Category: General (Page 1 of 69)

Recently viewed: Hidden Figures and Gifted

“Recently” might be too generous of a term, in the case of Hidden Figures, which I watched several months ago. But I really enjoyed this movie and have been intending to post about it ever since.

Although I no longer watch Empire, I will always be drawn to Taraji P. Henson — and of course Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are rock solid too. Together, they play three black women who, in real life, were geniuses and pioneers within the NASA program. I loved how each woman had her own professional and personal storylines, but also intersected with one another in tender, humorous scenes of supportive friendship.

Though it is all presented in a relatively palatable way, the movie’s themes of feminism and racism are, unfortunately, still quite relevant.

Speaking of Octavia Spencer, she must be one of the busiest women in Hollywood, because it seems like she is in everything I watch! Or maybe she and I just have similar tastes in stories? That wouldn’t be such a bad coincidence.

Gifted tells the story of a family at odds with itself. In the aftermath of his sister’s death, Frank is raising his niece Mary (with some help from his neighbor, played by Octavia Spencer). When Frank’s mother discovers that Mary is a math genius, she swoops in and tries to take custody away from him. The ensuing battle brings up a compelling knot of love, ambition, sacrifice, and blame.

Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the theme of a mother’s ambition driving her relationship with her daughter is something that I plan to explore in the near future. As a mom myself now, I can see how easy it is to fall into the trap of projecting your hopes and dreams onto your children.

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Week in review (Jan 31, 2018)

Opening credits

Several months ago, I wrote a column for my dad’s newspapers about life as a new mother. Now I’m working on another one, about the part that technology played in our first year of parenting.

Recently I read my friend Jasmine Warga’s second book, HERE WE ARE NOW. On the surface, it’s about a daughter reconnecting with her long-lost father, who has become a rock star. But on a deeper level, it’s a love letter to music, to immigrants, to artistic ambitions, and to the messy ups and downs of relationships of all kinds. I adored it.

I also found a very pleasant surprise at the end: my name in the acknowledgments!

Feel-good funny

While This Is Us and The Good Place were on winter break, I needed some well-written, light-hearted TV. I decided to try Brooklyn 99, and it did not disappoint. Like Michael Schur’s other creations (Parks and Recreation, The Good Place), the show focuses on characters that are basically good people, who care about each other, their work, and the world at large. That’s not necessarily a great setup for comedy, but the characters are so quirky, and they play off each other perfectly.

Rosa is my favorite — for some reason I am often drawn to the “tough chick” — but even as I say that, a part of me wants to take it back and make a case for each of the other characters. I love them all, and can see pieces of myself in every one.

A voice for the voiceless

The Shape of Water is not a feel-good funny movie, but there were, to my surprise, several moments where I laughed. (“No, no, don’t play with the kitties.”)

I did not love The Shape of Water the way so many people seem to, but I did admire its beauty, its ambitions, and its themes. I find myself thinking about it a lot, which is just as significant as loving it, I think, but in a different way. It’s a story about outcasts, and how hungry we all are for love. Sally Hawkins was tremendous in the lead role, and Michael Stuhlbarg sneakily wormed his way into my heart as Dr. Hoffstetler.

Speaking of tough chicks…

I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan from the beginning, but I’m not against an artist evolving with the times. (I hope to be given that opportunity myself, after all.) Overall, I’ve enjoyed her progression over the years.

That said, I was pretty wary of her latest album, Reputation, after hearing the first couple of songs. It’s not that they were bad, but… The heavy-synth sound is not my thing, and the petty, repetitive lyrics did not impress me.

I’ve now had the chance to listen to the entire album on Spotify, and on the whole I’d say it’s fine. Not great, but fine. The Old Taylor is, contrary to reports, still alive and well (particularly in “Don’t Blame Me” and “Getaway Car”) and the New Taylor is, if not excellent, at least interesting.

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Week in Review (Dec 31, 2017)

Ho-ho-home for the holidays

My parents were here for a week to celebrate the holidays with us and IB. Everyone except the baby was sick to some degree, and the weather has been amazingly cold, but other than that, it was really nice. I love watching my parents with my child, and vice versa. Their bond warms my heart in a way that’s hard to explain.

Late-night binge-watching

I took advantage of the extra help with IB, and the lack of obligations, to indulge in staying up late and catching up on a couple shows in my queue.

Earlier this year Netflix released the 6th and final season of Longmire. I can’t even remember why I started watching this show, but I do know that the compelling cast and characters, along with the unique setting — small town Wyoming, near a Cheyenne reservation — quickly won my interest.

(Oh wait, just remembered: I think I started watching because of Katee Sackhoff, who I loved in Battlestar Galatica.)

This last season of Longmire brought back a lot of past storylines that I didn’t fully remember, but I managed to catch on quickly enough. The plot was less important to me than the characters anyway, and from that standpoint, I found the conclusion to be quite satisfying. The final episode in particular did a great job of closing the loop on the emotional arcs that have been building over the past six years, yet still setting each character up for the next chapter of their story.

As a woman, and as a mother, Vic’s traumas touched me deeply. As did her resilience and growth.

Speaking of womanhood, motherhood, and trauma… Big Little Lies was intense. Phenomenal in every aspect — writing, acting, music, mystery, atmosphere — the show turned a keen eye on the lives and troubles of privileged women. The little ways we cut each other down. But also the little ways we care for one another, and build each other back up.

If I may offer a compliment and a warning all at once: The depiction of an abusive relationship was masterful, important, and profoundly uncomfortable at times.

My only disappointment in BLL was with its lack of diversity. Here’s hoping they find a way to remedy that in their second season.

Related recommended reading

“We Have to Change the Idea That a Woman With Ambition Is Out Only for Herself” by Reese Witherspoon

All we can do to create change is work hard. That’s my advice: Just do what you do well. If you’re a producer, you’ve got to produce. If you’re a writer, you’ve got to write. If you’re in corporate America, keep working hard to bust through the glass ceiling. If you want our voices to be represented in government—and I think we’re all getting behind that idea now—encourage women to run and help them with their campaigns. If you are one of those people who has that little voice in the back of her mind saying, “Maybe I could do [fill in the blank],” don’t tell it to be quiet. Give it a little room to grow, and try to find an environment it can grow in.

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Week in Review (Dec 23, 2017)

Life is a zoo

I’ll probably do a separate post reflecting on how my writing has gone this year, but the short version is: Motherhood is even more demanding than I anticipated.

More wonderful, as well.

IB is 14 months old and changing constantly. Her growth is both miraculous and bittersweet. Sometimes I wish she could stay small forever. But mostly her development is just amazing to watch. A month ago, we took her to the zoo, and while she seemed to enjoy people-watching, that was about the extent of her appreciation. Then on Thursday, we took her back to the zoo, and this time she babbled and pointed at the animals, climbed up the playground equipment, and even slid down (face-first!) by herself.

Shows I’m loving

The Good Place is delightful beyond words. I love the entire cast of characters, each so quirky and endearing in their own ways. (Chidi is the best, though.) I also have mad respect for the writing, which somehow seamlessly mixes comedy, philosophy, cleverness, and heart.

This Is Us does all of that too, albeit in a very different way. I’ve talked about this show before, and it’s still at the top of my list. While the whole family tree is great, Randall and Beth are far and away my favorite branch. (And not just because they remind me of Andy and myself!)

Both shows fill me with joy and hope, and generally make me feel like maybe humankind isn’t so terrible after all. Which is urgently needed these days.

You are what you read

As a mother, I do a lot of reading, but most of it isn’t for myself. (I can recite any number of Sandra Boynton books by heart, at this point.) In the past couple months, though, I’ve come to realize — or rather, remember — how vital reading for pleasure is to me, and thus I’ve tried to make more time for it. Here is what’s on my nightstand for current and future consumption.

  • What Happened by Hillary Clinton
  • Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
  • Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga
  • This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack
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From Afghanistan to San Francisco, with hardships and hope

Mohammad was my driver on a busy Friday night. Amid the bustle of cars coming and going, I almost missed him. He had dropped someone off ahead of me, farther down the street, but I didn’t know that and kept waiting for him to pull up. Finally I caught sight of his white Camry and got in. He said hello and started driving.

He was a large man, dark hair nearly touching the roof of the car, but he had a gentle aura, and a quiet voice to match. As we left the Mission District behind in a blur of lights, I asked where he was from. Afghanistan, he said. There, he was an orthopedic surgeon, until the Mujahideen started a civil war. Then he fled to Pakistan and worked with a Japanese NGO. His three children were all born in Pakistan, and grew up speaking Pashto, along with Mohammad’s native Persian.

As things in Pakistan became more turbulent, they moved again, this time to Canada, where his medical license no longer held meaning. After 25 years as a doctor, Mohammad had to start over. He decided to work in a research lab, and studied for a new license. Not the same, but related.

A few years later, his family relocated once more, to Sacramento. That is where Mohammad and his children call home now, although he spends many nights at his sister’s place in Fremont, so that he can drive for Lyft and Uber in San Francisco. Neither his Afghani medical license nor his Canadian research one are valid here in the United States. Another new beginning, another dead end.

I shook my head, incredulous and yet not surprised. I wanted to apologize for the way his life had been upended so many times.

Instead, I lamented about the “issues” in our country. Mohammad brushed off the criticism, and his tone changed. He had spoken about Afghanistan and his past with pride; now he spoke about the U.S. and his future with hope. His long arms seemed to embrace the car while he drove.

He told me that in many countries — one example he gave was Saudi Arabia — it was impossible for a foreigner to buy property in their own name. You could put up the money, but a native Saudi had to sign the papers. Here in America, though, what you paid for belonged to you. Like his car. It could not be taken away. It could be used to make a better life.

By this time, we were nearing my destination. In the silence that settled over us, I thought about his words. About how he carried his hardships and frustrations right alongside his gratitude and optimism. About how easily and serenely he had shared his story in a fifteen-minute conversation with a stranger. About how fortunate I was to have met him and listened.

Finally, we arrived. We thanked each other and said good night. I got out. He drove away.

His story continues.

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