Wednesday, January 20, 2010

vanity, folly

Today's recommendation is simple.

Today's recommendation is not tattooing your cat.

I realize I'm about a week behind the curve on this, but that's just how I roll.

You may look at your beloved feline friend and think, "You're purr-fect, but you know what you need? A giant picture of King Tut on your chest." But you know what? If you think that way, keep it to yourself. Or get a giant tattoo on your own chest. Regardless, the proper way to deal with such feelings is not tattooing your cat.

Thus, not tattooing your cat is today's recommendation.

Thank you and good night.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Magical Mystery Loaves

Today's recommendation is the amazing little web site The Magical Loaf Studio, created by Jennifer McCann for the Vegan Lunch Box Blog. What this does is allow you to input a bunch of options based on what you have or like and it will generate a custom, delicious vegan recipe just for you! I tried it for the first time today and was pleased with the results, though I think if I hadn't had a small feline "helper" and an inability to wait a whole hour for food to cook, the recipe would have turned out a bit better. I am excited to try a whole bunch of different combinations. Aren't you?

The creator of the Loaf Generator, Jennifer McCann, also has a delightful blog and a cookbook I am excited to read sometime soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

"healthy boundaries"

Today's recommendation is the divisive A&E television series Intervention.

Yeah, you read it right. Intervention!

I, personally, watch this show to get some perspective. By that, I mean Schadenfreude. I may be filled with self-doubt and have very few job prospects. Then I watch Intervention and think, Hey! At least that's not me! I'm not (insert newest "rock bottom" from Intervention). I may not be changing the world, but at least I'm not, say, sucking on an ill-gotten Fentanyl lollipop, passing out on the lawn in the afternoon, drinking mouthwash or taking my child to buy heroin.*

I realize this makes me a horrible person.

But what about Intervention is so compelling? It could be the subliminal messages.** It could be the aforementioned feeling of schadenfreude. For me, I also take some strange comfort in Intervention's structure. For such a dramatic show, there are basically only two endings (SPOILER ALERT): Sobriety or status quo. Intervention is structured in a very banal and uninteresting way: Exposition and description of the addict's current daily life, their background (complete with weeping family members, adorable childhood photos, and usually horrifying stories of abuse or neglect), the family sitting down prior to the Intervention Event to come up with a plan of how they will cut the person out, and The Intervention Itself.

In a lot of ways, the show is about taking the filmed evidence of someone's life, and cutting it up to fit in a few boxes. What fascinates me the most is the intertitles (the forums on Television without Pity [shouldn't it be fora?] refer to them as BSOJ, Black Screen[s] of Justice). There is so much that needs to be filled in, and there is simultaneously so much and so little said (c.f. : " so-and-so has stolen from his mother"). In a way, the intertitles themselves convey the limitations of the observational documentary.*** The sad little titles convey backstory and uncaptured events deemed relevant to the narrative. The viewer's imagination can go wild and sordid.

Like I said before, the only real questions in the show are will the person go to treatment? and Will they stay sober? The entire show is built around a farce: participants are approached and told the project is a "documentary about addiction." The majority of the show is buildup to the moment when the subject walks into an anonymous business-class hotel room and is confronted by their friends, family, and one of the show's Interventionists. It's like a really depressing surprise party.

Inside the windowless conference rooms and suites of the anonymous and depressing Holiday Inns (Holidays Inn?) in this country, groups of friends and families are armed with binders and spiral notebooks, getting ready to confront the person they feel they need to cut out of their life unless they agree, in front of a production crew, to go to rehab. Maybe it's not quite like that, but it's how it seems to me. And I watch this show A LOT. In its tone it's slightly like a crime or mafia show; it conveys the sense that anywhere, at any time, if you're "a user" people could be plotting against YOU. Interventionists? They're out there.

Note: I'm not diminishing the problems any of the profiled people have. Many have criticized Intervention for what they think is taking advantage of desperate people. This is probably true, but more people credit it with saving lives and restoring sobriety, etc. Personally, I think anyone who is willing at any point to "be in a documentary about addiction" is already part of the way towards getting help, but thankfully this is a problem I don't have in my life. Overall, I don't think this show is taking advantage of anyone. Except maybe losers like me who watch it to feel slightly better about themselves.

That's why today's recommendation is Intervention.

*especially because I don't have any children.

**I am making this up.

***Of course, using Nichols' classification, Intervention may not strictly be observational but I digress.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"vanishing cave"

Today's recommendation is Craig Thompson's graphic memoir Blankets. I personally think it is one of the best books of the last decade.

I am relatively certain I cannot do it justice on my blog, but I will try. It's frustrating, because I want to write something that will convince you that this is absolutely essential reading, that this is the kind of book that makes you want to get up and hug random people and dance around, that this will be the kind of book for you that it was for me: one you'll stay up all night reading, well past the point (ca. page 300 or so) when your wrists go numb. That you'll watch the sun rise and the people go by with a new appreciation and awe afterward. But I'm not sure my stilted academic writing is still capable of expressing such joy.

So I will just tell you:

Blankets details Craig Thompson's early childhood, adolescence, and struggles with religion. Establishing the motif described by the title, it links disparate experiences, textures, and images to create an intricate and beautiful Gestalt that unifies pain, love, beauty, art, and despair.

Blankets does an excellent and subtle job of situating itself in a very specific time (look at the details: the posters on the walls, the hairstyles) and making a place I've never been come alive. It takes religious fundamentalism away from the caricature many of us associate with it, and presents a critical insider view. The world it describes merely is; it doesn't need to pound you over the head with reminders of PAST or MIDWEST.

Blankets is more than a graphic memoir. It's a cinematically structured journey through a specific time (ca. 1993-1994), a specific place (Michigan), and a specific individual's experience. But more than that, it uses such common motifs and such universal expression to make this coming-of-age story relatable. It's more than a story about rejecting the ideology of one's childhood and family; it's more than a story about first love; it's more than a story about childhood trauma.

Blankets is a story about how disparate elements of an individual's past make them who they are, and allow them to do what they do. A story about how you can let go of beginnings or foundations or negative events, but they still influence you, and sometimes you can achieve the distance necessary to appreciate what they add to your life.

Blankets, I feel, will only add to your life. So that is why it is today's recommendation.

Friday, January 1, 2010

the languages of silence & pictures

Happy New Year, gentle blog readers!

Today's recommendation is the 2009 graphic novel Stitches: A Memoir by David Small.

Although I have no excuse for engaging in such shoddy linguistic practices, and offer this with the caveat that I'm not a linguist, I find it fascinating that Bildungsroman begins with Bild (meaning picture); that Bild is, in a sense, the beginning of Bildung (accumulation, creation, cultivation). Pictures accumulate to tell the story of someone's coming of age. Thus it seems apropos that so many recent memoirs have taken the form of graphic novels. That the graphic memoir is itself a renowned genre certainly says something positive about the increased critical attention given to visual media in recent years; I like to think this also bears out my explication of Bildungsroman.

I have to admit, my pure and unadulterated love for Blankets
, another graphic memoir - perhaps one of the best books of that decade that supposedly ended last night - was what drove me to Stitches and I think I ended up unfairly comparing the two. I could not read Stitches without assessing it in the shadow of Blankets.

The similarities between Stitches and Blankets are at once unsettling and fascinating; I can't tell if this is an imitator or the similarities are characteristics of troubled young men who turn to art as a form of expression. Both books depict the authors as children, escaping from upsetting home life situations by creating; both engage to some degree in a pastiche of the cultural images that surrounded the authors at early ages, demonstrating the dream-like, highly visual existence and imagination of young children.

Stitches recounts Small's early childhood and adolescence in what is revealed as a severely dysfunctional family. You think your family was bad? Small's family can top yours. I think the book jacket itself unfairly reveals too much of the story, and that it would have more impact if the jacket writers themselves left more to the imagination, so I won't say much about that, but the drawings and story together recreate a sense both of the mid-20th century and the utter fractiousness and confusion of Small's early existence. Where Blankets is beautifully structured and develops on several themes, Stitches is in places sort of an anarchy. The story itself is imbued with temporal distance, and the omniscience of the narrator alienates the bizarre occurrences in the story even more. That the structure is not so carefully plotted becomes a credit to Stitches' mimetic power. Blankets is a simple love story, pure cinema on paper; Stitches is a recreation of the senseless pain and confusion most of us get. Stitches reads like a science fiction or horror story. What I loved about Blankets was how real and full the story felt (at almost 600 pages, it better feel full); what fascinated me about Stitches was how much was left unsaid, how much of the story remained caught in gaps or written between lines. In a sense, the narrative itself is stitched together; events connected only by their mediation.

I think I've already recommended Blankets. If not, I'll recommend it again. Now and maybe later too! But today's recommendation is the more problematic and troublingly haunted Stitches.