Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why I love the Animated Shorts

I have always loved the Oscars. For years I hosted an Oscar Party, one where we actually watched the Oscars intently and filled out prediction ballots. The winners never missed more than 3.

I no longer host the party, but I still try to see all of the best picture nominees and fill out a ballot. Lewis helps, as he can usually predict the more technical categories, while I have higher accuracy in the acting and costume categories.

Until the last few years, we had both been at a loss on the short films. Thankfully, our one art house theater, the Bijou, found a way to premier them, each year looking more and more polished.  This year the Academy produced a series of features hosted by last year’s winners in the short categories, animation, live action, and documentary. (Maybe they had been doing that for years, but this is the first we’ve seen of it.)

As I sat in the dark watching the largely silent animated shorts splash across the screen I felt nourished. Last year’s winners, Brandon Oldenberg and William Joyce, the team responsible for the edifying flight of fancy  that is  “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,” spoke ebulliently on the freedom of the short form.

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The delight of being able to take an idea, and simply do it. Without having to pass it through the layers of execs and producers, but to simply take and idea straight to film.

They also talked about how, with animation, the act of creation is total and infinite. They create a world to meet the needs of their story. A world that in many ways is the story.

So in many ways, animated shorts are the purest form of expression available to the film medium. They are not bound by length (this year’s nominees ranged from 2 minutes to 16. One of the highly commended shorts was 23 minutes, and aired in the UK as a kids telly show). They are not bound by gravity or the human form. Or the fact that animals don’t talk. They are not bound by marketability.

One would expect the result to be dark. Unfiltered spewing of twisted fantasies and/or neurosis. Maybe those shorts get made, and the Academy just hates them. But the ones that end up nominated, far from being dark or depraved are usually whimsical, touching, empathetic, or victorious. I teared up watching more animated shorts than best picture nominees. They touched a place in my soul not often touched by big productions. A place reserved for honest, tiny moments.

I highly recommend getting your hands on ALL FIVE nominees for animated short this year, as well as the highly commended selections, Abiogenesis, Dripped, and The Gruffalo’s Child.

The Paperman (winner), animates a series of ill-fated paper planes to bring a boy and a girl together on a train platform. The planes move in a distinctly Disney way, that fans of “Sleeping Beauty” will recognize as the work of Flora, Fauna, and Merriwether.

Adam and Dog (my personal favorite) is stunning. The watercolor background and unapologetically primitive figures tell the story of how man’s best friend became so.

Fresh Guacamole is two minutes of  straight up fun with wordplay and stop motion antics.

Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare is vintage Simpsons, with the kind of twist that makes it vintage animated short. The hopeful little twist at the end is a salute to the power of animation, in my opinion.

Head Over Heals is the kind of thing they need to show in pre-marital counseling. This short would preach. It’s the endearing claymation of our hearts on the days when we feel like our partner lives in a different world.

If you can watch all of those and not feel that your day has seriously improved then you may just have to start drinking.

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The Curious Urbanite learns about Transportation

No one, on the morning after economic collapse, breaking scandal, or other such meltdowns of public importance says, “If only we’d known less.” We can argue all day long about what-will-fix-it and what-will-break-it, but at the end of the day an informed disagreement is better than uninformed consensus.

It is our civic duty to be informed. I am convinced of this.

Transportation has been on my mind a lot lately, as San Antonio tries yet again to get some sort of rail system off the ground (or on the ground, rather). As I’ve begun cultivating my own Curious Urbanite, here’s what I would recommend to anyone looking to do the same.

Read:

Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Really, everyone should read this, period. It’s dated, but eerily continually relevant. Jacobs was a prophet in the wilderness for how we were destroying our cities, and her influence on planning has been markedly more successful than other wilderness prophets before her (at least among their contemporaries).

Her main arguments are that we need lively, usable sidewalks where diversity breeds community. She has great things to say about parks, district-making, gentrification (which she calls “unslumming”) and automobiles. As transportation has origins and destinations as its raison d’etre, it’s helpful to learn about them in context.

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Speck, J. Walkable City

One of Jacobs’s disciples, Speck has basically produced a modernized version of her work. His goal is to point out first, why walking should be our preferred mode of transport (health, ecology, economy, community and safety), and then gives ten suggestion for how to create a walkable city. He’s funny and irreverent, and incredibly easy to read. Neither book is by any means dry jargon, but Speck is of our time and his humor is current.

Visit:

Your Local MPO

A Metropolitan Planning Organization, (MPO) controls the transportation dollars for every city over 50,000. They are the ones who dole out funds for the potholes you hate, the bike paths you love, and the frontage roads on which you’ve become dependent.

In San Antonio, our MPO has a 45 minute introductory presentation, and anyone in the community can make an appointment to visit the office and hear it. The engineer are incredibly friendly and eager to be understood. Which seems unusual for a government agency assigned with designating monies.

My feild trip to the MPO was enlightening. I learned about walkable neighborhoods, urban greenways, and railroad rerouting. More importantly, I learned how those decisions are made. I learned the term CAVEpeople: “Citizens against virtually everything.”

And at the end I got some decent swag.

New York City

Even if you’ve already been to America’s transit/walking sweetheart, go again with transportation in mind. After reading Jacobs and Speck, you’ll see the city through new eyes. Geekier eyes, yes, but it will elucidate some of the mystery that haunts us as we wonder, “Why can’t my city do that?”

NYC Highline

Do:

A walking/running/biking tour of your area. In San Antonio, for the sake of transportation, I recommend River City Run. It’s a three mile loop around downtown that helps participants understand the important landmarks as well as the walkability of various areas of downtown. With glimpses of dead zones, sprawling lots that interrupt the landscape, and other gaptooth issues in need of civic orthodontia.

Protecting TED from the HMS Inspire

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was invited to attend the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference, or HOBY with the best and brightest from the region for a weekend seminar on leadership, service and innovation.

What do the best and brightest do when they are broken into groups and dispersed around a gymnasium with their enthusiastic counselors (read: kids one year older than them who had such a good time the year before that they wanted to come back and do it again)? Ice breakers. Team building exercises. Cheers and chants. And they kept telling us that the people around us would be our lifelong friends and that this weekend would change our lives. Truth is, they needed our loyalty and vulnerability up front in order to create this magical environment.

I stuck it out at HOBY for about 7 hours before calling my dad to come pick me up.  I just wasn’t feeling the magic.

I had a similar reaction to the Welcome Week activities in college, but I had to stick it out as this was the front door of my education…which would be the front door of a career. Yes…the portal to success lies behind answering the question “boxers or briefs?”, making animal noises, and dorm-olympics.  I entered adulthood with a big orange “S” painted on my face.

I remember thinking, “I came here to go to school. Why am I doing call-response chants with the Student Life staff? I don’t even know if I like it here.”

One of the best parts about being an adult is that, for the most part, there’s no more chanting. I still dread public participation. Whenever a speaker, pastor, or teacher says, “say it with me…” or “everybody stand up” I want to start shouting vulgarities just to ruin their demonstration.

Just give me what I came for, and let me give back on my own.

Which is why I love TED. In many ways TEDx conferences are the kind of grown-up, skeptic-friendly, purpose-oriented events I’ve been looking for my whole life. The day is jam-packed with “talks” and most of the exploration is left up to the individual.

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TED’s appeal and vibe is in its DNA. Technology, entertainment, and design are not the fields of group-think chanters or dispassionate couch potatoes who need to be roused from their inertia. The crowd is given to creating the experience they want, approaching the people they like, and engaging on multiple levels in order to make connections. The curated audiences offer some front-end engineering of this environment as well.

However, I think TED is in danger of drifting from what makes it great, at least in the TEDx events. The emphasis on general inspiration has broadened their appeal and I’ve noticed that a TED-culture is percolating. A cult of TED, if you will. The cadence and tone of the speakers and emcees is distinctly TED. A lot of the talks center on someone bottoming out and stumbling upon their calling. The extroverted interpretations of themes like “FearLess,” and “be Bold” engineer vulnerability and joinerism.

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TEDx Austin is exactly the kind of exemplar event that you would expect from that city. The speakers were visionaries. The interactive art exhibits were professional. The lunches were innovative and attractively packaged. Even the snacks were superb. It was exceptionally inspiring for all the right reasons.

But also in play were more overt attempts to inspire, rather than simply spread ideas. There was an obvious effort at creating a community around the event, rather than creating an event for a community. So it felt like we were being asked to find ourselves, to become something in this manufactured environment. This was made most obvious in the interactive elements, which included a room for hanging anonymous love letters on the wall, and two wigwam-meets-teepee type structures called confessionals. In the darkness of the wigwam was a phone, which connected to the other wigwam with voice distortion technology. The confessor was provided a safe space to tell their deepest secrets.

The cone of confession

The cone of confession

The wall of love notes

The wall of love notes

There is no doubt that in our over-mediated world people are hungry for community, safety, vulnerability. But it felt a little too reverent. A little to sacred. A little too religious for me.

TED is brain candy. When the occasional Brene Brown pops up to challenge your heart, it’s great. But if the theme of Technology, Entertainment, and Design is replaced with Heart, Mind, and Soul, I cannot help but wonder if “TED: be daring” be replaced by “all aboard the HMS Inspire?”

Again, at this moment, TEDx Austin is still a great example of getting that for which I paid (handsomely, in this case). Invisibility cloaks, slack rope walkers, urban cable, sociological linguistics, and experimental jazz. Yes, yes, and yes. It did generate spontaneous contribution and conversation. And I was deeply inspired by many of the talks. A lot of the social Post-Secret-esque environs  could be due to their correct understanding of what gets millennials jazzed. We want something that means something.

But the exact opposite of what millennials want is meaning –so naturally generated by TED and  TEDx events– packaged and sold as a brand-name experience. That’s when the satire kicks in. Be careful TED, SNL is coming for you.

29

My birthday, sadly, comes but once per year on January 31. And on it I do feel obligated to post something profound, or sentimental, or funny. Something reflective. Something hopeful. It’s the one day during the year when I can, sheepishly, with four words justify anything I want to without looking like a narcissist or a glutton. “Well, it’s my birthday…” So yes, I’m having cake, a second cocktail, a long lunch, and I’m going buy myself something.

Allow me to say, as my Christmas and New Year Posts may have let on, that I am so happy to leave 28 behind. My husband and close friends have said that they feel I have aged (though they kindly say “grown up”) more in that single year than the 27 preceding it. So there you have it. However, blog readers aren’t paid therapists, so that’s all you get to hear about.

There were lots of really great things last year. So in no particular order…28 reflections on a year of being 28-years-old, and one on being 29.

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1) Complain all you want about Facebook birthday wishes being cheap. No one on Facebook should ever get to whine “everyone forgot my birthday.” Even if your mother, boyfriend, and co-workers do…your third grade babysitter and 2nd cousin from Iowa who you met for the first time last year, did not. I think we are a more celebratory culture for it. Thank you FB for acknowledging the importance of birthdays.

2) I wish life was an Aaron Sorkin ensemble drama. If he’s living in a fantasy world, which he is, I want to live there with him. The Newsroom made my summer and The West Wing coming to Netflix made my winter.

3) My last meal as a 28 year old was the most amazing bbq I’ve ever eaten. We had flights of craft beers, the best brisket known to man, and Texas Toast with bacon-drippings butter. UNREAL. My first meal as a 29 year old: a grapefruit.

4) Best discovery of the year: Birchbox. It’s helped me decide to start taking moisturizing and sun protection seriously. I think my 40-year-old self will thank my 28-year-old self for this.

5) All year I tried to mitigate the effects of sedentary desk work by getting up every twenty minutes (I work from home). Inevitably so much time would go by, and I’d forget to get up and walk around. Then we got a puppy. Problem solved.

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6) Best books I’ve read this year: Cutting for Stone, The Shadow of the Wind, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

7) Writing for the Rivard Report may be the best thing that has happened to me outside of getting married. And maybe living abroad.

8)  I actually really like grapefruit, and all these years I had thought I didn’t. Good thing, I guess.

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9) It’s a shame about me and science. I think, had a few things gone differently in high school, we could have had a long and loving relationship. I’m too late in the game to make a career of it, but thankfully the MacDonald Observatory and the Galapagos are open to the public.

10) I agree. Everyone should be in counseling.

11) There is nothing like working as an underling in ministry to make someone pro-union.

12) Balmorhea State Park is the greatest thing to happen to Texas.

13) I like running…I like hiking. But they should be kept separate.

14) Sometimes a side effect of something going incredibly right is the feeling that something has gone entirely wrong.

15) Non-New Yorkers have a really strong reaction against New York City because they feel like it’s elitist. Like the city has the personality of a sophomore English major with a design minor. Everyone I know in and from Manhattan is lovely and not the slightest bit elitist. But if they were, I think it would have something to do with their superior transit system, unlimited access to cultural institutions, walkable city layout, and the gold standard of public parks…times two.

NYC Highline

16) Biggest mystery of the year: why people are not flocking to the Lakes District in Chile.

Puerto Varas

CHile

17) Pets, plural, entered my life in full force this year, and I find myself enjoying caring for them. Whoever that girl was who didn’t want to be tied down…she’s long gone, and replaced with a snugglier, more motherly version who gets choked up watching “Love, Actually”

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18) It’s just not worth it to drink too much anymore. Who am I kidding? I’m not mourning some wild season of life gone by. I never liked drinking too much. I did it, but I never liked it.

19) Lewis got me a bicycle for Christmas.  I was scared about traffic, but before my year was up I navigated the Lasoya roundabout (which I avoid even in my car) on two wheels. I love my bicycle.

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20) Liz Lambert is my design idol. The diva’s in the details.

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El Cosmico

21) The meaning of Christmas hit me full force when I heard the San Antonio Symphony playing at Haven for Hope this year.

22) It’s worth it to pay for a tour guide. When we were younger, and backpacking, getting lost was a luxury we could afford. We had all time and no money. Now that our time is money and vacations aren’t 40 days long, hiring a guide keeps the vacation in the “wow, that’s fascinating” zone and out of the “I told you the buses don’t operate on Sundays”

23) I have two age spots on my cheek. They will never go away. If you hold out long enough, your don’t need to get a tattoo. Your body will start marking itself up on its own.

24) I finally like fancy dark chocolate better than M&Ms. Lewis has won.

25) Having a beer or a glass of Pinot Grigio while watching the Colbert Report is a perfect way to end stressful days. This is a downgrade from tequila and Mad Men, which was how I was ending most days 6 months ago.

26) Prospect and refuge. It explains so much, and is perfectly illustrated by our puppy, who hides under the coffee table waiting to attack our shoes and steal Wiley’s toys.

27) The fact that semi-automatics, high-capacity magazines, and other guns designed to kill people are allowed to be bought or sold in any way completely baffles me. Completely. And I don’t really want anyone to explain it to me.

28) My husband loves me very much.

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29) Everyday I am waiting for the answer to strike, as though God will throw it down like lightening, rather than unfolding it slowly like the way the sky looks before it it rains.