Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 29, 2009
There are spoilers. If you don’t want to read me rant, skip this one, dear readers.
A lot of things happened this week. Many of them were good. Most of them involved people I was very happy to see. A small portion involved watching Avatar and The Great Mouse Detective with my new grad school friends, because that is very adult and sophisticated. Honestly, I find myself going back to the animated movies I loved when I was younger often. It’s interesting to see how much I missed when I was younger. I wonder that I ever understood what was happening; that there were actually nuances at work. This makes me very very excited.
You have to understand a little bit about how a English Major’s mind works, or at least, how it functions if operating properly and switched on. I cannot stop analyzing language, stories, symbolism, etc. The fact that I minored (a class and a half away from double majored) in art history means that I am literally doing this constantly. All. The. Goddam. Time. That Bob Evan’s sigh? That Champion Car Wash commercial? That encouraging billboard? I am already tearing it apart. If you’re lucky, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I can turn it off sometimes, if I talk myself through it. For instance, I turned it off for GI Joe, and had a great deal of fun with it. Don’t tell me it didn’t follow the ‘feel’ of GI Joe. Go watch the old movies again. There’s an example of something not as nuanced as I thought back then.
I did not turn it off for District 9, not knowing what to expect. I walked out of the theater thinking, more or less, “Well, that was a terrible movie. I would rather like my money back. Well, it’ll bomb out in a few days.”
But it didn’t. No! Worse than that, people flocked to it. Not the first time a large group of people saw a terrible movie. I was over it, but then I read the reviews. Apparently people found it moving, inspirational, a treatise on humanity. “What?” I said to myself. “In that mess of a movie? And on top of that, did anyone miss the racism? The massive, terrible racist overtones? No, not overtones so much as an enormous neon sign that said, ‘STERYOTYPE AHOY’.” Oh no. actually, they caught those, and defended them. Apparently the director, being from Africa, is exempt from racism. More than that, it’s creative. Apparently.
It bothered me. A little. I’ve ranted about it to anyone who will listen…or who won’t listen but will nod as if they are. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve lay awake at night and thought, “Why? Why does it bother me so much?” So, after that enormous introduction, here is why. No seriously, you don’t have to read this if you don’t want to.
I was going to pick apart plot holes and shallow characters, but let’s let that be. That is simply what makes this movie a bad movie, and not what makes it actively insulting. No, let’s talk just about that. Let’s talk about the Nigerians. Now, the fact that they are the Nigerians is important. They are not the “So and So Gang,” or a group of Nigerians, or anything like that. No. They are The Nigerians. If a movie used The Americans, we would assume that would be a group representing, in some small part, America. So, let’s look at how these Nigerians are portrayed. They are violent, involved in interspecies prostitution, and, my personal favorite, cannibalistic. Oh no, it’s okay. There’s a reason. It’s Voodoo. So, not only has the director insulted a culture, but also a religion.
Fun fact, Voodoo, actually comes from a word meaning, basically, ‘things which do things’. It involves the release of energy from a powerful object by putting a nail or piece of metal into it. It’s usually used to seal promises, very much like swearing on a bible. It actually originates from slaves in the Caribbean via the Congo. That is not, in fact, Nigeria. Oh also, it doesn’t involve cannibalism. Plus 10 points for style but minus several billion for sloppy writing, am I right?
Is it racist to assume that one of group of people believe and practice the same thing as another simply because they live in the same area and may look alike Yes. I think that’s the definition. Right there.
But culture is hard. It is difficult to fabricate complex characters in a system they inherited through birth, especially, in the case of a sci fi, when you have to invent one. This movie proves this. In the same way that the newest Star Wars movies co-opted a great deal of African Art to fill in the background, this movie used stereotypes in the place of plot and characters. The villains were white and Euro-American. The female lead was white, blonde, and in distress. Johannesburg was basically a blank slate, where people were devoid of all personality or expression save anger. The aliens were completely cultureless. They are aggressive, stupid, and violent, save Christopher.
I was aware, vaguely, that I was supposed to see Christopher as the undoing of this stereotype. However, I found it difficult as he was the only character shown in that way. Even in the last scene, when Wikkas is rescued, the aliens are savage and frightening. Even when Christopher speaks of them, they are ‘his people,’ a group of nameless stand ins for the downtrodden of the world. I understand, also, that we were supposed to be aware of a bias because of the documentary style. However, the style was dropped so often, that excuse is no longer valid.
This was presented as a movie about the escalation of violence resulting from cultural tension, and there was no culture. There was only violence. Violence as reason, plot point, and solution. It was also a film about humanity; about equal treatment and understanding. Yet the director saw fit to slander and insult vast swatches of the real world.
The sin of this movie is not that it was vapid, or silly, or full of explosions. The offense is in the lie of it. It presented itself as something intelligent and introspective; a real commentary on humanity. And it was, but probably not in the way everyone believes. It showed exactly what humanity will swallow, enthusiastically, so long as it follows our own view of the world.
This movies asks you to think, gives you an hour of swill, and allows you to leave the movie thinking you have. Yet, it’s still full of all the flash and emptiness of any Hollywood blockbuster. You were tricked. You were bamboozled. I know you were aware of it too. Most people have told me those scenes make them feel uncomfortable. There’s a reason, people! Don’t ignore that feeling! You like the thinking feeling! Now keep doing it!
Monday, August 24, 2009
Today I drove to nearby Lancaster, a good-sized town about an hour away. My GPS said there was a Borders there. My GPS lied. As every other major book store was an hour and a half to two hours away. It was one of the places in my life I went to just be, to wander; to look and make lists in my head of all I wanted to read, do, go; see. I used to go there late at night because it was the only place in Brighton that was open late. I held a period of mourning in my car. It was like leaving another old friend.
Yesterday I pulled into the stable and there, by one of the bends in the drive way, was a dog. He was black with brown accents around his face and chest. He was obviously a lab mix, but only about knee height. He moved in long, fluid strides that brought up visions of a dressage pony. I got out carefully, and presented my hand. He licked it, and I figured that was about the best greeting I could imagine. He followed me to the pasture to retrieve Tristin. He followed me to the ring where I let my horse wander around and I sat down to read. He sat next to me. From time to time he would get up and wander away; jogging across the field to touch base with the trees, or startle a flock of birds into flight. I tried all sorts of names for him, Boris, Constantine, Bingo, Fido. Nothing at all worked. So, I called him Random Dog, which he actually responded to. “Whatcha doin, Random Dog?” I’d ask, and he’d loll his head back at me and smile.
Finally, without warning, Random Dog jumped off and jogged across the pasture. When I looked up, he was gone. 15 minutes later I became curious. Where had Random Dog gone? I watched a small red tailed hawk circle the field. Had Random Dog been content to make friends with me than abandon me to lick the hand of someone else? Was I so much chopped liver? I felt entirely cheated upon. So, I slipped under the fence, carful not to bump the electric wire. I set off through the wet grass, following my canine guide.
I was glad to see that, among the more familiar daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace, a few Amaranth stretched their purple heads out of the grass. If I had to name a favorite flower, it would probably be Amaranth. They’re a strange flower. They’re rather fluffy, either in a cone shaper or a ball. Usually they’re ignored for their own beauty and used as edging; almost never in bouquets. They symbolize the immortality of love. I’ve always found them charming.
At the edge of the field there was a line of thin trees against the wire fence. On the other side, a dog watched me, but not my dog. This dog stood in the endless field beyond, a beautiful painting perfect bird dog in brindle and white. Beyond him, a charcoal black gray hound looked into the distance. The bird dog looked at me steadily, as an aristocrat meeting an equal. It was becoming clear to me that Ohio had decided that all my stories would be animal stories. It was also clear to me that I would not name these dogs. If I was to name every ghost animal that the Ohio wilderness offered me, I would never be done. I took a few steps, losing the dogs behind a tree. When I could see the field again, they were gone, no doubt called back into the sky, or sucked into the grass.
As I climbed back up the hill, I caught another glimpse of Random Dog, running along the lake. He slipped through a bush, and was gone. Maybe this is the land’s way of meeting me, in these tiny agents. Maybe this is her way of saying, “I do not have the things you left behind. I do not have book stores or tea shops. I have these flowers that last forever. I have the ghost of cats and dogs and birds with red tails, that guard me, that watch for me; that like you.”
Sunday, August 23, 2009
I have a longer post planned out, but this is good too. I tried a bit of Art Nouveau, as it's a style I enjoy. Then I made a very silly sketch with a Gryph-a-mantacore! For some reason Blogger insists the sketch come first. There's a lot of things about them I don't like, but I'll get better!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Yesterday I moved a glass top table between rooms. Actually I moved a glass top table from the back room to the outside patio. It was not a terribly difficult maneuver; requiring only direct application of strength, and the tiniest bit of ingenuity at the door jam. I was watched, carefully, by several new cats. They have been named as follows: silver and white polka dot: Darcy, Black with white socks: Wellington, Long haired black and white: Remi. They seemed to think I did a nice enough job with it and quickly went back to chasing cicadas. They are very forgiving taskmasters.
Last night I went to a show at Donkey with a few of the other grad students to see a band called Ukulele Typewriter. I had heard rumors about them before, and they appear to all be completely true. They consisted entirely of two men singing and playing, respectively, the Ukulele and percussion on a typewriter. They did various covers which were all, frankly, hilarious, in this new form. The night was actually cold and I felt inspired by the laughter wandering into the streets out of bars. My new friends seemed wonderfully free and confident. I wanted to stay out all night with no plans at all. I wanted to say to someone, “Let’s see how far we can walk then walk before we collapse! Let’s go find a body of water and jump in, fully clothed!” Really, I wanted to say, “Let’s do something!” And someone to answer, “Yes!” And leave it at that. I wanted to give birth to plans. I wanted to fall in love with everyone I passed on the street. I have no idea why. It was probably the caffeine. I wanted to run and join every party in the streets. But I didn’t. Euphoria or not, I returned to my house. That’s just me, I guess.
As soon as I sat down in the living room, my head exploded with pain. It wasn’t a normal, throbbing headache, but straight, shredding hurt. I tried to sleep, the best cure for a headache by far, but nothing would come. Around 3 am I finally got up, dizzy and furious with my body. Lying down only intensified the pain. Moving made it worse. Drinking made my entire skull throb. I scoured the house until I found something , anything that listed ‘headache’ as a treatable symptom. I took it and sat in the dark of the study and waited for the nails to fade. My cat, of course, had followed me downstairs. At the end of the study, the huge, windowed doors I had moved a table through were closed, now. Behind them I could see Zelda and her kittens lying on the chairs I had set up earlier. Claudette saw them too.
I had worried about what she might think of seeing outside cats. She had been abandoned as a kitten, and since then had no interest at all in outside. In fact, she would avoid any open door once she realized where it led. I kept her completely as an indoor cat. I didn’t want her to think that she was stuck; that she was trapped. It was quickly obvious that she didn’t feel that way at all. She sat, ladylike, in front of the doors, watching the kittens with mild interest. I realized that I was looking at a tiny, fluffy version of myself. She was an observer, separate from the community she was studying. It didn’t bother her. She was composed, collected, and vaguely curious. It was strangely peaceful. I passed her quietly. She jumped up to follow me. She was happy enough to just go to bed. When I woke today, she was curled against my shoulder. I felt fragile but painfree. I drove to the stable and rode for two hours, burying the frailty under sweat and dust and bruises and sore muscles. I went home feeling completely, and perfectly healthy.
Tonight I walked home from the cafe, alone. I felt, as any girl does in this position, vulnerable. I often wonder if guys feel like this, or is it only us? Someone yelled from a porch, “Hey baby, you’re lost. The party’s right here!” I laughed at the line, strangely braver for it. I found myself hoping that I would find that boy in one of my classes; the tables turned, the power tipped. These are the sudden transitions between strength and frailty that define our lives; moving objects through space, facing our pain in hand to hand combat, winning, walking alone in the dark, finding home.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
New black and white cat this morning. I’ve dubbed her Xena. I scared the tail off her by opening the blinds when she was leaning against the window. I felt mildly bad about it. But enough about kittens.
Let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about space. Spending a great portion of my day unpacking has given me of time to think. That is to say, I usually think far too much about things without consequence. However, having no one else in the house to stop me, and nothing to do but move objects the distance between their box and their new shelf, I have thought a lot. A moment to comment on another kind of space. The only major problem I have encountered is that while the house has a great deal of floor space it has very little practical storage space, or at least none where I need it. For instance, the garage is almost entirely composed of shelves, but I need more room for my clothes and books. It is an interesting predicament, needing space where I have so much.
During this period of object in motion, being able to turn off my decision making centers, my mind has actually traveled the entire distance of the arcs of mad thought to the strange and colorful land beyond. It’s a strange place. There are teaparties of the mind. The sewn from pulsing neurons in the weird unlight . Also, unicorns, which are surprisingly not of the mind at all, but of the right elbow, precisely where I banged it against the kitchen counter yesterday. They were rather in a bad mood about it.
Where was I?
Oh right. Space. Two days ago, again in my ramblings to find internet I came across a queer and magical land called Donkey Coffee. It turns out that in this place they make one hell of a delicious mocha latte, and also have a bohemian and snobbish air about the rooms that borders on perfection. At the counter there were a variety of CDs priced from 5 to 10 dollars. I picked up one called Flyaway Saturn. On the back, song number 2 I believe, was entitled Hello Han Solo.
“Well,” thought I to myself, “I am certainly more than willing to spend 5 dollars to find out what that song is about.”
“Other than Han Solo, of course.” I reminded myself.
“Of course.” I agreed.
It turns out that the entire CD is amazing. I’ve listened to it on loop in the car or while unpacking for the past few days. Most of it focuses on space travel, which, some of you may know, is a personal favorite trope of mine. I recall a conversation with Max over coffee in which he expressed trepidation over the concept of space, while I felt mostly excitement. Perhaps, I hypothesized, to me space is proof of the presence of a God, and not only a God, but a God who wants us to go out to find him; has made an effort to illustrate that possibility. Think about it for a moment. We are, essentially, in a box, but a permeable one, granted with some effort. If you will, a box with air holes punched in. It is possible that we could have been created in a box with no holes at all. As it is, we can see the light through the lid. Actually, perhaps a better analogy would be a mason jar. That too, is flawed because we can leave, if we really want to, and make the effort.
Alright so, what we really are is a butterfly in an open mason jar on an island in the middle of an endless, rolling, briny sea. There is no way, no possible way, that butterfly will stay in that jar, or even on that island. There is no proof that there is anything in an direction but the silent, rolling waves. Yet, what are the chances the butterfly, or it’s butterchildren, will remain on that stretch of sand? That, I say, is the nature of space and space travel.
This is, essentially, where I am now. Stay with me here. It’s easy to stay in my house, while everywhere around me the unknown exists without my interference. It is easy to think I am alone, and to ignore the possible existence of other butter-folk, or moths, or heck, I’d take a wasp. Last night I got a call from the other grad students, and I met them at the bar. I think Flyaway Saturn put it best in “Taking a Turn.”
“We need a rocket ship right now.”
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
In my constant quest to find internet over the past few days I’ve spent probably more time than I should at café’s and book stores. The intelligent, responsible thing to do would be to go home and unpack. Instead I am wasting time at a book store which has, charmingly, named all its drinks after famous writers. I am currently half way through Sappho, who is apparently a cherry mocha. Have I mentioned love this town?
If I were being honest with myself I might see clearly that the real reason is simply that I feel sequestered and confined in the big house. Neither of my roommates plan to show before September, and a trip to visit the only two people in town only served to heighten my sense of otherness. Not that they weren’t lovely people. Actually, I hope we can become friends, but they, being married, had formed that sort of comfortable cocoon of intimate life. I am fairly familiar with this, having lived with couples before. Usually it’s charming and adorable. At this particular moment it served to remind me that the closest friend I have has whiskers and enjoys playing with a sock.
Not that my cat isn’t a good companion. I do worry, however, what she will think when she discovers the multiple strays living outside our house. I see them mostly at night and in the morning, when it’s cool. It’s a silver and white mother, and at lest two kittens. I saw her this morning looking for them. She was sitting on my back stairs calling. It seemed silent to me, behind a glass window, but I could imagine the sound she made. She looked very much like my cat, only opposite. She had silver wherever Claudette had white, and visa versa. Finally, a tiny stripped and spotted kitten erupted from the bushes and collided with her, full of that ecstatic adoration of family. The two wandered away together, rubbing heads and shoulders.
I decided that they each need names, if only so I can talk about them at length and annoy all the non-animal folk of the world. The tiny stripped and spotted kitten needs something dignified, to temper that wildness, and to adjust for a life begun in the dirt. Reginald I think. The mother, being a tough, lanky lion of a cat, needs something strong. After much deliberation, I decided on Zelda. I do not have proof of the other kittens, so I will name them as they come. I hope I am getting genders right, but I suppose I can be forgiven for some discrepancy.
And now, having completed all my excuses for leaching the internet, and Sappho having been drained of all her cherry/chocolate goodness, I have no more excuses but to walk back home.
Monday, August 17, 2009
This is actually the post I wrote yesterday. I got up early to post it from an Internet café. Nothing of consequence has happened today. Stay tuned. Updates will be spotty until the Internet returns radiance and glory to my home.
And so, it begins. This morning I woke up to a phone call from my parents, who had helped with the final move the night before and now were staying in a nearby hotel. They wanted to have breakfast before they left. That was hours ago, so I imagine they are almost home by now and I am beginning to face the looming realization that there was no one in a radius of hundreds of miles who felt, even legally, responsible for me. No one who cares at all. This feeling was heightened by the fact that I discovered my new roommate had failed to keep up on the TV and the internet. It is remarkably upsetting. I feel horribly cut off from the world. I cannot stop imagining all the terrible things that could happen in my absence from information and how I would never know. I imagine finally turning on the TV and finding endless pictures of charred and smoking craters. I can’t even check the weather.
The weather, by the way, is hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. Hot. It is so hot Ryan Reynolds melted. What? I’m a girl. Shut up.
I find, however, despite the foreboding distance I have placed between myself and everything I have ever known, I like this place. I like the small, adorable town. I like that people smile back at me. I like that there are just as many small foreign cars as gargantuan trucks. I like that my cat seems to approve of her new home, playing on the stairs, running into the room to slide across the wood floor; giving me a heart attack by climbing in and out of the stair case railings, disappearing completely behind the whitewashed wood and reappearing with an unapologetic purr. I like that last night I feel asleep to the strange susurrus of Athens, a maddening combination of hundreds of cicadas and endless car tires over brick streets. Time and time again I woke as this noise reached a faint crescendo, convinced that someone was talking to me. It would fade and I would drift back through the uncomfortable midnight warmth, to sleep.
I spent the day unpacking, the details of which I will spare you. Suffice to say that my sense of hopeless banishment was only heightened by the heat of the day and the endless, endless pile of boxes.
I knew, eventually, when the temperature dropped to an acceptable level, I had to see my horse. I dragged him all the way down here, and I do not want him to feel abandoned.
I feel the need to defend the decision to bring a horse to grad school, as most people, especially those who do not own horses, will find it remarkably self centered and proof that I am completely spoiled rotten. Let me be clear, first of all, that I am ruling neither of these possibilities out. However, the facts of the matter are that my family has always accepted a lifetime responsibility for any pet we adopt. That means if we bring a cat, dog, mouse, snake, hamster, (and we have had all of these), or a horse into our fold, we have made a bond that the animal will have a home forever. So, we couldn’t very well abandon my best furry friend of 6 years.
I pushed for the decision to move him down with me because I was concerned that he would not be ridden enough. While I was an undergraduate, despite my urging everyone with paddock boots to jump on him any time, no one did. It may, and this is pure speculation, have to do with the fact that he is uncomfortable, slightly uncoordinated, bull headed, and overall difficult to ride, but I digress. Finally, I felt very certain that if I, myself, went two years without riding, I would die. I have ridden horses longer than I have done any other activity, save go to school. It’s as much a part of me as writing, as blue eyes, as an inclination to eat and breathe. Without it, that’s it. Me. Dead.
Of course, the super secret reason was that I was afraid of losing him. He is a 19 years old, Thoroughbred, designed to run and run and run, and then fall apart. I find myself sympathizing with Etain, from Karen Traviss’ Triple Zero, knowing that, inevitably, it will be me who loses him, and this loss is simply the design of the universe. Yes, that was a Star Wars reference. What? I am also a nerd. Shut up.
In any case, my mother reasoned that she could be paying board either way, and this way was probably best for both of us. So, here I am, in graduate school, with a horse. Not spoiled rotten. I swear.
Are you still there, dear readers? I am almost to the end of my day. Bear with me a little longer. Because, you see, this is the important part. Around 7 I pulled on a pair of boots and dripped to my car. It was still about 90, but it felt very cool. This should tell you just how hot it was. I pulled up to Pinnacle Farms, a lovely stable in Albany, about 10 minutes away from my house. My horse seemed agitated, but neither frightened or angry. He simply seemed upset that he could not be outside with the other horses on the farm. I’m afraid I insisted on this, since he is not used to being on grass all day. The last thing I needed was a sick horse. I brought him out and, in jumps and starts, managed to get him groomed and tacked. I found myself clumsy and lost in the new surroundings. I lost things, dropped them, knocked them over. I tried to stay calm, but I had about had it with feeling out of place. Finally, I climbed on and walked him outside.
A quick word is required on the geography of Southern Ohio. It is nothing like the north of the state. Here I am in the foothills of the mountains to the west. The land is dramatic; high and deep. Pinnacle Farms has an arena built on a high plateau and from here I watched the sun set behind the knotted forests. My horse moved as he had always moved, and I found myself adjusting to the familiar mobile of riding. Heels down. Shoulders back. His neck and ears up. His tail back and forth in the easy motion of flies. The sun sank and pulled the light off our shoulders. I felt the amazing calm of a human who knows what she is doing. This. I thought, is easy. I can do this. I can always do this. And just like that, I was invincible again.