Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sick Weekend and Holiday Special Recommendation

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Hey all, just recovering from a mild virus here, but thrilled to have reached the end of finals. I did my best and studied my hardest, so that this month is going to be "professional writer" month. At least, it will be once I kick this block.

The virus isn't terrible, but I definitely am glad to be getting better. Lesson learned from classes: try not to inhale secondhand smoke. It will mess with your health for the next couple of days. I fortunately had a round of antibiotics and have been taking strong probiotics to compensate and recover, as well as several cups of herbal tea a day.

Never underestimate the power of a good yogurt
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Now, since tonight is Christmas Eve, I want to recommend one particular movie that keeps us happy during the holidays. My brother and I know the lyrics to most of the songs, and when I got it one year we sang along.

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 The Muppet Christmas Carol was the first actual version of A Christmas Carol that I saw, and it remains the best in my mind. The Muppets treat Ebeneezer Scrooge like the miserly sourpuss he is, blending genuine contempt with typical, wry humor. Despite such humor, the film stays faithful to the story and its meaning about how you can affect the people around you for good or evil.

"Even the vegetables don't like him"
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I also encountered Michael Caine for the first time in this role, playing the grumpy miser that earns our sympathy. Scrooge dislikes Christmas, for various reasons, and has witty remarks to make on those who demand to spread the cheer. (I can't help but feel sympathy for you there, Scrooge.) Caine plays him with enough charisma so that we don't dislike Scrooge; we follow him to his draft home, where he encounters the Christmas spirits that may or may not save his soul. The music from the Marleys, as well as the Muppet spirits, draw us in with their humor and tragedy. Christmas Past shows us what brought Scrooge's spirits down on Christmas, especially his workaholic ways driving away his fiancee. Christmas Present offers hope that the man can change, while Christmas Yet to Come shows what will happen if Scrooge remains a bitter miser.

Seriously, we watch this film mainly for the Michael Caine dance here. It's awkward and adorable at the same time
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Caine not only displays the ability to play Scrooge with wit and sympathy; he also shows an old man wanting to change, and to be happy, but facing the consequences of his callousness. Even better, the movie takes care to humanize him, to show that the danger of becoming connected with people is that they can hurt you, but if you give them a chance you can make their lives better, and improve your own as a positive consequence. Scrooge's stakes don't involve him burning in hell for his crimes, but to see how he's missing out on life. 

To be honest, I think that Charles Dickens told A Christmas Carol best because he wrote it first; most of the adaptations and parodies exaggerate Scrooge's miserliness and Bob Cratchett's good nature. The second adaptation I saw was a Disney one, Mickey's Christmas Carol, which put Scrooge McDuck in the (predictable) role of Scrooge and Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchett. Unlike the Muppets, they kept emphasizing that Scrooge was a miser and robbing the poor to feed himself, making Bob Cratchett do his laundry, and pretty much scared Scrooge into becoming a better person.

They cast Goofy as Jacob Marley. That should be a pretty big hint of how messed up this special was.
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In other words, this adaptation showed no respect for the original material's delicate approach to Scrooge, or for the Disney characters that they used to portray Dickens's timeless personas. They borrowed animals from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, to put characters in the background. Duck Tales and the original Donald Duck comics had Scrooge McDuck toeing the line between greed and care for his nephews, while pursuing adventure. And don't get me started on some of the Disney television shows that went for the Christmas Carol adaptations for their characters, ranging from the tongue in cheek to the melodramatic.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol represents not just respect for characters, both belonging to Dickens and to Jim Henson (who passed away before this film was made), but also respect for the original meaning, without beating us over the head. It also represents a calmer time in my life, when the Muppets could fix any emotional upset.

Have a merry Christmas, and take care of the people in your life! 2015 is only a few days away.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Month in the Nano

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Written last year in 2013:

This month, for the first time, I signed up for Nanowrimo, to write up several short stories as part of a collection, to support my friend Corissa Glasheen.

I normally don't do Nano because November happens to be the month before finals, in both high school and college.

Written this year:

The text above was from a blog post intended for December. Obviously I never finished that, for various reasons. Some days the words just don't flow.

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I did Nanowrimo this year again, or tried to. Despite having time pressure, and knowing that the writing would require at least several hours a day, I made an attempt after seeing more of my friends take a stab at it. My goal was smaller, being in graduate school and having less time in the day to do a huge novel, but I thought I could do 25,000 words. Simple, right?


Things had changed greatly in a year, both on the outside and on the inside. For one, I was fighting a lot of inner doubts due to the amount of schoolwork that was piling up, not to mention an internal battle about what I prioritized. In my senior undergraduate year, I had a relatively less rigorous curriculum, having fulfilled most of my requirements, and I had achieved minor success by publishing several short stories. This year I had a novella and several short stories published, but the academic course load was much higher for my MBA, and my stories weren't gelling together as well as they used to.

This kept going on through my head every time I started a story

For another, the words weren't coming as easily as they had come the year before. As mentioned in an earlier post, the home obligations and responsibilities increased tenfold, and when things are dramatic, I have trouble writing.
When I finally did have time to write, little as it was, I kept asking myself what needed the highest priority. My plan was to write a small collection of short stories, some fanfiction and some of it original. One of the fanfiction pieces actually got finished, but most of the other stories were incomplete or had extremely rough endings. Over the winter holidays I'm probably going to return to them, including a character sketch based on a former opera singer I encountered while doing group projects.

With that said, I managed to elucidate to my classmates that I had written a book, thanks to Public Speaking class. We had an assignment to pitch any product, so I pitched Carousel as a potential film for Laika Animation Studios for roughly five minutes.The professor later commented that I finished each sentence as if it were a question, and that my body language could use some work, but at least five classmates asked where they could buy the book. One even bought a hard copy that I had on me.

Do I regret taking on the extra project, though, and missing my personal goal? No, because the main reason I signed up was to support friends who were doing Nanowrimo, who had the time and the energy to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Those friends actually did make the goal, and I had the privilege of reading their preliminary material. Reading that material was a November highlight.
Add a cat sitting on her lap, and this would be my friend in question. She and her cat are awesome together.
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The experience also taught me an important writing lesson: have a focus. Finish a story after starting it, before moving on to the next one, even if the story is terrible. Find an outlet for the stress going on, even a writing outlet. And always talk it out with someone to find out why the words aren't gelling.

I'm going to sign off and buckle down for finals this week, after which I will spend the month of December writing, learning from what happened in November. Forget November being National Novel Writing month; December is Daily Writing Fiction Month for this writer. I am going to be more productive and take advantage of the month's vacation from school.

Happy Holidays, and congratulations to everyone that made their Nanowrimo goal.