Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy New Year.

I won't mince words, 2007 was an extremely difficult year for me. After major issues with my health and a "quarter-life crisis," or the twenty-two-year-old career blues, as I like to call them, I fell in love for the first time since the demise of my first major long-term relationship. Now I have two broken hearts to put on my shelf.

I had written a very lengthy personal entry to share with you all, but upon reading it I felt very vulnerable and depressed, so I decided against posting it. That said, I look forward to 2008. I hope it will be a year of change and of healing. In the future I hope to take better care of myself and to guard myself against those wolves in sheep's clothing who are capable of hate and manipulation I thought impossible by a person loved by so many.

I am determined to spend more time appreciating those who have continued to support and care for me, those who really know me and accept me for who I am and less time fretting about aimless people with no sense of self who get a rise out of controlling and ultimately destroying others.

I love my family and my friends more than I can say. May will mark my two year anniversary in New York. While we've had our spats, I realized, walking home from a bar a few weeks ago around 3AM, as it started to snow, that I love this city. Even if its crowded streets and lovely neighborhoods sometime become shades and ugly reminders of deceit and cowardice, there is nothing like New York, and there never will be. I feel honored and baptized by its strange, seductive melange of violence and romance.

With that said, all my best to you, dearest reader.
I hope you flourish in the new year.


P.S. It's crazy how much I've changed. (My hair!) This photo is from the beginning of my sophomore year at college, 2005.


And December, 2007.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sophie's Choice, or The Best Novel I have Read in a Long, Looooooooong Time.

Sunday night I found myself in the sleet running up the steep slope to my apartment building. Usually, if you're wondering, my pace back home after a workout is more of an "amble," if anything, it's more of a crawl. But Sunday night there was work to be done. I had 100 pages left of William Styron's Sophie's Choice .

I can say, without a doubt, that this novel is the best work of "contemporary" fiction I have read since Ian McEwan's monolith, Atonement , which made its debut in 2001. Sophie was published in 1979.

There was a very famous, award-winning film adaptation made in 1982, (that catapulted Meryl Streep to stardom) so many of us already know what Sophie's "Choice" is (myself included, unfortunately, although I have yet to see the film). However, for those of us that don't, I won't spoil it for you. You may read with open eyes.

The novel's narrator, Stingo, has captured what it means to be an editorial assistant at a major publishing house in New York (see Chapter 1), and for this, I am in love with him. Never in my life have I laughed aloud on the subway while reading until I hit the readers reports listed in this chapter. Overall, I was surprised by the humor in this book, given that it's oftentimes labeled as a "holocaust novel." I want to write that Stingo is a brilliant invention on Styron's part to lighten-up the whole saga, but it's painfully obvious that Stingo's no invention at all. He's Styron himself. Note the similarity in their names. Styron also worked as an underpaid editorial assistant before his writerly success. Both Sytron and Stingo are from Virginia, both are obsessed with the story of Nat Turner. ( Confessions of Nat Turner and Lie Down in Darkness , Sytron's previous novels, are both chronicled as early ideas of Stingo's in Sophie's Choice .) As if that weren't confusing enough for you, basically what we have here is a writer writing about a writer who is writing his novels.

All of this fictionalized reality leads me to believe that the character of Sophie truly did exist (and perhaps her boyfriend, Nathan, as well) and that Styron really did meet them that summer of 1947. But, that's another story, I'm sure.

Sophie is a Polish, Catholic survivor of Auschwitz. She meets Nathan after collapsing in the New York Public Library from anemia, which she developed as a result of malnourishment in the concentration camp. As Stingo's story develops(mainly a tale of Southern pride mixed with Southern guilt, sexual rabidity and therefore, sexual frustration, and writer's bloc) so does Sophie's. With Nathan away, Sophie and Stingo become close friends, and Sophie's horrific tale begins to unfold.

As if her experience at Auschwitz wasn't enough, Sophie's relationship with Nathan is also volitile and violent. One minute Nathan's the sweetest, most romantic, most caring person God created—the next, he's a jealous, irrational brute out for blood. Stingo is astounded at the change—as if Nathan is literally capable of a Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde transformation.

But there is something about Sophie that keeps her with Nathan. What is it? A sense of obligation? (Nathan's brother helped her recover, he's a doctor), a sense of helplessness? She screams over and over again throughout the book, "We need each other, Nathan!" There are bits of Sophie's story that are missing. Something just doesn't fit. Of course the puzzle pieces do eventually come together, but only in the end, just as you are ready to throw the book into the fireplace from anxiety.

I find it interesting that in a book that is supposed to be, presumably, an account of the Holocaust and its horrors (particularly its aftermath) that the person committing the violence in real time, in the present tense, Nathan, is a Jew.

Ultimately, for me, this is a book about surivivor's guilt. Nathan has it, Sophie has it, and even Stingo (when he goes into his family's history with slavery) has it. Nathan is an American Jew, Sophie's a Pole, and Stingo's a white boy from Virginia, living off money that was gained from the sale of a young slave boy named Artiste (which his great, great Grandmother buried in their basement). Styron obviously has a taste for the unforgiving nature of history: the book on Nat Turner is a celebration of his rebellion, but also a reflection on the heinous stain of slavery on the South, and his first book is a treatise on the suicide and depression of a young girl. His own memoir is about his struggle with serious depression ( Darkness Visible ). Styron lives in a world where guilt clings to us because we hold grudges—against ourselves.

I can't begin to describe what a heartbreaking and yet beautifully written book this is. I can only ask you to read it. It's long, but worth the ride. Believe me, you will read it in a few days. You won't be able to put it down. Many have said that the novel is too depressing but I think you owe it to yourself to read this book. There are the most incredible glimmers of what it means to be a human being—distilled in a fashion that very few writers are capable of. In particular, there is one scene where Sophie goes to buy an assortment of food (which, understandably she has become obsessed with since moving to America) and takes it to have a solitary picnic in Prospect Park. This brief moment of calm stands out amongst a novel that is full of testimony and strife. I cannot begin to describe it, so I will simply leave it to Styron himself.

But this made it all the more fun for her, a pleasant game, when at lunchtime she entered one of the glorious delicatessens of Flatbush and shopped for her Prospect Park spread. The priviledge of choice gave her a feeling achingly sensual. There was so much to eat, such variety and abundance, that each time her breath stopped, her eyes actually filmed over with emotion, and with slow and elaborate gravity she would choose from this sourly fragrant, opulent, heroic squander of food: a pickled egg here, there a slice of salami, half a loaf of pumpernickel, lusciously glazed and black. Bratwurst. Braunschweiger. Some sardines. Hot pastrami. Lox. A bagel, please. Clutching the brown paper bag, the warning like a litany in her mind—'Remember what Dr. Bergstrom said, don't gorge yourself'—she would make her methodical way into one of the farthest recesses of the park, or near a backwater of the huge lake, and there—munching with great restraint, taste buds entralled in rediscovery—would turn to page 350 of Studs Lonigan.

Happy Birthday, Liz

Many happy returns to her majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

As I write this sentence, Liz has officially surpassed Queen Victoria as the oldest monarch in the history of Great Britain.

Corgis for everybody!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hannah and Her Sisters at Film Forum

Woody Allen's obviously a big fat jerk. The man left his wife for his step-daughter. Fucked-up? Yeah, you can say that again.

Then there was the whole Scarlett Johansson business.

Oh, yeah, and the fact that in almost every single post-coital scene in his films, the female character always goes on effusively about how it was the best sex she's ever had, to Woody's meek, yet somehow still self-assured reply of "yeah, that was pretty great."

But as much as I want to hate him, I just can't hate the man responsible for this film.

I love Annie Hall , and Manhattan , but there is just a special something about Hannah that I can't quite put my finger on. While it may not be Woody's favorite of his films, Hannah seems to occupy a very special place in the hearts of its fans. I think the film as a whole is rougher and less-finished than the other two masterworks. Hannah's ending is obviously a rewrite, and the last scene is such a "happy" ending it seems like Woody should be standing behind the camera, shaking his head and mumbling "no, no, this is all wrong." And yet, somehow, it isn't.

Everyone's depressed and neurotic as hell, mom and dad are actors and mom's a raging alcoholic. Sister one (Hannah) takes care of everyone except herself, sister two (Lee) is stuck in the middle, and sister three (Holly) is an insecure coke-head with a keen sense of style. Mia Farrow's acting is superb. All three actresses have a way of registering the minute insult or rejections that open up those deep-seeded wounds of their characters--Barbara Hershey tends to cry, clench her jaw, and Dianne Wiest's disappointment when her best friend Wendy tells her she's going on a date with her beau is dead-on, but it is Mia Farrow, in her insistence as Hannah that she too has needs, that she is not this self-sufficent wonder woman, that performance is gut-wrenchingly human and, on a personal note, Hannah reminds me a lot of my mother: trying to deal with her own problems whilst surrounded by emotional wrecks with high demands (me, and my brother).

Woody manages to make a philosophical comment on the meaning of life through his Mickey character, who almost has a brain tumor. In the scene where Mickey is recounting his near suicide attempt, after which he goes to the movies to sort things out, he has the realization that it doesn't matter whether or not there's a God. Even if there isn't one, what's the point of killing yourself when you could just go along for the ride?

By the time Mickey and Holly meet back up in the record store I'm already in tears watching her giggle at Mickey's fliratious insults. "Hey, remember me? We once spent the worst night of my life together?" And her exuberance and pride over his praise on her script is pretty much one of the most endearing scenes in the history of American cinema.

In other words, I'm a goner by the time everyone's settled and the third Thanksgiving dinner rolls around.

I love Hannah because its tripod of neurosis reflects what is the worst and the best about having a family you can't live without.

And because of that, Woody, I will forgive you for that oil-massage scene in Match Point .

Hannah and her Sisters at Film Forum until December 24th.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The French Do It Better

Living in New York is almost like living in France in that I am constantly surrounded by people speaking French. I hear French more than any other language in New York. Apparently if you’re from Paris, New York is the place to relocate. I can’t walk anywhere without hearing la belle langue. About a week ago, there was a French lady on her cell phone behind me, chatting away. As I smiled to myself, I suddenly realized that the family walking in front of me was also French. I was surrounded. Don’t get me wrong; I love having the Frenchies around. Every once and a while, I get to attempt to say something in French, which is usually massively embarrassing, and ultimately it helps New York to feel more European, which, in my opinion, is always a good thing. But, really, as if it weren’t difficult enough to compete with the millions of gorgeous women that inhabit this city for the two straight, single guys on the island, now I have to deal with the French imports? I might as well shoot myself now. These women are fine, flawless, and foreign. And I’m fucked.

So, I salute you, French women, for being imperfectly perfect.

There's the first, and the last, that babe Joan.

The incomparable Fanny Ardant. Her performance as Mary de Guise in Elizabeth actually made me want gray hair.

And of course Catherine, who started it all.

One of my personal favorites, Isabelle Huppert, one of the best living actresses on the planet. I can only imagine what fucking brilliance 4.48 Psychose unleashed on New York. Also, any serious actress who can roll around in the mud with Jason Schwartzman in I Heart Huckabees is my hero.

And our Amelie.

Last, but certainly not least, the striking Ludivine Sagnier, star of Swimming Pool and the lust of teenage boys everywhere.

Bring on the men, as requested.

Olivier, you can throw me up against a wall and call me Diane Lane anytime you damn well please.

Still looking for my Nino Quincampoix.

And finally, one of my personal favorites, Gaspard Ulliel. Gaspard, I will forgive you for making the horrible Hannibal Rising movie, but only because your dimples could cut glass. God bless you.

Vive la France.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Has Sex and the City Ruined Us as Feminists?

With the movie in production in New York in full swing, I thought, what better time for a post on my beloved show, Sex and the City.

Full disclosure: I have to admit, out of everything I write about on this blog, I think I may be (guilty look of shame) the most qualified to write about Sex and the City. My ex-boyfriend gave me the entire series for our two-year anniversary, and, fittingly, it has served as my back-up friend during very difficult break-ups. Very full disclosure: I have probably seen every single episode at least six times.

I probably just lost half of my readership, which leaves me down to two people. Hi guys!

So, then, what is it about Sex and the City that pisses-off feminists, annoys men, and seduces (less politically aware) women all at the same time?

First of all, the show is funny. Whether you like it or not, admit it. The show is funny. Especially the third, fourth, and fifth seasons. Miranda has some one-liners that could give any professional sketch comedy group a run for their money.

Secondly, I think the show does make a good point—that occasionally, women (feminists or not) spend too much time worrying about men, and should instead treasure their friendships. (On the other hand: how many women are even lucky enough to have three best female friends that are over the age of twenty-one?)

Thirdly, on a more superficial note, the series has given women tidy little labels to describe their relationships. “He’s a Big,” or “He’s such an Aidan,” is commonly heard amongst those in the Sex and the City tribe. I found myself describing my recent break-up to a stranger by saying, “Have you seen Sex and the City? He was basically a Berger. I think. Without the post-it.”

But let’s get down to the nitty gritty. SATC is one of the most unrealistic, full of shit television shows ever created. It is supposedly a show about four women but it was written by a room full of gay men. (Don't misunderstand me here. You know I love my gay men. I just wouldn't peg them to know what it is to be a single woman in New York). The magical realism really gets out of control when Carrie somehow lives in a rent-controlled apartment on 77th street for $750 a month (not possible), writes a column for “The New York Star” (insert “Post” here), probably makes $2 a word, and yet somehow still affords hundreds of pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes which go for somewhere around $468 a pop. Obviously we’re not talking about real New York here, people. You want reality? Watch The Wire .

SATC, though, I fear, plays on my worst fears. Yes, there is an episode about becoming an Old-Maid, and when people (usually women) say “you’re such a Miranda!” I think, yes, I am a Miranda. I am the smart, funny, unattractive one. People usually respond to this line of thinking with “Oh, you just have to find your Steve!” I am not reassured by such overtures.

I think, perhaps, the love/hate relationship I have with SATC is what keeps me coming back for more. The series is like a boyfriend. When you’re down, it can help you feel better. When you’re not down, you find yourself wondering, WHY DO I PUT UP WITH THIS?

What annoys me most about SATC is that all four women recover all too quickly from their respective break-ups, and also manage to rebound with far better partners, usually have great sex (or weirdly horrible sex) and all at the same time look and live fabulous in one of the toughest cities in the world. Does Carrie ever have anxiety attacks about the fact that she’ll trip on her Manolo and there won’t be anyone there to help her up? The closest we ever came to that was when Miranda had a panic attack on the street and almost got run over by a taxi because her next door neighbor died alone in her apartment and her cat ate half of her face.

Okay, Okay. So why do I watch SATC?

Sometimes it's nice to come home to a television show that is pure fantasy. Especially when you've been busting your ass at work all day, falling in subway grates because you're wearing really impractical (but fabulous shoes), meeting a beautiful boy who tells you he thinks you're the best only to break up with you a month later, and starving because you literally have two dollars in your bank account. So sue me. I like a little bit of lightness in my life every now and then. It reminds me of being home with my friends in Georgia, when I didn't have to stress-out constantly about what people thought of me. I could just simply be me--I didn't have to explain myself. Ultimately the best thing thematically about SATC is its representation of friendships between women. It isn't necessarily realisitc, but it's an ideal that when you come close to achieving it, you know you've found something real. To be able to call someone to come over and make you soup when you can't get out of bed, knowing that person will do it, without judging you . . . there are moments on SATC that really represent that kind of support.

And ultimately, when you're having a rough time, like I am, it's nice to be reminded that kind of support exists. And though you want to focus on the negative in your life, you have to admit you have your real-life Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda, or Carrie around, too, if you know how to look.