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Hypocrites of the Sea

May 14, 2011

There’s nothing I hate more than whaling. It’s painful and disgusting and anti-Marxist and stinky and unnecessary. And yet I seem to be drawn to all sorts of whaling paraphernalia.

It all started with Moby Dick. That book is awesome. I love the first chapters that describe Ishmael’s new romance with Queequeg, cuddling with tattoos in hotel rooms on their first night together. And it only goes up from there. Yes, it’s a slow, tedious climb, but it’s one of those books that you can only really appreciate after you’ve read it the first time. Struggle through those long chapters describing the leviathan’s blow hole and the white of Moby Dick’s skin and you’ll finally realize just how invested and wrapped up in the prose you’ve gotten. Everything around you starts to beg to be described in the detail Melville devotes of the the whale.

Because it’s one of those books that you have more fun thinking about than actually reading, it makes sense that the aftermath of Moby Dick is obsession-inducing.

First, there’s this guy. Matt Kish has devoted the last two years to creating a drawing for every page of Melville’s novel. He uses found paper (which is cool) to explore all sorts of themes from the novel that may get lost in a less thorough analysis. My favorite pieces he does are tribal style ink drawings of The Whale by itself. Like this one:

Check out his blog and the book that he’s releasing soon.

Moby Dick led me to The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare, which I thought would be more about whales and whale behavior but was mostly about the history of whaling in the U.S. and U.K. At first I was disappointed that the book was so violent, rather than the peaceful, slow whale world I envision. But it turns out the history of whaling is really interesting and really relevant.

Take Sarah Vowell’s new history of Hawaiin colonization, Unfamiliar Fishes. Whaling is what led many American sailors to Hawaii as a nice stop-over point to get plate lunch and hookers. Which, along with white missionaries, contributed a whole lot to Polynesian culture as we know it.

Plus, I found out about scrimshaw. To keep sailors entertained, they would distribute whale teeth and some other bones to engrave.

I know, I know. Those teeth belong in the whale’s mouth. It’s really disgusting that humans, with their superior technology, were preying on giant sea cows. But look how cool those are!

Also, some of the most beautiful paintings of the 17th/18th century are horrible displays of whaling bloodshed.

I can’t figure out what it is about whaling that is so interesting and appealing (visually) to me. Perhaps it is the mixture of something so regal and beautiful (the whale itself) with the crude, presumptuous, arrogant sailors and their harpoons. Maybe it’s the same reason I love horror films so much. The things I find most repellent are the things that I want to figure out, conquer.

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A Monkey Could Do It

April 24, 2011

It’s been a while. Sometimes I feel like if you don’t have a baby – or, in my case, don’t like babies – your blogging life is very nonessential. But I’d like to keep this up a little better. I think about it sometimes.

Here are some things I like lately:

Remember how I said I didn’t really like babies? I love this baby! She’s a hot mess with a squidgy face who loves alcohol and … what look to be beans? She seems like a real party.

I watched all seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire slayer in a few short months. After watching the last episode I immediately requested the comics at the library. I haven’t been this obsessed since X-files. Evil Willow, where have you been my whole life?? Well, you were always on the WB/UPN, channels even my 12-year-old self mistakenly disregarded. My bad.

I’ve been trying to get better at drawing lately. I have a pretty good sense of space, if I do say so myself, it’s just a matter of practice and finding some ounce of creativity I might have. I doubt anything is going to come of it, but I’ve really been into this guy’s art. Matt Phalon works on children’s books and I think his style is simple and expressive.

Scott and I went to DC a few weeks ago and saw cherry blossoms, political mumbo-jumbo, and Spike from Top Chef. It quickly became one of my favorite cities. So clean and young with a nice sense of bright-eyed optimism.

I finally got accepted into a school and am going to be getting my PhD in American Studies from the University of Utah. Currently planning my schedule out and trying to decide to take an experimental literature course or a course on 19th century British portrayal of animals. I’m very excited. In the meantime…

I’m still walking dogs.

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Jane Eyre

January 7, 2011

Everyone seems to have read this already, but this was my first time. As a kid I was never into 18th century literature like a lot of other little Mormon girls (i.e. my sister), and then as I got older I felt like I had waited too long and had become too familiar with the story to find it enjoyable. Luckily, reading isn’t always about what’s enjoyable and I felt like correcting this huge gap in my education. And, of course, a lot of 18th century stuff is really really enjoyable. Jane Eyre was one of those don’t-put-it-down-if-you-can-help-it reads for me.

And since everyone knows the plot I want to focus on the religious details in the novel that I found really fascinating. Yes, Jane Eyre is primarily a romance with underpinnings of the importance of independence in a relationship, but underneath it all is a strong religious undertone. And it seemed to me to be a slightly anti-religious undertone. Not that Jane is anti-spirituality, but one of the consequences of being an independent woman is finding your own way within organized religion, too. She’s interested in what is right and moral, she’s even interested in securing her place in Heaven, but she never wants to achieve that through following a certain mode of Christianity. Her salvation is never dependent on rituals and rules she must follow. Instead, she cuts her own path that she then rigidly obeys.

This theme is first introduced in the boarding school segments. Because of their instructor’s unwieldy adherence to Christian rules and rituals, the girls are essentially starved and humiliated. Religion offers a strict guideline that the headmaster cannot deviate from, despite it being, clearly, the wrong approach. Jane never abandons proprietary religious rules completely, but she does examine them from her own perspective and deems whether they are appropriate for her specific situation. I loved this in the scenes with St. John (who is THE WORST! I hate that guy!) when she struggles to hold her own in arguments with such a persuasive guy. Ultimately, she sticks to her guns. Stick to your guns, not to your religion. That’s the most interesting theme of this book, I think.

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The Robber Bride

December 12, 2010

When I first started reading this book, I was very skeptical. It seemed like intelligent chick lit, but chick lit none-the-less. In other words, I felt the men were portrayed as helpless idiots, in need of care, and the women were hopelessly wrapped up in them. In many ways, this remained the characterization until the end of the novel, but I think it’s a much more complicated book than I originally gave it credit for.

Take, for example, my initial hesitation with a very obvious war motif that runs throughout the novel. Tony – the character I was most interested in, and the character I was most disappointed in – is a historian specializing in military studies. She’s also the first woman in the story to encounter the evil Zenia, a manipulative, cunning, beautiful woman who manages to ruin the three main characters’ lives. Instantly, war becomes an overpowering metaphor for the way women treat each other. In other words: men have violent war, and women have the backbiting, gossipy fighting they’ve constantly been relegated to in literature. But, by the end of the novel, that metaphor became much more complex. By the end you’re not sure if Zenia is a fallen comrade or a fallen enemy, but Tony shows a certain respect towards her rival that I find fascinating. Is the war between Zenia and the other women? Is it between women and men? Is it between Zenia and men? I don’t think the novel necessarily clarifies this point, and I appreciated that ambiguity.

I was also interested by the feminist slant that the Roz character tends to follow, while still remaining trapped in her patriarchal ideals. A main theme of the book is that there is an outmoded way of looking at and enacting male/female relationships that a certain generation (WWII war babies) is stuck in, despite the feminist movements of the 70s. Roz, a rich, successful business woman, is still obsessed with taking care of her husband, viewing him as a vulnerable, broken bird despite the fact that he is constantly cheating on her. Many people have interpreted the book as being an indictment against men (something that is not helped by the very poor characterization of the men by Atwood), but I think they are as much victims of a certain prevailing attitude as the women. They have a license to act obscenely. Zenia represents the dark side of this mothering culture, taking advantage of all the horrible things society has to offer.

Anyway, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it was a better beach read than The Girl Who Played with Fire, which was kind of a disaster. What Stieg Larsson represents as didactic and boring, Atwood renders complicated, even though both novels deal with many of the same themes.

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Housekeeping

January 21, 2010

Mariilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping has been praised by people a lot more intelligent and a lot more important to me. That’s why, since I read the book over a month ago, I haven’t been able to think of anything new to say. I loved the novel. It was one of the best books I read last year, but I don’t feel competent talking about it. Maybe after a couple years of grad school in American Literature I’ll feel better about my critical skills.

But I have had a couple years of grad school in film studies, and this novel felt very cinematic to me. Almost like a Terrence Malick film, in which everything washes over you as though in a dream. Characters and settings are all important and plot devices get lost in the wind. Nature takes over and moves people aside, drowning them under layers of lake water. Days of Heaven works with some of the same themes, the locusts playing the same role as the flood.

What I loved about this book was how much it wandered without being tangential. I don’t know how I got such a pleasant, sleepy feeling while I read when there is a lake full of waterlogged bodies and a caretaker that might leave at any moment. Robinson has a way with prose that seems very Southern and meandering, but by not placing the novel in the South (it takes place in Idaho) there is a sense of danger and immediacy.

What immediately jumped out at me – and seems to have jumped out at every other literature critic – is the strong, self-sufficient female characters that manage to form unconventional but somewhat satisfying bonds with each other. Taking tropes of classic American literature (“My name is Ruth” v. “Call me Ishmael”) and then reformatting them to fit feminine identity without making them “Female,” Robinson creates a novel that is as strong a myth as any in the Canon.

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Sundance Starts

January 20, 2010

Going to the Sundance Film Festival is probably a lot like having a second child: You think the whole experience is going to be great, you’re going to end up with this great result and all the work will be worth it. But, your body has forgotten the excruciating pain it went through the first time. You’re forgotten about all the weight you’ve gained, how big your feet have gotten, the heartburn, the bed rest, that baby ripping open your asshole, etc. And then it all happens again and you wonder why you ever thought this was a good idea. You blame everyone around you for your discomforts, you curse the incompetent, nosy doctor, and your husband suffers from all your negativity. Then, when it’s all over, you’re left with something that takes a shit-ton of work and, frankly, just isn’t all that great. Plus, you have to do a bunch of kegels to get your coochie back to normal.

(I’m not sure how that last part fits in with Sundance…but there you have it. My analogies just keep getting better and better.)

And so it starts. Yesterday I went to pick up programs for Scott and I. All we wanted was a tangible way to scroll through the films we’re going to see as “members of the press” but the volunteer at the Salt Lake office gave me such a stink about it. I get how they’re trying to be “green” and everything, but I know when I get to Park City there are going to be programs strewn about on every surface imaginable. They always print 12 billion programs and then give Salt Lake 120.

Then there’s the ice on the sidewalks, the bus drivers that don’t know their way around town, the press screenings at odd hours that always conflict with each other, and the lack of decent food. Then again, there’s free tea and bagels, a really really helpful and nice press staff, and ample opportunity to see all of the films you need to. So it’s very stupid to complain. I get that. It’s just so easy to complain when it’s 12 degrees below and you’re hungry.

Now it’s off to Park City to finally get a program.

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New Years Resolutions

January 18, 2010

1. Present at three conferences with three different papers.
2. If Film Threat decides to be permanently extinct, find another reliable internet magazine to write for.
3. Lose at least 15 pounds. A pretty superficial goal, I know, but in the past three years or so my metabolism has dropped dramatically (or it’s a thyroid problem, but who knows? what with not having insurance and all.) and I’ve gotten to a point where I’m not physically happy with myself. It will probably take a dramatic kind of change (I’m thinking of trying my dad’s vegan/no preservatives thing) and I’m not looking forward to that. I like to cook. I like to eat. Losing weight is bullshit.
4. Practice the piano. Ideally every day, but at least a few hours a week.
5. Make this blog and Dear Jesus into something I’m proud of. Start some weekly/monthly series. Make a new banner. Interviews, art, interesting links.


6. Hike in Moab.
7. Organize a photo walk or two. (Part of this goal will be getting new batteries for my camera, I guess)
8. Submit an article to a children’s magazine.
9. Spend some time making art that I don’t have to follow from a pattern.
10. Make this house some curtains.
11. Learn to knit.
12. Take Scott camping up at my parents’ cabin.
13. Visit the animal sanctuary  in Kanab.
14.  Create an herb garden.
15. Read 100 books.