Thursday, September 30, 2010

daily inspiration

"I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, shortly before he wrote "The Great Gatsby"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

geek heaven!

So if you're an enormous nerd like me, go ahead and finish reading through the above image. Then go to the source of the image,, where they have put together several of these, including FB pages for Ron and Hermione and a magical world Twitter feed. Here's the URL:

I'll wait.

These pretty much made my life. First of all whoever got to put these together has the BEST JOB ON THE PLANET. Second, he or she clearly loves the world of Harry Potter and knows that world deeply and truly, the way any HP fan does. Because that's what these books do. They don't just entertain or tell a story. They create this enormous, lovely, weird, beautiful, fanciful world and they let you become a part of it. The details of these internet mock-ups are so painstaking, so almost tender in their adherence to JK Rowling's world, and reading through these I was just reminded again of how much these books mean to me.

I've watched the previews for the upcoming HP movie and will go see it, as I have all the other ones. But it will break my heart. Because these books without question changed my life. I remember so clearly the fall afternoon I walked into a little hole in the wall bookstore in Richmond with my mom. She wanted to get a book for our upcoming beach trip, and I tagged along, probably sulking and being a general pain in the ass. I was in seventh grade, and I was an absolutely shit. I mean really. The only thing I cared about was being popular. I was as big of a dork then as I am now of course, but I wouldn't accept that. I wanted to be one of the cool kids, and so I literally made it my mission. And my silly little middle school brain thought the key to popularity was to ditch everything that made me unique and geeky and well, me. I started purposefully not doing as well in school. I treated some really good friends really badly. And I denied that at my core I was a reader and a writer. I only read for school. I stopped writing stories on my electronic typewriter (yes I really had one of these, I think that means I'm 90). And when I heard about this Harry Potter series and the hype around it, I rolled my eyes and acted above it all.

But for some reason on that October afternoon, in the aisles of a dark and dusty store crammed with used and new books, I picked up the first Harry Potter book. Maybe because I was with my mom, maybe because I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about, maybe because despite how hard I was trying to stifle my inner dork, it was just screaming to get out. But I picked up the first Harry Potter (there were only three out at the time then), and asked my mom to buy it for me. I finished it in one weekend, and a lifelong love was born. Now it would be simplifying things to say that this changed me overnight. I still had a few more years of acting like a brat and trying to climb the so called high school social ladder (suffice it to say I never got above the first rung, like I said, enormous dork, all the popular kids could always see what I couldn't, and also suffice it to say that on that first rung I found my real friends and my real self and movie of the week, super special episode blah blah blah, you know the rest).

But my point is that Harry Potter was like that first movement back toward me. I fell in love with the story of a boy with a scar living in a cupboard under the stairs. I was taken into the warmth of this colorful, odd, wonderful world. And I realized that no matter how hard I tried to deny it, stories (whether being read or wrote) were not just a way to pass the time for me, but a fundamental part of who I was, who I am, who I always will be.

And so I guess my very long winded point is that Harry Potter will never just be a book to me. And judging from the above internet mock ups which are just so perfect and spot on that they could only have been written by someone who has fully lived in the world of these books, I'm not the only one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

the YouTube wormhole

Every so often I fall into the YouTube wormhole. Normally I try to avoid the site all together, because you go on to watch one funny video someone was talking about or find a band's live performance, and it's the middle of the day and you're a productive member of society and birds are chirping out the window...and then seven hours have passed and it's like you've woken up in a post-apocalyptic wasteland- it's dark, it's cold, and you don't know where you are anymore. One video leads to the next and suddenly at two in the morning you're watching N'Sync perform at the 1998 Video Music Awards. I mean hypothetically. I've personally NEVER done that.

So anyways I've fallen into a couple of these wormholes recently. And the most recent one was brought on by the premiere of Glee. I had read about "Charice" being a guest-star and I thought this Charice was someone the kids were into, a one named chanteuse of the Monica or Ashanti variety (yeah that's right I'm old). But then I watched the episode and damn girl can sing! There may have been some goosebumps when she performed "Listen." So I made a horrible mistake. I went on YouTube. And apparently this Charice came into our lives through divine intervention. In other words Oprah came down from the clouds to pluck Charice from the Phillipines and deliver her into the American sub-conscious. And anyway there went two hours of my life that I will never get back. But that's okay, because she's tiny and adorable and an insanely good singer. Here's proof. A word of caution: please watch the video here and don't go to Youtube yourself. And if you ignore my advice, well then, God speed.

i love mindy kaling.

A quote from Mindy from a New York Magazine profile:

“Why do all the women have to be klutzes? All these pretty women with no discernible flaws, so let’s make them a klutz! Or what about all the skinny women shoving food in their mouth on dates? It would be so much funnier if the women weren’t skinny. That’s a great Onion headline: ‘Actual Fat Woman Shoves Food in Her Mouth in Romantic Comedy.’ ”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

oh how i love the theater

So in the last two weeks I've suddenly found myself a theater critic. I know! Who would have thought? But it's actually been really fun and I've discovered a cool, vibrant part of Richmond I didn't really pay any attention to before. Plus I don't know if it will ever get old, striding cooly to the ticket office, notebook in hand, glancing to the side nonchantly, then looking to the ticket person, "I have two tickets under" Yes that's right, the PRESS. The press that I am a part of.

Although remove the "cooly" and the "nonchantly" parts of that. In reality it's me jumping up and down, waving my notebook in the air and mouthing, I AM A JOURNALIST! SQUEEEEE.

Plus who knew that all theaters had bars!? And the smaller, local ones you can bring your glass of wine (pinot grigio in my case obviously) with you to your seat. You can't even do that paying 100 dollars a ticket in New York. So I am loving my new freelance gig, even more than the time I got to write about cupcakes and use it as an excuse to eat 100 of them.

And if you're curious about some great theater in Richmond, here are three of my reviews:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

a hero emerges.

Before the US Open began there was a common, snarky refrain from commentators and sports writers regarding Novak Djokovic. In New York the 23 year old Serbian could achieve a career grand retirements.

No one, including myself, had much faith in the guy. When he first burst onto the tennis scene a few years ago, I loved to watch him. He had an abundance of talent sure, but also a knack for comedy and theatrics on the court. When he won a big match he tore his shirt in half. He did exaggerated but spot-on imitations of the other players, including Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova. He was a brash kid, a welcome burst of rebellious, cocky energy amidst the gentlemanly politeness and deference of Nadal and Federer. And he was good. Good enough to reach the finals of the US Open and win the Australian Open in 2008.

And then something happened. It began with frequent retirements, pulling out of the semifinals of a Grand Slam due to less than clear reasons.  He was still a solid number three in the world, he still won most of the matches he should have won. But it was the matches he could have won, the ones against the top guys, the ones he would have had to fight for-those were the matches that began to slip away. Over and over again I watched him get to the semis of majors, a respectable result sure, but one that shouldn't have been enough, not for a player with his talent, not for any player who wanted to seriously challenge the Nadal/Federer stranglehold on the big titles.

There were more retirements, more chokes, and it started to seem that Novak Djokovic was destined to be a perpetual number three in the world, a guy who would always have decent results without really trying, but someone who didn't have the heart or the guys to go further. And then Saturday afternoon came. Nadal was already a lock in the final after beating Youzhny in the other semi-final and it seemed that everyone was already envisioning a Federer/Nadal showdone. The Federer/Djokovic semi might be entertaining, but Djokovic couldn't seriously challenge the 16 time grand slam winner, not at the US Open, where he had lost to Federer the previous three years.

Djokovic would lose to Federer yet again this year, or so the prevailing wisdom went. But apparently no one told Novak Djokovic. Because this year, this match, something shifted. As the match went on, into the fifth set, I kept waiting for the inevitable. Djokovic would start shanking shots, making blatant errors and throw away the match. Or he would call a trainer, have some sudden injury that prevented him from finishing the match. Maybe he'd just collapse on the court this time.

But none of that happened. We all waited for the Djokovic of the last two years to emerge, but instead someone new showed up on that court. This was a Djokovic with fight and guts and courage. This was a Djokovic who fended off two match points, not by waiting for Federer to miss, but by going for his shots, hitting the lines with gusto and verve. This was a Djokovic who was no longer content to be number three, who didn't care that Anna Wintour and Gavin Rossdale were in Federer's box, that most of the stadium was pulling for Federer. This was a Djokovic who was finally living up to his talent, being the player we all hoped he could be. And as a tennis fan there's nothing more rewarding than that. Because more often the player we want to see never arrives. More often we watch men crumble under pressure, fall apart at the seams because they don't have that essential, iron willed belief.

What Novak Djokovic did on Ashe Stadium yesterday was beautiful and brave. It was a promise realized, a promise we had almost forgotten was ever there in the first place. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


In the most recent issue of New York Magazine, there's an incredible article called "skin", written by Mark Jacobson. It's sub-titled, "A Holocaust detective story." This is almost a perfect piece of creative non-fiction. Jacobson tells of a friend named Skip who while sifting through a heap of junk in post-Katrina New Orleans, comes across a lamp shade. It was what appeared to be a "Beaux-Arts style parchment lampshade, most likely made in the middle-twentieth century."

Skip asks the man selling the lamp shade what it's made of.

"That's made from the skin of Jews."

And then he sells it to skip for $35.

Jacobson eventually receives the lampshade from Skip, because Jacobson is a journalist and Skip thinks he might be able to find out if the grotesque and outlandish story is true. And so Jacobson embarks on a kind of quest, investigating historical claims of Nazi lampshades made of human skin, seeking the advice of everyone from forensic scientists to spiritualists. And as his search and the article builds, there's a moment of tremendous honesty from the part of the narrator. When the lampshade is sent out to a lab for DNA identification, Jacobson confesses that more than simply wanting to know if the lampshade is made of human skin, he wants it to be. He acknowledges this is sick, but also a natural human desire, to possess the unthinkable.

Where the brilliance of the piece comes in is that by this point, as a reader, you want it to be "real" too. You've followed the detective story, you've seen the evidence mounting up, you've listened in horror, but also a morbid fascination to the stories about Ilse Koch, the infamous "Bitch of Buchenwald" and her alleged obsession with objects made of human skin. You want it to be real, because it's one hell of a story.

Jacobson receives a call from his friend at the lab. "It's human." And reading the article, those two words puncture something. All the air is let out. You're not excited anymore. You're not fascinated anymore. It's human. For most of this piece, the reader, like Jacobson, is so far removed from the Holocaust. We all know what it was. We've all cried at Schindler's List and read The Diary of Anne Frank. But still there are moments, like in this detective story, where the Holocaust is something that happened a long time ago in somewhere far, far away. There's an air of mystery about it, a distance that lets it become, if even for just a moment, a story, not history.

It's human. Those words took that all away. Jacobson doesn't find out if that lamp shade came from the Holocaust. As he puts it, it could just have easily been from "some poor, unfortunately hitchhiker in Mississippi." But regardless it's enough to send Jacobson to Germany, to Buchenwald, to the place where at least the "idea of the lamp shade" first came to light.

When I woke up today, on September 11th, I thought of this article. There was a piece I saw recently, in either the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal, with what was essentially a "human splatter map" of lower Manhattan. It showed where pieces of human remains had landed near the Towers that day. A human splatter map. They were human beings, the same way whoever that lamp shade was made of was a human being. They're not artifacts. They're not something to file away in a memorial or in a museum. They were people.

I worry about what will happen ten years from now or fifty, when Ground Zero has been rebuilt and there's only a memorial there to remind us of what happened one clear morning in September. I worry that the farther we get from that day, the more removed we'll be. It's easy for things that were gruesome and barbaric to soften with time. I've written about this before, but the only way I can think to combat this, is to every year on this day, take time to watch a documentary or read an article or look through pictures that the rest of the year I would avoid. The NY Times has these picture slide shows on their website. And as I click through the pictures I wait for the one I dread, yet also the one that tends to fade into the recesses of my memory more than the image of the plane flying into the tower or the towers crumbling. It's the image of a person, seemingly trapped in time, still, frozen, but in reality falling, falling from a burning tower to the ground below.

Out of all the images from that day, that's the one I tend to shelve away. Because every time I see it, whether it was a year or nine that has gone by, I feel a faint bit of surprise mixed in with the shock and horror. Maybe it's because something like that should never have been real. Humans shouldn't have to jump from a building, because it's the better alternative. And because it shouldn't have been real, maybe if enough time passes we'll let ourselves believe it wasn't.

That should never happen. That can't happen. Our children will look at 9/11 the same way we look at historical events we didn't live through, the death of Kennedy, even the Holocaust, with a dutiful sadness but at the same time detachment. Because it won't be theirs to remember. It is ours to remember. I was a teenager on 9/11. I realized recently this means that years from now, my generation will be the last to really remember what it was like on that day. That means a lot of things, but more than anything I believe it's a duty. Remembering is an obligation that is painful and hard, but it's the most important thing in the world. Without it, we're not human.

So today I choose to remember, not just in a vague, detached way but in a painful, difficult, horrible way. Because they were human beings on those planes and in the Towers and the Pentagon. They were human beings who should not have died like that.

In the "skin" article, the spiritualist tells Jacobson that the lampshade wants to stay with him. He says the lampshade never wants to leave him.

Jacobson protests. He can't keep it. After all why would he want to hold onto something so grim and terrible. The spiritualist relays this message and then relays one back.

"He says there is nothing he can do. He leaves his fate to you. But it is good."

"Good?" replies Jacobson meekly.

"It is good because he trusts you. You're the only one he has now."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday musings.

Went to see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at the Firehouse Theater on Thursday night. My review for will be posted on Monday. This may be the second most fun freelance assignment I've ever had (after my piece on cupcakes). First of all, opening night of a show at the Firehouse Theater apparently includes free drinks! Which could very well be a cheap ploy to butter/liquor up reviewers, but well I'm not above cheap ploys. And while I enjoyed my polite glass of wine, the four characters in the play got absolutely schnockered in brilliant, devastating, breathtakingly well-written fashion. My word can Edward Albee write some dialogue. Acerbic, lightning paced, witty, sad. This play is what would have happened to Don and Betty Draper if they stayed married for another twenty years-simmering resentment ready to go up in flames at any moment. Runs until October 2nd, and ddefinitely worth seeing if you live in Richmond.

I've been doing a little fall shopping (in my defense I pretty much missed the entire season of fall in 2009 because SE Asia does not have it and when I got home it was brutal, winter for the next six months), and I feel like everything I'm buying is gray, camel, or black. And well, I love the odd pop of color. I have a berry coat I'm obsessed with. But maybe this makes me plain or boring, but I really love gray and beige and nut and heather. It's comforting and comfortable, and it makes me want to stand by a bonfire cupping a mug of cocoa in my gloved hands. I am proudly declaring my love of neutral colors. If there's one thing I've learned in my years of fashion missteps, is that I do not have the fashion eye or taste required to be "trendy." For proof see the lovely ensemble I put together one summer trip to NYC after my senior year of high school-pink Uggs, short denim skirt, bright pink, bedazzled tank top and a denim coat-it was like the slutty version of the Canadian tuxedo and with PINK uggs! This is what happens when I try to be trendy. So I'm trying to find what I like and stick with it. And darn it I like beige!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

it must be love.

There's always something magical about the change from August to September. Maybe it's the new crispness present in the night air. A cool breeze running through a warm day, suggesting things to come. Yellow pencils and pink erasers in the aisles of Target. Scarves and coats pulled out of moth boll scented storage. There's a part of all of these things that make the slow, hazy climb from summer to fall feel so especially acute the first days of September.

But nothing fills me with more end of summer, beginning of fall magic than the two weeks of tennis at the US Open. The ads for the tournament this year use the catchphrase, "it must be love", and well, judging from my irrational, besotted behavior while the US Open is on, it must be. How else to explain the hours upon hours I spend watching grown men and women swat little yellow balls across a net at each other? During the US Open, time becomes an unnecessary way to measure the days. Instead hours and minutes are counted by points and games and sets. I know that evening has arrived when the lights come on and flood Arthur Ashe stadium with a preternatural glow. During the US Open, I go to bed thinking of tennis and wake up thinking of tennis. Whereas other days are spent on to do lists and calendar schedules, US Open days revolve around order of play. I become a part time meteorologist, checking in on the weather in NYC, inspecting satellite images for tell tale signs of rain, that most persistent and relentless foe of a tennis fan. For two weeks at the end of every August and beginning of September, I live and die by scorelines. I dissect draws and curse the gods when a favorite goes out. I shout at my television and cover my eyes. If I have long finger nails going into the US Open, they are completely gone at the end of the two weeks. I find myself caring desperately about a wild card or a qualifier who until that week I may never have heard of. I will aging players that I've followed for years to fight. I can't tear my eyes away.

It must be love. Because why else would I forsake all other television for two weeks. I'm a TV person. Normally I chart my weekdays by what TV is on that night. During the US Open I could care less. My television is on ESPN 2 from 11am until sometimes well past midnight. I watch tennis on mute while I work. I watch it while I eat. I poke my head out of the shower to hear the score. I submit friends to this insanity as well. I arrange plans around the US Open. I beg off responsibilities. It isn't normal. It isn't sensible. But my God it's love.

 And why? Why would I love a tennis tournament so damn much? Why would I let it break my heart or fill me with exhilaration? I love all tennis, and follow the other grand slams almost as closely, but there's something about the one in New York. Maybe it's because it's in the same time zone and I don't have to wake up at two in the morning to watch a match like I do for the Australian Open. Maybe it's because the US Open is my country's open, and I'm simply doing my patriotic duty. But I think the real reason is that while all tennis is about stories, the US Open always knows how to tell a great one.

There's a million overlapping narratives present in any grand slam, stories that collide and intersect and meet in the middle over the course of two weeks. I always try to explain this to non tennis fans. It's why I love this sport so much. In tennis, there's the story of the calendar year, this grand, messy Dickensian arc, with a shifting point of view and a million different voices. And within this story there are spectacular flame outs, injuries, come backs, rivalries, talent squandered and promise finally realized. There are heroes who dominate the field, villains who upset the favorites, and journey men- day players who show up and do their best and who are good, brave even, but never great.  There are the stories of the smaller tournaments, slim novellas that may lack heft but which can contain beauty or ruin nonetheless. And of course, there are the stories of the majors, and the thousands of stories contained within.

And at the US Open those stories just seem to be amplified. Maybe it's the bright night session lights, or just the energy of NYC, but every story in New York feels vital. I love how you can immerse yourself in a grand slam the way you can in few other sporting events. It's not just a diversion on a Monday night or an afternoon in front of the TV. As a tennis fan, for two solid weeks the stories of a grand slam become a part of your life. And like I said before, there are hundreds of different narratives, heated battles carried out for hours on outer courts, quick and ruthless dominance by the top players on the show courts. There's the story of the elements, mercilessly hot days where even the fittest players become staggering zombies, where tennis stops being about a ball and a racket and starts being about who has the strongest will to survive. There are the days when upsets seem to get carried by the wind, gripping the whole tournament as unseeded players find a way to change their careers, change their lives, and play above themselves for a few short hours, defeating higher ranked players who everyone thought would win. There are the aging men and women, who come into every tournament knowing it may be their last, willing their bodies and minds not to yield, not just yet.

There are the epic chokes and the equally epic comebacks, guys who squander a lead or guys who crawl their way back from the abyss. This is tennis at its highest stage. There's no room to hide. And you watch so many players fail to live up to a grand slam, who have all the talent in the world but who for some reason can't find a way to use it. But then there are the players who have squeezed every ounce of talent out of their game, whose passion and heart and fight carry them from round to round, garnering fans along the way. And of course the fans are part of the story. They are the Greek chorus to every match, particularly the ones that go the distance. Best of five set tennis is what I believe makes this sport so great. Because there's nothing like a fifth set in a grand slam tennis match, where the rest of the match is rendered irrelevant. Because no matter how long it's been or how the games have played out, suddenly these two players are on even ground, and it's no longer just about technique or fitness. It's more than anything about who can mentally pull it off, and the crowd is such a huge part of that. I like that in tennis fans sit during points, because there's nothing quite like the sight of tens of thousands of people simultaneously exploding out of their seats.

And there's no story better than the story of a night match at the Open. This is what a tennis fan lives for. It's pure electricity. It's the antithesis of Wimbledon, a tournament I also love, but one which is about tennis as poetry and art and precision. A night match at the US Open is about tennis as theater and heart and fight. I have so many memories of watching night matches at the Open, from back when I was just a kid. I can remember seeing the clock creep past midnight and beyond, knowing I had school the next day, but not caring at all. I can remember jumping on my bed, cheering vociferously but mutely (it was the middle of the night after all), or pulling my hair out with frustration. I can remember matches that ended in tears (on my part and the part of the players) or matches that ended in giddy relief.

The US Open is a story that I come back to year after year, and will always come back to. And of course there are the days where the matches are routine and the commentators are boring. There are the days when my favorites lose. But every day begins the same way, as a blank state. And as a fan you know that every day, every match, every game, every point, there is the possibility for greatness, for a moment that is bigger than the players or the venue or sport itself. For two weeks we all live on the brink of that greatness, and sometimes we reach it.

So yes, it must be love. And it always will be.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


In honor of this most hallowed of days, 90210 day, I present you with this outstanding clip wherein Gossip Girl is given the full Beverly Hills treatment.

Gossip Girl wishes it could be as awesome as 90210. I vaguely remember watching this show in the early 90s when it was actually on, when I was far too young to be watching such things (perks of having older siblings). But my full love for 90210 came in college when thanks to Soap Net (soon to be no more, sad) I was able to watch all 29 seasons of this show in chronological order. It got to the point where I was scheduling classes around the 2 hour block in the day when 90210 was on. I am so serious.
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