Winter is Coming

For those of you that didn’t tune into HBO last night or watch it online later, as soon as you get home from work today watch Game of Thrones. Trust me.

Game of Thrones is the first book of an epic fantasy series called The Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, and it’s one of my personal favorites. Now you might be aware of my constant disappointment in adaptations of my favorite books, but I think you’ll be surprised to know that I loved the first episode that aired at 9 PM last night. It covered roughly the first 85 pages of the first novel, and although I was surprised by how far it got, I believe it did a good job of keeping all the crucial introductory material. We were introduced to the Night’s Watch, a band of fierce rangers that guard the Wall and patrol the wild lands on the North; the House of Stark, the main good guys throughout the series; King Robert Baratheon, a drunkard king with a good temper and a slightly sick sense of humor; the Lannisters, Queen Cersei Lannister, her devilishly handsome twin brother Jaime, and their dwarf brother Tyrion who is better known as “The Imp;” and the surviving  Targaryen siblings.  Even though we meet a huge group of people in the first episode, we’re still confined to Winterfell, the castle home of the Starks far to the North where they aid the Night’s Watch in keeping the wilds of the North away from the prosperous South. Once the show moves to the capital at King’s Landing, we’ll get to meet a far more colorful bunch.

The first episode did a fantastic job of setting up the main conflicts, introducing us to the world and the main characters, and setting the gory mood for the rest of the series. Now it’s HBO so one has to expect a certain amount of blood and boobs, and Game of Thrones does not disappoint. There are 3 beheadings, 1 scene of gore, 2 creepy White Walkers with ice cold eyes, at least 8 pairs of bare breasts, a few butts, and 4ish sets of people having sex (if you watch it, you’ll understand the “ish”). You don’t have to guess which characters are the good guys and which will make your skin crawl, although you may be surprised by one man later. (I’m trying so hard not to give spoilers here but still stir up some anticipation, guys. I think my boyfriend hated watching it with me because I kept having long sighs or hiding my face before scenes, giving away spoilers through body language.)

The one part that surprised me was the time allotment between stories. You see, there are two continents, and the Stark/Lannister storyline takes place on one while the Targaryen storyline takes place on the other. When reading the books, the story stays on the main continent the majority of the time, probably since there are more characters involved in that plotline. The story shifts to Daenerys and her vile brother every few chapters for glimpses of their life. From what I remember (it’s been a few years since I’ve read the books), it always annoyed me when we shifted over to Daenerys just because the other plotline is so good and her brother creeps and annoys the crap out of me. I expected maybe one scene with them per episode, but they were given a fair amount of time. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just something that I didn’t expect.

While all the actors did a fantastic job portraying their characters, my favorite part of the adaptation so far might just be the scenery. The characters have already come to life for me through the books, so watching the storyline doesn’t bring that much surprise. But I usually skip details about scenery when reading. I mean yes, they describe the Wall as very large and covered in ice, but it’s hard for me to really imagine and grasp images about settings. I just thought of the Wall as a big, frosty Great Wall of China when reading. But ooooooh, that long shot of the 3 Night’s Watchmen coming out of the Wall and riding into the North was absolutely stunning, breathtaking, and overall epic. All of the scenes were beautifully done, paying attention to the smallest of details. I loved it.

In short, if you can manage it, watch the first episode of Game of Thrones as soon as possible. You’ll be hooked, I promise.

In defense of pulp fiction

So lately, it’s come to my attention that there are some serious literature snobs that walk among us. Now I still have all of my English textbooks and reading material from college, but that doesn’t mean that I read Edmund Spenser’s “Faerie Queene” for poops and giggles. I’ll get out my hardcore reading materials sometimes when the mood strikes or when I need to look up a reference, but in general, I read “pulp fiction.” Now I thought I was snobby for still having my lit books, but no, there are people who refuse to read anything but “classics” and nonfiction because pulp fiction books are “beneath” them. I so do not get this attitude.

I’ll keep my argument for pulp fiction short and sweet. Just because most things that a published now aren’t “high brow” doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth reading. They still have similar themes as classics, and they often make allusions to classics. The difference is, they’re more accessible to the general public. And when you’re a writer, you have to ask yourself, is making my message a literary piece of genius and art more important than making that message readable and enjoyable for a larger audience? Honestly, I always veer towards the latter because the purpose of my own writing is to change someone’s life like books changed mine. Even just one person is fine with me. I’m sure the James Joyce is very proud of his “Ulysses,” but most people put it on their shelves to look smart and actually haven’t read it. Hell, I have it on my shelf from my Irish literature class, and I’ll admit right off that it confused the hell out of me and the message wasn’t worth all the digging that it took to get to it, so I switched to SparkNotes a few chapters in. And an entire chapter without punctuation? Oh my god, shoot me now. It was cute for a few pages but after a while I just felt like my brain was melting.

Pulp fiction doesn’t always dumb down messages, it just doesn’t beat you over the head with them like I feel that hardcore literature does. And pulp fiction can open someone’s interest for “higher reading.” I can’t believe that I’m about to defend the Twilight Saga, but I have to admit that it’s done some good for reading in a younger generation. Some of the classics have been redone with Twilight-esque covers and little seals that say “Bella’s Favorite Book” (Wuthering Heights) or “Edward and Bella’s Favorite!” (Romeo and Juliet). Now when I was working at a bookstore, these editions were actually quite a pain in the ass (I hate having identical titles shelved in different sections of the store based on covers or editions; it makes everything so much more complicated). But I can appreciate the fact that maybe Twilight has done something good in terms of getting younger girls to read more classics. 

The point is that pulp fiction has an impact on popular culture which makes it relevant to read. Yes, we should not forget the classics, but unless you’re a lit scholar or professor, reading only the classics greatly hinders your common knowledge. I believe that a healthy dose of both is necessary for a well-rounded individual. Which means that I really have to beef up my nonfiction/classics reading because I generally just read the pulp fiction. I read the newspaper on the Metro ever morning and listen to CNN while I cook dinner; when I sit down to read for myself, I try to escape this world and live in one more fantastic for just a little while. Everyone needs an escape from reality sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

A Stronger Service

I’ve been feeling pretty doom and gloom lately about the state of affairs in the US and the world. I’m just having trouble believing that we can turn these horrible situations around, and I don’t feel like anything good that I do will make a difference. Mostly because I feel like the solutions are too big for anyone to agree on. I mean Congress can’t even decide on a budget; how are they ever going to decide what policies will actually help us get out of the rut that we’re in?

I have a few ideas.

Service: We boast one of the strongest militaries in the world. I think that America should be known for a different kind of service–a stronger service. I think that programs like City Year should be mandatory across the country for graduating seniors from high school. If every student that graduated high school did a year of volunteer service, think of all the good that would be done for the country. Parks would be clean, affordable housing would be built, schools would be better taken care of and better staffed, afterschool programs would flourish, etc. And those are just the starting ripples in a larger pond. For instance, if one of the choices of service was to help run a variety of afterschool programs, kids would have more chances to find their passions and less chance to get involved in mischievous behavior on the streets. I’m all for nation-building, but I wish that we would focus on rebuilding our own crumbling nation rather than focusing on sovereign nations whose resources we covet. And maybe after we’ve fixed our own nation, we can send peaceful nation-building programs overseas to extend the activities of the Peace Corps. Instead of teaching other nations how to run a military or police force, let’s teach them more about sustainability practices, building wells, farming, building schools, etc. Maybe the world wouldn’t hate us so much if we stopped being the big, bad bully and started being the no-nonsense humanitarians. Let’s redefine “service to our country,” and maybe it’ll start fixing our problems.

The problem with this idea is that there’s absolutely no funding for it. Teach for America is turning down a record number of applicants because it simply doesn’t have the funding for all the people who want to be in the program. Same problem with City Year. Until it’s a nationally recognized ideal that’s given priority in the budget, it will never happen. Until then we just have to make-do with the limited public service organizations we have and the various smaller religious service organizations.

Sustainability: There should be at least one class taught in every high school across the country about sustainability practices. Classes like home economics have been cut from the majority of schools because it’s not seen as a core part of the curriculum. But in my opinion, traditional Home Ec classes weren’t enough. We need to teach people about buying fish only from sustainable environments, how to raise a chicken per household, how to make the most of a square foot of gardening space, how to use eco-friendly living practices like recycling, etc. In my opinion, there should be one class all four years of high school about this. If people knew how to take care of themselves and didn’t rely so much on a crumbling economy and unreliable resources, maybe we wouldn’t be suffering from soaring food prices. Maybe we’d develop a stronger sense of community if apartment buildings in urban areas all had common-space gardens on the roofs. Maybe it would encourage a more collectivist society where we care about our neighbors and watch each other’s backs instead of the dog-eat-dog capitalist world we’ve created for ourselves. So many studies and media reports say that Americans are miserable. Well no shit. We’re stressed, we eat like crap, most of us can’t afford decent healthcare, and we all have this inbreed sense that we’ve got to be able to take care of ourselves because no one else will. The lucky people belong to communities where they do have good support systems, but I’d wager that these people are in the minority.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts for turning our seemingly hopeless situation around. If you have any other positive ideas that make our situation seem less hopeless, please share them. I could use a little optimism. *steps off of soapbox*

DC food trucks

So one thing that I love about working in the city are the food trucks! They come out only during lunch hours and are highly specialized. There’s one bright pink one that’s exclusively cupcakes! But they basically drive around the city and are at a different “park” every day. Farragut Square seems to attract most of them and every day there’s at least 4 or 5 different trucks to choose from. Now I don’t normally buy lunch from the food trucks because I try to be healthy/cheap and pack my lunch, but on rare and special days, I’ll be adventureous and try something new. And today, a truck with an adorable piece of toast and the words “BIG CHEESE” hooked me in.  And yes, it’s an entire truck that specializes in different kinds of grilled cheese. Check it out here (bigcheesetruck.com). On their website you can look at the menu, check to see where they’ll be each day, and even sign up to follow them on twitter.

I got the Mt Fuji grilled cheese sandwich: brie, toasted apples, and honey on multigrain! It was so good that I just had to write a blurb about it. Definitely give this truck a try because I know that I’ll be stalking it in the future!

We the People…

Ok, so I’m going to start this post by saying that social studies and politics were always my least favorite subjects in school, and I have spent my life ignoring the news and politics for the most part. But now that I’ve moved to DC and started “the adult life,” I’m finding that I just can’t ignore things anymore. What I’ve learned in the past year makes me very, very sad. If any of this is wrong, please post a comment with links and citations so that I can learn more. I’m always open to civil, intellectual conversations.

1. The Electoral College. This system is so messed up. I was actually just talking about this with my roommates last night. This system basically ensures that only a Democrat or a Republican will make it into office. It discourages people to vote because if your state traditionally votes one way, you know your vote isn’t going to make any sort of difference in the long run (at least for national elections). I was shocked as hell in the last presidential election that Indiana was blue instead of red. I think that was the first time in my lifetime. But for the other election that I was eligible to vote in, my vote totally didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Seriously, why don’t we switch to popular vote? I know the technical answer: Congress will never approve it because then they lessen their chances of getting re-elected.

2. It’s “We the People,” not “We the Corporations.” This issue is especially relevent because of all the collective bargaining rights conflicts in the Midwest. Our elected officials keep passing legislation that helps businesses and corporations and hurts middle-class working citizens. Seriously?!?! By helping corporations, you’re completely wiping out whatever free-market we have left, eliminating competition, and making it nearly impossible for new companies to emerge. Isn’t that how the lifecycle of everything is supposed to work? Companies begin, they grow, sometimes they make it to the big leagues, they fade, they die. Start all over again. But if we keep bailing them out and making it easier for them to live much longer than they should, doesn’t it stifle innovation and keep new companies from starting?? And isn’t that horrible for the economy in the long run?

3. Why does it seem like everything that we’re doing lately is only a short-term fix? Bailing out banks, bailing out Wall Street, bailing out auto-maunfacturers… Seriously, won’t all of this hurt us more in the long term than it helps in the short term? And since when has it been the Government’s business to financially prop-up the private sector?? Couldn’t that money be better spent on creating jobs in the public sector that will benefit everyone? Like public transportation. If we had more high-speed rails connecting major cities, we wouldn’t need to depend on foreign oil so much, right? One thing that I LOVE about living on the East Coast is that I can easily travel between all of the major cities. Now trains are a project that would have to be built slowly, but if we start where there are already good systems (East Coast, Denver, Chicago) and branch out from those, we could eventually get most of the country, yes? But even just fixing all of our decaying high ways and bridges would do a world of good.

4. You’re ALL wrong, and you’re all dirty politicans.  Conservative, liberal, libertarian, Tea Party, Democrat, Republican, GOP, left, right, I DON’T CARE. You’re ALL wrong. And you know why you’re wrong? Because you refuse to work together, you refuse to compromise, and your policies are made up of what makes your campaign investors happy. You. All. Suck. You’re screwing over the average American. You’re so obsessed with winning that you lose sight of the issues at hand. You don’t consult teachers when you make legislation about education (No Child Left Behind is horrible, but that’s a different rant). You don’t consult doctors and nurses when passing medical legislation. You quote “experts” that are on your payrolls to present only the information that helps your political agenda. You aren’t interested in helping or representing your voters. You only represent yourselves and your own political career interests. Why can’t we go back to the days when people in Congress had other jobs and professions? Seriously, I want a “simple cobbler from Connecticutt” (1776) back in office!!! Let’s get practicing teachers, lawyers, doctors, evironmentalist experts, etc into elected offices. Maybe they would focus on issues instead of playing games to keep themselves in power.

So in conclusion of this very unorganized and under-researched rant, I’m just very discouraged with our government and fail to see any way to change things. I’m afraid that we’re going to be the next Roman or British empire and crumble because of imperialism and corruption.  So please, if you have any good news in politics or if I got things wrong, comment and teach me. Because no body will be able to do anything productive if we stop learning and listening.

Never Meet Your Idol

This topic has come up twice in my pop culture life lately, and it got me thinking about meeting your favorite celebrities. As I hope that you already know, Patrick Stump EP “TruantWave” dropped last week as the album “Soul Punk” got pushed back further. The first song is titled “Porcelain” and includes lyrics like “I don’t ever want to meet you/ Cause you’re like porcelain / And I think it might crack / If I found you were a brat/ Stay perfect. Stay perfect.” These days, it seems like we love to either build celebrities up or tear them down, and there’s no real logic to which one we do. Charlie Sheen has been a Grade-A douchebag lately after doing drugs, rehab, hookers, etc, and the media is LOVING every minute of it. On the other hand, Lindsey Lohan is in trouble yet again, and everyone is out to get her. What’s the difference? Not much except one is bragging about his problems while the other wants us to pity her for her problems. But with all of this positive or negative media attention, it turns our stars into some porcelain caricature of themselves. Now say you love Mr. Sheen’s cocky attitude, but when you met him, you found that it was all a publicity stunt and he’s actually a really tame dude. Or maybe that’s not a good example. Let’s take a personal favorite of mine, Edward Norton. Now I respect Mr. Norton as an actor because he’s talented and never in the tabloids. I like celebs that keep their personal lives to themselves. Now I have this image of Mr. Norton in my head as a level-headed, chill guy. What if I met him and he was all high-strung and a real diva? That might alter how I watch his movies. Same goes for Angelina Jolie. I used to LOVE her in high school until all of this Brangelina nonsense. Now I’m just sick of her being in the headlines for everything and actually avoid her new movies because I’m sure that they’re all just a remake of Tomb Raider somehow.

 

It’s ironic that Patrick Stump wrote these lyrics because the only time I’ve felt a similar way was after meeting his former band, Fall Out Boy. I used to listen to FOB constantly and was obsessed with Pete Wentz (I’m still not ashamed of it). Well I was lucky enough to acquire tickets to a Meet and Greet before a show in Columbus, OH back in ’09. I was so excited because I’d finally be face to face with my four favorite men in the world. I got the time it takes to get 4 autographs to meet them and then I was shuffled along with the fangirls. The only one of them that smiled at me when I was flustered and nervous was Patrick; the others looked completely bored, disinterested, and … well… bratty. Getting that from Pete Wentz nearly broke my heart. Now don’t get me wrong, I still listen to FOB, just not on constant repeat anymore, and I’m finally sick of Pete Wentz in the tabloids.

FOB Meet and Greet

 

The other side of this is you don’t want to meet your idols because what if you feel like you disappoint them instead of the other way around. Troy had a full on “starstruck meltdown” on the Community episode “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking.” Instead of getting an autographed picture of Levar Burton like he wanted, Pierce tortures Troy by actually inviting the Reading Rainbow star to Greendale. Troy freaks out so hardcore that he can only sit there starring at Mr. Burton, barely even blinking. If you haven’t seen a clip of the meltdown, stop reading this right now and watch it here (http://www.nbc.com/community/video/ep-216-never-meet-your-idol/1296269). Having a starstruck meltdown has to be one of the most embarrassing things ever because you’ll probably never get a chance to resolve that encounter. To the celebrity, you’ll always be that strange fan that ran out of the room crying, stood still like a statue, rambled on like you had no social filter what-so-ever, or any other number of embarrassing situations.

 

I guess that sometimes, it’s best to keep some things safely locked away in daydreams where things go exactly how you planned them, especially when it comes to celebrities.

The Hunger Games

So a few months ago, I read this amazing trilogy called “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. Okay, maybe “read” isn’t quite the right word; “devoured” is much more appropriate. Let me just start by saying this is one of the best series that I’ve read in a long time. While the main plot line of the novels is not a new one—children forced to kill each other—Collins does a remarkable job of creating a rich and deep alternate universe to explore the effects of war on adolescence. It is an extremely well-written addition to the canon of young adult (YA) dystopia novels. A few other examples would be Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies, The Long Walk, The Lottery, and Death Race 2000. It is set in North America after a third world war. The new Nation that is set up revolves around an extremely wealthy capitol city, set high in what was the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by 13 extremely poor districts that each specialize in a certain industry (coal, fishing, agriculture, etc). 74 years before the first novel starts, there was an uprising against the Capitol. The Capitol crushed the district’s rebellion and completely annihilated District 13. To remind the districts every year of their failed attempt at freedom, the Capitol hosts the Hunger Games where one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from every district to compete. These 24 contestants are shown the life of luxury in the Capitol for about 2 weeks before being set loose in the arena where only the last child left alive will be set free. And all of it, the preparations beforehand to every moment of bloodshed in the arena is televised 24/7 to the districts and the Capitol. The citizens of the Capitol live and breath for the Hunger Games while the district populace is forced to watch every moment.

Let’s skip the obvious YA dystopia for a moment and contemplate the voyeur aspect of these books. In a culture where the cast of the Jersey Shore is the most recognizable “TV stars,” it’s easy to see our sick obsession with “reality” TV. What’s realistic about any of these shows? That’s not how life works. It’s just ego-centric people getting rewarded for stirring up drama. There are no “afterschool special” moments that you get in sitcoms where some morality lesson can be obviously inserted. There’s no educational value whatsoever. The only way you could gain anything from reality TV is by considering it a guide on everything NOT to do to be a decent human being. (The only exceptions that I make to this opinion are Man vs Wild, and Survivor Man, since they’re preparing me to live in the wild after the zombie apocalypse.) Still, it’s very entertaining… like a trainwreck… you know you should look away, but the morbid fascination keeps you locked in. But in the Hunger Games, it is all real, but the people of the Capital treat it like light entertainment. I really like this subtle criticism of American culture and how Collins uses it throughout the books. Because along with the reality TV aspect of television, there’s also a propaganda war in the third book, but I can’t say more without spoiling something.

There’s something about these YA dystopia novels that really intrigues me. With the absence of adults (except the fact that adults always put the children in these situations), the children are forced to rapidly mature or die. And with the promise of either death or glory, children are capable of the most unspeakable acts. The YA dystopia genre completely removes a slow transition through maturity and forces the main character(s) to conquer Darwinism by transforming into epic heroes.  While most YA dystopia novels have a few innocent characters (one of which is always the main character) surrounded by more mature, bullying characters, Collins leans the other way. Katniss is used to taking care of her entire family by hunting and providing for them. She has carried the weight as the head of her house for years now and is already mature in the sense that she can provide for the physical needs of herself and those around her. In this sense, Katniss is very much like Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials, or Sabriel from the Abhorsen trilogy. In these books, the characters not only grow in the emotional and moral areas that they are lacking, they mature into natural leaders. Most YA dystopia novel main characters don’t lead, but mainly mature enough to ensure their survival. In this way, Collins has mixed some elements of epic YA lit into the dystopia, causing the characters in The Hunger Games to develop more deeply than others in the same genre.

What I enjoy most and least about this trilogy is the ending. I will admit that I might have thrown the book across the Metro car and scared an old lady with my choice of colorful language as I read the last page. But after cooling down and re-reading it, I realized that it was the only possible ending that could really happen. I won’t say anything else because it would spoil it, except for the fact that Katniss is NOT a Bella or a Mary Sue character where everything works out just so perfectly in the end and everything is roses and butterflies. Ugh. I hated the ending to Breaking Dawn purely because no one died and everyone was fricking happy in the end. I wanted Bella to die…

Wow, ok tangent. Basically, The Hunger Games is a MUST READ trilogy for anyone who enjoys YA literature. I’ll be watching for anything else that Collins does in the future and praying that it lives up to her first trilogy.