Time To Wake Up

I know I haven’t posted in forever, I know I’ve been distracted and sidetracked and have, basically, ignored this blog for damn near two months now, but I haven’t entirely forgotten about it or you and to prove it, I’ve embedded the following video BECAUSE the moment I finished watching it, I wanted to share it with you.

Seriously, I fucking love this guy.  If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, make time for it, bitches, at least skip to the 9:00 minute mark and watch from there.  (Warning: the following clip contains a political conversation.)

I don’t know about any of you, but I’m ready for the revolution.  Let’s have it.

See you soon, dolls.

~Nikki

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If You’re Tired Of The Same Old Story, Oh, Baby, Turn Some Pages

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Here’s something that’s been weighing on my mind: it shocks me that Cabin In The Woods doesn’t have a much stronger following and I genuinely cannot come up with a reason for its lack of one.  I saw it twice in theaters and have watched it 3 times since it’s been an instant watch on Netflix.  I LOVED it during the first viewing and have found that even after a few more, it totally holds up.  The thing about it is that it’s fun and at times hilarious, while at others, really scary.  It’s a must-see for fans of the horror genre, like myself, while others who could take or leave horror will also enjoy it.

Longtime lovers of scary movies like me can appreciate all of the clever shout-outs to horror flicks of old.  In fact, Cabin In The Woods is kind of a tribute to the whole horror genre.  Writers Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard take every cliche and stereotype we’ve come to associate with scary movies and puts them all together AND supply a fun and interesting explanation for them.  They very smartly and creatively find a way to BOTH strictly follow the formula and make something completely original.  They somehow manage to make a horror flick that is every bit a generic horror flick, that is like every other horror flick ever made, while, simultaneously, taking that seemingly generic premise and using it to disassemble and reconfigure the formula we’ve seen in horror flicks since the spawn of the genre.  This film is so much more than a zombie movie or a slasher flick or even a supernatural story.  It is everything all at once.  And IT WORKS.  It even has some social relevance while still managing to never take itself too seriously.  In all honesty, I think it’s kind of perfect.

The acting is mostly good (I say mostly because there is one actor whose performance is slightly sub par – but hers is the ONLY one), good enough, in fact, to give these stereotypical characters surprising depth.  Like every other aspect of this film, they are two things at once: the cliched caricatures we’re used to seeing in scary movies and very much, well, not.  And in addition to the scary stuff, which is often pretty scary, there’s an abundance of excellent humor that lightens it up.  For this reason alone, it is definitely a crossover film: it appeals to fans of the horror genre and those who usually shy away from it.  There’s eye candy for all (I could make a sandwich with Chris Hemsworth and Jesse Williams) and even one completely awesome cameo by a woman who has become an icon in the sci-fi world.  Like I said, perfect.

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There’s also a big, big, big, big surprise ending that, for me, sets it apart from damn near every other film (horror or otherwise) I’ve seen.  It takes a lot of balls to end a movie in such a way and for that, kudos to Whedon and Goddard.  I’ve read that before the first screening, Whedon told the audience something like, “Enjoy it and then keep it to yourself.”  Because it’s very much like Fight Club in this way; the first, second and third rules about Cabin In The Woods are: You don’t talk about Cabin In The Woods.  To be less vague and disclose any more detail than I already have is to rob you of the sheer joy you’ll feel when you realize that this film is irrevocably and unapologetically going balls-to-the-wall, batshit bonkers.  This moment first shows itself in a scene in the second act that I call “The Purge” which is quite possibly the coolest fucking scene in any scary movie, EVER.  As well as frightening and funny and thrilling and wildly fun in a shit-yourself giddy kind of way all at the same time.  Which is in itself a rarity in any film and even more rare, is that I could use that same sentence to describe the movie itself.

If you’re a fan of horror flicks, you have to watch this.  If you’re not, you still should watch it because whether you care about all the details that pay homage to the genre or not, Cabin In The Woods is one wicked fun ride.

~Nikki

Imagine All The People Sharing All The World

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One of my co-workers recently visited NYC for the first time.  A born and raised Midwesterner, she remarked that while she enjoyed visiting The Big Apple, she much preferred the slower, more comfortable (and affordable) Midwest pace.  The comment struck a chord with me because I happened to have just read a particular passage from author Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine regarding metropolitan life and its effects on the individual.

Imagine is an excellent read about how creativity works, more particularly, what works and what doesn’t (and why) as far as making people creatively productive and efficient.  (Expect a full review soon.)  This creativity doesn’t refer only to artistic types but to every single person and it can be expressed in painting or writing or creating music or it can lead to innovative ideas, scientific discoveries or useful inventions.  Sometimes it means old ideas applied in new ways, giving rise to new and exciting uses for things we already have.  And according to Lehrer, people who live in densely packed cities tend to have more creatively productive lives than those who live in more sparsely populated communities.

Put simply, urban life produces more creative people.  Cities, as it turns out, are more than just masses of buildings with high rents and tiny spaces.  They are typically populated by people from all walks of life who are forced, because of the lack of open space, to interact with each other pretty much daily.  They are a kind of dance during which any given person will interact with a number of new people everyday.  Apartments and shops and restaurants fill every block which means that different kinds of people are out on the street for different reasons at various times throughout the day.  The end result is that each resident is exposed to a much wider range of people in their day-to-day lives.  This kind of diversity leads to the expansion of each city-dweller’s base of knowledge which promotes new ideas (or old ideas being applied in new ways).

This concept has been studied by physicists and mathematicians who have uncovered a pattern so uniform, they’ve even applied an equation to it.  And it hasn’t failed once.  They’ve measured every socioeconomic variable from per capita income to the productions of patents and each variable scales to an exponent of 1.15.  The exponent is greater than 1, which means that a person living in a city of 1 million should make 15% more money and come up with 15% more patents than someone living in a city of 500,000.  The correlations between the size of the city in which one lives to that individual’s own creative output is linear.  The bigger the city, the more productive its residents.  And because each person is more creatively productive and more and different people are forced to interact with one another almost daily, the city itself becomes an inexhaustible source of ideas.  People challenge and inspire each other and the greater the diversity of the people, the greater the diversity of their ideas and innovations.

Sometimes these forced interactions are unpleasant or uncomfortable.  Anyone who’s been to NYC can tell you that New Yorkers aren’t known for being balls of inspired sunshine.  But even the unpleasant exchanges produce higher rates of productivity because they break up our thought processes.  It’s the same reason behind the notion that if you get stuck on a concept or find yourself in the midst of some kind of mental block, you should get up and go for a walk or do 20 push-ups or just step outside for some fresh air.  The concept being that you need to disrupt your train of thought.  People who live in densely packed cities are constantly disrupted by collisions, pleasant or otherwise, with others.  It’s unavoidable.  And it leads to the disruption of our thoughts which very often leads to new, more creative ones.

Life in the big city certainly comes at a cost, though, and some, like my above-mentioned co-worker, don’t find it worth it.  The cost of everything from your monthly rent to the price of a gallon of milk is significantly higher.  There are more crowds everywhere you go, limited space in restaurants and venues, higher crime rates, more competition for jobs and schools, etc.  And the big city lifestyle simply doesn’t appeal to a great many people.  And yet many people do move to bigger cities everyday and likely for the reasons explained above.  They want to meet new people, make more money and generally create more and new opportunities for themselves.  According to the proven equations outlined in Lehrer’s Imagine, those people will generate more creative output over the course of their lives.

So my question for you, dear reader, is this: which is more important to you, a more creatively productive life or a more comfortable lifestyle?

~Nikki

If I Hadn’t Made Me, I’d Have Fallen Apart By Now

Forgive me whileFour Christmases I climb up on my soapbox for a bit.  But I’ve noticed this trend in movies and TV shows, not a pervasive trend, but one that rears its annoying head every now and then.  And it’s grating on my nerves.  You see, men and women as depicted in film simply cannot achieve a life of fullfillment unless they find their soulmate and have babies.  I know, I know… the vast majority of adults want to be married and want to be parents, so this depiction is merely mirroring real life.  But what irks me are these characters who at the beginning of the story profess their desire not to settle down and have kids and proceed to undergo some life-altering revelation during which they realize they’ve been lying to themselves all along and really do, like everyone else, just want to be happily married with a kid or two.

Four Christmases is the most recent example of such a scenario.  At the start, main characters Kate and Brad want to enjoy their lives without the constraints of parenthood.  They travel around the world, excel in their careers and dote on each other.  That is, until they get stuck spending time with their families during the holiday season and after seeing their nephews and nieces, realize what they’ve really been wanting the whole time is that which they adamantly insisted was not for them: marriage and babies.  Yes, by the film’s end, they pull a complete 180 and confess their deep desires for those very things they originally claimed to abhor.  Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, while not expressly about this subject, also fall victim to its themes.  Both sets of couples end up happier than humanly possible at the close of their respective stories because they wind up with something they never thought they wanted (or never gave much thought to at all): marriage and babies.  Such stories are less about couples finding happiness and more about conformity and lack of individuality and/or free will and WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLYWOOD???  When will you give it a rest?

Just to be clear, I have no problems with marriage, commitment or parenthood but I don’t understand why any person should be cClooneyonsidered in denial or even unstable simply because he/she doesn’t want either one or both of those things.  Do we all have to live the same life?  Is it such a radical idea to believe that marriage and/or parenthood simply aren’t for everyone?  Isn’t the great freedom of America that we have the right to pursue our own happiness, whatever that entails?  Does anyone actually believe George Clooney is a repressed wanna-be husband/father who’s been in denial or somehow unaware of his true desires his whole adult life?  Bitch, please.

Look, I love a good romantic comedy and I’m certainly not suggesting that all movies in which two people fall in love, marry and copulate are worthless.  I, too, swooned when Harry and Sally finally got together and I rooted for Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy to fall in love from the very first scene.  “A life without love, that’s terrible!”  (To be said like the most swoon-worthy of them all, Ewan McGregor, in pursuit of a certain cortisan.)  But do ALL love stories have to end in wedding bells and a bun in the oven?  I, for one, feel that each of our lives should be sort of tailor-made.  Countless “I’m a single career woman suddenly forced into custody of my sister’s/best friend’s/random relative’s baby” movies the likes of Baby Boom, The Family Man, Raising Helen, No Reservations, Life As We Know It, etc. perpetuate the idea that single/child-free individuals can only know how empty their lives are after being forced into parenthood.  Then, it all becomes clear and they can move forward in their new, enriched and superior lives.  Frankly, it’s a played out and tired tale.

Occasionally, we do get stories about individuals who truly do not yearn for marriage/parenthood.  And those people are portrayed as having a tumblr_mifrltUIlK1s2ohego1_250mental illness.  Cases in point: Big Fan and Young Adult.  While both are excellent flicks in their own right, I would love to watch a film about a character who doesn’t desire to be a parent and is simultaneously a healthy, stable and happy adult.  I realize they’re the minority but they do in fact exist.  Actually, only once, just ONCE, and very recently, have I seen such a character.  In last week’s episode of the superb HBO series, Enlightened, guest star Dermot Mulroney who’s playing an unattached journalist described the reasons for his past divorce and never have I heard someone explain it as simply and succinctly as this: “We just wanted different things.  She wanted kids and dogs and Christmas trees.  What I want is to live in this world.  I’m greedy.  I want meaning.  I want experience.  I want to make a difference… all that bullshit.”

I know that a healthy, committed relationship is deeply satisfying and I don’t doubt that being a parent is a tremendously rewarding experience.  But that path is far from the only road to a full and happy life and I’d really love to see the other side get its moment in the sun.

~Nikki

Song Survey – Nikki’s Soul Revealed Via Her iPod

Annie’s recent song survey (something I’d never heard of but think is a fun little game) inspired me to devote a post to one of my own.  While I firmly believe that the kinds of television and films and books a person loves does provide a ton of insight into their personality, I think the music they love (and their reasons for loving it) reveals the most about who they are.  I know I talk incessantly of the TV and movies and books that mean the most to me, so it’s about time I share my musical tastes as well.  Here’s a little snapshot of what’s on my iPod:

Total number of tracks: 1,166 (6.42 GB; capacity is 7.42 GB – yes, I still have a Nano)

Sorted by song title:

Sorted by album:

10 Most played songs:

  1. Dust by Augustana
  2. Stars and Boulevards by Augustana
  3.  Johnny Pass Me Another One by Honor By August
  4. Heart-Shaped Gun by Augustana
  5. All Fall Down by OneRepublic
  6. What Goes Around Comes Around by Justin Timberlake
  7. One & Only by Timbaland featuring Fall Out Boy
  8. Creep by Radiohead
  9. Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
  10. Stop Breaking Down by The White Stripes

First Five Songs that come up on Shuffle:

  1. The Union Forever by The White Stripes
  2. The Game by Trapt
  3. Rattled By The Rush by Pavement
  4. April 26, 1992 by Sublime
  5. Fly Trapped In A Jar by Modest Mouse

These songs make up 1.8% of the music on my iPod and give a mere glimpse of my musical tastes.  As you can see, and as you should know by now, I adore Augustana and tend to favor rock over most other genres.

Has this given you any insight into my character?  What can you tell from the music a person listens to?

~Nikki

Nikki’s 2011 Reads

One final list this year for you, and one that has relatively surprising results, in my opinion.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am an avid reader and a lover of literary fiction in particular, which is why it surprised me that only 11 of the books on this list, the 19 books I read in 2011, fall into the literary fiction category.  Two are nonfiction, 4 are Young Adult novels, one is historical fiction and finally, one paranormal/fantasy novel.  (Note: Some of these, I’ve already reviewed and have linked those reviews for your convenience.)

Emma by Jane Austen – I have now read every one of Austen’s novels and, while Pride and Prejudice is, by far, my favorite, they are all excellent and well worth your time.  Emma is a light-hearted, jovial romantic comedy simultaneously satirical and heartwarming.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Bossypants by Tina Fey – I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked this up.  Is it a memoir?  An autobiography?  Essays on Fey’s personal opinions about comedy, the entertainment industry, life in general?  Upon reading it, I found it fits all of those descriptions.  Fey mostly sticks to the events in her life that concern her career in comedy and her quirky sense of humor fills every line.  I suggest everyone who has an interest in Fey,  the world of comedy or show business read it, men in particular.  My husband read it (and enjoyed it) and remarked that it enlightened him a bit to the differences of a female perspective.  Fey’s prose doesn’t push any feminist agenda, but does showcase the female point of view (how could it not? she is a woman, after all).  Plus, it’ll make you laugh.  Out loud.  Repeatedly.

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Story by Robert McKee – An exceptional tool for anyone attempting to write works of fiction.  Even if you’re a beginner, if you have no formal education, if you’re just tinkering with the idea of writing, it will benefit you to read it.

The Postmortal by Drew Magary

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is the one fantasy/paranormal novel I read this year.  While interested in the overall theme – the inevitable fact that “old world” traditions last maybe a generation or two after immigration to America before getting replaced by the gods America worships (radio, television, money, etc.) – I found the narrative hard to follow as it jumped around quite a bit and the extremely heavy use of symbolism sometimes lost me.

 Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

Requiem For A Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr. – I love drug stories and this is one not easily forgotten.  It tells the story of a young man caught up in the world of heroin, initially as a dealer, seduced by the easy money, then as an addict as he succumbs to temptation, and his retired mother who develops an addiction herself to uppers in an effort to lose weight.  Ultimately, it’s about obsession and the complete destruction it causes.

Solar by Ian McEwan – McEwan is a genius, a true artist with words and imagery and I recommend any fan of fiction read Atonement.  Solar, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment (in my opinion).  Though his prose left nothing wanting, the story never quite hooked me.  It follows a British scientist determined to find the answer to climate change by bringing solar energy to the masses while chronicling his many failed attempts at personal relationships.  It certainly wasn’t a waste of my time, just not my cup of tea, as they say.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Behind The Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy – Annie recommended this YA novel to me and I recommend it to everyone, especially pre-teen girls.  It is much darker than your average YA book – gothic and mysterious, and utterly charming.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen  (see above link for Sense & Sensibility)

Baby (and other stories) by Paula Bomer – This collection of short stories focuses entirely on couples with young children and the effects child-rearing has on parents, marriages, familial relationships, work and daily life.  Eye-opening in its honest, realistic telling and worth reading, despite the occasional typo.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin – A work of historical fiction about the life of Alice, the real-life girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice In Wonderland.  Though you may feel differently, I didn’t enjoy it and don’t particularly recommend it.  It felt disjointed and awkward at times, forced at others.  And I found it far less interesting than its description sounded.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin – Though I love Steve Martin, I did not enjoy this book.  It was an unrealistic portrayal of an agoraphobic twenty-something and much too fairy-tale in the way he wrapped it all up.  I know others who liked it, though, so take my opinion for what it’s worth.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – A classic that I’ve heard hailed as an early feminist novel.  I don’t know so much about its feminist views (at least as intended by the author) but it is a beautifully told, tragically sad tale of the lengths one woman is willing to go to in an effort to free herself of the matrimonial chains that suffocate her.

Currently reading: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  (More on this later.)

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

~Nikki

Tired Of Not Being A Millionaire

Do you remember that scene in “Office Space” during which Peter asks his neighbor, Lawrence, what he would do if he had a million dollars?  The idea being that whatever you’d do if money weren’t the main motivator is what you’re ideally suited to do, or be.  (By the way, I love Lawrence’s response: “Two chicks at the same time, man.”  Classic.  Maybe that means he should be in porn?)  I’ve been thinking about this lately because things at my place of employment are somewhat unstable and, though I genuinely love the work I do – I am a science-nerd, after all – what I would do if I could magically pay my bills without having to punch a clock day in and day out, is write.  I would write story after story, blog post after blog post.  Novels, screenplays, short stories.  I would sit, fingers poised on the keyboard of my laptop, cup of coffee within reach, and see just what, exactly, I might have to say.

As I’m sure you’ve surmised, I already do this.  A bit.  I love to read and write the way athletes love to play, the way musicians love to jam.  It’s my hobby but also my passion, my love.  If I were a trust fund baby, this is how I would use my time.

It may seem like a frivolous way to spend one’s energy and I understand that logic, really.  It’s a small part of what led me to my career in science, the idea that writing isn’t relevant enough to be more than a hobby.  But the truth is, even though it isn’t vital in the way medicine is, for example, storytelling must be essential to the plight of man because it has existed in one form or another for nearly as long as man has existed.  The story as told in a film, in a book, in a song, a poem, was part of the oral tradition before the written language came to be and I suspect that when man came down out of the trees, part of his survival (maybe part of what drove him further along on the evolutionary trail) depended on the need to tell a story.  And his need to hear one.

It’s how we discover ourselves, the true nature of humankind.  It’s how we learn what we believe to be truth.  It’s how we make sense of life.

If I had a million dollars, I would tell a million stories.

~N.