SAPERE AUDE!

Dare to know.

Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you.

Do me a favor.  I already made my roommates and all my close friends watch this trailer.  But not YOU.  So do me a favor and watch the If I Stay trailer.  Two and a half minutes, that’s it.  Here’s the link even.

Done?  Now I dare you to NOT be excited about this movie.  Because I must have seen this trailer over 10 times and each time I get butterflies in my stomach by how good I’m expecting it to be.  And using that A Great Big World song?!  Genius.

With the movie release coming up (August 22 in the US), I decided to re-read the book. The 23-year-old me loved the book.  I wanted to see if the 27-year-old me still likes it.  (As an aside, I did the same experiment with Divergent.  I re-read it before seeing the movie in theaters and I ended up HATING the movie and in all honesty, the more mature version of me saw waaay more plot holes in the novel.)

Here’s a little synopsis of If I Stay:

Like the beautifully haunting sounds of a cello, Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay tells the tragic story of a 17 year-old girl, Mia, with a promising future as a cellist.  Mia seemingly has it all: the possibility of attending Julliard, a quirky yet supportive family, a loyal best friend, and an amazing boyfriend named Adam, who is gaining fame as the lead singer/guitarist of a local Portland band.  Before she can embark on this journey, however, a car accident occurs.  Now Mia faces a situation beyond collegiate concerns or the typical teenage angst.  Her life is in the balance as she slowly comes to realize that her fate is entirely in her hands.

What did I think of it this time around?  Well, for one, it was still as great as it was when I first read it.

The simplicity of Forman’s prose is moving.  Like a well-orchestrated piece, If I Stay interweaves sadness and hope, keeping readers invested in not only what the future holds for the heroine, but also the past that influences her.  Because of the author’s use of extended flashbacks, readers experience these moments the way Mia is experiencing it—with a sense of nostalgia and reverence.  This allows Forman the ability to set the poetic tone of the novel, lacing each memory with a touch of wisdom and sadness.  Retrospectively living out the major events of the protagonist’s life, further exemplifies how love is the foundation of each and every relationship.  Forman does an amazing job portraying the difficulty of Mia’s choice to either leave or stay, which ultimately, forces the audience to be less confident in their initial opinion.

The storyline is not exactly revolutionary but it doesn’t have to be.  The book invokes raw emotion and it’s rare to come across a book that so completely captures every facet of a character’s relationships.  Forman not only portrayed the love between Adam and Mia, but she dedicated a great part of the book discussing Mia’s love for her parents and brother — which is primarily why this novel stands out to me as a reader more so than all the other Young Adult books out there.  So often do the parental figures take a backseat to an adolescent’s coming of age in this genre.  However, in If I Stay, Mia’s relationship with her parents is just as important as her first love.  The emphasis on this parent-daughter dynamic resonates the undertone of completeness and duality throughout the novel.

So read the book and let’s meet at the theaters.  You won’t regret it.  I promise.

 

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To hell with all problems and barriers. Nothing matters but the Spectacular Now.

Looking back, I don’t even know why I decided to pick up this Tim Tharp book back in June 2013.  It might be because I heard Shailene Woodley would be starring in the film adaptation and I was dying to figure out why Hollywood thought Woodley would be the face of every YA film adaptation (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars).  I’ve seen a couple of minutes of The Secret Life of an American Teenager and I wasn’t convinced she would accurately portray the female characters I have already bonded with through the pages of a book.  (To be honest, I could not stand The Secret Life…I literally had to will myself to forget the 2 minutes I spent watching an episode, fearful I lost a few necessary brain cells from the horrific dialogue.)  So to say that I welcomed the idea of Shailene Woodley with an open mind would be an outright lie.

But forget all that.  This post isn’t to commend or condemn the talents of Ms. Woodley (I’ll admit, she was great in The Spectacular Now).  This post will serve as my rant against this movie adaptation.

Having read the book prior to seeing the movie, I had my expectations.  I knew what was going to happen.  And I was interested in seeing how the movie industry would accurately portray the themes of the book–which included a sense of alienation, hopelessness, and just overall numbness.

I guess I should first state that I liked this book.  It was sad but not your typical sad–no one dies.  Their love story wasn’t one of fireworks.  Yet it was nothing like any other YA book I have ever read and for that reason alone, I think I like it even more.

A little background–Sutter Keely is this life-of-the-party senior high school student who takes nothing seriously and drinks almost 90% of the time.  His girlfriend breaks up with him because of is lackadaisical personality and then he meets Aimee Finicky.  Aimee is this quiet, push-over who seems content with having an almost mundane existence.  As the two get closer, Aimee comes out of her shell…but it’s a little bit like the blind leading the blind.  Because Sutter is in no position to be a role model.  He isn’t even in a position to be a mediocre boyfriend.  Since the book was told entirely in Sutter’s POV and his mindset was always skewed due to alcohol or some misconception, the reader never really even got a true sense of his feelings for Aimee.  One thing’s for sure though, his feelings wasn’t enough.  It didn’t even compare.  At first, I thought Aimee gave him the chance to be a better person, to start a new life, to be nothing like his alcoholic father.  But in retrospect, Aimee wasn’t a great character either.  She wasn’t strong-willed; she depended on Sutter, the worst person to depend on, for crying out loud!  They were doomed to fail.  So where was the salvation?  Where is the moment when we feel relieved that the characters found their way out of the darkness?  When do we, as the audience, give the protagonists a thumbs up for not succumbing to the demons of alcoholism or mediocrity or blind dependence?   I’ll tell you right now, Tim Tharp doesn’t give you the satisfaction.  The book ends with Sutter standing outside of a bar, wasted, thinking to himself:

“Goodbye.  Goodbye.  I can’t feel you anymore.  The night is almost too beautifully pure for my soul to contain.  I walk with my arms spread open under the big fat moon…Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of the middle of my own spectacular now.”

You’re getting the idea of what I meant by alienation, hopelessness, and numbness, right?

Well, imagine my surprise when the movie did NOT end like that.  Hollywood inserts this bullshit scene with Sutter and his mom which was supposed to serve as an explanation/resolution for why he is the way that he is and then he does the “right” thing and visits/surprises Aimee at college.  And the film cuts with Aimee’s surprised smile.

WHAT.  THE.  FUCK.

Roger Ebert started his review of this film with “[h]ere is a lovely film…”

And I remember thinking, lovely?!  I don’t remember that book being “lovely”.  Then I saw the movie.  And there’s really only one word to describe how I felt:

Insulted.

Imagine 50 years from now.  They decide to recreate the movie Titanic.  And the 50-year older version of yourself walks into the theater expecting maybe better graphics, a deleted scene surfacing–but instead, you get an ending in which Jack Dawson doesn’t die.  He and Rose live happily ever after.  How would you feel about that?

Maybe you’ll feel elated that at least this time you get the happy ending.  Life is already shit, why can’t fictional characters be happy–all that bullshit.

But if you’re like me…I’d be livid.  Because you know, you KNOW that was not supposed to happen.  That’s how I feel about the movie The Spectacular Now.  To say it is a loose adaptation of the book is a downright lie.  It missed the whole point of the book.  It is so completely off that I feel offended the movie industry even had the nerve to call this by the same title.

I was left dumbfounded.  How could Tim Tharp allow this to happen to his book?  How did the screenwriters even begin to try to pull this off?  And then I thought about the why.  Why did they release a movie so far from the truth?  Did they think we couldn’t handle the dismal undertone of the book?

And that offends me even more.

Yeah, the world is shitty.  And yeah, I’m a sucker for happy endings.  But don’t feed me the sugar-coated, bullshit version of a resolution.  I’ll take the red pill every time–because I’d rather have the shitty truth than the illusion of happiness.

I saw this movie with my roommates on a random Friday night and after hours of me ranting about it, they stated that they much preferred the movie ending–if it did end like how the book did, they would have been pissed.  So all in all, they liked it.

And of course, nobody I know has read the book…my sister hated the movie (yay!) without even having read the book (when I told her the actual ending, she said she would not have liked it any better, lol).  So I had nobody else to turn to.  And 1,000+ words later, I feel a little less angry.

As an aspiring writer, I would hate my book to be…misinterpreted?  No.  Butchered, is the right word.  There’s just something about having an idea in its truest nature.  If I was Tim Tharp, I’d feel as if whoever “adapted” my book disrespected me as a writer, as a thinker.  But on the flip side, there have been numerous times in which I read a book and felt it be a part of me.  So is it right for the author to lay all claims to a publicly released fiction when others may feel so strongly about it as well?  Or do we all, as the audience or the readers, all partake in its existence?  And if that’s the case, can there ever be a right or wrong way to interpret a physical manifestation of creativity?

Bottom line:  I hated the movie.  I liked the book.  But isn’t that always the case?

The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.

For months now, friends of mine have talked about this HBO show called Game of Thrones.  And for months, I’ve promised to watch it, only to pass it up for a new book to read or to mess around on my iPad with apps like StumbleUpon. 

It took a tremendous fuck-up of a game by the Saints against the Falcons (my baby threw 5 INTs and ended his 54-game TD-throwing streak—tremendous fuck-up is an understatement) for me to take a break from football one Sunday and convince my roommates to start this series with me.

10 hours later and season 1 behind us, I was all about Game of Thrones.  I was recommending it to my siblings, talking to anyone who was already an established fan about the craziness of the events that unfolded, updating my Facebook statuses about direwolves and my hatred for the King of the Seven Kingdoms. 

I went to work on Monday with thoughts about how great of a name Casterly Rock is for a city and swearing by my theory of never trusting a man with a woman’s name (freakin’ Jaime Lannister!).  I found myself wanting to name my daughter (if I were to ever have children) “Arya” and smiling every time I look up to see the moon and stars because I think of Khaleesi and Khal Drogo’s affectionate sweet-talk.

There are 3 things that I consider when it comes to TV shows, books, and movies:

  1. Plot—is it thought-provoking?  Are the underlying themes realistic?
  2. Dialogue—is it intelligent?  Witty?  Sarcastic?  Funny?
  3. Characters—can I relate to a specific character?  Are they presented in a complex and in-depth way?

Game of Thrones answers each of these questions and sets the bar for what I call entertainment.

Because I’m not trying to write a thesis paper on the show, I’ll simply focus on the characters, specifically the female leads.  After Season 1, three female leads surfaced as major forces in the plot:  Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen.

Catelyn, Cersei, and Daenerys all have strong personalities and face their situations with an air that demands respect.  (Everything I’m about to say about the plot is information provided in the Pilot episode, so I’m not giving away too much.)  From the very beginning, it is evident Catelyn is a righteous woman and a loving mother.  As the wife to Ned Stark, lord of Winterfell, she is loyal to her husband and provides her children with a good foundation that fosters obedience and discipline.  Cersei, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms/wife of King Baratheon and mother to Joffrey, is an easy character to hate due to her pretentious demeanor and how Joffrey is the complete opposite of the Stark children.  Daeneryus, one of two of the only descendants of the Targaryen clan, is initially portrayed as a naïve young girl and promised to a Dothraki Khal (prince) by her brother for his personal agenda. 

What I love the most about these characters is how complex they are.  Although it’s easy to say Catelyn Stark is the ideal woman, I find her treatment of Jon Snow completely uncalled for and irrational.  It leads me to believe that she can’t be trusted because she will always act emotionally (justified by events that occur in Season 2).

Cersei is borderline evil, certifiably the most selfish woman ever, and she brought devil-incarnate to the world (Joffrey).  But just when you’re ready to cast her off as a character you can never ever relate to, you see the situation she’s in—a loveless marriage, a powerful mind and determination but stuck in a woman’s body in a man’s world—and you can kind of see why she is the way that she is.  Her two other children are sweet and wonderful and you know Cersei genuinely loves them (even Joffrey), so there’s got to be some good in her right?

Daeneryus (or Khaleesi meaning princess) is my favorite character of the entire series.  So you know the next paragraph will be completely biased.  Dany is faced with situations that she didn’t ask for.  Having an arranged marriage with a man who wears more eyeliner than she does and has longer hair, oh and add on the fact that he speaks the Dothraki language which she does not understand at all—it’s enough to make any girl either suicidal or seriously depressed.  But not Dany.  She sees the situation and tries to make the best of it, learning her newly adopted people’s culture and language and acting the role of a Khaleesi.  She doesn’t dwell on the fact that she didn’t choose this for her life, or even that she didn’t have a choice.  She focuses on the choices she is given.  In that way, I find her the most inspirational character because she not only adjusts to her new life but she also does not lose herself in the process.

I’ve met a few people in my life who clearly stated that fantasy/science fiction is not their thing.  “It’s just not believable or realistic enough for me” they say.  Which is completely understandable.  White Walkers most likely do NOT exist.  But what makes me a sci fi/fantasy lover is the knowledge that the mastermind behind the idea is not only brilliant, with his or her ability to transport readers/viewers to a whole other world, but that he or she can express their understanding/commentary of humanity beyond the realistic.  Those writers are capable of making me wish I could be as strong as Khaleesi or as brave as Ned Stark–characters that are not only fictional but also not of the world I am so familiar with.  Anyone or anything that can elicit such a strong emotion from the public deserves admiration.  

So, great job HBO, amazing job George R. R. Martin for taking 20 hours of my life and transporting me to a world where I don’t have to worry about deadlines or bills due, where I can just simply sit back and watch a completely new world unfold in front of me.

Okay, I think that’s enough Game of Thrones talk for the night.  March 31, 2013—Season 3 premiere.  Let’s do this.  What do I do for the next 3 months?

Regrets collect like old friends

I’m a music junkie. Just ask my roommates. Early in the morning, music is blasting from my room while I get ready for work. A new mix CD is enough to get me super excited for the 30-minute drive to Herndon, actually hoping there’s traffic so I can prolong the ride. (I’ve only ever driven without music once. I was driving home from Starbucks late one night and I had just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. I was so moved by the intensity of that book I wanted to reflect in silence. Nerd, I know.)

So when I come across a song that just completely shatters my preconception of a “great” song, there is no limit to how many times I play it–in my car, Spotify on my iPhone, Macbook, work laptop. (Did I mention I’m obsessive?)

To clarify, by “great”, I mean a combination of catchy beats and most importantly, lyrics that I can somehow manipulate to describe the exact melodrama I managed to get myself into that particular week. Those two factors and BAM!–it’s a done deal. So you see, it’s all very subjective.

When I first heard Shake It Out by Florence + the Machine on an episode of How I Met Your Mother, I instantly knew it was good. It fit the scene perfectly: Robin had just been dumped by a long-term boyfriend, the Ted situation was resurfacing, and Barney was a lingering thought. When I decided to Spotify it, the song became great–not only because Florence + the Machine are amazing but (cue in my over-sensitive nature) every word fits my current state of mind.

And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat
‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me

My translation: I’m fucked. But that’s okay. I’m okay.

I don’t mean to make this blog entry about how much I’m still not over you. How much you still manage to invade my thoughts in the most random way. How much just hearing your name makes me want to not only punch the person who brought you up but also cry, endlessly, tirelessly because you still affect me that much. So I’ll just…stop.

Music has a funny way of letting you know you’re not alone. Relating to a song lyric can touch you in ways friends’ advice don’t. It gives you a sense that somebody understands without an explanation. That someone somewhere knew exactly how you were feeling and somehow, they got through it.

Shake It Out is that song for me.

Confession #1.

I’m a sucker for YA novels.  I’m an even bigger sucker for romantic YA novels with love triangles and angsty teenagers.

So when I woke up this past Saturday morning, welcoming any kind of distraction from cleaning my apartment, I picked up my Kindle and started reading this highly-rated book (and just so happened to be $2.99)–Inescapable (The Premonition, #1) by Amy A. Bartol.

9.5 hours later (I had crazy cramps all of Saturday, so I had another reason to be in bed!), and after much persistence from my roommate, I got up, took a shower, and went grocery-shopping.  Of course, I finished the book before I left the house–there was no way in hell I was gonna leave at 92%!

Throughout that 9.5 hours, I laughed, cried, giggled, and SMH-ed to the events that unfolded in Bartol’s book.  To say that I enjoyed myself would be an understatement–I was hooked.

I’ll admit, there was nothing extremely ground-breaking with the plot.  Rest assured, Jane Austen and Bronte sisters, I don’t think this was particularly revolutionary–your place in literature is safe.  There were, however, some very interesting aspects that I hope the author gets into more in the next books.  For example, [SPOILER] the idea that there are different hierarchies in God’s angels (Seraphim–the highest order of Angels (God’s guardians); red wings.  Power–“created to prevent the Fallen from taking over the world and to keep the universe in balance”.  Reaper–angels of death; brings souls to Heaven and Hell; butterfly, ladybug, beetle, dragonfly wings.  Archangels.  Thrones.  Virtues.  Cherubim.).  And the whole idea of fallen angels and half-angel half-humans.  Super interesting.  It reminded me of the few times my sister had mentioned Milton’s Paradise Lost back when I was in high school.  (I never read Paradise Lost; not too big on poetry.)

And then there’s the love story.  The battle between soul mate and true love.  The idea that the protagonist (Evie) has been reincarnated several times throughout the world’s existence and that she ends up with her soul mate (Russell) every time.  Every time except this time…because this time, she has been reincarnated as a half-human half-angel.  Russell gives her a sense of home, and it’s almost familial.   She feels a strong connection to Russell, strong to the point that it seems almost a struggle to convince herself that she wants someone else.  And that someone else?  A Power angel by night; Reed Wellington star lacrosse player, eye of every girl on campus by day.

I think it’s fairly obvious who she ends up, even though I’ve only read the first book.  But that’s another great thing about this story–it’s not exactly a love triangle.  It’s a choice.  And she chooses Reed.

I like the idea that there isn’t much of a disconnect between the heart and the mind in this book.  Yes, Evie feels incredibly jealous when she sees Russell with someone else.  Yes, she initially feels a tingle when Russell finally kisses her.  But in the end, and even as the Russell kiss is happening, she knows that she loves Reed; he’s the one she can’t live without.  And I respect that.

So here’s my little commentary on life as I know it, reinforced by the Reed/Evie/Russell situation:

I think people overlook the importance of choice when it comes to love.  I’ve always believed that although the saying “I can’t help how I feel” has truth to a certain extent, there is also a conscious choice that is initially made to ultimately lead to a particular event.

Maybe this way of thinking is just my ploy to not chuck everything up to emotion and perhaps help rationalize an otherwise irrational feeling.  Or maybe it’s just my incessant need to be responsible for every aspect of my life–leaving nothing to excuses or misfortune or feeling.

Either way, Evie’s next adventure is definitely something I look forward to with anticipation.