Tag Archives: life

Update

Dear Blogosphere,

Please forgive me. I know that I’m a really shitty blogger sometimes. I know that I go long, long days and weeks without posting anything. You have to understand: I’ve been very stressed out lately. Today was my moving day. Oh, what an adventure. The trailer that had all of my worldly possessions in it blew a tire about half an hour into the drive. We (as in me, my mother, her boyfriend, my dad and his girlfriend) were stranded on the side of the freakin’ highway for about an hour and a half. We waited for my cousin to bring another tire for the trailer. That tire didn’t fit. We waited to come up with another plan. We waited for my dad and my cousin to go get another goddamn tire. It was some straight bullshit. So we got back on the road, FINALLY. All the while my three other roommates are texting me, I’m stressing out because I don’t even KNOW if we’re going to be able to sign this lease today and I have to pee really fucking bad. Finally we get there. By some miracle, I managed to miss out on all that major drama. It’s time to sign the lease. Jesus tap dancing Christ.

We sign. We come to the apartment. All of my furniture is brought in. We set up the bed, unpack some stuff rearrange stuff here and there. Me and my family and two of my roommates hang out for awhile, order pizza, all is well. Now I’m sitting here in the living room to my new home while my roommate sleeps on the loveseat. I miss my mom already and she’s only been gone for like two hours. This is my first move away from home; I’ve lived with my mom all my life and this is really, really hard. My best friends are in Chambersburg and I miss them too. But it’s okay. All is for the better. I get to go to school now. In the next few days I’ll go job hunting, hopefully find a part-time job and all will be well. Andreas will be here in a matter of days. That will make it easier. And then I’ll start college and be so preoccupied that I won’t have time to be sad over home (that’s such a lie, I’m gonna keep missing my mom for as long as I’m not living with her).

And I know that she’s sad. I know that she’s probably going to cry a lot tonight. But it’s okay. I’ll call her. We’ll still be close. For now, I’m just completely exhausted. I need some rest.

Sincerely,

Ashley

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San, Seas, Sita and Overpopulation: What I’ve Been Watching.

Hello, blogosphere. Happy 2010. Happy new decade. I spent half my life in that decade. Last night for an hour, my lover and I were in different decades. Time is a weird construct. Anyway. I’ve been very sick since Sunday; it sucks on many levels but the good thing about it is that I’ve been watching lots and lots of movies. And I want to talk a little about them and the thoughts I’ve been having. The night before last I watched two animated films from 2009 that were on Roger Ebert’s ‘Best of the Year’ list, Ponyo and Sita Sings the Blues, and last night I watched Coraline, Beauty and the Beast (I needed the nostalgic comfort) and Princess Mononoke.

Princess Mononoke and Ponyo are both by Hayao Miyazaki who is…pretty much a fucking animation god.  He also did Spirited Away (2001), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), etc. If you’re someone who’s into anime at all, you’ve most likely seen one or more of his works. I saw Princess Mononoke a few times when I was younger and really liked it though I didn’t understand it very well. Watching it again, especially hot off the heels of seeing the huge, clumsy, visually-refined-to-death, monster that is Avatar (in brain-burning 3D no less) was very refreshing. Where Avatar is very manipulative about who you’re supposed to like (because all the military people are assholes and all the Na’vi are nature-loving, good people) and what you’re supposed to feel about everything, Princess Mononoke presents all the characters as very real, rounded characters who have lives and motives outside of “I’m the opposition so I act this way!”. Even Lady Eboshi, the film’s main antagonist: she’s not really hateful or evil, you don’t like what she does and it’s frustrating and upsetting to see it but you don’t really hate her or want her to die. Avatar and Princess Mononoke have a similar core conflict: humans vs. nature. Avatar also has about a million other messages it’s trying to weakly get across (just tossing an idea into a movie without any development behind it does not a powerful message make) but that’s the main point.

Princess Mononoke and Avatar are two wildly different examples of how to present the same idea. Where Avatar is  heavy-handed and full of cliche characters and situations and a horribly predictable storyline, Princess Mononoke morphs an old idea into something more original. Not just man coming and destroying nature. Man’s industrialization of the land corrupting the very bodies and souls of the gods of the forest. You would think a film with a premise like that would come across heavy-handed but again all our characters are interesting and have personalities outside of being mere plot devices and it gives more depth to the film and more opportunity to think. Because although Avatar has a wealth of heavy subject matters it’s playing with, you don’t have to think to know what it’s saying. They spell it out for you. You don’t have to think about which side is good or bad because each side acts as a homogeneous entity, expressing the same ideas and beliefs. You don’t have to think about what you think should happen because the movie tells you what you think should happen: the military should take its ass away from beautiful Pandora.

With Princess Mononoke we care about and are invested in characters from both sides and the story being told is told eloquently and beautifully. And there are more personal biases, such as my natural tendency towards traditional animation. I have always been drawn to and more impressed by traditional forms of animation than I have CGI (Princess Mononoke has about five minutes that include some computer generated images and the rest is all hand drawn); people have been creating awe-inspiring worlds like Pandora for years and years and years, with ink, paints, clays, etc. And so while I didn’t intend to turn this into a comparison of the two films that’s what ended up happening and as far as I’m concerned Princess Mononoke wins.

On a much (much, much, much) lighter note: Ponyo! Ponyo just….made my fucking day. If you are sick, watch this movie. If you are sad, watch it. If you are happy, watch it. If you are a alive and breathing watch this movie. It is so wonderful. Just…delightful. In my opinion, it’s very hard to pull off films that have little to no real conflict; it’s why a huge majority of children’s G-rated films are so mind-numbingly boring, stupid and patronizing. But Miyazaki has a knack for films like this. Much like My Neighbor Totoro (which you should also watch if you are alive), most of the film centers around childhood and how children perceive things. Ponyo is Miyazaki’s take on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid.

When little Ponyo mischievously wanders off one day and ends up in the bucket of a little boy named Sosuke, she decides that she wants to be a little girl too. Despite her father’s attempts to stop her she uses her powers to transform herself into a cute, hyperactive little girl and reunite with Sosuke. During all this, she manages to flood the entire town. Ponyo is especially delightful to me because all of it is hand-drawn, every last bit. And that’s really important to me. For traditional artists the idea that animation could be (or is being) replaced with computers is incredibly unnerving. And so it’s important for amazing animators like Miyazaki to maintain that balance between how much computer animation is used compared to hand-drawn.

Ponyo‘s American distributor is Disney and they dubbed it with appropriately moronic leads: Noah Cyrus, younger sister of Miley and the younger sibling of the Jonas Brother’s, Frankie (it balances out a little though; Tina Fey plays the mother). But I don’t really have a problem with that since I usually prefer to watch foreign films with subtitles opposed to dubbing nor do I have a problem with Disney distributing this film, it makes sense that they’re the American distributor (even though this movie is better than most things they’ve put out lately). Though I am kind of irked by the American poster for Ponyo:

Am I the only one who sees the similarities? If so, feel free to tell me I’m crazy but seriously. Just cause they both have a fish and water doesn’t mean they’re similar. But anyway, the point is you should watch Ponyo. Like seriously, go watch it right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re a little kid or a teenager or an adult or really old: this movie is great and you need it in your life.

All of the movies I’ve watched over the last two days have been animated, most of them traditionally animated but what I’m going to talk about next was made on a computer, mostly in Flash animation in fact. I know that might sound weird coming hot off the heels of me claiming my undying love for traditional animation but my love for traditional forms of animation doesn’t mean that I hate all forms of computer generated art. There is a lot of very wonderful, beautiful, meaningful computer generated art and I understand and respect that computers are now just another tool for artists to use if they choose to. And the following film would not exist or even be able to be SEEN without computers and that is just very sad to think about. The movie I’m talking about is Sita Sings the Blues.

It is very hard to even describe this movie, it’s so wildly original and creative. That basic story is that of an episode of The Ramayana, focusing on the story of Rama and Sita, with the perspective on what it was like for Sita and all she had to go through. The film makes use of four different styles to bring together parallel narratives: one which tells the story of Sita and Rama, with painted figures and minimal movement; another in which three traditional shadow puppets (voiced by Aseem Chhabra, Bhavana Nagulapally, and Manish Acharya) casually discuss the story and what it means from a modern viewpoint; a contemporary parallel done in Squigglevision which is actually the story of the writer/director/animator Nina Paley’s own divorce (which is how this whole movie came into being); and  brightly colored, cartoony episodes wherein Sita sings the songs of  ’20s jazz singer Annette Hanshaw (who has top billing).

The use of the Annette Hanshaw songs is where things get interesting. Sita Sings the Blues has a fascinating, inspiring story behind it involving freedom of culture, copyright and Nina Paley’s desire to share her art. I won’t get into too much detail about it here because it’s pretty complex and you can read all about it here but basically the use of the Annette Hanshaw songs meant that she couldn’t distribute Sita legally; after managing to bargain down the price for the songs, this woman went into debt to make this movie legal. It became a festival favorite while its creator was dead broke. It’s a perfect example of just how broken the copyright system is and how ridiculous it is to try and own culture. Happily though, Sita got a limited DVD pressing and is under a Creative Commons license which means that you can go and watch it, download it, copy it and share it. You should go watch it right now on Youtube.  In the words of Nina Paley’s website:

I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.

The story behind Sita Sings the Blues is about as amazing to me as the film itself. And as a result I’ve become incredibly interested in Nina Paley; she’s absolutely fucking awesome and I love her. I discovered that she is childfree (what’s up!) due to her concerns with overpopulation and I found this short film that she made. It is so interesting and fun to watch.

And it actually got me thinking a lot about my own views on breeding. I don’t want to breed, I’m happily child free and I have no maternal feelings or fantasies about being a mother or having babies. I don’t like children and I have about a million reasons why I wouldn’t make a good mother, despite what people who barely know me have to say about it. But this video cemented the idea I’ve had that if somewhere along the line I decided I wanted a child I would adopt. Why should I bring another human being into this world when there are so many children without parents? It doesn’t make any logical sense to me so I won’t have any part in it.

So that’s a little window into what I’ve been up to lately; forgive me if any of it is incoherent or just plain weird, as I’m still sick and not very clear-headed. I hope to start posting regularly again soon after I get better. I’m going to go watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which will make four Miyazaki films in the last two or so days. I’m awesome.

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Filed under art, Body, Cinema, Media, Personal, Politics

Yuletide postings

Happy holidays, blogosphere. Christmas is on Friday, Andreas left school to be in Mound for another two weeks and posts have slowed a little. It happens sometimes. I personally have been busy and tired and REALLY need to fucking finish my Christmas cards. Like…seriously, I am running out of time. So yeah, posts will probably be slow in coming until after the holidays/Andreas goes back to Carleton. I never realize how much of my slack he picks up until he’s not around to do it anymore. But it’s okay. Posts will pick up and I’ve still got toys to review (including the large Ripple, which was given to me for Christmas!).

Happy holidays to everyone and enjoy the snow (if you have it)!

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Life is strange and getting stranger all the time

Human life is a queer phenomenon. It’s just really fucking weird. It’s just… God, how we all go through and not come out on the other end utterly stark raving mad is beyond me! It’s just so strange, all of it. So, OK, I’m supposed to be writing an 8-page paper analyzing the 1964 Japanese horror film Onibaba (a fascinating endeavor I wish I’d started earlier) and I read this fantastic xkcd strip and something just clicked where I just went, What the fuck! Life is strange! And it made me think something I often think, about how we get so absorbed in the moment, in whatever we’re doing (or worse yet, have to do) now, and we forget to put everything in context. We are but new, additional people doing the same things, more or less, that everyone’s done for all time. Happening over and over again. Time marches on. Ashley and I discussed a lot today, and went through a lot of emotions, and one idea i started thinking about was – just the idea of giving yourself some distance, some detachment, and looking at all the bullshit being thrown at you every second of your life and going, What the fuck! Life is strange! It’s just incomprehensible. It’s just unbelievable.

And I’m reminded now of this blog entry from Amanda Palmer that we read the other day. The crux of it? Art is important. It’s not just that, well, if we’ve got some food and shelter and mass-produced comforts that mean we don’t have to worry about infant mortality – well, then, maybe we’ll write some poems and paint some pretty pictures. No: art is an essential part of coping with life on earth. How could we get along without it? Apparently Socrates once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And all these beautiful art forms we have (and are constantly adding) are different lenses we can use to examine our lives. See them in different ways. Peer into our own souls by borrowing someone else’s looking-glass. Tell stories to pass the hours and make those hours worth something (I’m just now finishing up a class on storytelling, after all). I have something, somewhere, that I wrote about superheroes that I want to repost at a later date. It was about how superhero comics are a valid, interesting medium and art form, and its medium-specific attributes – for example, due to the length of its publication and number of authors. Comic books are just more stories. They can be about anything. Often they’re about superhumans having all kinds of outlandish adventures. What’s so unusual or unacceptable about that? The Greeks, the Aztecs, the Vikings, the Hindus – they did it millennia ago and their stories have been used as the basis of great art ever since. Hell, what’s the Iliad or the Ramayana but the ancient analogue of X-Men and Justice League? Sure, I’m exaggerating and oversimplifying, but I’m making a point. We’ve told crazy stories about fictional people for as long as anyone can remember. It’s not going anywhere. Gilgamesh, Samson, Achilles, all those epic heroes – their stories are a necessary part of building up human civilizations and cultures. So I think I’ll write a blog featuring that essay I wrote at some point.

Anyway, life is strange. It’s inexplicable, it’s confusing, and it’s frightening. It’s frequently absurd. It’s usually unfair. To be honest, I don’t really get it. But I feel compelled to talk about it endlessly. And if we’re already prisoners of something, I see no reason to imprison ourselves further within boxes of close-mindedness, of convention, of tradition, of needless, endless labor. I want to be as free as I can, within the constraints of my mortal existence, and I refuse to lock myself within the jail cell called “everyone’s expectations.” I was contemplating this the other day, and I wanted to write about it: the expectations that everyone imposes on us. They assume we want to become wealthy, obtain money, marry, settle down, have children, own a house, own two cars, have pets… have everything everyone else wants for themselves. Presumably we can and want to become rich and famous. Who are “we”? I don’t know. Us human beings trapped within this little ring of existence, this plane dominated by the value sets I’m laying out. You are not allowed to lay out your own future, say the voices. Use one we’ve already drawn up. These futures are so pretty and we’ve been telling you from birth to follow this path. It’s like, you know, the Game of Life. Everyone follows the same path and everyone ends up the same place: dead and alone. No matter how much money or how many children they have. One of the more interesting, insightful parts of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I think, was a line from Benjamin’s last will: “I will go out of this world the same way I came in, alone and with nothing.” It’s more or less true (and a sadder fact than the movie ends up admitting). It reminds me of this brilliant, depressing Mark Newgarden comic:

"We all die alone"

© Mark Newgarden

We all die alone. Even hillbillies. Hey, what better way to deal with despair than stare it in the eye and laugh? But my point is that I’m sick of being expected to follow this path, that path, take the road less traveled by or more traveled by or whatever. I’m also sick of the world being set up so that there are a finite number of roads to travel. But enough of this wearisome traveling metaphor. My point is that I want to set out for the territories à la Huck Finn, whether these territories – the ends of charted space – are physical, metaphysical, ideological, cultural, what have you. I want to set out for them and fulfill my dream, in high school, of ending up “on the cutting edge of something” within the next few years. I don’t know what I want my lifestyle to be. Watch some movies, eat enough to stay alive, don’t freeze to death, read every once in a while… what more can you ask for? Love someone. Create something. Even if it’s just an origami flower (I wish I could make those). Or a sketch of a stick figure getting eaten by something big and unspeakably evil. See, I’m giving myself ideas!

At this point in my life, naïve or not, these are the points I keep repeating: Love someone. Create something beautiful. Hell, leave the world a better place than you found it! Apply that old campfire adage to the your presence in the world as a whole. Don’t be an agent of change for its own purposes; do it to make something better for someone, no matter how small the difference. I’ve been looking for a quote lately. I think maybe an activist or journalist said it. I don’t recall it exactly, but this was the gist of it: Give comfort to the hurt, and hurt the comfortable. Basically, if someone is complacent and settled and totally in acceptance of everything, well, upset them a little! But if someone is all tangled up and confused and out of balance, then give them solace. I like to take this thought into account. And God, I want to know what the actual quote is. I really want to get involved in alternative media. This is something that’s so, so important to me. It’s not just that I have an egomaniacal urge to let the world know my every thought. I want to try to introduce and spread alternative viewpoints, suggestions that maybe there are paths we haven’t quite charted yet. It’s just depressing to look at the mainstream media and see so much utter shit, in theaters and bookstores and on radios and televisions. So we need other voices (possibly in other rooms) to let us know about all the other options out there. This is what I believe. I may be wrong, but at least I believe it.

So life is strange. So this is my 3 am why-aren’t-I-writing-my-paper blog that vaguely ponders the meaning of life and then lets me go back to my frenzied little personal hamster wheel. I don’t know. Just take a step back and gaze down on all the emotions suspended in the air around you like clouds of smoke. Glance around at the tiny lengths of thread connecting you to every other human being with whom you’ve ever interacted. You may go into and out of this world alone, but here and now is your chance to be with someone else and do selfless, pure good in their life. Don’t fuck it up.

I
               will go out of this world the same
               way I came in, alone and with
               nothing.

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