thoughts on grad school, texas, and more

Monday, April 05, 2010


Written by Steve Martin, this movie's opening scenes are such a real portrayal of what dating feels like nowadays. Mirabel (Claire Danes) works at Saks and meets a scruffy artist (Jason Schwartzman). at the laundromat. They have the most awkward and spark-free courtship that only continues because she hears a radio doctor claiming that women scientifically need to be held, even if it's by someone they don't like. Jeremy's a likeable enough guy, but on their first date, he takes her to a "citywalk" to sit and watch people go by (because movies cost $10) and when she tells him he looks nice, says yeah, thanks. At the end of the evening he says, "congratulations, you've now been on a date with Jeremy" and yells "can I kiss you or what?" and offers to give her his number. She throws it out, but a few weeks later decides to dig his number out of the trash and calls him to fulfill her scientific need to "be held."

The next day she meets Ray Porter (Steve Martin) at work, and he's everything Jeremy is not--well-dressed, distinguished, clean, polite, charming, thoughtful, clean, take-charge, clean. She now has a choice between way-less-than-ideal and ideal, but of course "ideal" always seem to threaten disappointment. He is a "symbolic logician," wealthy from computers, the opposite of Jeremy. She's admitted early on that she's a terrible judge of character. One suspects that neither Ray nor Jeremy will give meaning to Mirabel's life or serve as her escape. The essential similarity between the two men is highlighted in parallel scenes of them eating takeout Chinese and watching sports alone in their respective kitchens. Jeremy is not the only one she is using--she's using them for different things, but Ray being more ideal doesn't make him or the situation more right for her. Also, in some ways, Jeremy is superior to Ray. Both men travel for work--Jeremy as a humble roadie, Ray to black tie events, but Jeremy uses the time to listen to relationship and yoga tapes with the band he works for, while Ray uses travel as an excuse to not commit to her.

Martin's story unexpectedly focuses on the loneliness and boredom of Mirabel and is subtly and intelligently funny. Even though I didn't hear much about it when it was released (2005), I'm glad I picked it up. It is actually worth seeing for Mirabel's clothes alone and for the entire visual atmosphere. What really makes it a great film is the random, strange scenes and characters that strike you as completely real if you have ever had a sense of how strange life and relationships are.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Graduate Students on Spring Break"

This is hilarious, especially if you've ever known or been a graduate student:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Danielle made me these beautiful and delicious cookies for my birthday, and I thought they should be immortalized before I ate them (I'm finally uploading pictures since I'm on vacation):

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Highs and Lows

Sometimes the greatest things happen (even very small things) and I am happy, or reminded to be happy. I lose it so quickly, though. Why is that? Why should some small, dumb thing have the power to make me forget some great, wonderful thing?

Happiness is so tricky. In Brideshead Revisited, the characters become happy by giving up the parts of life that seem to promise them happiness originally--marriage, status, career, romance, art. Those can all be good things. I can't really imagine giving them up. Is that bad? Should I be able to imagine that?

Sometimes, I have such happy moments relating to my schoolwork, and I can't even believe how happy I am that this gets to be my job. Then, I am afraid that I love it too much because it's hard to think of willingly giving it up. Other times, school causes the most worry and distress--and maybe that is related to how much I love it, because I worry that something will make it go away.

The simple life, as Sebastian chooses in the monastery, is actually quite appealing when I idealize it. But I can't choose it just to escape from life--can I? Being in the competitive public sphere is difficult. I want to live a retired, quiet life, but still do the work that makes me happy. I wish I could have it both ways--do the schoolwork without the competition.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

I can't say enough good things about this movie! The rom-coms just keep getting better lately.

It follows a real shopaholic who must hide her massive credit card debt when she gets a job writing a personal finance column for Serious Savings magazine. The magazine's editor is trying to make his publication more accessible to regular people, and Rebecca's colorful musings and shopping metaphors strike a chord with readers, making her an overnight success in the financial and magazine worlds. Meanwhile, a debt collector is on her tail and she justifies buying even more designer clothes for her new job. Hilarity ensues.

Despite following some predictable romantic comedy conventions, the plot is full of small, surprising twists and genuinely hilarious moments. Rebecca is a shopaholic, which is humorous and a little ridiculous, but the movie explores the psychological reasons and serious consequences of such an addiction.

This movie is exceptionally funny and clever, and I am thankful to my mom for going to see it with me today. We're having a fun little vacation weekend. Even though I always live in this beautiful climate, I don't always go out and do fun stuff, so visitors bring vacation with them!

Friday, February 06, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

I think romantic comedies are an unfairly maligned genre. The critics just can't seem to give them a break. I just saw He's Just Not That Into You (which despite lukewarm reviews will make tons of money) with a theater full of women (in our group we had two men and seven women) and I thought it was great. It was much smarter than the average rom-com; its most unique feature was its attempt to portray relationships realistically, embarrassing warts and all. Based on the popular self-help book of the same name, the movie showed a deeper complexity of relationships than the book but still maintained the basic theme that people should not waste their energy on others who are not really interested--in other words, don't be desperate.

Like one of my favorites, Love Actually, this film follows several sub-plots, but in the city of Baltimore rather than London. The main character is played by the charming Ginnifer Goodwin, a quite desperate young lady who obsesses over guys who don't call and whether each of them could secretly be the love of her life. The worldly wise bartender Alex kindly gives her tough advice, which inspires her to be realistic about these guys and develop some standards for her relationships. He teaches her, as the book says, to not "waste the pretty." Drew Barrymore has a small part which focuses on the complications modern technology add to dating; Scarlett Johansson's character is convinced that she is in love with a married man, and others question both their own and their partners' sincerity in relationships.

Like the book, the movie focuses on tough love advice for relationships--telling the truth to one's friends to help them avoid being led on, desperate, or needy. I know that some people thought these characters were extremely pitiful, but to me they seem realistic. I always like characters that reveal and ridicule human weakness; they make me feel better.

I'm not sure if romantic comedies are reviled because people think relationships are unimportant to examine, or think that comedy is not intellectual enough, or because they have a bias against movies directed at women. I realize that many rom-coms are just terrible, but there are clever ones, and I believe this is one of them. While it may not be on the level of You've Got Mail or Love Actually, it may actually sacrifice charm in an attempt to present subtleties. I'm always impressed by the representation of subtle truth, by intelligent comedy, and by any light of wisdom that is shed on the mystery of relationships.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Birthday Presents

I got some "birthday presents" this week. I like all of my new professors! They are good teachers, intelligent, interesting, and successful--but also funny and nice. It's going to be a lot of work, but I think I will learn a lot this semester and be able to formulate my own approach to literature by observing these role models. I was in need of a "hero" after last semester--someone to look up to and to want to be like, and someone who might help me develop as a scholar. I seem to have met three such people in my first week.

My old employer France got in touch with me and said she and her family might be able to stop by Waco tomorrow, which happens to be my birthday. She gave me the job tutoring her kids years ago at a time when I needed both a job and a restoration of confidence in myself as a teacher. It will be great to see the kids. France is also extremely encouraging and affirming. I have been reminded this week how many good friends I have and how many people believe in me--it's overwhelming in a good way.

Two of my old college friends who live in Austin remembered my birthday, so I am going to see them tomorrow morning. I might get in a stop at my favorite store, Ikea, too. I have had so much fun shopping for deals lately, on my break. It is like a game and a hobby, and it is creatively empowering. I'm loving my apartment lately, and I feel like I'm making small decisions all the time that are helping me define myself as a person and feel more in control of it in every way. I went grocery shopping, did some cooking, and had a little party for the first time in this apartment. I got five loads of laundry finished last night. I decided I want to be finished with pseudo-dating, at least when I can see its detrimental effects. I feel like I'm making good decisions. That is a good feeling.

I got some thoughtful gifs from Tony and Rachel in the mail today. On Monday I'm going to have lunch and see a movie with friends in Waco. Last night I had Japanese food with a great friend here. Sometimes I really feel overwhelmed with how blessed I am.