I’ll be coming where dreams are made of

9 May
New York

New York

Just two weeks into my stay in Washington D.C., I went to New York for a few hours one day. Why? Because I could. Shortly after arriving, I found out that one can take the Bolt bus from D.C. to New York in 4 hours and for as low as $12-16 each way. I quickly made plans to see a friend who lives in Brooklyn, works at U.N. headquarters, and whom I hadn’t seen in 8 years. I was too bashful to ask her if I could spend the night at her house, knowing that the last thing she needed was to prepare lodging for a guest in addition to caring for her kids. I wanted a no-hassle trip. So I decided to make it a day trip.

The sun was out, the air was cool, and I walked the streets feeling carefree. The bus dropped us off in the Soho/West Village area, which I had always heard about and surely seen on the big screen. I had heard that there was a part of New York that didn’t feel hectic and crazy, with narrow, cobblestone streets and a less frenetic pace of life. I didn’t exactly feel like I was in the middle of Nebraska, but rather that I was walking streets that were bursting with all of the best of city life: conviviality, diversity, vibrancy. There seemed to be a buzz in the air, a crackling energy. Yes, in the evening the streets got crowded, but people were congenial, friendly. It wasn’t a scowling, unfriendly city; it was full of neighborly people of all walks of life. So I strolled the area for a few hours, stopping occasionally to get a slice of pizza, later a hot tea, browsing stores and churches, until the evening came. I had a wonderful time at a restaurant in Chinatown catching up with my friend and her kids, and then I caught the bus back to Washington. I was home before midnight.

I couldn’t help thinking, as the bus pushed through the darkness of Delaware and Maryland that night, if I had chosen the wrong East Coast city to live in. New York had grabbed a hold of me.

Not a Cord Cutter

7 Apr

I’ve definitely threatened Comcast with cancellation in the past: it was always a great way to get them to back down from a proposed fee increase- once, it even got me a month of free HBO. But for me, going completely cable-less was just that, a threat. My TV viewing habits have never been to methodically watch series after series. I like watching television, but as a means of relaxing. It is the ambient white noise that I like to have playing in the background as I do the dishes or lie in bed before I go to sleep.

Yes, I like to watch TV before I go to sleep. Is it a bad habit? I don’t think so. Maybe it means that falling asleep under the stars would be tougher for me. But I go to sleep easily, drifting off as the last sounds and images seep into my unconscious. Perhaps it’s a Law and Order rerun. Most likely it’s Conan, my once and future King of Late Night. There is an element of surrender in laying back at the end of a long day and allowing the lords of programming, whether their command posts are at TNT, PBS, or Bravo, to decide what’s on the tube for the night. When using a smart TV, as many cord cutters have transitioned, one chooses which series he or she will see. If we saw Season 1 of The Mindy Project last week, then this week we watch Season 2 and begin watching Season 1 of something else. I’m experimenting with a smart TV setup now, and it seems to me that our options are rather finite. What happens when, after a few bingeing sessions, all those new series have been viewed? That’s when I would yearn for a live TV feed where I could watch an NBA game, the latest breaking news from CNN, or any content that is new and current. Not something designed for bingeing.

As ESPN and other mainstays of cable flirt with offering stand-alone subscription options to viewers, I admit that my habits are increasingly old-fashioned. Cord cutting is not abating any time soon. Consumers crave the freedom to choose what they want to watch, and when, and how. The days of flipping from channel to channel to channel may be limited. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to watch gems like this in bed while I can.

 

 

Brave/Foolish

6 Apr

The past twelve months have been a whirlwind. Last year at this time I was living and working in Mexico City; by the end of April, I had decided that I would give my boss a full one month notice, and my tenure with the company would be over by the end of May. I then spent the month of June traveling in Mexico, as well as spending time in Mexico City in what had become my favorite spots, seeing friends. Just before I went home to San Francisco on July 2nd, a friend had offered me a job running his boutique ad agency. I happily accepted, relieved that my gamble at leaving my previous job without a parachute had resulted in a soft landing elsewhere. The plan was for me to spend two months back in the U.S., then return to begin my new job in Mexico in the fall.

Sure enough, while I was at home in California over the summer, I communicated with the company in Mexico, and we had some discussions regarding pay. I decided that the pay was too little for me to live off of, and so reluctantly declined the job offer. Thus it was that in mid August of 2015, my plans were once again up in the air. No longer with a job waiting for me back in Mexico, the prudent plan was to begin looking for work in the San Francisco Bay Area. And so I did, though with some sadness, as I realized that my dream of living abroad was really coming to an end. I told myself that ten months of living in Mexico City were sufficient, and that I was still enormously grateful for what ended up being an amazing year. But I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to that lovely life I had created for myself. The culture shock of going from walking tree and flower-lined streets, passing by roving street musicians and vendors, and spending time with interesting new friends to relying on my car to get around in suburbia, driving to Costco and the mall, was real and abrupt. So my transition to life back home was difficult.

I even flirted with the idea of moving back to Mexico in December and January, when I interviewed with another company there. But my gut instinct said it was not the right job for me, and I didn’t want to rush into another job if it didn’t feel right. So I applied for jobs in the Bay Area, hoping to break what turned into month upon month of unemployment. If I am not gainfully employed in two months, it will be a full year of not working, with the notable exception of November and December, when I temped at a friend’s company. It’s the only reason I still have money in the bank. So I apply and apply, tweak my resume, and hope. Hope to be productive again.

I’m also choosy in my next role because during my last months in my last job, I felt my confidence in my abilities erode. My confidence has taken jab after jab in the last year; I am eager to do something that I am good at, where I am fully using my talents and doing work that puts a smile on my face. I don’t want to return to the old Sunday evening dread.

So have I been brave in my choices, or have I been foolish? It’s the question I turn around in my head. What would I do over, what would I do different? How did I end up unemployed and confused in my mid-thirties? I believe the answer lies somewhere between foolish and brave, depending on how I am feeling at the moment. But I am soldiering on, which is what’s important. Never backward, only onward.

2015 in review

30 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Top 6 Movies of 2015

13 Dec
Trainwreck

Trainwreck

It is time for my favorite time of year: the movie theaters are playing the films that studios hope will have a shot at an Oscar come next February. And, oh, the most anticipated movie of the last few years, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, premieres on December 18th. In compiling my list of favorite movies of the year, I am pleased to note that half of them are targeted to a female audience. It was a good year for women in movies. Feel free to peruse my favorite movies from 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

Spy. In a perfect world, Melissa McCarthy would star in a comedy every summer. But only if it were a good movie- she needs the right vehicle. One that allows her to use her gift for physical comedy, which means not only falling all over herself, but also using her face and small gestures to convey humor in small moments. Notice the scene where she attends a dinner with her work crush, played with over the top smarm by Jude Law. Her romantic disappointment is palpable, and funny. “Spy” is a fast-paced action movie that just happens to be a really funny comedy as well. Bonus points for featuring Rose Byrne as the villain.

Magic Mike XXL. Along with “Spy” and “Trainwreck”, “Magic Mike XXL” was part of this summer’s trifecta of films proving the power of the female audience. Though not starring a woman, but rather a quintet of studs, “Magic Mike XXL” was a strong feminist movie. The hunky strippers at the heart of the story make their way through the southern U.S., making various women’s wildest dreams come true- not by being gigolos, but by paying close attention to them, listening to them, treating them as perhaps no other man ever has. A highlight of the movie for me was watching the men woo a gaggle of middle-aged divorcees in the living room of a southern belle played by Andie MacDowell. That was a highlight, along with the sight of Michael Strahan and Donald Glover performing at a private club in Savannah. It’s a fun way to spend two hours. And it’s all for you, lady.

Trainwreck. If the Comedy Central show “Inside Amy Schumer” is like an intro course into the comedy and worldview of Amy Schumer, “Trainwreck” is her thesis, her dissertation. In it we learn how Amy came to have such a blasé attitude toward men-her jaded father, played by the perfectly cast Colin Quinn. Trainwreck expertly weaves vulgar comedy with genuine romance- romance as experienced by two real, very flawed individuals. The supporting cast is great, notably LeBron James and John Cena.

The Martian– The best sci-fi film of the year (although admittedly, I haven’t seen Ex-Machina), “The Martian” continues a trend from the last few years of survival stories set against a stark, outerspace backdrop (Interstellar from 2014, Gravity from 2013). The struggle is mostly man against nature, as a botanist played by Matt Damon fights to stay alive in a harsh environment, knowing he may not have contact with other humans for years. The movie produces the same optimism and faith in human ingenuity seen in “Apollo 13”. The extended cast is stellar, from Jessica Chastain to Chiwetel Ejiofor to…Donald Glover, his second appearance on this list. One of Ridley Scott’s best films in years.

Bridge of Spies. Going into awards season, it doesn’t seem like “Bridge of Spies” will earn much acclaim, despite the involvement of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Perhaps it is due to its delicate subject matter: that foreign agents held in U.S. detention must be accorded the same rights that we would want given to American agents abroad. It’s a Cold War tale with much to say about current conflicts and how to handle them. Mark Rylance, an actor I had never seen before, does a wonderful job as the accused Soviet spy. The suspense in the film’s third act is expertly filmed, and the movie gets bonus points for featuring German actor Sebastian Koch, who I would watch read the phone book. In German.

Spectre. I was particularly anxious to see this movie, since I was in Mexico City during filming, and recall the excitement of seeing the filming of a helicopter over the Zocalo with a stuntman dangling out. I was excited to see my city as part of the glamorous Bond universe. While Mexico City fades away as the opening credits begin, the rest of the movie is a rip-roaring action film. For one thing, it is not as morose as “Skyfall”. And we get to see the best European acting talent do their thing- Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Naomi Harris. And of course, the creepy Christoph Waltz. It’s sensual, it’s exciting, it’s thrilling. It’s so good.

 

To Hell and Back with Hotel Honolulu

21 Oct
Hotel Honolulu

Hotel Honolulu

Last year I was particularly proud of myself for having read 11 books, although I came just shy of reaching my ultimate goal of reading 12 books in 12 months. But for having relocated to a new country during the year, it’s not bad at all. This year has not been as rewarding, either in terms of quantity or quality. Quantity: I just read my second book of the year. Quality: I haven’t liked both books I’ve read this year. This has got to change.

I very much wanted to like “Hotel Honolulu” by Paul Theroux. I asked a friend whose advice on books I value for a recommendation- I specifically said, anything you can recommend is fine, since I’ll just download it on iBooks and read it on my upcoming trip. So he recommended this book which in its print edition is just over 4oo pages, but in its electronic form is over 1000 “pages”. When I saw that length on my blinking iPhone screen, I gasped. Nevertheless, I began reading my first e-book.

Early on, it became clear to me that the vignette style of the book was not going to hold my attention. The story is narrated by a nameless, successful writer who has fled to Hawaii to remake himself as the manager of the Hotel Honolulu. Reading on the back of the book cover that Paul Theroux splits his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii, I figured the narrator of the book may as well be named Thaul Peroux. But the narrator recedes into the background of the story, as we hear more and more about the people that stay at the hotel, the employees, and mostly, the owner of the hotel who hired our narrator to run the place. With no narrative thread to pull the whole thing together, just stories of people who come and go from the hotel, the reader isn’t given a chance to connect with a character beyond the cipher who narrates the story. For this reason, the book was not a page turner. Rather than turning the page because I was eager to follow the story, I simply pressed on for the sake of it.

But there was another reason I not only didn’t get into the story, but was often turned off by it. One common theme I found in “Hotel Honolulu” was men having their hopes and dreams crushed by the shrewish women in their life. Benno Nevermann and Vera Shihab, Royce Lionberg and Rain Conroy, and most significantly, as it takes up much of the second half of the novel, Buddy Hamstra and Pinky. In all of these pairings, you have otherwise happy, successful older men who become entangled with beautiful, wide-eyed young women. They were happy before and yet these women sucked the life out of them. The owner of the hotel, Buddy, goes to the Philippines to find a young, compliant bride, and spends the last years of his life in a contentious relationship with his foreign wife, Pinky. If there were only one relationship like this portrayed in the novel, it wouldn’t be noteworthy. But reading page after page of this dynamic left me feeling icky. The women were an unwelcome intrusion on the boys club of Honolulu. All of this left me reading the book just to finish it, and not enjoy it. Ironically, I always tell friends that life is too short for bad books. Unfortunately, I should have listened to my own advice in this case.

All Hail Game of Thrones

8 Oct
Ser Jorah Mormont

Ser Jorah Mormont

Earlier this summer, I finally succumbed to the mass hysteria, the constant urgings of friends, and began watching Game of Thrones. I resisted for so long. I likened the show to Dungeons and Dragons with nudity, not inclined to watch a show that was so tied to an un-cool genre, fantasy. But I decided to start watching. And I was enthralled.

I used to study Shakespeare, and so I recognized the timeless appeal of these characters. In the case of Jon Snow, you have the outcast determined to prove himself, a bastard at the end of the world, bound by honor and surrounded by men who either admire him or mean him harm. Daenarys Targaryen, similarly cast out to the peripheries of the realm, sheds her skin as a fearful girl and finds her way as a queen and liberator of enslaved men and women. Will she be a benevolent ruler or follow in the footsteps of her Targaryen ancestors and rule with an iron fist? These are just two of the many well-written and well-acted characters in the world of the show.

As a student of literature, I find the characters to be fascinating archetypes, all caught in an intricate power grab. Add in a bit of swordplay, the occasional nude form (more on that later), an attractive cast (as seen in the dashing Ser Jorah Mormont above), and stunning locations, and it’s no surprise why this ‘genre’ medieval fantasy show is so popular. However, as a sensitive person who easily recoils at violence on screen, there were many scenes that were difficult for me to watch. This is not only true of massive battle scenes, but scenes in which characters inflict psychological violence on each other. There is one whole season where we witness one character, Theon Greyjoy, suffer brutal torture at the hands of a mysterious sadist. I had to watch the scenes of his torture through my fingers; it was not only the violence that was hard to stomach, but the cruelty. The consistent message of Game of Thrones seems to be: conducting yourself with honor earns you nothing but suffering. In a dog eat dog world, as Cersei Lannister famously stated in season one, either you win the game of thrones, or you die. Watching Game of Thrones submerges you in a dark universe. Enter at your own risk.

With this being an HBO show, there is plenty of nudity. Before I started watching the series, I had heard criticism of the show’s portrayal of women, specifically its reliance on the abundant female nudity. The nudity is gratuitous, and we see many more naked female bodies than male ones. There is no question that the we see Westeros through a distinctively male gaze. Titillation is the point; the first time we see Daenarys Targaryen, we see her nude. There is no narrative purpose for her nudity. So while the frequent nudity on the show is mostly aggravating, and a result of the show being created largely by men, I commend the writers and producers for crafting so many interesting, multi-dimensional female characters. While watching the series, I often thought to myself, this show would make for such interesting material for a thesis in women’s studies! One reason why I find Daenarys Targaryen, AKA Khaleesi, to be such a fascinating character, is that she is both fierce and feminine. Unlike Arya Stark, who rejects the traditional feminine role she sees her older sister Sansa playing, embracing sword-fighting and even dressing as a boy to evade capture, and Lady Brienne of Tarth, who acts as a knight and denudes herself of all shades of femininity to survive in a man’s world, Daenarys is strong and feminine at the same time. She doesn’t need to shed her femininity to be imposing. I’ll perhaps explore other female characters from the show, like Ygritte the wildling, Margaery Tyrrell, and Olenna Tyrrell in a future post.

So now, like many, I eagerly await the next season of Game of Thrones. Especially the resurrection of Jon Snow by Melisandre the priestess. And just for fun, here is the web recap series Gay of Thrones.

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