SUNDAY SELECT by Erin Whitney

This week was incredibly busy socially (which is unusual for me, because this year I haven't been terribly social since moving to LA). We went on a couple of long walks through Griffith Park and the LA River. I did some work at Stories, this cool bookstore and cafe in Echo Park and I picked up Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (my favorite of the All Souls Trilogy!) for $1, so started re-reading that.

For some reason I've been into melancholy coming-of-age/finding-yourself films this week. I wanted to watch Carol, Girl, Interrupted, The Devil Wears Prada, and Little Women, but ended up just watching the first two. I hadn't seen Carol since it came out in theaters in 2015, but it remains a sensual and beautiful love story between two women in 1950s New York. It also explores the idea of finding oneself and one's purpose through one of the main protagonists, Therese, who works retail and wants to be a photographer. I relate to this lately because of my move to LA and trying to find my stride in my creative practice. I also did a live tweet of the film so feel free to check it out.

Girl, Interrupted holds up. It's based on a memoir of writer Suzanna Kaysen (played by Winona Ryder), who spends time in a mental institution in the 1960s. It's about a young woman trying to find herself and deal with mental health issues, in a world that is undergoing political upheaval and with a family that isn't very supportive. Her parents want to "fix" her ASAP so it doesn't embarrass them in front of their friends, but she's having a hard time dealing with finding a place for herself as an unconventional thinker in a world that wants her to have a practical plan.

Both of these are stories written by women about female protagonists, that have been directed by men. I also LOVE them, but am trying to think a little more critically about things that I unequivocally loved in the past. Although Carol is breathtakingly beautiful and romantic, we mostly see longing and sorrow playing out through their facial expressions and body-language, rather than hear the characters talk to each other. It kinda painfully reminds me of relationships I've had in the past where not communicating about what's going on led to some sticky situations. It's frustrating to watch them not talk to each other, and talk around Carol's recently-ended relationship with her husband, Harge. The characters seem highly reductive and stylized so it's hard to know what anyone is really thinking or feeling -- the book goes into the inner thoughts of characters more.

The characters in Girl, Interrupted feel like "crazy-girl" tropes, except for the main character, Suzanna. We get some back story on some of the other girls, but we don't often get to hear their thoughts or feelings about their lives -- we mostly hear Suzanna's observations through writing in her journal or get info on them from Lisa, another patient at Claymoore.

I also thought: what is with this trend of having women perform self-exploration, especially in the 1990s-2000s? Maybe I'm overgeneralizing here, but it seems like society likes to capitalize on the suffering of women as they have bad things happen to them that force them to grow, whereas stories with male protagonists growing up are way more about the fact that they have a dream to be X, Y, or Z and they have to overcome conflict to get there. Women find themselves while men become what they always knew they could be.

 

Cooling Griffith Park Oasis by Erin Whitney

Today the air was Autumnal but the sun still burned down. We went for a short hike in the shade of Griffith Park and found a creek trickling through lush tropical plants. What had started out as an intense day slowed down as I listened to the sound of water and breathed in fresh, clean earth.

We saw waterfalls, pools with tiny crayfish and polywogs, turtles sitting in the sun, and dragonflies flitting by. We ended the hike with coffee, peach pie, and chocolate lavender scones at the Trails Cafe.

RECIPE: STICKY ROASTED FIGS by Erin Whitney

I'm sure everyone already knows how to make this, but I decided to experiment with breakfast today. I was inspired by bacon-wrapped blue cheese-stuffed dates and also this article about a sadly non-existent ladyfinger & fig McFlurry

STICKY ROASTED FIGS

You will need:

  • 8-10 figs 
  • honey (I used local citrus honey)
  • brown sugar
  • funky cheese (I used caramelized onion cheddar from Trader Joe's)
  • glass baking pan
  • oven

Instructions:

  • Pre-heat oven to around 400 degrees
  • Wash & halve figs and place in rows in glass baking pan
  • Top 1/3 each with honey, brown sugar, or cheese (or all 3 if you're feeling wild)
  • Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until things start to smell delicious in the kitchen and they're probably done
  • Enjoy alone or over plain Greek yogurt
  • Eat leftover caramel in pan with a spoon!

 

SUNDAY SELECT by Erin Whitney

Y'all. It's been so so so hot here in LA this week. There's some kind of high-pressure weather pattern that's lead to a crazy heat wave and a massive wildfire in the La Tuna Canyon Park, north of LA. Evidently this weather pattern is the same one that caused Hurricane Harvey to sit over Houston and contributed to the flooding. Seeing as we don't have air conditioning in our apartment, we've just been hunkering down and reading the news, drinking cold drinks and a lot of water, and trying to distract ourselves from the anxiety that comes from current events and being a sweat monster. Oh, the fact that it's also Mercury retrograde has played a huge role in the sitting, waiting, and reflecting of the past week.

Here are a few things that have kept me occupied over the last week:

Image courtesy Netflix

Image courtesy Netflix

1. GLOW (the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling on Netflix): My overall opinion of this show is that it's entertaining. We watched it all in a relatively short amount of time and I found myself caring about the characters and the wrestling show they were striving to get off the ground. Some things were progressive (spoiler: there's an abortion plot line), but many things were not: the racist character personas assigned to the wrestlers, the rampant jokey misogyny, the 1980s era politics, etc. Some people think it's a critique of outdated social conventions, but it's hard to know where the critique ends and the winky glorifying of the old comfortable tropes that go with 1980s nostalgia begins.

 

Image courtesy George R.R. Martin

Image courtesy George R.R. Martin

2. Game of Thrones: After I watched the season 7 finale, I decided I ought to finish book 5, A Dance with Dragons. I'd been putting this off since 2011, because I was watching the show, had read the first four books that year, and was playing a L O T of Skyrim. It was like my whole world was a violent medieval fantasy and it was a little much. So anyway, I finished the book finally and was reminded of how well the books are written: how much more intricate the plot lines are, the character development is, etc. One of the things I love to do is compare visual adaptations to their written forms, I find it endlessly entertaining, especially with this series. I'm that person who gets a little tipsy at GoT watching parties and regales people who have only seen the show with bloodlines and historical backstory. Gonna miss that.

 

Image courtesy New Philosopher

Image courtesy New Philosopher

3. More food mags: The last issue of Lucky Peach came out :( It's a selection of best-of articles representing all of the past issues. I also found a British publication called New Philosopher and this issue was about food. There's a lot of graphic design infographics so far and some fussy opinions about food writing, diets, and foodies. It's sort of an antithesis of pubs like Lucky Peach that glorify the backstory and cultural connections of food and make it more about statistics about what's problematic with foodie culture (so far). But I'd be interested to read more issues and see what they're about. I guess I have to find a new food pub also :(((((

On my mind by Erin Whitney

I didn't want to do a Sunday Select this last week, because I am still processing my emotions surrounding the Charlottesville protest and its backlash and other protests around the nation. I read article after article and post after post. I came to the devastating conclusion that some of my family members (who are part of the problem of white supremacy, same as me) refuse to consider alternatives: that they could be wrong, that they could listen, learn, and help others. I haven't even talked with my parents about their opinions, because I'm very afraid of what the consequences will be. What do you do when people don't think about their culpability in a system that is causing grievous harm to others? And when they think that the left is a conspiracy to overthrow their way of life? And when there's concrete proof that white supremacy is alive and well, marching openly in the streets, and many of those same people align themselves with our current president? What more do they need?

I know I can't sit in silence forever, that I need to do or say something. I feel very afraid of the political climate, that I don't know or relate to people who have cared for me my entire life. I also feel hopeful that this terrible racism perpetuated openly by white nationalists and the so-called "alt-right", as awful as it is, will help to bust open white supremacist bubbles and lead to long-overdue conversations and change in our country. I feel afraid that I'm doing it all "wrong." I think what this all comes down to is that people don't want to feel like bad people or that they're wrong and they'll dodge and deny forever to avoid feeling that and admitting to it.

I was also preparing for the transformation and tumult that would come during and in the wake of the Great American Eclipse. I stayed home and didn't try to view the eclipse. Instead, I made eclipse water, did tarot, and took a cleansing salt bath while meditating.

This week I thought I would get a lot of creative work done, but instead I've just been watching Glee season 4 and reading Game of Thrones theories online. The lesson I've learned this week is that while we should speak out, volunteer, protest, and vote to change the system, it's okay to sit with your feelings and try to figure out how you can help. Sometimes getting a lot of sleep and crying is necessary to help purge all the toxic news and achieve a fresh start.

SUNDAY SELECT by Erin Whitney

1. Kingdom Hearts: Don't laugh, but when this game first came out in 2002 (the year I graduated high school omg), I was super scared to play it, so I didn't make it very far. This game is an action-RPG, which means battles occur in real time and bad shadow-guys pop up in seemingly innocuous locations to harass you and it freaked me out. Sixteen years later, I started playing Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix and it's scary but fun. You are a little dude named Sora who gets separated from his friends by a shadow wormhole and are transported to a sort of Toon Town where you are supposed to help Donald Duck and Goofy find Mickey Mouse who is now King of a planet that is mostly a castle. I want to know what the person who came up with this idea was thinking, but also I want to shake their hand.

It was actually super hard to figure out which Kingdom Hearts game to get because there are a bunch of them and they have very baffling names and I accidentally bought the wrong one and had to go back to the store :x. 

Image courtesy Square Enix and Disney

Image courtesy Square Enix and Disney

2. Yoga with Adriene: I'm trying to make a commitment to myself to do (even a short amount of) yoga every day and Adriene's videos make it really easy. She's charming and funny and the yoga she teaches is very compassionate and makes you feel connected to your body, mind, and spirit.

3. Graphic novels: This last week I checked out a few graphic novels from the LA Public Library and wanted to share them here.

SuperMutant Magic AcademyThis collection of comics by Jillian Tamaki really resonated with me. When you're a teen (or just a person), sometimes you feel like a mutant that just doesn't fit in with the rest of the world. Filled with cute art and bittersweet insights, I'd recommend this book to adults and teens. Check out the link to see an excerpt and buy.

Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly

Courtesy Drawn & Quarterly

Vampire LovesThis is one of my all-time favorite graphic novels. Ferdinand the vampire has a series of encounters with love and goes on adventures with his cat, Imhotep. We meet a variety of ghouls and monsters, each with their own beefs and foibles, in a series of vignettes and one longer story. Very relatable if you've ever been in love (or a vampire).

 

Image courtesy Goodreads

Image courtesy Goodreads

Tamara DreweI have mixed feelings about this book by Posy Simmonds. It's supposed to be an adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, but it's a very bare adaptation. It's a dense read because of all the hand-lettered passages, but a pretty good story and pretty good art. I found it fairly cringey and suspenseful, but worth a read. I'm going to watch the film next and see how it compares. 

 

Image courtesy Goodreads

Image courtesy Goodreads

SUNDAY SELECT by Erin Whitney

I wanted to start doing a weekly roundup of things I'm interested in. I began doing this last year, but it didn't last very long. Consistency is not always my strong suit re: blogging! Anyway, you may note that the things I'm into are all over the place ~ well that's just the way I am! Sometimes it's hard to focus :*(

1. Stardew Valley: This is an indie game that came out in 2016, but I've purposely avoided it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it's very addictive and time-consuming. It is, however, hella fun. I made a character named Minerva who is modeled after Sailor Neptune and also I have a cat named Freya, just like IRL.

 

2. Fantasy novels: This will probably be a recurring item on these lists, but specifically I'm into Tanith Lee and Mercedes Lackey lately. Tanith Lee was one of my big introductions into the fantasy genre, when I spotted her book Black Unicorn in the YA section of a local used bookstore in north Texas as a kid. The first of a trilogy of books, it was a little intense for my young mind but I've since grown into her work; Tanith Lee is my favorite fantasy/sci-fi novelist -- check out Biting the Sun to start.

Mercedes Lackey is someone I've read a little bit of over the years, but I haven't really touched her primary series about Valdemar. I just finished the Arrows trilogy, which is her introduction to the world. I picked up the next few books that are somewhere else on the timeline, but were chronologically published next. I got these books for super cheap at the Illiad Bookshop in Burbank -- they have a great selection of science fiction and fantasy trade paperbacks.

3. Thrifting: We got some necessary items for the kitchen, including a salad spinner (!!!) and these wooden bowls. My family had some pretty similar to these when I was a kid.

4. Sunglasses: I lost my favorite pair of Cheap Monday round frames with mirror lenses and you can't find them anywhere anymore since they're from a year or two ago. I kind of went crazy comparing all the different sunglass options online, but my new favorite pair is by Cole Haan of all things. I got them on sale for like $35 compared to $100 at Nordstrom Rack online. They're a pale beige crystal frame with tan lenses. They're polarized, which I'm noticing makes a huge difference! Like, I can actually see in the sun glare.

 

The Beguiled? More like The Confused by Erin Whitney

After reading several reviews criticizing Sofia Coppola’s new film, The Beguiled, for reasons ranging from being tone-deaf about the political aspects of the Southern Gothic setting to the lack of substance attributed to her dreamy, visual filmic style, I finally got a chance to see the movie. It’s not what I expected. Disclaimer: I have not seen the original Clint Eastwood film or read the book, so I have nothing to compare this film to but other works by Coppola, who is one of my favorite directors.

So the story is: on a plantation in the South, on the edge of a Civil War battlefield, there is a school for girls. A middle-aged woman leads this school, with one teacher in her 30s for backup to care for a handful of girls ranging from teens to tweens. According to one of the girls, the slaves left; there are no men around, except for wandering soldiers. One of the girls goes out foraging for mushrooms on the property and finds a wounded Union soldier (Corporal John McBurney) and brings him back to the schoolhouse. Due to Christian duty and Southern hospitality, the schoolmistress decides they will tend his wound and send him on his way, without reporting him to confederate troops. His smoldering good looks, Irish accent, and gallant manners earn him a soft spot in the hearts of the women. Some romance happens. Some other stuff happens. The ending is weird. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I’m so confused about the ending! The falling action happened really fast, so fast that what transpires is pretty unrealistic and unbelievable. I felt dismayed and sad at the end of the film. My first thought was, “Why was this film even made?”

Some critics have mentioned the fact that Coppola’s remake mostly removes the topic of slavery and, in fact, the war from the Civil War setting of the film. I can definitely see how people of color would feel excluded when watching this film, because it is very light on the war commentary and only has one line alluding to slavery. It’s a bunch of white people in a plantation house, and I feel like that’s relatable mostly to a certain demographic of people. I also thought it was pretty weird that Coppola unknowingly chose the same plantation house that Beyoncé uses as the setting in Lemonade as the location for the film. It seems disrespectful to a critical work by a black artist, especially in light of the current political climate and constant violence against black people. But.

Maybe I was projecting, but even though the house and fields and gardens were beautiful, it was a forlorn and haunted beauty; we as viewers and the group of women living at the house seem acutely aware that this world was built through the pain and labor of slaves. There are so many stories to tell about the Civil War and slavery, but this particular story is really intensely focused on what transpires between the women at the school and the Union soldier they rescue. At a mere 94 minutes, I think the film was too short to do real credit to many more storylines.

As for the cinematography and soundtrack, nothing really stood out. The camera followed one of the main characters around too closely sometimes and there were ominous sounds of war from just beyond the horizon of the house. The music was subdued, which was kind of a bummer, because I’ve come to expect really interesting soundtracks in Coppola films. Other reviews I read made a huge deal out of the behavior of the girls when they meet the Corporal, citing lingering shots on bits of flesh and adornments, etc, but it was mostly funny and less tantalizing. The sexy bits weren’t sexy.

Going back to my earlier question about why this film was made, I have no idea. I haven’t read any interviews with Sofia Coppola that mention her decisions around choosing to do the remake. I guess it’s about the disappointment of human behavior: how darkness can lurk under any seemingly genteel manners or prettiness. And maybe about how men treat women. And only a little bit about sexuality. And not really at all about the Civil War. I would say, go see it if you like Sofia Coppola films, but honestly, maybe just rewatch Lemonade.