Category Archives: media

If Banana Republic Models Could Speak

I found another edition of my 2012 snark-fest. This time it is a trifold mailer for Banana Republic which I find entirely implausible.

I think we’re supposed to get the idea that she’s at some sort of swanky house party in LA. But no one showed up. I presume this is why she looks so grouchy. But while a realistic scenario would have her wearing sweatpants in the kitchen packaging up the dips before they go bad, this glamorous pariah decides to stay in her party duds and sulk. By the pool. Which she had cleaned for the occasion.

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With no other guests to lift her spirits through playful banter and, let’s be honest, lots of colorful and entertaining lies, she apparently loses her mind, and like the Anthropologie models before her, gets fully clothed into the water.

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If Anthropologie Models Could Speak

A while back I stumbled upon an Anthropologie catalogue from spring 2012. I wondered why I had kept it. Spring 2012 was a really crappy time. Why on earth did I make it worse by hanging onto volumes of unattainable boho chic styling in semi-exotic locales?

Then I opened it up, flipping through the pages I remembered…oh yeah. I vented my misery by satirizing ridiculous catalogues with Lewis.

As much money as I have spent at Anthropologie, I roll my eyes at every dollar. Their catalogues are ridiculous. They feature hangry-looking women wearing clothing grossly ill-suited to their surrounds… or the activities of daily life. The defining criteria of the editorial look is “improbable.”

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It’s also guilty of the most commonly mocked modeling cliches. Like angry-faced models, who, I’ll give it to you, are mostly likely on a joyless diet and have woken up at 4 a.m. for this photo shoot, but still are wearing gorgeous clothes. Why would you be grumpy about wearing these lovely clothes?

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If you really think about what these poor, frail women are being asked to do, it’s kind of cruel. Aside from dragging their $300 hemlines through marshy brine, they are also holding their bodies in ways specifically illustrated on my chiropractor’s “don’t stand like this” poster.

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I’ve watched enough America’s Next Top Model to know that they are as uncomfortable as they look.

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Regardless of their obvious misery, I do like to pretend that the model is having a fun time playing pretend.

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Twig Book Challenge Wrap-Up and a New Adventure

Well, I did it. I forgot to post about it, but I did complete the book challenge.

My last two categories were “A book over 500 pages” and “A book over 100 years old.”

I used these categories as an opportunity to transition into my new adventure: starting this year, I am now a full time writer. Not the novel-writing kind of writer, but the “multiple commercial, journalistic, and creative projects at once” kind.

Quitting my steady paycheck to pursue a lifelong dream would have been a very bold Millennial generation kind of thing to do, if my job hadn’t been a dream job. I was paid to travel. Comfortably. More than comfortably. Luxuriously.

But, I have a calling. It’s become fairly clear. And that calling is to write.

Because Lewis and I are both firm believer that funding is an essential part of creative endeavors, I’m freelancing for my supper. In addition to bringing in pretty decent money, commercial projects give me daily writing exercise.

I’ve also taken on a more official role at The Rivard Report. Business cards and all. As their education writer, I’ll be sitting in on a lot of board meetings, yes, but also exploring what might be one of the great social justice issues of our generation: educational outcomes. So, in addition to stimulating conversation, it helps me sleep at night knowing that if the world ends before I publish a book, I haven’t wasted my time.

Which brings me to the big creative project that pushed me over the edge into full-time writerhood.

First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.

                                              First stop on the Olmsted Trail: Library of Congress.

For the next four months I’ll be following the trail of Frederick Law Olmsted’s journey across Texas, documenting the changing fates of the places he visited. Conveniently, his home base was San Antonio. So it will be a series of smaller journeys following his timeline, rather than one epic road trip.

(You can follow the trip on select social media sites: #olmstedintexas, and expect regular blog posts starting…soon)

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. In preparation I read the following books, among many others, as a point of transition:

  1. Over 500 pages: Rough Country: How Texas Became the Most Powerful Bible Belt State, by Robert Wuthnow- basically, if you want to understand why your friends from other states assume you like Ted Cruz, but don’t assume you like Julian Castro…this is the history for you. Why people assume more of Texas looks like Dallas (fundamentalist Bible belt and big business) than like San Antonio (Catholic Southwest and not-as-big-business).  Technically, the prose in the book ended at 480 pages. But they were dense pages and I read a lot of the reference material and footnotes, so I’m giving myself this one.
  2. Written over 100 years ago: Journey to Texas 1833 , by Detlef Dunt – Olmsted actually refers to this widely publicized account of a German immigrant to Texas while it was under Mexican rule. He basically says, “Who was paying this guy?” The author (Dunt is probably a pen name) gives a pretty encouraging account of what he found on arrival in Texas, which upon reading Olmsted and Wuthnow, I’m tempted to agree was something of an advertisement for others to follow his lead and come to Texas, which was then a very rough country.

 

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Twig Book Challenge: Third Quarter

This year our local bookshop is conducting a reading challenge. Now that Moira goes to bed at 7:30pm, I thought, well, why not! Reading is quiet, portable, and doesn’t require me to get into a “mode” the way that writing does. As January revealed, I like a structured challenge, and I have been enjoying the Twig’s reading challenge since January 2. I’ll be reporting on my progress periodically. This quarter’s reads have reviews in this post, previous quarters’ reviews are on the previous Twig posts.

AND I still need a 500 word page turner to close her out! (if you’ve already recommended, please remind me, as social media tends to bury these things) Continue reading

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#ILiketoTravelBut

A friend of mine coined a hashtag that makes me laugh. #ILiketoTravelBut.

I like to travel but…I hate sitting in coach.

I like to travel but…I don’t like losing money to the exchange.

That kind of stuff. But lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about travel’s place in the soul, or at least my soul. About why they call it wanderlust.

I like to travel but…I hate pulling out of the driveway.

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Leaving home always strikes me with the deepest sense of regret. Even if I know I’m coming back. I know I’ll have an amazing adventure as soon as I get over it, but it always catches in my chest, just for a moment.

I like to travel but…it could kill me. Continue reading

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Friday Night Rant: Social Media is not killing us

Sometimes there are socially vogue rants that make me want to move to Siberia. Hating on social media is one of them.

I’m just as annoyed as the next guy by the constant dinging of my phone (so I turned off my push notifications), the 19 Facebook notifications that have nothing to do with me, and the rivers of unfiltered troll vomit on Nextdoor.

HOWEVER, I find it more tiresome when people whine about social media, and talk about how stupid it is. How over it they are. Everytime I hear that I think, “it’s okay, old man, we know you’re overwhelmed by what the kids are up to these days.” Or “yes, I know, little girl, you’re cooler than God.”

Use it, don’t use it. I don’t really care. But if you use it, own it.

Part of owning social media is understanding how it works. So lets break it down: Continue reading

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Golden Birthday Challenge: Day 2-4

Day 2: Nail decals

I set the bar (no pun intended) pretty high on day one with the importance of the “new things” I am trying to experience every day until I turn 31. So today, I decided to adjust expectations. Lest anyone think that I have 31 truly significant ambitions in life, today I did my nails.

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Obviously, I have done my nails before, but this time, I used the sticker nail decals that my sister in law introduced me to about a year ago. I’ve been meaning to try them out, and today, for the first time ever in my life, I have fancy decal nails.

The process should have been simpler, but I used my complete ignorance of all things cosmetelogical to make it slightly more fumbling and awkward.

In the end…I have bold Golden Birthday Challenge nails.

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Day Three: Watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Lewis

Over time, I’ve seen pieces and parts of all the Indiana Jones movies. If you’ve ever killed time in a hotel room with basic cable, so have you. But I’d never seen 95% of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and when I confessed this to Lewis, he seemed genuinely wounded.

I’ve never seen a lot of classics. None of the Monty Pythons, the Exorcist, Robin Hood Men in Tights. I spent the 80s as a preschooler and the 90s begging to be allowed to watch Rugrats (occasionally) and Ren and Stimpy (never).  By then, everyone had already seen all the classics, and I was on to “serious” movies. I did manage to piece together the original Star Wars trilogy and Animal House. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of my family’s pop cultural heritage.

But, I married a movie buff. And Indiana Jones was a big deal to him at a formative time. So, we pulled out my MacBook Air, rented the movie from Amazon, and after only 30 minutes of reloading, updating, and hand-wringing, (“Have we been reduced to this?!?” (me) followed by a monotone, “Yes,” (Lewis)) we watched the great adventure classic in miniature.

Tiny or not, what a fun movie!

The fact that the final battle escalates into claymation is, quite simply, amazing. It made me wish CGI had never been invented.

Day Four: Go to a new grocery store to buy the week’s groceries

I think the success in this challenge is going to be not just finding extraordinary things to do, but doing my normal things in new ways. And few things are as alien and mind-blowing as an unfamiliar grocery store.

Years ago, my friend Rachel was trying to talk me into going to Sprouts, one of the few non-HEB grocery stores in San Antonio. Sprouts calls itself a farmer’s market, and it’s supposed to be a mysterious combination of fresh, organic, local food and low prices.

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It’s a little far from my house, but so are all the decent HEB’s, so I went for it.

It was small, friendly, and had every single thing I needed. And I found a box of cereal that I can usually only find at Whole Foods for $5.99. The Sprouts price: $2.59 (it was on sale…but still).

It was packing up my Sprouts groceries that made me think that this Golden Birthday Challenge might lead to some more permanent life improvements.

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Moira Brings the News

We here at Free Bekah would like to welcome our newest contributor, Moira Sage to the team. Moira comes to us from, well, my uterus, with a background in focusing her eyes, chewing on her fingers, and kicking her legs. She blew us away with her astute analysis of the daily news cycle, and so we thought we’d make it official, and welcome Moira to share a weekly news analysis with the readers here at Free Bekah.

Today’s news story (we’re going to start her off in the culture category):

Lupita Nyong’o was named People Magazine’s most beautiful person. Fashionista, Oscar winner, and all around girl-you-want-as-your-BFF, Nyong’o continues to, like the champagne bubbles that inspired her Prada Oscar night gown, float to the top.

Here’s the full list of beauties.

We here at Free Bekah think that it’s nice to see someone so obviously lovely on the inside, being honored for how it shines through to the outside, which is why we’ve asked our newest correspondent to make this her first official story. It seems strange to see a face so new to the Hollywood scene at the top of the list, but we find that, like everything else about Nyong’o, refreshing.

Over to you, Moira. Do you think People Magazine made the best choice for their most beautiful person of the year?

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Trying to Write a Wedding Toast, Part III

So…Liz and Jason. As their wedding draws nearer, I know that they are overwhelmed with details. I also know that they are overwhelmed with all the things they love about each other.

Meanwhile, there have been some loose ends in my own thoughts on marriage.  I know that I heard all of this before I got married, but it’s just now starting to make sense. I just remember thinking everyone was killing my love-buzz. And now that I’m not a newlywed…where did all those sages go who had so much good advice? Suddenly insight bills at $125 an hour.

Pop culture to the rescue.

Summary: The no-escape clause

At some point, ironically, the sameness in marriage and the changes in your spouse might make you shake your head and say, “I don’t think I knew what I was getting into.”

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But it doesn’t exempt us from the “til death do us part” part. So we have to figure out how to deal with the fact that forever has a lot more Mondays than we’d calculated, and our spouse seems to have grown an extra arm out of his or her personality.

There are three movies I’ve seen that had some telling insights into this. They are not particularly fabulous movies. At all. I didn’t even really like them, and I don’t think that their overarching themes hold the key to happy marriages. But there were moments in each one that made me say, “THAT’S IT!”

The first is an older rom-com starring Topher Grace (see disclaimer above!) called “In Good Company” (83% on Rotten Tomatoes). I remember exactly one thing about that movie:  this quote, right here. (Carter Duryea is placed by Topher Grace, and Dan Foreman is played by Dennis Quaid.)

Carter Duryea: Dan, you seem to have the perfect marriage. How do you do it?

Dan Foreman: You just pick the right one to be in the foxhole with, and then when you’re outside of the foxhole you keep your dick in your pants.

Carter Duryea: That’s poetic.

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Similarly, another sort of lackluster rom-com was “Friends with Kids” (67% on Rotten Tomatoes) I watched it because I needed a Kristin Wiig fix. Well, she’s in it, but she doesn’t say much, and what she does say is not funny. But Jon Hamm plays her husband, sooo…yes, I kept watching.

In the movie, Jon Hamm’s character Ben says something along the lines of, “You pick the person you want to be with in the bad times.” Probably also good that they share the good times… but that’s the easy part.

I tend to get dramatic about my needs, my feelings, Lewis’s needs, and Lewis’s feelings. But in the end, it all comes down to committing to the partnership like your life depends on it, and then dealing with the flurry of bullets and grenades. And you have to remember that the person in the foxhole with you is the one person who has taken a sacred vow to be ON YOUR TEAM. Taking aim at them is totally counterproductive.

Does that sound like too much negativity? Well, here’s the reason it’s not: you are no longer alone in the foxhole. That fact alone should be the underpinning smiley face on the rest of your days (which are more numerous than if you really were facing sprays of bullets and hand grenades, so, again, hooray!).

Also, it emphasizes the importance of picking well. Pick your spouse well. Because the last thing you want is some screaming Mimi running out into the fray.

But even if you pick the right person, there’s still days where the foxhole gets a little…foxholey.

The next movie that I did not like, but that I did feel had some insight was “Take This Waltz” (77% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s about an achingly hipster married woman who seems “restless in a kind of permanent way.” Basically, she’s jonesin’ (in a muted, listless sort of way that hipsters express longing) for excitement . And there’s a shiny new boy across the street.

It’s her alcoholic sister-in-law, played very nicely by Sarah Silverman, who falls off the wagon and delivers the moral of the story.

“Life has a gap in it…it just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.”

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I’m keenly aware of the gaps in life, and the perils of my hunt to fill them. If Lewis was everything I wanted him to be every single day, he’d have to be psychotic, because I change my list of demands as often as I change my socks. Often to reflect exactly the opposite of yesterday’s demands.

The hip Christian way to say this is, “you never marry the right person.” The choice of words there is a little too let-me-blow-your-mind-nouveau-Puritan for me.  I propose this revision: “You can’t marry God, so cut your spouse some slack.”

It was actually Ira Glass, host of This American Life, who put this all together the best. He was talking to a man who had decided that marriage should have a contract expiration. That because people change, they shouldn’t have to stay in relationships forever. Honestly, I expected quirky, progressive Ira Glass to agree with him. Instead, he said,

from umamigirl.com

from umamigirl.com

I think it was the “no-escape clause” that gave me a panic attack two weeks before I got married…and has kept me from having one since.

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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.