Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Friendship

I wish I had friends. I see all these people who are part of a real group of people to which they belong. I see people loving others and sharing with others knowing they'll be understood. I wish I had that. It costs me to say it because it sounds like I can't be on my own and need other people to be dependent on to live. I thought that in coming to Oxford I would have more of a chance to finally have this life, to stop feeling so alone even in a room full of people. First of all, I'm in an English-speaking country. You've probably noticed everything I'm interested in is in English - I can't help it. I wish it could be different, it'd be easier if I found things in French to be infinitely more interesting than things in English, but I don't. It's a coincidence and I wish it were different and easier but I can't help it. It's not my fault that most, almost all, of my favourite things happen to be in English. At "home" (but isn't home where the heart is?) nobody understands what drives me, what makes me feel alive. It's different here, even if I didn't meet anybody I'd consider a friend, everything is eerily familiar, because the culture is more mine than "home" is. I wish I could never leave this place.
So why can't my hopes come true? I had great expectations when coming here, as I said, and yet today I'm as lonely as ever and don't know whom to call to complain about homophobic people in my neighbourhood and dream of a world where pansexuality would be the norm.
Am I cynical? Maybe. I don't know exactly. Most of the people I meet seem to be content with very simple things which I personally find simplistic and therefore dangerous. Perhaps I over-analyze, perhaps I ask too much and give too little.
I am hugely interested in fandom but don't feel like I belong there either. A lot of the people I meet are huge Disney fans - I can't stand Disney. It's moralistic in the worst way, racist (Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Aristocats) conservative (mariage is still everybody's goal), misogynist (do I need to give you examples? Seriously?) and full of saccharine (boy meets girl, happily ever after, birds sing and dress women up for crying out loud). I don't like musicals - people seem to love them, it makes them happy. I find them cheesy and forced. I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm an agnostic becoming more and more of an atheist with every passing day and I don't understand how even irreligious people can think it's okay to have a special day of the year to show others you love them. I'd say "I love you" every day if I had anybody I felt that towards, not just one day a year. I don't like animés - the girls are weak or used for their sexual availability, the humour is not mine, the interesting themes not developed enough for me. I'm not sentimental. I don't see life as a constant search for the perfect couple. What would interest me, at best, would be friendships because people have things in common, not love stories although I'd argue that friendship is love. Babies do nothing to me, it's not because people or things are small that they are pretty. Innocence does nothing to me, people call innocence what should be called ignorance. I don't believe in essentialism, I've already said it here but conversations that start with "men are" and "women are" make me want to break something. Men are not, and women are not. Pre-constructed ideas of what women should be and men should be according to an arbitrary model are not a way to keep me interested. Same goes for "the (insert favourite nationality here) are". Determinism can be, and thank humanity for that, conterbalanced by free will. We all have a brain, use it. I can't be bothered with people who haven't even reached that stage of understanding.
Perhaps it makes me a cynic indeed, but I'd like to thing of myself as a realist. I don't sugar-coat and can't stand cowards who do.
I'm interested in philosophy, in questioning the "why" behind everything and finding foolproof concepts to live by (why no death penalty? "it's not human" is not foolproof, if you were serious about having a strong point of view you'd see that and try to find something else. Personally, I say that mistakes are human and if a judge sentences a person to death and after the death further evidence makes it clear that the person was innocent, there's no way to repair anything, whereas if the person is still alive, things can be done. Right now that's the point I've reached, I'd like to find even stronger arguments when DNA tests make it clear the accused is the culprit). I stick to them. At the same time, I'm desperately interested in fiction, in how ideas that I have or should have can work in stories that to me could be real. It gives me hope. My favourite works of fiction depict my utopia. Always.

So there you have it. I know some people think I'm cold because I question "the child in them", whatever that means. It just leaves me frustrated and heartbroken to see people my age or even older haven't bothered to do what I did, which is to move on and look for truth. But it's nothing compared to shallow people who love the same works I do but because the physical appearance of this actor gives them a model to project their fantasies on (fantasies that include Mills and Boon-like scenes, mariage and children). On the other hand you can't deny I'm extremely passionate about some things. More than anything I wish to find in friendship is understanding, I can't explain what seem to be the most basic things to me to my friends, they have to come with this baggage already. But they also have to be passionate about worthy works of fiction which gives them a way to look at life in the face. Is it too much to ask for humanists who are free and open and would dance with me to Glenn Miller, go take Charleston classes and regroup to swap excellent books we read and for marathons of Gilmore Girls which we would watch for Lorelai, Rory, Paris and Emily? Apparently it is. I've been looking for them for 21 years and I'm still looking.

I have no idea why I'm posting something so personal here. I should buy a diary. I'm glad to have the comments turned off in moments like these as I'm definitely not looking for any.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)


Guess who has tickets to the Glenn Miller Orchestra concert on January 23? That's right! And row C if you please because I jumped on the chance as soon as I saw this performance on next year's schedule. Saying that I can't wait is a massive understatement.
I don't know yet if I want to post a reminder of what I loved this year, 2009 was pretty bad in terms of new discoveries. September was the worst month of them all and it's a wonder I survived it. 2010 is likely to be as busy as I'll be preparing a really hard exam to sit in June 2011 (only 10% of those who sit pass). But none of that now. I have new names to be excited about so without further ado, let me introduce you to...

P.G. Wodehouse. Now why, why did I wait so long? His books are a complete riot. I grabbed an omnibus at random from the library and it ended up being an omnibus of his last two Jeeves and Wooster novels, Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, but no matter, they stand well on their own, some references to previous stories were lost on me but not so much that I felt lost. I fell head over heels for him. I am SO glad he was such a prolific writer - he wrote several series of books and a whole shelf worth of stand-alone titles. Jeeves is Wooster's sparkling and bright valet (now that's social commentary for you, that the valet should by far be smarter than the gentleman - by the way, did you know that a valet serves a person whereas a butler serves a house? Fascinating stuff). The latter is terribly slow-minded and gets himself into tricky situations Jeeves saves him from. It's seriously hilarious, their dialogs are an absolute delight and Wooster's utterly eccentric world of the idle rich is captivating and extremely well-captured. The books are formulaic so having read one is having read them all. That being said, both Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen are absolutely excellent and I'd be sorry to miss out on any book by Wodehouse, formulaic or not. I'm well aware of the existence of the TV show starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster, which I'll most likely start watching very soon. I sure hope they've done something different with the characters as I'll be reading the books and wouldn't want to be told the same story twice.

I also finished Author, Author by David Lodge. I'm not sure it was such a wise choice to start with this book as an introduction to Lodge. The novel is in fact a biography of Henry James in the form of a novel so the voice was really James' and not the author's. It was enjoyable enough, even though I came to dislike the author, the secondary characters were interesting enough to keep me going. At least, it convinced me I absolutely need to try Oscar Wilde next year as I've delayed this discovery long enough.

In terms of movies, I saw a few but only two stood out. Coco avant Chanel (2009) isn't a very good movie - it's a romance, and romances bore me to tears unless they're funny. This one wasn't. Still, Gabrielle's personality won me over, she's a woman who knows what she's capable of, is honest to the point of bluntness, and doesn't accept charity from anyone on the grounds that she's a woman. She's an orphan and laughs at the eccentricities of the idle rich while she makes sure she finds a job to look after herself. At the turn of the 20th century, it's quite remarkable. She freed women from corsets and created pieces of clothing that were both comfortable and classy so women could breathe and laugh.

It Happened one Night (1934) is believed to be the first screwball comedy - it's one of these movies I'd always planned on watching but up till now I was always keeping it for last as I've reached the end of my list of screwball comedies to check out. Claudette Colbert plays Ellie, an heiress who flees her father's tyranny, meets Peter (Clark Gable playing a journalist) on her way to New York and after a while, falls for him. I've expressed my dislike for Clark Gable before but I'll admit he's actually pretty good in this picture. Their exchanges are quite funny for a while as Ellie does everything in her power to escape Peter whom she doesn't like but as in all screwballs, initial negative reaction leads to witty banter which in its turn leads to realization of true feelings. Colbert is a great actress, I'm glad I finally watched a movie with her.

Have you ever felt that a work of fiction had been created for you and just for you? It's actually different from loving a work to pieces, I'm talking about things you had no idea were in you but which a work of fiction made you realize had been here for as long as you could remember but you didn't have enough vocabulary to express it accurately? It happened to me once with The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, it was terrifying. And it's happened to me this week again, with music. This time I don't feel terror as much as relief. Django Reinhardt's music, The The Temperance Seven's music and Chris Barber's music are simply me. I've beaten around the bush for so long, feeling it was here, closer to who I was but not quite and then I stumbled upon them and it was a complete shock. Finally. Home. Reinhardt pretty much created gypsy jazz, The Temperance Seven and Chris Barber make the most incredibly catchy big band music ever. The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston may just be my favourite song. I want to learn how to dance the Charleston so bad. It reminded me of Mad Men. In My Old Kentucky Home, an episode from season three, Pete and Trudy dance to that. They're complete show-offs but I would kill to be them for just the duration of this dance. So here are several things:

First of all, a contemporary rendition of Reinhardt's Minor Swing:

Django Reinhardt performing The Sheik of Araby:

Chris Barber and his band performing Bobby Shaftoe:

The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston and Black Bottom:

And finally Pete and Trudy dancing to an instrumental version of The Charleston:

That's likely to be my last post of 2009. Have excellent fun with the rest of December, I'll catch you next year!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Rachel Berry's a role model

I'm not done with Glee. Not yet. I've already said what I thought about the show so I won't say it again. But I still think Rachel Berry (played by the incredible Lea Michele) is one of the best things to happen to television in years.

Here is an article explaining why she's such an amazing role model:

"All of the pieces were there for her character to be a power-hungry manipulator in the mold of a Tracy Flick or a sad-sack Cinderella of a social outcast who only comes alive and sheds her wallflower ways when she sings. But Rachel Berry is neither. She’s written as a complex, mercurial character. She films MySpace Le Mis tributes in her bedroom and announces to the school celibacy club that, believe it or not, high school girls want sex every bit as much as boys do. She can throw a diva hissy fit over not getting a coveted solo in one scene and then extend her hand in friendship to her former tormentor and the girlfriend of her crush in the next. And I love her for it.

How utterly refreshing is it to see a young female primetime character whose entire focus or major story arc doesn’t revolve around relationship drama and/or getting/keeping/deceiving/ditching a boy? Sure, Rachel pines for the sweetly dumb Finn, but she’s pragmatically resigned to his current status as Quinn’s baby daddy-to-be. And Rachel has bigger fish to fry anyway. She’s convinced that she’s going to be a star and damned if girl doesn’t have the ambition, confidence and straight-up vocal chops to back up her Broadway dreams.

Sure, Rachel’s got her flaws. She’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance, but these are all tempered by self awareness. She knows she’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance and will candidly own up to it. And she’s also achingly vulnerable – admitting that she wants glee club to succeed because being part of something special makes you special by proxy, confiding in Puck that her problem is that she wants everything too much and harboring an unspoken but all-too-evident fear that it’s only for the sake of her talent that people deign to associate with her at all. The insecurity behind the theatrics is more than enough to offset her occasion bouts of know-it-all-ism and social tone deafness.

Glee might be a giddy, implausible (Terri’s fake pregnancy, Sue Sylvester’s, well, everything), over-the-top romp, but Rachel rings true as complicated young woman who knows exactly who she is, but still struggles to balance meeting her own self-imposed type-A expectations with her desire for peer acceptance and friendship. TV and especially young women who watch TV need more Rachel Berrys to relate to."

And here's proof of Lea Michele's talent, her rendition of Don't Rain on My Parade. Lea is the only person who has ever made me consider giving Broadway theatre yet another chance. Lea has just been nominated for a Golden Globe. My vote goes to her.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Between the lines

I think I'd like to post little updates about things before posting my usual "this is what I enjoyed reading/watching/listening to recently."
I'd been meaning to read P.G. Wodehouse for a long while now and it's only recently that I decided to borrow an omnibus from the library. Long story short - I was in the middle of Much Obliged, Jeeves when I decided to check out the group dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse on LibraryThing, The Drones Club. I read a few posts and a few of my favourites were written by Rule42 so I checked his/her profile which is very detailed and in which he/she gives an extensive list of his/her favourite authors. I agreed with a lot of what was said about literature in general and our tastes (humour, humanism) seem to match quite a bit (even though we only have two books in common, both by Evelyn Waugh (whom I've never liked but I might give him yet another chance, religion is my problem when it comes to him). So I did my research and added a lot of books to my list before heading for the library. Here's my To-Be-Read Pile:

1. Wodehouse Omnibus 5 (to finish, I have two stories left, having read the novels)
2. The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis (Rule42 loves his father but I figured I might as well add Martin's first book to my pile as well)
3. Jeeves in the Offing - P.G. Wodehouse
4. Something Fresh - P.G. Wodehouse
5. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome (this one was here before I "met" Rule42)
6. The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (finally! I had to make a reservation for this one as all the copies are impossible to get hold of unless you specifically have it put aside for you)
7. The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer (this one was here before as well, I don't like Heyer much, I've read two books by her and her heroines are so weak, she seems to be a solid favourite for many people though and I'd hate to miss out so I'm giving her another chance)
8. Trouble for Lucia - E.F. Benson (was here before - it's not even the beginning of the series but that's all I could find at the library when I went)
9. The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis (his son Martin's favourite)
10. Crome Yellow - Aldous Huxley (best known for A Brave New World which I couldn't find)
11. The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse
12. Author, Author - David Lodge (I wanted Changing Places, which is the first book in a series but this will do, it sounds interesting. This line in the blurb won me over: "Thronged with vividly drawn characters, some of them with famous names, Author! Author! presents a fascinating panorama of literary and theatrical life in late Victorian England.")
13. The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut (this line in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won me over: "A fine and complex satire about the folly of mistaking good luck for the favour of God". Also, a reviewer on Amazon said "if you've never read Vonnegut, this is the place to start")
14. Swing Swing Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman - Firestone (apparently the definitive biography of the man, I love his music so much)
15. Burr - Gore Vidal (oh dear, can I just say, FINALLY! I've been wanting to read Vidal for the longest time but I never knew where to start. Well, this is it! I was going to start with his essays but couldn't track a decent collection anywhere so I settled for fiction. Burr is the first in a series of chronicles of the US entitled "Narratives of Empire". It wasn't the first to be published but it's the first chronologically. Historical fiction at last. Took me a while to find something I desperately wanted to read in that genre but I'm absolutely looking forward to reading it!)

I also entered a contest here to win a copy of Thank You, Jeeves in its Everyman Wodehouse edition (a gorgeous hardcover book). Fingers crossed as I'm planning on collecting them all in this edition but don't have much money, being a student.

I have to dash - today's Dissertation Day, I'm currently analyzing how the "in the next episode" trailers at the end of Sense and Sensibility (2008) and Emma (2009) participate in the dramatization of the story. Great fun!

I didn't buy or borrow this but I thought the title was most appropriate. Be dangerous with me?