Monday, April 20, 2009

Belize and Honduras

I am back. Recently I went on a trip that took me to new destinations, new countries that I have never before been. You might have been able to tell from my absense, but I am back home and trying to get back into the swing of things.

I travelled to some new places that were destitute and troubling to me in many ways. I feel horrible when I am the tourist and I am heckled by surrounding natives. They hound you in such a way that it troubles me how far they will go for a buck. I had people following me down the street as I shopped just in case I might buy a necklace or take a cab ride. Cultures can just be so different.

Isla Roatan, Honduras: A developing city for tourists. The natives were ready for toursits to come with buses lined up and ready to go. They had little huts ready with the same materials on each stand. The same people asked me the same questions as I passed, not realizing that I was the same person because I blend in with all the other tourists.

A little boy followed me down the street the entire time I shopped. He troubled me the most. He was such a sweet, nice little boy. As we walked, he pointed out items that shops sold and certain things about the surrounding landscape. He asked me questions about where I was from and what I did every day. I asked him about schooling, feeling strange about this little boy following me around on a Wednesday at noon. He told me he goes to school in the morning, evening, and night. (Evening and night?) He kindly told me that he couldn't go any farther and didn't ask for anything. But what was it that he wanted...?

Belize City, Belize: Similar situation but much more developed. The natives constantly heckled you as you walked by their store. They held things in the air for you to buy as you passed by. Many of them followed me down the street to ask me for their services--take me to a beach, a museum, to downtown for shopping. Many of them had openers where they tried to use sophisticated language and told me what college they were attending and what major they were studying. They were trying to show their education and intelligence to us, as if that uplifted them from the other salesmen and made their words more credible. I was very glad they were going to school, but I feel very uncomfortable when I am trying to be talked into something that I am not pursuing.

Below I will put some cool pictures from both places. We'll see what you think.



So what do you think of Belize and Honduras?

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Planet

The Sundance Channel had a day that filmed only documentaries. I found this documentary called The Planet and was blown away. It basically discussed man's impact on the planet and what we should be doing to stop it. It presented a lot of incredible facts and stories about damage to the planet that is really eye opening.

Below I have some statistics from the documentary. If you're into global warming and the environment, you should really check it out.

-50% of the land surface of the Planet has been substantially transformed by humankind.

-The number of gorillas in the wild has decreased from 100,000 to 20,000 today.

-Over the last century, the total mass of vertebrates has halved. Meanwhile, the mass of humans has quadrupled.

-Today at least 15% of all plants and animals are threatened by extinction.

-12% of all birds are threatened.

-20% of reptiles are threatened.

-23% of mammals are threatened.

-31% of amphibians are threatened.

-40% are fish are threatened.

-Each year, the planet loses woodland areas the size of Portugal.

-If everybody on the Earth lived developed like the United States, we would need 5 planets to maintain the resources used.

-Today we are 6 billion people and are already overconsuming our resources. By 2050 we will be 9 billion.

-China and India's economies are now growing by 7-10% per year.

-3 out of 4 people in America have cars.

-If China has 3 cars for every 4 people, like Americans, it will have 1.1 billion cars. The world currently has 800 million cars. It will have to pave over an area comparable to the area planted with rice in China today.

-Since 1990, China's CO2 emissions have increased by 67%. The figure for India is 88%.

-One European consumes 50 tons of our planet's resources each year.

-Each month, 2,500 tons of toxic e-waste are shipped from the Western world to be dumped in Nigeria.

-Emissions travel around the world. No place on the planet is unaffected.

-Inuits have among the highest concentration of toxics from e-waste in their blood.

-The level of CO2 in the atmosphere today is the highest in more than 750,000 years.

-The 22 warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 1980.

-96% of all surveyed glaciers around the world are currently diminishing in size.

-Over 1 billion people are already suffering from a shortage of clean water.

-In 2010, 50 million people will be trying to escape the effects of environmental deterioration.

-Natural disasters have increased by more than 4 times over the past 40 years:
-5 times more windstorms
-6 times more flooding
-10 times more wildfires

So, what do you think of The Planet or these facts?

Seven Pounds

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into when I put Seven Pounds on last night. The previews didn't really give too much information about the movie--it was quite ambiguous and puzzling. But, I was blown away by the story and the performance.

The movie is categorized as a mystery, not what I was intending. I thought it was going to be a drama, which it was, but it was also a love story. It was a lot of things mixed in one, but I liked that we had to figure it out as we went along watching it. It's a movie where you can go back and watch it and more things will make sense. You'll pick up on more details and clues and the whole experience will be different than the first time you watched it.

Basically, Will Smith's character is a man who caused an automobile accident that killed seven people. Since he took seven lives, he dedicates his life to giving seven lives back--in the sense that he will sacrifice his own life to make seven lives better to atone for his sins.

Smith's character depressed me. He was so sad and giving; he would do anything just to help other people, and he would go to any lengths to figure out what kind of person they were. Were they good people who deserved a break or were they undeserving of assistance? He would only select people who were truly good at heart, and he spent a lot of time trying to figure them out. In the end, he did select people who were good at heart and who were deserving of his goods.

Smith ends up giving away his heart, his corneas, his lungs, his beach house, and half of his liver. He commits suicide by filling a bathtub with ice cubes (to preserve his organs), and dropping in his box jellyfish to kill him. This jellyfish was around him the entire movie. He made several mentions to it thoughout (using a good foreshadowing technique) that it was the most powerful being on the face of the planet and how much it fascinated him. Who knew it would end up taking his life?

Apparently Smith was working with his best friend to execute his wishes after he committed suicide. His friend assured that certain people got his organs and other goods. I couldn't imagine discussing and executing this with a friend. It takes a good and strong person, and I just don't think it could ever come to that for me. I guess it's trying to show good human nature, because instead of just killing himself, he bettered the lives of at least seven others. It is so giving that it hurts inside.

The title of the movie stems from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice where a debtor must pay a pound of flesh for sins. In this case, Smith must pay seven, so the title is adapted. It's very clever.

I also enjoy how Smith's plan was almost destroyed by Rosario Dawson's character. He starts to fall in love with her and has to decide whether or not he will tell her his plan and go through with it. However, he does because he has to do it in order for her to survive. Rewatching it will make more sense in this case to understand his struggles with this.

The ending was so depressing yet so uplifting. The movie was a great idea, very original and creative. Lately, movies are either spinoffs or sequels, but I really respect the person who tries to do something different and creative that makes us think about life and human nature. It was deep, one you could have conversations about, that makes us think about who we are as people. Overall, I give the writer credit for making something so thought-provoking and touching.

And, before I go, does anyone know how a jellyfish kills someone? I mean, I know it must sting someone, but how does it actually kill a human?

So, what do you think of Seven Pounds?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

When the Snake Became a Man

I recently read a poem in The New Yorker and was very intrigued by it. But, I still find myself confused and trying to seek for some kind of meaning and understanding. I am hoping that perhaps someone can guide me towards more understanding than I have now.

The title alone is intriguing.

When the Snake Became a Man

by Garrett Keizer

When the snake became a man,
he couldn't stop swallowing
one rat after another until
he became so large he couldn't
constrict his prey. He hired
a number of smaller snakes
not men or barely so to strangle
the rats for him and a surgeon
to make an opening in his tail
over which he wore a velvet hat
when not extruding his meals.

When the elk became a man,
he found he wanted longer horns
and took it as a sign from God
that horn-grow cream appeared
around the same time as his wish.
He dipped the tips of his antlers
faithfully into the jars, having
first glued their bottoms to his sink--
it was just too awkward otherwise.
Soon his rack became so high
he could not raise his head
so bought a titanium crane
that followed him on little wheels,
took pictures, and sorted his socks.

When the whale became a man,
it was really no big deal, the whale
already a Sea World celebrity,
people used to seeing him in a tux.
The orca bit would have to go,
of course, the cant about his not being
such a killer. No, he liked to kill
well enough, it was his culture
and he wasn't going to be ashamed
of it any more than werewolves were
of theirs. He thought he'd write a song.

When the man became a man,
his dog became despondent,
having been a man himself
for quite some time. "A fine
thing to do at our stage of life,"
he said. Best friends with the man
for many years, he understood
the strange things likely to happen
when a man became a man.
The TV would go for one thing
and who knew what else after.
He wasn't about to wait around
and watch the transformation.
He packed up his bones
in their matching bone cases,
dusted off his real-estate license,
and headed down the road.

Alright, so the focus is "becoming a man," and different animals are becoming "men." I'm trying to see it in the literal sense and the figurative sense. Why would the poet choose animals to become men? What is he trying to say?

Because then, men become men. First it's animals (and the title being named after the snake), but then men are in the process, and dogs have done it as well.

Is he trying to make fun of different types of people? Different "breeds" in a way? Or the younger generation who is selfish and showy? Are we trying to become things we don't want to be?

What is the point???

If anyone has any ideas, forward them this way.

So what do you think of the poem?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Audacity of Hope

I'm a hopeless Obama fan. I have been for a while. I don't know what it is that hooked me to him: He just seems so genuine, honest, and good-natured. It's hard to find that in politicians nowadays.

I think I was really drawn to it because I picked up the audiotape version of it where he reads it himself. He's such a good public speaker. When you actually hear him say it and read it, it's so much more powerful.

Last summer, I read his first book, Dreams of My Father, and that book inspired me to pick up his next book The Audacity of Hope. Dreams of My Father, I found, was more interesting because it was a memoir of understanding where he came from. Where were his roots? Who was his father? How was he raised? It was more of a story. It was extraordinarily interesting.

On the other hand, The Audacity of Hope is about, as his subtitle reads, his thoughts on reclaiming the American dream. The book is broken down into sections where he discusses his thoughts on how certain things came to be (presenting historical perspectives), why believes what he does, what is wrong with the thing itself, and how it can be fixed in the future. For example, he has chapters on politics, family, the constitution, values, Republicans and Democrats, opportunity, faith, race, and the surrounding world. He is quite honest in what he thinks. It's refreshing.

There's actually a Wiki that gives quick summaries of his beliefs per chapter. Check it out here.

There were only a few brief moments where Barack left his musing and actually told us about his life, like his earlier book. Those parts hooked me the most because I find them more telling about who he is as a person. He can say his beliefs, but I want to see how he lives his life too.

Barack mentioned that a woman on the street told him that she didn't think he could top his first book. I don't think he did, but I didn't think it was a terrible read. Another point that sticks with me is that every time Barack met with people on the campaign trail or when he was organizing, people kept telling him not to go to Washington because he would change. Everyone was worrying that someone so nice would become corrupted. "You're too nice for politics" was a common comment that he heard. People still say it today and said it during his presidential run. I hope he doesn't, and I don't think he will.

I also really enjoyed hearing about Barack's views on family and his retelling of his own immediate family stories. He tells of how he and Michelle met in Chicago. Michelle was the lawyer he was interning for. He tells of their early hardships as a couple, especially as Barack's career intensifies once he becomes a Senator. He talks of the difficulties of pursuing his career and of how much mothers have to sacrifice for a family. His views are very realistic and interesting. He's been there; he knows.

Since this book came out in 2006, it spurred his popularity. Many beliefs from his 2008 campaign come directly from this. He even talks about financial crises and what he thinks should happen in case of that (which is what's happening now). The title spurs from a speech he gave, which was also brought up at the end of his first book as well. It comes from a speech Obama gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

"In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!"

So, what do you think of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Saved by the Bell Petition

Any Saved by the Bell fans out there?

Believe it or not, Saved by the Bell is coming up on its twentieth year anniversary. Yes, we're getting old. I don't know about you, but that show was a staple for me. I used to watch it before and after school. It never got old to me.

I loved all seasons: the early years, high school years, college years, and even the movie where Zack and Kelly get married. I was hooked. Even though it was probably pretty cheesy to let the series last that long, I couldn't get enough of it. It was just so fake and funny... I still enjoy watching it if it comes on television.

The purpose of the post: Jimmy Fallon's Late Night is attempting to reunite the cast. He's had Mr. Belding on two of his shows, and he's signed on to join the reunion show. Jimmy brought out a big sign, and when cast members sign on to do it, they will add their face to the sign. Only Belding is on thus far.

Now, in order to encourage members to come to the reunion show, Jimmy has a petition on his website. Sign the petition and watch the clip with Mr. Belding and Jimmy giving his speech to the cast members here. So far, over 18,000 people have signed on. Contribute!

Can you imagine? I would LOVE to see them all back together after so long. It's such a good idea to do this. I doubt that many of them will, but I really hope that they do.

And, if you love Saved by the Bell, you should read an essay included in Chuck Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He dissects the show (how it was so unreal to actually happen and describe teenage life) and talks about its impact on pop culture. It's well done. He really knows his Saved by the Bell.

So, if you love Saved by the Bell. Make the contribution! We'd all love to see it happen. Help make it happen.

So, what do you think of Saved by the Bell and the attempted twenty-year reunion?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Anything Seth Rogen does lately seems to succeed. He's on fire right now. He's making hilarious movies, and they seem to be coming out one right after the other right after the other. It's intense.

I recently watched Zack and Miri Make a Porno, written and directed by Kevin Smith, and I wasn't disppointed. Rogen lived up to his hilarious role. There is just something about his deliverance, his personality, his acting that makes him the comedic powerhouse that he is. Smith wrote the role for Rogen (after watching him in The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and originally wrote the role of Miri for Rosario Dawson. Dawson had already signed on to a new project, so the role went to newcomer Elizabeth Banks who looks like typical simple cute girls that Smith casts for his leading females.

Smith is a writer and director that I really respect. He can be hit or miss with me, but his humor and his writing and normally spot-on and hilarious. This film really connected with me. It was a great idea (especially with the economy the way it is) and it was executed very well.

The premise is that Zack and Miri are best friends since they were young, they live together, and they can't pay the bills. So, they decide to make a porno to make payments on their apartment so the utilities can be turned back on (especially since it's winter time). The chemistry between the two characters was great. They made a good pair, and they made the screenplay believable.

I also think it's really cool that Kevin Smith has his own crew of friends and actors that he gets to work with. You see this a lot with certain comedy powerhouses. Adam Sandler has a group he always acts with. Ben Stiller is the same way. Kevin Smith included Jason Mewes (Jay), Jeff Anderson (Randall from Clerks), his wife, and Craig Robinson (from The Office). Rogen seemed to fit in very well with these guys.

It must have been really fun for Rogen to come up with various fake titles for porno movies. He really played on Star Wars with their first attempt to make Star Whores. Other good titles were sprinkled in just using the formula: Take a popular movie, include some language to make it obvious that it's a porno, and give the premise and plotline of the movie using those few words. It's true and it's genius.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno also gave the opportunity for Smith to make fun of pornographic movies, their creators, their stars, and their fans. The acting was so bad when they were making the movie, which I thought was hilarious. It must be hard to pretend to be a bad actor when you're not. It must have been ridiculous to film too--pretending to film a porno probably isn't the easiest task for an actor.

But, I thought that it was clever overall. I want to throw in some cool facts from the movie that I learned just by scoping the internet in the past few minutes:

This is Kevin Smith's second film (after Jersey Girl) that was not set within his production company View Askewniverse.

This is his first film not set in New Jersey. It was set in Pittsburg.

When the movie released, it fell behind High School Musical 3: Senior Year. That troubles me.

To date, this is Rogen's worst box-office opening film.

One scene of the movie was set in the Monroeville Mall where Dawn of the Dead was shot. Tom Savini, who did special effects for the movie, made a cameo appearance in the film.

Traci Lords, who plays Bubbles in the film, is an actual porn star.

Live's song "Hold Me Up" was used in the film, a song that Smith tried to incorporate in a movie of his since he first heard it in 1995.

Live denied Smith to use it two times (first in Mallrats and then in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). Live finally agreed for this movie.

One movie poster appeared to look like Rogen and Banks receiving oral sex, so that movie poster was banned in the US but was still posted in Canada. (Posted below)

Companies complained to promote the film in advertisements because of the use of the word "porno" in the title.

So, what do you think of Zack and Miri Make a Porno?

Saturday, April 4, 2009


The world works in mysterious ways, doesn't it? On the way home from the nursing home today, U2's "Mysterious Ways" was on, and I've borrowed the phrase for today because I find it appropriate.

I find it eerie and ironic that the past few posts and books I've read lately all relate to the event that culminated to today: my great-grandmother's passing. It was an event that we knew would come, especially at her ripe age of 89, but you never see it coming until it hits you right in the face.

If you scroll down, the past two books I've posted on both have to do with death. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest takes place in an insane asylum where its patients are immobilized and where their lives are basically reduced to simple living. Very similar to life in that nursing home facility.

After I watched the movie, I sat on my balcony and was pondering the ending of the book/movie. McMurphy's life was reduced to the life of a vegetable. Since Cheif loved him, he smothered him with a pillow to put him out of his misery. Similarly, I am reading Of Mice and Men again through tutoring, something that simply fell into my hands, and George makes the same type of decision. He decides to shoot Lenny to save him for the torture that is about to come to him.

So what am I getting at? Both men have to make hard decisions about ending the life of a loved one. Is it worth living a life that becomes ridiculed or to that of a vegetable? Many people would "pull the plug on me," but that is easier said than done.

I went through all sorts of emotions today, and perhaps I'm figuring it out still as I type out my thought processes. Writing helps in this way. I went through many emotions: Shame that I did not visit. Fear because of death. Grief for her loss. Sadness for family members who would be pained more than I am. But, I also did feel happiness. Happiness for her journey to a new life where she can be reunited with Pop. Happiness for her to live a better life than she was living now. Happiness that she can be free of the pains and struggles of living in that nursing home where she was ill and lonely from the many losses of friends and loved ones.

I mean, death is a scary thing. It's not something that you think about every day. It comes up in movies or books or jokes, but you don't connect death with someone you know, even if they are old. It's that teenager mentality: it can't happen to me. It can't happen to anyone I know. But it does. And it will.

It was hard to look death in the face today. The contorted face is something I can't easily release from my mind. I can't imagine that look being on anyone that I love so dearly as we all sit around it. That will be me someday. It will be you. Who will be there? How will you have lived? I feel the worst for my mother who was there when it happened. That's the hardest burden to carry around. That's a hard trail to snip from trailing behind you.

I was glad to go today, but grief follows around you like a child or pet tagging along your tail. You can divert your mind from it for a while, but it's following. It stays more when you have a deeper connection with the person. I know that this will not last forever with me, but it's here now. It's one step closer to accepting death and tryign to comes to terms with understanding it.

Everything happens for a reason though. Nan was meant to be around this long, longer than Pop. We were all meant to be there today and see her. We will all take lessons from this. Now I take the time to reminisce about my past with her and what I've learned from her. I take the time to recall the happy memories, and even the sour ones, to see how she lived her life and how it has shaped me.

I can see her in the rocking chairs on the front porch of my childhood home. I can see her sitting in McDonalds eating a breakfast she ate every morning with her good friends that have now passed over. I can see her swiveling in the chairs of their Florida condo home. I can see her in the kitchen, cleaning the dishes or preparing some appetizers for us to snack on. I can see her sitting on folding chairs at my softball games in rain or shine, always there to support me as an athlete. I can see her crinkled fingers; I can smell her strong perfume; I can hear her sharp voice making a harsh joke. Despite everything, I loved her as she loved me.

89 years. That's a long time. I can only hope to live that long myself. Even through smoking and many wars, she lasted a very long time. We can only hope to be so fortunate to be as healthy as she was in her lifetime.

And so, I reflect now on her life and the imprint she has made on me and my family members. The end of her life was tough on all of us; some of us chose to distance ourselves, including myself. I feel a slight selfishness when I reflect on this part, but I can't hide the truth, especially right now where she is in a happier place and seeing all that is unfolding here on this plane. I truly believe that she is happier where she is and that she has reconnected with Pop. It is truly a special day for them today, April 4th, on Carlee's birthday, hypothetically.

Writing has made me feel better. It helps release. I said a prayer for her today, hoping somewhere inside me that she would hear it and somehow acknowledge it. Maybe she's even sitting behind me and reading my blog as I furiously type away. But, I try to think that she has better things to do than sit and watch me type in my ratty pajamas. I have pure faith that her life is better; I know that deep in my heart.

Today was a reminder that life is short, even if it is 89 years. I feel that even 89 years is too short to accomplish everything that I have set out for myself. The little things just don't matter. The "things" you accumulate don't matter either. It's like my uncle said, "Her life is reduced to a couple of boxes." It's sad, but does it really matter to fight over a stupid television set or magazine? They're only things, and this life is about the people you know and connect with.

Take the risks and the chances. Go on trips. See people. Make connections. I think I needed that wake up call right now. For stressing over the littlest things, it really puts things in perspective for me. I'm healthy. I have a nice apartment and a great family who loves me. No one has serious problems. I may have trouble finding a job, but it's not the end of the world. I will survive. It will not be the worst thing in the world. If anything, it will thicken my skin and make me a stronger person.

I needed that slap in my face, and if Nan was going to do anything to me, it would be a slap in the face, and I mean that in a good way. She had a harsh personality that you had to take with a grain of salt. But she made me stop my fast-paced life that was filling with worry and really pause to examine life. Stick to things that are important. Don't get caught up in the trivial things. Block out those who don't matter. I think it all comes down to being the best person you can be for yourself and those around you that you love.

How will you make your mark on this Earth? How will you effect others around you? How do you want to be remembered? What do you want to accomplish while you're here? What do you not want to regret? What can be done now, now while you are still willing, ready, and able? What can be learned, taken away, and taught from this? What kind of person do you want to be and how will you be that person? And, what can you still do?

This is what I know now, and I hope others do too. As time goes on, I know that I will slowly lose this drive and passion I feel now. We all do. The drone of the week takes over. Realistically, this will stop me now, but these same feelings will come back. How do we combat that from happening? I don't know. I just need to focus on the ambitious path I feel today without the slight twinge of grief attached to it.

Today I pray, today I hope, today I mourn.

This entry is for Nan. Love, hope, and faith to her and my family.

Friday, April 3, 2009

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

After reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, I was intrigued and persuaded to read Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Since Kesey is the central character in the first novel mentioned, I really wanted to see what this guy's writing was all about. And, since they were touring for that book, I wanted to see if this book lived up to its reputation.

Kesey was portrayed in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test as that leading hippie who eventually cools it down a bit. He leads a group of hippies across the country to do drugs and promote his book. It was even reported that he was doing drugs as he wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. This is apparent when you look at some of the crazy scenes in the book, like when Chief is having these intense made-up dreams.

It wasn't a terrible read, but I thought I might be more hooked on it than I was. I really like the idea of the insane asylum and how they are kept in their like prisoners almost. The idea that a non-insane person would come in there and spice it up a little, kind of remove everyone from their happy little routine existence, is a pretty radical idea. I like it.

Kesey creates the character of Randall McMurphy, an extraodinary character for classic fiction. I loved his character. He's a likable rebel who befriends these troubled men who are in this psych ward. He stirs things up and makes them feel alive again. All the meds, the repetition, the belittling, the loss of power--these men needed someone to rejuvenate them and make them feel like actual people again, not patients.

McMurphy should have went to jail but was deemed insane instead. This is a crazy idea too for the time since more people do this nowadays. Maybe it started to become more popular after this book was published. Anyway, McMurphy committed statutory rape even though he says she wanted it. I just loved his connection with the other characters. He has no prejudice; he just wants to have a good time.

I also really enjoyed Chief's character. He is considered to be deaf and dumb even though he is the narrator of the story. I like that Kesey had Chief be the main character, not McMurphy. Before I read this, I thought that Jack Nicholson's character from the movie would be the main character because he is the dominant image when you think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Wrong. I like that the reader gets the perspective of others who view McMurphy. Chief is a great character to do that to since his thoughts are always to himself and he never communicates with anyone else.

McMurphy slowly wins over Chief so that he slowly talks to him and builds his confidence. It was so interesting that such a powerful man (tall and strong) could be held captive with no power the way he was in that asylum. McMurphy gives him the courage, like he does to many others, to break out of there and have a life. I like McMurphy's purpose in this way.

I was a little shocked and concerned about the ending though. It really built up to this very large last scene, which took forty minutes in the movie version. McMurphy brings two girls to the ward at night; he wakes all the patients who drink, party, and dance. In the morning when the place is trashed, the tyrannical Nurse Ratched is very angry and out to punish. Billy, a character who stutters, is found with a girl. They had slept together. Ratched insists she will tell his mother. Billy is so upset that he kills himself. Out of fury, McMurphy tries to strangle Ratched but is taken away. He is subdued and drugged for months, even given a lobotomy. He really has no brain activity going on whatsoever. Ratched's vocal chords never were the same again. Chief is so upset with McMurphy's state that he suffocates him with a pillow, throws a heavy object out the window, and escapes, just as he promised McMurphy.

The ending was troubling to me. I didn't see McMurphy as being caught by the system. I would have liked it if he beat the system and escaped. I didn't like that they got the best of him. It was good that Chief got away, but I was surprised he would even strangle him too. I know he was doing the best for him, but he loved him. Or maybe it's like Of Mice and Men--George killed Lenny because he loved him and did the best for him. Interesting connection.

I also think it's interesting to note other characters in the book. Nurse Ratched's character was very interesting to analyze. The woman is the power force. She is mean and wants the men to be miserable as well. She likes control and likes to take pleasure away from these men. Then the orderlies are all black. I know it was the 1960s, but even so, the way they were mentioned seems to be saying something.

Jack Nicholson plays a great McMurphy too. He's everything I pictured when I read the book. Kirk Douglas was originally cast, but that would've been no good. Nicholson is crazy like that. Christopher Lloyd even makes it in there. The film was put together pretty well, just like the book.

Overall, not a bad piece of work. Both the movie and the book were both enjoyable. They are definitely both worth checking out.

So, what do you think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Year of Magical Thinking

I'm all about memoirs, but this one didn't really impress me all that much. I just finished The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion; the piece was alright, but I don't know if it is so good to be nominated as a finalist for a Pulitzer.

The Year of Magical Thinking is about Didion dealing with her grief after her husband dies of a heart attack. Didion replays the events and those following it. Not only did her husband die suddenly, but her only daughter was in the hospital for bleeding in the brain. She ended up dying a year after her husband, John Dunne, died, right before the publication of the book. Didion refused to change the manuscript and allowed for her death to not be discussed in the book.

Besides telling of the events and her feelings, Didion also did a considerable amount of research. The research on death and grieving is sprinkled in throughout the book. To be quite honest, I thought it was a bit much at times. I would rather hear her focus on the event with a little bit of research and then have her muse over both findings.

To be quite frank, I thought that the book jumped all over the place. There really wasn't a clear trajectory or direction that she was going. The beginning seemed to have a direction, but then it started jumping from place to place after chapter one. It was hard for me to get hooked because it was hard to follow the story. She would also randomly throw in memories that her and John had together, but I wondered the purpose. I know she was recalling events to try to grieve, get over it, and recall events that could have prevented the death, but they didn't seem to have a purpose or a flow. It made it difficult for me to get into the book.

However, the book's title is very clever. "The title of the book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions that an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away Dunne's shoes, as he would need them when he returned." That is very smart. There are many connections to this in her small stories that surface in the book.

I think it's insane that some people have to go through severe traumas like this. Her whole nuclear family dies within a year of each other--one was even in the hospital at the time. It must seem like the world is falling apart. I can see how one could easily lose faith at this time.

I picked up the book because of this horrible situation. I thought that anyone who went through this kind of situation would definitely have a lot to say on death. It would be very wise and helpful to others. She does have good thoughts and points here and there, but my interest in the book slowly faded. I think it must be writing style or the way the book was put together.

I couldn't imagine being in Didion's shoes: who can? Having such a deep connection with a soulmate like that must be very hard to give up and accept. And it all happens in an instant. One major point she was trying to get across in the beginning is how ordinary the day of death is. Nothing seems to be out of place. No one thinks anything of what will happen. Then it is sudden. It's like the morning of Pearl Harbor. Victims note how calm and normal that Sunday morning was. No one saw the attacks coming. The same thing goes with September 11th. What an ordinary day; no one foresaw the tragedies to come. How true is all of that.

Writing about the experience must be entirely theraputic as well, but it must have been extremely difficult to write because you have to relive everything again. Or maybe it's good to relive it. It might help you get over it.

I might sound harsh about the book, criticizing it, but I know the book had good intentions. It just wasn't my cup of tea. It wasn't a clear story, the memoir I'm used to reading. I bet this book would help a lot of people, and for that purpose, I'm glad it's around. It just wasn't something I was into.

And believe it or not, they've made this book into a Broadway play that stars Cate Blanchett and drags on into the death of her daughter. Imagine that.

Anyway, what do you think of The Year of Magical Thinking?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Umphrey's Mantis

Umphrey's McGee fans should be enjoying their newest studio album, Mantis. The album was actually released in January, but I have only recently had the chance to listen to it and really get the feel of their newest few songs.

The songs on Mantis are very similar to their other songs. This band pretty much maintains their sound from album to album. I'm not saying that as criticism; if you love their music, here is more of it. They have some songs that jam for seven to ten minutes. Then you have other songs that are the traditional three minute length. Like the band themselves, you don't know what to expect.

I think I initially fell in love with Umphrey's because of their unique sound. They don't create traditional songs that you hear on the radio. It's actually hard for them to be radio friendly because they stray from the norm. It's even hard to categorize their kind of music. I just call them jam. I was probably drawn to them similar as others were. And, when they play their concerts, they really put on a good show. I saw them at Bonnaroo last year, and they were absolutely phenomenal.

I first fell in love with them on The Bottom Half, but I am enjoying Mantis as well. It doesn't steal my heart the way that double disc did, though. The songs on Mantis are great, but I wasn't overly blown away by them. I wasn't immediately hooked on the album as I was with earlier ones. When Safety in Numbers came out, I instantly connected with it, but I don't have that same draw with this album.

Umphrey's still uses some musical techniques that makes me love them as a band. I love their longer songs. They really can put together a long piece of music that flows and builds and falls back--you can really get into those. Even watching those live is absolutely insane. I really like how they change tempos throughout songs; some songs start out slow or fast, then halfway through the song they go to the opposite rhythm and bring it back again. When I first heard "The Bottom Half," I thought it was two songs cut off because the transition was so different between sounds. But, I love that it is one song.

They keep that same sound transition in their new songs too. Specifically, "Cemetary Walk" transitions like this. The end of it becomes slower as the beginning half is opposite. I love that about their music. It's daring and different. I like that they keep certain techniques that are different and work for them and continue to employ them in further songs they create.

I also really enjoy that they don't feel forced to always add lyrics and vocals. "Cemetary II" does not contain lyrics, and "Turn & Run" and "Spires" mosly have no vocals. "Preamble" is obviously an introductory or transitionary short song, and I find it a little creepy but very creative and interestingly put together.

Maybe it's just me, but I found this album harder to get into. Even though they generally keep the same sound, the songs are not as catchy as other Umphrey's songs. Maybe they take a little listening to and getting used to. Maybe it's not an easy listen. It could be a deeper album that I need to let sit for a while and then get into later on. I wonder what other Umphrey's fans feel about this new album.

They're still on top though. They can still make some incredible music that strays from typical rock and roll. And that's what I love about them. They are quite a unique band.

So, what do you think of Umphrey's Mantis?