Documentary Begets European Art Tour

Earlier this week, I asked my Facebook friends to tell me the best documentary they’d ever seen. Originally, I just wanted suggestions for films to show in class, but then I got really interested in watching them all. The lovely DLF suggested The Rape of Europa, and it was then seconded by Sister Dallas, so I figured it was as good a place to start as any. With my handy-dandy new Netflix account, I queued it right on up, and in the mail it came.

And now I’m slightly obsessed.

It’s the story of how the Nazis stole, looted and plundered great works of art from all over Europe as they expanded their empire, and how, in fact, the countries they invaded were related to a “hit list” of art pieces Hitler wanted either for his personal collection or the national collection he was attempting to amass. The film shows how museums and gallery owners hid (or tried to hide) their art, how they were successful or not, and how some of them got and are still getting paintings back.

It’s really fascinating, and it has  inspired me to start imagining a European art tour wherein I would travel to major European cities to see the most important works living there. On the list so far, I have the Louvre, the Orsay, the Vatican, the Uffizi, the Prado and the Hermitage. I also want to hit up Prague, Cracow, Brussels and Berlin. That’s nine cities, so this is perhaps a 2-3-week tour. Any takers?

I also have rough plans for a European spy tour wherein I play out James Bond plots, and a Sound of Music tour in which I spin around singing in the Alps. I think the spy tour might take a week or two, and the Sound of Music one might only take about three days. If you’re up for any of these, do let me know so we can start planning in earnest.

A Few Short Updates

I have to leave for work (again) in about 15 minutes, so I don’t have time for a lengthy post about anything, but that’s cool because I don’t have anything lengthy to say about anything, so here are just a few short updates and tidbits:

  • I LOVE that it’s already Wednesday. This week is going by much more quickly than last week.
  • Whitney and I are looking for a new place to live. We want a cheaper place, preferably closer to work for me. If you know of anything in the Cameron Village/Wade Ave./downtown/campus area that costs less than $900 for a 2BR or less than $1200 for a 3BR and won’t smell like college boys, do let us know.
  • I signed up for Netflix. Why oh why did I not do this years ago?? It’s amazing.
  • I signed up for eHarmony. Just seeing if you were paying attention. Yes? You are? Good because I seriously did. Nothing exciting to report so far, but apparently I am VERY matchable.
  • I’m having an AWESOME hair day today.
  • My personal fundraising for my Italy trip is done!!!! I have ALL my money!! My team as a whole, however, is at about 72% funded, so if you still want to contribute, we would love that. I kinda want them to go with me.
  • I watched a fabulous documentary yesterday that I’ll write more about later, but if you want to go ahead and watch it, it’s called The Rape of Europa. If you have Netflix, you can stream it online. It’s also a book that I might be interested in reading with a book club. Any takers on that? AND I am 100% sure that I want to go on a European art tour. That is of course in addition to my European spy tour and my Sound of Music tour.
  • Oh! And on July 22, Koka Booth is showing a sing-along Sound of Music, complete with subtitles for all the songs and a costume contest! I’d like to go as Liesl in the gazebo, or perhaps Liesl coming out of the gazebo after being kissed by Rolf. I’ll just hold my arms straight out with an elated look on my face and periodically fling them backward while squealing. But I’d also like to find a dress. Any ideas?
  • I watched Legends of the Fall the other day for the first time since it was released in theaters in 1994. I do not know how I was allowed to see it at the tender age of 14. I don’t even think I was allowed to watch Dirty Dancing until later than that. But good golly it is one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen.

For Relaxing Times, Make It Vacation Times

Well, what I thought was going to be a relaxing weekend of nothing at the beach turned out to be a busy three days of hanging out with lots of people, not sleeping very much and designing stage lighting, but that’s just how things go sometimes. No? Some of you are shaking your heads no. Is that not what you do on your relaxing weekends at the beach? Is assembling/disassembling giant paper lanterns and hanging them from 20-foot ceilings for complete strangers’ weddings not a part of everyone’s vacation? Huh. Interesting.

Well, despite the manual labor and the fact that I didn’t ever actually step foot on the sand, I had a great time in Wilmington. I got to hang out with most of my Wilmington peeps, and I only ended up paying for one meal the entire time I was there. See? The manual labor paid off. Literally. And I got back just in time for Community Group last night, which is always a pleasure.

And speaking of pleasures, I think I slept for about ten hours last night. Then I caught up on all my stories (The Office and 30 Rock) and watched Born in East LA, which was loaned to me by a student who recommended I watch it. It’s pretty bad. Cheech Marin gets deported to Mexico even though he’s an American citizen, and he can’t convince anyone that he’s not an illegal immigrant because he accidentally left his wallet (with his ID in it) at home, and apparently all Americans – particularly those involved in any sort of border control – are complete a-wipes. Oh, and his mom and sister have gone to Fresno, and he can’t get in touch with them. So he works in Mexico for like a week with Daniel Stern while his Mexican cousin stays in his house, clueless as to what’s happening because he doesn’t speak English, and believing the entire time that Jesus is speaking to him through a creepy holographic picture that’s covering up the answering machine.

In the end, he’s able to get across the border with a handful of new friends even though by that time, his mom would probably be back in town and able to answer the phone and help him. Oh the silly problems we had before cell phones. Breaking down on the side of the highway and having to walk to get help, forgetting what you were supposed to get at the grocery store and having to go back home for the list, getting wrongly deported and having to work for Daniel Stern in Mexico. God bless technology.

So it’s 2:00, and here I sit, still in my jabambas. My options at this point are to either (A) take a shower and watch more movies, or (B) skip the shower and watch more movies. I suppose I could get a head start on my lesson planning for when class starts back up in May, but I had a pretty exhausting weekend, so I’m thinking I’ll save that for tomorrow. Or next week.

Book Review: Water for Elephants

Y’all seriously, I don’t know where time comes from or where it goes. On the one hand, I have no idea how I’ve gotten done the things I’ve gotten done this week, and on the other hand, I feel like I didn’t have a moment to spare until yesterday evening. I am thankful for both hands, though, because I like being productive, and I like a week that goes by quickly in a good way like this one did.

I stayed up way too late every night reading Water for Elephants, which I finished on…Wednesday? Geez, I have no idea. Anyway, I finished it, and let me just tell you, it is good. It has a few racy parts and a lot of cussing, so if you’re not comfortable with either of those, I might not recommend it to you, but if you don’t think you’ll be bothered by them, the story is just really great. It’s told well, it’s interesting, it’s engaging, and the ending, I thought, was perfect. It doesn’t give you the feeling that the author is intentionally trying to keep you guessing, but it also doesn’t reveal everything up front. The timing is just right.

It’s also really interesting to read about the circus in the 1930s. I don’t know how accurate a portrayal it is, but it does seem that the author did a lot of research on it, and a lot of the characters and events were based on true stories from the time, which is neat.

I had a little bit of trouble keeping the minor characters straight. A lot of times it felt like when you’re talking to a friend who’s talking about his/her co-workers, but instead of explaining who they all are every time they’re mentioned, your friend just uses their names as though you know them, and you piece it together. In the end, it doesn’t really matter most of the time whether you know exactly who’s who or not. That’s why they were minor characters.

Anyhoe, the story is about a kid named Jacob, who is in his last semester of veterinary school at Cornell when his parents are killed in a car crash. In his despair, he sort of accidentally winds up on a circus train, where he pretty quickly becomes the show’s vet even though he didn’t finish his final exams. I won’t give anything else away, but from there, you get love, betrayal, murder, schizophrenia, friendship, loyalty, lots of animals, and an old man who can never remember if he’s 90 or 93 years old.

Read it before the movie comes out (in April, I think) because I’m not convinced it’s going to be good. I’ll see it, no doubt, but I’m really just not sure about the casting. I’m excited to see Christoph Waltz in something new because he was so incredibly amazing in Inglourious Basterds, but I’m not crazy about Robert Pattinson or Reese Witherspoon in their roles. I pictured Jacob more, I don’t know, alert-looking and less brooding – more wide-eyed and innocent. And I thought Marlena was closer to his age (Pattinson and Witherspoon are 10 years apart in real life).

If given the choice, I think I’d put Rachel McAdams in the role of Marlena and maybe Ryan Gosling or Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of Jacob. But we’ll see.

Oh! And it seems that the film has done away with Uncle Al entirely and maybe merged him and August into one character? I don’t know, but I do not care for that at all.

Oh well. Like I said, we’ll see. But back to the book.

I’m giving Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen four out of five stars. If I could give it another half, I might (because I think I liked it better than The Help), but I don’t have the ability to type half a star, so four it is. Once again, I wouldn’t say it’s my new favorite book, but I thought it was beautifully and fearlessly written, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. ****

Weekend Update

I understand that some of you are upset by my lack of blogging this week. Here’s what you missed:

  • I joined the Y!! I applied for financial assistance and got it in a BIG way. Seriously, if you want to join but don’t think you can afford it, the application process is really easy, and you’ll have an answer within a week or two. AND if you qualify for assistance, they waive the joining fee altogether. In sum, you should join and be my workout buddy. If it sways your decision at all, there are lots of cute bearded guys there (and cute non-bearded guys if that’s your thing, and cute non-bearded girls for that matter…something for everyone).
  • We went to see The Social Network on Movie Tuesday, which is a weekly outing we’ve started taking because the $1.50 theater sells drinks and popcorn for $1 each on Tuesdays. Movie + popcorn + drink = $3.50? Yes, please. Anyhoe, The Social Network was really good. Justin Timberlake amazes me. How are you so flippin’ talented, JT?
  • Tuesday-Friday felt like the looooooooooonnnnggesssssst four days EVER. Seriously. We had Monday off, and the rest of the week felt like three whole weeks. I’m so glad it’s over. My problem, I figured, was at least twofold. I deviated from my normal lesson pattern, which basically meant that where I would normally have built-in things to do, I had to come up with new things to do. This makes planning more excruciating than usual. And the first round of students has started to thin out considerably as people decide that the class isn’t for them or that they don’t have time for it or whatever, so on Thursday (I think), I only had three students. That sucks.
  • Friday, however, was great. We had our second registration, and I got TEN new students!! They might not all get to stay in the program (some might test out on a test they’ll take on Tuesday), but at the very least, a couple of my old students came back, and that changed the atmosphere of the class for the better instantly. And speaking of old students, Sarah, if you’re reading this, where have you been? Don’t make me call you. Just come on back. We miss you.
  • I tried to upgrade my MacBook’s operating system from Tiger to Snow Leopard. I was unsuccessful. However, I know what the problem is, and I am well on my way to fixing it. Just give me a few weeks, and I’ll be running faster than ever.
  • Speaking of running, I bought my plane ticket to New Orleans!! That actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it.
  • And speaking of New Orleans, Amaris and I convinced two boys to go with us today. Boom. Peer pressure. It’s going to be a really fun trip.
  • I got a flippin’ sweet fisheye lens camera, and I’ve been taking pictures all over downtown Raleigh. I believe you can view the whole album here if you’re interested. Just don’t go pilferin’ none of ’em.
  • I bought (hopefully) all the groceries I’ll need for the rest of the month so I don’t have to spend any more money on food until I get paid again. Don’t ask me to go out to eat. I can’t. I have to eat all this food I bought.
  • I did laundry.
  • I started reading Water for Elephants. It’s very good so far. You can expect a book report when I finish.
  • I played a dance game on the X-Box Kinect. It is…really cool. You don’t use any controllers. You just move your hands to make selections, and it actually watches you dance and scored your moves. When you’re setting it all up and moving things around without touching anything, you totally feel like Tony Stark designing a new Iron Man suit or something. And then it has a “freestyle” portion of every dance where you just do whatever you want as it records you. Then it plays back a short clip of your dancing, but in super-speed, so you look like a total spaz. Good times.
  • I had a crazy dream that I was running and skipping at a very high speed through a field with my friend Adam. We jumped into a lake, which we had to do to get all the points. Then he was gone, and I was walking through this trippy desert holding hands with some guy while my sister, who was, as best I can describe it, a swirling sand hologram, followed us. We had to let go at some point because our hands got too sweaty, but we were clearly in love.
  • I had breakfast this morning with a really awesome couple from church who worked as missionaries in Italy for about ten years. Did I mention they were awesome? Because they were.

And I think that just about wraps it up. I would very much like to update y’all more than once a week, but between teaching, lesson planning, training for a half-marathon I’m supposed to run in THREE WEEKS (Lord help us) and sleeping at least eight hours a night, there’s not a lot of free time. Once I get a better handle on the lesson planning, things should improve. Keep your fingers crossed.

Merry Artistic Christmas

My very good friend and favorite Skype companion, the lovely Miss DLF, recommended a book for me to read probably two years ago. I got it and started reading it, but then I got distracted from it somehow and put it down. Well. I picked it back up this morning, and wouldn’t you know it, the chapter I read was about Christmas. “How appropriate,” thought I, “I should share this with my blog readers.” And that’s exactly what I intend to do.

The book is a collection of reflections on art, creation, culture and faith, and how we can view each one and the world through the lenses of the others. DLF recommended it to me because she had enjoyed it so much and felt that as a fellow artistic type, I might also enjoy it. And so I pass along the recommendation to anyone who considers him/herself an artist. The book is “Refractions” by Makoto Fujimura, and I’d like to share with you an excerpt from the chapter I read this morning just to give you a sense of what it’s like and to give you some food for thought so close to Christmas.

I know that many of you don’t think of yourselves as artists and might, therefore, think that this does not apply to you. Let me just say right now that it does. And also, we are all artists in one way or another. If you create anything – whether it’s words, photos, paintings, fruit displays, pottery, jewelry, music, acting, floral arrangements, dance, architecture, film, graphic design, cookie dough Christmas ornaments, CAD drawings, animation, a remodeled kitchen, recipes, origami boxes, scrapbooks, ridiculous/hilarious scenarios, or a really good batch of cookies – you are an artist. And this is for you.

“A Japanese pastor wrote that the most important message of Christmas is that Jesus was born as a babe, weak and vulnerable to the world. A baby is utterly dependent on a mother and a father, and others helping the baby to survive. Imagine, one who would claim to be the all-powerful Creator in flesh, becoming vulnerable and DEPENDENT on fallen human beings like us!

But when you think about it, a baby’s strength also lies in this weakness, as he or she draws people together. The message of Christmas is a paradox. It is through the weak that power is displayed. It is through the vulnerability that true, lasting security is gained. It is through being utterly dependent on others, that a true community is created.

The message of Christmas, then, can be applied to what we do as artists. What would our art look like if we truly believed that through our weaknesses, through even what we are ashamed of, we could create something that is lasting and meaningful, and incarnate hope back into the world. What if the power of a community is not in the display of power, but in the acknowledgement of our weaknesses? Artists can play an important role in helping a community to be authentic and honest. Japanese aesthetics already embraces the idea that weakness is beautiful: that what is wearing away and what is imperfect actually points to eternity.”

Vacation: Day 1 – Professionalism Fail

Well first let’s start with an update on my vacation to-do list progress. I spent the weekend with Rachel and Annabelle baking. And hooooo-boy did we bake! I think we made about 90 buck-eye balls, about the same number of pretzels with melted Rolos and pecans on top, roughly 50 Christmas wreaths, and when I left, Rachel was still rolling out and baking cookies. Christmas wreaths, by the way, are super-easy and very delicious. If you’re looking for something festive to make this year, I’ll tell you how to do it.

Basically, they’re like Rice Krispie treats, but you use Corn Flakes instead of Rice Krispies. So you melt the butter and marshmallows together in a pot, and then you add green food coloring until the whole pot of goo is green. Then you add the Corn Flakes and stir until they’re all covered in green goo. Then you plop them in roundish clumps onto wax paper and add a few Red Hots (you know, the tiny cinnamon candies) to look like berries on the wreaths. Then just let them cool and set a bit. Voila!

Oh, and the pretzel thingies were really easy too. We just got the sort of checker-board-looking pretzels (like these) and laid them out on a cookie sheet. Then I painstakingly unwrapped a whole mess of Rolos and placed one on top of each pretzel. We popped those into the oven for a few minutes, just to soften the caramel center of the Rolos. Then we took them out and smushed a pecan half on top of each one to make them a bit flatter and spread the chocolate across the whole pretzel. Let those bad boys cool, and you’ve got yourself a treat.

Oh, and also, I watched FOUR movies this weekend, so I’m very proud of that. It was also on my to-do list, if you recall.

But look at me. I’ve gone and gotten distracted by sweets and films. I meant to tell you about my first weekday of vacation, the first goal of which was to sleep in. Mission accomplished!!! The next goal was to get out of bed and go straight to the shower so as not to sit around all stank in my jabambas all day. BOOM! Showered.

Then, I was supposed to get dressed and put my face on as if I were going to go out to a real job in a real office because they say that’s what you should do if you work from home – treat your job like any other job – with professionalism.

Except when I got out of the shower, I realized that all my clothes were dirty.

So I put on clean jabambas and started a load of laundry. Oh well. I’ll get it right tomorrow. And in the meantime, I’ve got work to do. But hopefully, I’ll have something to say to y’all more often since all my brain power won’t be sucked out of me by the evil lesson planning fairies for the next few weeks.

Until next time (tomorrow??)…

Asheville Weekend in Pictures

One of my students requested that I take pictures of my trip to Asheville last weekend and post them here (hey Sarah!), and although I forgot my camera, Josh has a pretty good one on her phone, so here we go (thanks Josh!)!

We spent Friday afternoon wandering around downtown, trying to find me a new fall look. We went into a lot of stores, this one being one of my favorites. It’s a vintage store that also carries the wares of local etsy merchants, so there’s a lot of fun stuff to play with. But back to my new look. I liked this one ok. The mohawk, the two sets of eyes, the pointy nose, the blush. I think it really works for me, don’t you?

No? Perhaps not. Ok, on to the next store.

Let me just start by disappointing you all by telling you that I did not buy this hat. I know. I’m sorry. I liked it a lot. I love hats. I just feel like there’s no good reason to wear them around here. When I lived in NY, I wore hats all the time because it was cold, and I walked around outside a lot. But here, it’s sort of pointless. You go from your house to your car to your destination and back again. You’re never outside for more than two minutes, and let’s be honest. It’s not that cold.

Maybe if the hat had been a color that I felt like I’d get more wear out of, I would have been willing to spend money on it, but I wasn’t in love with this one. However, if you happen to see a hat similar to this one in a tweed, perhaps, or a felt, let me know.

On Saturday afternoon, we took a wee hike up to a lovely lookout. The leaves weren’t quite at their peak yet, but it was still beautiful, and it was really nice to be out in the fresh air.

You just can’t be on top of a mountain like this and not spin around like Julie Andrews singing, “The hills are a live with the sound of music!” It’s just not possible.

Ok, so we didn’t actually sing, but only because there were other people up there. You’d better believe, though, that if I were up there alone, I’d sing the whole song. I’d also sing “Climb Every Mountain” AND “Edelweiss.” Oh who am I kidding? I’d re-enact the whole movie, and we all know it.

There are plenty more pictures on facebook, but that’s enough for now. We had a great time, and my friend Eden was a wonderful hostess. We got to see lots of friends, eat plenty of good food and frolic in the mountains. What more could a girl want?

Good News/Bad News

The good news is that it’s a short week. The bad news is there are still two more days of it. I know I’ve been saying this for several weeks now, but seriously, this time it’s true: Next week, my schedule will be normal. I’ll only have to work ONE night, and I won’t be ready to fall asleep at every moment. Also, I’ll be able to go running and out to eat and stuff. Shoot, I might even go to the mall. It’s going to ROCK! I just have to get through tonight, tomorrow morning, tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow night and Friday morning. That’s it. Just five more classes.

AND even more good news: Apparently my copies have already come back! Hooray! That means I have materials to work with for a little while at least. I’ve got crossword puzzles and tests and writing exercises galore! I’m thinking about showing a film on Friday, though, and not using any of them. Any ideas? We talked all day today about food banks and where they get their supplies, so I was thinking of showing Food, Inc., but I don’t know. I’d need to have time to watch it and take notes before then so I could give them some questions to answer while they watch (to ensure that they pay attention).

I’d also have to figure out how to play it for them. Netflix instant play via projector onto white board? Blockbuster rental through DVD player onto TV? One-woman musical rendition? We’ll see.

“I am,” I said.

I live in a musical, if only in my own mind. There’s always a song playing in my head, always a lyric to fit the occasion, and if I had my way, we’d all burst into spontaneous, choreographed dance in the streets daily. The weather (natural lighting) would also fit our moods, and our outfits would always range from just a little over the top to holy sequins, Batman! This is my ideal world.

Unfortunately, the rats on the street don’t all dance around my feet encouragingly (Hairspray), getting mugged in New York is almost never a golden opportunity to throw caution to the wind and start from scratch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), and I fear most child laborers don’t psych themselves up for a long day’s work with a robust song and dance around the city square (Newsies).

The real world isn’t an ideal world, but I can create one by writing a musical.

This is something I’ve been talking about for a while. It’s an idea my sister and I had on our way to Mom and Dad’s house for Christmas one year. We were listening to Neil Diamond, and when “America” came on, we both heard it – really heard it in a new way – as an opening number.

Click play, then read on as you listen.

The strings start out low and ominous as we see the city, quiet and dimly lit in the early morning. Then as one, hopeful, sustained note plays, the sun begins to rise as the city comes to life. Husbands kiss wives good-bye as they head off to work in their suits and hats, women shake out rugs from their balconies, florists open their shops and sweep off their stoops, restaurateurs haggle with fishermen over the price of their daily catch, and as the bell chimes, we see a boat coming into the harbor, its passengers on deck, groggy and shivering, but hopeful as they catch their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

The music picks up as dock workers and the ship’s crew begin preparations for the boat’s arrival, throwing ropes, sacks and crates in time with the music and readying the gangway.

A male passenger on the deck of the ship sings: Far. We’ve been traveling far, without a home, but not without a star.

Another passenger, surrounded by his wife and several children sings: Free. Only want to be free. We huddle close, and hang on to a dream.

Someone on shore sings: On the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America. Never looking back again, they’re coming to America.

You get the picture. Characters continue singing lines of the song until everyone aboard and ashore is singing, “Today!”

The captain of the ship descends the gangway slowly singing, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Of thee I sing today!” Then everyone joins back in with the “todays,” and as they leave the boat and enter the immigration building, they stop singing until all that’s left onstage is one boy, looking at the statue, almost whispering, “Today.”

Just thinking about it is making me want to watch it. There’s just one problem: In order to watch it, I have to write it, and I don’t know ANYTHING about writing a play. I honestly don’t know anything about writing fiction. Listening to several Neil Diamond songs, I see scenes playing so vividly in my mind, but I have no idea how they are related to each other or how they’ll string together to make a story.

And that’s part of the reason I want to go to the Living a Better Story Seminar in Portland. Living a story means knowing what a story is all about, and living a better story requires the ability to envision it. That’s basically what you need to write fiction too, am I right?

And ok, so I lied before when I said there was just one thing standing in the way of me watching my musical. There are lots of obstacles:

  1. I have no idea how to write a play. We’ve now covered that. I need writing classes/workshops/groups to help me.
  2. I’ll have to get Neil Diamond’s permission to use his songs.
  3. Once a play is written, I’ll need performers, a place to present it, people to design/make costumes and sets, a marketing team/plan/materials, and money to pay for all of these things.
  4. Not to mention, once the show is written, I’ll need to concentrate all my efforts on getting it ready, which means I’ll need funds to cover my living expenses for a few months.
  5. I want Neil Diamond to appear in the show as Brother Love of “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show.”

I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m hoping the conference will teach me a little about story-telling, but also about finding the resources I’ll need to do this (or any other big thing I might want to do). I’m hoping it’ll be an encouraging thing and that it’ll get my creative mind thinking about where to get the money to take the classes and pay the people to build the sets and make the costumes, etc. And I guess I’m really hoping it’ll teach me how to invite others into my story in a way that makes them want to participate and/or follow a big dream of their own.

Here’s a video about the conference for anyone else who’s interested. Wasn’t it so sweet of Don to make this for y’all? I’ll be sure to thank him properly if he picks me to attend the conference (I’m thinking cupcakes, but feel free to leave suggestions for how to thank him properly in the comments).

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.