Bleed For Your Art.

I saw the movie Whiplash and it really hit me. It’s about a freshman drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller) studying at the most prestigious music conservatory in the country. He becomes a member of his school’s elite jazz band, which is led by an extremist, hard-assed, big shot conductor named Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher screams humiliating insults at his band members, pushing them to the point of bloodshed, all in the name of bringing out the best musician in them. Andrew, who wants nothing more than to be the best, allows himself to be subjected to this mentality in mind-boggling ways. I won’t get specific because I really hope you’ll see it for yourself.

During a pretty tense scene, Andrew gets into it with some relatives about the importance of his aspirations vs. those of his football player and scholar cousins. His family insinuates that in the world of music, there’s no real way to determine who’s “the best” because it’s all subjective. Therefore, there’s little point in striving for something that essentially doesn’t exist (unlike in sports or academia where the standards are concrete). In their eyes, becoming a successful musician is a lesser pursuit.

The validity of art-making is a worn topic, but we’ll never stop discussing it. There will always be artists, and there will always be people who don’t understand how art can be as important as anything else (despite benefiting from it on a daily basis). How many people can’t start the day without that one song that gets them going? How many people eat their lunches sitting on the edges of fountains facing beautifully designed buildings, or on benches in the middle of gorgeously landscaped parks? How many find relief in unwinding in front of a television or movie screen and losing themselves in a world that doesn’t exist, or did long ago? How many read books that open their minds to the things they thought were impossible? In my mind, excellence in art is as necessary as anything else.Β And unlike in sports, where the prime window of participation is small, art-making (by and large) tends to get better with time. The more we’ve witnessed/experienced/learned in life, the more sophisticated our approach to creation. We become better at expressing our individual truths as time goes on. And the better we know ourselves, the easier it is to reach others.

Art connects us. My first friends were the people whose lives I read about in novels. Certain paintings and illustrations get my blood pumping harder than watching a football match. Some songs move me to the point of tears. Not only does good art reveal its maker (in ways conversation never could), it also assures you that you’re not alone. There are other people who think like you, dream like you, and see the world the way you do. And if we’re talking about music specifically, it brings those emotions you can’t express to the brink of tangibility. There’s nothing like when a chord or harmony hits you just right and you feel it shiver through you, in perfect tune with who you are at that moment. And watching a musician lose themselves in what they’re playing is…I don’t have words for it.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Passion is passion, and no one pursuit is more or less worthy than any other in my opinion. I don’t agree with Fletcher’s methods in the movie — I know my best work wouldn’t emerge in that kind of environment — but I do think it’s a good idea to test the limits of what we think we’re capable of. So if you need to drum until the skin on your hands opens up and your kit is slick with blood, do it. Show the world what being the best is worth to you.

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Do-Overs

Saturday was a day for redemption.

I published a post last month about a somewhat disappointing walking tour and an even more disappointing concert cancellation. Susan and I went on another walking tour entitled, “Law and Order E.C.” Our group was actually the first to preview this particular tour. Sometimes it’s not so bad being a guinea pig πŸ™‚ Our guide, David Charnick, took us around the city and shared interesting moments in London’s crime and law enforcement history. He regaled us with tales of debtors prisons, terrorist acts both successful and un, John Tawell the “Quaker” poisoner (who’d been kicked out of the Quaker organization but spent his life trying to reenter in order to take advantage of their reputation as hard-working, trustworthy people and further his business dealings), and the origins of Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court. My favorite, though, was the account of Kitty Byron, mistress of Reginald Baker and convicted murderer, who avoided execution for stabbing ole Reggie to death (outside the post office, in full view of anyone who happened by) in 1902 by citing “provocation” in defense of her crime.

Whereas men were initially allowed to claim they had been provoked as their explanation for being violent towards the women in their lives, the tide changed as cases of domestic violence against women increased — and women started retaliating. By the time Kitty Byron decided to stab Reginald, the odds were definitely in her favor. (It also helped that Reggie-boy was known to have violently assaulted Kitty in the past.) The most interesting part of her story, however, came after the murder. She was sentenced to serve ten years in lieu of execution. After the first six years of her prison sentence, Kitty was moved to a rehab facility for female alcoholics and spent the remaining four years there. When her sentence was at an end, Kitty applied to stay on at Lady Henry Somerset’s Colony for Women Inebriates because she’d fallen in love with one of the nurses. According to our guide, she offered poison to the nurse with the idea that they could both take it and be together forever…in death. O.O The nurse, who was understandably freaked out by this, reported Kitty, whose request to stay was subsequently denied. Kitty then went to live with a female relative and afterwards, fell off the grid. Yowza, amirite?

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What remains of the original General Post Office.

What remains of the original General Post Office.

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This tour more than made up for the last one. If you’re in London and looking to learn some interesting facts about the city, I heartily recommend giving one of David’s tours a go. He’s highly knowledgeable and clearly passionate about his subject. After the walking tour, Susan and I took refuge from the cold inside the nearest pub where I had my first experience with potted meat.

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In this case, crab. I’d heard of potted meat before, but knew nothing of it. Apparently, before freezers, meats were preserved in jars beneath a solid layer of fat. My potted crab was shielded by a hard layer of butter that tasted a bit citrusy. Wish I’d gotten more bread with it (I was forced to slather the remaining crab on a sandwich I’d bought from Pret earlier). Susan had some tasty looking chicken wings and the best looking chips I’ve ever seen in my life (they tasted pretty good, too).

Blurry chicken is still good chicken.

Blurry chicken is still good chicken.

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After saying goodbye, I headed to Islington for Daley’s rescheduled concert. (YAYAYAYAYAY)

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His show was So. Good. His voice is even prettier live, plus he covered some R&B/neo soul favorites of mine. Between his performance and his pre-show DJ’s playlist, I basically flipped through memories of my entire life up to this point. I also got to stand right in front of the stage during the show, which has never happened to me before. It was wonderful. Then, this happened:

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…which I’m pretty stoked about.

My next bit of excitement will be flat-hunting (!!!) next Monday. My estate agent says she can find me a place to move into by January 31st (which is when I need to be out of my dorm), and she’s been pretty good about intuiting my needs thus far, so I trust her. Still…it’s a bit of a nail-biter, isn’t it?

Wish me luck!

Writer’s Block.

Writing can be extremely cathartic. The moment after I’ve been in the zone for a while and finish the section I’ve been working on, and my brain is still humming — not knowing whether to write more or rest with the images still swishing around in my mind — is one of the best sensations I’ve ever felt. Writing can also be harsh. The holidays were fantastic for having fun with new and old friends, but I still had pages due on Saturday. It wasn’t that I had no idea what to write; I knew what came next, just not how to get there. Those are the moments when it feels like I’m taking a running leap into a brick wall. I bounce back, fall on my ass, and look up at this insurmountable hulk of a thing. I can see the footholds chipped away, the places to put my feet and fingers to make the climb. But each time I start pulling myself up, I slip and tumble back to the ground, scraping my nails all the way down. I wanted to bash my head against a wall this weekend. I didn’t quite reach my wordcount in the end, though I didn’t miss it by a horrendous amount. I sent the work off feeling equal parts excited, stunned, and worn out.

Writer’s block, for me, has almost nothing to do with writing. It happens when I have a million other things (or one huge thing) on my mind. Those other thoughts jam together and stop me moving forward on anything, not just my writing. Tension, looming worries, feeling isolated — all of these things and more take me down completely unproductive paths. What I’m talking about happens to everyone, whether you write or not. “Writer’s block” is just another term for stuckness. During my stop-and-start weekend of work, I tried pretty much everything that tends to help when I’m in a rut. So for all you folks out there trying to get unstuck, here are some methods you can try:

1) Music.

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Whether you love singing along (or harmonizing, like me), or you just like to get lost in the sounds you’re hearing, listening to music can work wonders in the unlocking-your-brain department. Close your eyes and picture yourself elsewhere. Play some solitaire with your playlist blaring in your ears. Dance around in footie pajamas with a shampoo bottle microphone! Set your life to music for a while and see how you feel.

2) Record your thoughts.

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Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to put your worries into words. Writing down the challenges weighing on your mind and seeing them there in front of you gives you a measure of control when you feel like you’re just a helpless speck of nothing in the giant universe. I don’t know about you, but simply proving to myself that I’m aware of what’s troubling me gives me a small sense of triumph because it’s the first step to making things better.

3) Write a poem (or draw a picture).

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The way you feel isn’t always expressible in complete sentences. If you’re bogged down inside but can’t or don’t want to put your feelings into concrete terms, the abstract environment of a poem (or drawing) could be just right for you. Try writing down your feelings as they are, then substituting each factual phrase for a metaphor. It’s a nice way of turning what you know about yourself into a bit of a riddle. **Bonus Round**: give the finished product to someone who knows you well and see how they interpret it. Interesting times ahead for sure…

4) Watch something you know by heart.

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So this is one of my FAVORITE things to do. When I want to do nothing but escape and laugh, I go for Friends or Futurama. I know nearly every word of Every. Single. Episode. When I’m tired of trying to figure out what comes next in my writing (or my life) it’s insanely comforting to watch something where I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, and let my brain run on autopilot.

5) Get up and get out!

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I am looooong overdue for a hike, a journey down a river, a spelunking adventure, someΒ kind of outdoor escapade. After sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, my brain is in a constant state of deep-fry. I tend to favor walks, but you can do anything! Kayak around a lake; do cartwheels in your living room; start a random mosh pit with strangers while you’re waiting for the bus. Anything. Just do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen until your eyeballs melt.

6) Read.

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This one is particularly helpful for me when I don’t want to stop thinking about the writing I need to do. It’s good to see how other people handle certain writing challenges (and if the book is good, it’s just plain fun to read). Honestly, reading is a good idea for anyone who enjoys it. It can be nice to take a break from your own life and follow someone else’s.

7) Give yourself a break.

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Aren’t all of these about giving yourself a break? Nah, dude. When I say give yourself a break I mean don’t be so hard on yourself. I am the absolute worst when it comes to this (see what I mean?). It is SO easy, once you’ve fallen into a rut, to compound that difficulty by berating yourself for getting stuck in the first place. But don’t worry — it happens to everyone. You’ll make it through. And in the meantime, be proud of yourself for making it this far πŸ™‚

What’s your favorite way to get unstuck?

WB Studio Tour, a.k.a. Potter Mania!

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Tuesday, I visited Warner Brothers Studios in Watford for the Harry Potter Studio Tour during their “Hogwarts in the Snow” period. It was great fun and gave a lot of insight into the making of the Harry Potter films. I took TON(NE)S of photos (not all of which are included here, so you can stop panicking). Therefore, if you haven’t been yet and don’t want to see any of what they’ve got prematurely, feel free to skip this post πŸ™‚

Before the tour, which is self-guided, properly began, we were shown two short video introductions. The first was about the explosive popularity of the books (I got a little teary remembering the first time I read Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone as a real life 11 year-old weirdo born in July) and how the first found its way into the hands of filmmakers. The second film was an intro to the tour itself given by Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint (which also made me cry a little). They spoke about what it was like to grow up on the set of what are now iconic films with a family of cast and crew members, then welcomed us into the home that was once theirs.

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One of the staff then showed us onto the set of the Great Hall which was decked out as expected with fruit and cakes and even flaming Christmas puddings.

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Character costumes were on display, including the original worn by an 11 year-old D-Rad! ;____; (insert all the D’aaawwwws here) After our time in the Great Hall, we were set loose to roam the exhibits on our own. So here, I will leave you to check out some more photos.

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My first butterbeer in a souvenir cup :)

My first butterbeer in a souvenir cup πŸ™‚

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I highly recommend giving this tour a go! Interesting information is given in fun ways, and there’s so so so much to see. Whether you’re HP obsessed or simply interested in film making, this tour will keep you engaged.

P.S. I saw The Theory of Everything. This was me:

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I LOVED IT.

Also, I realized I haven’t written much about books here lately. Expect more geeking out over literature in the near future πŸ™‚

Happy New Year!

The last day of 2014 was a good one. I walked from Whitechapel to the Tower and snapped some photos until it was time for Urinetown to start.

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The minute I stepped onto that wide open, stone walkway in front of the Tower, I remembered the last time I’d been there. 2008. I had come to London with a friend I’d made in Glasgow from Indonesia who needed to visit her embassy. I’d never been there before, but visiting London was actually my number one goal during my semester abroad in Scotland. We saw the Tower, the Tower Bridge, Platform 9 3/4 (before the gift shop opened there and it became an “experience”), took a walking tour and saw Buckingham Palace, the memorial for the Great Fire, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Big Ben. We took pictures with one of the Queen’s guards, ate bad Chinese food and good Italian food, got lost, met the wax version of Pierce Brosnan, ate muffins made to look like cupcakes, and stayed in an okay hostel. It was amazing.

Me, back in the day.

Back in the day.

I couldn’t explain all of what it felt like to be there. But I knew I had to go back. So when my mom came to visit, we spent a couple of days in London and I got that feeling again: wholeness. This is what I felt on New Year’s Eve, retracing my steps around the Tower. While I tried to keep my balance on the cobblestones between the Tower and the bridge, I thought, “I’m walking around this city like it’s mine. Soon, it will be. I live in England — ENGLAND — and in about a month, I’ll be living here, in London, just like I wanted.” I walked to the nearest underground station and tubed it to Shaftesbury. My last meal of the year was sushi and a yuzu flavored aloe vera drink at the Wasabi next door to the Apollo Theatre.

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Afterwards, it was time for the show.

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I was moved from the Dress Circle to the 7th row of the Stalls, an ideal spot to take in the action. Urinetown is probably unlike most (if not all) other musicals you’ve seen. For one thing, it’s pretty meta, with two of the characters often speaking directly to the audience and each other about the musical you’re watching, and the mechanics of musicals in general. The setting is dark, dystopian, and unpleasant. Lucky for us, they weren’t bent on 100% authenticity or it would’ve smelled like…well…you know. The story is about people made poorer and poorer by a pay-to-pee policy. The only way to go is in a public toilet, and the price ain’t cheap. The company that owns these public urinals, Urine Good Company (har har), is run by your typical fat cat execs, and owned by a man who seems to take pleasure in other people’s pain. It’s a classic case of the rich getting richer by exploiting human need. Of course, there’s a hero who decides to fight for the right of every human being: to pee when and where (and with whom?) they want. There is also love. But in an interesting twist, love isn’t exactly enough to make everything all right for everyone.

Hands down, my favorite aspect of this musical was *dundunDUN* the music! Not only were the songs funny, but the singing was phenomenal. One song in particular, “Run, Freedom, Run” was SO. GOOD. At one point in the song, they parodied a Baptist church service, with one character directing the choir’s vocal acrobatics, then “healing” people left and right. That was the most surprising number to me, and the most fun. Everyone in the audience clapped and clapped…and clapped…and clapped after that one. The actors held their poses, then let their arms droop after a while, wearing pained expressions, then put their arms up again and plastered smiles back onto their faces, which of course made us laugh and clap even more. It was my favorite moment in the show.

I would say you should go see it (and you should), but unfortunately there isn’t much time left. The last show is on January 10th, then it closes (earlier than planned). A woman sitting next to me said she’d heard it was closing because of the name. That’s a shame if it’s true. However off-putting the name, it clearly hasn’t kept everyone away. If you’re looking to have some fun before the 10th and can snag a ticket, do.

I hope 2015 is a fantastic year for all of you πŸ˜€

How did you spend the last day of 2014?