Me, Myself, and Music

So, today, in order to unwind from a particularly long work week, I decided to spend my afternoon taking in a movie. Naturally, I opted for one of the only non-blockbustery films since those usually come with lots of tension and explosions, and sat down to watch ‘Begin Again’. I’m really glad I did.

For those that don’t know, the film (starring Kiera Knightly and Mark Ruffallo, among others) is about two people in need of a new beginning. One a washed up music producer, the other a singer-songwriter coming off a long term relationship, stuck in a country and a city that’s nothing but painful reminders. They meet and bond over music, and giving a big middle finger to whatever man has recently screwed them (including the man, her man, and himself).

If you ask me, which I’m assuming you are since you’re here, whether or not you enjoy the movie (and to what degree) depends entirely on your relationship with music.

Mine is a very particular one, and one I’m sure many share. I love music. In fact, I think it’s completely essential to life and to experience and to helping shape your own worldview.

I’ve always loved music, growing up in a relatively musical environment, though I’m not nearly as musically inclined as the rest of my family (go listen to some of my sister’s stuff if you’d like an example), but there’s something about the way I experience music that I’ve never really known how to put into words properly. Whatever way I feel about it, I believe that every moment, experience, scene in your life has a perfect soundtrack, and that music only enhances the moments around you.

When I lived in Philadelphia, I spent a lot of time walking around downtown, and when I walked I’d listen to music. During my first summer I listened to Foster the People’s ‘Torches’ album on repeat for weeks. ‘Helena Beat’ and ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ still make me feel like I’m strolling down Walnut Street or standing in Logan Circle.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, while I’ve never traveled overseas, traditional Celtic music (or even music influenced by it), gives me this feeling in my gut that is simultaneously heavy and light. Like there’s some sort of past (or dare I say it, magic) waiting to be uncovered. It’s part of why I’ve romanticized Ireland and Scotland, and why I can’t wait to experience their reality at some point in my life (good or bad).

While I was in Philly I spent some time interning on an independent film. Part of our time in the office was spent attempting to find music to add to the soundtrack that would be inexpensive to license. This meant there were days when a lot of random singer-songwriter-type music filled the office. We started playing a game where we’d start a song and after listening for a moment we’d name what kind of scene we pictured just based on the sound (walking on the beach, getting coffee in a tiny urban cafe, an intimate moment in the park, etc.). That was the first time I think I realized that I wasn’t the only person who equated music with experience, real or imagined.

There’s this scene in ‘Begin Again’ where the two of them walk around the city listening to random music on her phone. They live inside the music for what for them is a few hours and you can see how the music changes the setting. Times Square is a completely different place when ‘Luck Be a Lady’ is playing in the background. At one point, Ruffallo’s character says something to the effect of “music changes the world around you. It makes all the banal moments something beautiful.” That’s exactly how I feel about it.

What about you?

Musings from the Princess Party

If you follow me on Twitter, or if you read my previous post, then you know I spent the better part of 3 days this week watching my way through every single Disney Princess movie (and a few that only featured some quasi-princesses), tweeting along the way, much to the delight of some, and, I’m sure, the chagrin of others.

While you might consider a 20 hour marathon of movies made for children a waste of time and energy for a 25-year-old (supposed) media professional, I would argue that you obviously have never tried it, and maybe that you have lost the child in yourself. Who doesn’t want to spend their weekend going on adventures with Belle and Mulan, singing along with Elsa and Ariel, and finding their Prince Charming with Cinderella, Aurora, and Snow White?

Okay, maybe I don’t care that much for the finding of Prince Charming, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Beyond simply enjoying the stories and, of course, the songs, along my 14 movie journey through nearly 80 years of Disney animation, I discovered a few things about the film, their stories, and how they’ve evolved over the years.

First off, let’s talk about the old movies. 

Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty sometimes get a bad rap for being anti-feminine. I’m one of those people, honestly, and while my marathon viewing of these films didn’t completely change my mind, it did make me think a little about the time period in which these films were made. For example, Snow White was made in 1937. Women barely had the right to do anything, and it would be years before women would make any headway in the workplace. For those reasons alone, it shouldn’t be shocking or offensive that Snow White only every wishes for a prince and cleans a lot. That film is much more significant as the first full length animated feature than anything else.

Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were made a great deal later, and they do make a few strides forward. Cinderella and Aurora are at least a little rebellious, if not completely defeatist. Seriously, every time something goes wrong they’re all “oh, darn …” until someone offers them a solution (or they prick their finger on an arbitrary spinning wheel). Cinderella does eventually go to the ball despite her Stepmother’s wishes, but not before two separate dress related set backs nearly ruin everything, and Aurora technically only pricks her finger because she’s upset about wanting to marry someone she hasn’t apparently been betrothed to since infancy.

Then there’s that time jump.

It would be another 30 years before Disney would make another princess film, and when they did, a lot of things changed. Probably one of the biggest differences: the structure of the stories changed drastically. They became fleshed out adaptations, rather than simple ones, and the musical numbers started to drive the story forward rather than act as several minute long interludes.

Then, of course, there’s the sociological aspect, wherein the princesses in question gradually become more independent, more adventurous, more outgoing. You go from Snow White and Cinderella who are completely swept up by their circumstances, to Ariel and Belle who are looking for, and find, and escape from those circumstances, or you have Pocahontas and Mulan, who defy their patriarchal societies in order to save people they love, and inadvertently affecting change.

It isn’t until you get to much more recent films that they start moving, even slightly, away from the standard Disney mold. While Princess and the Frog and Tangled both include independent main characters, it isn’t until Brave that we get a story where romance doesn’t even play a part. Instead, it’s about family, about misunderstand, communication, etc.

Similarly, Frozen is much more about familial love, and a different kind of bravery. Instead of facing down a dragon, Anna and Elsa face down fear. Anna, her fear of Elsa, and Elsa, her fear of herself. Sure, there’s a bad guy, but he’s not so much defeated as rejected.

Now that we’ve seen what Disney can really do with their stories, and now that they know people can and do appreciate films that tell stories about something beyond finding true love (not that there is anything wrong with that), it will be extremely interesting to see just what they may have in store for us when the next princess film comes around.

Random Musings:

  • The facial hair in the old movies was FANTASTIC! Seriously, go watch any of the first three films (especially Sleeping Beauty).

  • Pocahontas has, hands down and completely subjectively, the best of any of the soundtracks.

  • Belle will likely always remain my favorite princess, until they come up with another adventure seeking bookworm who is given a library as a gift.

  • My favorite line from any song will always be “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.”

  • The next person who tells me Belle has Stockholm Syndrome will get bitch slapped (another post for another day).

  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire, despite being “Stargate” for kids, is one of the most underrated Disney movies ever.

  • Despite that opinion, I still can’t put my finger on why I like it so much.

  • The horses are vastly under-appreciated.

I had fun doing this, if it wasn’t a little bit exhausting, so next week I’m going to do it again, but this time using Disney Channel Original Movies. There are a lot of those, so I’ll post some sort of poll that will allow you all to vote on which movies I watch, and you can delight or torture me accordingly.

Join the Princess Party!

I realize I’ve completely screwed up my goal to blog once a week. I would apologize, but really, what good would it do in the end? Instead, I’ll just invite any of you who read this to join me over the next few days in what I’m calling the “Princess Party”.

From now until whenever I get to the end, I will be watching every Disney Princess, and Disney Princess Adjacent, movie I can think of, and tweeting along the whole time. Of course, I will blog about my observations after I’m finished.

For the time being, here’s a list of the films I intend to watch, and the order I’ll be watching them in. Yes, I know that many of them are on the strict Disney Princess list, but I find that list to be highly arbitrary, and so too is mine.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Cinderella
Sleeping Beauty
The Little Mermaid
Beauty and the Beast
Aladdin
Pocahontas
Mulan
Atlantis the Lost Empire
Hercules
The Princess & the Frog
Tangled
Brave
Frozen

If you’d like to follow along with the party, just follow me on Twitter, and if you want to join in, just use the hashtag #PrincessParty.

So, without further ado, let’s get this party started! See you in the comments, and hope to be posting a lot more often in the future.

Who is your favorite Disney Princess?

Oysters are Disgusting: On Adventurousness

I have a confession to make: I’m not very adventurous. Sure, I’m not exactly shy, and I’m pretty good about trying new things “in the moment”, but I rarely go out of my way to do something out of character, and I almost never come up with them myself.

I’m the one in the Batman hoodie with the terrified look on my face.

I’m the one in the Batman hoodie with the terrified look on my face.

For example, this past weekend was my mom’s family’s Christmas gathering. Like any modern American family, this means we had more food than could reasonably be consumed, even by a room full of adults, and that there were a wide enough variety of choices to satisfy most any craving, including oysters.

Now, my sister and I likely have the least amount of culinary experience, being that, unlike the rest of the family neither of us is much for cooking, and we don’t really travel (being broke sucks, man), so while the other dozen or so members were eagerly slurping down the gooey mollusks on their relatively hideous shells, the idea to try one never really crossed my mind. That is until my sister said the three words I apparently can’t seem to resist: “I dare you.”

That’s how I ended up in a large group of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, all counting to three and downing oysters like tequila shots.

I’d rather have had the tequila.

But despite the fact that I now realize that all the time I’d spent avoiding oysters as a meal was time well spent (they’re basically like sea snot), I did have a new experience, and that’s something I’ve decided I’m going to try to do a lot more of this year. It’s one of my unpublished resolutions. The point is, I never would have had the experience if my sister hadn’t first suggested it.

Since it’s unlikely that I’ll suddenly be able to come up with interesting things to do, and since the main point of this blog is for me to write more, I’m instead going to spend the year adding to my experience by working my way through a couple books by Keri Smith.

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Technically these books are for artists looking for unique inspiration, but I’m going to alter a few of the instructions and put more effort into the “tell the story” bits than the “alter them artistically” ones. I’m not so great at that.

So look for those posts in the future, and here’s to a year full of new experiences and exciting adventures.

I probably should have stopped at the tequila.

Goals for the New Year (It’s What All the Cool Kids Are Doing)

I refuse to make New Year’s Resolutions. There are a couple reasons, really. For one, they tend to be open ended, like lose weight, read more, spend more time with family, etc. For another, I can rarely really get anything accomplished without a little competition, and what better competition than myself? I set my goals for 2013 somewhere around June, I think, so I’ve got a 5 month jump on me from last year!

With that said, here are some of my goals for 2014. We’ll see how many of these I manage to accomplish by this time next year.

1. Watch 100 new movies. New to me, that is. There’s a very big chance that 2014 is the year I risk my film degree and let the world know that I haven’t actually watched a lot of the so-called “greatest movies ever made”. I’ll attempt to rectify that as much as possible, while still giving myself the chance to watch some random nonsense along the way. If you’re wondering why the number is so low, it’s because I tend to spend the majority of my time watching TV shows, and they take up a hell of a lot more time than any movie.

2. Read 30 new books. Again, new to me. I’m starting with The Outsiders and American Gods, and they are by no means “new books”. The other half of this goal is that 26 of those books will correspond with the letters of the alphabet. You can follow my progress with this one here.

3. Write in this blog at least once per week. Not sure how I’m going to do with this one, because I’m notoriously bad at sticking to these writing goals. I write for a much bigger site on a regular basis, so I just need to work this one into that schedule. By the way, you should totally be reading All Geek to Me.

4. Finish a manuscript or screenplay. Just one. Just a first draft. Just so I know I can.

5. Participate in NaNoWriMo. I don’t need to win. I just think I should make the effort. A real effort, not just signing up and letting it sit there.

6. Start freelancing. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory, but if you’d like to hire me, I’d be willing to listen.

7. Tweet once a day, and figure out how the hell Tumblr works. I’d prefer to get more active on all my social media platforms, but I think this is a decently simple goal to start. Follow me on Twitter and Tumblr to see if I manage it.

Okay, I think that’s it. I think that will make for a pretty busy 2014.

What are some of your goals for this year?

On social media … or “I got an Instagram and am sleep deprived” …

Even though I consider myself a technically inclined individual, and despite the fact that I spend a great deal of my time on the internet for work (the one that pays, and the one that doesn’t), I’m actually pretty stubborn when it comes to trying new things.

I had a Facebook back when it was still “invite only”, but I didn’t actually use it until two years later, when I was graduating and suddenly it was the only way to get in touch with my soon-to-be roommates. Sadly, I thought YouTube was lame when it first started, and now I watch all the shows that started back then, and wish someone had explained to me what a big deal it would be in just a couple years time. I’m still trying to figure out how the hell to use Instagram (I only just signed up this morning). That said, I think I feel pretty safe saying that “social media” is here to stay … probably.

People, especially people who are my parents’ age and older, criticize things like Twitter and Facebook and Youtube for shortening our attention spans and contributing to the general vanity of our generation. Maybe they’re right. Market research has shown that if you can’t hook people in the first few seconds of a video, or in the first sentence of an article (though the headline is better), they’ll be gone almost instantly. There’s always something better, flashier, funnier, cuter, and less confusing.

But I would argue that, while it may seem that today’s young people are constantly looking for attention, posting photos of themselves, vlogging, blogging, and constantly updating the world on their eating habits, the actual vanity hasn’t increased at all. We haven’t made teenagers attention hungry, we’ve just provided them with a brand new outlet to feed that hunger. What they used to get from smaller peer groups in school, they now get from a much larger group on the internet, and the same can be said about the other side of the coin. The bullies and mean girls have a much bigger playground on which to run their empire.

But I’m not here to talk about bullying. That’s an entirely different conversation.

I’m actually here to talk about conversation itself; the global conversation that social media allows many of us to engage in on a regular basis. Social media has allowed for so many advancements and achievements in social justice, citizen journalism, and public awareness, that I honestly believe the pros vastly outweigh the cons. Revolutions are tweeted, Youtubed, and Instagramed, debates happen in an instant, people fall in love across continents, and friendships and partnerships are made across the language and cultural barrier. None of these things would be possible if the world had remained the way it was just ten years ago. I owe a great deal of my personal growth over that time to my ability to discuss social, political, and cultural issues with friends near and far (and yes, that includes the vain, the superficial, and the strange), and I think the same can be said for many others.

It’s strange to think that, at the same time it feels our physical borders are becoming more defined (at least here in the US), our technological borders are fading. My hope is that one day, both will disappear, and we will no longer talk about how “small” the world is, but rather, how big and beautiful and connected it is.