Spring Things

I haven’t posted anything here in awhile, and quite honestly, I’m not posting this because I’m brimming with inspiration, but I had a good conversation with a friend last night about having to do creative-ish things – or at least indulge your creative habits – even when you don’t feel like it.

There’s not a whole lot of creativity going on here, either. Just a few podcasts and documentaries and articles that have made me think lately. It’s for the exercise.

Sleepless in Seattle is on TV right now, and it has me thinking about the Nora Ephron documentary, Everything is Copy, which premiered on HBO in March. I’ve watched it once in full, and probably 3/4 of the way through it again, and I know it’s going to be one of those works I keep coming back to. Not even because it is so brilliant (though it was extremely well-done) but because it tells me truths I know I’ll need to remind myself of down the road.

I didn’t really know who Nora Ephron was when I first watched When Harry Met Sally my freshman year of college, but as soon as Sally said, “The story of my life? The story of my life won’t even get me out of Chicago. I mean, nothing’s happened to me yet. That’s why I’m going to New York,” I knew Nora Ephron was for me. The person who made characters who said things like that must get me. That deep connection to those words, though, did not turn me into an expert on the entire Ephron catalogue. I have seen all her Meg Ryan movies, plus Julie and Julia; I’ve read I Feel Bad About My Neck and saw Lucky Guy on Broadway; I know I’ve read assorted other works by her and about her (actually, earlier this year, apropos of nothing, the New Yorker posted this Ephron essay from 2010 to their Facebook page; I’d never heard of it but it was a delight to read).

It was not until Everything is Copy that I felt I had a complete sense of her. The documentary reminded me of her sensibility, and how badly I want to be her. She was a writer, she was funny, she chased adventure, she had an interesting life, she herself was interesting, she was an adult in New York.

I never realized until the documentary how much the subject matter of films like When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail was a departure from her journalism of the 1970s. I loved hearing David Remnick explain how Nora and the “wised-up, New York comic seriousness” of her Esquire pieces taught him, as a teenager in New Jersey, about feminism. I loved watching Meg Ryan remember her fondly. And even though their marriage didn’t end well, I loved learning about how she met and fell in love with Carl Bernstein.

There are lines I want to remember, yes, in the context of Nora Ephron, but also just as generally great writing advice, or as ideals I want to aspire to as a writer and a New Yorker:

Nora saying, “writers are cannibals,” always stealing from their friends’ and families’ lives and experiences.

Mike Nichols on Nora writing Heartburn following her divorce from Bernstein: “She wrote it funny, and in writing it funny, she won.”

And this is not so much advice but rather a line a want to steal: Nora calling Julie Nixon “a chocolate-covered spider.”

Other items on my mind:

Marc Maron celebrated 700 episodes of his tremendous WTF podcast last month with what he deemed a two-part episode, but was really two full-length WTF interviews, one with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and the other with Louis C.K. I picked more specific takeaways out of the JLD episode, but listening to Maron and Louis C.K. talk about comedy and life is a treat, too. Both episodes were masterclasses about how TV and the entertainment industry operate.

What I loved about the Julia Louis-Dreyfus episode was not just her own stories, though they were great (I never noticed that was her in Hannah and Her Sisters!); what I really loved about it was its function as a testament to Maron’s skill as an interviewer. At one point, she told a story about something she did with her teeth as a kid, when she would be out in public, because she thought it made her seem older and more adult to others around her. It was something of an afterthought, but she explained the full story. At the end, she said a little wistfully, “I’ve never told anyone that story before.” I think that’s a testament to Maron’s power. The conversation and the atmosphere naturally guided her to something of a revelation.

I was just about to type, “that’s it,” but I thought of one more recent, fantastic Maron interview. Rob Reiner did WTF just a couple weeks ago and the conversation is exactly what any fan of movies, comedy and showbiz wants it to be. He talks about his dad’s friendship with Mel Brooks, his own friendship with Albert Brooks (“Three generations of Reiners and Brookses, and all of the Reiners were Reiners but none of the Brookses were Brookses”), growing up in Hollywood, making movies, and more. It’s a warm and funny 90 minutes.

Ok. That’s really it. I think there’s some inspiration cooking now. Thanks for reading.

Watching the Marathon in “When Harry Met Sally…” Weather

Last fall, having moved to New York only a few months prior, I didn’t really feel settled in the city and didn’t let myself embrace everything great about the season. This year, I’m having more of a lovefest with autumn in New York – and the lovefest hit its height today while watching the New York marathon. My friend Leslie and I spent the entire afternoon catching it from a couple different vantage points, in Long Island City and Central Park.

The trees in the park have reached full When Harry Met Sally status. It’s a wonderland of red, orange and yellow. There is no better complement for the gorgeous buildings of Central Park West.

photo (9)

Walking in the park, glimpsing runners as they neared the finish line, I was reminded of a scene from Rules of Civility, a book set in romantic 1930s New York. The protagonist, Katey, hears Billie Holiday singing “Autumn in New York” on the radio. Thinking of a line from the song – “Why does it seem so inviting?” – she muses:

“…each city has its own romantic season. Once a year, a city’s architectural, cultural, and horticultural variables come into alignment with the solar course in such a way that men and women passing each other on the thoroughfares feel an unusual sense of romantic promise. Like Christmastime in Vienna, or April in Paris.

That’s the way we New Yorkers feel about fall. Come September, despite the waning hours, despite the leaves succumbing to the weight of gray autumnal rains, there is a certain relief to having the long days of summer behind us; and there’s a paradoxical sense of rejuvenation in the air.”

New York seems uniquely suited to fall. It’s when the city really shines, and I can attest that the “paradoxical sense of rejuvenation” is palpable. Even though Katey notes September is the beginning of fall, it wasn’t until this chilly November day that I was truly convinced autumn in New York has begun.

Those fall colors in Central Park are a picturesque background for the marathon. I’d never been to it (or any marathon) in person, and I can safely say it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had while living in New York. It’s less spectating and more interacting. Yell out the name of a runner passing by (many of them have their names written on their shirts) and they’ll wave or smile or pump their arms in the air. They genuinely appreciate the support. Some will purposely run close to the barricades so you’ll high-five them. I yelled “Go Ducks!” to a few runners wearing Oregon t-shirts and they returned the cheer.

These runners are inspiring, in the purest sense. Yes, it’s inspiring to see them accomplish a grueling physical task, but it’s even more inspiring to see them living out their dedication to some higher cause. They’re running to prove something to themselves, or to commemorate the life of a loved one, or to support finding a cure for cancer. They are amazing.

Fall is fleeting and we’ll find ourselves in the dead of winter soon enough, but if today is the best taste I’ll get of it, I’ll consider it a season well-spent.

Writing my Thesis and Smelling the Sawdust

While this post was intended to be a rundown of the various ways I entertained myself while writing my Honors College thesis over the weekend, I realized my entertainment was entirely Beatles-centric. So, this is post is a rundown of all I learned about the Beatles in the past two weeks and reflects many of the songs I listened to while writing my Honors College thesis.

Side note: I will defend my thesis on Wednesday, May 30 – a day that feels like it’s years away and like it’s coming way too quickly at the same time. More to come later on all I’ve been researching, but I’m essentially covering the development of social media policies for college athletes and how those policies are portrayed in the media. I’ll spare you the gory details, but if you’re into that kind of stuff, please read this article and revel in the irony of the University of North Carolina’s former athletic director quoted in a story that makes zero mention of Twitter as a platform to be monitoring. Here’s looking at you, Marvin Austin.

Anyway, onto the good stuff. My adoration for the Beatles has skyrocketed to levels I did not know existed when I last posted about the class. Since then, we’ve discussed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour (mostly the former).

For years, I felt really confident saying Rubber Soul was my favorite Beatles album. I don’t even know why, honestly. I probably thought it sounded cool and rebellious, because everyone else said Abbey Road. Then, two years ago, I realized I probably liked Abbey Road more. And a couple weeks ago, I realized I liked Sgt. Pepper more than both of those combined.

In addition to the usual sampling of Anthology clips, we watched this terrific 45-minute documentary devoted solely to the making of Sgt. Pepper. It discusses influences, inspirations and the recording process for most of the songs. My favorite part was toward the beginning, when George Martin plays a bit of Paul’s isolated vocal track for the opening song.

The perfect rock n’ roll voice.

Other interesting tidbits from the documentary:

  • Paul had to give Ringo a pep talk to help him sing the final high note of “With a Little Help from My Friends.”
  • I loved this quote from John Lennon about the Victorian circus theme he wanted to conjure up in “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” (he’d taken many of the lyrics straight off a circus poster found at a vintage store): “I want to smell the sawdust.” He wanted the song to be so real that it captured an entirely different sense. I don’t think too deeply about how to be more creative, but I think that’s a unique perspective.
  • During the discussion of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” Paul mentioned he hadn’t really set out to be a rock n’ roll artist. He pictured himself writing tunes for Sinatra (!), which influenced this homage to songs of the previous generation.

Having loved the Beatles for awhile, I came in with a pretty clear idea of my favorite songs – “In My Life,” “Penny Lane,” “If I Fell,” etc. Never, ever would I have thought “Good Morning Good Morning” would become one of my Top 10 favorites, but it has. (Video not important – just enjoy the song, even though those Lego Beatles are pretty cool.)

On the surface, this is a song about waking up and going through the motions of life. Digging deeper, you learn a) the song was inspired by a Kellogg’s Corn Flakes commercial b) in a way, it’s Lennon’s attack on the mundane-ness of suburban life and c) the animal noises at the end were ordered such that each animal was capable of eating the one whose sound came before it (cat eats bird, dog eats cat, horse eats dog, etc.). I’m not sure why Lennon wanted it that way, but it’s the best fun fact of all time. Learning about this song (and really listening to the words) gave me an appreciation for it that I wouldn’t have come close to earning without this class.

We moved on to Magical Mystery Tour, and while our discussion didn’t drive me to Sgt. Pepper-like levels of obsession with the album, I gained a new appreciation for that period in the Beatles’ history and for a couple of songs they produced.

For whatever reason, “Your Mother Should Know” is one of my favorite Beatles tunes. I love it even more now after seeing the super-awkward dance-down-the-stairs-in-tuxedos video  of the song from the Magical Mystery Tour movie. Laugh with me:

I think George is the worst dancer of the four.

Finally, we listened to a song that wasn’t on the Magical Mystery Tour album but was recorded around the same time, when they were just messing around in the studio.

I’d never heard this song until a few weeks ago, and even though it’s drenched in LSD and a little bit crazy, I think it’s wonderful – from the parody of Jamaican ska music (1:05) to Ringo’s nightclub announcer voice (2:21). They repeat the same two phrases for nearly six minutes, but that’s sort of the point. From innocent songs like “Love Me Do” to this? No one saw that coming.

As always, there’s much more I could say, but there’s also much more of my thesis to be written. If you have any favorites from these two albums (or disagree with my conclusion that George is the worst dancer), please let me know!

Watering the Cactus

While I admit to having a few guilty pleasures (this? I could read it all day), I’m not a big mommy-blog reader. Nothing against them; they’re just not my cup of tea.

But this morning, one of my professors tweeted a link to an old post from The Pioneer Woman – who, for lack of a better term, is the pioneer of mommy blogs – in which she shares ten important lessons she learned from blogging.

Lesson two stood out to me:

Whether you write a sixteen-paragraph essay about the cosmic implications of a free market system, a one-paragraph description of what happens to your soul when you walk into your godforsaken laundry room, or a simple photo and caption, consider your blog a precious bloom that requires daily nurturing.

And watering.

If you water a plant once every two weeks, it will shrivel.

Unless that plant is a cactus, and then it would thrive.

And to tell you the truth, I really can’t figure out how a cactus fits into this analogy, so forget I brought it up.

I realized that my blog is a figurative cactus, because I only get around to blogging every couple weeks. If I actually typed up every idea I had for a post, I’d blog eighteen times a day, but no one’s giving me a grade or paying me to blog, so those thoughts get pushed to the back burner.

Sometimes I’ll abandon post ideas because they’re not sports-related, and I typically think and blog about sports-related stuff. So this post serves a dual purpose: remind myself that it’s important to blog consistently, and remind myself that it’s alright to veer from the usual topics.

Here comes the veering:

Last weekend, I saw Midnight in Paris for the first time and absolutely loved it. Between smart dialogue, a solid performance from Owen Wilson and daydreams about dancing at a party with the Fitzgeralds, I was captivated.

I loved that the movie focused on how Gil, Owen Wilson’s character, fell in love with the city. Nothing takes my breath away faster than a spectacular, electric skyline, so I identified with Gil’s passion for Paris. I thought this quote was beautiful and worth sharing, so I’ll leave you with its eloquence:

You know, I sometimes think, how’s anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a a great city? You cant, ’cause like, you look around and every, every street, every boulevard is its own special art form. And when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe, Paris exists – these lights – c’mon, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune. But from way out in space, you can see these lights. The cafés, people drinking and singing…I mean, for all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

“You See, George? You’ve Really Had a Wonderful Life.”

When bored or daydreaming during a lecture, most people doodle little pictures in the margins of their papers. I can’t draw anything (even my stick figures are bad), so I’ve always written in the margins instead. This means I make lists.

Usually, it’s lists of all the major league baseball teams, organized by league and division, or lists of all the stops on the 6 train that I rode in New York this summer. But the most common list is my favorite movies.

I’ll make a list of all the favorites I can think of, then whiddle the list down to 10. A lot of movies make it in every time, but a certain film goes straight to the #1 spot before any others are added.

This movie is perfect. There is not a single thing about it that makes you say, “oh, I wish they’d done this.” You don’t want anyone in the leading role besides Jimmy Stewart. You don’t even want Mr. Potter to change his ways. No. It’s perfect.

Why do I love this movie so much? Because every little detail in the first part proves important in the second part. Because Jimmy Stewart is adorable. Because there’s a swimming pool underneath the gym floor. Because Harry saved the life of every man on that transport. Because George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.

Maybe I love it so much because I see a little bit of my own aspirations in George’s. He wants to do something really amazing and meaningful in his life, but feels trapped. I’m hardly comparing my own “challenges” to those that George faces in the movie, but I certainly identify with his fear that, as everyone around him moves on to bigger and better things, he’ll never be able to rise out of his current circumstances. Who hasn’t heard that voice asking, “will I ever amount to anything?”

The movie reminds me that maybe what I want to happen in my life isn’t what will happen – but that everything will play out perfectly in the end.

Merry Christmas!

A Night in the Center of the Universe

It’s 2 a.m. on Saturday morning (in New York, anyway; the time zone thing messes me up occasionally. I realized a few weeks ago that, had I been born at the exact same moment on the east coast as I was on the west coast, I would have a different birthday. Blew my mind for a moment.), and I should be sleeping. But, since I’m suddenly feeling inspired, I decided to write about my Friday night in Times Square.

Locals generally turn up their noses at Times Square, it seems, because it’s crammed with tourists, smells kind of bad, and is very commercial. No one has actually given me those three exact reasons, except for the tourists part, but I’m guessing they all play a role.

And, since I’m trying to be as local as possible, I felt a little guilty for spending Friday night either in Times Square or at the nearby St. James Theatre, where a friend and I saw the Broadway production of “American Idiot.” The show “follows the exhilarating journey of a new generation of young Americans as they struggle to find meaning in a post-9/11 world, borne along by Green Day’s electrifying score,” per Broadway.com. That’s an accurate description.

My friend Emily (right) and I at the St. James Theater to see "American Idiot."

If you’re into soul-searching, rock music and skinny jeans, you would love American Idiot. And even if you’re not, you’d enjoy it simply because the sets are spectacular, the performers have great singing voices (there are few spoken lines in the show) and because there is a thought-provoking storyline woven through all of the songs.

While spending an hour and a half in the presence of outrageously loud and upbeat music was pretty electrifying, there is nothing quite like being right in Times Square. You truly feel like you are at the center of the universe and that you have your finger on the pulse of everything that makes the world go ‘round: bright lights, sounds, smells, a smattering of people from all over the globe – and of course, huge billboards and American Eagle.

The intersection of everything in the world.

I worry sometimes that living here for an extended period of time is causing the city to lose some of its luster in my eyes – when you see the Empire State Building nearly every day, it’s not quite as exciting as it is when you see it for the first time. But, spending an evening in Times Square reminded me that the bright lights and electrifying feeling of the city could never be entirely eliminated. It is New York, after all.

And all sappiness about the meaning of Times Square aside, you can take your picture with NYPD officers there. That in and of itself is enough to make Times Square cool.

Inspiration (Or, Why I Only Post on Mondays)

For you, what is the hardest part of blogging? Finding the time? Finding something to say? Writing?

I am interested in hearing your thoughts because for me, the hardest part is the intersection between finding inspiration and actually writing the post.

Often, I’ll find a cool article, insightful blog post or entertaining tweet that inspires me to write. But as soon as inspiration strikes, so do the feelings of “Oh, someone’s already written that” or “That will really create nothing of value” start to creep in.

There’s also the time factor. As much as I’d love to be a full-time blogger who just surfs the web and writes about general awesomeness five days a week, I have school and two internships that also fight for my time. I’ve found that the vast majority of my posts come on Monday or Tuesday, because I only find quality blog-writing time on the weekends.

I know everyone has similar time constraints. How do you deal with that? Do you write furiously on the weekends and then post throughout the week? Can you do that but still offer relevant content?

I am so impressed with bloggers who have successfully participated in the 28 Days of Blogging challenge that Scott Bishop started. Not only have I appreciated their commitment to blogging, but I’ve also been inspired by their ability to produce interesting, insightful posts day after day. After reading some excellent posts from Colby Gergen’s “College | Caffeinated” blog and Leia Ferrari’s “A Work in Progress,” I’ve decided to try for two posts a week (for now). If I want to make my blog a place where valuable content, opinions and thoughts are shared, I’ve got to start committing.

It’s not all about my commitment, though. I’d love to hear your thoughts on blogging inspiration. What inspires you? What keeps your blog posts fresh?