Saturday, October 31, 2009


It’s no secret to those who know me well that I adore Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday – which is probably odd since I don’t particularly like creepy, scary things. What I love about Halloween is the element of control. You can generally choose your own costume (within parental parameters), and then you proceed to travel around to various houses whereby simply knocking on the door and saying “Trick or Treat” gets you candy. Then you get to go back to your house and eat it all until you make yourself sick. In all of this, you have more control than say Christmas where you have to ask Santa for things and then labor under intense surveillance for a period of time, and no matter how well you pass these tests, the things on your list might not materialize. Halloween is an instant gratification, sugar-high holiday where you don’t have to be yourself, or some version of a perfect angel. You can be a rebel-rousing hellion and it’s okay. In fact, it’s rewarded!

Perhaps it was my inability to rebel much as a youth that fostered my love of Halloween. When you do crazy things on Halloween, it doesn’t matter because everyone else is doing crazy things. Every other holiday is about doing things to please other people to create the eventual reward (don’t get me started on Valentine’s day and its traumatizing effects on my psyche with relation to popularity), but Halloween is that one space where you make the rules and no one can stop you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fantasy and Reality...or something.

It's no secret that I have been into fantasy sports for some time. I've played several difference rounds -- but mostly I like sticking to the NFL. I only have to pay attention once a week, and the rest of the week I have time to do other things. When you play baseball, basketball or hockey, you need to pay WAY more attention to sports than is my normal M.O. This is part of why I feel football is our "national pastime" in this day and age. Baseball might have been it in the day, but technology has completely changed the way we live life in relation to sports.

I digress. Fantasy football. So, the first year I played fantasy was in grad school when I told some guys in my class I actually knew shit about football. They didn't believe me, so I challenged them to a fantasy match. I tore it up, and won for about five consecutive years. Since then, my fantasy dominance has waned. This year I'm not doing poorly, but I'm not doing great either. Bad luck all around. Last week, I was up against our league leader and lost by 2 points. 2 points! And Peyton Manning is my QB and of course it was his bye week. This week, my guys seriously over produced, and a rogue defensive score from the opponent is usurping me. I've lost my mojo.

While it's probably completely irrelevant, I blame my lack of fantasy productivity on the fact that I'm happy and wonder whether or not this applies to other fantasy gamers. I seemed to hit stride when I was the most unhappy - playing the game made me happier, so I did it and was good at it. Now that I have more interpersonal happiness, I find I often forget it's Sunday until about an hour before kickoff. I will say, I have spent more time investing in college football, which might be detracting from my ability to accurately play pro-fantasy. It's fun, but it might be one of those things I give up. I got into it because people where all in my face about "you're a girl and you don't know anything about football" which I've proved is false and don't see much of a reason to continue it. It's not as fun as it used to be for some reason...maybe fantasy sports have reached their peak with casual fans like me? It seems everything with serious fans is about money and keeper-leagues these days. Definitely not the expert here, just making some observations.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Diggin' It!

Creat Studios recently released an enhanced remake of the classic video game Digger for the PlayStation 3. I was pretty excited to discover that Sailor had downloaded it for my birthday. Digger was one of our first family games on our first PC (this would have been mid-80s). My parents fought over playing it, we all tried to beat each others' high scores, and ultimately, it fell to the wayside when we got an Atari and my parents started getting into PacMan instead.

Anyway, point being, Digger is a kind of video game nostalgia for me as I'm not really into modern gaming. I like simple games that I don't have to think too much about. Playing Digger for the past couple weeks in the vintage mode has made me realize some things about the game that I never knew back in my childhood. First, you can shoot! I never knew Digger could shoot. I just ran away from the goblins and pushed gold bags onto them. The game is so much better when you can shoot! Second, I never realized that you scored more points if you completed the tonal scale while eating the emeralds. Try it. You end up getting more for each emerald after you finish the scale. Doesn't help much on the first couple levels, but it makes a big difference when you get to level four and five.

On the downside, I really don't like using the PS3 controllers when playing this game - the key pad isn't as sensitive as I'd like and the joystick is too sensitive, which means I dig a bunch of things I don't mean to (of course, this is probably just another way of saying my hand-eye coordination kind of sucks). Also, it sucks to be playing this game with someone as adept at video games as Sailor because within a week, my chances of ever appearing on the high scores lists has greatly diminished. I'm still on there right now with one score of almost 30,000 - but I didn't actually score that. Sailor put it there to make me feel better (as if I would forget that I have yet to break 25,000), but I haven't let him know I'm on to his secret. :o)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beach Week!

I’ve been a bit MIA because I took a vacation to the beach for a week, and while I should have theoretically had time to work on blogging, I decided to enjoy the beach instead. Now that I’m back to reality (which is a pain the ass since there have been many, many issues diverting my attention from things I love such as pop culture and art), I figured I’d pay homage to my love affair with the beach by citing my top five beach influenced pieces of pop culture!

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall – one of the most brilliant comedies in the past few years takes place in Hawaii, so beach scenes abound. It was the first DVD I watched on blue-ray with my new entertainment system and it really made me want to go to Hawaii.

4. Saved By the Bell the Malibu Sands summer episodes – does anyone remember what I’m talking about here? There were six episodes of SbtB where Lisa hooked up the rest of the gang with sweet jobs at the Malibu Sands Country Club. What teen girl working at this place wouldn’t be into Zack Morris? Guilty.

3. Any song from Jack’s Mannequin – lead singer Andrew McMahon’s experiences growing up in California frequently make their way into songs with imagery of the beach (such as Holiday From the Real or Miss California) or of the water (Swim or Dark Blue).

2. The final scene of Titanic –since the whole film takes place on a boat, how am I connecting this to the beach? Well, in the final scene when the camera pans across all of the pictures of the life that Rose led, one shows her riding a horse on the beach while this eerie music is playing. That scene inspired me when I traveled over seas to ride a horse at sunrise on the beach. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

1. The beach scene in From Here to Eternity – while I’m not a big fan of old films (it drives Sailor nuts), if I ever would cop to a romantic sexual fantasy, it’s this scene.

What are your favorite beach references in pop cultures my handful of readers? Chime in.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Technology, Science and "Belief"

Sailor and I were catching up on TV last night and had a chance to watch the newest episode of Fringe. Sailor isn't too keen on this show, because in his assessment "it's a big rip off of the X-Files." In a way, I get that - it's not like J.J. Abrams is above ripping off just about any science fiction narrative and repackaging it into convoluted plot lines that are supposed to be "intelligent" because they keep people "guessing" when really, they ceased to make logical sense long, long ago. Anyone who keeps tabs on this knows what I'm talking about.

On the other hand, he has also proven to be somewhat of a master at capturing the heart of a particular science fiction story while transforming it into something that is more culturally relevant (though Star Trek fans all over may completely disagree with me on this point). Having been a total XPhiler, I have to say that while there are striking similarities, Fringe differs in format with its respect to the concept of "belief" and the importance of technology. The X-Files generally interrogated the idea that there were things in this world that we, as human beings, were incapable of understanding and comprehending (unless of course you were a crazed lunatic like Mulder, or a rational person in love with a crazed lunatic like Scully). Key to your acceptance of the narrative was its insistence that "the truth is out there," that one must believe in the potential of science, and that really, if something was going to mutate, there wasn't anything you could do about it. Mulder and Scully were often asked to accept their fate, acknowledge that they couldn't change things about their situation, and ultimately let scientific progress take its course.

The narrative in Fringe is far less optimistic about our technological future. The questions they explore are not, "wow, could this really be happening?" - it's almost assumed that it IS happening, and the questions interrogated become, "how is this technology potentially harmful, and what can we do to stop the evil people who have it?" In that sense, it's much more like procedural cop dramas than the X-Files was, and often you feel quite hopeless about the current state of technological warfare at the end of the episode. I think this functions well in a post-9/11 society where technology has rapidly advanced in the last 10 years, and plays upon our general fears of scientific progress (see popular discourses regarding genetic mapping or cloning to get a sense of the uneasiness the general public has with technological change). The cast also functions as more of an ensemble, so while Olivia and Peter are the focus most of the time, the secondary characters actually have personalities beyond the "monster of the week" kinds of plots the X-Files sported for several years before developing additional characters. As a result of these changes, the emphasis is more on what we can DO to stop/alter/influence technological and scientific change rather than acceptance of its inevitable progress. It doesn't seem like a big distinction, but I think it says quite a lot about where our culture has been and where it's moving.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Green Lantern Fake Out

So, I got pretty excited when I saw this because who doesn't love Nathan Fillion, but then figured out it wasn't real. Ryan Reynolds is actually starring. And to make matters more interesting, Greg Berlanti (most recently known for Brothers & Sisters, though he also wrote for Dawson's Creek and Everwood) is in on the screenplay. I'm not entirely sure how to process this...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Karaoke Junkie

I am something of a karaoke enthusiast. This baffles many of my friends as I'm actually quite a good singer. I found out early on that there were few things you could count on in a career in music, but musicians being sort of unreliable was the #1 lesson that deterred me from pursuing fame and fortune as a singer. Well, that and the fact that I sort of have a perpetual fear of being continually "in the spotlight" -- not that I don't like it here and there, but I like to be able to retreat to my introverted lair when I feel like it, and let's face it, in today's culture with the way we use technology surveillance and our obsession with celebrity culture? I'd be one step away from a mental breakdown after every concert.

But I digress. Karaoke. It's the perfect blend of being able to fulfill my desire to perform, meet interesting people, and still remain largely unknown. Everyone in a karaoke bar is a character. I could tell you a bunch of stories on this point, but if you're interested, Rob Drew's book Karaoke Nights is a fabulous, smart analysis of this subculture. A fellow enthusiast recently explained his own obsession as being "like I'm addicted to crack," and while I have no base of crack addiction for a comparison reference, I'm pretty sure it's an accurate simile.

So, I used to frequent karaoke on a weekly basis. In the last few months, I haven't gone as often because of a number of factors: a) my normal karaoke spot changed the night they have karaoke, b) I mostly used karaoke night as a means to escape the confines of my home/loneliness/relationships, etc., which is somewhat pointless when you're in a happy place and c) the last six weeks have been hell as far as my job is concerned. Last night was the first time I was able to go out in a long time on my own terms. I had a great time at a new little dive place that does karaoke. It's off the radar of most locals (and more importantly, students) so I can actually relax and feel okay kicking back. I sang some good stuff, I sang some stuff that I should never sing again. I got my foot trampled by a drunk girl from Minnesota. I'm kind of lucky she didn't break my toe(s). But I certainly wouldn't trade the experience for anything...and I look forward to going back in a few weeks.

My obsession has me wondering about the importance of performance in contemporary culture. I'm not sure why I continually complain about feeling like I'm "performing" within the confines of my job (and of my former relationship, though this is not the case now), yet when I have a chance to get out and do something, performing is often my first choice? In some sense, I'm not sure today's generations know how to live a life without performance, without surveillance. And while I like to think nostalgically that this wasn't the case ten years ago, I'm sure there were similar trends on local scales that were the equalvalent of today's YouTube or blogging. I seem to remember calling in to a lot of radio talk shows during that period of my life...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

On Being Awesome

No, I'm not writing about HIMYM again, though Barney's approach to life would probably help out the cast of today's show of choice. Despite the continued melodramatic, over-wrought writing, I continue to keep tabs on Grey’s Anatomy. Perhaps it’s the similarities between medical training/hazing/the academy sorts of things, or perhaps I’m just a sappy person. Either way, the show sometimes hits a nerve in one sense or another. The first two episodes of the season have not been great in any sense, but I find myself thinking about some of the issues they raised.

This week our cultural fixation on “the economic crisis” hit home for the doctors at Seattle Grace as they all start competing with each other to establish their relevance (and hopefully save their jobs in the wake of an impending merger with Mercy West). As I’m watching these people be borderline ridiculous (at the expense of their patient’s best interests for the most part – an annoying facet of the show that I guess must be there in order to advance any kind of relational plot), I started thinking about my own experiences in the academy and how I often feel trapped in the same kind of “paranoia” the characters find themselves in. There are simply certain jobs in our culture that produce excessive demands on physical and emotional resources. There are always going to be sick people, at every hour of the day, so you always need to be working. My job is certainly not as stressful as medicine, but there are always students/administrative concerns/articles to be written that can eat up every minute of your free time if you let them. I personally suck at drawing boundaries, but I’m aware of that and working on it.

One of the characters this week voiced why I think I have a hard time finding time for myself – “I am not awesome yet!” In a profession that demands constant surveillance and performance, it is hard to gage whether or not you’re performing at the standards expected. The standards also change as the general body of knowledge changes (new research = new methods = more work kind of thing), so it’s hard to keep tabs on something that works in one year and suddenly doesn’t work the next year. It’s a profession that spends a lot of time telling you that you’re not good enough – from teacher ratings, to article reviews, to peer reviews, etc., ultimately concluding that you will never be good enough and need to get back to work to prove your relevance. Of course, that’s part of the gig when you sign up, so complaining about it is sort of a moot point, but it can breed unrest as to whether or not one is up to snuff.

So most days, despite a very large number of accomplishments, I don’t feel “awesome” yet even though I have data that clearly indicates that I should. Perhaps it’s part of occupying a space that many don’t think I should be occupying, (yesterday a tenured faculty member dismissed a comment I made in a committee because “I’ve been teaching longer than you’ve been born”) and perhaps it’s because I don’t often feel like I embody the archetype of “professor” very well. I’m not pretentious (at least very rarely so), not wedded to any particular body of knowledge (interdisciplinarity is pretty much a reality that I feel most people should embrace, especially given the rise of technology and the availability of research), and I’m sort of a cool person (as opposed to the socially awkward nerd who prefers books to the company of people). So at some point, I should start feeling like I’m awesome. It’s just a massive intellectual shift to make, and it’s taking me a while to adjust.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stripping and HIMYM

I just got my DVDs of the fourth season of How I Met Your Mother, and so I feel like it's worth starting this journey by writing about one of my favorite shows on television. I picked up the series in the first season during reruns in the summer and immediately fell in love with it. In many ways, the series mimics the Friends model, but is, in my opinion, superior in character development and humor. Instead of sitting around sipping coffee, they're always sitting around drinking. Of course that's more my kind of show.

The show is largely successful because of the ensemble cast -- Neil Patrick Harris is phenomenal. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have never wished a gay man straight, but in Neil's case, I make an exception. I loved Doogie Howser, and lesser known but equally awesome Dr. Horrible. If I'd had the money, I would have packed up with other Rent-heads and rushed the LA show when he played Mark Cohen. I am also in love with Allison Hannigan who won me over a long time ago on Buffy.

So this week, Barney discovers "stripper Lily" -- which Lily eats up like crazy. Hannigan's comic timing is pretty awesome, and the entire episode seemed a throwback to the "Evil Willow" story on Buffy where Willow discovered her alternative universe vampire self as "I'm so evil, and skanky. And I think I'm kind of gay." I think part of why I love Lily's character so much is that she sees herself as kind of boring for being somewhat stable in a long-term relationship with Marshall, but she has dreams of being "more interesting" in one way or another. I kind of relate to that -- I sometimes think I'm a boring sort of person at heart in terms of what I want out of life, and it's taken me a while to meander around to find that out. But I still like to break out of the mold once in a while and embrace that crazy side of myself. Not that I'm saying I have an inner stripper...okay, who am I kidding? Don't we all have an inner stripper?