Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Going Emo

Did you notice what I did with the music reviews last week? The Odds and The Evens? I was very proud of that.
I got the idea from a tweet from Craig Northey. It was just an off-hand comment, but it got me thinking that I might like to put reviews of them back to back at some point. I did it now because Ian MacKaye, for his part in Rites of Spring, is a good launching pad into the realm of emo, and that's where I'm going now.
This path started a year and a half ago, when I first started listening to My Chemical Romance, mainly by bringing up videos on Youtube. I have a bad habit of reading internet comments (more on where that got me Monday). There was an overarching theme with the comments, regardless of the specific video, that would pretty much break down into this:
"Stupid emo!"
"There's nothing wrong with being emo! It just means the music is emotional!"
"They're not even emo! Emo is short for emotional hardcore, and it's completely different from this!"
This may have been the first I had heard of "emo" as a music genre. A coworker had once used the term to describe a former coworker, who had issues with his mother not making him feel special enough. I did see the "Goth Baby versus Emo Baby" on the Humor for Stoners segment of the Spike Feresten show (Goth Baby won by unleashing a swarm of bats at Emo Baby). Still, everything at that point had indicated it was more of a manner of dress and an attitude than anything else.
Now I was seeing it used as a musical term that was being used as an epithet and drawing very strong responses. My first stop was Wikipedia, and while the article was interesting, the bands it mentioned were not at all like the bands that were getting called emo now. Key bands were Rites of Spring, Jimmy Eat World, and Weezer. Where are the black scarves and eyeliner?
The article directed me to a book, Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo, by Andy Greenwald. I added it to my reading list on Goodreads. There was a review there that said the book started out okay, but then it got all hung up on Dashboard Confessional, and if you really want to know about Emo go to
Again, there was so much passion in her review. And she's right about the book; it feels like Greenwald got a crush on Chris Carraba, but I think it was more that he fell in love with himself being the one who knew about this and could talk to the kids about it. Well, I guess you can have more than one love object.
Genre labels have limited usefulness anyway, I know, but I do like seeing how music develops, and who influences whom, and so delving into it more deeply is good for that. I am going to reread the book, but this time slowly, stopping and listening to the bands as I go, and of course spending time at
There are things that will be good about this. I have more James Dewees and more Matt Rubano coming up, and of course more Jimmy Eat World. After the concert, I am all primed for that. I don't think I will love Pinkerton, but I do love Weezer; might as well listen to the whole oeuvre.
And I want to see if I can understand the switch. When did "emo" stop meaning dressed like Richie Cunningham and start meaning dressed like Edward Scissorhands? At first I thought the issue was that none of the original emo bands got that big, so the label ended up being applied to better-known bands doing different musical things, but it's still all so illogical.
I've seen a video clip of Tyson Ritter crying to one song, where the roots were humorous, but you could easily see that as more of a natural successor to some of these bands. And if it did switch to meaning wearing black and singing about death and sadness, how did Kill Hannah never get that label?
The first AFI album I listened to, Sing The Sorrow, was 2003, so that's the big year, and I remember thinking it sounded like they had been savagely attacked by vampires and had a lot of anger and torment over it, and this album was the result of that, but they're not emo. Why not? (I am seeing them on Halloween; perhaps I can ask.)
I do have some theories about what happened, and the emotional and societal roles some bands end up filling, and so after the book, which takes us to about 2003, I am going to start in on this other list:
Avenged Sevenfold, Sleeping with Sirens, Of Mice and Men, Pierce the Veil, Black Veil Brides, You Me At Six, Big Time Rush, Heffron Drive, Mayday Parade, Marianas Trench, Lower than Atlantis, All Time Low, Asking Alexandria, Suicide Silence, Lost Prophets, Falling in Reverse, A Day to Remember, We Are the In Crowd, Bring me the Horizon, Blood on the Dance Floor, Janoskians, Boyle Brothers, Paramore, Ice Nine Kills, 5 Seconds of Summer, While She Sleeps, Motionless in White, Ed Sheeran
Some of those things are not like the others. I know. I also am probably missing some. Regardless, these are the bands that keep coming up on Twitter, and they have devoted fans who will argue about what emo is, and whether they are, and affirm that their lives were saved by these bands.
I am starting to know some of them already. I know two All Time Low songs, and I can recognize Austin, Kellin, Oli, Alex, and Jack at this point. There are a lot of them I feel affection for already, because they have helped people I care about, and so I am going to love them no matter how I feel about their music.
We'll see how it goes. One of the most amazing things recently has been the realization that I actually have a chance of getting questions answered if I ask in the right place. I learned something about that eyeliner just two weeks ago.
I am sure there will be thoughts that make it into writing at some point, but that will take some time. Where we're heading now is somewhere different. You see, the reason that I can start listening to emo is I have finally made it through the comments from that 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list. That means what we have coming up is guitar, guitar, guitar.
Contrary to expectations, My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy will be more significant here than in the emo section.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Profile updates

If all I really ended up doing was inserting "feminist" into my Twitter profile, that would have been quick and easy. That doesn't even sound like something that would happen to me.
I guess it was because I was thinking I should update Facebook too, and was there a spot for that? There are specific places for schools and jobs and religion. I could like a Feminism page, I guess, but that seemed insufficient.
I had not been thrilled with Timeline, and it made some things harder to find, but there was a little paragraph, and I could add it there. Fine, but because I had remembered the drop-down menu for religion, that had me thinking that I should add LDS to my Twitter profile. I blame that on Orson Scott Card.
I have read Ender's Game, and while I did not exactly like it, I did think it was well-written. Some time after reading it, Card started doing a newspaper column that I really liked. It was sensible and down to earth, and I grew to like him from that, though it ended quite a while ago. Honestly, I knew nothing about the National Organization for Marriage until recently. I had kind of heard about the Superman thing, but I wasn't really paying attention until now.
The only reason Card's non-apology isn't the worst non-apology out there is because Paula Deen beat him to it. I never cared for her, though, and I liked him, so I am really disappointed. More to the point, right now he is the Mormon getting all the press, with Romney before that. I am not comfortable with this representation.
Currently there are a few rampantly religious people going around and encouraging the depressed. It should be a good thing, but they are so aggressive about it that it is kind of a turnoff, especially for some of the people they are trying to help, many of whom have issues with religion. I don't want to be like that, but just putting it in my profile seemed like a reasonable compromise. It's not a secret, I'm not ashamed of it, but also I will not shove it in your face. And I ended up using Mormon instead of LDS because that is more familiar to people.
And then I just started changing things to stick with the character limit but still represent me.  Twitter really pushes you toward the concise. Whereas previously I had said "Aspiring screenwriter, frequent blogger", well, those are mostly still true, except that I feel really disheartened about ever selling a screenplay, so I am rewriting Family Blood as a novel, plus working on the musical and writing monthly comics now, as well as the occasional song, and it ultimately came down to just "Writer." I am a writer.
Part of that is the music writing, with the reviews. Maybe that's why it felt necessary to put "Rocker." That sort of feels like delusions of grandeur again, but rock needed to be there. As much as I love music in general, rock is most important. Not mentioning rock would be a lie. Putting rock as something I do does seem like a bit of a stretch, but have you seen me at karaoke? I don't know, it felt right.
These first changes left out comic books, and that seemed wrong. They are kind of part of me now. It also left out travel and animals. Maybe you can't fit everything in, but some things are so basic. How much of my essence could be boiled down to 140 characters?
My previous bio said "Will help with school but you still need to do the work." That was too long a way of saying that, and yet it was important. The first teen who befriended me on Twitter did so because of My Chemical Romance, but our first conversation was me helping her prepare for a test on Romeo and Juliet, and giving her ideas for different ways of looking at the characters. That was really cool. But still, you need to put in some effort; I'm not going to do your assignment for you. And I was not leaving out the claw machines!
And as much as I started this for entertainment, the connecting with people has been the most important thing. Keeping an eye out for people who need some help has meant a great deal to me, and I keep finding that I am cared about too, and that there are people looking out for and interested in me. It's been profound. The old admonition, "Be there for people" was going, but something needed to take its place.
I finally ended up with this:
Gina Harris
Writer. Rocker. Feminist. Mormon. Loves animals, travel, books, comic books, & sketch pads. Good at claw machines, answering questions, and caring about people.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Yes, I'm a feminist

I recently decided that I needed to add "feminist" to my Twitter Bio.
I had been thinking about it anyway, because feminism is important and I am becoming more aware of its importance all the time. However, it also seemed a little like having delusions of grandeur. I mean, I haven't really done anything for the cause, and I don't feel like I know enough about the history. Could I take that title upon myself and deserve it?
It was a simple Twitter exchange that tipped the scales. Someone tweeted the question of whether it's possible to rape a prostitute. I felt a flare of anger go up and replied, "Yes. She still has the right of refusal." He replied, "Could you ask for your money back at that point? I'm thinking of the case of Aileen Wuornos accusing her victims of rape."
Okay, he got a flurry of replies from me at this point. First of all, being completely practical, my understanding (and I am out of my depths here, I know) is that the money is put somewhere in plain sight before, but that she would not collect until later.
To be fair, we were thinking of different things. I don't think he was a bad guy, or would abuse a prostitute. He was thinking of paying someone and then not getting the (illegal) services rendered; I was thinking of her outright refusing the job.
It can go beyond that though. She might agree to one act, but not a beating that follows, so there is still an assault. She might agree to one act and he might force a different one. That would be a rape, but even if she went to the police, the odds of any successful prosecution even being started, let alone winning the case, is next to zero. You are more likely to see a case like this:
I was feeling angry that people could be so marginalized that they could end up in positions where there really was no protection for them. But wait, is that not the logical result of them choosing an illegal and immoral lifestyle? I have two thoughts on that.
One thing that I wanted to say is that with Wuornos it is kind of a different case because she may have had some PTSD going on (or she could have been a liar), but actually, that's not different. Most people with stable lives don't just decide to start selling themselves on the street. They tend to be survivors of rape and incest. Maybe they have been groomed from a very young age. It is common for them to start as minors. There may be a lot of PTSD that just doesn't result in homicide. That's something worth remembering about the "victimless" crime, so I was feeling some anger about that too.
The other thought is that you do not have to be at this level of marginalization to have a hard time getting justice. College students, soldiers, wives, teenagers, and all sorts of women are put on the defensive when they get raped:
More and more I see that we have issues where empowerment is the answer, and that in terms of asking the right questions and making the right points, feminism is key. Unfortunately, that term has very negative connotations, where many women who at least seem to believe in aspects of feminism shy away from the word. There's nothing wrong with the word. Feminism is completely valid, and my qualification for calling myself a feminist is that I'm willing to.
It may frighten some people off, or make some people more likely to disregard what I say, but those are the attitudes I want to counter. The real value may be if people who already know me as an intelligent and good person see that, and think about it, but I will clarify my stance here.
I don't hate men. I am not anti-marriage, anti-family, or anti-housewife. I always expected to have a husband and children, and that didn't happen, but I am not bitter about that or motivated toward feminism because of that.
I do believe that women and men should hold equal positions in society and in the workplace, and that they do not, and I believe that those inequities are so firmly entrenched and habitual that it is easy not to notice them.
While I am not similarly affected by racism, I am equally against it, and opponents of progress do try and re-frame the terms of the argument there too. However, there is not (that I am aware of) a term for fighting racial inequality that is equivalent to feminism in terms of stigma.
And I am aware that men get raped and abused and get eating disorders too, and I do care about that, but I believe as we fight the mindset that creates sexism, it will help with the attitudes that contribute to other types of abuse and discrimination. Again, it specifically bugs me how much people get this one word wrong, and if you do want to fight injustice, you can't let the unjust control the vocabulary.
Once the decision was made, it seemed like adding one word to a profile would be a simple enough task. That didn't go as I thought it would, which I'll cover tomorrow.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Band Review: The Evens

I first heard of The Evens through a Henry Rollins anecdote, where he encountered them in Australia and dealt with a heckler in an interesting way. Since then, and seeing this image, I always kind of associate Rollins and Ian MacKaye together:
Actually, I am pretty sure that is Rollins at the beginning of "All These Governors", but not positive.
The Evens consists of Ian MacKaye on guitar, Amy Farina on drums, and both of them on vocals.  If that dynamic sounds similar to the White Stripes, the sounds are nonetheless completely different. The Evens have a more unplugged feel, and create more interesting textures. As part of the Warmers, Farina was known for not just sticking with the expected beats, creating unusual rhythms, and that happens here too.
MacKaye of course is such an important person in punk that I don't even want to try and summarize. On the surface, The Evens represents a sort of mellowing, but I think (and I have not listened to enough of their other projects to be really confident in this) it feels more like a maturation.
There is still the awareness of societal issues that one would expect from punk. The sound is more mellow, generally speaking, but there is also something really primal in it. Some of that may be the stripped down aspect of just have two musicians, but they do throw in other instruments at times, and experiment with sounds.
Because of that primal element, it does not sound right to call them sophisticated, but you will still hear that there is a lot of variety and inventiveness in their sounds. This is especially true with their most recent release, The Odds, from 2012.
There is continuity too. Compare the intro to "Get Even", off of 2006's Get Evens to the more recent "Wonder Why", and there is a similar sound, and yet those two songs are very different, and they are different from the other tracks on their respective albums.
(Formed in 2001, since then they have produced three LPs. some singles, and one child.)
I feel like this is one of those reviews where my lack of musical knowledge hurts more than others, so I regret that. In six months, I will probably get completely different things out of them. However, yesterday I got a great reminder of what tends to be wrong with professional music writers, so hey, I could be worse.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Band Review: The Odds

I came to The Odds in a roundabout way. My well-established love for the Gin Blossoms led me to Northey-Valenzuela, a collaboration between Gin Blossom guitarist Jesse Valenzuela and Craig Northey. Their self-titled 2006 release does not seem to well-known. I wanted someone via the internet to hear "Hurting On The Outside", and I could not find anything to link to. "Not A Lot Goin' On" was the theme song for hit Canadian sitcom "Corner Gas", so you can find versions of that a more easily.
Anyway, when I got onto Twitter (February 2012), the Gin Blossoms were my very first follower, a few seconds after I followed them. (They follow back.) This led to my following Jesse Valenzuela (and Scott Hessel) when they got on Twitter. (The band members in general have been a little slow to warm up to tweeting, but if anyone else gets on I am there.) It was following Jesse that let me know when Craig Northey got on.
Well, cool! I'll follow him. And there's this reference to Odds Music. Great! He's working on a new project. No, not even close. The Odds formed in 1989. They went on hiatus from 1999 to 2007, but have been pretty productive since reuniting. They have a lot of music out there, and I knew nothing about it until Craig Northey got on Twitter.
Sadly, this appears to be normal. Based on the data from "A Good Weird Story", they have accumulated 9 Top Ten hits, 6 Juno nominations, 1 platinum and 2 gold albums, 3 number one videos, and provided themes for 3 hit TV series (I am assuming that does not include "Corner Gas"), and yet still, based on the video, even people who recognize the songs don't realize that it's them. Therefore, The Odds may just be the most successful band that you have never heard of. But now you are! So keep reading!
Because the catalog is so large, I am afraid this is another situation where I have not been able to make it through everything three times. I'll just give my impressions as well as I can.
My initial thought is that they would be fun to listen to in a bar. That's not that a larger concert wouldn't be good, but their vibe is mellow and fun, with kind of a bluesy feel, and so I think in the more intimate and casual setting, there would be overall good feelings.
There is a real intelligence to the music as well, with the use of language and with the subject matter, sometimes with humorous elements. A great example of this is the song "Heterosexual Male". It is a clever satire, but it also has a great beat, and it has a music video that really enhances it, with some help from a few Kids in the Hall.
And videos is a good place to start. The band's web site has just a treasure trove of videos there. Going through these will give you a broad overview of the music, and perhaps an idea of which album to start with. Also, while I would guess that none of them were particularly high budget, they tend to be fun, inventive, and visually interesting, while representing the songs well. They also tend towards the dimly lit; I'm not sure what the deal with that is.
You can also get a free download of new song, "Heaven Where Hell Should Be" by signing up for the newsletter, so that's another reason to visit the site. It really does seem to be the central location, though there are Facebook and Twitter profiles. Well, the Twitter account has not tweeted since 2011, but the just reaffirms that the official site is the way to go.
As funny as "Heterosexual Male" is, I think my favorite song of theirs at this point is "Someone Who's Cool", and while it does not appear to have been written by someone who felt cool, I think they are. Check them out.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

70 years of The Little Prince

The Little Prince, written by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, was published in 1943.
There was no time warp here. Fairy tales are timeless, and this book is rather a fairy tale. If it does not have all of the usual trappings, the symbolism and the magic are still there.
I think I first encountered it in 3rd or 4th grade, with a movie that led to reading the book. I thought it was very beautiful then, with the part with the fox standing out the most to me. That is really the heart of the book. The fox teaches the prince to understand his relationship with the rose, and it makes it possible for the prince to pass that lesson on to the narrator. That lesson of love is the salve for all of the ache.
I read it next in high school, in French. I thought some things came across more deeply in the original language, but it could also be that I was reading it as someone older, who had seen more, so I understood it on a different level. "S'il te plaît... apprivoise-moi" does get me more than "Please tame me", and yet, it does get me, in both languages, and I would not be able to refuse either request.
Re-reading it as an adult, I had not realized how harsh it is on grown-ups. Of course, I seem to be regressing quite a bit lately, so perhaps I shouldn't be too offended. There were a few other things that stuck out.
As the prince was visiting the small planets, he was perceived as a subject by the king, and an admirer by the vain man, because to them everyone is respectively subjects and admirers. There is not that type of explanation when the geographer sees the prince as an explorer. Not everyone is an explorer, and later conversation with the geographer shows that not everyone would make a good explorer, especially the drunkard. He shows good judgment though; the little prince is an explorer, and I want to be one too.
This was the part that hit me hardest though, and it is lengthy but it is important, so I am just going to give you three paragraphs and let you read them:
"For I do not want any one to read my book carelessly. I have suffered too much grief in setting down these memories. Six years have already passed since my friend went away from me, with his sheep. If I try to describe him here, it is to make sure that I shall not forget him. To forget a friend is sad. Not every one has had a friend. And I may become like the grown-ups who are no longer interested in anything but numbers...
It is for that purpose, again, that I have bought a box of paints and some pencils. It is hard to take up drawing again at my age, when I have never made any pictures except those of the boa constrictor from the outside and the boa constrictor from the inside, since I was six! I shall certainly try to make portraits as true to life as possible. But I am not at all sure of success. One drawing goes along all right, and another has no resemblance to its subject. I make some errors, too, in the little prince's height: in one place he is too tall and in another too short. And I feel some doubts about the color of his costume. So I fumble along as best I can, now good, now bad, and I hope generally fair-to-middling.
In certain more important details, I shall make mistakes, also. But that is something that will not be my fault. My friend never explained anything to me. He thought, perhaps, that I was like himself. But I, alas, do not know how to see sheeps through the walls of boxes. Perhaps I am a little like the grown-ups. I have had to grow old."
I too have bought some pencils, and started drawing again, and telling stories for longer, and I am only two years younger than Saint-Exupéry when The Little Prince was published. I feel different things about it now than I did before. I still find it one of the most beautiful books ever. That part hasn't changed.
There is one other thing about this week's reviews too. The Little Prince was published in 1943. Saint-Exupéry's plane went down and he was presumed dead in 1944. Rachel Carson died about two years after Silent Spring was published from a heart attack after her body had been weakened by cancer. Sylvia Plath killed herself a month after The Bell Jar was published in England.
I don't know that any of them thought that these were their swan songs. Carson may have felt that she was not going to make it, but if she had she was not old. Plath was working on other things, and Saint-Exupéry was relatively young. So, there could have been more, or perhaps it was a close call that we even got these works, and that is important. All three books have beautiful prose, passion, and sincerity, and they have taught me things.
So it has been a reminder also to tell your story. If you have something to say, say it. It may end up taking longer than you expect, but that would only get worse the longer you waited to start.
Share. Speak. Write.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

51 years of Silent Spring

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was my other time warp book. Some of the things that you read about sound impossible, and then you remember that this was published in 1962, before the Environmental Protection Industry or Woodsy Owl or that whole green mindset.
The title refers to the death of songbirds from pesticides. Well, it was more than songbirds. Flowers and fish and small wildlife died. House pets died, especially cats because they would walk in the pesticide residue and lick their paws. Occasionally farm workers and children died. Insects died, but not as effectively as you would hope.
Carson had concerns about pesticides for some time, but events in 1957 and 1958 really set things in motion. It still took a few years for the book.
The book is elegantly written, and thoroughly researched. I believe it had a big impact at the time, and there are some things that are definitely different and improved now. That being said, the most amazing thing was how timely it still is.
One point that Carson emphasized, beyond the dangers of the various poisons, was also that the insects would build immunity. This is what led to the end of the use of DDT in many areas, not a ban. However, there are still people calling to bring DDT back. There are still people calling her primitive, and a hysterical female, and accusing her of causing suffering. Yes, the attacks happened in the 60's, but also in 2007, 2009, and 2012.
(The Wikipedia article is a good starting place:
It does not take a lot of research to refute Carson's detractors. It was interesting to find that one of them is Monsanto. They've been around for quite a while, and they are as they have been.
So that's interesting, and it would be interesting in light of the recently discovered genetically modified wheat that was found it a field where it should not have been, but that's not even a pesticide issue.
Silent Spring is timely in light of 25000 dead honeybees in a Target parking lot in Oregon after tree spraying, followed by 37 million dead honeybees in Ontario, shortly after corn spraying.
This is not just about honey; there is a lot of nature and agriculture that depends on bees for pollination. The bee population has taken some pretty heavy hits lately. There are multiple theories for colony collapse disorder, but one of them is neonicotinoid pesticides.
But wait, there's more, because we have children dead and ill from pesticide contamination in their school lunches in India. I doubt anyone was being malicious, but I would not be surprised if at the root there was an issue of someone cutting corners, or trying to get a better crop in dangerous ways.
Yes, the dangers of pesticides are timely, but also the danger of greed just never goes away. In many of the cases in the book, there were more effective methods but the government went with the chemicals due to the influence of the chemical companies, and it is all about money.
Here's the fun part: there were people from this, especially farmers, who learned to mistrust the government. There would be other times in the future when the government would have the right idea, and if people stuck with blind distrust, that could lead to other problems.
There is a need for integrity, and firm regulations and policies in place to guard against the influence of money, but also there is a need for educated people. There is the need for basic knowledge, and the ability to think, and the willingness to study issues so that citizens are neither blindly complying nor resisting.
It takes effort. Sometimes I am just tired, and I don't want to take in any more information, or read another article, or try and get anyone to listen, but it's important.
And, I know I am a broken record here, but I can't help but wonder if our blithe acceptance of so many chemicals in food and clothing and everything has something to do with the prevalence of depression and bipolar disorder and allergies and sensitivities, let alone cancers. Lead in the environment has correlated strongly with criminal activity, but it took a while to figure that out. What else do we not know?

Monday, July 22, 2013

50 Years of The Bell Jar

When I was writing about reading Vine Deloria Jr, one of the things that was off-putting was that he is writing currently, but from decades ago. When you are reading history, it knows it is old. Things can still become outdated as information and attitudes change, but there is at least the understanding that this is the past.
Other books feel very much in the moment, only it is an old moment, and that sometimes requires mental adjustments. That has been the case lately with two books. Their respective moments were important, but these books are old. They are more than curiosities for our day though; there is still relevance, and that gives us our subject matter for today and tomorrow.
Today is The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. I had read that this year was the fiftieth anniversary of it's publication a few months ago, and that seemed like a reason to read it. Once I started doing the reading that I am doing now, which has such a strong focus on depression and mental health, well, it was just obvious that it belonged on the list.
The first surprise was how hopeful it was. At the end, the protagonist is feeling better. She is being released from the sanitarium and ready to start again. I had always thought it was something Plath wrote right before she died. Well, she died one month after it was published, but she had lived the experience ten years before and worked on the novel well before publication.
One of the more interesting twists personally is that my sisters have read it too, as long as I had it anyway, so we have been able to discuss it. Otherwise, I have a few thoughts.
A few years ago I read an article that implied Plath may have been faking the attempt and planning on being found before she died, but the intended rescuer was late. At the time I did not think much about it one way or the other, but now I am kind of offended. Suicidal teens get "attention-seeker" thrown at them so much, and it is so not the point. She made a very serious suicide attempt once before, she was going through a difficult period, and even if she had been thinking that person would come over, it could very well have been her plan to have someone find her other than family or someone who would have a hard time with it. While committing suicide tends to be impulsive, it is an impulse that often follows obsessive planning. That may sound contradictory, but it isn't.
With knowing more about suicide and depression, and seeing that optimism in the book, it makes me sad for her. It's not that I would have been happy, but there's this added perspective. If her first attempt had been successful, she never would have published Ariel or had her children, or all of those experiences of the last ten years of her life. She says right there that perhaps the bell jar - the isolated environment she has been mentally trapped in - may come down over her again. So it could have lifted again. If she had been found, or she had resisted the impulse, then there would have been more good times.
She really was an excellent writer. I want to read more of her writings, and more about her, and the letters her mother published.
I don't think her mother comes off that badly. Yes, Esther tells her psychiatrist that she hates her, and the doctor is not surprised, and you certainly get that the mother does not understand and relate to the daughter, but that didn't seem so awful to me. I have kind of a fretful mother who does not understand the things I do either, but it isn't as much of a problem for us. Of course, I say that from 41 instead of 21, which probably helps, but the other part of that relates to feminism, which is where the time warp comes in.
Clearly Esther has a nervous breakdown, there is depression, and the foreword in my edition says there are clear signs of schizophrenia there too, which I would not have recognized, but they could very well be there. There are issues of brain chemistry here, but it is centered around her feelings of inertia. With all of her gifts, it seems impossible for her to imagine finding success and fulfillment. That progresses from a feeling of detachment about her internship and classes, to impulsively throwing all of her clothes out the window, to reaching a point where she can't even imagine bathing for three weeks because she will just have to do it again.
While some of her actions are clearly seen as mental illness, an intelligent and capable young woman finding herself at loose ends in 1953 doesn't seem so crazy. The generation before her expects her to marry and become a homemaker. Her mother feels that getting a degree is useless without a practical skill like shorthand. There are professional women like her psychiatrist and her magazine editor, but Esther is lost in the possibilities, and in questions about her ability to actually manage any of it. She has a mental image of opportunities shriveling away before you can have them.
It's not that modern life is without obstacles for women, or that feminism is no longer need, but it seems that Esther really needed it. And I can totally imagine Esther laughing at one of the other interns earnestly talking about feminism, but it was still what she needed to hear.
Some of her poetry will go into that a bit more I believe, and I will be reading more, so new thoughts will probably erupt, but it just leads back to wishing she had lived.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Concert Review: Jimmy Eat World

More healing has occurred.
Yes, I have finally attended an entire Jimmy Eat World show - no leaving early, no arriving late - and it was great. (Yes, it did involve attending alone.)
It's so appropriate that they came to the Crystal Ballroom, because so many of my makeup shows ended up happening there. And, some of the unique properties of the Crystal made me more appreciative of the show, because the reverberations were felt.
First of all, the place was packed. There was a fair amount of variation in age, and a wide variety of t-shirts for cool bands, but probably the most interesting thing to me was the bros? the dudes? There were a lot of guys there together. Some male concert attendees had female dates, but that was not the norm.
When I was reading Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good (in which Jimmy Eat World plays an important part), I seem to remember that one of the important functions of emo was male bonding, and Tuesday night that made sense. There was back-slapping and pumping and dancing, and no, it was not great dancing, but there was an ecstasy to it, and it was nice to see.
The show overall had a good mix of older and newer material, but even with some songs off of their debut album being played early on, there was a switch later, where it became just the older songs.
(I think the band came on around 9, and the switch happened around 10.)
Now, one way that I know I am with a devoted fan base is that every opening riff starts off cheers - the crowd knows every song and they are excited for every song. That was the case for Jimmy Eat World, even with playing songs from all over twelve years and eight albums. That being said, it built to something more.
Maybe it was that the energy had been building throughout the entire show; certainly no one was winding down. You would think people would be getting tired, but not that you could tell.
I think though, it was a few different forces at work, building momentum. The songs that had come before did get us pumped up, that is true. Also, we knew we were getting closer to the end. That was inevitable based on the time, and the band themselves was telling us by moving into these songs that they had saved for later.
These were the songs that let us know who they were. They are the songs we remembered as striking such a chord, whether we were college kids, or working stiffs, or seriously, the guys next to me were probably in junior high when they came out. But there we were, and if we hadn't been singing along already, we had to start then, or to clap along, because how could we not?
A Praise Chorus. Sweetness. Bleed American.
Everyone knows that the Crystal Ballroom has a "floating" dance floor. You feel a little spring when you jump, and when everyone jumps, you feel it. As we built up towards the end, there was just a wave of movement and energy all across the crowd. I seriously considered working my way towards the walls, out of the middle, just to have something to hold on to, and to not be feeling the full force of it.
So I was still there in the thick of it when we got to "The Middle", which is where we knew it was going to end. We didn't want it to, but we knew it had to, but first we had that song for every person who has been on a delayed schedule coming into their own.
When they finished that we just screamed and cheered our heads off for them for a few minutes. Seriously, one of them (Rick?) took out his phone and filmed us. (Walking out, two other guys were talking about that next to me. The one was saying, "I heard him. He said 'This is f-ing cool!") We appreciated them, but they appreciated us too.
I realize I haven't done much musical analysis here. I am actually going to be listening to them more in the near future (more on that probably on July 31st), so I may return to the topic. For now I should say that the new album, Damage, is pretty good, and yet there is still an amazing attachment to that self-titled debut. I want to talk about that because even though it's from 2001, it still feels so fresh and real and relevant, maybe because it is so personal.
The band has aged remarkably well. Singer Jim Adkins may actually be a little slimmer, but certainly does not appear to have aged a day, and somehow that seems really appropriate. That's not to say that they can't age, or they will hold it off forever, but it feels like there's a part of our youth that is still out there untouched. I guess it's his hair, and the way it flops. He can go gray, or white, but I hope his hair will always flop like that. It has sentimental value.

Related posts:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Concert Review: X Ambassadors

I just saw X Ambassadors Tuesday night when they opened up for Jimmy Eat World at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. I had not heard of them previously, but I had searched for the opener, and so had listened to their EP, Love Songs Drug Songs a few times prior to the show.
They're okay. They don't rock as hard as I tend to prefer. The songs are a little more reflective, perhaps, and perhaps a bit moodier.
The best example of this may be their song "Litost", which was used on the soundtrack for the movie The Host (not the Korean one; the Stephenie Meyer one). The overture is hauntingly beautiful, and if the rest of the song does not quite live up to it, it nonetheless maintains the mood. I thought perhaps it might have been written for the movie, and since there are aliens and identity issues (this is from reading about the movie; I have not seen the movie or read the book, and I expect that to continue), then maybe that made sense. That was not the case.
Doing a search on "litost", the most common translation seems to be "a state of torment upon by the realization of one's inadequacy or misery", though "humiliation" comes up a lot too. It seemed odd that people would know an obscure Czech word about misery, and use it for a song title, but then I saw that most of the material about it referenced a Milan Kundera novel. Suddenly it felt like everything made sense.
(I liked the information at, including the comment which argues against that definition, best.)
Again, that's not to say that the band is not good; they are just headed in a different direction than I am. I am also not calling them pretentious, because I did not feel that at all (though they might be influenced by things that I would call pretentious, and take them seriously).
I did like them better live than recorded, and while they don't have a lot of videos, there is an unplugged video for "Unconsolable" (sic), and I think that gives you the best approximation of what listening to them and watching them is like.
I feel there is a faint praise problem here, and that is not my intent. X Ambassadors did not annoy me, and that is no small thing. Their songs are interesting between each other, so it never cloyed, and when you are listening to the same six songs multiple times, it is very easy for that to happen. "Brother" is really majestic. There is something interesting here. I know there is an audience for them, I'd like them to find it.
The crowd responded well to them at the show, and even if I wasn't swept away, I liked it. I can't always say that.
Love Songs Drug Songs is available through Amazon and iTunes.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Going back to yesterday, I have been disappointed that the president has not stuck to his ideals as much as he could have. The fact that he has been so persistent with some things, despite opposition, shows me that he has not completely lost those ideals, and I believe he is a good man, but I wanted more.
One thing I had not fully realized was how many obstacles there are. I was reading something about the Guantanamo situation, and the practical issues of moving the prisoners, and it is harder than you think it would be. No, you can't send them here. No, you can't transport them this way.
It's not enough reason not to persist, especially when you have real injustices happening, but when there are so many areas requiring attention, and each one is involved, I do sympathize with not getting everything done. I am constantly falling short of my own expectations, and they are much more modest. For that reason, when you have people who criticize anything and everything because of a single issue that is not addressed, I don't think they are being realistic.
There is something else that is a new consideration for me. Yesterday I wrote about how difficult it is to make changes that stick, because things seem to keep working their way back to the original state. This may be more than an unfortunate maintaining of equilibrium, but that the people who are benefited by the status quo not only have a vested interest in maintaining it, but also power to do it.
So even for an outsider coming into power, suddenly the old ways have an attraction beyond being entrenched, because now they are working in your favor.
It is interesting to me because I have been noticing recently that even with music, a lot of things break down into whether you are part of the establishment or anti-establishment. There are people for whom being a rebel is a big part of their identity, and people who look at the rebels and are personally offended beyond all reason.
There are some problems with this. First of all it assumes an enemy, regardless of side. Also, it's kind of a stupid way of looking at things. Not everything that comes from the establishment is bad. For example, a basic agreement on appropriate behavior for traffic, enforced by law, makes transportation practical and pretty safe. Even most of the times when it is not safe, it's because someone is not following the law. So rebelling against speed limits or traffic signals as an infringement on your personal liberty would be silly, and most people get that.
There are a lot of areas where the lines are less clearly drawn, so there is room for disagreement. Decisions then should be based on thinking about the effects: what do we get? what do we lose? If you are dead set against conformity, you could reject something good, and if you are dead-set against hippies you will reject different good things.
My tendency is to go with doing the right thing, but there are so many different interpretations of that, and some of the worst ideas out there are supported strictly because they seem so righteous. Being right comes down to love though; I know that.
The establishment and the anti-establishment both have room for a lot of awfulness, so no matter how different they may appear, there can be some surprising similarities. However, there really is a pretty clear distinction between loving and creating versus hating and destroying. That one's fairly easy to tell. And in this case, there is only one right side.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Drones and spying and President Obama

A while back someone asked me how I felt about the president, and at the time I said I was very disappointed with the renewal of the Patriot Act. That was something that I had been against in the previous administration, and here it was continuing with the new administration that was supposed to be so ideologically different.
Based on that, it would be reasonable to wonder if I am thoroughly disillusioned, or blinding myself and deciding that everything is okay, and it is neither of those things.
For the drone program, if my Sunday post was not clear enough, we should have grave concerns when killing is easy. Taking a life is a big deal, and we need to remember that. And of course, drones are used for many things, but the targeted drone strikes are a concern, and the spying is a concern, as is PRISM. I don't really have anything to hide, but it's a bad principle.
Actually, the thing that strikes me the most is that the programs don't seem necessary to me. We had plenty of information leading up to the September 11th attacks; the problem is a lack of follow-up, and lack of will to prioritize the most pressing matters over the existing agenda. Having PRISM did not stop the Boston bombings.
It's like the waterboarding that was justified as being necessary for finding Bin Laden, but it was other techniques, that were not torture, that produced the valuable information. We don't need to stoop to these levels. There are other things that we need to do better, and that we can feel good about.
My other old complaint about the president was that he was not being bold enough; he was still trying to build consensus from people who were just not going to come through. That may be related to the other complaints, but I want to point out that I still President Obama has presided well, and been fairly effective. The economic is doing better, there are advances in healthcare that should be able to proceed, environmental protections have been strengthened, and the Ledbetter act is no small achievement. Anything accomplished with Boehner and McConnell around has to be seen as pretty impressive.
There are two trains of thought from this. One, and I think about this a lot, is how do you effect change. For example, with the Ledbetter act, that improves some options for legal action, but women are still traditionally paid less, offered less opportunity for advancement, more subject to sexual harassment, and discriminated against in hiring, and people will ascribe it to actual qualifications, but there's more there:
The Affordable Care Act still faces obstacles to implementation, but even without that there are states that are turning down Medicaid expansion, which would save lives, just to prove a point.
Going outside of that, look at the Arab Spring and how exciting that seemed, and yet here is another coup, and there is still conflict. Things were so exciting when the Soviet Union broke up, and it is still broken up, but how different is life in Russia? Did gangsters just replace the old party members?
This seems to happen over and over again, and that leads to my other train of thought, which has been on my mind a lot. We will go over that tomorrow.