Friday, October 28, 2016

Friendship Visions

Last night I dreamt about one of my dear college friends, Esse, whom I haven't had a real conversation with since we graduated back in May of last year. The dream wasn't so eventful, other than that she was extremely fit (fitness had become her new passion in life), and we were somehow settled in to watch some American colonial-era theatrical production, two young modern black women surrounded by colonial-looking audience members (picture white people, big ol' white wigs, lots of lace, ruffles, and wide petticoats). But anywho.

I had that dream and didn't say anything to anyone about it. Then after work today, I go to a local bookstore to blow of some steam and wait out traffic, and my phone starts vibrating. And whose name do I see on the screen when I dig my phone out of my pocket? Esse's! We had the best conversation catching up with each other, shooting the breeze, exchanging ideas about the next moves we want to make in our young lives, what we miss and don't miss (or in my case, will and won't miss) about Michigan. I didn't even have that much steam to blow off today, but nonetheless I felt such great release from chatting with her. Relieved isn't event the word.

It's Friday, I got some new books, and I got to hear the voice of one of my dearest friends. It's so nice to know that people you like still like you back. Thanks to Esse for remembering me, calling me out of the blue, affirming my "vision" from last night (haha) and making my day today!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The worst you can do is miss.

Julia teaches me something new everyday. When I was hanging out on my mom's bed yesterday and Julia wanted to join, but knew she probably didn't have enough of a running start for clearance, did that deter her? Nope! She jumped up, missed, bounced off the side of the bed, fell backward, somehow still landed on her feet, and kept it moving! Trotted right out of the room as if nothing had happened.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

ドラマ (Dorama) Time! 15

Originally I was going to do like I always do with my J-drama reviews, but then I kept procrastinating on this one and now the fall broadcasting season in Japan has already started! I haven't even made my selections yet for this season! So I'm going to make my synopses a little more succinct this time around. I love to give y'all as much of the goods as I can about these shows, but sometimes it's best to keep it short.

 好きな人がいること (Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto/Having Someone to Love/A Girl with Three Sweethearts) - Fuji TV/2016

Misaki has been floundering at establishing herself as a pâtissier in Tokyo, and a chance run-in with her high school crush Chiaki has her living with him and his two brothers for the summer as she works in their restaurant. Chiaki's the owner/manager, his brooding and no-nonsense younger brother Kanata is the chef, and cheeky baby bro Touma is preparing to be sous chef. The "Girl with Three Sweethearts" English title is misleading, as Misaki is only caught in a love triangle with Chiaki and Kanata; Touma is simply there to throw in some angst, reveal secrets, and provide comic relief. Basically Chiaki is dumb to Misaki's feelings until finally he isn't, Kanata doesn't like her until eventually he does, and there's an ex-girlfriend thread and an extortion thread thrown in there for good measure. Yes, it has the same exact formula as 'SUMMER NUDE' and 'Koinaka' (young pretty people + love triangle + secrets + revelations + seaside location + "follow your dream/heart" + directed by Kanai Hiro). Yes, I fell for it just like I did last year and two years before that. And yes, I loved 'Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto' just as much as the others. When I studied abroad in Japan it was during the summer, so breezy dramas like this one always make me feel lighthearted and nostalgic. The show might be slightly predictable, but it's still a great ride!

せいせいするほっど、愛してる (Seiseisuru hodo, Aishiteru/Love Catharsis) - TBS/2016

This drama's title is (unintentionally?) ironic, because rather than catharsis it's just a winding road of messiness and drama. Kurihara Mia (Takei Emi) has her dream job of working in PR at the jewelry giant, Tiffany & Co. She gradually becomes infatuated with the new VP Kairi, who's actually an architect but was forced to become VP of this company as payback for his estranged wife getting into a car accident and falling into a coma (her dad is president of the company and blames Kairi for what happened). Mia and Kairi have an affair, are stupidly naive and sloppy about it, and keep acting surprised and all woe-is-me when they repeatedly get caught, confronted, and punished for it. My favorite part of this show is Kairi's wife Yuka, that right-on-time good n' crazy heifer who wakes from her coma, discovers the dirt that's being done, and always manages to step in and wreck things like, "Not today! Not on my watch!" Watch this show if you're a fan of Takei Emi (her hair and fashion game are sickening in it), enjoy cackling at scenes that are supposed to be serious, and have no pity for cheaters but are nosy enough to want to see how they end up.

はじめまして、愛しています。 (Hajimemashite, Aishiteimasu./Nice to meet you, I love you.) - TV Asahi/2016

While I'd been intrigued by its premise when I read about it, I watched this show solely for Ono Machiko ('Saikou no Rikon'). She is such a smart actress. Not only is she excellent at what she does (she can literally become anyone you want her do be, and is so convincing that you almost forget that she's played any other characters in the past), but if you look at the roles she's chosen over the years... gah, she's just so smart! I don't know how else to describe her. Anywho, time is running out for Mina's (Ono Machiko) dream of becoming a professional piano player, and she's given no thought to starting a family until she and her husband Shinji find a scraggly-looking boy hiding in their bushes. They learn that the boy was abused and abandoned and wandered to their house when he heard Mina's piano playing. With Shinji's enthusiasm and a social worker's guidance they go through the steps to adopt the boy, whom they name Hajime.  But when they're not coping with Hajime's post-traumatic behavior, fielding skepticism from their respective families, or reconciling their own insecurities about their ability to be successful parents, they face the threat of losing Hajime for good. Bloodlines and family registries are still extremely important in Japan, and adoption is not as common or celebrated as in the States. Given that, this drama taught me so much about what making another human being part of one's family truly entails. Watch 'Hajimemashite, Aishiteimasu' if you want something informative that will also tempt you to cry.

"Honorable Mention" (haven't finished yet): Kenja no Ai/A Wise Person's Love - WOWOW/2016

This 4-episode drama draws inspiration from Tanizaki Junichiro's classic novel, Naomi, a Pygmalion-eque tale in which a man grooms a young woman to be his ideal wife, only to be pitifully controlled by her in the end. The Japanese title of the novel is 痴人の愛 (Chijin no Ai/A Fool's Love), and as a nod to the book, this show is titled 賢者の愛 (Kenja no Ai/A Wise Person's Love). Mayuko is a book editor whose childhood frenemy Yuri has always taken from her what she wants for herself, including the love of Mayuko's life and her future literary client, Ryoichi. Yuri gets knocked up by him and becomes his wife, and once the baby's born godmother Mayuko names her godson Naomi (you got it, in reference to the novel) and sets in motion a plan of ultimate revenge. She'll make her godson her plaything and toy with his heart, eventually throwing it in Yuri's face. (Or at least I assume that's the goal, I'm only 2 episodes in so far.) Mayuko waits to make her move until Naomi's grown, and she's not actually attracted to him in any way, so I wouldn't call the show pedophilic. But it definitely has some unsettling predatory vibes... that's probably why it's on a cable channel. And making viewers uncomfortable is probably the point of it all anyway. 'Kenja no Ai' is shot like a movie, the minimalism in a lot of the scenes heightens the tension, and who doesn't love a vengeance story that hits below the belt? If you're a petty person who dreams of seeing moochers and users get their comeuppance, then Kenja no Ai is for you.

As far as my favorite drama from this summer goes, I have to choose 'Suki na Hito ga Iru Koto'. What can I say? The formula still works.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

BOOKS! (Darkness Visible + The House on Mango Street)

These two were part of one of my recent used book sale indulgences, and since they were both short and I've been determined to boost my "read" numbers before year's end, I read them both fairly quickly. As such, I figured I'd review them together. New books, new review, new book model (my adopted dog Julia)!

Darkness Invisible: A Memoir of Madness by William Styron

I am fairly young and there remains a vast array of literature that I've yet to become acquainted with. Yet and still, thanks to the experiences I have had as a reader, I have little lists or libraries in my head of books I'd recommend to people if they ever asked me for suggestions on learning about this subject or that subject. Darkness Visible is one that I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about what depression feels like. Take last year's Boy Meets Depression by Kevin Breel, for instance. Not a stellar book but a vulnerably humble and honest one, whose merit lies in his descriptions of what it feels like to be fighting with your own mind day in and day out. Darkness Visible offers similar insights from William Styron, who's perhaps best known as the author of Sophie's Choice.

In this extended essay Styron attempts to articulate his understanding of the illness based on his own experiences in the 1980s and his observations of fellow writers, many of whom famous and personal acquaintances of his. He has the added perspective of having spent many years on both sides of the topic. Styron used to be someone who had never been depressed and thus couldn't possibly comprehend it (he is adamant about this point). Now, having crawled through his own internal torment and distortion at the time of writing, he understands its magnitude so intensely that he calls depression a grave disease with as much fatal potential as diabetes or cancer.

Unfortunately, despite how serious depression is, no one seems to know exactly where it comes from or how to heal it. There's no formula and no tried-and-true easy fix. At least this is the conclusion at which Styron has arrived after seeing a therapist, being hospitalized, and doing a heap of research on his own. None of the conventional methods or medications worked for him so much as a little time a lone, a break from the busyness and demands of his life. Rather than implying that treating depression is a hopeless cause, he simply upfront about the reality that how the illness manifests itself and the extent to which it can be treated successfully depends on the person. And unfortunately a lot of it is still up in the air, as depression continues to pose a quandary to sufferers, bystanders, caretakers, and medical professionals alike.

Favorite quote:
"In depression this faith in deliverance, in ultimate restoration, is absent... If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul. So the decision-making of daily life involves not, as in normal affairs, shifting from one annoying situation to another less annoyingor from discomfort to relative comfort, or from boredom to actꟷbut moving from pain to pain. One does not abandon, even briefly, one's bed of nails, but is attached to it wherever one goes" (62).

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

When I used to work at a bookstore we always had this novel on display and in ample supply, especially during back to school season since it's a mainstay on reading lists at various academic levels. I'd been curious, but not enough to rush to by it. When I found a couple copies lined up at a local library book sale, I figured Welp, looks like this is my chance. Drawing inspiration from Cisneros' childhood growing up in the hood in Chicago, the novel is narrated by an adolescent girl named Esperanza Cordero who's one of many Latino residents on Mango Street.

Esperanza lives in an unremarkable house, claims to have no friends, and feels so underappreciated and misunderstood that she writes stories to escape the immense loneliness and dissatisfaction she feels toward her neighborhood. She often expresses a searing and unrelenting desire for solitude, home, belonging, control, a place to hide, the means to express herself and be acknowledged, the ability to be somewhere else and someone else. As much as she dreams of fleeing, though, ironically her writings memorialize Mango Street and the people who live there, especially the women she grows up knowing. And unfortunately, the majority of young and grown women in Esperanza's life are described as being in desolate relationships with the men around them.

A number of young newlyweds are sequestered in their homes by their husbands, like Rapunzels. One of Esperanza's school friends is frequently beaten by her father for being too pretty and having the potential to run away. A new mom who has just immigrated to join her baby's father spends her days mourning the loss of connection to her home country. Esperanza seems to have one of the most functional households in the neighborhood (two stable parents, a precocious younger sister), but she is very well aware of the mistreatment and double standards that have influenced her life. Her own great-grandmother was kidnapped into marriage, and even before high school Esperanza is assaulted by men in public on more than one occasion. In a similar style to the Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, what may be mistaken as man-bashing is actually a testimony about various forms of suffering that often go unnoticed. Esperanza is determined to create the kind of life she wants without scorning where she's come from, but not before airing out her grievances.

Favorite quote:
"Their strength is secret. They send ferocious roots beneath the ground. They grow up and they grow down and grab the earth between their hairy toes and bite the sky with violent teeth and never quit their anger. This is how they keep... They teach. When I am too sad and too skinny to keep keeping, when I am a tiny thing against so many bricks, then it is I look at trees... Four who grew despite concrete. Four who reach and do not forget to reach. Four whose only reason is to be and be" (73-74).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Worth is Something Different.

Please don't be wooed by words like "market value" or "competitive". Know your worth and hold to it!

(Before I continue, what I'm about to say may not be news to many, but I've had this revelation firsthand from behind the scenes, and I want to share it for people my age who are working or looking for jobs and may not have considered it. What I'm about to say is also based on the hypothetical assumption that a job-seeker has the experience, skills, and qualifications to warrant a salary that's reflective of what they bring to the table. Know that this is purely based on observation and not personal grievance.)

When hiring personnel mention "market value", they're not talking about how much you or what you can do are actually worth. I venture to say that what they're really referring to is how much (or how little) they can pay you in comparison to other companies who hire people to do similar work. Their goal is to get the most quality work out of you for the lowest possible price, so when hiring personnel or job ads mention "competitive rates" or "competitive salaries", please do not read too much into it. "Competitive" doesn't mean that what they offer you is all that you should get or that there isn't any money to pay you more. It means that their rates/salaries are in line with (maybe a few dollars more than) the precedent that they and other companies have been able to set for the same type of work. And in too many cases, people with the requisite skills and experience or worth more than that precedent.

And I understand, this is business and businesses have budgets to maintain. I understand that even if people are underpaid, it doesn't necessarily follow that their employers don't value their contributions at least in theory; they might get acknowledged in other ways. I also understand that not everyone is in a position to hold out for something else that will pay more, especially if the offer presented to them is the only viable option they have. Money is money and people gotta eat. But I've learned quite a few lessons working in recruitment so far, and one of the most important is that market value (what people are willing to pay you) and your worth are not synonymous. They should be, and in various instances I'm sure they are depending on the field and the position that someone is aiming for, but they often are not.

I'm increasingly of the mind that worth cannot be completely measured in a conventional sense anyway. However, to the extent that it can be measured quantitatively and compensated monetarily, you have to be incredibly self-aware and know what you will and won't accept. Drake and many people before and after him have implored folks to "Know yourself, know your worth", and as someone who helps hire people I'm begging you not to take this advice lightly. Do what you gotta do, but don't ever let anyone make you second-guess what you have to offer.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Scripture & Lyrics

"But in fact God has placed the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." -1 Corinthians 12:18 (NIV)

"But you can bet your life times that and twice its double / That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed." -Stevie Wonder

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

"The small one can become the big one" - Queen of Katwe

While it is tempting to be unnerved by an actress of Lupita Nyong'o's multi-faceted artistic stature playing yet another long-suffering black woman in a major film, she is such a phenom, transfiguring characters on paper into flesh and blood before our eyes, that I can't even be mad. This is not a proper introduction but it's the first thought that came to mind when sitting down to write about this film.

Seen Saturday, September 24th: Queen of Katwe

In Katwe, within the city of Kampala, Uganda, Phiona Mutesi is a pre-teen girl who spends her days selling maize in order to help support her family, which includes her widowed mother and three siblings. When her brother Brian starts skipping out on selling to slip away, Phiona follows him to the one-room school house where a gaggle of intelligent, competitive, wise-cracking kids are taught to play chess by "Coach" Robert Katende, the activities coordinator at a local church ministry. Phiona joins and eventually becomes the winningest player in the club, which Robert affectionately calls "The Pioneers". As her talent takes her to national and international tournaments, Phiona begins to envision a broader future for herself, but is wisely cautioned from bearing disdain for the impoverished place and people who have shaped who she is.

What I really like about this film: Though it is a sports drama film, it's not another one of those cheap "let's save the blacks through sports" movies that Western audiences seem to be so enamored with, in which championships are won and brown-skinned people must transcend themselves in order to be somebody. The cast is abundantly African, most of the characters are abundantly poor, and though the kids learn to play chess competitively, it's not all about winning or earning a certain status. Robert challenges the kids in order for them to gain self confidence, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, learn about themselves, and bow before no one, no matter where their competitors come from or what social status they may have. There is no glory in it from him. Phiona, like the other Pioneers, is given the space and encouragement to explore, make mistakes, and go as far as her skills and curiosity will take her, but she is never pressured to do anything that will ultimately serve the adults around her more than her. She puts her all into become a masterful chess player simply because it makes her feel smart and powerful, and the hometown hero status is just a bonus.

I also appreciate that Queen of Katwe keeps it real in terms of the limited options that women and young girls like Phiona, her mother (Lupita Nyong'o), and her older sister face. Young, poor, and without a man in the house, they must either sell goods to survive or try their luck at getting a man to provide for them. For some like Phiona's sister Night, the costs of dependence, isolation, exploitation, and ultimately abandonment are too high, but they have to learn this the hard way. For others, like Phiona's family's landlord, being "kept" is a fact of life that any woman should be prepared to do at least once. And some women, like Phiona's mother, are too proud to yield to such advances. Regardless of the choices that each of these characters make, the film doesn't shy away from the fact that women and girls of a certain age in circumstances like these face unwanted attention and the pressure to yield to men on a daily basis, and accepting it in order to survive is sometimes less than a choice.

Lastly, the end credits of the film left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. As each character is presented, the real-life person is shown standing alone, and then the actor who plays them walks in and stands beside them. Both stare into the camera seemingly oblivious of each other, and then they drop the act, turn, and embrace each other like old friends greeting. Some of the pairs are even dressed alike and color coordinated! It is such a sweet series of moments. Normally with "based on a true story" films like these you might get a few photos and a couple blurbs during the ending credits letting you know what happened to the real-life person. But to see every single one of the major characters alive, to witness African people taking part in a film that was made about their stories, and being seen by masses of filmgoers? With the actors honoring them, face to face? Lord have mercy, I almost cried.

What I don't like about this film: Nothing. I find chess to be over my head and extremely boring, and I was still fascinated by this film. Go see it and be inspired. That is all.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Meet Julia! (And never say never.)

Two weeks ago today, Ma and I adopted a dog. Said dog's mere presence in this house is a testament to the adage that one should never say never. Here I am, less than three months after the heartbreaking loss of my childhood dog (I thought I'd need an entire year to even consider getting another one), having adopted a pit bull mix (Ma swore that she would never allow that breed into her house), who bears a name that I never would have chosen for my own child, much less a dog (it's a pretty name but too common and girly for my liking). But what do you know? Meet Julia, the pibble (Staffordshire bull terrier + shepherd, approximately).

We met her at a pet adoption event at the Detroit Zoo. We'd been looking into adopting for a month or so, and at first I was certain that I wanted another hound. But then I broadened my criteria to any medium-sized dog that was thick in the middle and had a distinctive look and/or had at least one "ugly cute" feature (wrinkles, droopy eyes, skin folds, etc.). Funny enough Julia was actually the first dog that we saw when they opened the event to the public that Saturday morning, and after walking through all the tents Ma and I took a liking to about four other dogs (all pit bulls, go figure), but we kept coming back to her. Detroit Animal Welfare Group (DAWG) informed us that she has a past and emphasized that she is not good with other animals (especially dogs, she's not so much "aggressive" as she is "reactive"). But they also emphasized how loving she is and that all she wants is to be loved and feel safe. I saw how chill, chubby, and friendly she was in the pink kennel they had her in, and for some reason I had an unshakeably good feeling about her. So I applied to adopt her, DAWG scheduled a home visit with us, Ma and I spent the rest of that day cleaning, and the next afternoon DAWG was at our front door with Julia in tow. They must have approved of us and our house, because two weeks later and she's sleeping behind my chair as I write this.

We are beyond happy to have Julia around, but that's not to say that things weren't awkward at first. Julia had been so used to the rescue people that she moped around looking and waiting for them the first day after they left. As for me, as determined as I'd been about being ready to adopt I was (am?) still grieving Madison, so I wasn't head-over-heels for Julia and I had difficulty being able to look at her and acknowledge wholeheartedly, This is my dog. Thankfully after the the third day or so we warmed up to each other, and now she follows me everywhere and never misses a chance to get in my face. And I got used to her name (I don't know who named her "Julia", but DAWG had had her for nearly her entire 2-ish years of life, and she meant so much to them that I didn't bother trying to change it).

Based on our initial fortnight together, I can tell you a few things about my new dog.

She is: "A chunk of love" as DAWG ppl called her (chubby pup who's very affectionate with humans, though not so chubby anymore), eager to please (most of the time), inquisitive, and a dog that knows what she wants and what she doesn't want.

She is not: A morning dog, a running buddy, noisy (only barks when she sees other dogs or if other dogs bark at her first, snores very lightly in her sleep), or too proud to play possum for belly rubs.

She likes: Tearing up soft squeaky toys, staring out the front door and window at passersby, rolling around in grass, going outside for no reason, going on walks, riding in the car, licking whatever human skin she can make contact with (especially faces), lying around, sleeping, pretending she doesn't hear us talking to her (not all the time), and belly rubs.

She dislikes: Other dogs, eating on a regular schedule, being prompted to move when she doesn't feel like it.

So far so good. The transition has been smoother than we anticipated in a delightful way. Thanks to Ma for seeing how broken-up I was over Madison and mentioning the idea of getting another dog in the first place. Thanks to the Detroit Zoo and the Michigan Humane Society for holding their annual event. Thanks to DAWG and especially Janet and Natalie for walking us through the process and being so informative and supportive. Thanks to Julia for becoming my new best friend. And thank you Jesus for making it so I don't have to be so lonely anymore.

For more pictures of Julia up 'til now and to come, check out this album:

Julia the Pibble.