Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Downton Abbey Downer? Have Some Hedgehog/Hesse!

           I have never seen Downton Abbey. I have heard that it is somewhat like the British show of my childhood Upstairs Downstairs (which I found terribly dull, as it was not meant for small children. Although, I enjoyed things like Dr. Who, Benson, and Charlie’s Angels, which were also not for small children, so perhaps I just had fine taste). I much preferred Fawlty Towers, you know, the one with John Cleese, where he’s constantly getting into trouble with his wife and creating mishaps in his little bed & breakfast. It’s a ridiculously silly show, and I highly recommend you watch it if you have never seen it. 

 I may be one of the only people in America who does not watch Downton Abbey (at least that’s what I gather from Facebook), but lucky for me, if anything dramatic happens, Facebook lets me know. It seems that this weekend, something dramatic happened on Downton Abbey. Something tearful. I don’t know what. I can’t say that I care. A lot of people care. A lot of people cried. I’m sad for them. Really. (Don’t make me take a polygraph on that one). I’m not sure if they were crying for a character or if they were crying because of a presented idea. I’m going to guess they were crying about a nonexistent being.
           I watched an incredible French film this weekend titled Hedgehog. I thought it was just going to be one of those odd little films that you watched and went, “Huh.” (I watch an excess of odd foreign films, and this is often my response). The premise was that of a little girl of about 11 who had decided that adults lived their lives like goldfish in a fish bowl. And since that seemed ridiculous to her, she would take her life on the eve of her 12th birthday. Then, she makes a relationship with the superintendent in her building. I will not tell you anything else because I WANT you to go and watch this movie. I wept like a baby, in response to the movie’s commentary on life. There are smile-worthy moments as well. (I believe it was made after a book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Just watch the film.)

We get so invested in these characters, imaginary beings, people living different lives. Why? Is it because they are living lives we wished we were living? Is it because they have more drama in their lives? It’s not just television, movies, but also books, dreams. We see things happening and rather than wondering how we can bring it into our own life and enrich what is right in front of us we let ourselves be sucked away into other worlds, an escape. Now hold on one minute here, I am NOT saying that I do not enjoy a great film, or book, or television show. I also finished two great books this weekend and I love to be taken away in imaginary tales. To open the mind into nonexistent places, to dream, is the only way we can envision greater things for our own lives. What I am calling into question is, what if we paid as much heed to our friends and as much interest in their lives as we do to these television characters?!
How often have you waited on a phone call to/from a friend because you were watching your favorite TV show? Or you got together with a friend, and you discussed what happened in a television show before you talked about what was going on in your own life? We have become so accustomed to people not caring and being interested in what’s going on with us that when they actually do it seems out of place, bizarre, like there’s something wrong with them for being so invested in our life. There’s something wrong when we are more aware of the changes in the lives of imaginary people than the ones who are right in front of us. The ease of living that has come to us is turning us into a bunch of mindless cotton balls.
Clearly, people have not forgotten how to feel, or they would not be crying about the characters on Downton Abbey. Feelings abound! Mindless doesn’t mean soulless, thank goodness. Maybe we are just afraid to show our feelings to/for our real people. (Conversely, are we also afraid to receive them?) Perhaps for a moment, we could redirect some of our feelings. Feel a little less about someone fake, and a little more about someone real. Get a little bit more excited about the fact that someone had broccoli with his dinner. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s better than eating rocks. The excitement doesn’t just say, “I’m glad you ate broccoli, not rocks,” but “Hey, I’m glad you exist.” (And to all of my friends, I just don’t care if you think I’m weird for caring too much about you. There is no “too much.”)
Since I’ve been forced to look at Downton Abbey Facebook posts for the last 24 hours, I feel compelled to leave you with something moving from one of the books I read this weekend. Perhaps you can discuss it, instead of Downton Abbey, with your friends. It is surely just as moving. In the book, they are discussing a young man who has fallen in love with a planet. He sent all his thoughts to the planet, his dreams, his love - they reached it unbeknownst to him. He thought he was doomed to live silently in unrequited love.
Once he stood again on the high cliff at night by the sea and gazed at the planet and burned with love for it. And at the height of his longing he leaped into the emptiness toward the planet, but at the instant of leaping “it’s impossible” flashed once more through his mind. There he lay on the shore, shattered. He had not understood how to love. If at the instant of leaping he had had the strength of faith in the fulfillment of his love he would have soared into the heights and been united with the star.
                 From Demian – Hermann Hesse
                                 Translated by Michael Roloff and Michael Lebeck

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's Fashion Friday!: Shall I Or Shan’t I Dress Like An Ice Cream Cone

            We are what we eat. I eat a lot of ice cream. I really like ice cream. Why not look like ice cream? Pastels are back for spring and I can’t say if I’m excited about it. I guess they’re pretty. Yet more often than not, I find they remind me of children, The Golden Girls, and geriatric golfing attire. Oh, and I shouldn’t forget the Easter Bunny, dear, dear bringer of spring chocolates. The aforementioned characters are not any I’ve ever taken seriously so how I would take anyone dressed in head to toe pastels in a serious manner is hard to imagine. It sounds like one of those outfits I would pull together at 4:45 am in the dark, running out the house to get in the car, so my mom could drive us down to NYC to visit my brother, and somewhere along the way, after I’d had a cup of coffee, I would stop to use a restroom and catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror, do a double take, shudder, and wonder what I’d done to make my mom angry enough to passive-agressively let me out of the house looking like a sociopathic homeless person from Miami.
            The more I ruminate on it, the more it becomes clear in my mind that it is impossible to wear head to toe pastels and not look like a blooming imbecile. Probably a lovely fragranced, spring-like one, but brainless, none-the-less. There are some quite pretty pastel colored pieces you might want to acquire to cheer up your closet. I assure you that none of them are for sale at Sears. If you don't believe me, take a visit to the Sears in Burlington, MA and check out the mannequin display straight ahead on the right about fifty feet from the snow blower section. 
Pierre Hardy $895
            Net-A-Porter was trying to tempt me to some of their pastel product by associating them with ice cream sundaes (Sundae Girl). Dear, Net-A-Porter, I don’t eat clothes. Regardless, these Pierre Hardy suede pumps are scrumptious. If only I had $895 just laying around that I didn’t know what to do with. Oh wait, let me just pull that out of my inside jacket pocket along with my Amex black card and the deed to the 200 acres of land I own in South Africa. These shoes would look amazing with a black dress – something with a flouncy skirt and a very fitted, perhaps backless top. Can you picture it? I can.
Carven $590
            This dress by Carven, sherbert colored with some grapesicle… OOOooooh NO. That, I just needed to throw in there because it’s about as ugly as the stuff from Sears.  And it’s 10 times the price. To be honest, an awful lot of this pastel stuff is pretty hideous. It looks like Father Time woke up and vomited the 1950’s. And not the good parts. The undigested unnatural parts. 
Acne $300
           This Acne dress is quite pretty. It’s simple. Color and tiering. I don’t want to see any big girls in it though, this is a dress for a waif. I.e. if you are shaped like me, this is not for you. This is a dress for my friend Alicia. Miss I can eat half a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts in a sitting and never hit the 100 pound mark. Girlfriend, I hope you’re reading this.
Skaist-Taylor $295
            I love this silk top by Skaist-Taylor. The blush pink can be hard to pull off with fair skin. If you break it up with dark jewelry or a dark colored scarf between the shirt and your face you can increase the possibility of being able to wear it without looking shirtless. I love that this blouse has ZIPPERS up the sleeves. It’s girly, but still with a little bit of rocker/euro-punk flair. I wouldn’t pair it with the skirt they’ve paired it vwith, however, unless you are fairly tan (and also quite wealthy, as that skirt costs $1200).
Shourouk $530
            Pastel jewelry, now that’s fun. And it won’t overtake your entire outfit. I quite enjoy these earrings, while the price is absolutely ridiculous. $530? You must be kidding. I am only showing you these Swarovski earrings by Shourouk because I know that you can take the inspiration from this image and go and find something vintage (used/old/cheap) at a Salvation Army or a yard sale. I’m sure there’s plenty of pastel bakelite (that may be expensive if you buy it from someone who knows what they have) and melamine jewelry hanging out in the cobwebbed corners of antique stores and people’s attics.
            The moral of this story is that if you want to wear pastels, you pick A (as in a single) pastel color and use it as a pop to go with some neutrals, such as black, or brown, or grey. Pastel colors should be treated like prints. While they aren’t as bright as fluorescents or as in your face as a paisley or an argyle, they’re just not good for mixing, except in an ice cream bowl. And when all is said and done, ice cream melts. And very few people actually like melty ice cream. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

How I Stopped Being Angry OR How I Became A Libertarian OR How The US Government Discriminates

            I used to be like you. I used to have opinions about major issues. And by issues, I mean hot button topics turned into 5-alarm fires by the media and political armies. I used to be very angry. And I used to be very depressed. As I struggled to fix the depression in my life, addressing the things I had control over and the things I did not, I started to notice that there were a whole lot of things happening in the world that I had not an ounce of control over. I recognized that harboring anger about them was not only not constructive, it was destructive. It was getting me nowhere. And then, I made a huge leap and took this very complicated concept (and I only say it’s complicated because so few people are able to apply it to their lives) and applied it to my political beliefs. “That has nothing to do with me.”
            Both sides of the American political equation want to believe that what other people are doing directly affects their own lives. It’s a strangely narcissistic tendency. Some people want to create laws to keep people from doing things that they wouldn’t do. Some people want to outlaw things to make sure that some random overly sensitive person doesn’t run the risk of feeling different because of the beliefs they have willingly chosen. And then there’s me, and the people in my boat. We don’t care WHAT you do. We don’t want to keep you from doing what you want to do. And we don’t want to force you to do anything that might make you uncomfortable. You can do whatever you want! It’s a free country and that’s how we want to keep it, because what you do in your private life HAS NO EFFECT ON US.
            Are you confused? Let me show you a little bit how this works. We’ll take some “issues” and apply the magic phrase “this has nothing to do with me.” Let’s start with a practice test… easy. Your neighbor wants to stick his feet in peanut butter and leave footprints on his bathroom wall. What do you do? Answer: Nothing. It has no effect on you and has nothing to do with you. Practice test two, a little bit harder. Your neighbor is sleeping naked in his fenced in backyard during the month of July. What do you do? Answer: Nothing. Your neighbor might be a weirdo, and he’s going to get a shit ton of bug bites, but this has no effect on your life! Nothing to do with you!
Before Maury Povich.
            Let’s make it a little bit harder. Birth control. I know that’s a big issue for some people, as in there are a lot of religious folk out there who don’t think that anyone should have access to it. Well, here’s a great example of putting the magic phrase to work. Whether or not a woman you do or don’t know takes birth control has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t affect you. It’s none of your business. (I mean, in the long run you could argue that it will affect you because you may have to pay for something for the child through the system of taxation, blah blah blah, but come on, in that respect birth control is actually going to work IN YOUR FAVOR, so argument squashed. SHH). So…. The government shouldn’t be regulating it. Abortion. If a woman wants to have an abortion: is that going to affect my life? No. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with her decision. It doesn’t matter what I want her to do. It has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. It will not affect my life in any way at all. The only way I can think of would be if it WERE me, or if it were a friend of mine, in which case the effect would be my having to stand up and be a rock to lean on. And where does the government factor into that? Nowhere. The government should not regulate it.
            GAY MARRIAGE. If two gay men or women want to get married, please explain to me how in the world that has any effect on anyone but the two people getting married? How? How does that hurt anyone? That’s right, it doesn’t. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with them. It doesn’t matter if you think they’re going to hell. It doesn’t affect you. It has nothing to do with you. (For the record, just to be clear, I think gay people SHOULD be able to get married. I don’t believe in government regulation of anyone’s marriage. You know the only reason they make you get a license is so they can extract more money from your wallet. I feel compelled to speak up for what I morally believe to be right and that is equality in opportunity for quality of life. I also believe that gay couples make great parents. I know some and I love them and I know their son loves them too. People are people and discrimination is WRONG).
            Now the really hot button issue right now is gun control. And this is where things do start to blur. Whether or not someone has a gun, this could potentially affect your life. It could also not affect your life. I don’t have an answer for this. I do know that it is not my right to diminish the feelings of safety that one person may get from owning a gun, whether or not it actually makes them safer. It is not my right to diminish the feelings of strength in the face of their government one may get from owning a gun, even if I personally find that to be false. It is not my right to tell someone that they are a bad person because they own or want to own a weapon. I know very sensible, kind people who have permits to carry concealed firearms. The only place that I have a say in this issue is to say, “Do not harm my friends, loved ones, or other citizens of the country in which I live.” That is the only way in which someone owning a gun could affect my life.
            I can’t tell you what the answers are to how the government should regulate the purchase and ownership of guns because I don’t know. I don’t want to own a gun, so I probably won’t ever know the answer. I’m not worried that guns will ever be unavailable. If I know one thing for certain, it’s that the surest way to drive up the market value of an object is to make it illegal. Look at prohibition. Look at the drug war. Marijuana’s illegal and you could probably sneeze on the street and find someone who could get it for you.
            The government is supposed to protect us at home and afar. They want us to think they’re doing that with this debate about gun control, but actionably they are not. The Americans that were being held hostage in Algeria would attest to that if they were still alive. A hostage exchange was proposed: two American hostages for two jailed terrorists. The two terrorists that our government refused to exchange for American life, while undoubtably criminal, were a blind senior citizen and someone who shot at FBI agents and missed. Our government “doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.” By not negotiating, they are complicit in the deaths of the American hostages. 
If the idea of remote controlled killer planes doesn't creep
you out at least a little, there might be something wrong
with you.
            Not only that, but they ARE terrorists themselves. (May I again state, people are people and discrimination is wrong). The government continues its drone war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, knowing full well that by doing so they are preventing the inoculation of thousands of children against polio. (The Taliban forbids UNICEF’s polio vaccinations in Pakistan until the drone war stops). In fact, just a couple of days ago it was reported that the Obama administration has decided to be very lenient with the CIA in allowing the drone killings* to continue and not subject them to what they are nonchalantly calling their counterterrorism ‘playbook,’ as if taking the lives of others were as lighthearted as a football game. So, if you’d like to be angry about something, don’t be angry about things that have nothing to do with you. Don’t be angry that gay people want to get married. Don’t be angry that a scared young woman doesn’t feel ready to have a child. Be angry that your government is using your money to kill children, by proxy, in other countries, NOT keep your fellow citizens safe, and exterminate anyone deemed a terrorist without giving them a trial in any nation or even a look in the eye.