Finding Inspiration

I am a firm believer that to be a writer, one need only to write.

The past year, I have written about completely disparate subjects in almost every genre, from relationship advice, to composting tips, great wineries in the Northwest, and both fiction and non-fiction for different clients. I have written about reading academic and literary and casual novels, Ryan Gosling, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Bollywood/ Kollywood movies, and painting on this site.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.

I’ve written a lot of different stuff lately.

And you know what? It has been really fun!

A picture I took a few years back in the Black Hills, South Dakota.

Waiting around for inspiration and writing only when a brilliant idea knocks you over the head will produce little, and will also not give you much practice.

That is how I used to write. I was worried that my everyday writing was too mundane, that nobody would ever read it, etc.

Although it’s tough for me to admit, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years.

Even thought I have always identified with writers and have always enjoyed writing, I never had much confidence that I could be a really good writer. I have that confidence now, but it is because of the daily practice, and the feeling it leads to, rather than coming up with something “groundbreaking” or “great.”

That being said, I now write for a few various reasons.

The primary ones are as follows:

  • I like to read, and I like to create a “finished” product to share with others.
  • I feel compelled to do it, to express myself through words.
  • I enjoy talking, (as anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m sure), and writing is another form of speaking to me.

Like I said before, my identity as a writer has been tenuously forming for years, but I have always wanted to write, to “be a writer,” and to produce written works.

However, it is only recently that I have felt confident in calling myself a writer. That is because lately, I have really dedicated myself to writing on a regular basis.

I took a fiction writing workshop in graduate school, something I’d always been terrified of. Having other readers was empowering. I wrote and edited for a living starting this past summer, (2011).

Now I write all the time. I write articles for you all and for an online magazine, for example. It makes me feel amazing, but I was always afraid of writing before. I think I knew that it would make me incandesantly happy.

I’m ready for that happiness now in a way I wasn’t before.

Some installation art I came across one day in Pioneer Square, Seattle. Loved the paper hanging from trees!

I write to write, but I also do get inspired, and some days I definitely need a push. So, I’d like to share what pushes me to write:

  • Reading. I feel there is a strong connection between reading and being a good writer. When I read the words of others, it is inspiring to me. I feel connected with their psyche, with their way of painting the world around them or around their characters. I find reading endlessly fascinating, and it’s what inspired me to write in the first place.
  • Artwork. When I am looking at art, I feel inspired to create. To draw, to paint, and to write. While living in London for a semester and taking primarily art-based classes, I journaled more than I have in my entire life. Looking at pins on Pinterest and pinning to my boards there is also part of this inspiration for me, as silly as it may sound. Love that site!
  • The feeling that comes from finishing or sharing a piece of art or writing with an audience, for example, with you all here. Not going to lie, it feels great to publish, even when the publishing happens on my own blog.
  • Beautiful scenes in nature, like the above photo from Custer State Park in the Black Hills, one of my all time favorite places for inspiration.

To move beyond writing for myself in my journal has been really rewarding. Audience matters. Readers matter. Thank you all for reading my posts- I truly appreciate you!

As many of you are also writers, I’d love to know- what inspires you to write?

Cheers,

Miss E

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Moby Dick Door

I have been posting pretty frequently this week, primarily because all of Seattle was shut down in what you may have heard termed the “Snowpocalypse.”

Yeah, it snowed for a while, and it was cute.

We actually had skiiers going down our hill because the city doesn’t have plows (or very many of them).  Also, trapped inside with what could only be equally dramatized as the absolute the worst cold of my life for the past week, I have gotten a lot more time to rest and be online.

When I was looking for pictures to post onto my blog background, I came across a fun picture that I wanted to share with other Literature Nerds out on the internet.

A few years ago, I painted this on my closet door, in devotion to one of my favorite novels:

Image

Needless to say, it was an art project born of boredom and no regard for how much doors actually cost. However, I still quite enjoy it to this day whenever I visit my parents. Not sure they quite do, but I suppose it may have been better than some things you can put on a door.

The lower panel has a picture of Pip falling upside down in the multitudinous depths, and the door itself has quotes from the text all around the perimeters.

I believe one of my favorites is still the one I painted in the center underneath Ishmael who is floating on the coffin life-buoy.

“Dissect him how I may, I go but skin deep; I know him not, and never will…” Oh yeah!

Anyone want me to paint scenes from Literature on their doors for them?

Having a huge nerd moment,

Miss E

The Grapes of Wrath

I am still reading the books from my ridiculously ambitious list as mentioned in this post. 

When I started reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics version), I have to admit that I was doing it more out of a sense of obligation than an interest in the plot or characters.

I have heard so much about the novel throughout the years, from sources that vary from friends who have read it to literary tests that discuss its overarching themes and character struggles. I read Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in middle school or early high school. While I thought it was well-written, I also felt like it wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat.

I also don’t think that I’d like to see the movie version.

The movie version that I don't care to see- fun poster though!

I feel the same about The Grapes of Wrath to a large extent. The last 80 pages or so were pretty depressing. I mean, I did know that it was a novel about the struggles of one family through the depression, but at a certain point I did feel a bit like I was torturing myself by continuing.

The characters suffer so much, and the “epic” narrative style paints an American capitalist process that I’m not necessarily fond of. Large corporate interests overtake hard working “common” men and women during the great depression, and those men are literally driven off of “their” land (which they stole/ was stolen for them from Native peoples), then pretty much slowly starved because a few greedy landowners want to make more of a profit.

The novel switches between a close and distant narration, alternating chapters between the telling of one specific family, the Joads, and the larger narrative of American “progress.” I found this description chilling and timely when we consider the wealth disparity now in place in our country. It is not only the small farmers and tradesmen/women who are struggling now, but it is also the home-owning middle class.

In the novel, the Joads, along with hoards of other tenant farmers from Oklahoma and surrounding areas, are pushed off the land they tend by the banks, quite dramatically with large plows. In this telling scene, many of the family members are looking for someone to talk to about the matter, for someone to fight with about it. However, they soon find that what they are fighting is so large that they are not even able to find it, let alone fight it.

The Bank is driving them, but they are unable to respond. I feel like this ties directly into the current argument being touted by the Occupy Movement, that corporations are Not people. The fact that Steinbeck was already addressing this phenomenon in 1939 so eloquently, and also the fact that the machine that is the Bank destroys human life, destroys crops, and destroys community, is pretty astounding to me.

One of the quotes I think best illustrates this feeling comes early in the novel. In one of the chapters where the narrator is distant, he points out the conversation one feels is echoed by thousands.

We’re sorry. It’s not us. It’s the monster. The bank isn’t like a man.

Yes, but the bank is only made of men.

No, you’re wrong there—quite wrong there.

The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in the                       ~bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is ~something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but ~they can’t control it. (emphasis mine -sorry, the formatting got all wonky when I pasted the text).

I feel like this discussion is very relevant for today, and because of this, I think that I devoured this novel with more zest than I was expecting. It made me appreciate how far we have not come in our understanding of the capital machines that still control and drive our country.

It also made me appreciate the taste of food more. I definitely understand why it’s an American classic. It tells our story pretty poignantly, and asks some questions about the capitalist value system that are not only necessary, but that are also still being asked.

Points taken away: There are definitely a few offensive-to-contemporary-readers storytelling moments in which the characters glorify the old colonial period and the killing of Native Americans, but I also don’t feel like Steinbeck necessarily agreed with those sentiments as much as he was trying to portray the Joads and other Oklahoma residents in the truest way possible.

I would give this book 4.5 of 5 stars for its beautiful writing, its interesting character details, and its importance in our current historical moment.  I would also highly recommend it.

Read with Milk, and some sort of rustic camping food such as fried potatoes, baked beans and coffee.

Regards,

Miss E

Ryan Gosling Rant

***Spoiler Alert***

I just visited Portland this past weekend, and saw the movie Drive with Ryan Gosling. The movie theatre we went to was incredible. It was in an old refurbished building that potentially used to be a brothel according to a friend. There were local brews, yummy nosh foods like cheese plates and Thai roasted nuts, and very cozy chairs. I was pretty excited to see a movie in such an awesome location. I would love to go back and see another movie there.

However, Drive was a major disappointment (and that is putting it nicely).

The throwback to the 80’s could have been fun with the synthesized music and hot pink lettering in the credits, but after a short while I had lost patience with the theme of the film, the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, and the lack of actual driving and plot points surrounding the title of the film.

Ryan Gosling with his 80's Jacket in Drive

My biggest problem with Drive was the underlying “White America” message which (perhaps accidentally, perhaps intentionally), permeated the entire film. In addition, not only was it also anti-Semitic at times, but the female characters were shown to be kind of flat and/or weak. The male and female protagonists are both blond Americans of European descent. Many of the most unsavory characters, on the other hand, are ethnic minorities. Hmmmmm….

For example, Ryan Gosling’s character (by the way he is never named, just called “Kid” or “Driver”) is falling in love with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a who is married to a Latino-American man named Standard, who is also in prison during the opening of the film and the subject of violence throughout the film.

Her husband is shown to not only be incapable of performing his “duties” as husband and father, but is also shown to be weak and cowardly in more than one scene. He eventually needs to ask Ryan Gosling for help. He, not surprisingly, also gets shot in the head during the movie.

I will not go into any symbolism here, but I felt that this whole patriarchal battle for Irene and her son Benicio between the White and Mexican man, even thought supposedly a subplot, was pretty obscene. Gosling also didn’t have to even try to “win” Irene in any way. He is shown by the filmmaker as the  more stable option, who Irene also seems to prefer (or at least the option last standing).

He is usually the one controlling violence, not the subject of that violence, for example. He’s somehow shown to be “better than” or exempt from the violence until it finally catches up with him. And even then, he gets a long, drawn out death, and he gets agency in his death.

I didn’t understand why Ryan Gosling’s White male character was glorified and masculinized. Isn’t that formula kind of tired by now?

He’s a good driver- OK, so what?

Hey look- Ryan Gosling in a car. That doesn't happen much in this movie, considering the title.

He is also shown to be emotionally and socially off, violent towards women at times, potentially racist, and doesn’t seem to know how to shop for clothes. Ok, so we’re supporting That White guy again? Yet another example of White Male Exceptionalism.

I was pretty “on guard” after the comment in the movie made by Gosling’s character about a picture of her husband Standard. He asks, “What is he?” and she responds, “In prison.” At that point I was thinking, Ok, that was a gutsy script choice. I wonder what they will do with that moment.

However, instead of delving into any of the background, racial tension, ignorance, or potential racism on the part of Gosling’s character that elicited the comment, it was glossed over in the film as Gosling begins his slow usurpation of the role of Male Protector/Patriarch in the threesome’s familial structure.

The only way I can see the film attempting to take power away from Gosling’s character is in that he is a bit volatile, has little no emotional expression, and dies in the end (but still in a glorified and ambiguous way). Irene also seems a bit upset with him after seeing him crush someone’s skull in an elevator directly after kissing her.

Also, Irene’s character really pissed me off. She had no agency, and was always dependent on the men in the film. Her son was suffering, but he only seemed to get better once he had a White male father figure to hang out with. WTF.

I felt very glad there was alcohol available, because this movie annoyed me on many levels, and I was bummed to see the supposedly “feminist” man Ryan Gosling who has been the subject of the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme star in such a clueless and racialized film which propagates glorified White Americans and male violence.

I would not recommend this movie to my readers, ever.

Quite Annoyed,

Miss E

Judith and Jack and Chandan

Hi all!

The other night, I went to an informal presentation by wonderful team Jack and Judith Halberstam and Chandan Reddy at Elliot Bay Bookstore promoting their new books.

It was a wonderful reminder of why it’s awesome to live in Seattle 🙂 In my graduate work, I often studied Halberstam, and greatly admire her scholarship. I could not believe that two amazing and pretty famous queer theory scholars would be offering a talk in a bookstore basement easily accessible to me. This was during the MLA Convention, so many scholars were in town. Still, I was very impressed with their choice of location, especially since I did not pay 60 dollars for registration to attend closed panels at the convention.

So, I excitedly hailed a cab to Capital Hill and arrived just in time for the presentation to begin.  I was planning on meeting Judith, but when I arrived, I was introduced to Jack. Apparently, Halberstam is only Judith in writing. Jack’s presentation was really fun, and I found his style incredibly engaging. Chandan was very verbose, but also very pedantic and somewhat jargony.  I think that non-academics had a hard time understanding some of his points, but I also think that he worked hard during and after his presentation to make his information more accessible to the public.

Together, this team of scholars was pretty formidable, and I felt lucky that I got to see them in action.

Here are the pictures from that night:

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I promised a friend that I would copy notes for him, and I decided to copy some for you all as well.

I found myself scribbling excessively for both presentations, but more so for Chandan’s half. He went second, and he made many complicated points about modernity, but interlaced with discussion of a complex racial history. Writing down key points during the presentation was really helpful for me, and I think I got the gist of what he was arguing.

Like Halberstam said at the beginning of their presentation, Reddy’s arguments are complex, but they also reflect the intense complexity of the issues he is working with, some of which would be done a disservice by being condensed. They obviously have a lot of love for one another’s work, and their long-standing friendship began when Halberstam was Reddy’s professor during his first year of teaching. How awesome is that?!

Halberstam’s key points/ highlights:

1. “Failure is something all people do, but perhaps is something only queer people can really turn into a lifestyle.” Jack related this to a capitalist model, arguing that in our society, and in the capitalist model, there must be “winners” and “losers.” There is no way to opt out of capitalism without becoming a “loser” when to succeed in our system, one must have money and conform to both a capitalist and heteronormative timeline for success.

2. Jack also said that “if that’s success, then I choose failure.” I found that to be a very powerful statement.

3. Halberstam also argued that Pixar movies have been “feeding children communist fables” of anti-corporate sentiments in movies such as Monsters Inc., Robots, and Over the Hedge, which she believes has helped the young generation feel so strongly about the Occupy movement and anti-capitalist reform.

4. She also gave 3 lessons in how to “fail,” or to embrace failure, which included: 1.) Learn to lose, 2.) Be a Lesbian (she gave a lot of examples of how Lesbians are still not represented as “winners” in western media, especially “The Butch,” since straight men do not desire her and straight women don’t want to emulate her). Thus, Lesbians are the greatest losers, because they are still unable to be defined by the heteronormative capitalist model. 3.) Embrace a certain type of negativity, and find other options besides winning and losing.

Reddy’s Key Points/ Highlights: 

1. Introduction of his book Queer of Color Critique of Capitalism, and the goal of exploring what a queer reading and queer person of color perspective can bring/do to capitalism.

2. Capitalism = racial capitalism in the US, which = racialized state because of colonial history, which has always been racialized.

3. Discussion of Neo-liberalism. He says that we often think of freedom as the antithesis of violence, so when the state is pointed out as the source of violence, we need to reconcile that lie, or in his words “at the moment in which “freedom” becomes the vehicle of violence.

4. Pointed out the “3 regimes of modern freedom,” which includes his notion of “negative liberties,” or when freedom from violence was untenable; it rather was a freedom through revolutionary violence. He argues against the national rhetoric of the state that purports the idea of attaining freedoms from violence and all peoples becoming equal once that illusive freedom is attained. He pointed out that this approach and this myth hasn’t worked, and has never been attained, using that as a touchstone for the necessity of rethinking our subject positions and the idea of freedom within a violent state.

5. He used a great image example of a “missing billboard” installation art to illustrate the people who are left out of the picture the state paints in the capitalist model. He says that by intentially leaving out or disqualifying other possibilities of being, the modern capitalist state attempts to sustain [and advertise?] very specific system of experience. According to Reddy, we need to look at the latticework, or the frame, the people on the outskirts of what is being represented to us, for models of being.

6. He also argued that we are all being asked by the state, through citizenship agreements, to lose a little bit of our personal identities, and also to re-imagine our complicity with “freedom” and all that it costs. In essence, our complicity is really asking us to reconsider that subject position in the state with it’s history of violence (most likely through ignoring or attempting to “forget” that history of violence). Because we are taught that to identify ourselves and attain “embodiment” through the state, or to be “recognized” by the sate in order to have rights, we sacrifice for those rights.

7. Thus, he argued that “we need not ask for representation, but should try living on the fringe, in disorganization.” Too often, according to Reddy, Gays and Lesbians, etc. “make the cut” with this knowledge once they find safety or representation via citizenship, and THAT NEEDS TO STOP, since only in the fringe can true revolution and self-actualization without participation in state violence really occur.

8. I have 3 more pages of notes from this talk, more than I feel is appropriate to share through blog post, but if you want to know more, just let me know 🙂

I found both presentations compelling, and am very glad that I live in Seattle and was able to experience this discussion. I found Chandan’s argument especially intricate, but very very interesting. Both Reddy and Halberstam really argued strongly for resisting capitalist heteronormativity, for different but valid reasons. In other words, it rocked my socks off!

Excitedly yours,

Miss E

Sense and Sensibility adaptations: Janeite Movie Marathon!

Sense and Sensibility Movie Adaptations all over the place.

Last week I rented the 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility from Scarecrow Video, which came with a bonus disc, Miss Austen Regrets. When I checked out Sense and Sensibility, I was blissfully unaware that the bonus disc was included in my rental. Scarecrow Video came through for me yet again. Needless to say, I was very happy when I got home. Two movies for the price of one, amazing. Extra surprise Jane Austen-based movie to feed my addiction, priceless.

I also found a movie with Aishwarya Rai,  advertised on the cover as a Tamil “Kollywood” adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, called I Have Found It. I figured that renting two different adaptations of Sense and Sensibility would make for a fun-filled movie marathon.

I got both of them from the Literature section of Scarecrow’s vast room selection.

Literature room at Scarecrow Video, Seattle

I watched the two BBC movies first , and loved them both.

Let’s start with the BBC version of Sense and Sensibility. This same version of Sense and Sensibility was playing every Sunday on Jane Austen Season when I was staying in London, Spring 2007. I have also seen bits and pieces on PBS Masterpiece Theatre in the states, but it was really nice to view the film in its entirety. The whole movie felt right- it felt like being in the novel, with rustic simplicity of the English countryside in the background.

My favorite things about this version:

  1. The Casting. Most of the characters really seemed authentic to the period, and behaved in believable ways, or as their characters might be expected to from what we know of them. It took me a while to warm to some of the secondary characters, but it was not long before I fell in love with them too. In my opinion, the cast in this newer Sense and Sensibility just felt right. For example, Mrs. Dashwood was cast wonderfully. She was just aristocratic enough to be polite in rough situations, and to whether the family crisis with class, while still not quite understanding the financial predicament that her family was really in.
  2. The script. The words in the script were chosen very well, and it seemed enough like the sentiment and tone of the novel without being a recitation of the novel.
  3. Costumes. Marianne and Eleanor were dressed very believably, and so were the other characters. They were not so worried with appearances, especially when they moved to the cottage. Marianne dress was simplistic with a touch of whimsy to match her character’s personality, and Elinor’s sensible and more rustic dress suited her character as well.
  4. Marianne. I was bracing myself to hate this new version of Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne, since I loved the 1995 version with Kate Winslet so much. Although Kate Winslet is one of the best actresses in the world, (and I still love the older version of S&S), I thought this Marianne (Charity Wakefield), knocked her role out of the park as well. She was not only NOT disappointing, but was instead very much like Austen’s Marianne.

Marianne from the 2008 BBC Adaptation

This new Marianne looked and acted as I’d imagined her character when I read S&S for the first time, and it was refreshing to see her vs. Kate Winslet’s version of Marianne. Kate brought more fervor and passion to the role, but Charity Wakefield brought more subtlety, and I think was closer to the correct age of the character when she played her. Her hair also seemed more natural, and Kate Winslet’s blond curly wig in the 1995 version just drives me bonkers when I watch it because it doesn’t even look like real hair.

Three rainy versions of Marianne

  1. The awkwardness. This awkwardness, created by the crass country company and the impropriety of the new connections is downplayed by the social skills of Elinor and her mother; although Marianne handles it somewhat less gracefully, she also confronts the rudeness more directly and changes the behavior of her “attackers.”

What I didn’t like about this adaptation:  honestly, I can’t say much about that. Besides missing Kate and Alan Rickman simply for nostalgia’s sake,  I enjoyed this new adaptation thoroughly. It was one of the first times I’ve really been able to sit and watch an adaptation without critically analyzing it. I think this is because it felt so comfortable to me. As I said, the film makers really did a wonderful job with it, and the music was spot on to convey the tone of the different scenes, none of which were hyperbolic or as dramatic as the older movie version. I was impressed. I would recommend watching this movie with a cup of warm cider, since the scenery gets a bit chilly and wet.

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Now, I Have Found It, although intriguing on the exterior, was a little too far out there for me. I was definitely in the right mood for a long Bollywood-esque movie, which I later learned (thanks M.) is different from Kollywood, and prepared myself to sit for hours on the couch enjoying musical numbers and Janeite references. However, I was pretty confused during the first 30 minutes of the film. It starts with footage of a war, and gun fighting, which of course was never a part of Sense and Sensibility.

I didn’t really understand at all how this movie had been even loosely adapted from the novel until at least 30 minutes in when the family loses their home to their brother and his wife (who seems really nice at first, and then suddenly turns into a greedy evil sister-in-law,  an unrealistic character shift). The person who is responsible for the home is the dying grandfather (not father/ husband of the Dashwood women), so that threw me off.

Once I finally figured out which character was supposed to refer to which, I didn’t feel that the sentiments of those characters were in any way matching. I was also disappointed in Aishwarya Rai’s portrayal of a young and excitable “Marianne.” Her acting was too controlled and had no emotion, the opposite of Marianne. She kind of just acted like a spoilt brat through most of it.

Aishwarya Rai

The cover says that the film is about two sisters who are opposites, (ahem, one with “Sense” and one with “Sensibility”) but it really seemed to be primarily focused on the Colonel Brandon character, and his struggle loving the Marianne character unrequitedly. He is also a war vet (hence the first part of the film), is a raging alcoholic when first introduced on screen, and has lost his leg. It seemed a bizarre representation of his character, and although I appreciated a more imaginative Colonel Brandon, the Marianne character still seemed to keep him grounded and sober, while in the novel he is the steady one who rubs off on her more.

So, not only did the director choose to focus on the man and his plight, making the female story less impactful, but the gender roles between Colonel Brandon and Marianne’s characters were reversed as well.

I could go on and on about this movie, but really, it doesn’t seem worth it. If interested, I found this fairly entertaining and pretty thorough summary of the film. I think that Jane Austen’s works are so fabulous because they are open to various interpretations. However, this one really missed the mark, and I think that it is almost nothing like the novel. In fact, they may have just referred to already popular and already very famous Sense and Sensibility to sell more movies.

If you value your time and sanity, don’t watch this movie. I would not recommend it to anyone, not even to someone with loads of time on their hands, and will never suffer through it again myself.

Until next time,

Miss E