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Thursday
Jul262012

Thank You For the Music

You know it’s gonna be a good post when it starts with an Abba song, amiright? Kickin’ it old school today, homies. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. Hells to the yeah, I’m down with the hipness.

*clears throat*

*stops channeling Eugene Levy*

 

 

Aren’t his eyebrows the most glorious thing since the invention of hyperbole? Just looking at him makes me want to write a Groucho Marx biopic. Are you listening, Hollywood? Call me.

Speaking of cool cats, I came across this video yesterday:

 

 

I have so much misplaced love for this. I simply adore the way someone, somewhere had the comedic sense to insert the “Mississippi—1870” caption at the start of the video. It helps explain so much. I mean, everyone knows the post-Civil War south was littered with riverboat gamblers and well-to-do African Americans. But the heavily made-up, strangely dressed spectacle of Boy George would have been difficult to understand without the crucial information that this was Mississippi in 1870. Whew, I get it now. Also, wtf are those boys stuffing into that barrel at 00:40? Methinks someone has been steeping in their creepers tea a tad too long.

 

Lest you think I sit around all day YouTubing Culture Club (an awesome pastime, no?), the video actually appeared after I’d watched this gem:

 

 

This video was the shizzle when I was young. I was totally entranced by the rotoscoping, although in all fairness I was pretty easy to impress as a kid. Dust particles in sunbeams captivated me back then. Also Madonna. But I was right about this one, which won several categories at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. I recently played it for my seven-year old (who inherited my sunbeam fascination), and I’m happy to report that twenty-seven years after its debut, the effects are still wowing audiences (and simple children.)

Just to wax nostalgic for a moment … remember when MTV played videos all day? And The Weather Channel featured real-time weather, rather than bad reenactments from every Jolene and Bubba out there (“God listened to our prayers and saved us from that there tornader.” (Sorry, everyone else who died—I guess God totally hates you.)) Oh! And remember when ABC News actually verified facts before Brian Ross projectile vomited them into the airwaves? And speaking of the media, remember when CNN was just a struggling cable news organization? Oh, wait …

Anyhoo, back to the music. Rambly Girl is rambly today. But I swear there’s a point in here somewhere.

Whether videos enthrall or repel, the music always moves me. When I write, I continually add and subtract to the “soundtrack” of my novel. The playlist for THE GREAT WALL started with a dozen songs and ended with 132. Some of them contain lyrics that represent a character, some capture the mood of a particular scene, and a select few play to the underlying theme of the story.

My protagonist, Kate, could star in a video for “Good Intentions,” Toad the Wet Sprocket’s stirring tribute to malaise and inadequacy. Listening to that song not only transports me to Mill Ave in the 90’s (and to my broker-than-a-crack-smoker days), it also crams me inside the head of my character. Can’t everyone relate to lines like this?

 

It’s hard to rely on my good intentions
When my head’s full of things that I can’t mention
It seems I usually get things right
But I can’t understand what I did last night

 

Yep. Been there, done that. Got the misdemeanor important life lesson.

Songs help me “hear” my character, and they also allow me to craft a scene around them. Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” and S.H.E.’s “Superstar” were on repeat when I wrote about the charity gig Kate attends at a glitzy Macau casino. Both songs evoked a powerful vibe, even though I couldn’t decipher the lyrics. (“Superstar” is in Mandarin, and Gaga’s native tongue is a combination of Gibberish and Cetacean, if I’m not mistaken.)

Understanding the lyrics became more important at the climax of my story, as Kate battles bad guys and seemingly insurmountable odds. That's when I called on Breaking Benjamin to deliver these rousing lyrics:

 

All is lost again
But I’m not giving in
I will not bow / I will not break
I will shut the world away
I will not fall / I will not fade
I will take your breath away

 

Of course, no novel about an American high-tech worker auditing a Chinese factory would be complete without a visit from Coldplay:

 

Come out upon my seas
Curse missed opportunities
Am I a part of the cure
Or am I part of the disease

 

Although if I’m honest, I played this final blast-from-the-past just as often.

 

 

SOLID GOLD, baby! Man, I miss the 80's.

Other than the “I sailed away to China” line (followed by a racist reference to laundry), this song has nothing whatsoever to do with my story. It stayed in the rotation nonetheless, inspiring me in a different way.

In fact, ALL music inspires me, which is the point of this post (and arguably of music itself). I may not like all genres, but they all have the ability to affect me. Rock moves me to write novels, while country music moves me to pierce my eardrums with ice picks. And without jazz, I’d never have learned how to tie a noose.

I’m not sure I would be a writer without a trove of songs to inspire me. Even if I were, I doubt I’d care for anything I produced. Which means I owe music a great debt of gratitude.

So I say thank you for the music, the songs [they’re] singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it? I ask in all honesty
What would life be?
Without a song or a [book] what are we?
So I say thank you for the music, for giving it to me

 

 

Monday
Jul162012

Every STEM Needs a Flower

My 7-year old daughter was so excited to start her week of Robotics Summer Camp today. She’s talked of little else but how much fun it will be to build her own robot and control it via remote.

“And I’ll get to make new friends,” she told me last night. As an only child, she loves to meet new kids.

Unfortunately, her extroverted nature all but vanished when we arrived this morning. The camp was being held in one of the training rooms at the massive Boy Scouts’ Center in town (it was slated for a hotel conference room when I signed up, although there was a disclaimer that the location could change).

“Are you sure girls are allowed inside?” my daughter asked when we pulled up.

I assured her they were, but her doubts seemed founded when we entered the training room. There sat twenty-five boys, ranging in age from seven to fourteen, in front of twenty-five robot kits. My daughter, dressed in pink from head to toe, didn’t exactly fit in. She was told to place her lunch in the corner with the others and find a seat in front of a robot kit.

I can’t explain how incongruous her hot-pink Barbie lunchbox looked in that sea of camo, superhero, alien-ninja bags.

She surveyed the room, her body pressed against my hip, and whispered, “I don’t want to do this.”

My heart broke.

It’s been several decades, but I can still remember that first-day-at-a-new-school feeling, the sweaty-palms panic of everyone looking at you, judging you. Rejecting you. I hate that she had to experience that.

I reminded her of how cool it would be to learn how to build a robot, and I helped her find a seat. She was unnaturally quiet, but she did seem interested in the circuitry inside her robot kit. I kissed her goodbye and left, and although I was a little anxious for her I have a feeling she’ll have made a new friend by the end of the day. At school, she plays with the boys as much as the girls. She’s just never been so vastly outnumbered before.

I should have anticipated this, of course. The number of women in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — is disappointingly low. Even more troubling is the realization that there are no signs of improvement.

Citing a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Forbes reported last month that only 1 in 7 engineers is female. Worse, women have seen no job growth in the STEM fields since the year 2000. Despite awareness of the gender gap, women have had over a decade of stagnant employment in these deeply critical areas.

Here’s another staggering figure: although 60% of all bachelor’s degrees are held by female graduates, less than 20% of computer science bachelor's degrees go to women.

The problem begins as early as grade school, where girls are seldom encouraged to participate in science and math (and robotics camps, apparently), and are instead steered toward the arts and humanities. The idea of brains belonging to boys and beauty to girls is everywhere.

Remember when JC Penney was (rightly) pressured to stop selling this shirt to young girls last year? In case you can't make it out, the shirt reads, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me." The shirt was sold online with this nauseating blurb: "Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out?"

 

 

The shirt "controversy" occurred in 2011, a full EIGHTY-SEVEN years after this 1924 Palmolive ad, which states: Most men ask “Is she pretty?” not “Is she clever?”

 

 

You’ve come a long way baby? I don’t think so. And neither does Jean Kilbourne, who offers the fantastic “Killing Us Softly” series, which examines how advertising “traffics in distorted and destructive ideals.” I dare you to watch the trailer (it’s under five minutes) and not be moved.

 

 

I like to think I’m doing my part to change the trend by sending my daughter to robotics camp, but perhaps I’d be better off destroying her Barbie lunchbox instead. Is that the solution? Refusing to buy her disproportionate dolls and rescue-the-damsel Disney princess movies? Is it even realistic to imagine I could shield her from the 3,000 ads she’s subjected to each day? And wouldn’t a no-Barbie policy be akin to abstinence-only sex ed, making her all the more interested in that which is taboo?

I just don’t know. This parenting thing is hard. Almost as hard as math (wink, wink).

I do know I was awfully damned happy to see a family with twin fourteen-year old girls enter the facility before I left. I mentioned my daughter’s fear of being the only girl in the camp, and the twins immediately headed to her table, choosing seats on either side of her. I’m not sure if they’ll stay together, as the class will be separated by age group. Still, it was nice to see a few more X chromosomes in da house.

Does anyone have suggestions for fostering a love of all things STEM with my little girl? Know any affordable, at-home science projects we could do? I'd love to hear your STEM success stories!

Monday
Jul092012

I Need a Hero(ine)!

There was much celebrating in the Denatti household yesterday. After months of captivity, my seven-year old daughter’s Favorite Movie of Ever was pried from the hungry jaws of our minivan’s busted DVD player. And despite sitting beneath a metal roof in the blazing Texas sun, it played perfectly. My daughter was so happy she watched it twice last night. If not for bedtime, she would have watched it a third time!

Confession time: I actually like the movie, too. Mostly because it contains certain scenes I can watch over and over again. Like a dripping wet Daniel Craig, fresh from the shower.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait … what? Since when does The Little Mermaid feature a naked Daniel Craig?"

Since never. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it did, though? Appropriate, too, given the phallic imagery on the castle in the original VHS release.

Darling it's better / Down where it's wetter / Take it from me.

Apparently, life is hard under the sea. Or maybe King Triton is REALLY happy to see you. Note to self: begin more Mondays with a Google search on “Little Mermaid phallus.” Good times.

Also, what’s up with Triton’s hand in this particular crop? No wonder Ariel had Daddy issues.

Time for your blowfish impersonation, Ariel.

Okay, I’ll stop now. In lieu of brain bleach, I'll give you a dose of the aforementioned Daniel Craig.

 

I repeat: Darling it's better / Down where it's wetter ...

Another note to self: Forget about the Little Mermaid phallus searches. Start each day with a Google search for "wet Daniel Craig."

Mmm. Wet Daniel Craig.

What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. My kid's favorite movie. As you’ve probably guessed, it's not a cartoon. It’s not even G-rated. It does not feature adorable talking animals, and it’s not a product of Disney Imagineering.

It’s Tomb Raider.

You’re familiar with the movie, right? Angelina Jolie plays Lara Croft, the disproportionate heroine who sprang from the wet dreams of some optimistically imaginative videogame designers. I’m guessing they were fans of Indiana Jones but felt the franchise could be improved upon with boobs and guns.

I’m looking for King Triton’s castle. For, uh … archeological purposes.

As role models go, I suppose my daughter could do worse. I’m not wild about the unrealistic body-shape expectations this might create, but it’s not like she sees anything different from the Disney Channel, the magazine rack, or the Barbie aisle at Target. At least Lara Croft kicks ass while being objectified.

Speaking of kicking ass, I initially thought my daughter would enjoy other superhero-ish, action-adventure movies. Boy, was I wrong. She had no interest in Iron Man, Spiderman, Batman … pretty much anything that ended in “man” was right out. She wants a strong female character with which to identify, and I don’t blame her.

Problem is there aren’t many movies, outside of Tomb Raider, that not only feature such a protagonist (sidekicks and minor characters don’t count) but also remain more or less appropriate for a seven-year old.

I loved Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight and Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return (apparently, I haven’t watched any movies since the 90’s), but both movies earned their R ratings. In fact, all the franchises with kick-ass women seem to be rated R—think Kill Bill, Resident Evil, Underworld, and the Alien movies.

 

If there's one thing Hollywood has taught us, it's that it takes a lot of leg (and very tiny panties) to fight genetically modified alien werewolf vampire ninjas.

So, it’s time to weigh in, my lovelies. Can you think of any PG (or even PG-13) action-adventure movies with a female lead? As fun as it is to watch American Angelina Jolie speak with a British accent (and British Daniel Craig speak with an American one), some diversity would be nice. And if we could avoid the utter silliness of the Charlie’s Angels movies that would be good, too. 

Help a girl out!

 

Thursday
Jul052012

Video Didn't Kill the Radio Star - Poor Grammar Did!

I know I’m a freak when it comes to grammar. Split infinitives make me twitchy (I’m looking at you, Gene Roddenberry), and when my friends tell me they’re going to lay down I tell them I don’t want to hear about their sexual exploits with geese. It’s “lie down,” okay? Unless you did it yesterday, of course. No wonder people hate the English language. And me.

The funny thing is I’m not that good at grammar. I mean, I know a preposition is something you shouldn't end a sentence with. Er … or something with which you shouldn’t end a sentence. That’s better. Clearly, I’m no Grammar Girl. I couldn’t diagram a sentence to save my life.

Why, then, does poor grammar in songs irritate me so much? Shh … if you listen closely, you can hear my sister screaming, “Because you’re an anal-retentive, obsessive-compulsive FREAK!”

AM NOT!!!

See? I just typed a sentence without a subject to prove it. And I am not going to go back and fix it. Nope. I’m making a point here, dammit. What was it?

Oh, yeah. Incorrect grammar in songs.

I know all about creative license and blah, blah, blah. I’ve read beautiful prose that didn’t just thumb its nose at the rules of grammar but flung a great big sticky booger at them. Cormac McCarthy won a Pulitzer for The Road, yet the book is littered with run-on sentences and ignores the whole quotes-around-speech thing. The novel earns high praise—not despite its grammar, but rather because of it. McCarthy made a conscious decision—an artistic choice—to write outside of the box. But here’s the thing: you have to KNOW the rules before you can decide to break them. Otherwise, it’s just lazy writing.

I tend to doubt the scattered use of that/who in Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” was an artistic choice.

Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world
Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world

Like I'm the only one that's in command
'Cause I'm the only one who understands
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only one

This one really drives me crazy. Whoever wrote it obviously knew to use “who” when referring to a person some of the time. So why the random “that’s?” Were they trying to avoid repetition? Doubtful.

Rihanna is hardly the only artist guilty of this. This summer’s ear worm of choice, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” has the offending error right in the title.

And Selena Gomez’s “Who Says” is teaching a whole generation of kids to abuse grammar with these lyrics:

Who says, who says you're not perfect?
Who says you're not worth it?
Who says you're the only one that's hurting?


Don’t misunderstand me, though. This song sends a super positive message to kids, and I’m not knocking it. I realize I’m probably the only one out here who lets improper grammar ruin a song.

Or am I?

What say you, my lovelies? Have you ever stopped liking a song because the wording drove you nuts?

I remember taking Pink’s “Just Like a Pill” off my iPod because I couldn’t bear the line “I can’t stay on your life support, there’s a shortage in the switch.” Um … I think you mean short. And yes, I know her name is written as P!nk, but that’s a rant for another day.

I look forward to learning what songs annoy you. Come on—ruin a few more for me!

 

I'll leave you with this one. If the content doesn't make you cry, the grammar will.

 

 

 

Monday
Jul022012

Movie(ish) Mondays - Sorkin, The Newsroom

It's Monday. Bleh.

Did you have a nice weekend? I’m so happy for you.

I stayed up way too late watching The Newsroom on HBO. My cable froze a few times during the 9pm showing, so I just HAD to watch the 11pm re-broadcast. Aaron Sorkin’s writing is such that missing three seconds of dialogue is an acceptable excuse for re-watching the entire show.

Yeah, that’s right. I fangirl Sorkin.

And because I admire his writing, I can share this brilliant compilation of “Sorkinisms” without hesitation. This is too funny not to share.

Any other Sorkin fans out there? What do you think of The Newsroom thus far? I know the critics are polarized, and I agree with much of what was written in The Daily Beast about the "womens issues" inherent in the show. But for the most part, I’m enjoying it. I don’t think I will ever love anything of his as much as Sports Night, though, and, to a lesser extent, The West Wing. But Sports Night had a way of getting to me each and every time. It was only a half-hour show, and when you deduct commercial time, it was what? Twenty-four minutes long? Twenty-five? And yet in those twenty-odd minutes, I experienced a range of emotions I hadn’t thought possible from a show with “sports” in the title. The writing (and excellent acting) had a way of reaching through the screen, wrapping around my chest, and squeezing so hard I thought my heart might just burst.

And it STILL does that to me, despite having watched the show so many times my DVDs are nearly worn through.

I didn’t experience that with the premier episode of The Newsroom last week, although I felt a twinge of it last night in the final, closing scene (when the camera panned to NY Harbor). I expect it will happen more as the show progresses. Some of the characters (Will McEvoy, for example) show a real promise for emotional complexity and depth, and I'm eager to watch them develop further. Others are archetypical Sorkin characters (NatalieMaggie, IsaacCharlie), but no less enjoyable for their familiarity.

Critics hate the speechifying, but I love that the script isn’t “dumbed down.” I also like how the characters use acronyms with which the general public might not be familiar (EP, RINO, SOT) but that are appropriate to their roles. For writers, the show is a study on how to craft pacy dialogue and flawed characters (some might argue TOO flawed). I love strong female protagonists, and I wish there was less ditziness from those in this show. But I'll keep watching. And hoping.

Here’s a trailer, in case you missed it:

 And because I talked about Sports Night, here’s a clip from one of my favorite episodes.

If you don’t already own Sports Night on DVD, buy it. NOW.