I know.: RIP Carrie Fisher

A lot of people died in 2016. A lot of them were really famous and inspiring, but two of them were my great aunt and grandmother, so that’s keeping the celebrity deaths in perspective. (Seriously, the angel of death seemed really cruel this year.)

But I guess we couldn’t be left very well alone in the last 4 days of the years, because now Carrie Fisher is among them.

Back in the early, early days of starting this blog, I wrote about Princess Leia, and the blurry lines between second and third wave feminism as I saw it then. (I’ve grown a lot in the past five years.) Leia has meant a lot to me as a writer, a fan, a critic and a woman. Carrie Fisher’s writing means more. (I’ve got kind of a thing about acerbic troubled ladies from that generation. I’m also deeply into Norah Ephron, who is also gone. Well, SHIT.) I’ve spent a lot of time in the past decade trying to decide what kind of writer I wanted to be, and it was in finding memoir that it all finally clicked, and Wishful Drinking was a huge part of that.

I didn’t read the book but I watched the one woman show and was blown away by it’s bizarre mix of depressing self disclosure and hilarious self deprication. It was one large step towards the realization that “This is what I want to do.” I still had far to go, and I wound up a good deal less confessional, but my life is also a whole lot less interesting than hers was.

Her fearlessness in the face of aging and mental illness and addiction was remarkable and her wit and strength was incredible.

I’m writing this while watching When Harry Met Sally, because I want to remember that this woman, this indomitable woman was so much more than the one character who defined her. But I do want to talk about Princess Leia Organa, General Organa, the icon the light in every nerd girls life. Yes, we’ve dealt with fridging and Gamergate and being Smurfettes and damsels, but we had Leia. We had this beacon of strength and fire and fight and compassion and joy and love. Leia the Hutt slayer, Leia the princess, Leia the senator, Leia the general.

Every time I write a female character I make sure that she lives up to Leia. Not in the same ways, but she has to have at least as much agency, plot impact and personality. Otherwise, what’s the point?

2016 wasn’t the worst year of my life, but it wasn’t great. I fought through a baseline of depression, a job that I hated and the loss of two of the women who’d inspired me my whole life, right in my own small world. And now the world at large has lost yet another shining light that had meant so much to so many of us.

Yesterday I wrote the following: May the Force Be With You. We Know.

“I know” symbolizes “I love you” second only to “As You Wish” in my book. So that’s what I’m going with to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher, We Know. We love you. Thank you for all of it.

Rest in Peace, drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.

Busy Busy Busy: Smartening and The Kurt Vonneguys

Six months ago I decided to smarten up a little and the project failed miserably, because Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton is insanely long and dense and I wasn’t smarted up enough for it.

So, I dropped that book and the whole American History project, but lucky for me, a new presented itself to me!

Michael Swaim and Alex Schmidt, who I knew from Cracked, (by knew I mean, read their writing and watched their videos, I have not met these men.) started a podcast called The Kurt Vonneguys where they’re reading and discussing the works of Kurt Vonnegut in release order.

I’ve always liked Vonnegut’s work, and felt like I hadn’t read enough of it, so I decided to jump in. (Plus, my English major brain was missing the analysis of reading in a big way, and the podcast gives me that.) So far the podcast (and myself!) have made it through Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan and Mother Night. The one for Cat’s Cradle came out this week and I’m reading it right now. (I’m about halfway through.) Cat’s Cradle is one of my favorite books ever, so I was excited to circle back to it.

Also, given my current mood and sense of feeling overwhelmed by the world there’s something comforting in Vonnegut’s strange form of Nihilism. Unlike a lot of the “nothing matters” philosophy, Vonnegut’s point is inevitably, “nothing matter, so we might as well take care of one another, makes the nothingness more pleasant.”

There’s something comforting in that feeling right now, when it seems like common courtesy (or as some people want to call it “Political Correctness”) is considered weakness. When caring for others, particularly those who are different from you might be a radical act, I see nothing wrong with indulging in some thoughtful literature about how the world may burn, but at least we have each other.

Even if it’s all an accident, it’s a damn amazing accident.

The Tattoo Is Only The Beginning

I was travelling this weekend so I got a lot of reading in. (Finished my Harry Potter reread! I’ll have something to say about that soon, but I discover new things about those books every time I touch them, and I need to sort it out.) And there was just no way that I was getting on a plane without Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo queued up in my Kindle. (Walking past it in the airports would have simply made me mad if I hadn’t done it.)

I’m glad I did, as Amy’s kind of meant a lot to me symbolically over the past few years and also because like her movie, her stand up and certain of her sketches, made me laugh and think and wonder at this tremendous woman and her talent.

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo is often raw, particularly when Amy (yes, I will talk about her like she’s a friend of mine, I feel very connected to this woman.) discusses her family and relationships. While often hilarious, her reality involving her father’s MS, her mother’s emotional abuse and her sexual assault as a teenager are all heartbreaking. But nothing compares to her story about her abusive relationship, which is presented in such a matter of fact manner that you just want to give her a million hugs afterwards.

My favorite element of the book however, was the way Amy printed and commented on her old journal entries. Journaling, by it’s nature, is a narcissistic practice and Amy manages to make an excruciating exercise relatable and fun.

Overall I enjoyed the book, and I know because of…stuff, Schumer is not the most popular person on the internet anymore…but I’ll just always appreciate her honesty, and the way she makes me laugh and reminds me of my friends.

I Read A Book: The Year of Yes

year of yes

Why yes, I did read two books this week. And started a third. Yes, they are both books I’ve been putting off reading for reasons that I can’t even explain why. And yes, this one made me want to take on the world.

love Shonda Rhimes.

I love what she’s built. I love that she won’t apologize for being who she is, for creating things that she wants to see. I love that she’s built an empire because women were sick of not seeing stories about themselves on television, and that she started a revolution when she did it.

I loved the fictional worlds that she’d created and now that I’ve read The Year of Yes,  I feel like I know this woman who’s created these things I love a little bit better and I really admire her.

I admire her courage, and her decision to live her life saying yes in the face of fear. I liked her explanation why Christina Yang is her “favorite child” as it were. (Shonda is of course entitled to favor whichever of her creations she does, but I’ve always been a Miranda Bailey girl. And Abby from Scandal.) I loved her clear love for her children and for the people who are helping her be the best mother she can. I love that she’s chosen the life of a single woman.

I could keep going, but overall I was just deeply impressed by the book and, well, I’ve been deeply impressed by the woman for well over a decade now. I’m writing this post while watching one of her shows.

Scandal is the last of Shonda’s shows that I watch. (I need to get into How To Get Away With Murder) I jumped off the Private Practice train a few years before it ended and I think the last time I watched Grey’s Anatomy with any regularity Katherine Heigl was still on it. (God, remember how much we loved her?) But when Shonda describes writing her shows as laying track for an oncoming train. That metaphor explains a lot about her writing style, which is pretty much just plot, plot, plot…EPIC SPEECH.

But despite many of my misgivings I always enjoy my stays in Shondaland and really appreciated this view into it’s soveriegn’s mind. Also it made me want to get to writing seriously again. (Not that I don’t consider what I do here to be serious, but you know what I mean!) So I’ve been outlining a modern romantic comedy novel I want to write.

You see, once, long ago, before I let my life get overrun by fantasy and superheroes, I was going to write about young people falling in love with each other in realistic settings. So I’m going to try to do that.

And The Living Is Easy

It’s officially summer.

Well, not officially, but as far as any conventional measurement goes…

My daily walks have given me enough color that I don’t feel ghosty pale anymore…I’m ready for beach time, though I don’t know when it’s going to come.

I sometimes long for the summers of school time, when your life would slow down. Now it seems like everything goes crazy at summer time. This is partially because Tomfoolery Theatre, the group I help run, does it’s main work in the summer. (Auditions were this week! So, there’s that.)

Put here’s a (brief) look at what I have coming up in the next few months:

Summer Movie Season Trudges On:

I’m hoping to get to either Mad Max: Fury Road or Aloha this weekend. Next weekend Entourage is hitting, and I’ve decided to be unapologetically excited about that, followed by Jurassic World and Inside Out, which then lends itself to a nice little break before Terminator: Genysis (I need to find a minute to rewatch the first two Terminator movies…)

Special Edition NYC!

That’s next weekend. I have a hotel room, I have costume plans. I’m really excited and nervous. I had a ball at ACBC but I’ve also pretty much given up weekly comics reading, because I got really far behind and also because there have been so many good books coming out lately (Prose books) and I don’t have unlimited reading time, so something’s got to give. (I’m currently working through Gumption: Relighting The Torch Of Freedom by Nick Offerman. Hilarious. And educational. I admire this man so much.) But I’m looking forward to it. Since I’ve decided to jettison NYCC in favor of Disney World this year. (Where I will be, exhausted, dehydrated, and waiting in line a bunch. Seriously, it’s 80% the same activities) this is (probably) my last con this year. I’m comfortable with the decision…I think.

Usual Stuff

Obviously, Game Of Thrones will continue, and I’m about to launch into season 3 of Kim Possible and Sailor Moon seems like an endless trove of joyous pretty colors and glitter. (Seriously, I’m trying to figure out how much original anime I have left and my Google-fu is failing me…does anyone know what Hulu’s deal with the movies is going to be? I mean, I assume they’ll be there, since we’ve been promised “full and unabridged.”)

Life Things

My sister’s boyfriend Joe graduated from college! So we’re celebrating that. A couple of my cousins also graduated from college and high school and what not, so there will be celebrations of that. Plus work, and trying to write things that aren’t this blog.

But I swear, I will get to a beach. I will do it soon! (Or possibly in August, when all of this stuff is done.)

Happy Summer Everyone!

 

Things I’m Obsessed With Right Now: Strong Ladies Edition

Hey Everyone! I’m going through a couple of obsessions lately, and most of them are lady type people and feminism related, and thus let’s begin.

  • The new season of Veep. God, could this show get any better? Amy’s freak out at Selina was incredible last week and the fact that Selina is the most ineffective president ever is particularly awesome. If you haven’t watched Veep, I recommend it. It’s funny, smart and altogether brilliant. (Not to mention Bechdel-busting, and great at the numbers game.)
  • Agent Carter got renewed! Hooray! Let’s all happy dance.
  • NYCC tickets and acquiring them. (Not feminism related exactly, but still annoying) Look, I’m not the only one of my friends to get shut out. It’s a decent mix of people who got some and who didn’t. Hoping to hit the jackpot at Special Edition and if not, it’s Stub Hub for me!
  • The ACLU inquiry into hiring practices in Hollywood at as related to sexism. Can we get a Boo-Ya!
  • Sailor Moon…going over six months strong on the obsessions list. You’re about to hit the Batman mark my friend. Congratulations.
  • Jen Lancaster, I reflected on her work and what it meant to me last week, but now I’ve been making my way through her books again. This happens pretty much every year. But I felt it was worth noting.
  • The Indoor Kids podcast. Oh my God. I love this podcast. I’m behind on everything because I’ve been listening through old episodes but it’s so worth it. It’s hosted by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, and they’re adorable. Emily is everything I love about the women I’ve encountered as I’ve traveled through the oceans of nerd culture. She’s feminist, she’s sex positive, she’s intelligent, she’s passionate about games. I’m completely obsessed with it. You should listen to it.
  • The adding of more female characters to Silicon Valley.
  • Hey! Pitch Perfect 2 tonight. I’m not like, super psyched about it. I think it’s a wholey unnecessary bit of movie, but I’m just excited that another Bechdel Buster is getting an ridiculous unnecessary sequel.
  • Ava Duvernay is in talks to direct either Black Panther or Captain Marvel. I will take either, but I’d rather see Black Panther, not because I want her pigeon holed, but because she directed Selma and thus has strong working relationships with most of the best black actors in Hollywood, and that will be a useful network for Black Panther.
  • Oh right, and the Supergirl sneak peak? How AMAZING IS THAT? This show looks perfect. I’ve always wanted The Devil Wears Prada but with powers. If it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, I absolutely am not. Seriously, I’m all packed for this weekend and seriously considering changing up and doing Supergirl instead of Black Canary, it’s that good.

So that’s what’s going on with me. How are you guys?

The Epitome: Claude-Michel Schonberg & Alain Boubil “The Fall Of Saigon”

Welcome to a new sporadic feature. Like “Things I’m Obsessed With” and “Weird Actor Patterns” and “Lies Musical Theater Told Me.” I’ll do these whenever something hits me that fits into it.

So, I’ve been doubling down on musical theater lately. Listening to show tunes has always been a safe space for me, even as I find new things, I tend to enjoy them and wrap my mind around them, and since lately, I’ve been really tired and not terribly interested in exploring, wrapping myself in the comfortable world of musicals seemed like a good plan.

And then last week, I decided to revisit The Pirate Queen, which, isn’t as good as I remembered it (I didn’t expect it to be) nor was it as awful as I feared. But it did remind me about the patterns of it’s music team, Claude-Michel Schonberg & Alain Boubil tend to fall into, and I decided to do a bit of a deep dive into their stuff.

Rather than simply limp along with the multiple versions of Les Mis (For overall quality, I recommend the 10th Anniversary Concert, for individual performances you can’t beat the Original London Cast, and if you want every note and word, you need The Complete Symphonic) I decided to listen to Miss Saigon.

Miss Saigon has always been an anomaly for me out of those early 90’s British import epics, in that I didn’t listen to it until high school. I know my parents saw it and that they weren’t really fans. (I like it a lot but I can totally see how it’s not their thing. My dad did love the helicopter though, because, I mean, they landed a helicopter on the stage!) And for that reason, I’m able to see it’s flaws much more than it’s big sister, Les Mis.

Which I’m sure has them. Couldn’t tell you. I refuse to look.

Anyway, that was Friday, and I’ve listened to it 5 times since then, because that’s how my brain works. And yesterday morning as I listened to “The Fall of Saigon,” which chronicles the evacuation of the American embassy in the city, as well as separation of our main couple Kim and Chris, due to circumstances way beyond their control, I realized, “this song is really an excellent example of everything that Boubil and Schonberg do well, and also of a lot of their flaws.”

So I figured, let’s break down why I feel this way:

1. Operatic Tradition

Being European composers rather than American or British, Boubil & Schonberg have a much better grasp of opera & operetta than other composers in the medium. They’re one of the few modern writers who use full scale arias in their work for example. (“I Dreamed A Dream” & “Valjean’s Solioquy” from Les Mis, “Woman” & “I’ll Be There” from Pirate Queen, “Why, God, Why?” & “I’ll Give My Life For You” from Miss Saigon) And “The Fall Of Saigon” is operatic in stakes, sound and style. Chris leaves Kim with his gun and heads to work at the embassy. Hearing the evacuation is happening she rushes to join him, only to be lost in the crowd. Meanwhile, Chris is forced on a plane without his beloved, after securing her a spot beside him with the promise to marry her. Obviously, they’re separated. Their individual parts are stunningly written, with Chris arguing for Kim’s visa, Kim attempting to get through the crowd to get in, and Kim’s eventual singing of a reprise of “I Still Believe,” fits into an operatic pattern that few musical theater composers could pull off.

2. Aggressive Chorus Parts

As the Vietnamese attempt get over the wall the American soldiers sing, “Get back, tell you don’t shout, the ambassador won’t leave til everyone’s out.” It’s heavy, heady stuff and it’s also incredibly melodic and in your face. Similarly, the poor & convicts chant “Look down,” in Les Mis, but this is that turned up to 11. And it…doesn’t quite work. While I think Kim and Chris’s parts of the sequence are fantastic the chorus parts aren’t terribly inventive or compelling. The Vietnamese chanting “They’ll kill who they find here. Don’t leave us behind here,” is equally aggressive but way more effective, which leads to my next point…

3. Marginalized Voices

Boubil & Schonberg excel telling stories of people on the fringes of things. Hell, Les Mis (as Hugo originally envisioned it and as it’s adapted) tells the stories of people on the fringes, not heroes, the miserable ones. Miss Saigon isn’t about an American Marine who falls for a hooker at the dusk of the occupation of Vietnam, although that happens. This isn’t Chris’s story, he’s third on the list at best. It’s Kim’s story primarily, and secondarily, it’s The Engineer’s. This is a musical about a 17 year old Asian prostitute that pretty much never makes her a victim, and a FrancoVietnamese pimp who’s given depth and nuance but is never once likable. I can’t even begin the fathom how difficult that is to do, let alone do to the level of quality that they do it. But it’s their ability to write about characters on the fringes that make the Vietnamese half of the song, and Chris and Kim’s individual parts more interesting than the more aggressive marines. Kim and Chris have no control over what’s happening to them, even as they fight tooth and nail to get to each other.

4. Moralizing

I don’t know if it’s just the material they choose (possible) or if it’s inherent in what they do, but there’s always a moment in a Boubil & Schonberg musical that telegraphs the point they’re trying to make in a big way. In Les Mis, “To love another person is to see the face of God,” in Pirate Queen, “There is a time, there is an hour, for those in power to set aside their grief, a time for women to behave as men, when men aren’t men.” And in Miss Saigon it comes in “The Fall of Saigon” from Chris’s buddy John, “Your mercy trip has failed, there’s nothing you can do, that ship has sailed. She’s not the only one we’ll have betrayed.” And…that’s a pretty cogent view of Vietnam, and how America views that chapter of our history. “We tried, we failed, we screwed up a lot of stuff.” And that’s pretty much the moral of Miss Saigon. This could either be a flaw or a plus, depending on how you feel about people singing the thesis statement of a dramatic piece right in your face.

I’m a fan to be honest, and I think it works really well here, coming from a character who’s sort of a shit at this point in the story, though we’ve already learned has turned things around and now advocates for the abandoned children of Americans. John has a mountain of regrets about Vietnam, and they actually start the moment he leaves.

Anyway, I think that these pieces are going to be fun. It all depends on how often things that are the epitome of something cross my path. Meanwhile, I’m going to go listen to “Sun And Moon” again…and “Reflection…” and the live version of “On My Own…” look, I’m just going to marvel at Lea Solanga’s perfect voice for a bit…