Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Buon Natale

Because the majority of my morning (and afternoon, for that matter) will be spent unwrapping gifts like a gleeful five year old and drinking loads of eggnog, I'm going to say those magic words ahead of time:

Happy Christmas, everybody.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sunday Thrills.

Buona mattina, mi bambini! I feel very guilty that I've only written one article this week, but 'tis the season I suppose. I'm finding myself in a very strange position at the moment because the holiday season seems to have just fallen on top of me without any warning. It seems like I was just minding my own business, attending public school and stressing out about finals, when all of a sudden here comes Christmas, standing on my doormat with mistletoe in hand. Luckily, most of my shopping is done so I can avoid the mega-hells that are mega-malls, but it's strange nevertheless to think that Christmas is in two days. The thrill of it all.

Happy pre-Christmas, everyone. But more importantly, happy sunday!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shop, Drop & Roll

Shopping, as strange as it sounds, has become an addiction. We shop because we're hungry. We shop because we're full. We shop because we're bored. We shop because we have too much to do. We collectively shop and we shop on our own, and this Dr. Seus tale of credit card swipes and tendered cash can spin on and on.

But what makes us go into a shop? Is it the goods sold inside, the prices red- tagged, the names on the labels, or none of the above? When it comes down to it, why do we put ourselves into positions where all we can think about doing is roller-skating from one store to the next with Gap bags on each arm?

Or, more relevant, why do we always seem to associate the holidays with shopping binges? Of course, we as Americans will forever flock to strip-malls around the holidays to pick up that standard electronic or funny toy, but on a psychiatric level I want to know why we shop
where we shop.

The closest thing to a conclusion that I've come to is one of the most noticeably subliminal ones. It's something that we never pick up on, but we always notice no matter where we go and the more eccentric the better. It's one of those silly little things that puts a paycheck in someone's hand and a credit card bill in someone else's.

Store windows.

I watched on a few days ago as a slew of New York types working for various department stores fought to out-do the decorator before them when it comes to store window presentation. Macy's decided to physically illustrated some children's book about snowpeople, snowmen on merry-go-rounds with bow-ties and Norse hats filling up every single window on the building. Another department store in Vegas went for the "flashy fairy" look, decking out plastic mannequins with harlequin pearls and reflective materials galore. But, the most impressive in this large scale of roadside marketing, Neiman Marcus literally constructed robots, yes
robots, to decorate a iron Christmas tree in their front window.

The funny thing about this kind of superfluous decorating is that it sells. The more crazy the front window, the better the impression it leaves on people. The better impression it leaves, the more dollars in the register at the end of the day. People aren't interested in simplicity; people want the kind of grandeur that you can't find in everyday life. People want something spectacular for their hundred and thirty dollars, and the Christmas season is just a convenient excuse to go all-out.

Store windows define personalities. Sure, amidst all this eccentricity in the shopping world you'll always find a hidden gem whose motto is a slow & steady "keep it simple." Instead of the fore-spoken kind of craziness when it comes to holiday decorating, you'll find polaroids strung up into wreaths and spindly trees woven from book pages. Windows represent us as shoppers and as people, and our choices as to where we want to spend our money depend on what we see when we walk by. While the Hollywood wannabes prefer the monochromatic color scheme of an H&M, bohemians will find comfort in the warm and simple tones of an Anthropologie. Hipsters flock to the black chandeliers of Urban Outfitters and those hopeless teenagers will forever find individuality in the cave-like entrance to Hot Topics around the country.

It's like an art form, this window decorating, with the goal not just to appeal aesthetically to the window shoppers of America, but also psychologically. These glass case decorators have a hard life, and must spend their days denouncing the paintbrush and instead picking up the neon signs. Or the recycled cans. Or the christmas lights.The best part about window decor is that it
always reinvents the wheel, but the art form as a whole really doesn't see anything wrong with that. Because each time the final touches are made on that copy-cat window, you come out with something completely unique that will have an appeal to someone out there.

Every window says something different, and you don't need to know why you shop where you do. It's only when you finally do figure that out that you learn a little more about yourself.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Thrills

Happy Sunday, everyone! My boyfriend's just arrived in town fresh from a very notorious art college in New York City, so the posts will be slowing down as long as he's here for Christmas break. We've taken to re-exploring the tiny little city of Palm Beach, so I promise that it'll at least give me something interesting to write about.

Happy livings,
- M.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Red Carpet Massacre

Required Watchings For The Psychopath In You:

Also known to anyone who's
not an American as Saam Gaang Yi, Three Extremes is what happens when you get three of the best damn directors Asia has to offer and tell them to raise hell in 125 minutes. Composed of three mini-flicks, Dumplings, Cut, and Box, Three Extremes explores different interpretations of mind-bending horror and finds more than one way to terrify an audience.

Dumplings, directed by Fruit Chan of Hong Kong, winds through the freakish measures that women will take to stay young. Lee, a former actress and high-society broad, wrestles with her age, watching as wrinkles form and as she slowly fades from the spotlight. Fed up and distressed, she voyages into the heart of urban Hong Kong to visit Mei, a woman who is renowned for her age-defying dumplings. Reluctant but headstrong, Lee indulges and quickly becomes addicted as the dumplings' powers take hold, slowly restoring her to her former glory. It's only when she discovers their bizarre and grotesque ingredient that she starts to question whether it's worth it.

Cut, by Park Chan-wook of South Korea, is a little on the lighter side but heavier on the gore. A successful director in Korea's booming film industry seems to have it all; a loving wife, a stable career, and a house that would put European castles to shame. Yet, he seems to remain modest and retain his pre-fame demeanor, despite all of the glitz and glamor circulating around him. It's only when a disgruntled extra kidnaps him and his wife that he's forced to re-examine how he's lived. This extra, deprived of the glory he feels he deserves, steals the spotlight by forcing the forespoken director into a sadistic game of catch-up, chopping off his wife's fingers every five minutes.

And finally we have Box, from Japanese horror superstar Takashi Miike. In my opinion, Box is the most successful of Miike's films because of its time constraints. It quite simply doesn't have enough time to drag on like the rest of his films do, and so all of the action ties in quite nicely. In it, we watch on as the recurring nightmares of a quiet young woman, Kyoko, slowly elevate into hallucinations. Constantly plagued by the feeling and vivid visualizations of being buried alive in a small box, Kyoko begins a tireless search for her long-lost twin to help alleviate the nightmares. When her searching takes her to an abandoned circus, she finds herself staring down her past and, quite literally, the very box she was "buried" in. Inside of this box is something no one expects, and Kyoko soon finds out that there's a lot about her & her sister that she chose to forget.

The best part about Three Extremes as a whole is that no single featurette will stick out to you any more than the rest. Some will rave about the lunacy of Cut, but others will find the grim and sorrowful tone of Box far more uncomfortable. Any way you look at it, this is one devilishly scary film.

The Cell
For some strange reason, this movie seems to be constantly passed over when it comes to mind-bending movies and repeatedly sent to the bargain bin without a second glance. I've yet to understand why because despite the fact that it stars Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn, the movie absolutely rocks.

Catherine Deane, a child psychologist, mingles in an experimental virtual reality used to communicate with comatose patients. Inside of this program, doctors can visually experience the depths of someone's mind and through this scrutinize exactly what's going wrong. The main hope, as Catherine attempts repeatedly, is to coax such patients out of comas.

Enter: Carl Stargher, a murdering psychopath whose main shindig is to trap women in an underground cell, slowly fill it with water until they drown, bleach their bodies completely white, and then hang himself from the ceiling by hooks and masturbate.

As per usual.

Catherine is contacted by the FBI who says that they know Carl is currently holding another young woman hostage in this cell of his. Conveniently, due to his schitzophrenia, Carl collapses as his house is being raided, leaving him incapable of talking. The clock ticks down before this woman's death, and so it's up to Catherine to find the location of the cell by entering Carl's mind.

It's only when she finally steps into his mind that the movie really picks up. Everything about the inside of Carl Stargher is strange, twisted, and disturbing beyond belief. Catherine is faced with a tidal wave of his memories, most of which explain his strange tendencies and murderous binges, but some things simply can't be explained. Like a carnival gone wrong, Carl's mind is a merry-go-round of terror that doesn't just spin around but up and down and any other direction that it pleases to go in.

Everything about The Cell is stunning, from the frightening visuals to the concepts lurking inside both child and killer's minds. It's a giant work of art, with so many references and inspirations that it's so difficult to put your finger on all of them. Nevertheless, The Cell is a must-see for the American McGee's Alice breed of society who's dying for something bittersweet.

Related: Movie Run

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hold The Lip

The coffeehouse experience is changing. During the 70's and 80's, the coffeehouse was a creative cauldron, overflowing with expressiveness and individuality. In the 90's, "Central Perk" was the coffeehouse epicenter, defining the cup of joe as more than just a morning fix and putting the business that serves it on the map. Television told us that this was not just a place to buy your morning cup, this was a place for, well, Friends. The coffeehouse has always been the place of first jobs for aspiring teenagers and intellectual debates for philosophers. Like the Moleskin, something about coffee caught on among the hip and the creative and hasn't been able to detach itself since.

As we dawned on a new era, the coffeehouse seemed to jump out of the underground scene and into prosperity. Enter: Starbucks, center stage. Now everyone could be a hipster or an artisan without ever needing to wield a pen. Genuinely good coffee mingled with genuinely foreign names, namely those of basic Italian, and everyone simultaneously picked up on the scene.

To make myself clear, I will never ever bash Starbucks's coffee because it's damn good, but the service I could do without. It seems disgruntled teenagers and uptight intellectuals are always manning the counters, and with every cup of coffee you seem to get an overabundance of lip. Like a running commentary of over-the-counter culture, most "baristas" find it necessary to insert their life story into you like a samurai sword. They dribble their emotions into your cup of coffee until you're tempted to simply up and leave, leaving the coffee and the bullshit behind.

And as for the whole creative flow? It's difficult to even have a seat within a coffeehouse now-a-days. The managerial mentality states quite plainly that loitering patrons simply take up space. To prevent any such customers from sticking around and possibly making a mess, the inside of every Starbucks is always somewhere around fifty five degrees, sometimes lower, and if you so much as mention how you're a little chilly, some employee will overhear with their supersonic implants (company provided) and insist on shooting you snide glances for the rest of your stay.

Fun fact: One of the main requirements of all Starbucks employees is the inability to properly spell their customer's names.

Granted, it's not always the employees who make your day a little dimmer. Sometimes it's the patrons themselves that agitate and irritate you. Starbucks customers are probably the worst brand of human beings because they think that a recycled cup and a green logo makes them individuals. Because Starbucks so closely mirrors the old coffeehouse scene of days past, people get sucked into the facade and truly believe that they're somewhere unlike any other. Somewhere where they can just sip their coffee, listen to some music, and get lost in their thoughts.

Or, for business folk, a place where they can noisily make phone calls and bicker to anyone nearby about how their last deal fell through.

Or where overworked mothers can bring their children to dig through the discount mug bin while they detox on the couch.

Or where public-schooled teenagers can prattle about the newest episode of
I Love New York and make a general racket.

I feel like a seventy year old woman with such discontent for the peace and quiet of days past, but sometimes all you really need is a nice hushed spot to collect yourself. Or to write. Or to sketch. And considering the fact that it's eroded away the previous public spots where us hermit folk could do such things, one would think that Starschmucks would at least have the courtesy to provide that kind of intimacy. Or at
least free WiFi.

The pretty picture is pretty much gone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Watch And Learn

Required Watchings For The Philosopher In You

Requiem For a Dream 
I'm going to throw out a warning here ahead of time: Requiem For a Dream is an absolutely beautiful, mind-bending movie, but it will fuck you up. Something about Darren Aronofsky films have this marvelously disturbing quality about them. I've yet to see a flick by him that doesn't have at least one scene that absolutely terrifies me, and Requiem For a Dream is no exception. As strange and unusual as the rising action seems to be, it's that last five minutes that will really do you in and leave you thinking.

The plot is convoluted, revolving around a troubled, drug-abusing bunch living in New York's Coney Island. Sara & Harry Goldfarb, a mother and son, turn their backs on society and instead exist in their respective dream worlds, both living with different forms of addiction. Harry is an aspiring heroin dealer and adamant user, while Sara finds herself addicted to television and eventually painkillers. Harry's girlfriend Marion and best friend Tyrone both find themselves wrapped up in their own deluded prisons, but press on with high hopes and aspiring dreams. Marion dreams of becoming a fashion designer, opening her own store with Harry to escape the streets, while Tyrone dips himself into the potentially booming drug market. But these dreams quickly inflate like balloons until the pressure becomes too much, and the only escape for all four of them is to let the balloon pop.

The journey we see as their lives spiral out of control is harrowing, but thought-provoking at best. The movie focuses not on the big picture of desperation and delusion, but instead on the little things that keep them comfortable and make every day bearable. The pop of the pill bottle. A swig of water. The rush of the heroin. It's these things that keep them moving towards the edge of the cliff, even though they're well aware that they'll eventually have to jump. Such human drama and tragedy is one of the finest cinematic examples that there's always fact in fiction.

American Beauty
As his first movie, American Beauty was the deal breaker for Sam Mendes's career. For the writers of the world, it was the kind of thing that made them bang on their heads and shout "Why didn't I think of that!" In essence, it overly-romanticized suburbia to the point of fiction, but it was enthralling nonetheless.

The story follows Lester Burnham, a middle-aged suburbanite who is severely unhappy with his life. He has an uninteresting job, a Stepford wife, and an angst-filled daughter with no clue as to how the real world works. Enthralled by his daughter's best friend, Angela, a seemingly confident and promiscuous cheerleader, Lester begins a philosophical journey into how he can mirror this kind of untroubled teenaged lifestyle at his age. Is it even possible for someone to be happy when the troubles and responsibilities of adulthood are clawing at your feet? More importantly, is it all or nothing when it comes to happiness? Does adulthood really mean the end of freedom instead of the release from bondage? Lester traverses through both worlds, picking apart each carefully to answer such questions. In the end, maybe happiness is trivial and short lived, but at least it makes life sweet while we're still here.

Related: Movie Run

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Food For Thought

Food, as my stepmother says, brings people together. It's the cornerstone for every holiday and family gathering, it's the basis of most great memories, and, more importantly, it gives people something to talk about. It can spur love, from a casual dinner at a sushi joint to a wedding announcement in Greenwich Village, or spin life into perpetual motion. Food is where we find every strange and abysmal character we've ever encountered in life and at the end of the day, it's where we rest our head when we simply need time to think. There's comfort food, soul food, greasy food and great food that keeps us coming back for more. Everyone, no matter where you're from, has a favorite restaurant that's the only place you can turn to when you've had a rough day. Sure, there's always romance for that, but romance can never keep you satisfied like food can.

Each restaurant is like a tiny blazing star far off in some uncharted part of the galaxy; no matter how similar they may seem, each one is uniquely different like snowflakes falling on a twenty degree day. Restaurants are homes, not just social outings, no matter what people tell you otherwise. I beg of you to enter your favorite restaurant on any given night and find someone who doesn't look at least the slightest bit happy.

Restaurants really do hold this captivating power over people, just like the food they serve, but the trouble arises when you realize that in a twenty five mile radius there are no
real restaurants. To Northerners this may seem ridiculous, but those of us that thrive in the black-light that is Southern suburbs realize that culinary expeditions are extinct in the South. They expired along with the dinosaurs, and shortly thereafter weeds sprouted up in the place of Mom & Pop's and creative dining.

The only thing existing amongst the South's "wide lawns and narrow minds" is the TV dinner. And, of course, the dreaded Chain.

The concept of the chain restaurant has forever bothered me, but especially so when I began my search for every kind of new and interesting food I could gobble down. It was only then that I realized where I had been living. The independent restaurant had become virtually extinct, and those few left were hinged on the edge of demolition. The truth of the matter was that no one was interested in food anymore. They were simply interested in satisfaction. Food disintegrated from that edible centerpiece that brought us together into a marketable device used solely for profit. People didn't want to dine, people wanted to eat and be done with it.

Out of the dust of creative cuisine came the Olive Gardens and the Ruby Tuesdays and the Friendlys and the Outbacks. Shopping malls became the hub for dining experiences, people finding originality and solace in Too Jay's and food courts. The truth of the matter is that no one wants to
eat anymore, they just want to eat.

I was about nine when I took my first trip to New York City. It was my birthday gift from my grandparents who packed up all my things, put three tickets to a Broadway show in my hand, and put me in the back of the car. As we drove through Midtown, though, I found something so stunning that I had never seen before. I found originality. I saw restaurant names I had never heard of and lights so vibrant that they were like tiny blazing suns. We drove past noodle stands in Chinatown and signs that bold proclaimed "Mangia qua!" in Little Italy. My eyes glazed over and I shoved my hands against the window, screaming at my grandparents to stop. To let me out. To park the car and explore the city instead of just passing it by. I was hungry. Not just for food, but for something new. Something that I saw in New York that I've yet to see in any other place.

That night, as a treat, they took me out to dinner. I remember shaking in my sneakers and they led me by the hand through Times Square, amidst the mess of people and noise. They wouldn't tell me where we were going, but my mind raced with every possibility as we passed them by. Asian fusion? Indian samosas? Cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes? What was I going to get to try?

My grandmother yanked me to a halt in front of a towering corner building. I remember standing there, staring up, and feeling something inside that I've still yet to put a finger on.
"Tah-dah!" She chirped, hands outstretched. All I could do was stare up at that huge red sign, larger than life itself, and stare. Even amongst all the noise that comes with Times Square, I could hear the buzz of that fluorescent sign. It hummed the exact same way that every other restaurant of it's type did all across the country. I knew this without ever needing to travel to another state.

From three stories up, it stared back down at me.

TGI Fridays.

I felt like crying, but I could never bring myself to do it. My grandmother never knew how I felt about that night, instead always assuming that feeling the rumble of the subway under our feet whilst dining was an experience enough. She still talks of it fondly, as though it weren't just like every other Fridays we had ever been to in our lifetimes. Now, I know better than to assume any sort of ingenuity when it comes to dining from my family. Birthdays and holidays spent out are divided between Longhorn Steakhouse, Outback, and Red Lobster. Anything else is simply out of the question.

Where has all the real food gone? I'm ashamed to say that off the top of my head I can only name three or four fantastic restaurants in South Florida that
aren't in all fifty states. For gods sake, there's a fucking Starbucks in the Forbidden City! When did this happen? When did we lose track of our culinary identity? Asian food, Afghan food, Indian food, English food. Where is American food hiding? Is Mickey D's really the poster child of American cuisine?

It worries me that, like a burned recipe box, food is something we'll never be able to get back once it's gone. We can try and try again to remake that classic dish, but it will never be the same as it once was when we chased it out. Food keeps us together. If we start to lose our grip on food, does everything else follow?

Movie Run

Required Watchings for the Little Girl in You:

Boy oh boy can Neil Gaiman concoct a story! Although it may seem like your typical fairy tale, Stardust is far more fresh than the time period it's set in with an artfully crafted plot line to boot. Granted, it is newly hatched out of theatres, but nevertheless Stardust made my inner seven year old shudder with dreams of princes and enchantment.

Promising his vain and vapid valentine to cross the wall surrounding their small English town and bring her back a falling star, Tristan Thorne begins an expedition in the name of love. He finds himself in the pit of an oversized crater, staring down a beautiful maiden (Yvane) who explains herself to be the falling star. Confused but contented with his findings, Tristan happily chains the wounded maiden with enchanted bindings and begins a long journey back towards his aptly named town of Wall. But where would a story be without hazards? Three evil witches, transfixed on the idea of ripping out Yvane's heart to regain their lost youth, conspire mercilessly to kill the star and her traveling companion. 

In conversation it sounds like your average fairy tale with love, loss, and adventure all around, but really what you have is a majestic thrill-ride that, if nothing else, gives you Robert DeNiro in a dress.

Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer:
As enchanting as the title sounds, I promise that Perfume truly does have a fairy-tale charm about it. Told in one of those faux-historical "It Happened But You've Just Never Heard Of It" styles, Perfume circles around the life of the curiosity that is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. An orphaned youth born in a Parisian fish market, Grenouille was blessed with a terrifying olfactory sense that would put Bloodhounds to shame. A social outcast because of his ironic lack of personal smell, he begins a mission to capture what he sees as the perfect scent: that of young women. And so begins the bloodbath, yet graciously there's nothing bloody about the murders that take place. Instead, all deaths are presented in a strangely majestic manor with pale-faced women lying on the gravel, looking more like sleeping beauties than attack victims.

The movie is a beauty, with both lush visuals and an enchanting story line. Quintessentially an adult fairy-tale, Perfume captivates the inner romantic in you and your inner child all in one foul swoop.

Next post: Required watchings for the philosopher in you.

Sunday Thrills

It's that time again - that favorite day of the week where my entire morning in devoted to television and coffee cake. Happy Sunday, everybody, and here's to a fresh week!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Why I Love America: A One-Word-One-Photo Expository Essay


Praise The Box And Pass The Remote

Before the blessing that is Netflix descended into my household, I was pretty much a Blockbuster junkie. I would spend weekends chauffeuring back and fourth between the nearby rental store and my home, swapping out comedies for cartoons, horrors for heroics, film noir for fantasy. The entire span of my two-day break revolved around when Blockbuster opened and what time they closed, and more importantly what movie did I want to be stuck with between these times? Before the Netflix queue ever came around, I had a mental queue of everything I had never seen and some things I never wanted to see again. I left no crevice of that store unexplored, even chancing a peek into the sparse back room one Saturday afternoon. My example of R&R after a tolling school-week was curling up on the couch and watching Shogun Assassin or Brazil with plenty of snacks nearby.

But despite all this, there were times that I really couldn't stand those weekend trips. Such times were few and far between, but they happened nonetheless. There was nothing I hated more than when I would hop out in the parking lot and stampede inside, heart pounding, knowing that my weekend was a blank canvas for the painting. And then, after painstaking minutes of trolling up and down each isle, I would find myself with no dvd boxes in hand, nothing jumping off the shelves at me...nothing but a disheartened expression on my face. I didn't know what was wrong with me. There were so many choices. Why couldn't I just pick one?

The problem? I had no idea what I was in the mood to watch.

My mood can change on a dime like the dynamic teenager I am, and whenever I slid through those revolving Blockbuster doors I usually had a pretty good grasp on the character I was channeling at the moment. Sometimes Kat Stratford, others Holly Golightly, it took me many years to figure out that my movie taste depended solely on my character at the time.

The point of this preramble? To prevent anyone and everyone from ever having to go through this nightmare of an expedition. To introduce new movies and give a fresh twist to old ones. To give you, gracious reader, the best bang for your buck. No matter what mood you're in, there are some never-fail flicks out there that can satisfy both your current character and your permanent film taste.

Even if you too are a Netflix convert like myself, queue these babies up!

Required Watchings for The Little Boy in You:

Yu Yu Hakusho: 
 I first found the movie version of this knock-your-socks-off show in a discount bin, shockingly, at Blockbuster. This was about six years ago, and it goes without saying that I've been an addict ever since. Yu Yu Hakusho has this kick-punch of a story line that gets even more webbed and involving the further in you venture, with characters that you'll religiously root for and cringe at their struggles.

The television series follows fourteen year old Yusuke Urameshi, a bite-sized punk who serendipitously gets hit by a car in the first episode and is sent reeling to his death. In classic anime fashion, in flies a pink-haired grim reaper who gives him a second chance at life and the new job title of "Spirit Detective." Believe it or not, it's not as corny as it sounds. Yusuke repeatedly gets the shit beaten out of him by demons and demi-gods of various stature, throwing himself into harms way and venturing into the worlds both above and below planet Earth. This series is Dragon Ball Z without the steroids and corny enemies. Instead, it's a street-wise battle royale with no rules except stay alive and, of course, save the world.

Alright, so I'm very clearly a fan of Japanese anime, or "shonen" more specifically, but quite frankly the Japanese know their stuff when it comes to cartoons! Akira (pronounced Ah-Kee-Dah, not Ah-Keer-uh) is a fast-paced feature that centers around a delinquent youth culture thriving in a Japan after the onslaught of a nuclear World War III.

When Tetsuo Shima, a teenaged biker with a big head and a bad attitude, crashes while trying to avoid a child in his path, the government takes both the injured Tetsuo and the boy in. As it turns out, this boy, known as Takashi, is in fact a telekinetic child of the state recently freed by a member of the terrorist "Resistance." While under observation, Tetsuo begins to have violent hallucinations and exhibits psionic powers, causing the government to questionably raise an eyebrow. He displays strong mental abilities, they note, reminiscent of the title character. So the question is, who exactly is Akira?

Next post: Required watchings for the little girl in you!

The Dead Walk Again

The belief in reincarnation is far from uncommon. Hinduism, one of the oldest major religions ever recorded, believed so strongly in it that it became a pillar of their faith. According to the Four Vedas, life is an endless circle in which we are born, we die, and then we are born again into various castes and social circles; like a life-sprial that can either go up or down depending on your behavior. 

Although this kind of fundamental belief is rarely found in everyday America, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Believe it or not, more and more are discovering reincarnation as a possible explanation for where they are now, and the strongest believers are far from who you'd expect.

Imagine walking into your therapist's office, ready for another session (or maybe it's your first?). You take a seat in that big comfy chair, lean back, try to relax, maybe stare at that impressive array of diplomas on the wall; whatever it takes to prepare yourself. As your psychiatrist walks in and takes a seat across from you, he/she offers up what seems to be a quick remedy to your problems: "Would you be interested in trying past life regression?"

Maybe it sounds a bit silly to you, far too Eastern for your Western philosophy, but if you decided to take the plunge, the question is would it really help?

Past life regression utilizes hypnotherapy to "unleash your consciousness." By slipping a patient into a docile trance, it apparently dissolves the mental block that  divides the memories from this life from those of any past lives. 

Granted, it doesn't always work. 

Sometimes the mind will conjure up faux-memories that can be similar to a dream, a fantasy, or even a combination of seven or eight movies you've seen. So how will you know whether what you're experiencing is your previous life or just a montage of "My Fair Lady"?

Well, you won't.

It's completely hit or miss when it comes to regression, but according to Dr. Elizabeth Laquidara, it shouldn't matter. The whole concept behind PLR is to ease that "restless spirit" inside, so to speak. By experiencing what we've already experienced, we cmap out our lives like a family's medical history and find out what problems are hereditary. If we can see what we've been through before, maybe these previous life lessons can help us in our current position today? Even if the regression is just a sham, Laquidara believes, if it helps you in some way, shape, or form, then it shouldn't make a difference whether it was real or not.

Personally, I find PLR absolutely fascinating. Whether or not it works, the concept of being able to slip back into what may have been a past life is such a strange and unusual phenomena previously reserved for only New Ageists and palm readers. The idea that something so clearly Eastern in philosophy and practice is now being given the nod from Western doctors is absolutely thrilling.

Maybe PLR is just a hoax by medical standards and is simply reserved for teenaged slumber-parties, but we'll never truly know unless we try. Even if it doesn't provide any life-changing insight, then what harm has it done? When you crawl back up and out of that rabbit hole, you'll only be right back in the life you were in before you tripped and fell.

Extracurricular: Many Lives, Many Masters

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Trailer Park

Despite what you may think, I'm a full-fledged horror geek at heart. With that said, I can safely say that it's been a while since we've had a good horror-fest that wasn't supremely disappointing, (see: The Descent) yet this Michael Haneke flick looks promising. In the words of an immortal Young One, it's a comedic mix of "psychology and extreme violence" that's yet to be pulled off. Plus, it's got Michael Pitt in golfing drab. 

Hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen. I give you Funny Games.

The Chocolate War

The funny thing about public school is that once you've taken part in it, the truth is inescapable. Whether or not it's intended to, brutal honesty always finds a way to reach your ears and sometimes it's this same honesty that can substantially change your life. This school-yard game of telephone isn't always negative, sometimes it can actually tell you things about yourself you never knew, like how pretty your eyes are or what a calming voice you have. Nevertheless, of course it can be cruel as well. But sometimes honesty comes from the strangest of people, not those actually in the school yard, but those watching over it. Teachers, it seems, are just as biased as children are, and can sometimes be twice as cruel.

I've had a winding history of ending up with teachers who try very hard to relate. They're usually women, usually young, and are almost always dying for the attention and acclaim of being that "hip teacher" that all the kids can relax around. For some strange reason, every time I end up with a new instructor of this phylum, the same interesting phenomena takes place where this forespoken teacher somehow classifies us into where she sees fit. It doesn't sound too life changing, but I've always taken special interest in this process because I never end up where I expect to be.

In my early days of primary education, I had a science teacher whose forced enthusiasm quite frankly drove me crazy. As near-graduating 8th graders, we were given the privilege of a trip to Bush Gardens for the day, and this over-hyped science guru just so happened to be my class' chaperone. Thanks to this crowning of power, it was her responsibility to split us up into safe little groups so we wouldn't get lost. We were categorized quickly, each group standing at one end of the room talking amongst themselves, and as I watched on as the final groups were formed I remembered having this strange epiphany. Every single group was made up of the same kinds of people.

All of the mall-going future soccer moms were placed in one group, the class clowns of various background descended into another, the rebellious kids who thought that wearing dark clothes and ripped jeans would make them individuals were placed into their very own commune, and the geeky kids who could relate more to their Xbox than real people were pushed to the back. I stared in horror, looking from group to group to group with the same dumbfounded expression on my face. It seemed absolutely stunning to me that this woman, instead of encouraging a new understanding for different kinds of people, simply broke us up into where she thought we would fit in best.

I turned around and faced my small group with wide eyes; an overweight girl with ADD and a knack for shouting very loud, a timid teenybopper who hardly even gave the rest of us a glance, a young boy with, I kid you not, a note pinned to his lapel from his mother, and one final female youngster who tried to take control of the situation by (unintentionally, I hope) insulting us all.

I'm sure that If I was able to go back & look at myself in that very moment that I would have made the most Frankie Muniz like face of stunning unfairness. Was this really where I appeared to fit in? Was I a social outcast in the eyes of everyone else, in the same leagues as the undeniable booger eaters? I was disheartened, whether at my own unknown disposition or this teacher's poor decision making skills I still don't know, but after my grouping I lost a great deal of faith in the views of other people. It was a blessing in disguise, I guess, because after that I dropped the teeny-bopper concept of judging others on first glance.

This incident seemingly faded from my mind until recently when, yet again, almost the exact same event took place. This year I've been graced with one of those "hip young teachers" again, but high school has changed some things and made the moment of judgement far less obvious.

When I stepped into my History class at eight thirty in the morning, I would have never expected to see tiny little name-tags taped to each desk, our names written in a formal script, and the contrast of a Tootsie Pop of varying flavors laying next to each one. Generally, that class was one of tireless rule and strict deadlines; that kind with a "you'll sleep when you're dead" mentality, I suppose. But on a Monday morning, when all we really wanted was an energy boost, who would have thought that it was in this authoritarian classroom that we would find it?

I fell in line as a row of sleepy teenagers searched for their names, and eventually found mine as well, but once the classroom had filled to capacity, a stunning pattern stuck out in my mind. There were four flavors of lollipops scattered around the room; the perky and energetic kids each with an orange ball of sugar on their desk, the quiet and undisturbed ones with a chocolate, the young romantics had the red wrapper of a strawberry at hand, and the few left seemed to get a blueberry. I looked down at my own lollipop, although the repetitiveness of history could have told me the flavor without using my eyes. It was like a cowboy showdown between me and this mass-produced candy. I narrowed my eyes.

Was I really a blueberry in the candy land of sugar and sweets? Was the only thing that I had to offer this bottom-of-the-bag mentality? What really defined a strawberry or an orange? What did it take to avoid being a chocolate, and was being a chocolate really all that bad anyway? Was there a rubric for this sort of thing, or was everything was just chance?

By now, innovations and improvements have made candy labeling automatic, with the strawberries and the chocolates and the blueberries each in their own separate bin. Maybe this is the only way to uphold order in the factory, but don't they all come in one bag anyway? Where in life do the candy-makers decide that we can finally mix, and what took so long in the first place? Maybe some of us never end up mixing, and just go through life surrounded by fellow oranges. We make friends with oranges. We fall in love with oranges. We get together and make a bag of orange-filled kids. Honestly, where's the fun in that?

It's each of our flavors that makes us who we are. They surely don't define us, but they give us a mixing bowl and room to experiment. We're not always one flavor inside; sometimes we're a hybrid of root beer or strawberry banana, but that's ours to decide, not the candy wrappers. This majestic blending of colors and types is what makes candy so appealing in the first place. It's the sweet tooth of the universe that keeps us unwrapping and rewrapping again with something different, and anyone who can revel in the concept of a world with one flavor on a different stick is never going to know the true taste of life.

I'd never call it impossible to reach into that candy bag of life and find yourself a blueberry, but as the disappointment hits you and you pull off that wrapper anyway, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that perhaps there's a strawberry waiting inside.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Concrete Jungle Bells

When I came home from school this afternoon, I figured I already knew what I'd write about for the day. I assumed that the most thrilling part of my day was over and now I could retire to the confines of my bedroom with a baguette and a cup of tea. I think what I failed to realize is that even outside of school, life goes on. And as of right now, life is certainly going round & round.

It's only December 3rd in sprawling South Florida, yet it's a musty 74 degrees. I think it's this atmospheric dryness, even at evening hours, that makes the winter wonderland outside of my house all the more stunning.

Geographically, my squat little town-house lies on the corner of a semi-busy street which empties out into the heart of suburbia. The only particular relevance of this location is the fact that less than a hundred feet from my front door is a gorgeous public park built to honor war veterans. And, at this very moment, that lovely park is packed full of families and strangers all reveling in the Floridian Christmas cheer.

Complete with inflatable snowmen, decadent lights that melt into one another, and a Rockafeller-sized tree right in the middle of things, the holidays were in full swing a mere hundred feet away. Suburban families hopped around, dads tussling with their kids on the chemgrass, schoolteachers still in uniform drinking hot cocoa, elementary aged kids tugging at their parents for a picture with Santa. Craft vendors attempted to sell mini-Christmas trees and home-stitched stockings, but most of the folks out were crowded around a shell-shaped stage, kids dressed in tartan plaid and Santa hats churning out carols. It felt odd to see such a blatantly Christmasy scene not accompanied by long-sleeved shirts and scarves, but something about the South Florida holiday season is far better than anything the north can provide. We recognize that we will probably never have snowfall so close to the equator, so we improvise with a mess of bubbles lingering around the night air. Instead of frozen ponds, we cover every inch of water with a glaze of foam that stretches right up to your feet. Children wrestle with the bubbles like it's an oversized bathtub while ambitious parents snap digital pictures. No one enjoys the scenery quite as much as these kids. Most just seem overwhelmed, but some have this quiet sense of awe in their eyes; like this is nothing they've ever seen before. They look up towards these floating white masses and reach out with all five fingers, seizing them like candy, and even when they disappear from their grip they're still smiling at the thought of the bubbles being there in the first place. Christmas here, at this park and in all of Florida, is forever magical.

An empty storage room was converted into a holiday kingdom, middle-school aged elfs standing behind card tables lined with cookies. A boy only slightly younger than me is standing behind an orange water-cooler of hot chocolate, pouring a serving size into styrofoam cups.
"How much are they?" I asked him, poking for the five in my back pocket. The traditional Floridian method of handing out anything is that of the carrot and the stick. He stopped what he was doing, looking up at me with this stunned expression usually reserved for deer about to get run over.
"It's free," He said, busying himself with the beverages again. I'm sure that wasn't the first time he heard that, probably from cheap-skate retirees, but I felt ignorant nevertheless. I let go of the five and muttered a humble "oh" to myself. "But the hot chocolate is really hot," He continued, smiling. "So be careful." Without hesitating, he handed me a cup and a supermarket sugar cookie doused in green & red sprinkles. Somehow, in this very action, I felt supremely better; as though this was the Christmas spirit in itself. And maybe it was, not just from the forgiving pick-me-up that cocoa and cookies can provide, but from the understanding and compassion from total strangers. From no one pushing in line to get to the sweets and everyone with nothing less than a smile on their face. Everyone around me seems cheerily complacent, docile, most stumbling upon this Christmas miracle by accident and purposely  slowing down their busy lives just to take a look around.

As I walked back towards my shamefully undecorated town-house, I listened in to a small family seated on a nearby park bench. The father, holding one son by his shoulders & the other standing near, stared emptily at the two with a mix of disdain and exhaustion. Both of the boys were silent, simply staring at their father with sorrowful expressions. I couldn't even begin to guess what had happened; maybe the boys had run underfoot and ran head-on into someone? Perhaps they had run off in their excitement and left their worried parents searching frantically?

No one spoke for empty seconds. And when the father did finally speak, I expected a scathing tone and vicious words.

Instead, I got a simple phrase whispered cheerily.
"I think the only way to fix this is to get pizza." The two boys lit up, confused, but thrilled nevertheless. "How does that sound?" Both cried out in approval, jumping up and down as though there was no possible way to contain their excitement. They dove into their father's arms as I passed, and for a moment it was all I could do to keep myself from grinning. All the way home, I couldn't wipe this ear-to-ear smile off of my face.

Something about Christmas time has this calming effect on people, like Tryptophan or Catnip for the upright hominids. For some reason, no other holiday can replicate this kind of togetherness. Even the families that pull at each others nerves seem to complement each other around this time of year, and those that are separated always find a way to come together again. People rotate around each other during this season, like ice skaters going round & round. They connect, even in the smallest of instances, whether it be a smile towards the cashier at the supermarket or thanking that stranger for holding the door. It's the odd little things that hold us together like glue. Being generally sacrilegious, I can't exactly relate to the spiritual aspect of the Christmas season, but maybe this is just our global excuse to be happy. Maybe Christmas is the only way we can figure out to slow things down and take a deep breath, examining what we have and what we love. This is our way to put everything aside and just be genuinely happy for as long as we possibly can. We need a time like this, because when you think about it, the holiday season is like those dazzling bubbles just out of our reach. As soon as we lay hands on them, they seem to disappear.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Working Hard Is Hardly Working

This morning I took part in one of my few weekly routines: watching CBS's Sunday Morning. I'm drawn into it like a moth to the flame, and I'd like to accredit that to the weekends I used to spend with my grandparents. Once a month, my mother would drive me towards the retirement land of Coral Springs to spend time with them, and every Sunday I would awake from my grandmother's bed and hear Charles Osgood speaking from the other room. Like those clocks that play "womb noises" to subconsciously help people relax, my subconscious thinks that Charlie Osgood is simply a guest that comes to visit on Sunday's when I wake up, sitting in the other room chatting with my grandpa.

Today, sitting in my PJ's with the remote in hand, they featured a story about baby boomers and how most aren't settling for retirement anymore. The basic gist was that folks are retiring earlier and living longer, so the short & sweet paradise of active adult communities are becoming overcrowded with bored sixtysomethings. Most, they said, were turning back to the working world. Of course, there are the basic neighborhood chains that entice the older crowd with flexible hours and extensive benefits (see: Home Depot, WalMart), but at the same time some retirees are looking for something with the same kind of challenge that a real career provided; something with mobility, but freedom.

Some turned to volunteer work, the more glamorous became part-time columnists for local newspapers; but what about the rest? With a sea of possible careers out there each with their respective pro's & con's, where is someone who's already had their run going to find a decent job?

Ironically, I can relate to this situation of disillusionment. As a high school sophomore, I'm already staring down college applications and a slew of potential careers. On the SAT everyone is required to bubble in their potential college major, (college major!) even though the test-takers themselves are only high school students. By now, we're expected to know exactly what we want to do and how we want to do it. And, believe it or not, most do. The ambitious in my class have already mapped out a complete plan for their immediate future. Colleges, professions, even internships; these kids have Googled it and written it down in preparation for the "real world." So, what about the rest of us? What about the "undecided" majors?

Personally, I have no idea what I'd like to do with my life. I have so many interests and so many things I excel at, I simply can't pick just one to commit to. I want to explore, I want to see it all, I want to leave life having done everything and anything I please. To the shock of my teachers, I don't find this unrealistic at all and I don't see how anyone possibly could. People can do whatever they'd like. Taking risks and trying new things are not taboo. Sure, it may sometimes mean that the person in question doesn't exactly live a lavish life, but why does that matter in the first place?

I chalk up my indecision to the fact that I'm an
ENFP; I have too many things that I love and respect to follow only one. Yet strangely enough, this isn't the main problem I have. The rut I find myself in is one of, "Well, where do I begin?" College is both the land of opportunity and the land of major debt, so what would I like to pursue in it? Should I pick what I'm most interested in or should I pick what I like that requires a specialized degree? Where should I go and how will this affect my decision of what major to choose?

I find film fascinating, but I've always wanted to own my very own small-business. I love to bake, but psychology is also intensely interesting to me. I love to interact with other people, but then again I could spend days on end just writing, especially for a newspaper column. I'm fascinated by the concept of party-planning, but I would never forgive myself if I had to sit in a cubicle all day long!

The list stretches on and on, and I just don't even know where to begin. It seems like there's far too many questions and too few answers, so how do I deal with all these troubles? Personally, I think this is a universal struggle that we can all relate to on one level or another. What job should I pursue? What car should I buy? Where should I travel to next? The questions seem to never end, and they all ask almost the same thing.

The only way to survive out there in that great big world is to do what you love. And if you love more than thing, all the better. I always feel absolutely terrible when I see people who are miserable at their jobs and only doing it to keep their head above water. Your career should never ever be about how much money you make. Life is short and it should be about the experiences we take with us, not the retirement we save. After all, look at Sunday Morning. That retirement will only inevitably lead you back into the work world anyway.

Sunday Thrills

Sunday mornings are by far my favorite days of the week. Between the wonderful 9 o'clock television, the unstoppable sunlight that always pours through my window, and the unbroken promise of a warm cup of coffee, something about Sundays is just riveting. No other day can compare with the slow and steady kind of feeling Sundays have for me, and for some reason I hardly ever worry about how it's back to the grind tomorrow (which I'll kindly take as a miracle without any questions!) But nevertheless, Sundays are thrilling! Just for sheer inspiration, for the next long while I'll be trying to update every Sunday with things that I find particularly lovely for that week and links to their respective homes. Everybody's got to have some day where there's a definite promise of feeling at home, right?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Diving Board

Humans are naturally indecisive creatures. We have this tendency to sit and meticulously ponder over something before we even dip our toes into the pool of action, so to speak. This can be a blessing and a curse for humanity. For one, it incites a well-thought out plan and generally prevents mass stupidity, but on the other hand it delays, and sometimes even destroys, action.

Procrastination is loosely defined as the act of putting something off until the very last minute, but what if there is no deadline? What if that very last minute is your final breath? I have these moments of Ferris Bueler like insight, where all I can think is that life moves pretty fast. And quite frankly, yeah, if you don't stop to look around you could very well miss it.

When I created this blog, I was pretty thrilled with the idea of having a fresh plate where I could dump all of my little bits of everyday excitement onto, but then the worry set in. What will I write about? All blogs usually have a theme, a niche, but what is mine? I don't have the kind of insight or superiority that comes with age. Conversely, I have the exact opposite. I have a fresh perspective, unbiased, uninterrupted, with no obligations to career nor society to hold back how I feel. I don't have any sort of worldly forte and quite frankly I fail at math, but I have a direct look into what your kids are doing when you're not looking and I am somehow able to throw back the curtain at that high school passion play and scream out to the audience what's going on backstage. I am a child of the here and now, and I finally realize that in its own is a niche.

I am terribly ashamed it took me this long to realize that starting this blog is the best thing that I can do for the world; my contribution to society, but I am here and I am ready. Instead of dipping my toes into that pool, I've just jumped in with no idea what foreign lands I'm swimming to next. All I know is that today was my day.

So the question is, when will you find the day to take action?