Category Archives: Pop Culture

Truth # 1 – There is No Time.

My mother always told me, “Life is what you make of it.” She’s right. Life is a blank canvas, waiting for you to paint, sketch, or write what you want on it; if you don’t, if you lead a passive consumer life, you’ll be about as satisfied as you are when you buy That Thing featured in all the commercials – which is to say, not very – and no one will take your complaints seriously. I used to live a life that my ex called “following the path of least resistance.” I allowed life to happen willy-nilly, and I adapted accordingly, because I had no real concept of what sort of life I wanted to create. I had time, I thought, to figure it out; I was willing to spend my twenties in a haze of passivity. That passivity ultimately ended up in motherhood, marriage, divorce, and lots of permanent scars and craters in the landscape of my life. Some of the happenings were fantastically good (My son is amazing, for instance.), but if I’d taken a more direct approach to decision-making, if I’d formulated some sort of a game plan for life, my life would definitely look much different than it does, now. It doesn’t, and that’s that – but I’d like to encourage you to take control of the time that you have, because you aren’t guaranteed a later. To quote a dear friend of mine that is not on the blogosphere:

 “your world, your life is yours to shape.  the universe hands you a hammer with which you can tap or you can bang on your life as you see fit to make it the way you want it.  but when you stop doing, when you wallow and mope and allow all the crud to bury your will, you flip that hammer around and offer the handle to whomever is out there.  and when that happens, more often than not, some bastard is going to grab hold and just whack away and dent you all to hell.  but even if you are lucky and some kind person takes possession, their well meaning taps inevitably also do damage — for they do not know what shape you really need and want your life to be.”

Even if you don’t know what you want, your best guess is better than anyone else’s- because it’s yours and this is your life. So, here’s the truth: you don’t have time to goof around with. Time is an illusion. You have this moment, right here- the present. You can spend it any way that you choose, but there’s no such thing as “buying time,” and this moment is irreplaceable.

“Hey man, d’you wanna buy a watch?”

“Hey no, man. Like, I’m not into time, man.”

– Tommy Chong (this is one of my earliest movie memories – thanks, Dad)

You’re better off making it up as you go along than allowing anyone else to do so. Even the most well-intentioned ‘other’ is going to have ulterior motives, good or not. During the above-mentioned passive haze of my 20s, I stumbled into a Barnes & Noble with one of my best girlfriends, and while I was scanning the shelves for Wayne Dyer books I saw this: pronoia The cover is attention-grabbing, so I picked it up and flipped it over. Imagine my surprise when I read this:

“I have seen the future of American literature and its name is Rob Brezsny.” – Tom Robbins

(Tom Robbins is my favorite author. His books are the Bible of my life, and I first encountered his work on the shelves of a thrift store- Jitterbug Perfume was the most satisfying novel I’d ever read, and it only cost me fifty cents.) I didn’t buy the book. I waited, but when I went back later it was gone. I scanned bookstore shelves for it constantly, over and over, everywhere I went. Finally, nearly two years later, I found the book in a different bookstore in a different city while shopping with the same friend. And I bought it then.

From the cover:

Human beings are selfish, small-minded, violence-prone savages, civilization is a blight on the earth, and the rising tide of chaos ensures that everything’s going to fall apart any day now. Right?

Wrong, says Rob Brezsny. In fact, evil is boring. Cynicism is stupid. Despair is lazy. The truth is that the universe is inherently friendly. Life is a sublime game created for our amusement and illumination, and it always gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.

This book causes enlightened introspection, spontaneous optimism, and careful evaluation of your intentions – all in a flippant, artistic, playful manner. It’s the sort of book you might color in, underline, and write in the margins of. It is, in short, a guidebook to life. I still have two more entries inspired by this book, but for now, I’ll close with snippets of interest from the interwebs:

kamsutra1_2722329b

nanowrimo

Stay tuned for more Pronoia and an update on my word count for NaNoWriMo.


The Fault in Our Stars

“Like, I realize that this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five… so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these bastards.”

John Green’s The Fault in our Stars  is the quintessential cancer book – and it’s written for young adults. The language is clear and concise, but infused with every bit of the depth of meaning that you’d expect in a book on the subject of life and death. And it’s one of the few books that I think will be even better as a movie.

The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Hazel Grace Lancaster is relatable on paper. She’s not an insipid Bella-esque teen; she’s a quirky, cynical, real sort of girl that says things like “There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer,” and, “A nonhot boy stares at you relentlessly and it is, at best, awkward and, at worst, a form of assault. But a hot boy… well.” But on paper, she’s still paper. You have to fill her in with that girl you knew that had cancer, who wasn’t as this-or-that as Hazel is. On screen, Hazel will be free to finally be her own paradoxical person: both brave and scared, vulnerable and guarded, young and old at the same time. On paper, she won’t be a caricature of cancer.

The book is full of philosophical references, making it one of the smartest young adult novels I’ve seen on the market in a long time.

The best bits of the book are the soliloquizing, and being a fan of Tom Robbins I can certainly appreciate that. This book would have had more depth without the plot, as a simpler writing on the emotions and thoughts involved with cancer – however, without the love story, the masses wouldn’t have bought it. Well played, Mr. Green.

The most fascinating plot element was (at least for me) that of Peter Van Houten and his novel An Imperial Affliction. Hazel writes him, “…you got everything right in An Imperial Afflication. Or at least you got me right. Your book has a way of telling me what I’m feeling before I even feel it, and I’ve reread it dozens of times… Frankly, I’d read your grocery lists.”

Here’s what I didn’t love about it: I didn’t love the ending- and not for the reason you’d think. I anticipated more Peter van Houten and less John Green, I suppose. Que sera.

There is beauty in the simple choice of words that John Green uses; lofty words, simply profound meanings. Fun lines:
“Television is a passivity.”

“…the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.”

You can get your copy here.


The Night Circus

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is one of the most elegant books that I’ve ever read.  Even the Wikipedia summary reads like a glowing review:

The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical fairy tale set near an ahistorical Victorian London in a wandering magical circus that is open only from sunset to sunrise. Le Cirque des Rêves, the Circus of Dreams, features such wonders and “ethereal enigmas” as a blooming garden made all of ice, acrobats soaring without a net, and a vertical cloud maze where patrons who get lost simply step off and float gently to the floor. The circus has no set schedule, appearing without warning and leaving without notice; they travel in a train disguised as an ordinary coal transport. A network of devoted fans styling themselves “rêveurs” develops around the circus; they identify to each other by adding a splash of red to garb that otherwise matches the characteristic black and white of the circus tents. The magical nature of the circus is occluded under the guise of legerdemain; the illusionist truly transforms her jacket into a raven and the fortune teller truly reads the uncertain future, and both are applauded for their ingenuity.

The circus serves a darker purpose beyond entertainment and profit. The magicians Prospero the Enchanter and the enigmatic Mr. A.H— groom their young proteges, Celia and Marco, to proxy their rivalry with the exhibits as a stage. Prospero teaches his daughter to hone her innate talents by holding ever larger and more complex magical workings in her mind. Celia takes her position on the game board as the illusionist who makes true transformations, adding tents and maintaining wondrous aspects from the inside. Mr. A.H— trains his orphan ward with books in the ways of glyphs and sympathetic magic and illusory worlds that exist only in the mind of the beholder. Marco takes a position as majordomo to the producer of the circus; he works from the outside in, connected to the circus but not a part of it. The two beguile the circus goers and each other with nightly wonders, soon falling in love despite being magically bound to a deadly competition with rules neither understands; the magical courtship strains the fate laid out for them and endangers the circus that has touched the lives of so many and cannot survive without the talents of both players.

I’m grateful to Kirinjirafa for recommending this book to me (even before she blogged it), because it transported me out of my lately mundane day-to-day routine into a world of magic and beauty. I was so enthralled with the book that I read it in tiny morsels, a chapter at a time, savoring every sentence.  I’m not even sure how to convey how much I love this book.

Here are my favorite passages:

The striped canvas sides of the tent stiffen, the soft surface hardening as the fabric changes to paper. Words appear over the walls, typeset letters overlapping handwritten text. Celia can make out snatches of Shakespearean sonnets and fragments of hymns to Greek goddesses as the poetry fills the tent. It covers the walls and the ceiling and spreads out over the floor. And then the tent begins to open, the paper folding and tearing. The black stripes stretch out into empty space as their white counterparts brighten, reaching upward and breaking apart into branches. “Do you like it?” Marco asks, once the movement settles and they stand within a darkened forest of softly glowing, poem-covered trees.

and

As the light from the trees increases, it becomes so bright that Celia closes her eyes. The ground beneath her feet shifts, suddenly unsteady, but Marco puts a hand on her waist to keep her upright. When she opens her eyes, they are standing on the quarterdeck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink. Tiny lights hang across the sky, like tightly packed stars bright as sun. “I thought something vast would be nice after all the talk of confined spaces,” Marco says.

I’m staying tuned for more information regarding the movie adaptation. Do you think the beauty will translate to the screen?

If you haven’t already read it, buy your copy here.


Books Oprah Wasn’t Wrong About

I’m not anti-Oprah. I’m not an Oprah groupie, either. I can think of several bombs on her book club list (I’m pointing at you, James Frey and Billie Letts!), but that doesn’t mean all of them were. She has very eclectic taste, covering a wide variety of styles and plotlines. The only common denominator I can see is that all of the novels she recommends are depressing.

Since Oprah’s Book Club has returned as 2.0, here is my timeline of books she was right-on about (IMHO) the first time around:

1999 White Oleander 

What Oprah Says: “Page after page, I fell in love with a story that deeply moved me, and vivid passages that described the sky as the color of peaches and compared sorrow to the taste of a copper penny.”

What I say: The movie really sucked, but the book is prose that reads like poetry.

The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert that fall. Only the oleanders thrived…”

2000 Open House, by Elizabeth Berg

What Oprah says: “In this superb novel by the beloved author of Talk Before Sleep, The Pull of the Moon, and Until the Real Thing Comes Along, a woman re-creates her life after divorce by opening up her house and her heart. Open House is a love story about what can blossom between a man and a woman, and within a woman herself.”

What I say: Elizabeth Berg brilliantly captures the emotions involved with losing someone.

You know before you know, of course. You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone. You stare at the man you love and you are staring at nothing: he is gone before he is gone.”

2001 Stolen Lives, by Malika Oufkir

What Oprah says: “…People read the book and they are changed by it—enlightened by it —opened up by it.”

What I say: This book is an emotionally evocative account of Malika’s political imprisonment in turbulent Morocco, and it is well worth reading for educational and entertainment purposes.

Finally the trucks slowed to a halt. We were blindfolded and led through one door and then through another. The blindfolds were removed, and we found ourselves in the small courtyard of what seemed to be a former farmhouse-now converted to a prison. The walls of the enclosure were so high that we couldn’t see the sky. Soldiers stood at arms in each corner…”

2004 Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

What Oprah says: From Stiva’s debts and infidelity to Levin’s idealized dream of a wife and family—from Nikolai’s drunken Communist rants to Kitty’s naive and passionate heart—Tolstoy weaves an extravagant web.”

What I say: Not being fluent in Russian (or knowing any at all), I can’t enumerate the merits of the new translation Oprah chose for her book club. I did read it, though, and enjoyed it quite a lot. There aren’t a lot of grabby lines in Russian literature, in general- things tend to be a bit dry and long-winded, so I won’t give you an excerpt. The plot is really the point of this story.

2004 One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez

What Oprah says: “Brace yourselves—One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez is as steamy, dense and sensual as the jungle that surrounds the surreal town of Macondo!”

What I say: An intricate, fanciful, truly epic, all-encompassing novel.

“He dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. Petra Cotes, for her part, loved him more and more as she felt his love increasing, and that was how in the ripeness of autumn she began to believe once more in the youthful superstition that poverty was the servitude of love. Both looked back then on the wild revelry, the gaudy wealth, and the unbridled fornication as an annoyance and they lamented that it had cost them so much of their lives to find the paradise of shared solitude. Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out people they kept on blooming like little children and playing together like dogs.”

2008 A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle

What Oprah says: “This is one of the most important subjects and presented by one of the most important books of our time, A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose. I don’t think there’s anything more important than awakening and also knowing what your purpose is.”

What I say: This book will blow your ego.

“So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.”


I Met the Bloggess

Not really. Really, Kirinjirafa met the Bloggess, and I intend to blatantly steal as much related content from her as possible (or, some), as a special kind of repayment for her introducing me to this blog in the first place.

If you think this:

Knock-knock, motherfucker!

is funny, you should read The Bloggess (and then print the Beyonce paper doll here). If you don’t think it’s funny, there’s either something wrong with you or you need to read the rest of the story.

Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. The Bloggess) deserves to be so much more than an internet sensation, so all of her adoring fans were ecstatic way-back-when, when she expanded her soon-to-be-empire to include a book. Most of us even pre-ordered it and read it on our Kindles (cough, cough)  the day that it came out, and then slacked off on blogging that momentous event for several months. The book is just like the blog, but there’s more of it. Blog entries are only so long, and when you read one, you have to wait for the next one. Not so with the book. With the book, you can read 336 pages in one sitting if you want! (But when you finish, you still have to wait for the next one.) Buy the book here.

One day, I hope I really do meet Jenny Lawson. But until I do, this autographed illustration Kirinjirafa made for me will suffice.

Kirinjirafa’s lovely illustration work with Jenny Lawson’s signature, and it’s MINE, all MINE!


A Sh*tty Post

I apologize in advance for the PG-13 nature of today’s post (if, indeed, a four-letter word constitutes a PG-13 rating nowadays). Anyway, if you’re under 13, stop reading now, since I can’t make this post password protected without eliminating most of my readers. (Sorry! If you’re under 13 and you’re going to read this anyway, keep quiet about it so your parent’s don’t hate me, k? Thanks.)

Today’s post features two works of sh*t. The first, a pop culture phenomenon gone New York Times bestseller, titled Sh*t My Dad Says, by Justin Halpern.

Image

Made famous by a twitter feed of hysterical (and usually profane) dad-isms, the book gives more vignettes and anecdotes with back stories. It’s easy to read in a lazy morning (or evening), and it has a few moments that are touching, even to those of us that aren’t particularly close to our fathers. Seriously, it’s awesome. Just ask William Shatner.

(Or don’t, since the series didn’t make it.)

The second book will probably only appeal to fans of a crude Canadian comedy called Trailer Park Boys, and I stand proudly admitting that I think it’s hilarious.  The Dicshitnary  was released in a very limited edition and authored by the series’ Mr. Lahey (a.k.a. John Dunsworth). True to its name, it is indeed a dictionary of Sh*t.

ImageImageImage

If you enjoy the episode  below, you’d probably get the Dicshitnary. If not, don’t bother.


Retail Anarchy

If the idea of spending a long Saturday surfing slickdeals and coupon forums appeals to you, you can get a ton of stuff for free. Most of us know this, and are too lazy to put the amount of effort necessary into seemingly small gains. I spent a month or two working the drugstore systems (I ❤ CVS and the like) and winning gift cards through SwagBucks before I got bored and moved on to things that I deemed to be more productive uses of my time.

Now, some folks find that awkward or just plain tacky. I used to be among that lot when I worked in retail myself. I really disliked it when bargain hunters would come in (especially when I worked on commission), and I steered well clear of them whenever possible, until one day I worked in a store that went out of business and we had to liquidate all of the merchandise and fixtures. I got some amazing bargains there, and I helped many other people get them as well. It was exciting to see families come in and buy things that they probably wouldn’t have purchased otherwise for their children. People’s eyes would light up when they’d come up to the register with their purchases. It was a free-for-all. Chaos reigned. But it was also a thing of beauty.

A few years later, I put in some time selling merchandise online for a charitable “thrift” store, and I was amazed at the family heirlooms that came in, unwanted by the families of deceased relatives, as well as the number of costly items that came in with tags attached, unworn, unwanted. When you’re faced with multiple floors of floor-to-ceiling cast-off stuff, you’re staring at our culture’s consumer mentality. As unfortunate as it sounds, a loss in one place balances itself with a gain somewhere else.

Retail Anarchy‘s author Sam Pocker (a self-titled economist) promises to make his readers both angry and delighted in the introduction of his book, and he makes a good point – in a rambling, chaotic style (for a visual sampling, check out his website), he pokes fun of our consumer culture that leads us to pay inflated prices for merchandise that we don’t really need to people that aren’t really offering us good service. He chooses to fight our warped retail system by manipulating it and teaching other people to do the same.

This is a book that’s best nibbled at instead of swallowed whole, since reading through it from start to finish does tend to lend an impression of being complained at by an elderly person. Don’t let the rant confuse you; Sam Pocker isn’t elderly. He’s merely gifted in the art of gripe. Example from the section entitled “How to Argue with a Cashier”:

The nihilistic and almost dictatorial manner in which corporations try to determine how you “will” and “want” and “need” to buy things and at a price that only exists because you, the consumer, let it exist.

Food for thought. Retail Anarchy is happening, people. It’s like the Rebel Alliance rising up against the Dark Side of the Big Box Stores. Or something.