What’s Up, Wednesday?

During the lull of the last few months I’ve been…

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… listening to: America’s Next Top Model. I can’t really say that I’ve been watching it, as it’s mostly just been on in the background as I work. I like seeing the results of the photo shoots, and there’s something about Tyra Banks that I just really like for whatever reason. I don’t really have words for why I like her so much, but I do. I know she’s got a reputation for being a little bit cuckoobird, but I love it. She just seems like she’s so unabashedly her, and I admire that. I imagine it’s far easier to just be YOU, weird and goofy and all, with no worries when you’ve got a bazillion dollar empire behind you, but even so. So old seasons of ANTM have been my soundtrack for the last few weeks.

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… learning: brush calligraphy. This was one of my New Years Resolutions, and unlike some other resolutions that I’ve made in the past, I’ve been working pretty consistently on this one for most of the year. I’m still just okay, but I can actively see improvement from a few months ago, so that’s pretty cool.

game of thrones

… watching: Game of Thrones. Oh. My. God. How did I not hop on this train earlier!? nnngghhhhhhh. Jim and I started watching a couple of weeks ago after my brother bought my Dad season one for Father’s Day (my dad read the first book back in the day, and enjoyed it), and after I accidentally watched the “Battle of the Bastards” episode (the apartmentmate was watching it and I perked up at the SUPER AWESOME depiction of a pitched battle… I love me a good medieval murderfest…) We’re on season 3 now. This show, man… It makes me angry and frustrated, and sad and then mad all over again… but (generally) I love every second.

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…obsessing over: my new Sansa Stark red hair. Basically this is the exact color I’ve always wanted. Sort of ginger, sort of brown, with just a little bit of blonde depending on the light… it’s like, perfect. And after starting to watch game of thrones? I FINALLY had something other than like a video game screenshot (my Inquisitor and my Sole Survivor have this exact color) to use as reference for my stylist. Sansa Stark red. Perfect.

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…playing: Pokemon Go. Because who isn’t? Well, plenty of people. But I’m playing, so yea. RIP my phone battery.

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… enjoying: getting to know this little brat. Sieglinde. My parent’s new Goldendoodle puppy. And brat is definitely the right word for her… But I love her. Full post on her to come.

… working on: getting my life back together. Those of you who have been around on this blog journey with me for a while know that the past year and a half have been rough for me thanks to a persistent anxiety problem. My attempts to get a handle on it by myself just really weren’t working, as the continued silence here probably made clear. So I’ve finally started therapy to get it under control, and so far the experience has been a very positive one. I feel more relaxed and in control of my life than I can remember, really since I left school.

I have what’s been referred to around the internet as “high-functioning” anxiety. It’s not something that you’d see or that you’d know I was struggling with unless you were super close to me. This article describes what it’s like to have that constant “worst case scenario” running through your head but still appear “well adjusted” (whatever that means) to the rest of the world. My triggers are different, and my version of “learning to live with it” looked a bit different, but the overall idea is the same. Someday I’ll feel like the time is right to share my whole anxiety journey with you. Because I’m still in the process of working on changing my thought patterns, that time isn’t now. But I’m feeling like there’s a real light at the end of the tunnel for the first time in a long time.

So that’s like, super great.

What have you been up to the last few months?

Star Wars Mani Monday

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So, we went to see Star Wars Saturday.

I won’t be posting a review or anything here, because a) I can’t really talk specifically because of possible spoilers, and b) I’m not really cut out for the movie critic thing – I either like movies and want to watch them again and again and again, or I don’t. I don’t really have much more complicated thoughts than that. But if you’re interested in that kind of review/recap (and have either seen the flick already or don’t mind spoilers), Reenie over at The Fangirl’s Dilemma did a great one here.

What I will say is that I was so happy about so much that I legitimately cried. Like big, sniffley fangirl tears. Starting as soon as the Star Wars logo appeared. Jim will probably not let me live it down basically for the rest of our lives, but screw it – IT FELT LIKE STAR WARS AGAIN. And that’s SO SO SO IMPORTANT. Particularly after the disasters that were the prequels.

But anyway, instead of talking about the movie today, I’m going to restart the Mani Monday feature with the manicure I did for the occasion. For this mani I used Orly – Frenemy as the base color and Revlon – Holographic Pearls for the accent nails (ring finger and thumb). I wanted something “spacey,” but didn’t have the time, energy, or materials to try my hand at galaxy nails, and frankly this combo ended up doing the trick nicely.

Orly Frenemy is a light black jelly base with all sorts of glittery goodness in it. The pictures of it on the nail do not do it justice. Because of the jelly base, the first coat is pretty see-through, but it builds quickly. Pictured here is three coats – but honestly I would have been fine with two, I just needed the third because I dented up the second coat chasing Olive the Cat out from under my bed. It does dry a little matte – you def need some top-coat to smooth things out and help the dimensional glitter pop in dim light (I used my go-to, Sally Hansen Insta Dri Clearly Quick). Overall A-.

Star Wars Mani

Revlon Holographic Pearls ended up being a little more opaque than I expected, particularly since it was marketed as a transforming top coat. I had originally meant to use it as a topcoat on all my nails but when it almost completely covered up the base color in one coat, I decided to just use it as accents. Pictured here (purposefully slightly blurry to show off the holo) are two coats of Holographic Pearls over Orly Frenemy. The holo on this is intense and the formula is great, and so even though it’s not quite what I expected, it still gets an A+ from me.

Did you see Star Wars yet? If so, what’d you think? (NO SPOILERS PLEASE, FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS)

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.

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.

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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]

Monday Update

I know I’ve sort of dropped off the radar lately – it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I just have not been good about keeping up with things. So here’s a little bit of what’s going on with me to at least let me feel like I’m not COMPLETELY neglecting by bloggerly duties.

I’m currently…

…working on: Powerpoints. Powerpoints, upon powerpoints, upon powerpoints. I’ve never gone the powerpoint route for the class I’m teaching this semester – but now that I’ve started I’ve gotten myself into a jam, because I’ve set a precedent. So now I have to make them for EVERYTHING I cover this semester. And let me tell you, making powerpoints for 18th and 19th century US History is FAR more challenging than making them for 20th century. You’d think for the size of the internet there’d be better maps and visuals for this stuff…

…listening to: Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off. I’m seriously obsessed, guys. It’s a problem. Wasn’t my taste in music supposed to get more sophisticated as I aged? Because it hasn’t.

… behind on: posts for here… obviously. I have several long posts in the works, and have been working on the same five damn posts for like two weeks. I just can’t seem to finish them.

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… watching: Band of Brothers. Jim has been wanting to re-watch it, and the last time I had actually seen the series was when it first aired back in 2001 (when I was 14 and didn’t give a shit), which is kind of a travesty when you consider what I do for a living. So the last few weeks we’ve been working our way through, and let me tell you – holy shit. Fan-freaking-tastic.

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… obsessing over: my new Kate Spade Tote. I took a trip down to the Crossings Outlets with my Aunt last weekend, and guess what? Apparently they have a Kate Spade outlet now. And bonus: they were having a MAJOR sale. Original list price on the tote was $275, but between the clearance price of it, plus the extra sale they were having on top of it I got not only the tote, but a matching wallet to go with it for about $130 – which is a few dollars less than the list price of the wallet alone. Now, I don’t usually spend that kind of money on stuff now that I’m working as an adjunct – but I had just done a wedding that morning and ended up getting MAJORLY tipped – which never happens. So I figured I could treat myself just this one time. Because when else am I going to get the chance to own a Kate Spade considering my salary? Never. Was it irresponsible to buy it instead of socking that money away? Maybe. But I’m so in love with it, I kind of don’t care.

So that’s a quick snippet of what’s up with me… what about you? Do or find anything fun recently?

Per Aspera Ad Astra

Through Hardships to the Stars

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For the past few weeks every Sunday night I’ve been sitting down and watching the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos with my father. Yesterday was the last episode, and I must say I feel a little hollow knowing that that was the end. The series has been so inspiring and touching, and made me remember why I fell in love with not only space, but history as well. Neil deGrasse Tyson drives home the wonder and beauty of our world like nobody else can, and watching this series has left me with a feeling of awe that even all my training and study can’t help me fashion into words.

To put it bluntly, yesterday’s episode left me dumbstruck. Just thinking about how far we’ve come in my lifetime alone is enough to floor me. The things we’ve learned… the discoveries we’ve made… the challenges we’ve overcome, both natural and man-made… and the mysteries still to solve… It’s astounding.

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I remember sitting as a small child with my brother on my father’s lap, as he read to my brother and I about the Apollo Program, the Space Race, Voyager, and the then hypothetical mars rovers with childlike wonder in his own voice. After all, he would say, when he was our age he’d have never dreamed this was possible.

We have come so far.

I remember sitting hushed and tense but excited in front of the TV in my grandmother’s basement on July 4, 1997 as the rest of our family “picnicked” around us (it was rainy that day). I held my breath as word came from the newscaster that the Mars Pathfinder was bouncing its way down onto the martian surface, waiting and hoping with everything my 10 year old self could muster that little Sojourner had made it through the landing unharmed.

We are capable of so much.

I remember reading about 51 Pegasi b for the first time, huddled away in my high school library during study hall. I was about 6 years late on the discovery (our science curriculum had never really been great about staying on top of the most recent astronomical discoveries), but even so I was so shocked and so astounded. We’d discovered a planet. A planet outside our solar system. A planet orbiting around a star like ours. Sitting in a corner, surrounded by outdated science magazines and books, my world view was forever changed.

We are so small.

Most recently I remember sitting with my parents, huddled around my brother’s big TV in our dark living room at one in the morning, holding our breath along with the NASA crew as we live streamed Curiosity’s descent. I cried tears of joy and pride as the Curiosity team erupted in cheers after a successful landing.

Dare Mighty Things.

Watching Cosmos brought back all these little, perspective changing moments with a visceral urgency for me. And capping off the Cosmos experience with a focus on Voyager and our “Pale Blue Dot” just seemed like a perfect way to end the series and bring it all back into focus. It really hit home. After all, Voyager signifies our reach into the universe – the little piece of us that’s gone further than anything else that, in the words of Tyson, has been “touched by human hands.” It’s our legacy. The Golden Record contained on the craft contains our little piece of history. A little slice of all that we are sent racing into the vastness of space.

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And so after that slightly rambling post (an unfocused love letter to space discovery, really – my writing teachers would be blowing a fit if they saw how unpolished this is, but I don’t want to wait and have the feeling of awe dissipate), I leave you with a taste of that. A little bit of what we sent of ourselves into the universe on that Golden Record. I hope that Cosmos has inspired an interest in a whole new generation of kids, so that the discoveries will only continue into the future. Dream big, everyone.

“We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship. To teach if we are called upon, to be taught if we are fortunate. We know full well that our planet, and all its inhabitants, are but a small part of this immense universe that surrounds us, and it is with humility and hope that we take this step.” – Spoken Greeting on the Voyager Golden Record

PS – Check out Cosmos, if you haven’t already. It’s pretty awesome.

[photo credits: all photos from wikipedia; photo of earth was included on voyager, and the last photo is the cover of the golden record. Youtube playlist was not compiled by me.]