To Maman, With Love

To Maman With Love

I’m not good with ages, including my own. Hence, whenever bouncers or waitstaff unexpectedly bypass the usual ID-check and ask, “How old are you?” the first thing that comes to mind is, Uh… am I even twenty-one yet…? Fortunately, this number amnesia doesn’t extend to important dates, allowing me to be certain without a shred of doubt that today is my mom’s birthday.

Maman, as she’s affectionately known, is immensely important to me because (as apparent to anyone who’s ever mistaken our voices on the landline phone of our past) she makes up an invaluable portion of both mine and my sister’s identities. And considering all the incredible elements that comprise the Renaissance dynamo that is my mother, my sister and I should feel very lucky to share in that genetic pool. My mom has an imagination that packs a wallop. Her sense of wonder is tangible in the way she approaches every facet of life. Her unyielding desire to learn from each of the experiences she encounters is inspiring. And demonstrating the very essence of the adjective “motherly,” my mom has the unfailing ability to comfort even the most overwrought hysterics.

Furthermore, my mom is a woman from whom natural talent radiates like the awed circles that form around her whenever she takes the dance floor. Among the many skills she demonstrates an aptitude for, she’s the most fastidious and loudest cheerleader in all of North America; an incredible artist and writer whose oeuvre spans the creative gamut from joyously whimsical to powerfully evocative; an aficionado on all things kooky-fresh, such as The B-52′s, Shonen Knife, and Plastique Bertrand; a learned and opinionated voice vying for social, cultural, and political equality; the contender you absolutely want on your team for trivia night; and an altruistic giver through and through.

When I was a child, one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me–despite the hordes of Barbie dolls I pleaded for and miraculously received–was her time. When I came of kindergarten age, my mom decided to take up the helm as a homeschool teacher for a year that may well have been the most formative period of my lifelong personality. Thanks to my mom’s patient and steadfast teachings, I developed a deep adoration for vocabulary, a genuine affinity for reading, and a penchant for writing that catapulted me beyond the school’s benchmark. I can’t begin to thank my mom enough for the educational time she dedicated to her children, and I feel certain that without the lessons she’s continued to impart to this day, I would not have ended up as academically driven as I am. Quite frankly, I attribute my brains to my mom and thank her every day for placing so much emphasis on their fortification.

While incredibly important to my character, this inherited love for learning barely begins to skim the surface of all the things my mom’s doted on her daughters from day one. As children, my sister and I grew up in a home replete with fantastical paintings adorning the walls and floorboards: a cheerful, multicolored snake spiraling on the living room floor, an alebrije-esque lizard spanning the length of the kitchen, a winking fish suspended above the stove inquiring, “Hey good lookin’ whatchya got cookin’?,” and our little bunk bed fortress decorated with Shoobie the flying pup, our beaming faces, and an array of designs and calligraphy unique to my mom’s playful aesthetic.

For birthdays, she gave us not only presents but whole window murals commemorating the occasion and themed homemade cakes that somehow defied gravity with their twisting Seussical stairways. From the time I was nine-years-old my mom devoted hours upon hours to reading us Harry Potter aloud, complete with individual character dramatizations and the correct pronunciation of “Hermione” years before the films enlightened my peers. Her all-encompassing love for animals turned my sister into an atheistic St. Francis incarnate, preaching to kittens and puppies The Word According to a Six-Year-Old. When relationships went south or the transition into college proved dispiriting, my mom gave me ways to combat sorrow and the means to harness positivity in the face of life’s many obstacles. And her multilingualism and sense of adventure resulted in my love for language, graphic design, and cultural history and mythology.

For physical sustenance, my mom gave us the many delectable gifts of moussaka, chipotle chicken, banana bread, and the phenomenal macaroni and cheese recipe she inherited from her father. For mental fodder, she gave us a love for games, even if it occasionally resulted in my sister overturning a card table in a bout of loser’s rage. For 85mph exhilaration, she passed down her love of roller coasters and repeatedly travelled with us across the country to seek new thrills–although the spinning tea cup gene clearly skipped me. And as a strong female figure who embraces her identity and doesn’t shy away from displaying that fabulous demeanor to the world, my mom gave her daughters the ability to be ourselves regardless of any judgment that may come our way.

To top all of that off, my mom has taught me how I want to approach motherhood one day. Thanks to Maman’s example, I want to inspire uninhibited imagination, I want to answer every question with honesty and imbue a love for learning, I want to be a comfort whenever my children are in need. And beyond that, I’m very eager to behold the whoops of excitement my future children emit when I tell them we’re going to their grandma Lulu’s house, a place of wonder, creativity, and warm, unwavering love.

Maman Catrina

The Gripes of Wrath

Gripes of Wrath

In our contemporary blogosphere, it’s becoming commonplace for opinion pieces to spark galled backlash. With these internet ripostes in mind, allow me to start by addressing a point that’s heated “Jezebel” and “The Gloss” writers alike. I am now and have always been of the opinion that skinny female characters and the actresses who portray them can most certainly be strong. Some examples of this reality include Jada Pinkett Smith as The Matrix trilogy’s Niobe: a skinny woman who’s physically buff and whose on-screen presence as captain of the Logos packs a commanding wallop. Jennifer Lawrence as The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen: a skinny woman who exudes strength in controlled stoicism, perseverance, deft reflexes, and cunning. Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones‘ Daenerys Targaryen: a skinny woman who commands dragons, the most powerful weapons in all of Westeros… when she can find them. In fact, my list of skinny badass women could go on for the duration of this entry because, quite frankly, skinny badass women proliferate the action genre. In some cases, the tiny but strong physiques that parade across theater screens are totally warranted, such as Katniss Everdeen’s lifetime of meager rations and near-starvation, which produced not only her precision in archery but also her emaciated frame.

These rare cases of justified slenderness aside, last weekend I begrudgingly sat through an aspiring blockbuster which reminded me all too blatantly that in most cases Hollywood’s coveted runway-ready action heroines possess slender builds that go without explanation, or outright contradict their characters’ backstories. Said film that I knew I would execrate from the first teaser trailer was 300: Rise of an Empire.

Now in a continued effort to keep the peace, let me apologize henceforth to anyone who adored the second installment of the 300 franchise and warn anyone who’s optimistically awaiting the DVD release that these next paragraphs aren’t for you. I would hate to rain on anyone’s pending parade but in my effort to lay down the skinny, an explanation is in order.

Perhaps my seventh grade history reenactment of the Battle of Thermopylae gives me a sense of personal connection to the story, or perhaps sneaking into the sold out premiere after enduring Wild Hogs and being forced to sit in my friend Davin’s lap in the front row made it all the more exhilarating, but 300 is one of my all-time favorite movies. A hyper-stylized, Greco-fetishism action film whose place in my heart outlived my teenage affinity for violent, adrenaline-fueled cinema, 300 is like a classical painting injected with testosterone and set to a mashup of choral hymns and industrial guitar performed in a Mediterranean arena. Couple this with my Frank Miller phase sophomore year of high school, during which all my paintings suddenly looked like Sin City and all the dialogue in my stories had the private investigator timbre of a film noir revival, and it’s a shoo-in that 300 would have me hooked.

As such, from the minute my ear registered the first inklings of a possible sequel, I knew I was in for a pile of sepia-toned, slow-motion dog crap. And when I broke down and saw the film as an escape from last Sunday’s heatwave, my expectations were not disappointed. Seven years ago when it was released, 300 was something we hadn’t seen yet. Sure Neo’s back-bending, decelerated bullet dodge in The Matrix ushered in the stylized fight sequences that pervade action films to this day, but as far as I’m concerned 300 was a new form of visual gluttony that was candidly cool. From the sheer mythos of ancient Spartans, to the absorbing narration, to the gritty and simultaneously painterly aesthetic, to the machismo choreography, to Gerard Butler and his conical beard, and to the archetypal characterizations–every facet of this narrative oozed cool.

Zack Snyder may have taken the M. Night Shyamalan route and fallen quickly from a laudable perch in film esteem to directorial leper, but based on the utter disaster that is 300: Rise of an Empire, upcoming director Noam Murro could do with a touch of Shyamalan. Where 300 was fresh cinematic confectionery, 300: Rise of an Empire came seven years too late, after a horde of fanboys reproduced its aesthetic to death in both film and television, à la The Immortals and Spartacus. As if this latency weren’t enough, 300: Rise of an Empire then took everything that was impressive about its predecessor and lamed it past the point of entertainment. Where 300 presented us with hardcore-by-definition Spartans, it’s sequel centralized around the farmers and poets of Athens, and expected us to believe that men of these dispositions would possess the same chiseled and airbrushed abs of life-long, fanatical warriors. Where 300 brought us iconic dialogue to rev up battles of hand-to-hand combat and impossible feats of flight and strength, Rise of an Empire gave us horrendously convoluted and unimpressive speech, generally followed by tedious ellipses, before merely smashing their CGI ships into one another. Where 300 brought us powerful archetypes, such as the inexplicably behemoth god-king Xerxes, the sequel squandered said mystique with inane, humanizing backstories. Where 300 brought us bizarre, prosthetic monsters that served a purpose, the new release tossed in a couple half-attempts at poorly animated creatures that did nothing but hiss, spit, and disrupt deep sea dreams. And where 300 brought us female dynamism in Queen Gorgo’s plight to aid her husband and her people by whatever means necessary, Rise of an Empire brought us Eva Green.

Prior to seeing the film, I read a review in the Los Angeles Times written by a woman who ranted and raved about Eva Green’s magnetism as the Persian navy’s most formidable commander. While it’s nothing against Green’s acting skills, I found both the writing and choreography for Artemisia dry and unimpressive, and the casting of waif-like Green (who attributes her paper-thin mien to her French affinity for “cigarettes and laziness”) really got my goat for the very reasons I started this blog entry.

Artemisia is a Greek woman betrayed by her countrymen and hot on the trail of vengeance, and as such she’s been training with the Persian herald (of all people) in combat since childhood. Her lifelong vendetta builds her up to be one of Darius’ and Xerxes’ most vicious soldiers, and when she’s pitted against the Athenians at sea, her skill with a sword makes her a killing machine amidst the onslaughts of unexplainably robust seafarers.

With a backstory and profile like that, you’re not pulling one over my eyes this time Hollywood. If Artemisia was a real woman who’d devoted her entire life to Greek-Decapitation Boot Camp, she would at least have arms like these female Adonises:

Female Adonises

(And look Hollywood, you could even keep the cinched waist for sex appeal!)

For some reason, despite the beautiful, muscular women like the afore-pictured 1905 “circus strong woman” and 1890′s Vulcana–a woman who actually looks like she beats foes to a pulp for a living, Hollywood insists on ignoring the characters’ profiles and casting the Gal Gadots of the industry as Diana of Themyscira.

Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman

Occasionally Hollywood does get it right, utilizing Gwendoline Christie’s striking height of 6’3″ to create a totally believable warrior in Brienne of Tarth, or casting stunt woman-turned-lead-lady Zoë Bell for her genuine physical prowess and ability to literally kick butt. More often than not, Hollywood makes feeble efforts at best, tailoring B-movies to women like mixed martial artist Gina Carano, whose leg locks far supersede her abominable acting. That, or they bypass accuracy altogether in favor of sex appeal.

As a girl who’s been a limp noodle far more times in my life than that period of lopsided racquetball strength and that one year track and field made me muscular, I completely understand the argument that thinness does not equate to weakness. After all, there are numerous fighting styles out there that enable a narrow figure to bring down someone twice their size. Plus, there’s always the fact that a thin actress can bulk up for a role. But I’m not going to kid myself into believing that Hollywood’s decision to cast skinny women as beastly characters is an attempt to emanate female empowerment. Rather than utilizing low-weight modes of combat to their advantage or following in the BBC’s footsteps and casting actors that realistically look the part of their roles, Hollywood is clearly only concerned with selling tickets via sex, and the current mainstream definition of feminine attractiveness is runway model thin… with breasts if she can manage to pull off that Victoria’s Secret feat.

Thus, until the the media’s interpretation of desirability begins to morph towards something of Polynesian proportions, I’ll have to buckle down and swallow my gripes, watching adequately muscular film and television contenders like Katee Sackhoff and Gina Torres get passed by in the casting hunt for the fiercest commanders of the shitty-remake sea.

Hungry Like the Digitally Domesticated Wolf

Hungry Like the Digitally Domesticated Wolf

I live in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, capital of progression in entertainment. As such, I don’t know if I could possibly be more saturated in a trend that future decades may well identify as the zeitgeist of our era. In the way that the 80s are stereotypically characterized by teased hair and overzealous synthesizers and the 20s are remembered for board-thin flappers and sexual revolution, I think our period might be historically defined by the beginnings of the technological takeover George Orwell prophesied. Only rather than relying on technology for every facet of both survival and comfortable living (as science fiction likes to predict) our era seems to utilize the majority of our technological strides for the very concept that makes my current hometown a tourist Mecca: entertainment.

In this day and age, we spend so much time sapping entertainment from our televisions, computers, and cell phones (more aptly known as “cellular devices” due to the increasing antiquity of actual phone calls), that it makes the deeply repressed wild child in me sick beyond Pepto-Bismol relief. So much so that I resorted to college-ruled paper for the crafting of this entry, just to spare my eyes the LED glare of my laptop as long as possible.

When I was a child, long before the invention of Smartphones, Rokus, iPads, and Netflix, I technically had far less access to information. In order to garner new knowledge via the answers to numerous queries, people and books already possessing said wisdom had to be sought out–and this process of learning could take far longer than tapping into your Wi-Fi and posting a thread on Yahoo Answers. But despite the hefty girth of old school dictionaries and the time it took to navigate them, the pre-MP3 world I was brought into was far more wondrous. For entertainment, we looked to nature to provide us with sand to sculpt, rocks to climb, mud to throw, trails to explore, and water to paddle. We looked to our toy box for blueprint-less Lego castles to build, Barbies to direct in plays, and whole worlds to fabricate from disparate pieces. We looked to our friends and relatives for tag between the cherry trees, trampoline acrobatics, and lava monster on the stairwells. And in the pursuit of new knowledge, where wise people and books were scant, personal experimentation in pursuit of an answer thrived. In all, it was a time when imagination and the endless joy you could glean from it ran rampant.

Now I’m not saying the child of my youth doesn’t exist anymore. Trying my hand at teaching elementary and middle school art for several years has proven that there exist many amongst the post-millennium babies who still get a kick out of seed-spitting contests, capture the flag, and playing the time-resistant “house.” But my observations have also yielded a great number of children taking cues from the modern adult: riveted with their iPhones, Angry Birds, Facebook, PSPs, and cable television. Sedentary hobbies that I fear may continue to escalate in child popularity.

Frankly though, I’m one to talk. My sister and I may as well have ushered in the child cell phone craze when at ages 9 and 11 we were envied by our peers as the only two children in school to possess brick-sized, antennae-toting Nokia 5110s. The year was 2001, Snake was one of the few 8-bit games a cellular device could support, and cell phones were still such an up-and-coming phenomenon that instead of confiscating mine when it went off in class one day, my fifth grade teacher merely laughed. But even as early prototypes of elementary school cellonistas, my sister and I only had them as safety precautions for the long, unsupervised walks home from school, not as idle distractions. And when cell phones began to proliferate throughout school systems by the eighth grade, my dad decided our exponential texting warranted the cancellation of our family plan, an act that may have deemed us social pariahs throughout high school, but ultimately did us and our eyesight a world of good.

Nine years later, sitting in a Hollywood apartment with my laptop blinking at me sleepily from the bed, my Smartphone sedate on the table, and my image reflected back at me on my boyfriend’s flatscreen TV, the thought of pre-adolescent children fixating on their digital devices with the same vim the characters of Her demonstrated with their Operating Systems is a frightening notion. I’m 23 years old, living in the age that witnessed the birth and demise of CDs, DVDs, and Blackberries; an age in which the rapidity of technological advancement grants our lifestyles increasing facility on an annual basis. And yet rather than celebrating the ease with which I can archive my music or send my sister messages via satellite, all I really yearn to do right now is ditch the muffled television conversations that eek through every Hollywood wall, throw my phone and its tempting crossword puzzles to the wayside, bid adieu to the computer that served as my life support and safe haven throughout college, and take up residence in a remote, mountain-ringed field somewhere.

For as an active participant in the age of intensifying technological reliance and reproduction, it’s nerve-wracking enough pondering ways to go about shielding my future children from the comparably substandard Harry Potter films long enough for them to read the books. With this and similar obstacles amassing by the day, it’ll be a wonder if I can convince these pending Moon babies that racing you to the other side, climbing to the highest peak, and letting your imagination run away with you provides entertainment that simply can’t be found by poring over an iPhone.

Cursed Be Thy Gifting

Cursed Be Thy Gifting

Through indeterminate acts of nature or nurture, some people are born or bred with the insatiable desire to knock themselves out… gifting. To some, if there isn’t sweat when partaking in the sport of gift-giving, then you haven’t combed the aisles or blinded yourself by the LED light of e-commerce long enough.

I first recognized this peculiar mania in myself when at age ten a friend expressed that she pined magazines or candy for her birthday. In a whirlwind of prepubescent energy and dishwashing allowance money, I proceeded to clean out a magazine stand of every teenybopper rag they possessed and fill a paper bag of Ikea proportions with the king sized candy bars that usually eluded me unless my dad took us trick-or-treating in the ritzy neighborhood. While adult retrospection notes that my friend’s dentist probably would have preferred the gift of a couple magazines and one candy bar, child logic dictated that gift recipients should be spoiled to the same degree of rottenness that my family had always reserved for myself and my sister on gift-giving holidays. Even if money was tight, the little Moon sisters always had a staggering array of store-bought, hand-me-down, or homemade gifts to parade through like pint-sized kings every birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. And besides, buying my friend magazines and candy by the bucketful was way more fun than spending my chore money on yet another Now That’s What I Call Music CD.

Thus, the gift-giving fever took hold and replicated throughout my genetic makeup over the next thirteen years, culminating in last Christmas’s ardent desire to make everyone personally-tailored gift baskets (or gift crates and gift ice buckets in some cases). The overzealous process of analyzing each of my loved ones’ personalities, brainstorming potential gifts, imagining up different themes and titles, and then organizing the baskets themselves proved to be so fun I don’t know why I haven’t started seriously considering a career as a professional basket case.

I know this passion (or outright obsession) is a little eccentric and I know I have to warn newcomers to my close circle about the overbearing nature of my gifting, lest they abandon our friendship or break up with me out of shock (because yes, I can count myself among the very few people on this planet who’ve been dumped solely for excessive gifting). But I assure those of you who are coughing “CRAZY” into your hands, I garner sincere pleasure from the chance to plan a gift for someone I care about, and when I have enough money, the right artistic tools for the task, and time aplenty to make everything just right, manifesting the present I’d long visualized is sheer bliss.

That is, when everything goes right.

To foster such a manic love for crafting or comprising pre-envisioned presents means that the collapse of said plans produces equally strong emotions… in the opposite direction. If anyone was ever to accuse me of bipolar disorder, the accusation would absolutely arise from a Christmas in which most of my loved one’s gifts are executed to a T, but one gift goes horribly wrong. Then all that built up excitement and anticipation I’d been harboring for the gift’s completion storms out as irate despair: a great surging, catastrophic, gift-mania flood that only my sister–or Emily’s External Conscience–has ever had to witness. Fortunately for the sake of my sister and my future risk of stroke, my insane gift-giving schemes don’t often backfire to such calamitous proportions, and if anything goes wrong at all, I’m usually just left to sour internal-monologuing about how I wish I could have afforded a nicer piece of jewelry, or how I wish I’d had more time to make that painting look more professional, or how I really wish I hadn’t developed irreversible writer’s block just before finishing that book seven years in the making that was intended as a giant, surprise anniversary present.

In recent years, however, I’ve added someone to my heart’s Excel sheet of loved ones that God, Allah, and that sneaky, scheming Buddha seem intent on sheltering from my voracious attempts at gift-giving. And that person would be my boyfriend.

When you have a significant other and a major, albeit strange, facet of your personality is a life-fulfilling addiction to assembling gifts, the world suddenly embraces you in a haze of polychromatic zeal. Not only do you suddenly have more holidays for which to indulge in the joy of gifting (such as that day devoted to love that you previously spent commiserating with the first half of Bridget Jones’ Diary or the anniversary that you’re not sure whether to attribute to the first date or the first proclamation of, “What the hell, let’s throw caution to the wind and make this official even though you’re graduating from college and leaving in a month!”), but you also have the opportunity to make any old day a gift-giving day because he dotes on you so much that mere holiday gifting could hardly suffice. Thus, as anyone with a knack for algebraic algorithm could tell you, significant other + gift-giving psychosis = absolute, unadulterated euphoria.

Unless of course, you factor in unforeseen variables that hinder or outright sabotage almost every gift you’ve ever tried to give that special someone. Then absolute, unadulterated euphoria tends to be equal or lesser to sheer panic.

To exemplify this mathematical anomaly, let’s examine the evidence. The first birthday present I ever tried to give my boyfriend should have been thwarted by the hurdles of that summer’s time-consuming 16 hour work days, limited space for artistic production, and the 2,761 miles that separated Oregon from Maryland, but miraculously the whole thing came together, arrived on time, and resulted in perfect orchestration. Until I realized that after just four months of dating, I hadn’t yet warned him that I’m a nutty fanatic prone to over-gifting, and had to suffer the consequences of my omission.

After surfacing from that debacle, I was determined to get things right five months later when Christmas rolled around. My first gift, a week-long trip to his family’s beautiful home in Maryland, was set in motion without a hitch. I reserved my plane ticket well in advance, bought a myriad of warm clothes befitting an actual white Christmas (not that unreliable Portland, Oregon shit), put in my two week’s notice a month in advance, and even booked a seat on my vehicular arch nemesis–a Greyhound bus–because the fifteen hour drive from Baltimore to Savannah would be an hour quicker than the three airport layovers that for some godawful reason decelerated what should have been a two hour flight. Ultimately, the planning was impeccable and I was so excited that the bank account I usually had to empty into my private college’s pocketbook miraculously had the quan to fund my cross-country reunion. This gift was perfect.

Until a friend’s birthday trip to Las Vegas gave me a dose of the flu to rival the scale of New York, New York, and the successive, germ-riddled flights from Vegas to Portland and Portland to Baltimore (first flight I’ve ever puked on!) only aggravated my condition, ensuring a good three weeks of fevered incapacitation. I still pity the unsuspecting Marylanders whose Christmas was sieged upon by my Vegas disease like the boa constrictor’s invasive and carnivorous take-over of Florida.

But even if the biological warfare raging in my lymphatic system dared mar my boyfriend’s Christmas, at least there was the physical gift I’d purchased online a month prior. The physical gift that, come to think of it, hadn’t arrived in the mail in time for my departure to Maryland… In fact, no matter how much I heckled the seller, my purchase didn’t arrive at my Portland address until March, when I was well entrenched in a heap-load of college torture in the city of Savannah. Despite my wonderful boyfriend’s unyielding capacity for forgiveness, I was ready to crumple up Official Gift No. 2 and toss it in the dumpster where failed attempts at happy memories go to die for being both the most contagious and latest Christmas gift it had ever been my mortification to bestow.

Now Nutty Gifting Lady (less-famous cousin of Crazy Cat Lady) was really reeling to get things right. But the curse that catalyzes hyperbolic old wives’ tales had officially set in. “Gift yer man wrong once, shame on ye. Gift yer man wrong twice, shame on he for not tossin’ yer virus-plagued body out into the white Christmas ye ruined. Gift yer man wrong thrice, and it’s gift-giving limbo ye’ve sentenced yerself to fer life, me dearie… Cookie?”

After a one-year anniversary gift I’d assumed wouldn’t count in old wives’ ledgers for having gone only slightly awry (arriving in shambles after the United States Postal Service forgot about that “FRAGILE” stamp I’d requested), it seemed certain: I was cursed to flub my man’s gifts for the rest of eternity. Hence it came as no surprise when the next gift I purchased was charged to my card three times, succeeding my bank account and causing me to reevaluate my choice. Fortunately, the original idea I’d forgone due to sold out tickets suddenly opened up when scalpers began pawning off seats to The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival featuring Dave Chappelle and Flight of the Conchords. Hadn’t we been re-watching Flight of the Conchords and obsessing over Jemaine and Bret all summer? And didn’t we love comedy!? AND WERE WE NOT ODD AS HELL!!!???

It all seemed too good to be true. Far too good to be true considering my nightmarish track record when it came to doting on my boyfriend. Thus, as the summer wound down and the date of the festival approached, I jealously guarded those tickets with my life, terrified that at any moment they might blow out the window or spontaneously combust, and absolutely petrified by the thought that my scalper tickets were fake and we’d be denied entry after three months of whooping and whinnying in excited anticipation. That would be the cherry on top of my attempted gift-gifting travesty, and it’s certain I’d shrivel up and die of loss of identity right then and there at an irritable security guard’s feet.

Looking back on it now, I really can’t believe that The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival didn’t explode under the weight of all the old wives’ points I’d racked up for being such a gifting failure. But I guess they’d decided to let me off easy for a change, and the only thing that was truly lamentable about the whole shebang was the abominable bubble font I added to the card.

Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Card

Fortunately for the more malicious members of the Universal Fate Association (which in this blog entry seems to have witnessed a merger between superstitious wives and a couple vengeful deities), their contracts must have contained only one Let Her Off the Hook clause, and this past Christmas they obviously relished the chance to get back to their scheming.

À la the aforementioned Yuletide Gift Basket Extravaganza, I spent December running around Portland in search of an array of man-things for my boyfriend (tools, Irish whiskey, 2 liter flasks, the likes). The centerpiece of this man-thing assortment was to be a vintage drinking horn that I’d committed to memory months prior when my boyfriend glanced at it and compulsively said, “I want that,” perhaps because it’s Celtic accoutrements appealed to our collectively fervent pride in our Irish ancestry or perhaps because my boyfriend harbors a secret affinity for those Celt-murdering vikings. Either way, so began the drinking horn debacle that’s aptly summed up by a review Amazon repeatedly refused to post until I whittled it down to two measly, inadequate sentences:

Amazon Drinking Horn Review

I suppose the entire drinking horn fiasco is a lesson never to trust any business that goes by the title The Man Cave (aren’t man caves the dens men retreat to to actively avoid work?). But beyond the opposing concepts of business and men at rest, this experience and the shit storm of unsuccessful gift-givings past has taught me a larger lesson. In the realm of obsessive-compulsions, it’s important to actively practice letting things go astray. While frenetic in its overbearing nature, my gifting isn’t at the top of my obsessive-compulsions list, and as such, I should use its occasional divergence from The Plan as an opportunity to learn to readjust and not set such avid stock in the fate of material presents. After all, gifts are fleeting: physical objects get lost, break, pass from owner to owner, get shelved, and eventually lose their significance, and Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festivals only last one glorious day. So instead of melting into a melodramatic puddle that my sister has to mop into a dustbin every time one of my big present schemes goes amiss, I should work on my ability to ignore imperfection, to learn from and harness the outcomes of mistakes, and to ultimately accept failure, thereby making my relaxation, flexibility, and optimism one of the best and longest-lasting gifts I could possibly give those closest to my heart.

Backtrack Cinema

The Spectacular Now

Every once in a while, a moving asseveration comes barreling your way through the routines of diurnal life. In my case, yesterday’s unexpectedly stirring experience resulted from a long chain of quotidian events. Forgoing my usual desire to remain bedridden until 10 a.m., it all began with a sudden spurt of productivity at 7:30 in the morning. Hopping out of bed with a vigor my body hasn’t demonstrated since Saint Nick still existed, I got right down to business and washed the sand-steeped vestments that comprised my suitcase while vacationing at Newport beach, entered a juried gallery exhibition on the subject of portraiture, conducted an array of business calls that my indolent-self would have delayed, safeguarded my bank accounts against the Target hacking fiasco, rendezvoused at the grocery store, and ventured to Victoria’s Secret to exchange a blind pity buy I’d made after receiving word that Steve Job’s infantry of Geniuses couldn’t salvage my fried laptop. Because my newfound productivity was so potent, I then decided to take up my neglected hobby of drawing for the first time since completing a festively gruesome Christmas gift that parodied The Walking Dead. Avid illustration led to a late night of BBC mysteries, and watching Mark Williams of Mr. Weasley fame merge Catholic priesthood with amateur sleuthing soon segued into one of OPB’s film critic programs. Thus, at the very end of my long day, it was this adventitious sequence of causality that ultimately introduced me to The Spectacular Now.

I had never heard of The Spectacular Now before, but with my detachment from zeitgeist culture that hardly comes as a surprise. After conducting some curiosity-fueled research and interrogating my movie database boyfriend, I learned that the film’s reception had deemed it “a slightly better than average coming-of-age film.” This response, coupled with the OPB critics’ repeated comparisons to The Way Way Back (a story that only cultivated grins and furrowed brows as it strove for profoundness), made me question whether The Spectacular Now was actually worthwhile. But when restlessness prompted me to watch it at 2 a.m., I was pleasantly surprised by a genuinely resonant narrative: one of those rare, arresting movie experiences that we’re lucky to encounter in a film era where unoriginality runs rampant amidst an endless procession of sequels and remakes.

As its average reception suggests, The Spectacular Now isn’t for everybody, and anyone whose stomach turns at the thought of teenage insecurities, judgment calls, and hormones would be wise to avoid this film. Considering my personal retrospection on the roller coaster that commences at thirteen and keeps you dipping and diving until you’re twenty, I regarded The Spectacular Now as one of the most honest film depictions of teenage sentiment I’ve seen to date, and was very grateful that someone finally endeavored to do it right.

The film starts out in typical teen-flick fashion à la She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Our protagonist Sutter Keely serves as both a party animal and wounded recipient of a recent break-up, two stereotypes that pervade the coming-of-age genre for their existing veracity. As the diegesis advances, Sutter’s preoccupation with his ex is gradually sidelined by an interest in his humble classmate Aimee Finecky. While the OPB critics dubbed Aimee “the quiet girl,” I would argue that the original author and screen adapter devised a character refreshingly atypical of Hollywood’s teenage pigeonholes. From my perspective, Aimee straddled the archetypal barrier between solitary academia and the whim to experience new phenomena, just as a real teenager exhibits contradictory mannerisms. Not to mention, it was nice to see a character who laughed her way through her dialogue just as persistently as I laughed my way through my entire institutionalized education. Once Sutter and Aimee’s courtship comes to fruition, the film turns to examine another relationship, that of our main character and his absentee father. Subsequently, we witness an estranged 18-year-old become increasingly entrenched in the pathos of inherited alcoholism, subject his relationships to an utter disdain for the future, and ultimately face the crux of how to approach the “now.”

The plot is no revolutionary tour de force by any stretch of the imagination, but the way in which the filmmakers divulge this prosaic concept is immensely effective. The critics discussing the film remarked that cinematic analyses of teenage experience are becoming more frank and relatable, citing The Perks of Being a Wallflower as an exemplary character study. In my opinion, The Spectacular Now takes human verisimilitude to a whole new level by evading the flawlessness coveted in celebrities like Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and instead presenting a cast that looks so natural you might as well be watching a documentary. The last time I was this impressed by the film industry’s stab at reality was when the latest Star Trek franchise allowed Chris Pine’s pockmarked complexion to fill screens in high definition. But even then they had Pine’s pre-established sex appeal to justify such tight cinematography. In The Spectacular Now, makeup was mostly foregone in surrender to the Georgia heat that would have melted it off, and in an uncommon scenario, we’re free to scrutinize scars, pores, double chins, and ultimately the unique beauty of real human visages.

It is this visual candor and the equally credible performances by the film’s principal actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley that result in a tangible, recollective look at youth. It’s a shame that my first exposure to Woodley was the trailer for Divergent, in which we’re expected to believe that this unthreateningly skinny girl could aid an ass-kicking insurgent squad while decked out in false eyelashes and thick slabs of concealer befitting children’s beauty pageants and the aging Southern belles who “jog” Forsyth park in hot pink sweatsuits and teased up-dos. If my familiarity with The Spectacular Now had preceded said trailer, I could have saved myself some initial cynicism, revering Woodley as a thoroughly endearing actress whose conjunction with Teller’s charisma yields palpable on-screen chemistry.

Fortunately for those of us with flighty attention spans, this is not your typical Mandy Moore and Shane West love story. True to its sense of authenticity, Sutter’s newfound feelings for Aimee don’t drastically alter his character, and their relationship is periodically marred by an ongoing reverence for his former girlfriend and the assertive asides he makes to a buddy that he’s “just giving this girl a first boyfriend experience.” Where Aimee’s concerned, it broke my heart to watch her fall victim to the rapid stages of First Serious Boyfriend Syndrome, an ailment that can be very detrimental if the first serious boyfriend is emotionally unavailable, infatuated with a previous girlfriend, and prone to abusive behaviors inherited by no fault of his own, all of which define my first serious relationship to a T and serve as further evidence of this film’s cathartic impact.

Examining The Spectacular Now from a critical perspective, there were a few sensationalistic scenes that took me out of the otherwise pragmatic depiction of adolescence. And don’t worry parents, not all senior girls who become helplessly besotted with the school’s resident Bacchus start taking casual swigs from engraved flasks. I also have to admit that some of the dialogue was a bit trite, but overall these clichés reinforce the fact that the characters are in the awkward throes of high school, a period where mentally engaging conversation is few and far in between. Despite this minor limitation, every moment of teenage discomfort, joviality, and sorrow is illustrated perfectly, reinforcing the fact that high school truly is a lodestone for insecurities, superficial behaviors, and the drive to find your personal definition amidst a throng of amorphous identities. Comparably, my own high school experience was riddled with self-centered ephemera and laughably awkward anecdotes, such as the many times I was seated behind one of my boyfriends in Advanced Algebra II and found myself repulsed by the fact that his hands looked like rubber whenever they lay motionless on the desk before him. Or the way I consistently vacillated between extremely loud, obnoxious tomfoolery and respectfully silent and diligent studiousness. I even used to pour serious effort into keeping my eyes wide open at all times to reap compliments about how attractively large my peepers were, and can clearly remember the day I opened my eyelids to their natural resting position and thought to myself, “Why does this feel strangely comfortable?” Lastly, I would be remiss to exclude the hilarious occasion on which I finally succeeded in ensnaring a crush of many months by taking him on a date in my dad’s wholly unsexy Astro Van.

The fact that The Spectacular Now transported me back to the emotions of youth and evoked so many parallel memories speaks to its powerful effectiveness. In striving for an organic ambience, this film melds the universally visceral experience of growing up and harboring raw feelings for others with a very personal story about the perceived absence of love. Not only does the visible heat of the Georgia landscape appeal to my personal ideologue of living in Savannah, but the many dimensions the filmmakers have imbued in their characters allow you to identify with, or become engrossed in, or harbor sympathy for the candid nature of human experience. It’s not often that I see myself, my former boyfriends, and my high school cohort reflected so frankly through the frames of a film, but thanks to the detailed attention paid to actuality, The Spectacular Now proved to be quite the sincere and poignant mirror.

Mademoiselle Needle’s École du Smokescreens

Sharon Needles

SyFy’s Face Off is the second reality TV competition I’ve ever exhibited real interest in (the first being a bewigged, tucked, six-inch-heel race to a rhinestone tiara), and thanks to my mom’s testimonial, my boyfriend and I started watching it in October and finished all five seasons in the time it takes Halloween candy to be forgotten in an over-abundant closet.

Akin to my confessions in several previous blog entries, there’s always been something incredibly alluring about the ability to transform oneself into another entity: to step inside both the psychology and physicality of someone else. And without the funds for those elusively reputable plastic surgeons or the gall to allow a Romani medium and her phantasmic constituents to possess you for the price of a green Ulysses S. Grant etching, makeup is the perfect vehicle for accomplishing said feat. With malleable facial features ripe for the morphing, makeup fanaticism came to me with the same gusto that impelled Claude Cahun to don a guise of androgyny, Martha Wilson to emulate the squinty, grey visage of Bill Clinton, and Leigh Bowery to manifest nightmarish acid trips in human form. Despite my odd childhood disinterest in the adult makeup my four-year-old sister idolized, once puberty hit my cocooned metamorphosis produced not a fully actualized butterfly but a chameleonic canvas upon which I would spend eleven years imagining an array of guises, utilizing this pliant mug of mine to artistic advantage.

Without any formal cosmetic training or a kit that exceeded thirty dollars, pounds of acrylic paint, wood shavings, and chip brush bristles were expended before I discovered nirvana in the form of a class description my freshman year of college. The heaven-sent Introduction to Makeup Design was a course harbored away in the production design department whose only prerequisite was the monk-like patience necessary to nab a spot on its coveted roster. Finally, after three years of waiting, becoming hopelessly smitten with RuPaul’s Drag Race one fateful all-nighter with my life-altering friend Erica, and discovering relentless idolatry in the form of Sharon Needles, I was admitted into Makeup Design my last quarter senior year. As if that turn of events wasn’t enough to make me click my heels in euphoria, happenstance scheduling conflicts enabled my Bajan bestie Logan to join the vanity mirrored mix, resulting in a more idyllic class configuration than I could have imagined. With this fortuitous development, I was ready to end my college education with a resounding, greasepainted bang.

But that was before I discovered that the usual Makeup Design professor had stepped down that quarter, and his replacement was an improv actor whose only experience courting the fair maquillage was in applying rudimentary black eyes for theater audiences whose vision was marred by distance and bright stage lights. As photo majors bent on creating conceptual, camera-ready designs that elicited either realism or hyper-fantasticality, Logan and I were less than enthused. Especially when the professor revealed the book he expected the class to teach themselves from.

Laura Thudium Stage Makeup

If your eyes perceive four makeup designs befitting a festive elementary school parade and an overwhelmingly blue cast that is no fault of any scanner, then thank your lucky carrots: your eyes are very astute. I won’t bash the publishers for comprising this collection of what someone must have deemed a valuable tool for beginning cosmetology, but based on the fact that the lesson plans contained within this book’s pages only deteriorate in technical skill from the cover on, this is no educator for a class full of college students.

Fortunately, our professor, new to his academic profession and still unscathed by the autocracy that develops after too many impositions on the school board’s behalf, was incredibly lax about our approach to the curriculum. Fully aware that he’d relinquished his teaching duties to an outdated book, Professor Improv allowed us to do whatever we pleased as long as it involved our faces and Bill Nye’s cosmetologist cousin Ben.

Thus, the creating began. While the majority of the class dutifully practiced red pandas, burn scars, and oversized foreheads, my four-person offshoot of the room fathomed into existence living tree bark, geometric cubism, Cirque du Soleil reveries, reptilian scales, and, my personal favorite, the glue-sticked eyebrows and over exaggerated cheekbones of drag. Amidst this fascinating inventiveness, the boundless ideation of my peers encouraged me to bring in a new amalgam of inspiration on a daily basis, combining the evil queen of The Magic Flute with the traditional makeup of Kabuki theater, weaving together Native American symbolism and Maori tattoo patterns, experimenting with Nordic and African horn designs, and even going all-out scary she-male by emulating my screenwriter boyfriend’s incarcerated tough-gal character Sheila.

While the education I received certainly wasn’t worth the weight of my hefty tuition (a slight on the school’s behalf that could fill an entire blog entry of its own), the chance to utilize unfamiliar tools in an encouraging environment of like-minded creativity definitely had its merits. And with the numerous portfolios and theses I’ve crafted on the art of disguise and its psychological forbearance, the comparisons to Cindy Sherman my middle school oeuvre received before I even knew who she was, and the duped professors who’ve asked of my self-portraits, “Who’s the model, a friend?”, perhaps the experimental ambling of Intro to Makeup Design will get me one step closer to achieving Skin-Walker status… sans the murderous aura Native American legend associates with it. For the face and its many facets is a powerful tool, and as any prosthetic artist, title-hungry drag queen, or student rising in the ranks of production design could tell you, they don’t call that baby your money-maker for nothing!

Tusks

Return of the Mac

Many people utilize blogs as a means of archiving life, the same way a chronic photographer observes experience through a pinhole and bisects it into truncated moments printed in silver or ink. But when life intervenes with these mediums of examination and reflection, the hobbies of writing and photographing are forced to clamber into the backseat and keep quiet while the driver attempts to navigate a slippery reality without these artistic chains fortifying their tires.

In less analogical terms, due to an adult-sized helping of work these past several months, my artwork–including the writing that I swore to revive via daily practice–has been sorely neglected. This blog and the numerous saved drafts in my post repository were put on hold in favor of tearing my hair out trying to transcribe inscrutable Welsh accents and rephotographing what seemed like an endless procession of holiday menorahs. Apparently that’s the life that happens when we’re too absorbed with our individualized distractions, so to all you ornery teenagers whose parents heckle you about your technological obsessions, simply retort, “Would you rather me join the real world and get a job trying to make photos of Peter Max’s comeback collection look decent?” Cause even your parents know you’ll get more enrichment out of “practicing your grammar” updating Facebook statuses than staring at something like this all day:

Peter Max Comeback Piece

Thus, I owe this incredibly latent blog entry to a Las Vegas vacation that both commemorated my sister’s birth and ushered in the free time necessary to dust off my artistic skill set–just in time for the New Year. As such, I concede to the hackneyed tradition of auld lang sine meditation and dedicate this entry to the year 2013.

In my adult life I’ve taken a cue from the Chinese calendar and assumed the habit of naming each year that passes based on its overarching character. For example, the year one of my houses was burglarized, my mom broke her leg on Mother’s Day, and my childhood home went up in flames was deemed The Year of the Happenstance Shit Fest. Likewise, the year I immersed myself in the stress of college, endured a nightmarish relationship that culminated in an equally inimical break-up, and met a N’awlins-scale parade of freshmen jackasses was christened The Year of Building Character Out of Tears, Eraser Shavings, and Godawful Cafeteria Food. As noted in a previous entry, zeitgeist symbols of misfortune seem to have an inverse effect on my family, and the thirteen attached to the end of this year’s moniker was no different. Thus, as 2013 comes to a close, I hereby declare it The Year of the Lucky Bastard.

For some reason, 2013 was all about close calls and seemingly unfortunate situations that miraculously paid off. Sure there were some irrevocable bumps along the way, such as the Transportation Security Administration damaging a plaque that served as the lone reward for my tireless four-year pursuit of a 4.0. And all those cockroaches that liked to host evening soirees under the sink of my very first apartment? That too was unpropitious. But beyond the fleeting disappointment of fruitless job hunts and undercooked pasta, I’ve been remarkably lucky, and figure I ought to thank the Fates in writing to hopefully remain in their favor.

At the very opening of 2013, I found myself illicitly holed up in my friend’s dorm room after her roommate unexpectedly transferred schools and invited my room change request to hang in the slow-paced limbo that is bureaucratic decision making. With a Residential Assistant just several neurotransmissions away from discovering my ploy and a roomful of my actual assigned roommates starting to ask incriminating questions, I was undeniably in one of Ulysses Everett McGill’s reputed tight spots. But somehow, a horde of angels must have possessed the pen that finally checked off my room application just before my fugitive fever could reach a critical degree and Dave Matthews (because that was actually the RA’s name) could sniff me out like a Tommy Lee Jones-bloodhound hybrid and hand me over to the authorities. It was my first utter relief of many to come this year, and as if one heavenly miracle wasn’t enough it segued into what will most likely be the nicest living situation of my adult life and the cherished friendships of my Peruvian-Chinese bosom friend and what has got to be the sweetest, golden-eyed girl in both Arkansas and the whole country over.

Thus, my college career came to a close on a very positive note. I managed to secure all the classes I wanted, I got to reap the mental benefits of working myself to the bone one last time, I got to accumulate some funny anecdotes about the unnerving process of valedictorian interviews, and I got to gaze proudly upon a shiny graduation plaque, sans the impending scratches it would procure and the future realization that Los Angeles employers don’t look at your summa cum laude portfolio unless you happen to know Jim in accounting. The last few months of college were a gloriously bittersweet time in my life, and somehow, despite the anxieties, the few atrocious professors, and the awful consistency of Southern grits, it all worked out perfectly.

The next big risk that I took in 2013 was the decision to move out to Los Angeles as soon as I graduated, despite the fact that the only thing I’d secured in that town was a mere interview with a digital teching company in need of unpaid labor. Thus, with no apartment and no assurance that said potential internship would even be worth while, I packed my bags, kissed my family goodbye as soon as I got home, and headed south to the city of opportunity, my boyfriend, and smog.

And there she was, Lady Luck waiting for me in the guise of a 2000-car pile up on the I-10 East. Within two days of the big move I’d secured my first internship and within two weeks my very own back seat of a sedan-sized apartment two miles from the Arts District of downtown LA. My situation certainly didn’t merit boasting on the SCAD alumni forums, but I had a home, I had resume-worthy responsibilities, and I had a tan. Based on the numerous post-college alternatives, things were definitely coming up Milhouse.

The rest of my time in Los Angeles was speckled with an array of auspicious occurrences: from the fact that my brand new and wonderfully endearing step-cousin just happened to live several blocks away from my boyfriend; to the instance in which a club owner eschewed his own rule of no open-toed shoes and welcomingly admitted me into the bar he’d hidden behind a barbershop storefront; to the glorious sunshine that beat down on us while we waited in line to see Flight of the Conchords and Dave Chappelle at the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival; to the unprecedented ease with which we moved my boyfriend to Hollywood; to the remaining tickets for Nick Offerman’s stand-up book tour that we learned about one day in advance; to the miraculous parking spots I always found after work in my boyfriend’s reputedly over-crowded neighborhood; to the incredibly friendly corporate Christmas party host who invited four of us strangers in and gave us the huge roll of remaining free drink tickets; to the fact that we always got front row seats at Upright Citizens Brigade’s free Sunday show; and to my boyfriend’s friend’s sister who just happens to know Hugh Hefner’s chef and got us an exclusive free tour of the Playboy Mansion and the cutest monkeys centerfold money can buy.

Hugh Hefner's Monkeys

And that doesn’t even begin to cover everything that went so well in Los Angeles. Sure the basement of my apartment building was covered in literally thousands if not millions of dead flies, like a scene from a Dario Argento film, but there was something nice about the simplicity of living with naught but a bed, fridge, armoire, and hotplate. And when a new job called for me to stay with my boyfriend in Hollywood (another stroke of luck, considering the beau’s very graciously accommodating roommates), the hardest part about breaking the lease–an unnerving concept considering my stingy, suspicious landlord–was sitting in three hour’s worth of traffic to get from Inglewood to downtown. Even more surprising still, Mr. Conniving Landlord even uncharacteristically called me “sweetheart” when he signed my ending contract with a kindly flourish.

Finally, when spending more than two days with my family for the first time in a year became a priority, I was lucky that my dad and sister’s Las Vegas vacation timed perfectly with all my settled LA arrangements so that they could simply shuttle me home upon their departure. And even if we did run into massive ice-storm traffic just outside of Medford and sit at a standstill for the duration of a whole movie and three-quarters, we’re all very lucky that my dad’s skillful driving kept us from sliding off the side of the Siskiyou mountains. Thank the cliff-side ice gods.

So even with the ups and downs promised to accompany life after college, some deity with a thirteen fetish has looked kindly upon me yet again. I may not have discovered the secret to post-grad billionaire status, but the overarching sentiment of 2013 was one of providential happiness. I’m no where near to surfacing victoriously from this transition into adulthood, but with a little luck-overflow and the same sense of positivity that carried me through the major changes of the past twelve months, perhaps 2014 will prove to be just as felicitous.