Monthly Archives: March 2017

Brain Storm

I have been in a creative rut lately.  Now that I’m coming out of it, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal but when I was in the worst of it, I felt awful.  I was searching for anything that might help.

Enter: Brain Storm by Don Hahn.  I bought it at The Last Bookstore in L.A. last year.  Don Hahn produced The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.  I still don’t know exactly what a producer does, but he worked for Disney, so I thought he would have something insightful to say.

Halfway through the book, I decided I hated this guy.

Perhaps the problem is that I am not his target audience.  Hahn is writing from his own experiences as a White, Straight, Christian, Neurotypical Male, and treats it as the universal existence.  He quotes a couple dozen men and only two women throughout the book.  He consistently generalizes about men and women in an “us vs. them” fashion.  Likewise he equates “masculine” and “feminine” to sexual orientation, which isn’t how it works.

Most of his advice works in this context.  He suggests taking a day or more to ignore the time and follow your internal clock, which is easier when you’re well-off.  One of his major points is that we are living in a time of prosperity, which should allow for more time to be creative.  This doesn’t take into account the people who are barely getting by, or neurodivergent people who can’t muster up the energy to work the extra hours.  He suggests travel as a way of gaining inspiration.  Don’t get me wrong: it is.  But he works on the presumption that “travel” automatically means going to another country, and that is just not feasible for everyone.

He does have a few good lines, but most of them come from the beginning of the book.  He spends a good hundred pages selling his reader on the idea of creativity and living a creative life.  It’s this section that gives us gems like “If we define creativity simply as ‘imagination directed toward a goal,’ then we all have it.” and “There is strength in boldness, and let’s face it, the alternative–doing nothing–doesn’t sound very satisfying.”

But it’s clear that he spends so long selling his reader because that is his strongest point.  His strongest idea is to prove that anyone can be creative.  This is both true and an important message, but he could have said it in an article instead of in a 300+ page book.  Once you get past the pitch, he runs out of things to say – except the parts that are only relatable if you are also Straight, White, Christian, Neurotypical, and Male.

(Also, I am so PISSED that he started a chapter about God and creativity, a subject I am rather passionate about, with a quote from a child molester.)

While he has a few good points, it’s all stuff you can find on the internet.  If you’re looking for inspiration, skip Brain Storm.

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5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Applying to Grad School

I am not going to graduate school this year; I guess the timing wasn’t right.  Eventually, I will apply again, and I will be better prepared when I do.  Here are some of the things that will make my next application season (and yours, I hope) easier.

  1.  It’s expensive.
    I only applied to two programs, and neither required a GRE.  I still spent around $250, between application fees, ordering transcripts, and the financial aid form – which, yes, costs money and not all graduate programs take.  Budget accordingly, but also plan ahead so you don’t spend more than you have to.
  2. All programs are NOT created equal.
    I knew this, hypothetically, but hadn’t considered all the facets of it.  It’s more than the faculty; each school has its own focus, its own funding, and its own reputation.  These things are dependent on the program itself, not the school.  For instance, I assumed Columbia was a top MFA program, because Columbia University is an Ivy.  But between poor funding and a “high” (read: 20%) acceptance rate, it is actually looked down upon in MFA circles.  I mean, I still want to go.  But it’s something to think about.
  3. READ THE APPLICATION QUESTIONS EARLY.
    This is where I made my biggest mistake.  I gave myself a month to work on the application with the earliest deadline.  After that, I had two weeks for the other.  I assumed that would be plenty of time, because the questions would be similar and I just needed to tailor my general answer to each specific school.  In my case, I found out they were completely different questions and I would have benefited from working on them simultaneously.  Pay attention.
  4. There is a support system.
    There is an MFA Draft Facebook group every year.  Columbia had its own as well.  No matter what program or concentration you are applying to, thegradcafe.com will connect you to other people going through the same process.  I didn’t discover these resources until I was playing the waiting game, and I feel utilizing them may have improved my application.  Now I know for next time.  Which brings me to my final point…
  5. You will probably be doing this again.
    Most programs are tiny.  It’s part of what separates graduate school from undergrad.  Don’t take rejection personally.  I was shocked as I scrolled through the MFA Draft Facebook group and realized how many people were on their third and fourth attempts.  It’s nothing like applying for college.  You can try again if you don’t get the one you want or if the funding doesn’t work out.

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Dial M for Mason

I have been working on The Magicians for the better part of a month.  Last week, I was supposed to go to England, giving me sixteen hours on a plane and even more on trains to finally tackle it.  But plans change and I still haven’t finished the damn book.

The book I finally finished may surprise you: The Case of the One-Eyed Witness by Erle Stanley Gardner.  A Perry Mason mystery.

I don’t read many mysteries, though I couldn’t tell you why, but the ones I have in the past were mostly Perry Mason stories.  The mysteries, this one included, are interesting and keep you on your toes.  I’m not going to lie, I took a few days off from reading this book and felt a little lost going back to it.

The true appeal of the Perry Mason books is Mason himself.  He’s a mixture between a shark lawyer and Sherlock Holmes himself, solving mysteries and using the facts and his persuasion techniques to force people to confess.  His track record is impeccable.  So far as I can tell, he is always right.

There’s also a subtle romance between Mason and his secretary Della Street.  I love her place in the books.  Her official title may be secretary, but it is clear to both Mason and the reader that he couldn’t do his job without her.

I picked this book up at Selected Works Used Books & Sheet Music in Chicago, Illinois, mainly because it reflected the bookstore’s atmosphere, which itself reflected my view of the city.  I’m glad I did.  This book didn’t change my life or anything, but it was a lot of fun.  Sometimes you need that.

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Kari Gushes About the new Beauty and the Beast

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5 Shows to Binge-Watch on Netflix

I’ve had difficulty blogging this month.  The truth is, nothing is really happening in my life right now.  I’m still waiting on my car, I’m still waiting on a grad school dcision, I’m still waiting on a job to come through.  I was supposed to go to England this week, but there was an abrupt change of plans.  I havn’t even been reading much.  (Yes, I AM in a bad headspace, thanks for asking.)

I am going to try to plan better so I am less likely to get stuck for a topic and more likely to blog on time.  Maybe it won’t help, but I’m going to try.  For instance, next week I’ll be blogging about Beauty and the Beast.

In the meantime, if you’re bored and/or depressed and need something to binge-watch on Netflix, here’s what I’m watching right now.

  1. The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
    love this Netflix-original.  I avoided it for a while (for reasons I no longer remember) but watched both seasons in the last week.  It is bright and sunny and features a main character who is allowed to be both determinedly tough and adorably innocent.  It handles trauma and hardships with humor without dimiishing them.  Basically, it’s the sweetest show about a survivor you’ll ever watch.
  2. iZombie
    A zombie show where the protagonist is the zombie, this one is a mix between a police-procedural show and a drama.  Neither is a genre I usually tune in for, but iZombie is funny and exciting and I love the characters.  I couldn’t stop because I kept needing to know what happened next.  Plus, the supernatural element added a unique layer.  In most zombie stories, everything goes to shit immediately.  Instead, iZombie asks, “How could one live among us?”
  3. A Series of Unfotunate Events
    I wrote a brief review of the first season following its release, but a second one was just announced.  Yay!  (The announcement is written in typical Snicket fashion.)  A recap: Neil Patric Harris is hilariously creepy and creepily hilarious.  Patrick Warburton narrates in the same style as the books, which enhances the drama.  And the story itself manages to be fun (despite its horrors) due to the lovable Baudelaire children and the sprinkled clues that will add up to the final mystery.
  4. The West Wing
    This show has gained many new watchers since the inauguration.  It’s another one with the perfect combination of humor and drama and characters you’ll love.  I’m still hoping for a modern reboot (President Donna Moss, anyone?) but am happy to keep watching this one over and over.  If nothing else, it keeps hope alive.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Do you know why?” President Bartlett says.  “Because it’s the only thing that ever has,” Bailey answers.  This show really made me believe that.
  5. Phineas and Ferb
    (Let’s be real: I’m always watching Phineas and Ferb.)  If you need a laugh, if you need something clever, if you need something to take you back and remind you of the good old days when your biggest question was “What will we do for summer vacation?” and you HAD a summer vacation…here you go.  It’s easy and fun to watch, but also smart.  It always makes me happy.  Sometimes you need something like that.

There you go.  If you need a distraction, or just a new story, these shows are great for that.  Enjoy!

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Coping or Thriving

I saw a church marquee a few weeks ago with a motivational quote: “Stop coping and learn to thrive.”  It’s a nice sentiment, and there are times it’s relevant.  But while it did give me a fuzzy feeling, I knew there was another side to it.

Sometimes, coping is thriving.

There’s also this image going around about “reasons you’re doing better than you think.”  Unfortunately, I…actually cannot check off everything on the list.  I don’t have a job, and I don’t always feel like I’m “choosing happiness” on my own terms.

I have a lot of goals.  Some days, I feel energized and ambitious, so I take steps to achieve them.  Other days it’s harder.  Maybe I put in the work but I’m slogging through.  Maybe I make a list and only manage to complete the top three things on it.  This post, for example, is a bit late, but at least it’s done.

I’m coping, but I’m still moving.  That means something.

The other day, I got a call and an email from the same business, wanting to set up an interview with me.  I hate phone calls, so I decided to respond to the email and only call back as a last resort.  The Gryffindor in me protested that this was the cowardly way to do it, but just like the coping vs. thriving thing, I realized that doing something the “cowardly” way is still doing something.  Why do I have to make it harder for myself by doing it the way that scares me more, if the final effect is going to be the same?

So what’s the difference between coping and thriving?  Sometimes nothing.  Progress is progress.  As long as you’re doing what you can, you’re doing just fine.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The only good thing about this book is that it was short.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is less known than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous The Great Gatsby, but it was turned into a movie in 2008 with Brad Pitt.  Maybe the movie was better but, if you haven’t been introduced to the story, here’s the gist: Benjamin Button was born as an old man and, as the years go by, he seems to get younger and younger until he becomes an infant for the first time and then ceases to exist.

To start with, the concept is ridiculous.  Fitzgerald was attempting to make a point about life, but I was too distracted by the absurdity to pay much attention to it.  I can usually get behind an unrealistic concept, but come on: how does a woman actually give birth to a fully grown man?  There are some logistics of that I just cannot get around…

You’re also supposed to feel sympathetic towards Button.  I did when his father was ashamed of him in the first years of his life.  However, the longer the story went on, the less I liked Button, so the less I felt sorry for him.  The final straw was the way Fitzgerald wrote his relationship with his wife.  They were married when he seemed much older than her and she enchanted him.  As time went by, she grew older and he, younger.  She became nagging and boring while Benjamin became more vivacious and interested in living in the moment.

The worst part is that, while he remembers people, he loses intelligence as he grows younger, so he never seems to gain any “wisdom” or “revelation.”  All in all, it just felt like a waste of time.  The only Fitzgerald book that’s worth the effort seems to be The Great Gatsby…which I guess is why that’s the one everyone reads in high school.

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