Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why Bon Iver is a Tool

At tonight's Grammy awards, Bon Iver won Best New Artist. Given, it is bullshit that he was nominated for best new artist, seeing as For Emma, Forever Ago came out forever ago* in Grammy terms.

So Bon Iver gets up to give his acceptance speech, and ends up saying something like, "It's weird to be up here, I don't really do this for the awards. It's all about the music for me. But, um, thanks, I guess."

Here's the thing, asshole, "It's all about the music for me" is what people say when they're not winning awards. "It's all about the music for me" or "this show's all about t&a" or "what a popularity contest" are all sayings and phrases that people console themselves with when they're not winning. Actually winning something like a Grammy is kind of a big deal, especially if you genuinely believe that you are the musical shit doing something precious and unique. Because to be doing something precious and unique and to get recognized as the best new(kind of) artist should validate what you're doing. It should signal to you that the Grammys are, for once, recognizing legit musical talent and innovation. And you should be gracious or at least respectful instead of a douchebag.**

In college, Janelle and I had a term for this kind of ridiculous behavior: ICADs, or "I'm cool and disaffected." It tends to permeate indie bands that then get up on stage in aviators and American apparel t-shirts with too-deep Vs and look bored with their own music.

So yeah, cool that you're too cool, Bon Iver. You're probably not cooler than Colin Firth, who, although he had stellar performances in little-known movies, had the decency to say something humble like, "I think my career has peaked" when he won the Oscar for best picture. You're also probably not cooler than Adele, whose songs, while I never want to hear them again, will probably be sung by our children as they weep over their first real, intense acquaintance with heartbreak.

But, you know, whatever. Is it a coincidence that Bon Iver sold enough records to be considered for a Grammy after he was featured on a Kanye*** track? Correlation doesn't always equal causality, but sometimes it is suspicious.

Maybe "music" is an art form that's too overwrought and industrialized for this rant to have any meaning. I'm sure Pitchfork is going to have an orgasm about how great it is that Bon Iver won while being About The Music. But imagine this:

Jennifer Weiner, chick-lit novelist that coined the term Franzenfreude, wins a Pulitzer. Weiner's genre is not typical Pulitzer material, but she wins over Pulitzer favorites, like Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Egan. When she accepts her award, she says, "This is weird for me. I just write for the story, not because I might win an award."

Saying that implies that writing books is something that people do mostly for awards and not to write books. It applies that there's somehow something special about writing books for books' sake and not for the Pulitzer's sake, and that Franzen and Egan don't take their art seriously and are gnashing their teeth and plotting out the plots of their next books to be as Pulitzer friendly as possible.

It'd be presumptuous and pretentious and awful. And it was all three of those things at the Grammys tonight.
*Four years.
**If you are going to be a douchebag though, at least take some cues from Kanye and have some swag about it.
***Speaking of Kanye, why wasn't My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy nominated for Album of the Year? [EDIT: Because it was on last years' Grammy cycle, which is maybe why you shouldn't do your research at 11:30 pm) Or Watch the Thone? Is that why Kanye and Jay-Z didn't even bother showing up?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Things I Love That I Shouldn’t Love: Shitty Reality Television

We’re talking bottom of the barrel here, people. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have cable and am considering cancelling my Netflix subscription. This past weekend I house-sat for one of my Madison friends. In the course of staying at her apartment, I watched two episodes of Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, a reality TV show on Bravo centered around finding raw artistic talent. This year, one of the contestants is a fellow who has a rat-tail on purpose and goes by the name Sucklord because he thinks it’s contradictory and clever. This is all that the other contestants and hosts are allowed to call him.

The Sucklord, looking deceptively unridiculous.

In the same weekend, I watched two episodes of Tough Love: Miami, the fourth installment in the Tough Love series. I watched eight beautiful women subject themselves to random dates, impromptu text messages, room searches, flirtatious encounters with men who don’t speak English but surprise! Do speak English, and exposure of their risque and embarrassing digital lives to dudes they like.

Steve Ward: "You know how not to find a boyfriend, Brittaini? Spend all your time watching my show! But actually keep doing that. Kthx."

And I loved it all. So much so that on Monday night, after leaving Board Games at Sarah and Caleb’s, I went home and purchased the next episode of Tough Love Miami for $1.99. If you want to see the sexy photoshoot surprise catwalk and dance the samba episode, just look at my iTunes. It will be there forever.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reluctantly baking birthdays.

Today I baked for the first time in three months. I made cupcakes I’ve made before, but I didn’t want to. Gathering the ingredients involved stopping three places (a Target, a friend’s house, a liquor store), and I knew I wouldn’t be able to frost them tonight, that people would have to wait for me tomorrow night when they’re all gathered in my apartment for me to make frosting and frost twenty-four cupcakes, because I wouldn’t let other people make me a cake.

Tomorrow (today, by the time anyone reads this) is my birthday. I’m turning twenty-three. I’m not great at birthdays. Last year I ushered in my 22nd year of life staring up into my ceiling, and cried in a professor’s office before the day was out. This year I almost said, "Dear Birthday, please come again in two weeks instead of on Thursday, Love Brittaini" as my facebook status. I only refrained because I figured it would look attention seeking and like I was trying to trick people into remembering my birthday.

I’ve been mopey and cranky all week, and while I hope something changes before tomorrow it’s not looking likely.

I almost called it off. I almost called up my friend Elizabeth and said, “Pull out your cake mix reserves, because I am not doing this shit.”

(I don’t know for sure that Elizabeth has cake mix reserves, but there’s a pretty high likelihood.)

Then I pulled open my drawer to grab the ¼ cup and the ½ cup and found that I do not have a full set of measuring cups. I have 1/3 cup, 2/3 cup, and ¾ cup. That’s it.

At that point I almost pounded my head against my counter in my messy kitchen, and the bad faith in people started to creep back. That nagging suspicion that you’re wasting your time, that the people you’re doing this for aren’t going to appreciate your cupcakes or your sense of humor (bad faith snowballs), convientently forgetting that you insisted on making these fucking cupcakes because you like to show off your mad baking skills.

But I pushed through. Because the person I want to be makes food for other people as a way of showing affection, and she does it well. Last year she made a whole dinner and dessert (there was the crying in the closet incident, and the nearly broken tart crust, but that turned out okay too in the end).There are 24 chocolate-whisky ganache filled chocolate-Guinness cupcakes resting on my counter, waiting for their Bailey’s-buttercream topping. And tomorrow when my new friends in Madison come over after dinner, they’ll sing me happy birthday and I’ll feel awkward, but then I’ll tell them I love them in decadent dessert form, while showing off a little bit. And maybe at some point gratitude will descend, and something like peace will settle over me. Here’s hoping.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughts from a New Desk.

This weekend I spent too much money on a desk. I told the cashier at World Market that if they couldn’t fit it in my car, I wasn’t buying it. After that a very helpful woman helped me take it out of the box and shove it into my backseat. Driving home on the beltline with a desk bisected rear view was harrowing, as was lugging the top of it into my house by myself, but I did it. I set up a wide workspace that is not dedicated to food or clothing or any of my other loves, but rather is dedicated to work, the life of the mind, etc. Not that this work always feels like work, it often feels like playing, but there’s a little bit of a difference between writing a blog post and watching Mad Men. Just a little, at least.

With the arrival of a desk, I’m just a few boxes away from this apartment looking like it is mine for real, just two chairs away from claiming all of the spaces. And yet the more I unpack and the more I live my life here, the less and less I feel like myself, or at least like the version of myself that I’ve known.

Part of that is the unnatural way I’m squishing my personality from an introvert into an extrovert. This is what my week looks like:

M: Panera, then board games at Caleb and Sarah’s
T: Library/car repair/sleep
W: Breakfast w/ Sarah in the AM; Bake birthday treats, go bowling at night
Th: Birthday dinner/show off birthday treats
F: Children’s museum adult swim
S: Drive home, close bank account, eat lunch with my family, drive back to Madtown.
S: Massive Customer Time (MCT) starts.

My days were less socially packed in college than they are now. And so, the more pleasant parts of my personality – the parts that can both listen and be silly, that can be selfless (not always, but from time to time), that can be kind – are fading behind my overloaded defaults of distracted and cynical and snarky and laughing without meaning to or making annoyed faces when I should hold my expression. And part of me knows that I should start saying “no” to more things, that I should spend at least two evenings at home, by myself, resting or reading or writing. But I keep scheduling things, keep making appointments, because if I have things to do then I have proof that people like me and want to spend time with me, that I’m not halfway to being the bookish 23 year old with multiple cats and an apartment that smells like a litter box. Which I don't need to worry about anyway, because people here have been more than kind about reassuring me that they like me. One of my favorite conversations was with my friend Sanmeet:

Me: Is it okay if I tag along?
Sanmeet: (vaguely annoyed) You don't have to keep asking. Yes. Sure.

But there's still that worry, that not-so-secret fear and insecurity. The conviction that I don't just have to be funny, I have to be funny and fun and considerate and everything good all at the same time. I've forgotten how to just be me, completely, without subconscious social paranoia. And so the part of me that comes out is cool and disaffected, is running jokes through a filter, is trying to make sure that there's not a more interesting conversation happening, or a better time being had.

Additionaly, I've forgotten how to be alone. It’s as though I spent so much time from January to June being by myself that I over-corrected way in the opposite direction. I've neglected the pleasure of my own company, of the companionship of a blank screen or a collection of assembled words. So even when I know there is something I would rather be doing - or something I've committed to doing, like posting in this space - I schedule my time with other people, just to make sure I don't miss out on anything.

But the truth is that you're always going to miss out on something, and if you spend all your time chasing the best time or the best conversation, you'll miss out on the actual experience you are having, you'll lose the ability to care for the actual people in front of you, or the opportunity to regroup and refresh and be the actual best version of you that you know exists, lingering just beneath your skin, waiting and hoping to flex her legs again.

Thoreau maybe once said that the unexamined life was not worth living, and that most people live lives of quiet desperation. While Thoreau was mostly full of shit, he might have been onto something there.

Welcome to the re-examination of my life.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Life You Think You Want

Or, "Lessons You Have to Learn Twice."

If you're reading this, you may know that last year I did a stunt writing exercise called "30 Days to a Prettier Happier You." I read and lived Skinny Bitch, wore cute clothes, did my hair, and worked out for half of the month. By the end of it I'd learned that:
None of it made me any happier. In fact, I spent most of my time feeling weighed down by all of the extra expectations, all of the extra things to do. And the things I’m most proud of myself for doing that month I did under the influence of ill-fitting jeans, haphazard hair, and no make-up. So while the clothes might make the woman for those few, elusive montage scenes, the woman makes the woman for the rest of the time.

At the time, I'd chosen the project precisely because it distracted me from that essential question: what does it mean for me to be the woman I want to be all of the time?

It's a terrifying thing to ask, because for the most part the answer is, "I have no fucking idea, but I know I'm not her yet."

If you're reading this, you may also know that I recently moved from the Land of Lincoln to the Land of Cheese and Beer (a.k.a. Wisconsin). I'm living in Madison, a hip, liberal state capital with an impressive university attached. I'm living in my own apartment, paying my own bills, working a 9-5 doing tech writing. So far I've done the hard work of making friends and establishing a group of people that I can comfortable call on Friday nights. Other than that, I haven't done much. I don't have a desk yet and have barely done any writing. In July when I moved I walked all over the place, but for the last month I've been largely sedentary. The other night I sat on my couch, watching Parks and Recreation, eating dino nuggets for dinner while wearing a sweatshirt from H&M.

While fun for the most part, this isn't quite the grown-up life I imagined. I'm not as good at working as I'd hoped, and I'm certainly not skilled at the art of discipline. Which is a problem, because the life I want isn't about doing what I want all of the time. The life I want involves a lot of slogging through the banal and weary moments in pursuit of the few, glimmering, transcendent ones.

But it's time. It's time to put away childish things. It's time to face each day, each task with an energy and focus that I'll first have to teach myself to cultivate.

There's an incredibly inane OneRepublic song, "Good Life," that for the most part is just the vocalist showing off all of his international friends and repeating the term "good life" over and over again. There is an interesting line, though, when he says, "We're young enough to say/this has gotta be a good life."

The implication there is we (and who is the we in this song, sir? Define your speakers) won't always be young enough to commit to the idea of a good life. I won't always be young enough to have faith in a good life, but right now I am, even if I don't know what that means, even if I have to define it piece by piece.

Tomorrow morning starts day one of my real, intentional life. Tomorrow morning I will wake up, walk/run/hobble to my pier, and say, "Good morning sun. Good morning lake. Good morning."

It all starts again in six hours.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Evangelical Comedy, Take 1

I found this first at Shakesville, and some of this post might be heavily influenced by Melissa's awesome smackdown.

Please, direct your attention to the train wreck below:

Opening line: Jack saved himself for marriage.

Ahem. Would you like a medal, sir? You bring up specifically that only 3% of people have accomplished what you've accomplished. Sound like you want a medal. Or an award ceremony. Maybe a conference in your honor.

So, here's the story. Jack has "saved himself" for marriage. "Saved himself" in this case refers only to sex. Other forms of intimacy, who knows, but sex has definitely been off the table for Jack and his ladyfriends. Because really, isn't sex the final frontier in relationships? Isn't sex what makes marriage different fundamentally from all other human relationships?

Oh, see, wait. I thought that what made marriage, especially within the Christian tradition, different from all other human relationships was the way that it fused together two people who were formerly two distinct entities, so that they become both physically and metaphysically one person. That the two will become one flesh did not just mean making the beast with two backs (thanks, Shakesie), but rather that the lines of division between two people dissolve completely. Is sex a representation of that metaphysical reality? Yes. Is it fundamentally what marriage is about - e.g., get married so you can get some whenever you want? God, I hope not.

Back to Jack. Just when Jack thinks he is finally going to get "biblical," which I guess he means get physical for Jesus, his wife is whisked off by the other love of her life, leaving Jack alone at the altar. And his reply? "I'm not going to do it tonight, am I?"

And thus, Jack is condemned to jacking off. Which the movie wouldn't talk about, of course, because this is evangelical comedy, but if the first thing you think when your bride leaves you at the altar is, "aw man, guess I can't have sex," you've probably been pregaming. Just saying.

After his bride runs off (she doesn't have a name. Only men get names), Jack's life goes to shit. He gets fired. Ted Haggard makes a cameo. Steven Curtis Chapman blends into Single Ladies, because that makes sense. And Jack decides to stop waiting.

But it would appear that God is looking out for Jack's virginity (because "saving yourself for marriage" is what being an American Christian is all about), and all of Jack's dates suck. Girl with hairy toes. Girl who sings "Open the Eyes of My Heart" like it's 1998 and then goes road rage for Jesus (it appears in the preview that the road rage is the dealbreaker. For me, it would have been the Sonicflood).

Then someone that Jack could actually like comes along, but he can't kiss her or something, and she still doesn't have a name, because only men get names. Which leads to the moment of serious revelation in the midst of a challenging game of wii chess.

Jack: I just don't know if I want to save myself anymore.
Friend: That's the problem, Jack. You can't save yourself.

All in all, if the trailer is any indication, The Waiting Game is low-budget, not funny, and repeats a lot of the tired myths of the evangelical tradition. Namely, that virginity is the best thing ever, and without it you have failed. Which might be true, but only in the context that everybody has failed. Everybody. Me, you, your mom. We all suck, and it's not like you get extra points for not putting your p in a girl's v.

Waiting to have sex until you're married when you have the choice to do so may be the ideal thing to do as it pertains to sex. I'm not 100% sold on this, but I'll let you know after I read Hauerwas. However, if I had to choose between being a judgmental, medal-seeking virgin and a kind or humble non-virgin, I'd take the latter every time.

Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, these are the fruit of the Spirit. Virginity is not among them. And while you might argue that self-control, faithfulness, and forbearance manifest themselves as pre-marital virginity, I would come back and say, "not always, and definitely not only." And it's foolish to say that because someone's had sex prior to marriage they don't have self-control and don't exhibit faithfulness and forbearance. Sex is not who we are, and you don't know someone else's story until they've told it to you.

Trailers like this one perpetuate the myth that Christianity is about listening to only Christian things, not watching R-rated movies, and not having drinkingdoingdrugshavingsex - that Christianity is fundamentally about what you don't do. That myth is alienating, not only to those who haven't heard the gospel, but also to those within the church. It holds people back from sharing their experiences honestly and encourages us to put on our best faces instead of our real ones.

It's the kind of Christianity I'm done with. And definitely the type of Christian men that I have no interest in dating, and definitely not marrying. I will marry a manslut atheist who knows how to be a real person before I give Jack or his ilk any of my time or affection.

More on how to do comedy as a Christian later.

PS. I don't speak for all Christians, obvi, and I might not even be articulate enough to represent myself. Comments/discussion are welcome and appreciated.

PPS. Just to prove that evangelicals can sometimes be funny, check out Rachel Dates (Around)

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Ghost World

Spoiler alert for all of Ghost World.

Earlier in the week, a professor told me that I was like Enid from Ghost World. And I said, "Ew, she sexes up Steve Buschemi."And he said, "Well, yes, but besides that." Then he saw my "Reading is Sexy" bumper sticker and said, "See what I mean! Thora Birch."

And so I watched Ghost World. My previous encounter with it happened when I was a sophomore in high school and my taste in movies and older men was underdeveloped, hence why all I remembered about it was that Enid sexes up Steve Buschemi - Seymour - and it was gross.

On the second, older and wiser viewing, it is still pretty gross. But in a way that's strangely sweet and pathetic and, as a result, very, very sad. They kiss less than thirty seconds after she says, "Don't you like me?" It's her one, real moment of complete vulnerability. And it's followed by a desperate attempt at a physical connection.

On the second viewing, I also see more of myself in Enid. Wikipedia describes her as: "intelligent, witty, artistic, cynical, sarcastic and a keen observer of the world around her."

That is the nicest way of putting it.

This is how I described her: "She is a dry-humored weirdo and a terrible person."

Her entire relationship with Seymour arises from acruel situation that she orchestrates. Throughout the movie she proves to be like most alienated post-high school girls - lonely and sad and easily wounded (though she puts up an impressive leather-jacket facade) and, in her loneliness and sadness and self-preservation, often cruel and mean.

And I'm very much like her. At the end when she says to Seymour, "I'm a disappointment to everyone." My internal reaction was, "Fuck."

Articulate, I know.

Opposite Enid of Ghost World is my current ladycrush, Leslie Knope, from Parks and Recreation. Who, after two and a half seasons of frustration with the menfolk, is getting together with Ben Wyatt, a co-worker, played by Adam Scott, who is much more attractive than Steve Buschemi. Not that that matters so much, except that it does.

This is a transcript of Leslie's conversation with Anne, her friend, when she is trying (futile!) to resist her feelings for Ben because their boss has a rule against interoffice extracurricular relationships.
Leslie: Anne, we have a serious Code Ben.
Anne: Well, it's not really a code if you say his name.
Leslie: He told me that he liked me. And I'm going to go make out with him right now. On his face.
Anne: That's awesome!
Leslie: No! Read me the script.
Anne: Seriously?
Leslie: Yes!
Anne: Alright. Leslie, it's Leslie Knope from the Parks Department speaking to you through Anne Perkins, friend and beautiful nurse. Aw, thank you. Do not do anything with Ben, be responsible, no matter how cute his mouth is. Your job is on the line!
Leslie: Shut up Anne!
Anne: You wrote that!
Leslie: No, then you - Leslie. Leslie you don't know what you're talking about. I care about him very much. And I've had two and a half glasses of red wine, and what that means is I'm gonna go make out with him right now, and it's gonna be awesome.
Anne: Yay!
And, well, that's momentarily thwarted, but the point is that Leslie Knope is adorable. And awesome. And should totally be able to make out with Ben on his face.

And I wish I saw more of Leslie Knope in me than effing Enid from effing Ghost World. Because the whole lazy and cynical and sarcastic thing ends up making you pretty grumpy and unpleasant to be around.

Enid, outside from a few good outfits and cute idiosyncrasies, is the part of myself that I'm tired of. And that's not me necessarily having low self-esteem or whatever, because my internal sense of superiority is pretty finely tuned and also a problem.

Like Zadie Smith wrote in White Teeth:
What was it about this unlovable century that convinced us we were, despite everything, eminently lovable as a people, as a species? What made us think that anyone who fails to love us is damaged, lacking, malfunctioning in some way?...Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all of the time.

So, when you're being an Enid, it's okay to be tired of yourself. It's okay to not love yourself precisely because you're being an Enid, and part of being an Enid is alienation for alienation's sake. It's easy to say, "I can't relate to 99% of people" and then go off and build a sweet record collection or a fantastic bookshelf. It's harder to force yourself to relate anyway, to force a smile through the rote conversation or pretend to be interested in sports. But being the type of person who can do that might be what being a person is all about.

These things remain to be seen.