Monday Update

It’s been a looonnnnggg but boring and busy few weeks, with minimal time for creating bloggy material and content happening in my life, so I figure it’s time for a quick update on what’s been keeping me occupied.

I’m…

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…working on: grading research papers. I’ve got 105 five to seven page papers to work through. Even just looking at the stack is overwhelming. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s all for the greater good. And that the massive amounts of unpaid time I use notating and commenting on their writing will help them in the future because they’ll take what they learn from this experience and apply it to other classes. And that this will overall help them become better writers and better students, because they’ll take time to read through my notations and comments – they won’t just look at the grade on the back and then forget about it. Because they care about more than just the grade… right? Right.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

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…feeling: Christmassy, but burned out. It’s making it really difficult to focus, right at a time when it’s super important for me to focus or else I’m going to be in grading hell VERY fast. All I want to do is put up my tree, drink coffee while wrapped in a blanket on the couch, and listen to Christmas carols while I knit. But I can’t. I still have the final grading push to get through. And hell, it’s not even December yet.

It’s helped to try to take 5 minutes here and there to just breathe and recenter myself – but sometimes that 5 minute breather turns into a 15 minute break where I do things like cut paper snowflakes and make santa hats from scratch (complete with shading in red pen) for my office pope. Whoops. (#sorrynotsorry)

Spotify radio

…listening to: Spotify radio. I’ve been a spotify subscriber for a long time, but I only recently fully discovered the radio function – and I’m in love. It’s like Pandora, only with unlimited skips. The ’00s station is totally my jam. It would be Christmas stuff, but I have a feeling my officemates and office neighbors might string me up if I did that considering Thanksgiving isn’t even over yet.

sailor moon crystal

…watching: Sailor Moon Crystal – OMG guys, this is seriously amazing. I started it because reading Reenie’s Sailor Moon rewatch posts at The Fangirl’s Dilemma made me super nostalgic and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s all the nostalgia from when I was in middle school, with none of the weird awkward 90’s filler or pacing problems of the original series (at least so far anyway).

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…reading: Zealot by Reza Aslan. I originally picked up this book to read to see if it would be a good gift for my dad, who is into theology as well as history, and it’s got me hooked, even though religion is not necessarily something I’m super into*. A review is forthcoming once I finish it.

What have you all been up to?

*While my office pope would seem to contradict this – I’m not even Catholic. I just like the guy. It’s a long story.

Flea Market Finds

Market scene full

So I found these beautiful watercolor paintings at an indoor flea market a few weeks ago.

bridge scene full

The guy who sold them to me said they were from the 1930’s, which would make them pre-war productions (he re-matted and reframed them). They seem to be somewhat mass produced – the outline of the painting is pressed into the paper, and then an individual artist added color.

Market scene closeup

He may have been full of shit (although he was a super nice and interesting guy who seemed to know what he was talking about – we spent a lot of time talking about the fossils he was selling and he def knew what was up), but even if he is, I don’t care. I love them and can’t wait to get them hung up. I haven’t decided where to put them yet – but I’m thinking near my craft area.

That said, I really wish I was more advanced in my Japanese studies – they’re going disgustingly and frustratingly slow without any access to formal classes or a tutor of some sort – because maybe then I could read what the text says… It might give some clue as to exactly what these are, when and where they were made, and who painted them.

Writing closeup on market scene

Anyone read Japanese?

So I Fixed an Antique Table

Table legs detached

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted about something productive on here – I honestly just haven’t been that crafty/industrious lately.

Except, I fixed a table.

My Aunt had given this table to us when we first moved into this new apartment. The one catch was that it was broken – specifically, the dowel pins that stabilize the table had rotted away and broken over the years, leaving the legs detached and wobbly. It was an easy fix, but not something she was willing to put the time into, so ours it became…

…and then it proceeded to sit in her garage for a year because me, Jim, and the apartmentmate could not get our shit together enough to come pick it up.

broken dowel closeup

But we finally did it! We finally got our asses in gear and got it up to our apartment a few weeks ago. The only thing left to do was to figure out how to flush out the broken dowels (the wood glue originally used was still totally solid), replace them with new ones, and reattach the legs.

Easy peasy.

Tools

Or it should have been. I had hoped to be able to dig out the dowels without using my grandfather’s drill (which I borrowed from my father juuussssstttt in case), mainly because I don’t necessarily trust myself to play with power tools on an antique without screwing it up royally.

But the file set and pliers just did not end up cutting it – the wood glue that was in there originally was just too solid. I even tried using a corkscrew. Like for wine.

It broke.

Whoops.

So I ended up having to bite the bullet and drill them out.

Legs reattached

It was terrifying, but nothing went too awry. I managed to get the legs reattached and stabilized. It’s not the most perfect job ever, but pretty good considering I was working in our dining room with a kitten who was dangerously interested in what I was doing.

And in the end, we have a beautiful new coffee bar! (No worries about spills, the table has a water-resistant finish).

Finished coffee bar

It’s Armistice Day (aka Veterans Day, aka Remembrance Day)

In Flanders Feild

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent.

Today here in the US is Veterans Day – a day to celebrate, thank, and honor the men and women who have fought for our country. But it is also a much more specific holiday – and the holiday from which Veterans Day originally evolved: Armistice Day, which celebrates the ceasefire that brought an end to WWI’s Western Front.

Here in the US, World War One doesn’t get too much attention, mainly because our involvement was so limited. But, particularly considering that this year is the centennial of the conflict’s start, I think that it’s very important to take some time today to remember this conflict for what it was: a world war of such magnitude that it was presumed at the time to be the war to end all wars.

When all was said and done, when the battlefields of Europe finally fell silent, more than 17 million people were dead. About 7 million were civilians. The population and physical infrastructure of continental Europe had been ravaged by new military technologies like tanks, flamethrowers (flammenwefer), and chemical weapons like mustard gas. Naval warfare had been changed forever by Dreadnoughts and U-boats, and planes had seen their first usage as a weapon of war*. From the unprecedented destruction that these technologies birthed, to the collapse of four major imperial powers and the planting of economic and nationalist seeds that would later become an even more deadly conflict, there’s no denying that WWI quite literally changed the world. It christened the 20th century in an inferno of violence, death, and destruction.

So today, on the anniversary of the halting of hostilities by ceasefire on the Western Front of WWI, I leave you with the above graphic/printable I made featuring LCol John McCrae’s famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” This poem is one of the reasons the poppy has become the international symbol used to commemorate soldiers who have died in war.

Additionally, if you wish to read up on WWI, or investigate the conflict further for yourself, here are a few links you may find helpful/interesting:

WWI by the Numbers: an awesome infographic c/o the History Channel that gives a great overview of the technological and human impact of the war using statistics (and some great graphic design).

WWI at the British Library: an amazing collection of primary sources and specially commissioned articles by historians exploring every facet of the war, from causes to cultural legacies.

WWI at the Imperial War Museum: lots of great exhibits and resources available through their website including online exhibits about life on the front lines, and life back home in Britain.

The National WWI Museum Online: has several great online exhibitions, again, on everything from the causes of the war to life on the homefront (this time in the US).

Operation War Diary: a joint project between the British National Archives and the Imperial War Museum to digitize and organize over 1.5 million pages of WWI diaries by crowdsourcing (I’ve written about this project before).

*Not-so-fun Fact: All this new technology is part of the reason why the war was so deadly – the combination of 20th century technology with 19th century war tactics resulted in bloodbaths of obscene proportions, with very little to show in terms of advancement or gains once the battles ended. Basically, trench warfare was nasty, nasty stuff.
[Graphic Info – Font: Breamcatcher; Image credits: WWI image – Wikimedia Commons and the Imperial War Museum; Poppy field image – koko-stock on deviantart]

Things I’m Currently Obsessed With: Attack on Titan

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So as I’ve said a few times in the past, when I was in middle school, I very much enjoyed a few anime series. But I always felt like I had to hide it, because in our school culture, anime was not a “girl” thing, nor was it mainstream – the culture seemed to project the idea that only geeky boys liked it. To make it worse, all the animes I tended to like were very much “boy” animes. You wouldn’t get made fun of if you admitted to liking Sailor Moon as a kid (as long as you didn’t STILL like it – that was baby stuff after all), but anything else? Whooooo boy.*

So the fact that I loved series like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing was not something you’d get me to admit outside of my immediate family, (and honestly the only reason that I even admitted it there was because my dad used to watch them with my brother and I, and enjoyed it just as much). That compulsion to hide that I liked these things lasted long into college.

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Those machines were sooooo badass… even if the writing kind of sucked.

Now though? I really don’t give a flying you-know-what. It really is true when people say that the older you get, the less you care what people think. I’m now happy to admit that I was all about giant anthropomorphic war machines and battles for earth’s ultimate fate by hulking overpowered aliens as a tween/young teen. I even have a little Gundam Sandrock action figure (right next to my Union Jack Hello Kitty Plushie) on my desk at work. I really truly DGAF anymore.

That said, while I have grown much less shy about my nostalgia for such things, anime as a whole has gotten increasingly difficult for me to enjoy.

First of all, the practical reality of many of them being centered around high school aged characters with high school aged problems just sort of turns me off as a viewer. That kind of stuff just doesn’t interest me anymore because, well, I’m not a high school aged kid with high school aged problems anymore. I’m a crotchety old lady who now sides with King Triton when he yells at Ariel for being irresponsible in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

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Hold it right there, missy, because yes you are.

But secondly, the way women and their bodies are often portrayed really bothers me in more recent cartoons, and in general I feel like so many of them are purposely pandering to a specific audience with those decisions: horny teen boys. Not being a horny teen boy, it doesn’t exactly grab my attention, and in fact tends to just end up with me putting on my irritated feminist hat. I could probably end up writing a whole series of posts on my irritation with that kind of fan service, and why it’s different from the portrayal of similarly busty/sexy women in older series (Faye Valentine, Bulma Briefs, etc…), but that’s not why we’re here today.

We’re here today because I have found the first new anime series that’s been able to hold my attention since high school: Attack on Titan.


One Friday Jim and I decided to give the anime a shot after someone recommended the series to him – the first season is on Netflix (in Japanese with English subtitles). So we sat down and watched the first episode. And the second. And then the third. Before we knew it it was 8 pm on Saturday and we had finished the entire thing. Or the entire thing that’s been released as an anime so far.

I don’t think I’ve had that sort of “sit still for 8 hours watching episode after episode without even thinking or feeling bad about it” experience EVER. It hooked us immediately and reaching the last episode was devastating. Particularly since the anime ends on a HUGE cliffhanger. So we immediately turned to the manga. Jim read a translation online. I bought the English releases at BAM. And now we wait eagerly each month for the next chapter to be released and translated. We’re hooked.

But why? What makes this series so different from all the others I’ve tried as an adult and just could not get into?

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#1) It’s dark. Really dark. And brutal. And if my apartment mate’s complaints about the contents of our bookcases are to be believed (which honestly they are), I am fascinated by dark and brutal. Because there’s something very human to be found in the dark and brutal. This is above all not necessarily a series about giants who eat people for shits and giggles (even though it is) – it’s a series about the way humans react when subjected to extreme pressure, hardship, and brutality – both the good and the bad of it. And as someone who has done a lot of work in topics that fall under that “extreme pressure, hardship and brutality” category, I must say, bangup job, AOT. Bangup job.

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#2) Despite being set in a fictional universe where mindless, genitalless, naked giants that eat people roam about while people use gas powered grappling systems to slingshot themselves around to try to kill them – it’s very REAL. The characters are very human. They are cocky, they are fearful, they are immature, they are snotty, self-absorbed, selfish, obsessive… they are all FLAWED. Even the one character you can sort of argue as being a “Mary Sue,”** Mikasa, has some serious issues – specifically a codependence problem of obscene proportions. It even contains a fairly sophisticated portrayal of the effect fear has on different people – some people panic and flounder, while some people shine. Not every character is a hero 100% of the time, and that includes the main characters.

sasha fear

3) There is no goddamn fan service. The female characters are just that – characters who happen to be female. They are not sexualized for no goddamn reason, they are not merely there as “eye candy.” They are just people, and developed people with personalities and problems, at that. People who happen to have breasts and a vagina instead of a penis.

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4) It’s realistically muddled. The longer the story drags on, the less clear it becomes exactly WHO the bad guys are. And that’s so true of any major conflict. The longer it goes, the deeper into depravity BOTH sides fall. Additionally, as we begin to learn more and more about the world (warning: potential spoilers ahead), the less clear it is that there actually IS a “good guy” in this conflict – which only adds another fascinating dimension to the whole mystery.

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5) Everything isn’t always a happy ending. Just like reality. Sometimes the “good guys” lose. Sometimes the “good guys” die. And so it keeps you engaged. No character is safe. It keeps you guessing, while at the same time giving to a healthy dose of the reality of war.

Now the series is not without its weak points – pacing can be an issue in the anime at times particularly – but all in all, the good outweighs the bad by miles.

Now if only they’d get on with it and announce season two…

Have you seen Attack on Titan? If so, what did you think?

*Or at least that’s how middle school and high school me perceived it – whether or not I actually would have been ridiculed for it is something I’ll never know because I made a point of staying quiet about it – as I said in my Band of Brothers Review last week, high school aged me had some serious self-acceptance issues.
** A character written as TOO perfect.

[Clicking on the images should take you back to the original source – beware, spoilers may lurk there]

HBO’s Band of Brothers: 13 Years and a History Degree Later…

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… and it’s still fantastic.

I watched most of the series when it first aired in 2001, but as an air-headed high school freshman, I must admit I wasn’t the most attentive. I watched much of the series clandestinely out of the corner of my eye, sitting on the couch pretending to read Bridget Jones’ Diary instead – because that’s what teen girls were supposed to do, right? Read chick-lit and roll their eyes at the bloodletting murderfest of a war show their father and brother are watching? I wasn’t supposed to like that stuff. I was supposed to like TRL, glitter makeup, and have a massive crush on a skinny lanky boy like [insert boy band member here]. I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to delight in the nick-of-time appearance of a Sherman tank, be fascinated by a scene of remarkable gore, or find the tough but somehow gentle swagger of Michael Cudlitz as “Bull” Randleman so confusingly appealing.

Let’s just say my teenage self had some pretty deep-seated self-acceptance issues and some weird concepts of gender mores.

But anyway.

As a result of my problems self-actualizing as a teenager, I didn’t pay the series the kind of attention I should have. I can easily explain why that was the case. What I have a much harder time explaining, however, was why I haven’t revisited it since exiting that horrible, awkward, self-hating teen phase.

Because seriously? This series is awesome.

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The Great:

It’s immensely difficult to even put to words everything that’s great about Band of Brothers, because there’s just so much. It’s visually stunning, the storytelling is often genius, and the chaos of war is portrayed in a way that really brings the anxiety and the fear home for the viewer. It does an amazing job expressing the randomness of the brutality, and the pointlessness that many felt so acutely as the war dragged further and further along. It even does a great job at displaying how many of the Germans were essentially in the same boat as a lot of these guys – young, battered, and caught up in the mechanisms of a war that has nothing to do with them personally. Damian Lewis is just beyond brilliant as Major Winters, and the men chosen to play the rest of Easy company are completely on point at pretty much all times. Honestly, I have very few complaints about the series. Even the “anticlimactic ending” that many apparently complained about at the time totally worked for me – because what I’ve learned in my studies over the years is that the end of war is often exactly that for the soldiers – anticlimactic.

So in assessing this series, the easier thing to do is to just tell you what about it I didn’t like, because telling you what I did would take weeks, and hundreds of thousands of words.

real life easy companyThe Real Life Easy Company Relaxing at the Eagle’s Nest

 

The Not-So-Great:

1) Not a huge representation of women in this series – you’ve got a nurse here and there, some civilians roaming around in certain scenes, one scene where some women who slept with Nazis are shaved and publicly shamed by the Dutch resistance, and offhanded comments here and there about the guys’ ladies back home. Now normally this would be a huge problem for me, but in this I can hardly get whipped up about it. I’d rather there be little representation than they warp the storyline and force it for the sake of diversity. Because to be honest, the front lines weren’t a place you’d generally find a whole lot of women. And at its core, this is a story about the front lines of combat.

2) Some of the CGI hasn’t held up so well over the last 13 years. Particularly some of the flight scenes in Day of Days look a little, well, CGI-y. But again, limits of technology have changed like crazy since 2001, so you can’t really fault it for this too much.

3) Carentan was not a terribly strong episode – the focus on Pvt. Blythe felt very out of place, and how it was executed just didn’t really work for me. Additionally, there are some inaccuracies in his story – he doesn’t die of his wounds after the war, but rather stayed in the military (serving in Korea, actually) until his death of renal failure (I think?) in the late 1960s. But again, you can’t really fault the series too much for this (beyond the fact that they haven’t fixed it in subsequent releases), since this one’s an error taken directly from the source material – which brings me to my next and last “Not-So-Great” point.

4) Bottom line is that this is a series that’s best viewed as a memoir of sorts rather than a factual account of the war. Why? Well, because the book it’s based on is, by all accounts, not well researched. Apparently Ambrose used his interviews with the Easy Company veterans as essentially his only source. That may provide for an amazing narrative, but without the use of further trusted resources, an unbiased work of history it does not make. So that’s a bit of an issue with the source material.

Now normally this would be a HUGE HUGE problem for me, not just a “not-so-great.” But for as problematic as that is for the book from an academic point of view, ultimately it’s not a huge issue for the mini-series. Because ultimately the mini-series does not claim to be the absolute truth. That’s not the function it serves. It is not a documentary. It is, at its core, a work of entertainment meant to convey the essence of the war experience. To communicate the brutality and the inhumanity of the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) by taking the viewer along for the ride with characters that they’ve bonded with and feel an affinity for. And in that, it does a beautiful job.

Did you watch Band of Brothers when it first aired? Have you watched it since? How do you think it held up over the years? Please share in the comments!

[Clicking on photos will take you to their original sources]