Month: January 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

A long way from home

1.

We are two old friends catching up in a busy café. The smell of fresh bread wafts over the lunch crowd, everyone abuzz with pent-up energy from the rainy day and waning holidays. My friend is so tall that I feel like a child sitting across from him. But I listen attentively as he describes the various heartaches and struggles he has faced over the past four years.

Needing distance and a change, he has decided to leave our hometown and strike out on his own. I’m proud of him for making such a bold and difficult decision. I’m excited for him and all the new things he will experience. But I’m also sad that it has come to this, that he couldn’t find what he needed in the place where we grew up, with the people who were supposed to nurture him. He’s strong for all the wrong reasons.

Now he’s taking that strength and heading out a long way from home.

2.

When I left home over ten years ago, it was for college, not forever. At least, not intentionally forever. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know when — if — I will go back. I’m not opposed to living there again, but I’m not drawn to it either. I guess only time will tell.

Meanwhile, it’s harder than I expected to live far away from my parents. I worry about them a lot. About their age and their health. About their house and their cars. I worry about them working too hard and not eating very well. Most of all, I worry about whether or not they’re happy. And I worry about them worrying about me.

If you could put all of our worries into physical form and lay them end-to-end, maybe they would cover the the hundreds of miles that separate me and my parents. Maybe that’s their purpose, in a way. To bridge the gap. To connect us. To keep us intertwined, in each other’s hearts and minds, even when we’re far apart.

3.

This year, my mother and I will return to Taiwan for the first time in over a decade. I’m excited, and I’m scared. I can’t wait to see the teeming capital, taste fresh scallion pancake from a street vendor, smell the damp green mountains and the smoky sulfur pits. But what if Taiwan doesn’t live up to my treasured memories? Or worse: What if I don’t live up to Taiwan’s expectations of me?

I don’t know if everyone has these kinds of complicated feelings about their grandmotherland. I only know that I’ve been battling a sense of inadequacy my whole life, when it comes to my Asian heritage. Yet at the same time, it’s such a strong part of me. My values, my personality, my experiences. I don’t speak much Mandarin, but I sense there’s a deeper sort of language that I share with the place where my mother was born.

Maybe going back will prove that. Maybe not. I have to remind myself that either way, that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about visiting with family, both living and dead. It’s about walking the same streets that my mother walked as a child, and listening to her stories. It’s about introducing my husband to one of my favorite places on earth. It’s about reacquainting myself with the part of my heart that lies an ocean away.

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Stuff worth reading

I’m well beyond the point where I believe that anyone else’s process can offer me a magic path to or through my own. But hearing about how other writers work can still be interesting, informative, and inspiring.

In “Writer’s Block, Schmiter’s Block,” Marissa Meyer offers some really smart strategies to get yourself writing.

Then, in “From Idea to Finished,” she generously details her entire process in 9 posts.

This conversation with Chris Rock is fantastic. It covers everything (comedy, politics, creativity, being a father), and it completely reinforces my belief that being funny requires an incredible amount of intelligence.

(Note: I’m not saying he’s right about everything. Just that he’s thoughtful and smart.)

To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Last but not least, two great rants from my fellow “Wexlerites.” (Meaning that they are also represented by my agent Tina.)

“I See a Book and Get Angry and Write a Thing” by Anne Ursu

As Jensen says in an excellent essay: “Being fat isn’t a disability. Being fat is a physical state of being.”

Nobody tells you this when you’re growing up, but you can be fat and feel good about yourself. You can be fat and healthy. You can be fat and strong. And fat is just a word, that’s all—not an insult, not a feeling, not a moral failing.

What they might not know is the person next to them is sick—that the words they use warp into nourishment for a dormant eating disorder. What they might not know is they’re teaching the girls who listen to hate their bodies.

Your daughters are listening.

“Beware the Bitter Women” by Laura Ruby

When reviewers use gendered terms and expectations to review female writers, they reinforce stereotypes. That women—and their girl characters—should be quiet. That women writers should be non-confrontational. That women writers should be subtle or gentle or funny or absurd or ironic or even ridiculously vague in order not to alienate…well, who exactly?

Art exists not just to entertain—but also to challenge, to provoke, even to disturb. And no matter how funny/satirical/absurd/beautiful/heartfelt your writing is, when you’re asking thought-provoking questions that challenge the status quo—the way a sexist culture demeans girls, the way a racist culture endangers brown people—some readers might be lost in the process. Some might even find your work “hyper” or “preachy” or “strident,” oh my. But what if those readers aren’t the ones you’re writing for?

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“You don’t have a black role. You have an equal role.”

An amazing anecdote from Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura in Star Trek: The Original Series:

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Week in review (Jan 13, 2015)

  • Just before 2014 ended, I snuck in another Just Between Us column for my dad’s newspapers. “My Neighborhood, My Oasis” is a quiet piece. An attempt to grow my skill set and write about small, ordinary things in interesting ways.
  • Poster-art-for-The-Imitation-Game_event_mainWatching the Golden Globes on Sunday night reminded me of just how many Best Picture contenders I haven’t seen. Basically all of them. Except The Imitation Game. I saw that one a couple weekends ago. It was Cumberbatch, so yeah, it was good. More importantly, it put a spotlight on Alan Turing and his important code-breaking work during World War II. Between that, and more or less inventing computers, Turing may literally be the reason we are all sitting here, living the way we do.
  • Back to the Golden Globes (briefly), I thought Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s opening monologue was pretty good, but I was disappointed by how little of them we got throughout the rest of the night.
  • baby_mamaI guess my consolation is that I just saw Baby Mama, their first movie together. (They are apparently coming out with a second, unrelated movie soon.) Baby Mama is kind of goofy and predictable, but it was really fun to watch the two of them play off one another — and to observe the differences in their comedy styles, which are less obvious when they’re not directly juxtaposed. For example, Tina is very sarcastic and geeky, while Amy is more exaggerated and slapstick. (The scene where Tina is trying to get Amy to swallow an enormous pre-natal vitamin was probably my favorite part.)
  • For more Tina and Amy love, check out this piece on their friendship over the years.
  • I’m trying out a couple new TV shows…

  • Skulduggery_Pleasant_book_coverLast but not least, I’m thinking this might be the year that I finally become an audiobook convert. Mostly because I like to read while I walk Riley, and it’s much easier to pop in my earbuds and press Play than it is to hold a book and flip pages while also carrying a leash. Unfortunately, a bad narrator can really ruin a story for me. So if you know of any good ones (narrators or audiobooks), please let me know! My recommendation for you is Skulduggery Pleasant, written by Derek Landy and read by Rupert Degas. It’s a bit Harry Potter-ish, in all the best ways. (British humor; our world but with magic; coming-of-age adventure; etc.) The only problem is that it’s the first in a series of 9 books, and only the first 3 were published in the US. So I’m not quite sure how I’m going to read (or listen to) the rest…

As a side note, doing these weekly reviews is making me realize that I consume a lot of art and entertainment. Books, music, movies, television, articles, blogs. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing… but it could be? I dunno. Just an observation for now. Further contemplation is necessary before coming to a conclusion.

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Previously viewed

The Hundred Foot Journey

An Indian family opens a restaurant in a small French village, much to the indignation of the Michelin star restaurant right across the street. A story of culture, cuisine, and romance. Based on a novel.

The_Hundred_Foot_Journey_(film)_posterI saw this movie months ago and still remember it vividly. There’s a bit of a Disney feel to it, despite the lack of animation. From the dramatic opening, to the picturesque new setting, to the large cast of quirky, endearing characters. Maybe the pieces fit together a little too perfectly, but at least they’re charming.

The movie does a good job of spreading the spotlight around, but I would say that technically, the main protagonist is the younger son of the Indian family, who also serves as their head chef. His arc over the course of the film was great. I loved (and identified with) the way that he attempted to bridge two cultures. Tried to please them both. And the way he pursued his passion to the highest levels.

The ending felt a bit rushed, relative to the luxurious pace of the rest, but it’s so pleasant and satisfying that I couldn’t help forgiving it.

Dear Mr. Watterson

A documentary about the much beloved comic strip “Calvin & Hobbes,” its impact on a generation of readers, and its semi-reclusive creator Bill Watterson.

dear-mr-watterson-2013-posterI loved comics as a kid. Garfield, Zits, Foxtrot, 9 Chickweed Lane… But most of all, Calvin & Hobbes. I have all the books. Those thick, beautifully drawn and cleverly written collections taught me important philosophies on life without my even realizing it. Like most kids, I thought I was just reading about a mischievous, imaginative little boy and his tiger best friend.

I enjoyed learning about Watterson’s background and inspiration. (Apparently he has a Cincinnati connection, having reluctantly inked political cartoons for the local paper here.) I also admired Watterson’s championing of artistic integrity. He never wanted to “sell out” or commercialize Calvin & Hobbes beyond the books themselves.

At the same time, I’m reminded of Andy’s devil’s advocate argument to me whenever I go off on one of my “purity of the art” tangents: Sometimes pandering to the masses is the very thing that allows you to reach them.

I guess it’s a fine line — or a spectrum — and every artist much choose to sit where they feel comfortable.

bill watterson quote

Olive Kitteridge

A four-hour HBO mini-series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories by Elizabeth Strout, which I loved. My “Reading Reflections” post can be found here.

olive-kitteridge-poster-405x600No surprise: HBO did a nice job. The mini-series is a beautiful and thoughtful adaptation. I think anyone who enjoyed the book would enjoy watching. (Even though they did leave out one of my favorite subplots.)

Interestingly, I showed the first episode to my parents (who have not read the book) and they found it depressing. I guess I can understand their reaction — Olive is a harsh woman, her husband is kind of dopey, and the townspeople face death, depression, drug abuse, and more. But even upon re-examination, I just don’t find Olive Kitteridge to be a downer. To me, it’s an unflinching look at love and life and yes, sometimes the damages we do to each other. But also the resiliency of the human spirit, and the vastness of the human heart.

That’s not depressing, it’s just real.

(And at times, there is beauty and joy.)

Nebraska

An old man believes he has won a million dollars and must go to Nebraska to collect it. His son reluctantly decides to take him.

large_vlCumulVFh1go4rrTcJ6MQNDUj5One could view Nebraska and Olive Kitteridge as two sides of the same coin. They both reflect on small town life, aging, and disappointment — but where Olive Kitteridge is sharp-edged and unapologetic, Nebraska is… if not exactly soft, then at least humorous. You are meant to laugh at the crazy old guy and his mean wife. You are meant to laugh at their two well-meaning but lackluster sons. And you are definitely meant to laugh at all the over-the-top family members and townspeople who come out of the woodwork when they believe a million dollars might be within their reach.

I don’t know why exactly this 2013 film is in black and white, but it’s an interesting choice that kind of shifts your brain into a different gear. That, combined with the dusty drama of the Middle America landscapes, makes the movie feel particularly out-of-time and introspective. Also, the intermittent laughs are accompanied by moments of great emotion, and the development of a deeper understanding between father and son.

I guess it’s no wonder my parents have watched this movie 3 and 4 times each.

Admission

Tina Fey and Paul Rudd star in this rom-com about a Princeton admissions counselor, the son she gave up for adoption, and the teacher that brings them together.

admission_xlgNot a holiday story exactly, but light-hearted fare. Paul Rudd is adorable as ever, and Tina Fey has her special brand of humor that appeals across generations. (True fact: My dad is a 30 Rock fan.) There are some odd bits — like Lily Tomlin’s character, and the imaginary high school seniors petitioning for their place at Princeton — but overall the movie lives up to expectations. Fun and sweet, with a dash of New England charm.

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