Monday, November 21, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I have a theory about J.K. Rowling's stories: They have a very low opinion of adulthood. This theory is based on reading almost everything she's written (I couldn't get through The Casual Vacancy) and what interests the texts—the struggle of good people, or people who would like to be good, against a bleak world or prophesied doom—is not necessarily what interests me. I find the constant reminder of what an awful place the world is and how it's full of assholes is just not why I spend the money it costs to see a movie. I got Twitter for that.

However, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them appeared to be the opportunity for Rowling to return to a balance of the wonder of her worlds with these darker themes she likes to dive into in her adult fiction. Also it's the first movie, so I thought she'd have to build to the really awful stuff and it probably wouldn't get appalling until the second movie.

I did get part of what I wanted from this film. Newt Scamander is one of the kindest male protagonists in a fantasy movie this year. Newt—arguably on the spectrum—relates much easier to the magical creatures of the world than the magical people. Which I can't really blame him for, because the Wizarding world seems to be full of assholes. (Except for maybe three people and one of them is Newt.)

He is not your typical famous wizard hero character. He is smart, compassionate, and introverted. Traits that are usually associated with Rowling's female characters. He doesn't fit the mould, and as a result is treated like an outcast or a failure. At one point there's an excitement to see him until everyone realizes he's the OTHER Scamander—the famous war hero's little brother. That probably explains why Newt, who is incredibly accomplished, isn't constantly saying how great he is.

That was refreshing. Tina, the main female protagonist, is the auror, the one with overt career-minded ambition, and the one who is socially adept. The one who aims high, and keeps loudly pushing to achieve more.

So there is some awareness, at the script level of some gender things and a little play with the conventional idea of who is a heroic figure. That's successful.

Honestly, everything Newt-and-his-magical-creatures-centric about this film works. From his nervously going through customs to haphazardly chasing escaped creatures through NYC landmarks. Right to the climatic part of the film and how he handles the big danger. The way Jacob is drawn into the wizard world, how the group expands to include Tina and her sister Queenie, and what those characters accomplish together is delightful.

Jacob is a great viewpoint character, who rolls with the discovery of the wizarding world in the best way—both the horror and the wonder of it all—like a good companion would. The benefit of not making the main hero also the New To The World character is that Fantastic Beasts has an expert who is not one through extraordinarily circumstances. That Newt achieved his Magizoology knowledge through hard work is believable. Instead of a Chosen One, he is a Competent One.

While Newt has a disinterest in the human world around him, it's not because of arrogance. He just doesn't like people. (And again—Hogwarts is full of assholes, so who can blame him.) This also, by the end of the film, resolves itself and he begins taking an interest in the world of people. Which is a lovely character arc to give someone. Usually this falls down due to the character who is learning to take an interest in the people around them being so unlikeable. Newt manages to be self-absorbed without it being off-putting, and the great lengths the movie goes to show the way he cares for magical creatures and their world is what saves it from being another case of but why would anyone want to hang out with this guy?

Well that's great, the casting is jarring in its lack of realistic diversity—this may not be the whitest movie this year but it's definitely up there—but it's made worse by band-aid attempts to crowbar in visible minorities. The roles that were left to fill are minor/extra characters who oppose or act in antagonistic ways to Newt. So most of the wizards we're meant to see as wrong—or eventually ok people because they realize that they were wrong about Newt—are marginalized people.

Also the only canonically gay character who appears on screen? Is a dark wizard. So non-hetro people are evil manipulators, and all visible minorities are bad people or can only be good people if they acknowledge Newt—who's compassionate, but still the whitest guy—knows best. It's a giant problem. (Arguably there's a reading of Newt being asexual, but I can't find any official confirmation of that or of him being intended to code as autistic.)

Aside from the diversity issues, the actual structure and plotting of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a mess. There is an unsuccessful attempt to manage two story lines—one a wondrous adventure tale of an awkward wizard and his beloved magical Pokemon as he learns to make people-friends, too, and the other a horror movie starring Ezra Miller about what happens when religious cults abuse closeted wizards. Could these have interwoven and balanced each other out? Sure—but they don't.

The story is also hindered by the inclusion of an extraneous newspaper baron, his senator son, and his other son who's supposed to be important for some reason because there's way too much screen-attention given to him. Maybe he's going to become a reoccurring character? I don't know, and I really don't care. It took away from Ezra Miller, who's more talented than all three of those other actors combined.

Basically: When everyone is a main character, movie, no one is the main character. You needed to choose whose story you were telling, because you've got way too much going on.

There were aspects of this movie—the costuming, the creature design—that were so fantastic. There was incredible potential for a good movie. But it gets lost in no one being willing to make the movie tell one cohesive story. I'm not honestly sure if that's a failure of the script or a failure of the director or a failure of not having anyone outside of the usually Harry Potter crew step in to create something that doesn't require additional reading of backstories on Pottermore to decipher what happened.

Would I watch the sequel? No. Major changes in the approach to casting and a tremendous refocusing of the story would have to happen before I'd even consider it. I love magic, and I think Eddie Redmayne is remarkably talented and perfect as Newt, but I don't love his fancy face and magic enough to watch four more disappointing movies.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: October

It's the first cold evening of autumn. Two neighbouring houses received their firewood drop offs this morning—that's a thing that still happens in the city. I came home to the smell of woodsmoke lingering and the promise of November on the wind, and it was fall, fall, fall.

Bloggers from Ottawa were up this weekend, so after Read Harder we all went out for a late lunch/early dinner. It's good to see people, who even though they're struggling or they went through difficult times, are climbing up and moving forward and taking care of themselves. In that all sports people think their team is the best, I have an incredible basis for book fandom/readers—it's where I come from and it's always been good to me. But Toronto—and Ottawa as well—has made such an effort to create an in person community around reading and thinking and talking about we read. Every time I go back to it, I am always so grateful it exists.

It's been a lot of people already this weekend, as last night my workplace said goodbye to my manager as she moves on to her next job. It's really amazing opportunity for her, and I'm very happy for her. The next few month are probably going to be challenging, but we're down to the last three shows of the ten we're running this year so there's light at the end of tunnel in the form of a holiday break on its way.

This was also the first Thanksgiving since the year I moved to Toronto that I didn't go to Alberta to visit family. I thought that was going to be much harder than it was—I ended up with friends for dinner on both Sunday and Monday. I didn't have jetlag from travelling, and I was surrounded by people who cared and it was minimal stress—which is what I needed since we're doing two shows this month.

Before Thanksgiving me and a friend went to the Bastille concert at the Danforth Music Hall. It was their only Canadian show on this little tour in smaller venues they're doing, and possibly the first time they played their Wild World album all the way through in front of a live crowd. I've come to love the all ages shows at the Danforth since it switched management, because the younger fans go right down in the front and they sing along with every song and they cheer like it's their absolute favourite as soon as they recognize that first chord. (They recognize the first chord of every song.)

And it's an odd experience to be a crowd trying to determine if we should sway along to the prison ballad about capital punishment, but we sure do love joining in on the chorus.

It's an amazing album live. All the intensity and the underlining anxiety disperses among a crowd who want to sing and move. That's the wizardry of Bastille—their songs are not happy, but they are sincere and when they perform in Toronto it always feels like a celebration. Here's a band so thrilled people showed up and a crowd so thrilled the band is there.

I'm going again in March with another friend to see the stadium tour stop at the ACC, because I came home from the Danforth glowing and so delighted to be alive.

At the beginning of the month, I was with a friend when she quite unexpectedly learned her father had passed away. Not sure that's a thing most of us are ever ready for, regardless of the relationship we have with our parents. It was a difficult thing, but I'm glad I could be there for her.

It's been quite the month, and it's not quite over yet. But it's been quite the year.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: September II

I took my first vacation this year to return to BC for the week of my birthday.

I spent the last of 34 walking along a beach that is often underwater, my toes in sandbar pools and the edge of the river, with my family's dog chasing sticks and a ball. It was perfectly quiet aside from us, except for a raven croaking as we climbed the banks to return to the car. A throaty, consistent sound that might have meant home, home; a moment held when I wondered why I had moved away and then passed when I remembered it was because there aren't jobs in my field here.

The family came over to my parents' house for cake, and I went to sleep feeling if not accomplished then at least at peace. Renewed and restored in a way that only time among mountains, and trees, and so much sky manages. (It was good to stay in western Toronto; it was smart to find somewhere more residential with old trees and quiet streets.)

My actual birthday was spent in the car with my mom, heading out of town to go shopping. Shopping I could do in Toronto, but the point was the time with my mom in the car. Mountains and trees passing outside the window as we talked about everything and nothing. We ended up way past where we needed to be, but found a Mink Chocolates and had one of the best mochas ever. Eventually we got back to High Street, which is the closest Sephora and H&M.

The day was also sprinkled with greetings and well-wishes from friends coming via text and social media; it was a good day. A reminder of all the people waiting to celebrate some more when I returned.

I was worried that I hadn't accomplished what I set out to do last year, so I went back and read the post I'd written last year to see what goals I'd set.

"I'm going to get a new job." And I did—it's not the job I thought I'd get, and I'm not sure it's the job that I'll have this time next year, but I got it.

"I'm going to finish a writing project." I didn't—the one I applied for grants for, and completed it even without receiving them. Last week I got feedback from a reader, which validated that there's work to be done but it wasn't a waste of my life to stubbornly keep at the draft.

"I'm going to travel outside of the country before my passport needs renewing." This ended up being to Florida—a state I'd never been to—for work instead of to Tennesee for a writer's retreat, but it happened.

"I'm going to learn to make tortillas and be unstoppable." Making tortillas is actually the only goal I didn't accomplish, but there's nothing stopping me from learning to make them this year.

"I'm going to be brave. And I'm going to grow. And I'm going to keep conserving my damns for myself and the people who deserve them." Well, the people who deserve them didn't turn out to be who I thought they would be and being brave and growing meant having to leave things behind.

Despite the challenges and things not being set up to be easy, I have done well. I have grown. I live in my own place now, on my own, and that is something I'm looking forward to getting the hang of. Most of the time I really enjoy it.

I asked about my birthday, and the Tarot cards gave me the Two of Wands—a card of setting goals. That is traditionally what I do, so here we go. Before I turn 36, I will return to Los Angeles—whether it's for YALLwest or not—and travel to Iceland. I am going to get this manuscript ready for querying and successfully get an agent. I'll finish drafting another writing project.

I'm going to get to know the other people who live in the house that I do. I'm going to spend more time with my friends. I'm going to attend more book clubs and book events. I'm going to live my life and do things despite that I sometimes work long hours and have the weirdest job ever. I'm going to thrive and do magic and make the impossible happen—because it's what I've always done. There's no point stopping now.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Notes from a Year named Thrive: September Part I

Back in August—two weeks before the biggest show our team does—my manager gave her notice. She's gone at the end of November or sooner if she finds another job. And, oh, didn't my heart whisper "not this again." Because I have been in this situation before—hello, 2013—and I had no desire to rinse and repeat.

As even as I thought but if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all, I realized it didn't. Everything had changed. People I counted on for support last time, whether they realized they were offering it or not, weren't there anymore. I had a warning this was coming and time for the company to do something about it. It wasn't going to fall all on my shoulders. Most importantly, I knew that I could go get another job if that's what I wanted to do.

So we pushed on, and the team finished the show. It went really smoothly, which did not mean it was easy by any means, as it was still the first I'd done. It went smoothly, but it did not go without an emotional cost to me, and I was grateful for the lieu days I had afterwards.

On Friday, I went out to visit a friend who rents a 100 year old farmhouse with a spectacular view of Mulmur county and the most sky in all of Ontario. On Saturday, I got my brain back to the point that I started writing something new. I also smugly thought I'd escaped catching the dreaded conflu, but on the way home on Sunday I started to get sick.

Everything is the worst when I'm sick, and I'm full of fight because I'm trying to keep going when thinking is that much harder. Tuesday night, I had insomnia. I haven't had insomnia in months—and I don't remember the last time I had it so bad that I could not actually sleep. Wednesday morning, I got out of bed and I went to work. The true disappointment of being older is now when I don't get any sleep and then manage to complete a work day, I don't even feel proud of myself. I only feel a weary longing for it to be the last time I have to do it.

In this sleepless haze, my manager informed me that my old specialist job at Indigo had been posted and she had applied for it. Yesterday I looked and it wasn't all of my old job—it was a few of the things I'd done with a bit of new added. But in it was IndigoTeen. The thing I built. The thing I stayed way too long for. The only thing I ever miss. And it took every bit of my magnificent restraint not to apply for it.

Even when sick my anxiety is very specific—it's concerned about being late for things. It's insistent that if anything goes wrong or someone is unhappy then I must have done something to cause it. It's very certain that when I do eventually do the thing that makes someone unhappy, they'll just vanish without ever telling me.

But sometimes, when it feels particularly cruel, it leans in with a low whisper of "you'll never want anything as much as you wanted IndigoTeen." A sword right between my ribs; one side edged with I don't want anything enough to make it happen and the other edged with my best work—my dream job—is done and behind me.

Last night for a moment, maybe an hour, I considered that it might be right. I might not ever want anything as much as I wanted IndigoTeen. There may not be anything that I feel as fulfilled by doing as that. I left almost two years ago, because—among other reasons—there was nothing left at Indigo I wanted to build. And it was never, ever going to be my job to only do IndigoTeen. There was no more onwards for me there. Not in a direction that I honestly wanted to go.

I'm building something at my current job, but it's not what I wanted to be doing. It's what needed doing. So I did it. And I know how millennial it sounds to say I left to do better things than this, but it's how I felt with less than a week remaining in my 34th year and sick enough that something like my old job being posted could lay me low.

Until I remembered that I do have something: I want the time I spent getting a draft ready for other people to be able to read to not be a waste. If that's the only tangible, lasting thing I built these past two years, then I want to do the work to get that manuscript into an editor's hands. Because it may not sell, but I worked too fucking hard on it and me to not even try.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Bastille's Wild World

What a glorious day when we now live in a future with a second Bastille album. That's not hyperbole, as it's been three years since Bad Blood was released and my life was changed forever.

Here's the secret to a Bastille album—because they're so wonderfully dedicated to being whatever genre they want for that song only, the albums grow with each listening. It's usually the second or third time through that it all clicks and you can hear the flow.

The standard version of Wild World is 14 tracks and they're all great. The Complete version—because who are we kidding, there's no way I wasn't going to get every song—is 19 tracks, and the two songs I feel lukewarm about on among those five bonus tracks. Oil on Water and Campus aren't bad songs, but they're not as strong as the others that made the 14 track cut. Way Beyond, Shame, and The Anchor are great and worth getting individually to round out the experience.

Strangely missing from the album is Hangin', which was officially released from the band last year. I had also heard several of the new songs via concert footage or terrible quality audio shares that were floating around Tumblr/YouTube. (Thanks, Stormers!) Snakes has been pre-album release favourite, and I was waiting for it (im)patiently. But at the end of the day, it's Send Them Off! with its badass brass and utterly unapologetic mashup of Othello and The Exorcist that's the one I love the way I love Pompeii.

Wild World is a wild ride through genres, interplay with movie and literary inspirations from Weird Science to a legit true crime tale. It's melancholic joy and gleeful sorrow, political and escapist, a well-crafted balance that was absolutely worth the wait.

I did a lot of living and writing with Bad Blood as a soundtrack, and I am incredibly excited for the stories that will have Wild World as part of theirs.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: August

More than a decade ago, when I moved to LA someone told me the people I met in my first year there were going to be the people who introduced me to the people who would really be my friends. As a young thing, I found this rather distressing because I was having enough trouble making the first round of friends.

Also, as a young thing, I'd misunderstood that no one was telling me to invest the time and energy into making friends for the purpose of them being temporary or stops on the way to someone better. They were talking about growing social circles and how you're widening the net you can cast to find your people. Lasting friendships—not merely acquaintanceships formed because you're new somewhere and having someone to be new-in-town with makes it all less lonely.

I also didn't understand that just because you know someone doesn't mean you're friends. Culturally-speaking, we've been carving away at the idea of acquaintances for years. (Thanks, Facebook.) Having acquaintances was something I also had to learn. To understand they're the people who I know and enjoy interacting with, but I don't routinely seek them out or make a point to check in on them.

The people I stretch for—dig down deep to find those extra damns—are also the people I trust with things that matter. My friends are far less than the number of people I know. It's a longer list than it used to be or I thought it was, because I've got some casual friends that have consented to offer support when it's needed. But people who I want to spend a lot of time with is not a high number.

Earlier this year I had to forcibly subtract from it, because a couple people I felt very close to proved themselves to be dramatically not good for me. In the months since this went down, it hasn't been easy. I really felt the absence and the loss of those pillars of my support network.

Also, I fretted about any potential encounters. What would they say. What would I say. It was inevitable that we were going to cross paths again even in a city the size of Toronto. For example, there was a wedding coming up that we were all going to attend.

Yesterday I went to the ceremony, and when I finally saw these former friends... I realized I had nothing to say to them. I didn't want a reconciliation; I wanted them to stay away from me. I was there to celebrate, and I had no reason to interact with people who no longer had a place in my life.

Thankfully, we were purposefully seated at different ends of the restaurant. When I settled in, I put my efforts into socializing with the people at my table. Eventually my worries faded, and when I happened to see these former friends across the room it felt like nothing more than seeing someone who looks familiar—someone I used to know, but haven't seen in years and maybe can't quite place how I knew them.

I came to Toronto five years ago. One of these former friends was among the first people I knew; she introduced me to a lot of other people. Including the two who got married yesterday. I guess what I was told about LA might apply to any city. Or any life, really.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Notes from a year named Thrive: June Part 2

It has been three-ish weeks since moving in, and things are starting to feel settled. It's still weirdly quiet sometimes, but after working in the office all day, it's nice to come home and have the space to myself. To make a little dinner and watch a couple episodes of Brooklyn 99, then put on headphones and write for an hour or two.

That may not sound exciting, but after months of not being able to get any writing done because either I was slammed at work or there was yet another thing that needed my attention or it was more fun to spend time with the people I was staying with, a little break from excitement is welcome. Or rather getting to rediscover the excitement of words on a screen and the building of worlds.

Work is ticking along. I've had a couple weeks of relative quiet, but focus is shifting to the big show in September. Big as in the-biggest-the-team-I-work-on-handles and also big as within the top three pop culture shows in North America. Big as in a big, slightly impossible task. But I love me some dopamine, and I'm kind of happiest when I'm accomplishing things that are slightly impossible.

That's the key that I've worked out so far this year: I don't thrive on challenge. I thrive on accomplishment, which comes from challenges. But not challenges that keep reoccurring or refusing to ever be accomplished.

It's been not quite six months, but we've done four shows now—two I was on site, two I was remote support—and I'm getting the ground beneath my feet. It is a lot of work spread between not a lot of people, and during show weeks it's a high volume of input and high demand of output. It's intense, and there's not a lot of room for other things during those 3-4 days. But we don't do a show every weekend, and not every show is as demanding as the one on Florida was.

All of that said, it's entirely possible this job will turn out to be a challenge that refuses to ever be accomplished. I'll deal with it should that happen, and in the meantime, I keep remembering that the goal of this is to learn everything I can.

Work aside, this was also the week I started making plans with friends and having them over. Although when they do come over, I mostly want to show off the great neighbourhood that I live in. Every view of adulthood looks different, and for now, I'm happy to have mine be a little peace in a space I enjoy.