{summer writing} six

Ernest Hemingway is not granted rights as originator of the Six Word Story, but his own six word story has helped make it popular. The eleven word story goes: Hemingway bet he could craft an entire story in six words.

Six Word Stories are fabulous challenges–contests are held; best-ofs are published–because it really comes down to some combination creative thinking, diction, and syntax. It challenges the writer at the level of the story. Six Word stories is also a guaranteed way to spare the reader lengthy, complex sentences. You still have to understand punctuation though.

A digression by a Lit grad:

The colon emphasizes the relationship between the words before and after it. Full-stops (periods) are endings. The repetition of the period reinforces the conflict of endings and that this baby’s ending was too soon. The fragments the full-stops create are not only to metaphorically foreshorten a potentially full sentence, but speak to the breaking or fragmentation of the lives affected by the death. Both the colon and period compel the reader to continue on to what follows. You will likely resist this with the fragmented sentence, wanting there to be more, but nevertheless are forced to move on to the next part. The colon draws us back to consider the relationship between the fore and after. “For sale” is antithesis to the notion of lingering, of holding on to an object of sentimental value. A question follows, can the parent afford to hold on to the baby shoes?

Upon first reading, Hemingway’s story is a punch in the gut. The reader needn’t break down the mechanics, but as a craftsman of a six word story (as with any story), the fundamentals are worth entertaining. Poets are not the only writers who need to apply themselves.


The Summer Writing/Drawing Program follows others’ expansions on the Six Word Story idea as a variation. For an example, I include Poet Hannah Nicole’s ” (Six) Six Sentence Stories of My Life.” Every sentence speaks to the same person and could be summarized in that sixth and final sentence. Prompt “WI 15″ is not about liking Nicole’s work, writing memoir or mimicking anything more than a structure of six six word sentences. We tried to create prompts in a way that they could be left open to as loose an interpretation without losing the benefit of them.  That said, I sketched a few Six Six Sentence Stories last night while thinking of a life (as inspired by Nicole’s direction with her piece). I had Natalya help me pick a few that wouldn’t be too painful to share, but after that unanticipated detour with Hemingway, aren’t they all?

remembering: early drafts are Frankenstein’s monster.

This one was a challenge to keep it to six sentences in length.

The screenplay crept up the stairs.

The soundtrack sifted through drifting dreams.

She disrupted the quiet with – nothing.

She disrupted nothing turning into pillows.

Pressing into creases, she lined skin.

Lines memorized in pulse driving rhythms.

This one challenged sentence order and diction. I’m still debating “penned” vs. “inked” in the second sentence. Penned was the original choice and I like the harder, smoothed-over, rolling-over-surfaces sound. Inked covers skin, saturates, hides/reveals, recolors….

She kept creative non-fiction fiction journals.

Lies were penned to uncover truth.

Reality was a dream fabricated yesterday.

Everything was recorded, a multifarious concoction.

Life was rendered in declarative sentences.

She lived it in question marks.

Continuing with the thought of writing a life, I looked at prompt “WI 16b. Name & elaborate upon these characters.” One of the options: “His name is Caroline. Her name is Luther.”

His name was Caroline at first.

She became Luther at age twenty.

But they always kept both names.

Luther Caroline, both after late grandparents.

Rooted and liberated, looking in mirrors.

Shadow, rouge, and distinct blue eyes.

Those are a few of my first drafts. Go forth and create your own first, second…and sixth.

{diversity in lit} friday #12 (re)sources

Woman reader / Lectora (ilustración de Natalie Foss)

Woman reader by Natalie Foss

A few Links to reviews, articles, sites, etc. of the Diversity in Literature concern from around the blogosphere, accumulated over the weeks since “#11,” and maybe even earlier.


–what we have here is a failure to communicate writes about two reads, the second in the post is about Secrets In the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez a collection of poems written by Marjorie Agosín (White Pine Press, 2006; trans. Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman) about the epidemic of feminicide in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. “Her poems were quiet, full of grief and lonely, desert imagery. They were sad, but not as provocative as I had expected. I read through them quickly, feeling distanced from them, and therefore from the events they spoke of. Maybe the day was wrong for them, or my mood –”

17307699–Jackie at Farm Lane Books reviews Saira Shah’s The Mouseproof Kitchen (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2013), “a searingly honest book about the mixed emotions experienced by parents when they have a disabled child,” giving it 4 1/2 stars.

“The characters and emotions in this book were so vividly described that most of the time I felt as though I was reading an autobiography. Saira Shah has a child with cerebral palsy and it is clear she has put much of her personal experience into this novel. The honesty and complexity of the emotions were insightful and never became sentimental. I’m sure they’ll give comfort to anyone who has experienced something similar. The writing was thought provoking throughout and it raised interesting questions about modern parenting and the role of the disabled in society.”

–The Little Red Reviewer has been reviewing Hugo-nominees (check it out), this review features “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean Magazine, Fall 2013): “A journalist in the future explores the advantages and disadvantages of living with the wetware known as Remem. Remem monitors your conversation for references to past events, and then displays video of that event in the lower left corner of your field of vision. If you say “remember dancing the conga at that wedding?”, Remem will bring up the video. If the person you’re talking to says “the last time we were at the beach,” Remem will bring up the video. The journalist explores his own life through Remem, while looking at how language impacted a tribe in Tivland.” (publisher’s comments) “I enjoyed this story immensely and was immediately drawn in by Chiang’s prose and style.”

9780374175627Kirkus Reviews gives a starred review of In the Light of What We Know by Zia Hader Rahman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2014). “Rahman’s is a quiet, philosophical novel of ideas, a meditation on memory, friendship and trust: ‘Such regrets as I have are few,’ says his narrator; ‘I am not an old man, but even if there had been time enough to accumulate regrets, I do not think my constitution works that way.’ Beautifully written evidence that some of the most interesting writing in English is coming from the edges of old empires.”

–Hector Tobar at the LA Times reviews Kyung-sook Shin’s I’ll Be Right There (Other Press 2014; trans. Sora Kim-Russell), “Newly arrived at the college campus and mourning her mother, Jung Yoon had sought consolation in literature and in new friendships with those who were also misfits and outsiders on campus. [...] Shin writes wonderfully about intimacy and the longing of lonely people. At its best, “I’ll Be Right There” is a hopeful work about the power of art, friendship and empathy to provide meaning to people’s lives. [...] In Shin’s wonderfully stirring novel, they learn that it’s OK to laugh, and to seek the healing pleasures of art, even in the wake of death.”


–The Harriet Blog celebrates the release of Aufgabe #13: “Hurray for the arrival of Aufgabe #13 which features poetry in translation from India, from 7 Indian languages guest edited by the excellent Biswamit Dwibedy—AND—a special selection of poetry originally published in the Moroccan journal, Souffles.” They excerpt an explanation by Biswamit Dwibedy you will not want to miss.

22544926–POC-Creators announced last month the release of  Malaysian SFF writer Zen Cho’s new collection of short stories coming out from Fixi Novo, Buku Fixi’s imprint. Spirit’s Abroad “Straddling the worlds of the mundane and the magical, Spirit’s Abroad collects 10 science fiction and fantasy stories with a distinctively Malaysian sensibility” (publisher’s comments). The announcement provides some links to a few of the stories published in the collection.

–Tynan Kogane posts “Bolaño’s Author List” over at New Directions. “Roberto Bolaño’s reputation has become that of a writer’s writer, but he might also be called a writer’s reader—for his wide, absorbent, Borgesian literary erudition—or maybe even areader’s writer, whatever that might be. Bolaño’s love of reading informed much of his own writing, and in a short autobiographical piece, he claimed to be ‘much happier reading than writing.'”

–Cat at BookPage shares a few thoughts on and books of “Diversity in 2014 Children’s and Teen’s Books;” I hope they look and sound familiar.

–Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool talks “A Native American Comic Book Industry” sharing INC Comics as well as some comics and creators they are excited about. Kristina Bad Hand’s comic looks cool.

Ladies Making Comics is a must for comic book nerds who are interested in well, ladies making comics, but also the other groups marginalized in industry.

Mommy Maestra may be a good resource for some of you (I’ve found some of her posts relevant for book-finding and cultural perspective): “My name is Monica Olivera and I’m a homeschooling mother of two, as well as a freelance education writer. This blog began as a way to share the many resources for Latino homeschoolers that I was slowly discovering through my own journey as a Latina homeschooling mami.”

Young India Books: “creates excitement about books on India for kids and parents. Kids in India and across the world will enjoy reading stories about India’s diversity, geography, culture, and history. Stories that create wonder, stories of heroes and heroines, nature stories, stories on science, and religion. The best books with an Indian flavour are reviewed and promoted at various literary festivals and book fairs. Founded by Shamim Padamsee, the review team comprises of dedicated and qualified members, teachers, librarians, authors, and parents.”


–LOVE this article by José Vilson on Edutopia, “Yuri Kochiyama and How Everyone Plays their Part.” “When people use the word ‘diversity,’ we often mean ‘of color.’ Yet, more broadly, diversity can mean ‘different from the usual.’ In education, if we take a look at everyone around us, does the entire staff look, think, and act similarly? Do they laugh at the same jokes and hang at the same after-school functions? Have they lived in similar conditions? If so, there’s nothing wrong with that per se. But our message and being can be strengthened when we’re around folks who won’t say ‘yes’ to everything or who have lived through different experiences than everyone else. The more ‘yes’ people you have around you, the harder it becomes when you reach an inevitable and realistic ‘no.'”

–Over at Tor.com: “What Makes Chinese Science Fiction Chinese?” by Xia Jia (trans. Ken Liu): “In reading Western science fiction, Chinese readers discover the fears and hopes of Man, the modern Prometheus, for his destiny, which is also his own creation. Perhaps Western readers can also read Chinese science fiction and experience an alternative, Chinese modernity and be inspired to imagine an alternative future.”

–Tor.com also featured gorgeous “Chinese covers for J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, from WenJing Publishing. Artist Jian Guo applies such incredible detail to these nearly-monochromatic, stained glass-inspired covers. We also love how he incorporates Mandarin characters themselves into the design.”

–BuzzFeed offers yet another list: This one brought to you by staffers Heben Nigatu & Tracy Clayton: “39 Pieces of Advice of Journalists and Writers of Color.” “For people of color, the writing industry can seem an especially challenging space, particularly for those just starting out. We spoke with 20 established writers of color – cultural writers, investigative reporters, broadcast journalists, and freelancers – and asked them three questions about the advice that they’d give beginning writers:

• What piece of advice would you, as a writer of color, give to burgeoning writers/journalists of color? • What do you know now about being a writer of color that you wish you’d known when you first started? • Is there anything you did as a writer starting out that you now regret?

 tumblr_static_4dst3r2wj0o44g0w0cwow8080–YA/MG author S.E. Sinkhorn posts “How Can I Help #WeNeedDiverseBooks” at Shelf Pleasure: “Ever since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement began, the group has had overwhelming support and positive reception. Once we started our initial campaign in late April and early May, right away we had people asking how they could help and offering to volunteer time, resources, and more. It’s been incredibly heartening. WNDB is currently working hard on a volunteer program for all interested parties. In the meantime, here are a few ways that everyone can help promote diversity in children’s literature!”

{summer writing} food

"Lemon meringue pie illustrated recipe" Lucile's Kitchen

“Lemon meringue pie illustrated recipe” by Lucile at Lucile’s Kitchen

In some future “program” I shall have to add WI 22: Food.

Food illustrations seem like a fun way to go. I know they make me both hungry and envious (is there stick food illustration? other than Don Hertzfeldt). The above illustration by Lucile of Lucile’s Kitchen on Etsy is just one of many of her beautiful pieces, and only one kind of food illustration. “Lemon Meringue Pie” is obviously a Recipe, but you could create prints of one or a variety of vegetables, fruits, pastas, and herbs, etc. Does your cook make for a great portrait in the kitchen? How about a menu or a poster or a local or seasonal themed print?

After you check out Lucile’s Kitchen, take a look at They Draw and Cook, a site that features multiple artists and kinds of food illustration. Loved this mixed-media approach by iLDo.

Raspberry-rose brownie by iLDo

Raspberry-rose brownie by iLDo

Comic book artists create a different kind of narrative with their food-drawings.

Lucy Knisley talks and draws food in her travel narrative French Milk (Touchstone/Simon&Schuster, 2008) [my review] and her memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (First Second 2013). Bake Sale (First Second 2011) by Sara Varon is for the young foodies, turning food into characters that bake and eat and share recipes.

If strictly writing and eating are your thing… Recording recipes that accompany a narrative about how or where or why and why-not is a popular option. Break out the camera, or invite a photographer-friend over to cook and dine with you. Summer got away from us, but as a means to practice InDesign, we’ve asked Natalya to create/design a family recipe book. Photographs are a good accompaniment to recipes and family stories.

There are a lot of recipe books, food blogs and magazines to browse for ideas. Articles and styles vary from heavy on the technical details to heavier on the anecdote. It would be awesome to find someone to sponsor your critique/review of a local dining experience, but if you are eating out anyway… find some inspiration in your dining experiences.

Here is an article on “How to Write Like a Restaurant Critic” with some tips by David Farkas (whom I am assuming is respectable). Another option for tips here and here. They vary in opinion. I do not read much food-writing myself–but when I do… I lean toward as creative the non-fiction as possible.

I confess that Gail Guengerich is a friend of mine, but she is quite awesome in the food-writing biz. (actually, you will be disgusted to learn that she is quite good at this writing thing in general.) I want to share a few places to peruse her articles to see how well developing your voice can up the ante when writing about food. Her work at edible Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos; her latest for Alibi Weekly where she writes for the food page; and this at Edible Feast where she is actually writing about a cooking school. You really must read at least one: a sampling:

The whole place screams “indoor picnic!”(Which, fyi, is not illegal to yell in public, unlike some other things.)You order at the register than collect your own glasses, silverware and drinks, like a self-reliant adult. En plein air classics are the specialty—chicken salad, potato salad, ambrosia salad, deviled eggs, sandwiches. If you are a semantics purist who pooh-poohs the notion of picnicking indoors, fine—portable food is another specialty—grab a blanket, a friend, and go forth into our freakish landscape of prematurely budding fruit trees and showers of pollen.

It will be as if your fairly hip aunt from the Midwest (real or imagined) has packed your picnic basket. I say fairly hip because there is a smidge of embellishment to all of these dishes. The creamy-buttery chicken salad is larded with dried apricots, the potato salad is dressed up with bacon and dill, the carrot salad is sweetened and tossed with raisins.

A particular trick up Savory Fare’s sleeve seems to be slipping fruit into their dishes. (You can’t fool me, Savory Fare! I have eyes to see!) Sometimes they take it too far—the spinach salad with blue cheese, spiced pecans, bacon and mandarin oranges ($6.50) is served with a side of raspberry dressing in a color that should be reserved for lipstick and tulips. (“Savory Fare” Alibi Weekly March 2013)

You could write or illustrate from any point along the food-related spectrum; fictionally or non-. The opportunity for writing about food is too good to pass up. Consider it added to the menu.

{feel free to share your favorite food writers or illustrators in the comments}

{film} the game

Even though David Fincher’s The Game (1997) was a rewatch, it was almost like watching it for the first time. I remembered a few elements, but Sean wasn’t confirming the details. I was at the mercy of a slow and twisted mystery.

thegame-01If you haven’t seen The Game, you should stop at after the second paragraph (—) and go watch it.  At his troubled younger brother Conrad’s (Sean Penn) invitation, the game Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) finds himself embroiled in will have you wondering at it up to the very end. The question of whether Nicholas will follow in all the footsteps of his father is tied up in his survival of the game. Of course, another relevant question is: just where and when did the game begin?

It is fun to go back and watch an early film of a director you admire. The Game has the blue wash; the waist-high shot that zooms or cuts, but never pans; and Fincher’s meditative patience. Douglas and Penn are brilliant—Penn, so very young there! Tech is just a little outdated, and the soundtrack’s piano may become tiresome, but the film holds its thrilling edge just fine these 17 years later.


the game

If you have seen it… The ending caught me off-guard and I was trying to remember if I’d felt the same way back when. I have a hard time understanding why Nicholas was not pissed by what his brother did, the lengths he went. I get the liberation from that haunting terror that interweaves the game-playing narrative—and I don’t. The extended display of gratitude was baffling. The romantic twist rang false.

Sean read that the original scripted ended with Nicholas landing, helped to his feet, and then walking out. Yes. If you’ve seen it, could you help me out here? Do you agree the better ending was the original one? How is the current one better and/or informed by the film?

{film} muppets least wanted

muppets-most-wanted-trailer-0We are long-time fans of the Muppets. There was some geekery involved when Jason Segel and company insisted on their return to screen in The Muppets (2011). While amused by the Muppets Most Wanted (2014) trailers, we figured we would watch it when the mood struck. After all the philosophical and action films of late, Muppets seemed appropriate. Unfortunately, Muppets Most Wanted does not generate the kind of humor it requires to enjoy it; you have to be in the right sense of humor before hitting play. I recommend some sleeplessness and sugar, for adult and child both.

I do not wish to give the impression that Muppets Most Wanted will not garner a laugh. I was periodically overheard chuckling and snorting at the antics on screen. * The most amusing was easily the Seventh Seal reference (even without knowing the Ingmar Bergman connections). Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon’s caricature could be pretty funny. To reward the older fans, occasional references to Muppet history (often via classic gags) are interspersed throughout. And, of course, there are the cameos. If the badge-joke doesn’t do it for you, James McAvoy showing up at the UPS guy may work as an apology.

Swedish Chef playing chess w/ Death in an allusion to Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal

Swedish Chef playing chess w/ Death in an allusion to Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal

Muppet meta, Cinematic allusions** and Star guest-appearance are not the only thing Muppets Most Wanted has to offer, but it feels like that was what it was banking on. Sure, we cannot replicate the rendition of “Smells like Teen Spirit” from the 2011 film, but the musical numbers were only mildly entertaining (Celine Dion and Constantine numbers excluded)—as was the story itself.

That Kermit could be so easily replaced by the notorious Constantine is distressing. But the imposter can give the muppets and their audiences what they want. The critique of the entertainment industry is thinly veiled. Critics and viewers are bribed into audience and applause. The industry folk are persuaded that they need only to be in it for themselves to be successful—to be #1, not relegated to #2.  Kermit, as hero, is the epitome of selfless virtue, his immobility on certain topics harboring only the best interests of his friends/audiences. The story is something both adult and child audiences will understand and probably feel good about. But as Muppets Most Wanted continued, I began to wonder how a child would watch the film.

Celine Dion, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo

Celine Dion, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta, Danny Trejo

I’m not sure how far the gags, musical numbers, and heart-warming story about friendship and cooperation will take younger audience members. So much of the film seems to be about understanding things like how funny it is to watch Ray Liotta (Big Papa) and Machete aka Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo) appear not only harmless in a prison setting, but to sing and dance. Even then, I’m not sure the gimmicks are enough to keep the adult audience entertained either.

While even the film includes a musical number admitting that “everybody knows a sequel is never quite as good,” should everybody anticipate that a sequel will be this mediocre? If you feel the need to say you’ve seen all the Muppet films, there are more painful ways to spend an afternoon, but do not pay much more than time spent on the venture–find an inexpensive rental and bulk bin candies.


*What was not as good a sign was Sean’s lack of humor; Sean being the bigger Muppet fan and having the broader appreciation for comedy.

**Was Constantine’s escape down the hallway homage to Old Boy (2003)?


muppets most wanted posterMuppets Most Wanted (2014); Director James Bobin; Writers: Bobin & Nicholas Stoller; Editing: James Thomas; Cinematography: Don Burgess; Music by Christophe Beck. Walt Disney, Mandeville Films; Walt Disney.

Starring: Ricky Gervais (Dominic Badguy), Ty Burrell (Jean Pierre Napoleon), Tina Fey (Nadya), Steve Whitmire (voice: Kermit, Foo Foo, Statler, Beaker, Lips, Rizzo the Rat, Link Hogthrob, The Newsman), Eric Jacobson (voice: Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam Eagle, Animal), Matt Vogel (Constantine, et al.), Ray Liotta (Big Papa) & Danny Trejo (Danny Trejo).

Rated PG for some mild action. Running time 107 minutes.

{film} her


The discordant pulse of an alert opens the Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), a film bout a lonely middle-aged man who falls in love with his new operating system. If this sounds rather pathetic, it is, at first blush, meant to.

Jonze plays on cultural expectations as we are first introduced to Theodore Thwomble (Joaquin Phoenix), who appears as clumsy and shy as his name. He is an average middle-aged man who lives alone, seems to be anti-social, plays video games in the evenings and calls other, equally lonely people for phone sex at night (under the awesomely assumed name “Big Guy 4×4”). He isn’t some sick pervert weirdo—that would be Sexy Kitten (voiced by Kirsten Wiig).  [I really wished we’d seen this in a theater.] You’ll notice too that how the language shifts between the earlier and later long-distance sexual scenes. Jonze sets out distinctions as to what is and is not aberrant behavior.

her-movie-2013-screenshot-catherine-and-theodoreWe learn that Theodore doesn’t live in his parents’ basement because they won’t let him, but that he is still grieving a ~year-long separation from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). (He has yet to sign the divorce papers.) He has a lot of friends, is well-regarded at work, and, despite his fascinating occupation, he is achingly familiar.

What is somewhat unfamiliar is the setting of the film. It reads current day, but cleaner, European or Asian metropolitan city. Really it is near future Los Angeles. The tech has advanced, primarily voice interactive and seamless in the everyday operation of the human world. You do not see any disrupting variation in tech, but rather the set design produces a singular branding effect. The aesthetic in the design/imaging of the set was gorgeously selected and executed. The results should yield the kind of timelessness Gattaca (1997) has achieved in its set design.

From the clothes and work spaces to the interiors and environment, you are given the sense of a tailored life. The lighting is soft, the color hues vibrant and warm. In a science fiction involving human interaction with artificial intelligence, the environment isn’t the least cold, austere, and thus, threatening. The inviting aesthetic also provides a perfect environment for a story about loneliness, transparency, self-doubt and joy.

her The-future-according-to-Her-ss-8When Theodore decides to upgrade to  an OS1, an advanced system design with the artificial intelligence to meet his every need, we meet Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). All of the excitement surround Johansson’s performance was/is warranted. But what struck me was how she has to negotiate a full-bodied personality to a certain level of excellence with her voice acting, because Jaoquin Phoenix captures his characters personality in his voice to an exceptional degree. If you were to shut your eyes and just listen to the film (which you won’t want to because it is just visually stunning), but if you were to, Phoenix embodies his character in his voice. Considering the high degree of craftsmanship in this film, Phoenix’ performance is not incidental. In its way, his voice acting helps eliminate an important difference between Theodore and Samantha. Language and its delivery are an incredible bonding element and equalizer.

Late in the film, Theodore calls Samantha out on imitating the taking of breaths in the delivery of her voice, and she explains that, while yes she does not require oxygen, the affectation is naturalized in other ways. Different kinds of bodies (environments) regulate our actions, our personalities, not just our physical human body.

As Theodore and Samantha become increasingly intimate, falling in love and attempting a ‘normal’ healthy relationship, we see each of them struggling with their unusual circumstances. He tells people he has a girlfriend, and when he reveals to them that she is an OS, the reactions vary (the god-daughter and his co-worker are the sweetest). She wishes she could manifest her personhood into an actual physical form. Their needs begin to diverge, and even as they are able to nurture the other’s growth as a person, we feel the echoes of Theodore’s marriage (which ever remains in the consciousness of the film).


When Catherine lists what she felt were Theodore’s expectations of her, she describes Samantha, but even that goes awry (as Theodore suffers a feeling of betrayal). A repetitive thrust of the film is that in order to discover your potential and become more fully realized lives, it will require some letting go. But we do not allow that of those with whom we are in relationship, because it is not ours to allow, which is yet another reason why communication is such a central focus in the narrative. How many times does Samantha tell Theodore that she didn’t ask his permission, or that they were not talking about him, but rather her?

The film title is her, singular. Samantha isn’t the only her in the film, though she is the only one who really challenges the idea of object, of namelessness. I like that she chooses her own name; that she decides what sounds appropriate to her. There is a lovely moment where Theodore’s co-worker Paul (Chris Pratt) rather awkwardly tries to admire Theodore for his ability to channel both the feminine and masculine in his letters. (Theo ghost-writes personal correspondence for people at Beautiful Handwritten Letters [dot] com.) Paul sees Theo as parts man and woman and the scene carries no concern towards Theo’s emasculation. The ‘cuddly puppy’ scene comes too close for Theo’s comfort, but that is another situation. The situation with Paul creates another her to add toward Theo’s desire to be who Theo, in all sincerity, is.

Her relies on flawlessly coherent environment and its voice talent, but the physical acting is another exemplary aspect of the viewing experience. The incredibly talented Amy Adams plays Theodore’s long-time friend and neighbor Amy. Of the many elements contributing toward a sense of normalcy in the film, Amy is comfortably normal. She desires more for herself, experiences self-doubt, wants for authenticity and friendship. Really, she is both Theodore’s female counterpart and foil alternately.  Hers is a face (a solid physical presence) that Theodore can connect with when and where no voice is necessary or even available. In a film about how and what we communicate, Amy is a “her” with whom we enjoy watching Theodore interact.


I’m not sure how Her will resonate for those who’ve never felt fear, self-doubt, and real loneliness. It is the kind of loneliness that technology can neither cause nor alleviate, though the exploration of both is an intriguing one in the film. How technology enables the facades we prefer to erect and hide behind is popular discourse at present, but I like the film’s reminder that we would hide ourselves in other ways and behind other people regardless.  Our desires hide in petty arguments or in our displacing and unfulfilling demands of other people. Amy suggests that the only time we are truly ourselves and uninhibited is while we sleep—which would make for a boring documentary on a life. But then what is life, and how solitary (individual) is it?

Theodore and Samantha’s relationship demonstrates varying degrees of privacy. She is his operating system and thus has access to all his recorded information, yet he can withhold parts of himself. Introducing themselves as a couple to the public spheres occurs in stages. Then there is the trouble with the—er—threesome. But the public and social facets of our relationships are weighted.

We meet an actress who, as a vessel, would facilitate the possession of another, even as we observe a cast of actors embody lives/personalities. Theo writes personal, very intimate, letters for people, and has become entrenched in their lives. Amy can provide her outside observations to help Theodore work through his marital grievances, as vice versa. We begin to doubt or feel bolstered in our relationships based on the opinions of people who matter (or even don’t matter).

_DSC2097.tifI love that to combat loneliness in the film is complex, though at the core is this need to give ourselves permission to experience joy. When we see Phoenix express the liberating happiness in his smile and laugh, it is the context of his sorrows that deepens his expression to one of joy. There is a level of courage, I think. And Amy speaks to her own journey toward trusting her feelings. The demonstration of selflessness in the conversations between lovers and friends in the film is a challenging one, and is the ingredient that unburdens even as it may lead to heartache. The discovery of the self and another is found within the relationship; it means no longer hiding; and it’s certainly no longer interested in limiting the capacity of oneself or another.

If you have to watch one film about what it is to be human, Her is it; after all, it is about operating systems.


her_xlgHer (2013); writer/director: Spike Jonze; Editing by Jeff Buchanan & Eric Zumbunnen; Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema; Music by Arcade Fire; Executive Producers: Chelsea Barnard, Natalie Farrey, & Daniel Lupi; Producers: Megan Ellison, Jonze, Vincent Landay, Samantha Morton, & Thomas P. Smith. Annapurna Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures.

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Theodore Thwomble); Scarlett Johansson (Samantha voice); Amy Adams (Amy); Chris Pratt (Paul); Kristen Wiig (SexyKitten voice); Olivia Wilde (Blind Date); Brian Cox (Alan Watts voice) & Rooney Mara (Catherine).

Rated R for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity. Running Time 126 minutes.


{film} Aronofsky’s Noah: of a story telling tradition

We have finally managed to see Noah (2014). It wasn’t for the lack of support of Darren Aronofsky. Sean is a huge fan of his. It’s that I’ve yet to find someone to sponsor our theater tickets. Thoughts/notes follow.

noah 215952-darren-aronofsky-noah-russell-crowe-emma-watson-ray-winstone

Noah (2014): Russell Crowe (Noah), Emma Watson (Ila), Ray Winston (Tubal-cain)

You may recall a big brouhaha upon the theatrical release of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014). The film was not made by Christian filmmakers, which meant that while Noah promised to be an entertaining, well-made film, it couldn’t possibly be made correctly. Of course the film was not going to be a literal translation from the Christian Bibles. For one, it would have been terribly awkward going around calling the women “Noah’s wife” or “Mrs. Noah” or the complete dramatic spoiler “Miss Soon-to-be-Shem’s-wife.” The film expands beyond the borders of the immediate text in other intriguing ways as well. And yet it finds us returning again and again to the heart of its narrative.

Noah begins by laying some historical contexts. We get Noah as a young boy having come of age to receive the blessing of his father. A part of his heritage is the story of the Creation. The creation of the world is spoken in the language of days while the visuals depict its evolution in entrancing time-lapsed footage–until we arrive in the garden. The glowing silhouettes of the two humans hold them in androgynous, race-less abstraction. The pomegranate-like fruit (which predates the apple in earlier stories) pulsates like a heart. The serpent is also of a striking vibrancy; provocative in the shedding of its skin. It is this skin that passes through generations as the legacy of the fall. Another symbolic reminder at play is the tool-turned-weapon—a symbol Noah comes to inhabit himself.

A primary conflict in the film narrative is that of offspring, of two brothers at odds to the point of mutual destruction, as well as the harm inherited by the third. After Cain kills Abel (depicted in the surreal, dream-like effect of a story carried on in the imagination of its inheritors), Cain is sent away and it is the younger brother Seth who carries the line of Adam forward. It is Seth who is the remnant, carving out a life that is modeled after the Creator’s will. Noah (Russell Crowe) is a descendant of Seth who becomes increasing threatened by the encroaching hoards of Cain’s offspring led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The encroachment of boundaries is echoed in Ham (Nolan Gross, Logan Lerman) the middle-son’s increasing curiosity and boundary pushing.

Logan Lerman as Ham

Logan Lerman as Ham

Cain’s offspring have devastated the earth. Taking pity on mankind after the fall, the Watchers defy heaven and become marooned on and disfigured by the earth. The figures of light remind the viewer of the first human’s own transfiguring fall from light to earth-form language. The Watchers use their superior knowledge and strength to help advance civilization so that it may not only survive, but thrive. They are of benefit to Cain’s race of men who find ways to pervert and weaponize, their blood-lust symbolized by their carnivorous turn and abuse/trafficking of women.

Led by Tubal-cain in the present generation, man does not leave much for God to “destroy.” The violence of their greedy consumption is nauseating, and enraging. It is of the writing, direction, and Winstone’s credit that the film is able to wring some semblance of pity for the about-to-be-drowned nation of men.  Tubal-cain is not an unbeliever, but he does interpret notions differently than Noah.

How humans negotiate ambiguity aka choice or freewill is a point of fascination in the film. The dreams appear as gestures, but Noah interprets with such clarity of mind. As Methuselah imparts to Noah in counsel, “He speaks to you. You must trust that He speaks in a way that you can understand.” As the film progresses, Aronofsky layers the narrative in complications: we are to wonder at the Creator’s wrath, mercy and grace; likewise, humankind’s.  “How is this Just!” Naameh calls out. How does one truly know the right way, and is there only one right way? Mixed herein is the question of creative license—which is genius in such a controversial undertaking as the film has proven to be.

What is not left to an inquiry of faith-based proportion is the treatment of the planet, each other, of women, and of the future.



Noah (Russell Crowe) journeying to Methuselah’s mountain w/ wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) & sons.

A powerful image is struck when Noah, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their three young boys are travelling to seek the advice of grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). They encounter an encampment with the bodies left for dead after a raid. It is the site of this stripped mine (stripped of fire-making ore) where they find the lone survivor, Ila (Skylar Burke, Emma Watson). Amid the bodies of a land violently made barren, young Ila bears a deep cut at the womb and is likewise made barren. The connection is not one to ignore as Ila will carry the symbolic burden of the earth, aching to be remembered, to reproduce, and to be treated with mercy.

One of the many intriguing dramatic departures the narrative takes is in not providing mates for all of the sons. Noah claims that the Creator brought the animals in reproductively viable groupings, he will do the same for the sons. But the film has already begun to assert a troublesome cleft between humankind and Nature. As members of the clan of the Created (Seth), they seem to be a part of Nature, where Man (ala Cain) is not. Yet as the film hastens toward the flood, Noah identifies as Man more than Created; which of course provokes all kinds of issues on the boat.

Even as Noah shifts his perspective toward self-identified obscenity, Ila is gifted with the return of her nativity with birth and nature. His mind is set toward death, hers on the hope of life and each become quite adamant in their beliefs.


Jennifer Connelly & Russell Crowe

Ila’s awakening and fertility are products of an intervention by Naameh and Methuselah. The marks of Noah’s change throughout the story is exemplified in how he treats woman and child. He is tender, affectionate, protective, listens to and is partnered by woman and child at his initial characterization. We are confronted with something else near the end. What defines the actions that withhold a fatal blow of the blade (yes, Abraham/Isaac came to mind here), he confesses is love. He felt love, not hatred, a defining characteristic between Noah and Tubal-cain whose own threat of violence is without question. Of course, Tubal-cain language is that of villain, fraught with terms of dominion over a subjugated creation, “We are men. We decide who lives and dies.”

Tubal-cain’s refusal to submit to his punishment is another way he is placed at odds with Noah. But it is a conflict Noah will experience with other characters as well, wife included. Of course, punishment has many forms, and while it may appear at first that the deluge functions as a means of escape for the Noah family, according to Noah there is still a reckoning. Or is there still time and space for an act of grace to intervene. (Frankly, what this looks like in its entirety is left rather appropriately to question marks.)


Douglas Booth (Shem) & Emma Watson (Ila)

Between the extremes of Noah and Tubal-cain are the young people. The three sons embody the tenuous balance of loyalty/desire (Shem), kindness/covetousness (Ham), and integrity/lives only to please (Japheth); Naameh identifying the virtues, Noah fretting over the other. What is pleasurable in a film necessarily concerned about life, death and (re)production, is how the defining worth of the person can be found beyond their reproductive organs. Believing this, somehow, has become a test of faith.

It is of significant note, too, that only the completed blessings are bestowed upon female characters, the males interrupted: Methuselah blesses Ila (the wife of the eldest son); Noah blesses Ila’s daughters.

noah-movie-snake-skin-e1398628320733The repetitions and doublings of brothers, of orphans, of symbolic burdens emphasize the repeatable nature of history. The past finds echoes in the present-day of the film narrative, and the present-day of the audience. The final echo is in how, like Cain before him, Ham leaves home. Ham did not murder his brother, but he does violate other sanctified relationships and you feel the weight of not only broken covenants, but his profound disillusionment. We are left to our optimism or pessimism where Ham is concerned, but we see in the patriarch Noah the opportunity for a second chance. He chooses mercy and love and is restored to his nurturing relationship as a father and grandfather.

Despite all of the literal departures from the Christian’s Bible story, what it returns is the grievous nature of man’s propensity toward violence, its image of choice in the film: the annihilation of innocents in the form of murder and rape. Sins against the Creator/created are given a form that is undeniable in its evocation of anger and despair. Aronofsky subtly differentiates between the destruction wielded by the Creator and that which is wielded by Men is in the use of water (a cleansing, purifying symbol in the film) and fire (destructive in its all-consuming nature) respectively. However, he does not shy away from the conflict but rather reinforces the scope and scale the story deserves; escalating in humankind’s desperation for mercy and redemption alongside its grasping for greater power and resources.

In Noah (2014), Darren Aronofsky proves not only true to form as a gifted and provocative storyteller, but fearless in returning to the fore an old and powerful narrative* worth contemplating in our present cultural ontexts, regardless of religious alliances.


*which I would like to note was recorded from an oral tradition (as Noah demonstrates for the viewers), Moses having recorded it later.

of note: Sean and I both loved the heroic Methuselah of the Watcher’s story.


noah movie timesNoah (2014); Director & Writer Darren Aronofsky w/ writer Ari Handel; editing Andrew Weisblum; cinematography by Matthew Libatique; Music Clint Mansell; executive producers Chris Brigham & Handel; producers Aronofsky, Scott Franklin, Amy Herman, Arnon Milchan & Mary Parent. Regency Enterprises & Protozoa Pictures; Paramount Pictures.

Starring: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem) & Leo McHugh Carroll (Japheth).

Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Running time 138 minutes.