Friday, June 23, 2017

"Still Star-Crossed"

I wrote this post after the pilot and then internet weirdness wouldn't let me post it. I tweaked some bits, but the only "spoilers" are from the pilot. 
"Romeo and Juliet" exists as a timeless piece I suspect in part because it is a great example of a story that can viewed as grand love ended to soon by circumstances and petty familial squabbling, or as selfish teens who dragged family members and servants into something that by all rights should have made the war between the families worse.  In fact, in a high school English class, we were assigned snippets to act out in front of class, and my group got the end, and I had the worst time not snickering because it is the only, in my opinion, false bit in the play. Sure, standing over the graves of your kids should provide perspective, but, well, Romeo and Juliet aren't even the first dead people in the play. To say nothing of the years of strife leading up to it. 
"Still Star-Crossed" covers the highlights of the play in the first episode.  So, if you are in the Romeo and Juliet are whiny brats camp, good news, they're dead.  Like several other spinoff versions - Rebecca Serle's YA When You Were Mine comes to mind - the show is concerned with the rest of the family. I think it fits nicely into what I wanted "Reign" to be, a historical soap, "Reign" just ultimately for me at least, was stymied by having picked real people but yet not wanting to be constrained by history.  With all due respect to the nice folks of Verona, my familiarity with their history is pretty minimal, so, they could be getting this terribly wrong.  
But, Capulet, Montagues, they hate each other.  The moment in the pilot that sealed it for me, was early on when swords come out, and the other townspeople all drag each other out of the way.  Because isn't that the part that's easy to forget.  As the Montagues and Capulets set fire to each others fields, and fight each other in the streets, other people are just trying to not be the fallout.  And that is pretty much the conclusion Prince Escalus has come to.  Sure, it seems he and Rosaline (now an orphaned Capulet cousin, forced with her sister to work in the Capulet household) had a little balcony moment themselves back in the day, but now that his father has died leaving him in charge, well, it is time to solve this family warfare so that Verona won't fall pray to one of the neighboring power hungry principalities.  
Rosaline and Benvolio are the only two (well, so they think) who know that Romeo and Juliet were married, not just dead and in disgrace.  They were both against it, but unable to talk their friends out of it, and now quite convinced that it's the other's fault that things went so badly. 
Escalus decides that to solve this family warfare they need a union between the families.  And so he's decided that..Rosaline and Benvolio should get married.  They are not thrilled with this plan.  There's other intrigues and such, Lady Capulet hates Rosaline for not being grateful, Rosaline's sister Livia has marrying up plans, and Paris is only mostly dead since Romeo ran him through before taking the poison.  So, the scene has been set, lots of people love and hate each other and are scheming for power.  The sets and costumes were amazing, and while again, I cannot speak to the specific costume authenticities, there is no glitter. 
While I ultimately bailed out on "Reign", I still think it will appeal to those who liked "Reign' for the soapy historical intrigue.  I imagine they will not sustain the number of sword fights found in the pilot, simply because they are going to need to hang on to more of the cast going forward, but we all know Shondaland shows will kill your faves, so probably not everyone is safe. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I usually resist think of the children framing, but in the case of Philando Castile who was killed by a police officer in a traffic stop, the stories of the students at the school where he worked asking their parents tough questions reminded me of Torey Hayden long ago saying that the questions kids ask about sex aren't the hard ones, it's the questions they ask about when the world doesn't work the way we have taught them it should that are the hardest. 
2. I didn't frequent Gifford's Ice Cream much as a kid, but certainly remember the Bethesda outpost.  The son of the founders has written about the abuse he grew up with.  
3. It looks like the world's first cat video might be thanks to Thomas Edison

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Roxane Gay in DC

With DC's MLK library under construction, some of the larger library events have been roaming around.  In a site that was perfect for me, Roxane Gay spoke about her new book Hunger with WAMU's Alicia Montgomery at All Souls Unitarian Church, aka on my street.  (Okay fine it was like six blocks away.  Still my street!) The space was packed, and well, you may or may not know the church dates to 1913, so there are fans in the seats in the sanctuary.  All of this to say is was a little toasty and there was a persistent hissing sound that may have been due to the ancient boiler system or the sound system, but in the end it was still a great evening and I for one hope for more events that are so convenient to me.  
Montgomery noted that Gay had taken an ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer approach for this book, and asked her to recount the most stupid question she had gotten so far.  Gay was asked to describe her body for an interviewer.  She declined to do so.  
Gay talked a lot about the processing of trauma, and how differently we treat self medication when it happens with drugs and alcohol rather than with food, but also noted that food is still different because you have to eat and that it changes even going to the doctor for headaches or what have you.  She mentioned being on a panel about fatness with several other authors and having a woman come up to the mike during the Q&A and say she was an OBGYN who was afraid to treat fat women and asked how to get better.  Gay's answer, get over yourself. 
Montgomery noted that Gay had referenced a loss in the book, in a way that implied that it was the loss of a child.  Gay talked further, confirming she had been pregnant, and then had lost the child far enough into the pregnancy that it felt more like a stillbirth, and that the doctor had told her her weight had caused it and while she knows better now, it was hard to get past that.  
There were a number of audience questions, and they were great.  A lot of people asked about writing advice.  Gay mentioned that she felt voice was something you find as you write more, and the affectations you picked up from others fall away.  It doesn't descend from on high, it something you find by doing.  She also talked about the need to be relentless in publishing, which is a patriarchial, looks focused, racist business.  
She had made several references to spending more time in LA of late, and one audience member asked if there had been any more movement with any of her stuff that had been optioned and Gay did mention that she was writing a pilot for Amazon called "Grown Women", much as she had said she wanted to in Bad Feminist.  There was also some discussion of "The Bachelorette", and Gay said that it's always a weird thing. It's great that there's a black bachelorette.  But being the first black anything, here Rachel is, she's accomplished, she's an attorney, and these are the dudes they have brought her?  
As I said, it was a great evening, made even better by running into folks I knew in the audience.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

About That Team Name Again

I am aware of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding a band name that is expected to possibly have an impact on the Washington football team's trademark status. Apparently my discussions of the team name were primarily confined to usenet because I (and the internet) are old.  But, to summarize.  I am Hawaiian, which is a kind of native American, even if the history is a little different for us than those who also fall under the American Indian or first nations umbrella.  I am Chinese.  I am a native Washingtonian. 
The team name of the Washington football team is racist.  There is no way around this.  If any other color preceded the word skin, it would have been changed a long time ago.  I'm not going to go into the long history of Americans using team names of people perceived to be savage and less than that applies to names that aren't on the face of them racist.  All of that is true and something to consider, but teams with non-racist names can have that discussion.  Our team name is racist.  
So, I agreed with the trademark office's decision to rescind the trademark.  I have supported the news outlets that decided not to use the name, and understood those that decided not to, because it is hard to talk clearly about a thing without naming it.  
Personally, I have stopped wearing anything that references the team name.  I had a great chat with the bartender at the sports bar when one beer company sent them shirts that said Washington Football this year, because it meant I had a shirt I could wear that helped new bartenders know which TV I needed to sit near and still, no racism across my chest.  
In my lifetime, the Washington men's basketball team changed it's name.  Baseball returned to DC with a brand new team name.  And the hockey team changed it's logo and color scheme at least twice.  But the football team has continued to not only act as if changing would be the worst, but to actively spend money to support continuing with a racist name. 
Code Switch did an interview with the leader of the Slants, about their fight to get the ability to trademark their band name. I've been aware of this case for a while, due to the corners of the internet I hang out it.  Pretty regularly the Slants have been asked about the Washington football team, and pretty regularly he has said that the situations are different, since the band is fighting for the right to reclaim a slur.  (The article discusses how there were other approaches.)
So, here's what I would hope.  I would hope that the Washington team does not take the victory in the Slants case as their own, and try to re-register their trademark.  I would hope that we would work to bring in a new name for the new season.  Here's why.  
During the season I was at the sports bar watching the game.  It was a game that went well for the burgundy and gold.  As such, one particularly drunk group of fans began singing the fight song.  The loudest fan sang all the lyrics.  Even the ones they no longer put on the screen at the games, because even the organization agrees that those lyrics are super racist. I have never been so embarrassed to be a Washington football team fan.  And I've been through some bad seasons.  
I want a football team with a name I'm not embarrassed to be associated with.  We're not reclaiming.  I don't care how many studies we do of people who maybe don't care.  Plenty of people do care and are offended and so we should stop using it.  We have a solution. I want us to make use of it.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

AwesomeCon is Five

It both does and doesn't seem possible that this year was the fifth year of AwesomeCon.  This year I noticed some really helpful changes.  The programming schedule listed panelists in advance, such that I was able to tell, several weeks out that I probably needed a full weekend pass.  There were signs posted throughout the convention center that had maps and arrows getting you to the main stage, to registration, and to the exhibit hall.  And rooms had clearly marked schedules that got updated as changes occurred.  
While the partnership with NASA and the Science Channel continued, and Nerd Nite returned, I hopped around a little more this year.  The LGBTQ characters in Comics panel on Friday was awesome and wonderfully moderated.  Comics in Color also was great, and discussed indie distribution channels and marketing in comics.  A special celebrity guest popped up in the Mars panel.  
Saturday I arrived to discover the line to get in to the convention center was doing a complex dance as those who arrived at the front walked up and around to get to the back of the line, and then circled back. I decided that meant I had time to go pick up some iced tea before I headed in.  I will tell you, the entrance process was slightly different each time I walked in, and while the convention center staff and Awesomecon volunteers did a great job directing us each time, it just meant you had to accept a little chaos each time.  But even that morning, which was the longest it took me to get in, it moved very quickly.  I'm sure it helped that I wasn't aiming for most of the celebrity stuff. 
The Library of Congress talked about the collection and archiving of comics.  Writers talked about writing. A team from the government talked about wargaming, and it's application for problem solving in and out of war.  Local historians and comics folks talked about the use of comics as a history tool, both for teaching about the history of DC, and beyond.  Within this panel one audience member noted that he had seen in non-fiction comics the style seemed to be either black and white simplified colorization and was that intentional to signal non-fiction. The answer he got seemed to indicate that it was not intentional (the answer was essentially, the style has to match the story, which sure).  It's possible this isn't intentional, or that it really signals more the difference in artists working non-fiction titles versus fiction right now.  But it's certainly a question that I've kept thinking about. 
I went to a panel on nerd rock, which involved singing and was about as much as my brain could happen at that point.  And then Fandom as a Subversive act, which looked at fanfic and how it can address and even correct issues in source material.  
I stopped by Sunday since I had to be downtown for book club and also realized I had not made it to the exhibit hall. So I did that before heading to a YA girls in Comics panel that in many ways ended up being a long string of recommendations for great series old and new.  

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I know the London apartment fire dropped down a bit in US media, but this article talked about how the London Muslims already up for Ramadan were able to movie quickly into action.  Look for the helpers as they say.
2. I was pointed to this poem on Twitter about making things political
3. I sideye the use of Lipton as a tea, but there were some useful ones on this list for the teabag, post cuppa.  I have not tried tea on sunburn, but it does help with bug bites. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Dear Tonys

The Tony Awards were last night and Kevin Spacey hosted with Rachel Bloom backstage.  Kevin Spacey came with an enthusiasm for theater, and an excellent ability for mimcry. I'm well aware that hosting is a thankless job, and often the great jobs are a synergy between the person out front and nameless folks backstage but much like quarterbacks get more of the glory when things go well, hosts are the targets when things don't. And it wasn't awful.  There were closet jokes and references to Carnac the magnificent, and I just became very aware that this was a show on CBS where the expectation is that viewers are a bit old.  
But the opening number with references and rifs of all the nominated musicals was fun, even if I think the use of "You Will Be Found" as a tap number was not my favorite.  
I felt like a larger than previous number of awards were awarded ahead, and that made it more inexplicable when the thing ran over.  I realize time is a fuzzy thing anytime you let people walk to a stage and then speak because they will never all take the same amount of time, or listen when your orchestra tries to play them off, or not stop to hug six people on their way.  
But, here's how I think that can be accounted for.  One imagines there's a schedule somewhere.  If you are behind, then you skip something the host is doing.  Have them do it as a video you release later.  Have them do it backstage on their cell phone.  Whatever.  But, for example, when you are already past time, having Lin Manual Miranda interrupted so that five extra people can walk out on stage in character to make a joke that really wasn't worth the extra minute that all took, don't do it.  
And hey, I'm thrilled for the folks in "Dear Evan Hanson" and "Hello Dolly".  Well aware that the casts of all the nominated shows this year were a bit whiter than the dynamo last year.  I was really pulling for Denee Benton.  It's cool.  Losing to Bette Midler is nothing to sniffle at.  
I discovered I and my little corner of the Twitter had real differences of opinion on the numbers.  I have been reading about Broadway Musicals, and often the opening number, much like the opening chapter of a book establishes the who, what, and where.  So, "Come From Away" doing "Welcome to the Rock" made sense.  I know that they are generally given a set time, and sometimes only one number fits well into that time, so sometimes that factors in to the choice.  (I do remember the one year "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" did "Brotherhood of Man" in double time to hit that time limit.)  I really like the "Groundhog Day" choice of "Everything About You", but certainly thought the folks who pointed out the show is funny and charming and this number is kind of not, were not wrong. 
I thought the "Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812" number did an awesome job of saying this show is a fun party (about, well, why spoil that).  "Waving Through A Window" is actually the second song in "Dear Evan Hansen" but it's the first one sung by Evan, so it's a great choice as far as telling you this is a show about a lonely kid.  
The thing that can be hard to remember is many people live far away from New York, and don't know if they will ever see this show unless it tours near them.  This is often their only chance to sample it outside the cast album. So, picking a number near the end doesn't matter as a spoiler, people who watch the Tonys and have access to Broadway, have likely already seen it.  And the people who haven't, often don't have any expectation that they will.  They just want to see a great number. For "Fun Home", the choice of "Ring of Keys" grabbed me and made me want to see it in a way that "It All Comes Back" - while a great song that does it's job - might not have.  

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I am aware that there are some cats who like walks.  I maybe told people when I injured my knee that it was a windsurfing kittens debacle.  Apparently adventure catting is a thing. 
2. This idea that people too young to vote do not yet have political thoughts seems very silly considering I know I had deep thoughts about the Presidential election in first grade, that schools often hold mock elections, and that in eighth grade I was taking government and memorizing the preamble to the Constitution.  So, this eighth grader's op-ed about why she chose to not be in her class trip's photo with Paul Ryan (and why other students did or did not) is great.  Kudos to their teachers for fostering such critical thinking. 
3. This capture of an exchange from a year ago where a new hockey fan was born amused me. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

"Wonder Woman"

Much like, it seems, many of you, I went to see "Wonder Woman" over the weekend.  I saw after a good portion of my Twitter feed had told me it was about love (yay!), it was really a World War I movie that contained a superhero (fair), and that the island contained a realistic array of women, who had lines and personalities (true).  
I watched the TV series featuring Lynda Carter back in the day, but have generally not done much to further my Wonder Woman education in the intervening years.  I am also a person who may not have seen a superhero movie in theaters since "The Incredibles".  (I did try to watch "Iron Man" once on TV.  I fell asleep.) I watched a bit of "Gotham" and of course some "The Flash" and "Supergirl".  So I have seen non-cartoon superheroes.  But my interest is less in the building smashing. 
There is some building smashing in this movie.  I had a not good for movie knitting project with me, and worried that in general a two plus hour movie was bound to have moments where my attention would stray.  In fact it did not.  There were things that felt they could have been developed more, but honestly, we didn't need the movie to be longer, so, in the end it was satisfying, it had a good superheroey type lesson about life and love, it had a group of protagonists that had clearly defined skills and personalities that were distinct in a useful way, not in a and that's the guy with that accent way. 
In an interview with Felicia Day, I remember her talking about in the 1990's there were a bunch of movies featuring strong woman characters and then that faded away. So, my hope for this year, where we have seen "Hidden Figures" and "Wonder Woman" do great is not only that more things about women get greenlit, but that in another 30 years we think woman centered movies are normal, instead of a fad. 

Friday, June 02, 2017

"Supergirl" - That Season 2 Ender

I'm not going to recap the final two episodes of "Supergirl", mostly because it's been well covered.  But I do want to talk about some things that were unusual.  I confess I was a bit of a half-watcher this season.  I didn't love the she wants to be a reporter but her mean boss hates her storyline.  But I did love her growing friendship with Lena Kane.  In fact it addressed the thing I had talked with a Twitter friend first season, she needed a friend who wasn't a love interest or a sister.  She needed a friend.  
One of the things that "Supergirl" has never shied away from was strong women.  So, having this year's big bad be Mon-El's mom, having this year's person of dubious loyalty be Lena's mom, having the president be a woman, having Cat come back, well, look at that there are so many women in this superhero show and I haven't even mentioned her sister or her sister's girlfriend.  It isn't just seeing women characters, for all my issues with this season, they had built why each of these characters felt they way they did.  Lillian being anti-alien, Cat being pro-good story, but also pro-Earth not being taken over by evil aliens, evil alien queen being thwarted by people who wouldn't go along with her plans, and Supergirl, who had taught an alien from a planet of mostly bad guys, that being a hero to humans was a worthy goal. 
So sure, they put J'onn in a coma an episode before, to take him out of the equation.  But Supergirl and Lillian beam up to save Lena and Mon-El from Rhea, except Lillian really only meant to use it for her daughter, because whatever aliens.  Except Supergirl expected that and had a second remote that she uses to send Mon-El back because she's going to try to change Rhea's mind. 
Supergirl has fallen into the traditional trap of expecting some people to be better than they are, but she also knows that the DEO has a cannon ready to fire at the ship, so she is doing this in a way that endangers the least amount of people while still hoping that her boyfriend's mom isn't the most evil.  And so when Mon-El kisses her and leaves, picture me cheering. He knew him still being on the ship would give his mom too much leverage. Instead he needs to get back to tell Alex not to fire the cannon yet, because Supergirl is still on board.  
Turns out Rhea had some other leverage, a silver kryptonited Superman.  So Superman and Supergirl have a showdown that ends with them flying out of the ship until Supergirl finally knocks him out long enough to fly both them and Alex the Fortress where everyone can de-kryptonite.  And for the slowpokes in the back, Supergirl tries to tell Superman that the kryptonite must have also slowed him down or she wouldn't have been able to get over on him, and he's like nope, I was at full strength, nice job cousin. 
They peak through Superman's files, find an ancient Daxamite ritual they can call on, and Supergirl challenges Rhea to a duel for the Earth.  In the end Rhea cheats and Supergirl has to make use of the lead device Lena made, which makes Earth toxic to all the Daxamites, including Mon-El.  
So here's the thing. Supergirl (and Kara) made the choice that countless superheroes make.  She sacrificed some of her personal happiness for the greater good.  She tried all the right ways to fight it, but had back up plans in case other people weren't playing by the same rules.  In that sense, the only difference is the gender of the characters.  (And yes, I'm aware the the end of season 2 of "Buffy" has our heroine making a similar choice.) 
But, I can literally count on one hand the number of shows I've watched where the dude kissed the girl, or agreed to be her second in battle and actually sat back and let her fight.  Even leaving her because he knew she could handle it.  This is kind of unusual.  Sure it shouldn't be.  But it is. 
Also, both episodes, in case the titles "Resist" and "Nevertheless She Persisted" didn't clue you in, looked at trying to be good and honorable when the folks you were fighting weren't.  How having people you care about isn't a weakness, it's a strength.  That being vulnerable, or emotional, didn't make you less strong, it made you more.  And that in many ways was what made these episodes not just episodes where the superhero happened to be a girl.  There's a lot of stuff out there in the world about how being successful as a woman requires you to suppress the things we encourage women to be.  Strong fictional heroines are often expected to be good fighters with limited emotions. Added to the season long look at how many aliens were also fleeing bad aliens, so humans needed to look critically before painting all aliens with the same brush, there's a crazy awesome theme of how being your best self is a choice, it's hard work, but it's a choice you can continue to make.  And that's the thing that made Supergirl's ongoing hope that Rhea would change a realistic wish, even as she still made backup plans.  

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. This story about a 12 year old from Baltimore who is currently the national youth chess champion is wonderful and I hope people make books and movies about this kid.   
2. This map of rents in the DC area is hardly a surprise to folks who have priced the area, but it does illustrate a thing that I have found is not obvious to folks who haven't had to strike out on their own. Yes, the DC area has a robust job market and a decent public transit system.  However, living near transit costs you, and living not near transit either means paying for a car, or dedicating additional time, two buses to get you to metro, or three buses to get you where you're going. Also, yeah, those are the average rents. 
3. This list of bookstore owners who are authors include some suggestions for book reading. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Self Check

A while back I saw someone say on Twitter they had a list of things that made them feel better and they tried to make sure they did a few of them each day.  It pinged for me, because much like wearing an activity tracker helped me notice I slept worse on days I moved less, leading to a potentially vicious cycle, data helps. 
So, I started thinking about it.  And for a while I kept a list.  But the other value, because, yeah I hear you it can start to sound like work, is just figuring out things.  
For me, here are some of the things that help: hanging with my cat, walking, reading, knitting, eating food I made in my kitchen, writing, listening to music, going outside, meeting up with friends. 
I have moments where I check myself because I know I'm being irritated by something going on in the world or the day job or with a friend and so I stop and check this mental list.  Am I hungry? Am I too hot or too cold?  (This seems very silly but when you are somewhere you don't have control of the big thermostat, sometimes realizing that you have been sitting with your shoulders at your ears because you are too cold and should go grab a coat or sweater is not obvious until you stop to think about it.)
Have I done a thing that makes me happy today? If not, where can I fit one in?
And would getting up and taking a quick walk, even if it's to refill my tea give me the three minutes I need to make better response choices?  
It's easy to consider self-care a goofy hashtag but it's also increasingly easy to have whole days where we forget to do tiny things that make us feel better because they don't make things cleaner, they don't pay bills, they don't seem necessary.  So whatever helps to remind you that spending some time doing things that are awesome for you really is just as valuable as getting more dishes done. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. The google emoji blobs were weird but I kind of liked them.  Ah well. 
2. I am absolutely not adding more podcasts right now, not even if it's a fictionalized chance meeting story, argh! Oops, subscribed. 
3. I have never been to the Ripped Bodice, but I hope they have so much success that other indie books stores try to copy them.  Or they start a DC outpost.  Preferably also with a cute dog. So I enjoyed this piece on the owners

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gaithersburg Book Festival

The weather here has been weird of late.  Or typical for these transitional periods.  So, after three straight days of 90 degree weather, we had been promised that Saturday would emerge a little overcast, a little cooler, but really very nice.  And well, I expected that to mean a dress and a scarf weather, and discovered that the day was breezy and cool. I met a friend who was already there for lunch.  She headed home, I went to a panel with Brigid Kemmerer and Michelle Knudson talking about their YA books, and then the next panel slot was jam-packed but in the end I went with Jack Viertel in conversation with Jason Loewith of the Olney Theater Center about Viertel's book on American musicals. They discussed some of the main structure points of musicals, along with some notable exceptions.  
I confess, after this panel, despite my interest in the next two slots, I reached a point where I could no longer take the cold and hoped back on the shuttle to get back to metro.  Despite my briefer than usual visit, it was still great fun and for every panel I did get two, there were several I wished time or scheduling would have allowed for. And even though I'm whining about the weather a little, it rained all day last year, so this was much better. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. It's AAPI month and of late, there's been more push around the apparent confusion some Americans have that Asian American Pacific Islanders are one group, rather than two that have some overlap.  This post takes a look at how that can lead to erasure
2. I confess, this was written by a friend, but you know a rant about the idea that romance writers or readers who are single because the books have ruined them warms the cockles of my heart. 
3. Book Riot summarized the news that crossed Twitter about Harlequin closing several lines. Kimani in particular caused concern because it was the most reliable place both both authors of color, and characters of color.  Sure, there are some characters of color in other lines.  Sure there were authors of color in other lines, although often writing about whiter folk.  The best outcome would be for all these authors to find places within the remaining lines. Certainly Kimani being organized primarily around the color of it's characters meant that readers who mostly like small town contemporary, or mostly liked billionaires had to work a little harder than readers of other lines to find what they wanted, which I'm sure impacted sales.  Lines have closed before.  Usually, there's some fallout, but if this results in the remaining lines staying as predominately white as they have been, it would be pretty bad business decision. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Evening with the "Serial" creators

Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder, the team behind a little podcast called "Serial" you might have heard of were at Strathmore for a talk about the making of the podcast.  Given the case that the first season focused on took place in Maryland it was fun to watch them talk about how Maryland's information laws gave them access to files they might not otherwise have been able to access since ultimately the police officers involved decided not to speak to Koenig.  
Koenig and Snyder had worked together for many years at "This American Life" and felt the culture of hey, if you like this thing, try it, see where it goes really created the special blend that people have come to expect from "This American Life" and now several other shows, given the number of former "This American Life" folks across the radio and podcast landscape now.  They had once worked together on an episode of "This American Life" called "The Week" where they focused on stories from the week leading up to the show, from the splashy big news, to the small.  They had enjoyed that so much they pitched to the team the idea of making a show that was just that.  They said the reception to this idea was not great.  No one said no, but no one said super cool idea, go for it either.  They were not deterred and kept talking about it and kicking it around, and Ira Glass talked to Koenig and said hey, if this is the thing that speaks to you, then you guys should go for it, but do you have any other ideas?  And Koenig said, well, the opposite would be fun too, like a longform, multi-episode look at a single story.  And, well, since the show is called "Serial", I think the direction they ultimately chose is clear.  
They touched on the amazing momentum the first season had, and how they ended up having to try to manage (as much as one can) the internet and the news media.  They had made specific journalistic choices about things to include and exclude, had made certain deals with people that agreed to speak with them on condition of some form of anonymity, and to leave out certain things that they simply didn't have enough verification to include.  Not everyone on the internet played by the same rules. 
An audience member asked about the comparative lack of success for the second season which he had enjoyed.  Koenig and Snyder said they felt that the second season had been less buzzy.  It wasn't a murder mystery, and so people seemed to spend less time discussing it in between episodes in visible places (think pieces, podcasts, etc) but that the numbers did not support that it was less successful, and they also found that there were a lot of places they went where people were so glad they had done that story.  In fact another audience member stood up and said that he had been in Afghanistan for USAID and when the show started, people he couldn't get to talk to him about the case, all of the sudden began discussing it.  So he was grateful that it gave them that conversational starting point.
Ultimately, they felt certain that they would continue to follow the stories that spoke to them and seemed suited to this format, and work that way, rather than worrying about audience reaction. They did acknowledge that this was not a leeway all journalists worked with.  
It was a lot of fun to listen to them, and hang out in a theater full of podcast nerds.  (And that one dude who raised his hand when they asked if anyone hadn't listened to "Serial" yet.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I am glad this basketball player has found another school, and sad that the team used a refusal to laugh a tired stereotypes as a reason to try to freeze her out.  It's worth noting that she sued the school and settled and is not allowed to disparage her former school. It's easy to think we've reached a point where these stories are the exceptions, because schools are afraid of being sued.  It might just be that they figure they can make folks settle out of court and that will cost less than doing the work to fix things. 
2. A Scottish person looked at the version of Scotland often featured in romancelandia.
3. The Undefeated followed two members of DC's Poetry Slam team.  Take a look at this video and understand why I show up at their competitions where possible. 

Monday, May 08, 2017

Pre-Existing Conditions

Okay, disclaimer first.  I am not your HR or benefits administrator.  Everything I am saying is as me, a person on the internet.  But. But.  We have to talk about pre-existing conditions. So let's define the term and the reason behind it. 
I'm going to start with the basic premise behind insurance.  Insurance is essentially you making a deal to give a company money on a regular basis, so that if you experience a large and/or unexpected expense, the company will then cover this expense.  Kind of a more boring version of you saying I'll pay for dinner this time, next time you can pick up the check.  Insurance companies are, you may have heard, for profit businesses, so they put various rules in place to try and mitigate their financial risk.  And part of this is pre-existing conditions.  You see this in things like vision coverage too, where they sometimes require you agree to pay for vision coverage for at least two years, because they figure two years of premiums offsets your pair of glasses. Obviously, when we get to health insurance, we are talking about more than a pair of glasses.  So, pre-existing conditions are there to make it so you don't just pick up health insurance two seconds after you discover you had cancer and possibly are not a premium paying person long enough for the insurance company to recoup their expenses. Prior to the ACA it was not uncommon to see it on employer sponsored plans, particularly in companies that had a lot of turnover.  
I understand that this thing that may become was passed with a lack of clarity, but I feel fairly certain that the legislation as it existed when it passed the House, did not have a specific list of pre-existing conditions.  It basically removed the requirement put in place by the ACA that people be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history and turned it back into hair salon rules, wherein you can be charged different amounts based on your gender, your medical history, and your expectation that you might need so-called premium services like pregnancy coverage, and also meant that they can put into place a restriction that anything that is a pre-existing condition does not have to be covered by them for a period of time. HIPAA - unless they did something else we haven't heard about - still applies to group coverage and maxes that at a 12-18 months, and waives that if you had continuous coverage.  
So, what does this mean.  Let me tell a story.  I once started getting terrible headaches.  I took sick days off work (and I had a job where I did not get paid leave) and lay in bed.  Sometimes I tried to power through.  And because I had health insurance at the time, I called regularly to document this in case this turned into something else.  I had gotten as far as noticing they happened a lot Sunday nights and Monday mornings when a friend pointed out to me that I hated my job and maybe that was it.  (Hate is a strong word, but I knew it was time to go.) So, I figured out my next plan, and ultimately didn't give notice for another month because reasons, but my headaches went away.  I currently have health insurance. I have a number of known conditions. Allergies, asthma, things like that.  If I quit my job now, and couldn't afford the COBRA or reached the end of COBRA without getting another plan, and had a break in coverage before being able to work out a new plan, then yes - things that I had already been treated for count as pre-existing conditions. So my asthma inhalers (without which I need even more expensive nebulizer treatments), any cold that might really just be allergies, yes, those they could choose not to cover.  If it was group coverage, then after the waiting period I could get coverage, you know, assuming I made it that far.  But it would also apply to things I had not been diagnosed with but could be attributed to something I had previously been treated for, that coverage could be denied too.  So, if I ended up with migraines, they could pull those medical records and say, gee you had this period of headaches that you reported, so maybe that was really that, and now we don't have to cover this until the end of the waiting period.  
So, my point here is not to make you terribly depressed about the state of health insurance in this country. I don't think insurance companies are evil and no one is paying me to say that.  I think we have a system that is designed to make insurance companies money.  But there isn't a magic list of pre-existing conditions.  You aren't safe if your particular afflictions weren't on the list you saw. Everything is a pre-existing condition. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I had suggested a while back, that someone should set up a matching system so that people who were phone shy could work with people who were not phone shy to call their reps. It's possible such a thing is not allowed.  But I read with interest, about this app that let's you record a message to be placed in your congressperson's voice mail that night.  It does, as the articlw suggests, also post copies of your message, so you would perhaps leave a lightly different message than otherwise. 
2. RA's at GWU have voted to unionize.  
3. This list of outrageous nachos intrigues me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Tonys: One Sentence Summaries

-I have not seen all of these shows. 
-Obviously one sentence summaries cannot capture all the magic. 
-I do this out of love. 

In honor of the Tony Nominees, my one sentence summaries of the plays and musicals nominated for best play or musical. 
 A Doll's House Part 2:  Things still suck for women.  
Indecent: Putting on a controversial play was super hard a century ago. 
Oslo: Diplomatic relations in the Middle East are tough. 
Sweat: Manufacturing towns in the US are dying and will make you hate your friends and neighbors. 
Come From Away: If you and your boyfriend were having trouble before, just wait until you get stuck in Canada for a few days.  See also: Canadians are super nice to unexpected visitors. 
Dear Evan Hansen: Depression and grief are both easier and harder in the digital age. 
Groundhog Day The Musical: Stuck in a day, might learn a lesson. 
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812: Cheaters suck, but look a comet!

Monday, May 01, 2017

"Smart People" at Arena Stage

I went to see "Smart People" Friday, and when I tried to talk to some friends about it Saturday, it was hard to find a balance between the serious issues of race in America that the play covers, and yet also how fricking hilarious it was. There are four characters, Valerie, Jackson, Ginny, and Brian and their lives intersect in many ways until there is a final dinner party involving all four where things get really real.  There are also many moments where the characters interact with someone offstage, a feat of both writing and acting that it managed to seem normal, and I felt like I fully understood the unsaid parts of the interaction. The play is set specifically during the 2007-2008 period, which includes to the election in which we elected Obama.  At first this felt a little unnecessary, the characters do talk some about the election, but on reflection, I see that setting it specifically in time allowed it to stay there, rather than have it feel strange that they didn't acknowledge whatever future political things might come.  
Brian is a white professor studying implicit bias, aka, the inherent reactions white people have to black people.  He has gone from being the golden boy professor to having funding pulled, and being asked to teach classes he feels are beneath his skills.  Ginny is an Asian American professor who meets Brian when they get put on the same diversity council.  She is studying third generation Asian Americans and as such wants to work with Jackson who runs a clinic in Chinatown. Jackson is black, and runs a clinic but is also a surgeon at a fancier hospital where he is running into issues with upper management.  He is basketball buddies with Brian.  And he meets Valerie, who is an up and coming actress, when she has an accident on set and ends up in the ER.  Valerie is also black and ends up volunteering for Brian's study.  The characters overlap and intersect more than that as they date, fight, hang out, and try to figure out how to just live their lives. 
It is the kind of play I think would be perfect to go to with friends that you know would have a great conversation with you afterwords, even if all you did was name your favoritest parts. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

The S-Town Podcast

As a "This American Life" fan, and a "Serial" fan, I was for sure going to give "S-Town" a shot.  The season dropped in a full batch, and so I - with a trip coming up - thought I would save it for the flight, which would have been a great idea, but as often happens I was in more of a re-read a book mood and so, I listened to one, but with so many podcasts piled up, I moved on to others, and for me I hit the end of episode 2 and went, oh, yeah, so binge listen it is then. 
The series should come with a trigger warning for depression, suicidal ideation, and self-harm.  I think it's kind of fun to go into it with very little idea of what it's about.  If you have ever wondered what the process of getting stories for things - be it newspapers, podcasts, radio, etc - not the cutesy movie compressed versions, this provides that.  If you just want to know is there something going on in this small town, that the original email writer called Shit-town, then, well, I can tell you, obviously there is.  But, like novels and TV shows that are more about the process than the results, that's what "S-Town" is.  
It certainly made me think about the statistics of stories that get killed and how many of these take months of searching, of visits and calls, only to turn into not much.  Or not enough for a ten minute segment.  That when we talk about the gutting of journalism, we're not just talking about people available to cover what world leaders say, but about the people available to spend months travelling and emailing and calling and recording in the hopes that it leads to something.  About how some of the best interviews are not where the interview asks a list of agreed upon questions, but when the interviewer lets the subject go on a tangent and draws them out further.  And how those are the little snippets and nuggets that stay with you. 
And as a person who prefers the pantser style of plotting, this idea of showing up with a mike and seeing where things go really appeals to me.  It often confuses non-writers, and even writer people with a more plotter driven style, how do you know if that story has enough if you haven't thought it through.  And the answer is I don't.  I have manuscripts on my hard drive that didn't have enough to sustain a book.  They might become a short someday, or they might just be an idea that wasn't fully baked.  And with experience you get better.  You get better at knowing this is about the right amount of conflict.  Or at being willing to re-write more to bake in more stuff as you go.  
It's also an excellent example of POV.  How you can listen to a story, and feel that you get it, you understand.  And then you hear another take and you throw that in with what you already knew, and see how it fits in and yet shifts your thinking on what had happened.  
If the lack of closure in "Serial" bugged you, I don't think "S-Town" is for you.  This is not to say things aren't found, discovered, examined.  But it is, in the end, as much, if not more, about the process, than the result. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Independent Books Store Day is approaching an lots of stores have fun things like this planned at Upshur. 
2. This piece talked about the need for a wider array of autistic characters in media. 
3. Someone taught a French Bulldog to skate

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Lack of Healthcare Story

When I was 21 I was kicked of my parents' insurance.  I had a job, but it was for a tiny company and I was paid monthly and not always super timely even though one of my job duties was to print the checks. I absolutely meant to do something with the COBRA packet I received and then I got busy, and there were the holidays, and so, yeah, I missed the deadline.  I probably could not have afforded COBRA without help, but that was small consolation because in February after standing for days on a convention floor, my knee dislocated as we finished packing up and my elbow broke my fall.  My knee (somewhat ironically) was fine.  My elbow ended up requiring surgery because I broke off the edge (not the center pointy bit, the side pointy bit which yes probably has a better name than that) and needed pins to put it back where it belonged, and months of physical therapy to regain range of motion. I was really lucky that I had family who was able to help look after me, drive me to all these appointments, and help me pay for this.  
Obviously I realized my error in letting my health insurance lapse and once things were on the mend started looking into getting my own insurance.  And guess what I ran into.  Pre-existing conditions.  Even though I had already had surgery, even though I had already attended multiple physical therapy sessions and had regained most range of motion, the insurance company didn't want to cover me because I had a known condition that might cost money.  
Again, I was really lucky and managed to push through that and get coverage.  But we are talking lots of time on the phone. Nowadays a series of laws, HIPAA and ACA have made such stories go away.  For now.  Right now I have heath insurance through my job. So the fact that I have injured my knee several times, suffer from seasonal allergies, have asthma, and other various conditions are all covered by my insurance.  
Prior to the ACA, my day job had me reading a lot of companies summary plan descriptions.  And some of them covered pre-existing conditions. And some of them had a waiting period.  Something along the lines of six months or a year before the employee or the employee's covered dependents could be covered for pre-existing conditions. And a pre-existing condition can be anything you've ever been treated for. Any time you had a visit about a thing, that maybe visits and visits later turns into a diagnosis.  
And really, it's easy to fault employers and insurance companies on this.  But insurance is capitalist by design. Their job is to save money.  That just happens to be at odds sometimes with our goal of getting good health care.  It is a clear case of the system working as designed even as it fails many. I do think ACA is imperfect.  I do think we could come up with a better solution.  But repealing it and replacing it with something that covers less people is not the right approach. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

"The Catch" - Charming but...

I fell out of the habit with "The Catch" last season.  It had an intriguing hook, security consultant falls for a charming man who turns out to be conning her, which he reveals by stealing all her stuff, except, it turns out, his weakness is her, and they spend the season trying to catch each other. Kind of. 
I never deleted the pass on my DVR, so when it restarted I found myself curious enough to try again, and huh.  So apparently she (Alice, played by Mireille Enos) teamed up with Interpol to catch Ben (Peter Krause) and then felt bad when he turned out to love her too, so gave him a head start and there were double crosses upon double crosses, and whatever, all this I have gleaned from the previouslies. So, Ben is in jail.  Alice's firms computers are all in custody, which, as you might imagine has put a crimp in their business.  And Ben's ex Margot (Sonya Walger) is now in charge of the evil crime family.  Rhys, Ben's partner in crime is on the outs with the crime family yet not in jail.  So, now, Interpol and the FBI (and really it hardly matters, supposed good guys) have offered Ben a deal, where they will reduce his sentence if he does this thing.  And Margot, realizing the problem with crime families is that you can trust no one, hires Alice's firm to investigate.  Needless to say, Alice and Ben are only telling each other part of what they are up to.  Oh and Alice's brother Tommy has shown up totally coincidentally because his former employers are dead, but he has some money is his name, and yeah, absolutely no reason to believe anything shady or underhanded is going on there.  
So here's the thing.  The cast, including the other three members of Alice's firm (played by Rose Rollins, Jay Hayden, and Elvy Yost) are all wonderful.  Gina Torres as our FBI agent learning how charmingly frustrating Ben is, his total inability to do a job within the defined parameters.  And T. R. Knight is knocking out of the park as the bumbling but charming and maybe not as bumbling brother.  
But here's the thing.  The cast is great.  The sets are slick.  And the plot, is there.  Do I care who Tommy's murdered employers really were?  No.  Do I think if you are chasing an international assassin you should plan an elaborate thing where everyone carries different colored umbrellas the theory being that the assassin will then be forced to shoot at all the umbrellas giving them time to catch him? I mean, spoiler alert it worked, but instead of being impressed, it makes me wonder how this international assassin survived so long.  It is the perfect example, they used a visually appealing, but ultimately not super well thought out idea to catch the assassin, turned him over to intended victim Margot, and the episode ended with her hiring them.  That is an intriguing double cross, but much like fellow TGIT show "How to Get Away With Murder" the episodes often seem like misdirects leading to a new breadcrumb revealed at the end.  So, you could fold laundry or multitask while you watched the show, and look up for the end and get most of what you needed.  
There's nothing wrong with any of this, there are plenty of shows that get by more on the charm of the cast, than the plotting.  I just find myself hopewatching, because there is such incredible potential there, and I will say that I think HTGAWM does a better job (admittedly over more cumulative episodes at this point) at making me care about the characters, instead of marveling at the visuals, and the acting.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. Having been away I am catching up on things like the annual Peeps contest which got taken over by the Washington City Paper this year.  I usually find the runner up a little more to my personal taste, but they are still all amazing. 
2. I was never a very good "Survivor" watcher, but this post about the missed opportunity the show had, as they hid under the guise of we have to show what happened, is interesting.  "Top Chef" has had issues with bullying, and this year they at least acknowledged - however awkwardly - the optics of having the first challenge at a plantation be an elimination between a black chef and a white chef.  These are all adults, they sign on for a lot, but these shows also exist in the world.  
3. I read 13 Reasons Why and found it interesting, but have listened to the criticism about the show, that for it's unflinching look at serious issues, it has issues and isn't safe for some folks.  This take (by another YA author) addressed some concerns. 

Monday, April 17, 2017


Last week I was in Venice at a writer's retreat. This opportunity came at such a perfect time for me, that I remained convinced the world would snatch it from me, but it did not. 
I decided trying to recap a whole week was silly. 
This retreat was organized by Rachael Herron - who I knew before the trip, and we spent mornings from 9am-12pm gathered up, working with writer prompts and sharing writing.  The group was writers at a mix of stages in their writing journey, fiction and non-fiction, and the propmts and excercises had meaning and help for all.  It really is, I would have thought, a tricky balance to making things useful and workable to as wide a range as we had, and yet it really worked.  
In the afternoon there were optional excursions, but it was incrediby easy to opt out, whether to explore on your own or to split into a smaller subgroup.
Basically, it was delightful.  I loved the trip.  I loved the people - some of whom I knew or internet knew beforehand, and some of whom I did not.  I was like writer summer camp.  You know, in Venice. 
I had not been to Venice before, and I loved it and see why it calls to others. 
Italy, you may have heard has a pretty carb based food tradition, which is terribly dangerous for a carb addict like myself.  There were signs in some places for vegan this, and gluten free that, and so there were options.  Had I been staying longer than seven days, I would have made a better effort to find a greater variety, but my suffering, if you call it that, was delicious. I even found a Venetian wine I liked, which for a picky wine palette like mine was a win. 
So, some numbers. 
Number of gelato consumed: 4. 1 with Bailey's on it, so while it was very tasty it's possible the Bailey's and whipped cream influenced my feelings. 
Number of pizzas eaten: 1. It was large and probably should have been shared or saved. Oops. 
Number of sights seen: At least 7.  It depends on if you count things pointed out on the walking tour, or wandered past or all the bridges and boats and towers spotted. 
Number of neighborhoods or sestieri wandered through: 4. And we took the vaparetto to Burano and Murano. 
Number of boats ridden: 10.  At least.  I may be missing one.  
Number of bridges crossed: Innumerable. 
Number of times I got lost: 1. Fortunately I was with someone who was ready to find the adventure in it.  We had headed in what I thought was a mostly northerly direction, and turned out to be north and west, which I figured out when I saw the signs for the train station.  We were adopted as we tried to follow some o fhte signs directing us to the vaporetto, that seemed to disappear and then reappear in ways that were not super intuitive and she spoke a lot of Italian at us, despite our clear lack of understanding.  We followed her, kind of (we were backtracking from a dead end) and then found a museum courtyard where we managed to convey that this was what we meant to find, and the nice smartphone had enough signal for us to verify our speadiest way back to the Grand Canal.  Certainly, the nice museum people also could have helped us so we were just the tinest bit lost but we got to see more of San Croce than planned, so there was that. 
It also appears possible that Italian mosquitoes do not like me, or are at least slow to recognize me as fresh meat.  This will require further investigation. 
Pictures of things and food.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

7 Things: DC's Missing Girls

It is a strange and surreal thing to watch a local news story become the viral thing that everyone's talking about how no one is talking about it. 
1. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)* recently made some changes to the way they handled missing persons cases.  They had been posting such alerts to the police listservs.  They added posting them to the Twitter account and other social media, and a website.  They have also been posting when a person is found. 
2. I tend to - anytime I see a missing person or pet posting - go back to the source.  Partly because, as we all know things move fast on social media.  Lost pets, kids, and seniors get found.  Being found doesn't always get reported on the same sources that reported being missing.  Also, not to be crazy paranoid, but there have been cases of a stalker setting up a I-need-to-find-this-person post, trying to get the internet to help them.  Stalkers would (one hopes) not be able to make use of the police, so sourcing is a good idea. 
3. Until this year, it is my understanding that the MPD's missing person's site only listed Relisha Rudd. Relisha Rudd disappeared in 2014.  I could speculate why they weren't making use of the website (MPD has said internal policy change) for other cases, but basically, if you look at the site, it looks like DC had a missing person in 2014 and then nothing until this year.  That is inaccurate. (They have now added some additional cases back to 2009, along with stats about how many missing persons cases were closed.)
4. I could tell who had looked at the site, because several of the posts I saw floating past on Twitter had Relisha's face, which I do recognize, because it was a very big deal here when she disappeared.  She disappeared about the same time as a man who was later found dead.  There was video of them together, he was not officially a person who had custody, so an amber alert was activated.  So I have seen her picture, and recognize it.  It's likely that folks who weren't here in 2014 did not see it posted all over the place the way that those of here do, but it created an easy way to tell who had bad info since I saw quite a few people listing her as someone who had disappeared this year.  She is still missing.  So, if you think committing her picture to memory will help you, this post has a timeline along with links to pictures and videos
5. All of this context does not make the overarching point that missing kids of color get less media attention than missing white kids.  I can name several missing white kids, including ones like Elizabeth Smart who was found years later.  I don't live anywhere near where Elizabeth was kidnapped, or where she was found and I still heard about it.  I cannot think of a similar case that received national attention for a child of color.  
6. One of the things the MPD and members of the local DC government said about the missing kids, is that they appear to have left voluntarily.  As others have pointed out, the key word there is appears.  Now, appears means there was no sign of struggle, no sign that someone broke in and took the child by force. Once of the kids (who has since returned) posted to Instagram that her foster family was terrible. I understand that the police have a different type of invesitgation on their hands when signs seem to point to runaway. (We could also examine why we tend to assume teenagers have runaway absent evidence. Or that running away is rebellion and not a sign that things are so bad, that being on the streets seemed like the better alternative.) 
7. I saw one post from someone with a PR background who had helped out a family member when a child had gone missing.  And she talked about how hard it was, even with her contacts and knowledge, to get media interest.  So again, we really do need to think about why some stories get national coverage and others don't.  I also saw a small backlash as people got some context and assumed that therefore they had been lied to about the missing girls.  You weren't lied to if you read a flyer and didn't follow up.  There are still missing people, many of them girls, and girls of color.  You should still think about why you still remember Natalie Holloway's name and probably her face even if you've never in your life been to Aruba.  You should still think about why a post about 8 missing girls maybe made you feel it was less of a big deal if two had been found.  That's still six families.  

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. You know I love a good story about teens changing the world, or at least their high school.  So these teens who interviewed the incoming principal and found some, shall we say, irregularities with her resume, resulting in her resignation, well, here's hoping this is just one high point in their careers. 
2. One of my high school classmates took her kids to see the WERK for Peace dance party by the Pences rental before they moved into the Vice President's house. So, I wasn't surprised to see that the party by Ivanka and Jared's was well received, but this interview with the neighbor caught enjoying the dance party with her wine is also a peek into how a lot of, shall we say, experienced DCers often feel about changing administrations. 
3. This discussion among several Asian American actors about "Ghost in the Shell" touches on a number of things, from the flattening that occurs when you try to strip away the cultural source of the material, to the circular arguments used for whitewashing characters. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Brigid Kemmerer at Bethesda Library

Brigid Kemmerer was at the Bethesda library last night.  Hannah McBride (I assume I'm spelling that right) interviewed her about both her new release, Letters to the Lost which is straight contemporary YA and there were also quite a few mentions of the Elementals series and those Merricks.  
Kemmerer said Letters to the Lost was loosely inspired by "You've Got Mail".  She was rewatching it one day and wondered how she could do a YA version, and then because her writing is not usually straight funny, but funny in the face of darkness, shifted to what if one of them was writing letters to someone who was dead.  And here we are. There is a companion book planned featuring the best friend of Declan (male protagonist in Letters).  
There was a lot of love for the Merricks, and discussion of when any future stories would be.  For those who haven't read the series, I can tell you the story wraps up, but of course, there is always more, another big bad lurking somewhere.  Kemmerer had planned to write more in the world, and has the next story started, but the publisher that has the series rights is not so much doing YA at the moment, so she is prioritizing the books that are under contract.  (So, less publishy nitty gritty version - maybe someday.) 
Letters is her first straight contemporary - I will say having finished Thicker Than Water recently, it reminded me of More Happy Than Not in that it seems like a contemporary for a good part of it, until you realize, oh, okay.  But Letters is contemporary and dual first person which Kemmerer enjoyed writing.  She also has another contemporary planned for 2019. 
She was asked about writing male POV's and said she drove her husband crazy asking what does it feel like to do this, and that, and the other when she was first writing the Elementals.  And finally her husband said it doesn't matter about what all guys think or feel, just this character.  
Kemmerer said the final (so far) story in the Elementals, Michael's was the hardest partly because she had to wrap up so many things, and by that point the series had fans and people would email her that they just couldn't wait for Michael's story and she was struggling, and pregnant, and sent 50 pages to her editor who said, hmm, maybe not quite that*, and so went back and wrote new pages that she hated. She was put on bed rest, so emailed her editor and said, I'm on bed rest for two weeks before the C-section, so I'll do nothing but write and everything will be fine.  And she (modified bed rest) went to Starbucks to meet her mom and the barista had the name that she and her husband had planned for their kid, and she told her mom, this is a sign, the baby's coming today.  Her mom told her don't be silly, but you know where this was going, so, yeah, she had to tell her editor new plan.  Anyway, the book does exist now, so it all worked out.  And Kemmerer said she's in that Starbucks all the time and never saw that barista before or after that.  

*I'm sure she was paraphrasing and encapsulating for the sake of the story.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

DEMO: Song and Dance

I confess I had paid little attention to the Kennedy Center's DEMO: Song and Dance series until a little announcement that one of the performers would be Christopher Jackson.  I would feel shallow, but I was seated next to a teenager who was bouncing in her seat at every mention in the program.  That doesn't make me less shallow, but I wasn't alone in my shallowness. 
The ides of the series is to merge song and dance in multi-genre ways. The performances are a single night which I imagine allows them to draw people unable to make a longer commitment. This evening included folks from the New York City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Michelle Dorrance, Paul Irwin, and on the vocalist front Janet Dacal, Kate Davis, and the aforementioned Chris Jackson. 
The night was a bit anthology style, in that some pieces references each other, but in many ways operated independently.  Some were funny (particularly those featuring Bill Irwin, who spent the night in what I can only describle as very vaudevillian pants), some were heartwrenching, and some were joyous.  Some pieces were a little more successful than others, and I confess, while I have great appreciation for dance, it is somewhat limited to I enjoyed watching that. 
The mix of modern dance, soft shoe, tap, and ballet worked well with the various songs, which varied by era, but mostly stayed withing a mid-range tempo.  
The show ran trhough without intermission and never made me wish for one, although I did occaisionally try to peek at m program to figure out what song that was. 
Overall it was a fun evening and I'll keep a closer eye on the series in the future. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

20 Years On: "Rent"

My story of how I came to "Rent" is one of those stories that of course involved things that no longer work like that.  Anyway, I was in Borders (remember Borders) and wandering the listening stations (remember when store listening stations was the only way to try music without buying it or listening to it on the radio) and I just was blown away.  Since it was a double CD (remember CD's, okay I'll stop now) I think I had to wait and buy it on another trip but I did.  I listened, I read the liner notes, I sang along, I cut out a quote and stuck it on my wall, and so on.  So when there was finally a touring cast, I went to see it with some friends, some who were also familiar with it, and one who had no idea was just willing to come along for a show.  My recollection is that the program contained a map explaining to the uninitiated the various (well most of them) connections between the characters. 
It was amazing.  As is often the case, no matter how thorough the liner notes and cast album are, there are nuances that are clearer seeing it live.  Plus the enjoyment of seeing it live.  I went again a few years later when the touring cast came back through and brought a friend who had never been to see it.  She was blown away.  She bought us tickets for a performance a few months later in Philadelphia (near where she lived) so we could see it again. It was so great to watch someone else fall in love with the experience and be ready to talk through all their favorite bits. 
I saw the movie when it came out. I went to BroadwayCon and saw the reunion panel.  Let's just say, I'm a bit of a fan. 
So I tried to set realistic expectations for myself when I saw the reunion cast was coming to Baltimore. (They later added a DC stop, after I already had tickets.) 
"Rent" is fascinating in that it was incredibly groundbreaking when it debuted, and there are ways that it is both more and less unusual this many years later.  I find I still have the following conversation with people, well, why don't they just pay their rent, haha.  (The show explains the answer. And well, either you accept that or you don't.) 
We have better HIV drugs.  The Alphabet City gentrification referenced is pretty much complete now.  But it also seems even more likely that Mark's footage of a riot would lead to job opportunities.  And some things, like seeking a community that accepts you, finding the balance between maintaining the ideals you have and paying the bills, are timeless. 
So, the 20th anniversary tour.  Overall it was fun.  The woman next to me was a longtime fan who had never seen it live, and she had the time of her life.  It was actually clear there were both longtime fans, who chuckled more at things that were funny about the performances, and newbies (one person let out a cheer at the end of "Contact" while the longtime fans knew it ends with sadness.
The staging had the full cast on stage a bit more often than I recall from other versions allowing for quick transitions, and occasional cuts meant to jar.  A reunion tour always has the challenge of trying to both satisfy old fans and still be relevant to current audiences. The direction to the actors seemed to be to prioritize emotion over word clarity, meaning there were moments of anger or sadness, where conveying that was more important than clarity in the lyrics.
In costuming, Benny still had a blue puffy coat, but now it had neon accents, Mark's plaid had sheepskin trim making him look a little lumbersexual, and Joanne had a coat I am lusting after. Reading the bio's in the Playbill, it was sort of amusing to realize many of these actors were perhaps toddlers when the original "Rent" opened, but of course, the original cast had a lot of people for whom this was their first big job, and that's how it should be for a piece about twenty somethings trying to make their dreams come true.  
The choreography in "Today 4 U" leaned a little more towards panty (or legging crotch) flashing than drumming. Tom Collins is in some ways a gimme role for an actor with any bit of talent, since he's a loving friend and partner pretty much every moment he's on stage, and but Aaron Harrington's deep voice more than lived up to expectations.  
It was great to see, and fun to see how my views of each character have shifted over the years, although I still love and hate all of them a little. But mostly love. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Comedy Doesn't Require Racism

I had another post planned for this morning and then, well.  When "The Colbert Report" went off the air, in the interim, "@Midnight" moved a half an hour earlier, and for a bit I watched some of the start as I talked myself through needing to get ready for bed.  (I am a natural night owl.  The world's insistence that I be a morning person vexes me, but I also need sleep.) And with the end of "The Nightly Show" it is back there.  
So, here's the thing, "@Midnight" is a comedy show disguised as a game show.  There is a format with specific segments and it encourages audience participation with contestant often playing on behalf of folks at home, and with the Hashtag Wars game where social media users are asked to chime in with their own suggestions and then they pick a winner featured on the show the next night and the show account often also retweets some faves.  
Comedy has long had a tenuous relationship with those who are marginalized, often making jokes at the expense of the poor, the female presenting, the mentally ill, and/or the non-whites. 
And look, the challenge with creating a social media hastag is that you can't control what will happen with it. Countless social media managers have watched in horror as things unrolled not how they had planned.  But the show started in 2010,  They have, according to Wikipedia, over 500 episodes.  At some point you have to take a little bit of ownership for understanding social media.  There are hashtags you can just tell are going to encourage the worst in people. Here's some samples of some that, as far as I can tell, went pretty well, #CowTV, #StarWarsSongs, #GentlerHorrorFilms.  Earlier this week they did #JapanAMovie. I still had the TV on and I immediately grabbed the remote and changed the channel. There was no way this wasn't going to encourage at least a string of boring reductive answers, and at best just out and out racism.  And look, I couldn't come up with over 500 humorous hashtag experiments, but that's why that isn't my job.  
And no, I don't need to learn to take a joke.  "@Midnight" needs to learn how to not ecourage racism (or sexism or whatever) in the name of comedy.  (Their record on rape jokes is also not good.) And let's just pretend for a moment that no one in the room could anticipate that this would go wrong. First, of all, that's not an excuse. And second - get better people in your room then.  And if you still decided to go ahead with it, then the job of the folks handling your social media was to only RT ones that weren't racist. Oh wait, that should always be their job. And if that means there's only sad, boring ones to RT, then you know you failed.  
One of the comedians involved did apologize, saying she had made a joke about how it was kinda racist, that got cut for time.  And that she hadn't considered the rest of the internet. I'm not putting this on her.  I appreciate that she apologized.  But this brings another point, the show is taped live and then cut for time.  If they chose to cut the part that noted the racism, then they made a choice. They were trying to pretend it was all fine if we didn't talk about the racism.  That it was just the internet's fault that it got racist, and that they could not anticipate this reaction. And that's just not true.  Anyone who has been on the internet could have told you. And I'm willing to bet, after I changed the channel, all the comedians in the room didn't only make non-racist non-reductive jokes.  I'm willing to bet in the room at the moment there was plenty of opportunity to see that this was a terrible idea.  And the joy of taping but editing later for time, is that they had the option to try a backup one and air that instead.  And they didn't. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. I enjoyed this interview with Karuna Riazi about how "Jumanji" inspired her novel.
2. This article about activism and crafting focuses on women crafters making a difference. 
3. This piece - Makeup as a Language of Resistance - is a wonderful exploration of the changing ways folks sometimes choose to explore and conform to gender norms. God, that made it sound like vegetables.  It's wonderful.  Go read it. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

So Let's Talk Bathrooms

I heard someone on an NPR show way back when (okay fine, it was probably a few years ago) talking about ADA and how there tends to be this assumption that making accommodations for disabled people is super hard and causes an undue burden and how many disabled people are there really, and that in pretty much every case, the accommodations needed benefit more than just the disabled.  The example he used was making sidewalk corners wheelchair accessible and that doing that also works great for people pushing strollers, folks with wheeled bags, and people riding bikes.  
So, I thought I'd talk about bathrooms.  In DC, the right to use the bathroom that corresponds with your expressed gender identity has been the law for a while.  It is also the law that single stall bathrooms should be gender neutral.  This has had huge benefit for me as a cisgender person.  There have been studies, and in general women take a little longer in the restroom (about 60 seconds is the data I could find) and we could discuss to death differences in clothing, sit stand preferences, and likelihood a woman may be accompanied by a small person who will also need to use the facility, but in the end even 60 seconds more can add up when you really gotta go.  Putting to the side all the people who claim to be very worried about the birth gender of the people peeing next to them -  why do we care when there's no one else in there?  We do not.  So having all the coffee shops and restaurants that have single stall restrooms have both be gender neutral doesn't eliminate waiting, but does mean if one is empty you can go.  
So now when I go places where that is not the rule, I am irritated.  I think everyone should adopt this rule across the country.  (Other countries would be nice too, but let's start here.)
And those of you who are like, okay, but the shared stalls, um, no.  Not agreeing with you on that.  Unless you meant to say wherever you want to go. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Three Interesting Things

1. "Sesame Street" has added a regular character with autism and now a recurring character with a father in jail.
2. This article on some new and upcoming YA books that take a look at race and police brutality has some great chats with the authors.  As many have pointed out, Ibi Zoboi's American Street also fits neatly within that category.  
3. This remembrance of a copy editor talks about a shared love of language and the way that we use it. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Flash - Duet

I had been advocating on Twitter for a musical episode of "The Flash" since about the beginning.  I was aware for obvious reasons that Joe (Jesse L. Martin) could sing.  As an avid Disney channel movie watcher of a certain era, I also knew that Caitlin (Danielle Panabaker) could sing.  I assumed the rest could too. (Nice people later pointed out to me that Grant Gustin had been on "Glee", that there had been a musical episode of "Ed", and of course, with my Disney movie experience, I knew about Victor Garber. And then, for a side project, Jesse L. Martin, Rick Cosnett, and Carlos Valdes sang the Firefly theme song (video here) and I was all in.  Oh, who  am I kidding, I had already been in. 
I do not believe that every show needs a musical episode.  I think more shows should think seriously about doing on.  Or coming up with an excuse to get them to sing.  "Ground Floor" and "Ally McBeal" never did an actual musical episode. But both shows made use of the singing talents of their cast members in ways that advanced the plot.  And yes, speaking of "Ally McBeal", I'm a little sad "Supergirl" didn't follow my advice sooner.  (Also, you may recall that Jesse L. Martin guested on "Ally McBeal", and I would have love to have seen Martin and Flockhart together again.  Ah well.) 
So, when Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin (along with Stephen Amell) did a joint interview with Conan O'Brien who asked them about the fan desire for a musical episode, and Benoist said she didn't know if there was fan outcry, I might have tweeted at her that hello, there was.  (I assume this question was planted since the episode was already in the works.)
Anyway, I was excited about the musical episode, even though I was a little bored with "The Flash", and their constant mucking with the timeline.  "Supergirl" I remain more attached to, although this year's Kara tries to be a reporter even though her boss is mean had, in my opinion, been a terrible waste of Ian Gomez. 
But singing. 
Making use of Darren Criss as the Music Meister, he whammied Kara on "Supergirl" causing Mon-El and J'onn to track him to Central City, where it turns out he whammies Barry too and they collapse but both wake up in a old school musical where they work as singers in a Club run by a dude named Cutter, in case you didn't think that there might be danger in the musical dream world. They hammer Kara's love of "Wizard of Oz" to remind you why all the characters in this world look like people that Kara and Barry know, Joe, Merlin, Iris, Mon-El, Winn, Cisco, and Doc are all there.  If you think I'm still miffed that Caitlin wasn't - you might be right.  There is at least a passing mention that HR can sing, so I'm guessing time and/or budget constraints were the issue, but I think they could have tightened up the Wally, J'onn, and Cisco capture the bad guy plot and saved us all some time for more songs. 
So, Kara sings "Moon River".  The Music Meister leads the club members, including alt-Cisco and alt-Winn in a group number of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart". Kara and Grant get kidnapped by alt-Doc and alt-Joe to find their daughter, who turns out to be alt-Iris who has been hooking up with alt-Mon-El, which throws both our superheroes who have both just kind of ended things with their significant others. Kara and Barry convince them to tell their parents about their love, and Kara and Barry each follow their alt-love back to witness this.  The dads, because alt-Mon-El is of course Cutter aka alt-Malcolm.  After singing "More I Cannot Wish From You" (trading verses, that's right Garber, Martin and Barrowman - together!), the dads hug their kids and then go off to declare war.  Oblivious to the oncoming war, Kara and Grant ask alt-Winn if he can help them with the prior instruction they received to do an original number, and he presents them with a song that any "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" fan will recognize as having the wry sensibility of one Rachel Bloom.  The song is called "Super Friend" and in addition to having references about not mucking with the timeline, it also is incredibly fun, and the characters go full on dancing on furniture and tapping throughout.  
This is what I love about musical episodes, they are often a bright spot.  Also, it's why I tend to like Barry better when he hangs with Kara, even when they are griping about their love lives, Kara is so bright, that she lightens Barry up.  (I think "The Flash"/"Arrow" crossovers reinforce what a serious, boring doom and gloom dude Oliver is compared to "The Flash" team, but on the peppy hopeful spectrum, "Supergirl is definitely the peppiest of the three.) 
Shots break out as the previously mentioned war breaks out, dream Kara and Barry race out and realize that without their powers they are not much help and both get shot.  And of course, dying in this dream would mean they die in real life. Back in Central City, Caitlin notes their dropping vitals, and Iris and Mon-El, with a nudge from the now captured Music Meister, try out the true love's kiss methodology and save them.  
And the Music Meister reveals that his point was to teach Kara and Barry that even superheroes need to get saved sometimes, and that's what love is about. 
But, you might have noticed, gee, the hour's not up yet, but we...seem to be done?  And if you had been stalking interviews you might have recalled that there was supposed to be Benji Pasek and Justin Paul song (the now Oscar winning duo who also worked on "Dear Evan Hansen").  So, perhaps it was less of a surprise to you when Barry pulled out his phone and triggered some background music so he could sing "Runnin' Home to You" which was sappy but still nice, especially as a lead up to Barry re-proposing to Iris.  (It also reminded me a bit of "You Will Be Found" although it's not like the idea of people being there for you isn't littered across the musical landscape. This isn't a knock, more a statement that this song felt very Pasek and Paul to me.) 
So, am I happy?  Sure. Overall it was great, and certainly proved that the cast has the chops to do this. I think that it suffered from trying to not be an all out musical episode.  It also had a jukebox musical feel, in that it was clear that the songs were written by different people and had different sensibilities, and not always in ways that made sense.  
But in the end, for all my quibbles, if all we got out of this was the "Super Friend" song, it was worth it.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Let Me Share My Wisdom

It's tempting, as you get older and figure out stuff, to share your wisdom as absolutes. Don't major in this. Only take notes like that. Real writers do this. It ignores the following.
1. Some lessons have to be learned. listened to a "Love and Radio" episode with someone who thought they were trans only to discover they "just" had gender disphoria, and one of the things asked was what do you think you would have listened too, and their answer was - I'm paraphrasing here - nothing.  I would not have listened to someone telling me I maybe wasn't this. In those cases, sometimes all you can do is share your story and hope it helps someone.  Not everything we share and do has to provide an absolute right answer for a younger version of 
2. I realized when talking to a younger cousin who was looking at some colleges my sister had applied to that my first response was to tell her to talk to my sister.  But sister had already (as have I, since I'm older) been out of college for some time.  It's a natural reflex.  So-and-so went there, worked there, looked at that, you should talk to them.  But let's face it.  Since I graduated college, even putting to the side the huge ginormous shifts in the economy, many things have changed.  The SAT has changed.  I applied before the common app was the big thing it is today. I mailed my college apps in.  There are things that are still the same about the college experience.  But there is a lot that changed.  So, my ability to advise incoming freshmen based on my path and my college experience is limited. 
3. Talk to enough authors and you will find there are a trillion different paths.  (I'm using authors as an example here.  Watch a "Chopped" marathon.  You'll see the same.) There are authors who got their first contract while in high school.  Authors who had six or seven careers before even trying to write.  Authors who wrote for ten years before self publishing.  Authors who published the first thing they wrote.  The point is there are lots of ways to become an author.  I can share my advice, the advice I would have given myself, but it may not be the best advice for you.  In fact, one of the things I look for in writing workshops is people who offer disclaimers.  Because people who think there's one true path are almost always wrong about how that path will work for me. 
4. My two siblings are both employed in a job that matched their college major.  However, my sister changed her major three times.  I changed my major from a more specific choice to general (aka liberal arts) because I figured out I could save myself a year of school and still have the qualifications needed to get the further degree I had planned at the time.  Having a plan is good. Being open to opportunities and figuring out what you want is an ongoing process not limited to college majors. 
5. As with so many things in life, people often tell you what they did as if it was an absolute.  I didn't major in English, they say, because what would that have done except teach me how to read, write, and communicate well.  Who needs those as job skills?  If anything the last decade or so should have taught us, it's this.  I have no idea what the job market will look like in four years. Social media jobs didn't use to exist.  Ride-sharing has changed drastically.  There are all types of jobs and skills that rise up and change.  Some of them will last.  Some won't.  Pursuing things that make you curious and interested can be satisfying in itself. 
6. People's brains are different.  Therefor the tools and techniques that are great for you, may make me bang my head against the wall.  And vice-versa.  So presenting your life hack as as all successful people do X, assumes that all successful people are like you.  And hi, I don't know you, but I'm pretty sure that's not true.  
7. People's bodies are different.  I write using a combination of handwriting (with a tech enabled pen), typing on a word processor, and touch typing on my phone.  I know folks who use dictation, do the whole first draft on their phone, do the whole first draft by hand.  How is kind of the least important part.  Getting the words down is what counts. If you do that typing with your nose, then, I raise my glass to you.