get that one. At any rate, the Dark Knight is as good as on my list, but he was the one chosen to be put down here because I think enough girls are already in love with him, particularly girls I know, so I don't want to step on any toes.

I've always said that Ryan Adams would make the list if he weren't so drugged up. Apparently he has recently gone straight, but I'm going to wait and see. It needs to be at least 5 years from the day he fell off a stage and broke his wrist for me to consider him sober.

Last, Milo Ventimiglia is the epitome of my "type." However, I only seem to love him when watching Heroes or old episodes of The Gilmore Girls, and for me, absence does not make the heart grow fonder.

Whenever I share this list with people, they tend to be surprised by how "unhot" my list is. I guess I like famous people who don't act very famous. You never hear stories about these guys breaking the law, and I've never scanned any of their pictures on the cover of Tabloids while waiting in the grocery line. When it comes down to it, I like guys who are good at what they do, and I consider these specimens to be quite talented. They also tend to be a little on the dorky side. Takes one to know one. So, I'm only going to go for a guy I respect, even when I'm completely disrespecting myself and my marriage while climbing into the proverbial elevator at the Oscars.

But none of this will ever happen. I don't mean to gloat, but I got the best guy there is for me. He's the Eric to my Donna, the Stewart to my Colbert, the P.I. to my femme fatale, the juice to my box, the paranoid to my android, and yes, even the Jum-Jum to my Mio. Brian took care of me the whole time I was worried about this whole medical thing, and the rest of these guys barely did anything. I'd be lying if I said I didn't listen to In Rainbows in the last couple weeks, but I tend to need a little face time with my men.

I love Cake.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I Drink Your Milkshake

Brian and I pulled one of our classic triple-features at the theater yesterday. I've been paying for it all day today by doing an ungodly amount of homework, but it was well worth it. We started off the day with There Will Be Blood... and was there. But I'll get back to that. After that we saw the Academy Award-nominated short films, both live-action and animated. The live-action flicks were all so-so, begging us to utter the question, "This is the creme de la creme of twenty-five minute movies?" It's not that any were bad. In fact, they were all very well done. A couple were even very funny, but there just wasn't much energy. No spark. Call me an ugly American, but my favorite was the only English-language work--a western entitled "The Tonto Woman." Could have used some editing to make it tighter. However, when it comes to Oscar, my money's on "The Mozart of Pickpockets," a cute little French film about a cute little French thief... and two larger, older, bumbling ones.

Fueled by popcorn and smuggled Jimmy Johns sandwiches (frantically acquired two blocks away between shows), we made it to the animated shorts. These were much more entertaining and artfully rendered. Brian and I agreed on a Russian film created to look like a moving Impressionistic painting entitled Moya lyubov (the first part is linked below), but I wouldn't be surprised if a new rendition of "Peter and the Wolf" were the winner. Honestly, I could sleep fine knowing any of these won, especially since the Academy Awards don't matter that much anyway. I enjoy watching them and playing along at home, but we all like what we like, non? Oh, and keep on the lookout for the French short "Even Pidgeons Go to Heaven." It's like watching one of those Disney/Pixar shorts before Finding Nemo or Cars, except that the ending is akin to Nemo getting eaten in front of his father. Very funny.

2007 has been a banner year for film. I've truly loved a lot of movies to come out in the previous 12 months (plus a little, since it's February and all), and what's best is that I've enjoyed a range of genres more than in the past. I consider my appreciation of films to be varied in nature, and although I ultimately side with the critics when it comes to my absolute favorites, I have a secondary list of an additional 10 films (that's Top 15, people) from 2007 which really struck me, and they cover action, family flicks, and straight up comedy.

Top 5 Movies of 2007

1. There Will Be Blood
Just when I thought there was no more room in the great films list for last year, I finally managed to see this one. It blew me away. Not only is Daniel Day-Lewis undoubtedly a better actor than cobbler, little Paul Dano manages to stand up to him just fine. I think he should have been nominated for best supporting actor, but none of those Hollywood types seem to care what I think. Brian and I left the theater with completely different themes in our heads. He saw it as a statement about where the industrialization of oil has taken us since the turn of the last century, and I saw it as a character study on the Devil. When I got home, I looked up some other opinions, and I quite like the comparisons to Citizen Kane. I think we're all right. This film truly works on so many levels, I'm willing to use a cliche like that to explain. Paul Thomas Anderson's inspiration in Kubrick is both obvious and respectfully beautiful (this coming from a true Stanley fan), and Jonny Greenwood's score is finely integrated into the story. All hail the genius that is Radiohead (again, always, forever and ever). By the way, the great new way of letting someone know you own them (the title of this post) was taken from transcripts PTA read on the Teapot Dome scandal. Those crazy pundits of the past. On Friday I had a clear idea in my mind of my favorite movies of the year and then this one stole the number one spot, with a bullet. The rest are in no particular order.

2. No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers can do no wrong in my book. They are more prolific than any other writer-director-producer team that I can think of, though I can't think of any. They're certainly more agreeable to work with than most siblings I know. No offense to my personal kin, but I'm pretty sure we'd kill each other if we worked this closely together, and there's no way that murder scene would be nearly as cool and clean as those found in this flick. Oh, and the ending IS appropriate. For those who weren't big fans in the first place, give it a second chance some time, keeping in mind who's narrating the story. Or, read the book, because Cormac McCarthy ain't so bad, either. This was my top pick until TWBB stole its place.

3. Atonement
Absolutely beautiful. I haven't read the book yet, but writing students should be forced to read it or watch the movie in order to truly understand the power of point of view. To tell someone what this film is about would be to give it away, but suffice it to say that it's not always a lie just because you didn't tell the truth. This one should win best cinematography, hands down, and little Saoirse Ronan is the only one who could come close to giving Cate Blanchett a run for her money in the best supporting actress category.

4. Juno
Jason Bateman and Michael Cera. It's like a little piece of Arrested Development lives on in independent film land. Yay for another Minnesotan influence at the Oscars this year, as Diablo Cody truly understands what high school was like for the people who weren't any of those other people everyone remembers. I took it as a compliment when my brother said, "Not that Meaghan would ever get herself into a situation like that, but if she did, she'd be just like Juno." I'd like to think I act a little older than a 17 year-old at this point in my life, but I'm not putting any bets down. It's one of those movies that just makes you feel happy afterward, even with a few dialogical missteps. Honest to blog.

5. The Darjeeling Limited
I hold a special place in my heart for Wes Anderson. After what I consider a minor slip with The Life Aquatic (though I would adopt Willem Defoe), he's right back in full force with another dysfunctional family film. Anyone who can pull off three brothers carrying their emotional baggage in the form of chic Louis Vuitton matching luggage is okay by me. My theory about Anderson is that people with families who really are happy in their Christmas cards just don't connect in the same way as the rest of us. And come on, the Kinks, man.

The next 10 are my other top movies of the year. Numbers 6 and 7 barely missed the Top 5 cut-off and the rest are in no particular order.

6. Zodiac
Most disturbing murder scene ever.

7. The Lookout
Joseph Gordon-Levitt just can't seem to stay away from crime.

8. Bridge to Terabithia
Don't be fooled by the poor marketing--if you liked the book, you'll like the movie.

9. 300
Say what you want, this was just too cool to watch.

10. Waitress
There is life after cruddy prime time spots for Nathan Fillion and Keri Russell.

11. Knocked Up
Wow, is one of those things never coming out of me.

12. Ratatoille
Brian says: It's about finding out who you really are. Brett says: It's about a mouse.

13. The Bourne Ultimatum
In my opinion, this trilogy = perfect action moviemaking.

14. Superbad
Judd Apatow can do no wrong. Only Michael Cera can do the Guess Who justice... and I mean that.

15. Lars and the Real Girl
You'd think a movie with a blow-up doll as a prominent character would be awful, but you'd be wrong.

There they be. I await your responses.

P.S. Lisa, the larger print is for you.