Monthly Archives: June 2010

Facing the unexpected

My morning was going along pretty well, nothing too exciting. I managed to drag myself out of bed and to the gym, had a pretty good workout in spite of being intimidated by the beefy guys in the weight room (I went to a machine after one of them and had to move the weights down 100 lbs.), got back to my apartment, started the coffee maker, and got in the shower. So far so good, just a normal day. In the middle of my shower the fire alarm goes off. Now, I live in a large apartment complex, so this was bound to happen at some point. In fact, I’m surprised that it has never happened before in my four years of living in buildings with hundreds of other people. Needless to say, I was pretty irritated. I stood outside still slightly damp in wet clothing with my roommate waiting for the all-clear. An hour later I’m sitting here writing to you, fully dressed and ready for anything the world wants to throw at me today.

The half-time during my shower today made me think about facing the unexpected in a bigger sense. No matter how much we try to plan and control what will happen in our lives, ultimately we can’t. I will admit that I’m very much a control freak about how my life goes. I love to worry about where I’m going to live after I graduate, if and where I’ll get a job, who I’ll live with, how I’ll make friends, etc. Basically anything you can think of. But even my best laid plans have, in the past, fallen through. But they’ve fallen through to give me things better than I had planned for myself in the first place. This isn’t always the case though. My uncle is fighting cancer right now and things can be pretty discouraging for him and our family. No one plans for cancer, and regardless of whether it’s that or something else, we can never plan for what life will put in our way.

I wish I had some encouraging anecdote about how things always work out for the best, but sometimes they just don’t. I guess the nature of life is that we will never have total control, need to give up on the idea of total control, and just take things as they come and make the best of them.

Shut up Chris Brown

(6/29 edit: The embedded video that was once here was removed by BET.)

So last night at the BET Awards, Chris Brown took the main stage again for the first time after beating his ex-girlfriend, Rihanna. The backlash against Chris Brown after this incident was pretty strong. Most of America took Rihanna’s side, even after Brown apologized publicly in numerous interviews, somewhat blaming his behavior on witnessing his mother be abused as a child and therefore carrying on what’s often called a “cycle of abuse.” While Rihanna’s career is as successful as ever (good for her), the last I’d heard of Brown was in early June when he was denied entry to the UK on grounds the British Home Office describe as, “We reserve the right to refuse entry to the U.K. to anyone guilty of a serious criminal offense. Public safety is one of our primary concerns.” I applaud the UK for this decision! I’d like to argue that one reason domestic violence is so prevalent in America– one in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime (click here for a domestic violence fact sheet)– is because it’s often treated with a slap on the wrist by our legal system and society.

Last night’s performance by Brown goes to show how quickly we excuse this despicable behavior in our society. First, the fact he was even allowed to perform to such a wide audience as major cable network BET‘s was disturbing. Second, his tribute to a pop star held with such high prestige as Michael Jackson is questionable– of all the people they could have found to do a tribute a year after Jackson’s death, why Brown? Doing a Jackson tribute was a sure way to draw attention last night, and it does not seem to reflect very kindly on Jackson’s memory to have an abuser of women (although, ironically, Jackson may have been an abuser of children) be the one to pay homage to him. Third, Brown’s breakdown was clearly a publicity stunt. He started crying during his performance of “Man in the Mirror,” a song about changing ones self to make the world a better place. Clearly Brown pulled this to have people feel sorry for him and finally forgive and forget what he did to Rihanna.

Pop culture embracing Brown as a changed man sends a message to those in abusive situations (abusers and victims) that this type of behavior is easily forgiven and forgotten. This is a dangerous and heartbreaking message.

Happy birthday to Lucille Clifton

Today is Lucille Clifton‘s birthday. The poet was born in 1936 and died February 13th of this year.

“won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Why and How I Love Poetry, and a Poem

Before college, I never liked poetry. The way I approached it (I’d venture to say the way my teachers taught me to approach it) was as a stale, old, dusty code we were to crack. Each poem had a secret meaning, and the goal was to crack the code to find that one meaning. It was boring to me and often I had a hard time finding that one meaning.

My freshman year of college, I had two roommates who loved poetry. Their approach toward it was so different than the one I had: they found poems they loved and just loved them. They’d share them with each other, and eventually me, and we’d just sit around from time to time sharing with each other poems we liked. There was no code to crack, just love and enthusiasm.

I began scanning the internet for poems that spoke to me in some way. These were mostly contemporary poems: my first love was e.e. cummings. We never really discussed him in school, I think because most people are afraid of his writing, that they aren’t able to crack his secret code. But when you’re not reading for a secret code, when you’re reading for love, there’s no reason to be afraid.

I soon started keeping a notebook of poems I liked. The only rule is that I have to like the poem and that I can’t just copy-paste-and-print it. I either have to hand-copy it or re-type it. If I don’t like a poem enough to do those things, it’s not worthy of my own personal anthologies. At this point I have a notebook and ½ after a little over two years. I go through phases where I add a couple poems a week, and other phases where I don’t add anything for a couple months. The point is that this is not mandatory work for me, it’s love. If it feels like work, I’m not doing it right. The notebooks are cool because I can go back and find poems that I may not be able to remember enough about to find otherwise. It’s also pretty cool to go back through sometimes and re-discover poems I’d forgotten about.

From time to time I’ll post poems I love on this blog. While I can do grade-A New Criticism close-reading explications (English majors will know what I’m talking about by this), in my opinion that only makes poetry stale, and I won’t do that here. It reinforces the idea that there is a secret code that we can crack if we look at poetic devices in a scientific way. I want my readers who don’t already love poetry to find that passion the same way I did. I’ll share things I love with you and tell you why I love them. Sometimes I’ll just give you a poem comment-free so you can come up with your own ideas as you read.

Here’s a first poem for you to sample. I hope you like it as much as I do.

“My Heart” by Frank O’Hara

I’m not going to cry all the time
nor shall I laugh all the time,
I don’t prefer one “strain” to another.
I’d have the immediacy of a bad movie,
not just a sleeper, but also the big,
overproduced first-run kind. I want to be
at least as alive as the vulgar. And if
some aficionado of my mess says “That’s
not like Frank!”, all to the good! I
don’t wear brown and grey suits all the time,
do I? No. I wear workshirts to the opera,
often. I want my feet to be bare,
I want my face to be shaven, and my heart—
you can’t plan on the heart, but
the better part of it, my poetry, is open.

5 Reasons to Watch: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, was released in 2009. It’s based on a Ronald Dahl book that tells the story of a fox whose family and community must face negative consequences when he cannot stop stealing from local farmers.

5 Reasons to Watch

1. Visually Captivating

Anderson’s artistic sensibilities are superb. The stop motion animation is wonderful, as are the periodic drawings when the animals hit electric fences, along with his overall vision. It’s wonderful to watch simply from an artistic viewpoint.

2. Characters are Simultaneously Human and Animal

The cast features foxes, badgers, weasels, a rat, and humans. The human characters are all constructed as bad guys, but they are funny in their own way and definitely will each point back to people you know personally. The animals in the film are smarter and more civilized than the humans. They are all incredibly witty with touchingly human emotions and reactions. Their dialogue is intelligent and poignant (marked characteristic of Wes Anderson is, in my opinion, nearly perfect dialogue). That being said, the animal characters are still animals, and the funniest moments of the film for me where when the civilized animals suddenly spring into wild animal mode, scarfing down their food and digging feverishly. The animation used for these parts is hilarious and reminds you that you are watching a movie about animals.

3. Touching Story

Something that often turns me off from children’s movies is the lack of a good story. This film had that though, with issues ranging from becoming better for your significant other and family, taking responsibility for your actions, the importance of family and community, seeking parental approval, being different, and adapting to change. I think these incredibly human story lines are what had me forgetting over and over that I was watching a movie about foxes.

4. All-Star Cast

If George Clooney and Meryl Streep co-starring in a movie aren’t enough to persuade you to see it, it’s probably because you are just too indie for such major stars (and won’t admit that the two are spectacular actors, even when they’re not physically on screen). But, if you are too indie for that, Anderson’s all-star team of Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and even Wes Anderson himself come out to play. Rest assured there are no cheesy voices pandering to small children used in the film.

5. Mr. Fox’s final toast

You’ll have to watch to understand the subtleties of this quote, but it is extremely poignant and touching even if you’re not a fox.

“They say all foxes are slightly allergic to linoleum, but it’s cool to the paw – try it. They say my tail needs to be dry cleaned twice a month, but now it’s fully detachable – see? They say our tree may never grow back, but one day, something will. Yes, these crackles are made of synthetic goose and these giblets come from artificial squab and even these apples look fake – but at least they’ve got stars on them. I guess my point is, we’ll eat tonight, and we’ll eat together. And even in this not particularly flattering light, you are without a doubt the five and a half most wonderful wild animals I’ve ever met in my life. So let’s raise our boxes – to our survival.”