Sunday, March 31, 2013

March Favorites

1) Carol's Daughter Chocolat Blow Dry Cream - It's getting a little late to mention this one since I usually only blow dry my hair during cooler weather, but I kept forgetting to add it before. As I've said before, I like that Carol's Daughter keeps their ingredients on the pure side. And this cream has cocoa products in it, so of course I like it. When I first started using it, I felt that it did keep my hair smoother after using the hairdryer.

2) Wonderland Tea: Mad Tea Party Blend - I got to spend a day at Disneyland during Spring Break, and whenever I go to Disneyland, I have to go into World of Disney. I picked this tea out because I was surprised to find that it was loose (there were also tea bags). Once I tried it, I was then surprised to find that it was really good. It's a blend with black tea, apricot, ginger, calendula petals, and some other things. It's floral but also a little fruity and spiced. It's a little girly without being sweet. I'm going to be sad when it's gone.

3) Tarte Maracuja Oil - Ulta had their 21 Days of Beauty this month and right away, I marked the day that Tarte's Maracuja Oil would be almost half off. If you know this product, you'll know that it costs $40--which has been way too expensive for me to buy it. But given that it was going to be at such a discount and that I had a month's notice to set aside the money, I finally got it. (Side note: you can usually get smaller bottles in the gift sets during Christmas that are also good values.)

The glass bottle comes in this adorable, eco-friendly box. It's like a little beach hut; if I were younger, I would want to play with it. I think I still do. The front folds back like a little door to reveal the bottle sitting inside, protected by two pieces of foamy material (I don't know what material exactly).

Normally, I would keep a product like this in my bathroom cupboard since it's meant for night use. But I just have to place such a pretty bottle in my bedroom with my perfume. I haven't been using it long enough to say much on how it works, but you can instantly feel something different about your skin when you put it on. I can't say it makes your skin feel softer: it's more like it becomes stronger and more toned or some such thing. There's a very subtle scent to the oil that I'm already barely noticing anymore.  I feel so luxurious having this.

4) Warmer Weather - I didn't realize how much my body hates cold weather until it started getting warm again. It isn't frightening summer warm yet, but it's getting warm enough to be uncomfortable during the peak of the day. Yet I'm finding myself, strangely, more energized. It's like I'm a little solar-generated figure, fading in the cold and then running around when the sun starts burning me again.

5) Belle Scarf - I spotted this scarf inside Disneyland when I was trying to bypass the crowd's from the parade (the Mary Poppins float was stalking me all the way from Main Street to the very back of Fantasyland). Given my rejuvenated interest in Beauty and the Beast and given that this was a scarf instead of the more common t-shirt, I had to come back and get it later. On the bottom of one side is Belle, with the rose on the other side. The top portion of the scarf has a soft, muted flower pattern. It's the type of thing you can wear that doesn't instantly look like merch.

6) Metal Heart Box - This little trinket came from an antique store (which happens to be four floors) in Riverside. It reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean . . .

7) Calvin Klein Lace-Edged Tank Tops - I used to like Gap tank tops; then I realized that those aren't so different from what other brands off, anyway. Lately I've been liking Calvin Klein's lace-edged ones. Only for a very few shirts does it not work to have the lace underneath. And when these tops are on sale, they're the same price as Gap ones, anyway.

8) Green Vintage Hair-Curler - Also coming from the Riverside antique store is this Little Women reminiscent piece. I had been wanting one for a while, but just hadn't gotten around to choosing one. And since this one had a green handle . . .

9) Gianni Bini Flats - I thought $9 was a pretty good price for these, even if I've been wearing them so much in the last month or two that they're already getting worn. They're basic, easy to wear, good for "transition weather," and they go with most of my clothes.

10) Fairy Tales - I don't know what I'll think of Once Upon a Time a year or two from now, but I'm enjoying the moment's re-immersion into fairy tales. Let's bring out the Grimm's and Hans Christian Anderson collections, shall we?

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Host of the Southwest

Do you hear that sound? That's me jumping up and down at how happy The Host made me.

A very brief glance at reviews from critics and non-critics would show that not everyone agrees with me. But I say, all the more reason to quickly put down my thoughts on what I liked about this movie. The top section should be spoiler-free, but I'll go into a couple more details after the jump.

While the trailer emphasized the sci-fi action side of the movie and while that is one side of it, as a whole this isn't an action movie. (If you want action, go watch The Avengers again, enjoy yourself, and don't bash The Host: The Avengers practically put me to sleep.) It also isn't a romance, despite a few kisses. It's sci-fi, but it also takes place largely in a desert. You see what's emerging here? All the careful balances that I see in the book translated into the movie.

It's very much a psychological movie (not in the Black Swan way), asking questions about humanity and identity and human relationships. While perhaps not all of those relationships get developed in great detail during the movie, I think what matters is that they're there: this particular story is about how Wanderer and Melanie interact. Other characters are only in addition to their story.

Visually, I adored the desert of New Mexico standing in for Arizona. I just felt so at home; maybe that's why I enjoyed the movie so much. I was smiling broadly at all the landscape shots (except the sandy one: was that too sandy?).

Audio isn't always something I notice or focus on in a movie, but I noticed it here, perhaps because it had so many components. Melanie's voiceovers worked well; it was genuinely disturbing when she first spoke, and then later became rather natural. The score was great: I appreciated the choice in the type of instruments and the more organic, less pop approach. Just having the song by Imagine Dragons for the credits is enough. Sound editing also helped move emotion through the scenes in conjunction with the actors' performances--which were also good. Saoirse Ronan, I initially didn't think you looked quite right for the part, but you really did it.

If anyone is worried about just getting something more like Twilight, don't be. Just as the books are separate and different, so are the movies. They have certain traits within them that might make them appeal to the same people, but it's also entirely possible to not like one but like the other. So if that association happens to be holding you back, don't let it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Beauty Did Marry

What's so funny to me about watching Once Upon a Time is that three of my favorite things in the show were already three of my favorite things before I had seen the show: Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast, and the Crocodile from Peter Pan. Does that mean that I'm just liking the things I already liked, or that there were deep reasons for why I liked these things that the writers took advantage of to put depth into the show?

Whatever the case, I have been re-delving into Beauty and the Beast. As far as Disney movies go, I suppose I've always liked this one in a particular way. Belle, as a brunette, is the princess who looks most like me; she also reads, like I do. A couple years ago, I watched a live-action version of the story that stays closer to the text than Disney does (if you didn't know that Belle's father is a merchant instead of an inventor, let me be the first to tell you). And I'm vastly curious if, when I was younger, I either watched another movie version or read an adapted version of the story. The reason for this is that when I was reading one of Charlotte Brontë's juvenilia (either The Green Dwarf or The Foundling), there was a scene that felt very familiar. Turns out, it echoes parts of the Beauty and the Beast story. What? It could just be a basic fantasy element that many people have used, or it could be that Charlotte read Beauty and the Beast in one form or another. Given my recent post comparing the story to Jane Eyre, I am vastly curious about how familiar Charlotte would have been with Beauty and the Beast.

Anyway, I guess you can say that Beauty and the Beast is part of something sitting deep in the shelves of my mind. Because I don't actually remember reading the story, I went on Amazon and purchased (for a dollar) the Kindle edition (to read on my laptop) of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's 1740 version. I thought this would be the closest I could get to "the original" since fairy tales don't really have originals, anyway. But after finishing, I was reading on Wikipedia about the differences in Villeneuve's story and the version adapted from it; it began to seem that I had in fact read the adapted version, not the full one. Amazon, did you trick me even though I paid you a dollar instead of looking for a free version?

So I may still be missing parts of the story (although the Kindle copy did include a few illustrations from different artists at the end that were interesting to look at). And I'm finding difficulty tracking down the specific text I want to read--and there I was thinking the Internet had everything.

But I do want to comment on a couple of things I noticed. Especially considering the Disney version, it is easy to see this story as commenting on the difference between outer and inner selves. And it does have that theme. But it's also social and semi-political, especially considering that Villeneuve was writing close to the time of the Blue Stockings. The fact that Belle's father (although the English translation calls her Beauty, I'm used to calling her Belle) is a merchant is big. Not only does this place the family in a specific class, but it also contains implications of international relations.

There is quite a bit of play with social class. The family begins as rich (though not aristocratic), but then loses everything before once again gaining some of their wealth back through the Beast's gifts to them. So not only am I seeing that them of inner/outer selves, but of social selves. Who is Belle? Is she upper class? She's in the rising middle class, but what does that mean? The Beast is a prince--but he marries her. (And I realize that Belle's identity, according to Villeneuve's story, is also revealed as royal in the end.) So we also have the theme of apparent social class not fully describing who a person is. This concept, I suppose, isn't so different from Sleeping Beauty or King Arthur (although both those cases are more about poverty being unable to hide true royal blood).

And then there's the inevitable marriage question. Whether or not the story means for marriage to be a good thing, well, that could take some time to answer. Especially, once again, given the type of literature that was being written around the mid-1700's.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Expectations for The Host

Now that my posts have made a smooth transition from Charlotte Brontë to Stephenie Meyer, let's let that transition culminate in the newest venture, the movie version of The Host.

In case I haven't mentioned it enough, I adore the fact that The Host takes place in Arizona. Arizona's getting a bit of a cultural movement of its own lately, and The Host is one story that brings Arizona to a mainstream audience. I like that. So even though they filmed the movie in New Mexico (which is a fantastic place, yes, but a different one), I still want it to feel like Arizona. In this chance for visuals to be stunning, I want visuals to be stunning.

I've heard a little about how they decided to handle the distinction between Melanie and Wanderer. However their plans play out, there needs to be as much distinction between them as there is in the book: the questions it asks about identity are central and important. This may in fact be the biggest topic the story brings up. The movie has to get it right.

Along those lines, I also don't want to watch this movie and just feel like it's a love story. Yes, that's a large part of the story, but I don't think it's the biggest part. Probably there won't be any issue with this, though.

I also don't want forced effects, action, or visuals--things that scream out cool sci-fi, that is. This is a sci-fi story, but it also has a great deal of nature and human identity/relationships (I suppose, after all, most good sci-fi does have the latter). Again, I think everyone realizes that it would be a mistake to trample on everything the book offers, so I'm not expecting to be disappointed in this regard.

That's about it. I'm not making a big list of the scenes that I want to see in the movie or how the characters need to deliver their dialogue. I just want the important things to be there and to feel the same way watching the movie as reading the book. I don't want to be picky, but I also don't want the film to disappoint me.

Until Friday morning, then.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Belle, Jane, and Bella

I did intend this post to simply be about Jane Eyre and Twilight, but somehow Beauty and the Beast is coming in, as well. And, no, you're not allowed to criticize me for this post: I'm still feeling cool about how well my thesis on Charlotte Brontë went on Friday, so I consider myself plenty knowledgeable on the subject.

Jane Eyre is, in many ways, a Beauty and the Beast story--considering the skeleton of each story, that is. The heroine goes to a dark, large house in some type of subservient way. The grumpy master of the house seems intimidating on the exterior, but the heroine is able to see beyond that and beyond his past (which she eventually discovers in more detail) and the two fall in love and he is restored to a previous state of goodness. I'm not as surprised to see how similar, in a kind of Gothic way, the two stories are considering that Jane Eyre was published in 1847 and Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's version of the fairy tale came out (in French) in 1740--that's a hundred years in between, but they're still in a similar time period (as opposed to the difference between 1847 and 1547 or 1647, for instance).

Now we bring in Twilight. What has sometimes bothered me about how people talk about this book (when they say that it's childish and portrays a creepy or abusive or whatever relationship that sets a bad example) is that people seem to forget what that silly group of books considered "the classics" is like. Twilight is very much like Jane Eyre. Stephenie Meyer has of course said she modeled it somewhat around Pride and Prejudice (as New Moon is to Romeo and Juliet and Eclipse is to Wuthering Heights). But his name is, after all, Edward Cullen--like Edward Rochester. And although I know Stephenie Meyer had already liked this name on its own merit, Bella sounds suspiciously like Belle.

There isn't a good comparison for Thornfield, but Bella does go to the isolated location of Forks like Jane goes to the isolated location of Thornfield. First-impression-wise, Edward is a grumpy character--like the modeled-after-the-Byronic-hero Rochester. But he and Bella watch each other like Jane and Rochester watch each other. Both couples sort of bond over frank speech that involves criticizing each other; when they talk, they form their own brands of conversation.

Plot-wise, both do have some issues of power struggle. Jane and Rochester (in my interpretation of the book) resolve this issue through the rebirth that each one experiences during their time apart (after Jane discovers Bertha's existence). Time apart? Well, well, that sounds just like New Moon, doesn't it? Bella and Edward also have to spend some time apart (although it does mean something a little different for their relationship) and some time evaluating their own identities before they can fully enter a relationship as equals.

Beauty and the Beast comes back in with that idea of looking past the exterior of a person. This is something Belle, Jane, and Bella all are able to do. The theme isn't about allowing yourself to be caught in a possessive relationship or going after someone who isn't like you. It's about realizing that people are who they choose to be, not a pre-determined someone they were meant to be.

So that's why I think it's perfectly natural that I, English Lit. major that I am, should like Twilight. It's written on the wings of the historical books that I love.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Well, hello, there. I'm just sitting here feeling even more successful than I did on Wednesday. The reason: I defended my honors thesis this afternoon.

Really? It's done? What once sounded like such an intimidating concept?

But I put my work into the project, and it paid off. While they say most students have to do some final revisions after the defense before turning it in, I walked away without having to do any--my professors told me that was the first time they had ever said that to anyone. Excuse me while I go and gloat.

Really? That was me? I was the one to not need to do revisions?*

What a wondrous concept. Following this discovery came dinner at House of Tricks (Tempe people, go eat there if you've never been) (there may have been a glass of champagne involved) and a walk by Tempe Town Lake in the cool and calm evening air.

Goodness, how do I ever end up achieving anything? You really can do anything if you try to, can't you? Can it be so true that possibilities are limitless?

*Of course, I was the first person for these three professors--not the first person ever.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"With Honors"

Yesterday I went to pick up my honors cords for graduation and let me tell you, it is such a different experience getting honors cords for college than for being in the top 10% of your high school class. I went to a smallish sort of high school, where the fact that I was in the top 10% didn't seem to necessarily mean much. But when you go to pick up honors cords for the highest (out of three) academic recognition (based on GPA), that's something.

At ASU, honors cords are maroon, gold, or both. I knew which I was getting, but it was still an unbeatable moment when the person at the office handed me my summa cum laude cords (yes, this is based on my GPA as of last semester, so it's subject to change on my diploma depending on the grades I get this semester--but I don't think I'm doing any worse than usual this semester). Instead of putting them away immediately, I had to hold them for a minute while I walked out of the building, stroking the bright yellow and red. Then I started walking around campus thinking, I've conquered!

I walked down Palm Walk beaming, looking at all the familiar sights from the last four years. I was seventeen when I first started walking this campus; now, years later, it seems that not so little has changed until I take the time to think about what I have learned and what I have achieved since then. I am still young and I still know nothing, but I have done a bit more and realized a bit more than I had back then.

High school graduation is just something you do (that is, it was for me). But college graduation (I'm only going to the honors college convocation, by the way) is different. It means success and it means the end of an era. I'm not going to graduate school: this is it. So I've tried to make the most of these four years and judging by those honors cords, I think I've succeeded.

(Oh, and on Friday I defend my honors thesis--should I be nervous or excited?)

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Adventures of Connor & Abby: Part 13

Sooo, I have been hanging out in California for a few days for Spring Break (What do you think? Should I give more tidbits about where I went later?). One morning went toward the Natural History Museum (not in small part for nostalgia's sake). Connor and Abby wanted to come along to see the dinosaur wing. These pictures, however, are not from there: they're in the Discovery section, where you're allowed to go right up against the displays. 

 I think this picture must have been taken prior to that year in the Cretaceous . . .

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Neglected, Little, Splendid Brontë Poems

But alas, the library due date for my copy of Poems has come yet again and I've decided I shouldn't keep renewing it anymore. How I shall miss thee, dearie, little book. I was beginning to think you were mine, so accustomed had I grown to seeing you perching on my desk.

As you can see, this copy was the 1978 edition by Rowman and Littlefield. The library had two different versions and while the other was a much earlier edition, I chose this one because it still referred to the sisters under their pseudonyms (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell). I thought that meant it would be more like the original copy they published.

Being such a, ah, fan of the Brontës, it was a pleasure to read their poems, even if they are recognized (almost only) for their novels. True, some of the poems in here weren't the most wonderful in the world, but some were rather good and all of them helped to illuminate the sisters' writing as a whole.

Although Charlotte is the one I claim to have the greatest connection with, often Emily's poems seemed to come across with the greatest (or most often) strength, making me wonder why they aren't read more. Maybe I can see why the casual reader wouldn't read them, but why don't literary scholars read them more? In classes I have taken as an undergraduate, there are poems we have read that I felt weren't as "good" as some of the ones in this book. (Of course, I understand that, as a scholar, you read things for a variety of reasons: it may be their artistic merit, their subject matter, their popularity at the time they were written, etc.).

As much for my own records as anyone else's, I kept notes on which poems stood out while I read. From Charlotte: "Mementos," "Frances," "The Teacher's Monologue," "Preference," "Evening Solace," and "the Missionary." The last one, naturally, reminded me of St. John: I'm beginning to see his character in a new way and reading this poem helped me see just what Charlotte may have intended with his character. From Emily: "Stars," "The Philosopher," "Remembrance," "The Prisoner," "Hope," "Sympathy," "Plead For Me," and "The Old Stoic."While some of Charlotte's poems I marked because of how they reminded me of her other writings, Emily's poems were often very good on their own. She seems to be the one who got the most out of this format (although I really shouldn't compare them). From Anne: "Home," "Memory," "The Student's Serenade," and "Fluctuations." While I certainly marked less of her poems, you have to love Anne's artistic voice. "Fluctuations" was actually the last poem in the collection and it was very beautiful. (It also reminded me somewhat of Midnight Sun. Enough said on that sub-topic.)

Now I sigh. I'll have to get my own copy of Brontë poems someday.

Switched at Birth: Perspective Switch

The theme this semester is identity. These themes arise inevitably and naturally: all the things in my different classes and even in my personal reading or watching converge into a point of commonality. It's ridiculous but also intriguing.

I believe I made a passing mention a year or so ago that I was watching Switched at Birth. It happened that I watched the first ten episodes on Netflix, enjoyed them, and from there started watching the new episodes on Hulu as they came out. Overall, I enjoy the show as something casual to put my attention on. But every so often, it surpasses something and becomes really worth my time.

You've probably heard by now, but the "special angle" that has made this show is that one of the girls who was switched is deaf. So through this show, I've seen more sign language than I ever have in my life. Being able to see, just a bit, into a different perspective is one of the amazing opportunities of fiction and it's wonderful that this show has taken raising awareness about the deaf community so seriously. It dives head forward into many related issues and makes challenges by encouraging questions and answers.

This week's episode, minus the first and last scenes, was presented entirely without audio. Now you see why the show is often called revolutionary? I've never watched something like that; it was amazing. At first, it felt wrong: you see the characters communicating and you can read the subtitles, but there still seems to be a barrier between you and them. But at some point, that barrier (mostly) faded. In any piece of fiction, you are seeing through a chosen lens (whether it's a character's perspective, some other narrator's, or simply the camera's). For this episode, the lens happened to be deaf. And as a hearing person, being able to see (even if only in the most basic way) through that lens was so new and so eye-opening.

Many of the online comments are centering around whether or not they should have added music. Not using music certainly would have made the experience more immersive, but neither do I think it completely detracted from it. Either way, this episode was a wonderful piece of work, showing how TV can entertain but can also take chances and inform and make discoveries. 

Switched at Birth, you have something.

Monday, March 4, 2013

This Is the End

I was talking today with a professor about narrative endings and the complications that arise when a book ends. When you close that last page, the illusion ends: whatever reality was in that world ends when the book comes to its literal last page.

Some books end with a too recognizably conventional ending. Whatever the places they took you during the plot, they still end on that same note. I also went over this with a different professor last semester when I was working on a project on performances of Much Ado About Nothing in the nineteenth century. In that play, the plot goes into some strange places and asks some complex questions, but it still ends with the "happy marriage." The nineteenth-century story I remember comparing this to was The Woman in White, which does similar things with gender and marriage before returning to a traditional, marriage ending.

The question I am coming off of all of this with is, what do I want from an ending? What do you want from an ending?

Sometimes the "modern" (I put that in quotes because I think other time periods had their own version of this phenomenon, as with serialized books, for instance) trend of writing ongoing sequels as the mark of a successful book bothers me. It bothers me because I feel that, sometimes, it makes the writers forget what was important about this story to begin with. It takes away the focus and thus the quality.

Each story that is told has a reason to be told. If it was told in the first book, then you have to have a new, additional reason in order to merit a sequel. In other words, a book ends when we have heard what we need to hear about that story.

This is why it normally isn't a good thing to hear every detail about a character's life, from birth to death. Some stories tell all of this; sometimes it is a good thing and sometimes it just doesn't work. If we learn everything about a character's life, every part of his life must be important to some overall point. So if in To Kill a Mockingbird, we only hear about this brief period of time in Scout's childhood it is because the story is about what happened around Scout during that particular time. A story about Scout at age 60 would be a completely different story. So it would be ridiculous to write a sequel to the book where Scout is getting ready to go to college: that isn't what is important about this story.

So a book ends naturally, on its own. The ending shouldn't feel incongruous: even if it is a jarring ending, it must have its precedents in the rest of the text. It should make some sort of sense, even if it is unexpected or whatever else. It's satisfactory in the way that it complements all the preceding pages.

(I think I have mixed up the concepts of where, timeline-wise, a book ends and where it ends thematically. Sorry about that.)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sally & Lucy Snowe

Sometimes I like to go back and watch an episode or so of The Dick Van Dyke Show--it's just such a positive show with pain-free comedy, contrasting greatly with many (not all) of the darker fiction today. Even still, there are a few darker threads, if you will, in this show.

Darkness is also something that lurks within Villette, Charlotte Brontë's last published novel. The heroine, Lucy Snowe, grapples constantly with isolation. But the question some critics have brought up is whether she in fact makes her life and human relationships more complicated than they need be. Could she, for instance, have had a relationship past friendship with Dr. John? Although she constantly thinks about loneliness, is she in fact as willing to have companionship as she lets on?

Back to the TV show, Sally reminds me something of Lucy. She is constantly going on dates and telling herself she's gorgeous and saying she's so desperate she'll marry anyone. But she never does. She has quite a few moments of loneliness, but still her situation doesn't change. We realize she isn't so desperate and willing to settle as she says. But does Sally also, like Lucy, complicate things more than they need to be?

Further, can we fault either character if the answer to the question is yes? Or do they act the way they do simply because that's who they are?