Manic Pixie Dream Girl

My life lately

It feels like years since I’ve updated, but part of that comes from the timing of the semester. Three weeks ago today, I defended my master’s thesis project (and passed!), though it somehow feels like that was really decades ago. Apart from some final copy editing, my thesis is DONE! I’m both thrilled and a little sad to say goodbye to this project. I have a strong sense I’ll return to it in the future (dare I say dissertation?), but I’m quite content to both physically and metaphorically put it on the shelf for now.

Since preparing for my defense and rigorously studying for my oral exam are no longer activities that occupy my days and nights, my time has felt suspiciously free. As a present to myself for my defense, I ordered Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, which was really the perfect treat to come home to. Reading for fun without feeling any guilt is one of the most wonderful feelings.

I’m also entering the final weeks of my first semester of teaching, though that seems ridiculous. Somehow I feel like the semester has just started, when in fact we’re three weeks from its conclusion. I will certainly be sad to see my first crop of students go (though I can’t say every moment of teaching and prepping are all that joyous).

So, to atone for being M.I.A. for a month, here’s my update of the pop culture I’m consuming these days. No one ever said being a teacher meant you couldn’t still enjoy copious amounts of television (and I think I’ve proven that).

Books — As mentioned above, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Voyager–though, at 870 pages, it isn’t what you’d call a quick read. I’m only now closing in on the halfway point in the book, but knowing that there are still several other books in the series to dive into means I’m hungry to keep going.

Before starting Voyager, I’d been reading John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, though starting a new book meant I sort of abandoned this one until finishing it last weekend. This was the third Steinbeck I’ve read (after Of Mice and Men in 2014 and The Grapes of Wrath in 2015) and very tonally different from the others–Cannery Row is a very place-oriented, descriptive novel, not a plotty one. It wasn’t my favorite, but it’s a book I see myself returning to later in life.

I’ve generally felt like I’ve been slacking on my 2016 reading list, though I’ve still read 22 books thus far this year. Depending on my pace with Voyager, I may work through another Arthur Miller play or something of that sort to speed up a bit and feel like I’m making better progress. I’ve also got Hamilton: The Revolution (also known as the Hamiltome) waiting on me at home. Though I’m regretting the decision to have it shipped there since I won’t see it until next weekend, the distance means I’m not diving straight into another book, so that’s probably a good thing.

Movies — My movie-watching pace has also slowed considerably (though I’ve currently seen 41 new-to-me movies this year, so I really shouldn’t be complaining). I’ve not seen anything very noteworthy either, though I did watch The Danish Girl last weekend. I liked it, but it makes sense to me that it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. I’ll likely be spending a quiet weekend in, so this might be a good time to knock a few things off my Netflix and Amazon viewing lists.

Television — It would be fair to say that my movie-watching has been hindered by my TV-watching, because I’ve been doing more than my fair share. As far as current programming goes, I’ve been keeping up with Bob’s Burgers, The Last Man on Earth, Call the Midwife, Girls, Jane the Virgin, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Bates Motel, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, Broad City, and Outlander (and, because I’m kind of an old woman, even Dancing with the Stars and Survivor). Since Girls, Broad City, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend all come to an end this week, my schedule will be a bit freer (though they’ll be replaced next week by Game of Thrones and Veep, so I guess things aren’t changing that much).

As for all these shows… I think The People vs. O.J. Simpson was a really terrific season of TV all around. I smell a well-deserved Emmy in Sarah Paulson’s future (though my ideal situation would feature a tie between Paulson and Kirsten Dunst) and hopefully the same treatment for the stellar Sterling K. Brown. I think Bates Motel is the best it’s been since season 1, and I kind of love the romance between Norma and Alex. I don’t think this is Broad City‘s best season, but there have been a couple standout episodes, including last week’s wonderful Mrs. Doubtfire homage. And OUTLANDER! There’s only been one episode so far in season 2, but I’m enthralled. I’ve rewatched bits of season 1 and can’t seem to get enough of this show lately, so I’m quite happy for its return.

Apart from what’s currently airing, I’ve also done a significant amount of side watching, including lots of Game of Thrones prep. This week I watched the Starz ballet miniseries Flesh and Bone, which was only okay. Lots of pretty dancing, melodramatic storylines, and mediocre acting. And just today (because I’m kind of terrible) I watched all of season 2 of Amazon’s Catastrophe, which I find very charming. Having met these characters last summer in a quick-moving first season, I was glad to see that season 2 developed them further into funny and likeable people (not to say they weren’t that way already). I’ve also watched the pilot episode of the new Starz series The Girlfriend Experience, which I think I’ll stick to since it’s getting good reviews. I didn’t have any particularly strong reactions to the pilot, but I’ll stick it out. And tomorrow’s release of season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix means my weekend will be just a little brighter (in a fairly literal way, considering Kimmy’s costuming).

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In summary, I’ve been watching a lot of TV–though I swear I do other things too. What things are you reading and watching? I’m always up for additions to my ever-growing lists! 🙂

 

Summer Ends, Real Life Begins

Oh, world, how is it possible that my summer is already over? Wasn’t it just May?

Okay, I’m whining, but the prospect of returning to school this Monday, even though I’m pretty well prepared, just isn’t my idea of fun at the moment.

I’ve definitely reached the point in my summer when I need school to start back because I’m feeling especially lazy lately. Who says it’s wrong to watch an entire season of a TV show in a day? Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of day I need to rejuvenate, but I should probably get some real work done before I deserve a day of laziness.

In my final weeks before real life resumes, I haven’t totally wasted my time. In fact, only a few hours ago I returned home from a quick road trip up to Chautauqua, NY with my mom to visit my roommate, Ryan, during the final days of his internship at the Chautauqua Institution. Our visit to Ryan wasn’t entirely selfless, though; since Ryan has interned for the Chatauquan Daily, he was able to score us free passes to a sold out event at the Institution. That event just so happened to be An Evening with Carol Burnett, a woman who doesn’t need much introduction. My mom has loved Carol Burnett for most of her life, so the opportunity to see her on stage was one we couldn’t miss. We attended a Q&A featuring classic clips from “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Mom was even lucky enough to get to ask a question (Q: If you were making your show today, who would you want to work with? A: Steve Martin, Kristen Chenoweth, and George Clooney for obvious reasons).

We had a whirlwind of a trip, particularly because we woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to get an extra early start to our drive home, but the satisfaction of seeing a TV legend was totally worth it. Here are a few photos from our time.

A lovely sunset on Chautauqua Lake

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Enjoying our tour of the grounds on a chilly evening

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A failed attempt at finding an appropriately lit setting for a portrait

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The incomparable Carol Burnett taking her bows  


Now, onto the sad news: like I said, this summer is breathing its last, so my time will be far less available for my own entertainment. Sigh. In my attempts to soak in as much as possible before reality sets in, I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching lately. Here’s an update on all things pop culture in my life.

Books — I’ve been a bit slower than usual with my reading projects of late, but the fact that I only have 5 more books to read before reaching my goal of 50 books in 2015 seems like something to be happy about. I just wrote my reflection on reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicidesand prior to that I worked quickly through Tim O’Brien’s war novel The Things They Carried I’m still working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series. I still have a bit over 300 pages left, but in a book of 947 pages, that seems pretty doable. I’m looking forward to dedicating my free reading time to finishing this one before moving onto something else (if there’s any time for personal reading this semester).

Movies — I don’t have anything terribly interesting to report in my movie-watching life, though I’ve been doing plenty of it. I’m just 5 movies short of my goal to watch 100 new (to me) movies in 2015, so it won’t take me any time to finish that list. I’m still lacking in one area, though; I hope to watch 8 movies I’ve never seen from the AFI Top 100 list, but I’ve only done 3 so far this year. I plan on dedicating some of my next movies to hitting that goal.

The one movie I do have something to say about is the German indie Wetlands. Wetlands screened when I went to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but I didn’t watch it until Wednesday. A good friend of mine saw the film while we were at Sundance, and she recommended it, but told me some of it could be embarrassing to watch with other people. I wholeheartedly agree, but I really enjoyed the film. Essentially, Wetlands tells the story of a neurotic teenager exploring her sexuality and body in disturbing, hilarious, and rather repulsive ways. This is not the kind of movie you watch with family, but I still totally recommend it (to the strong-stomached, anyway). I also thought Carla Juri was superb in the film’s starring role. If you’re will to spend a sometimes uncomfortable hour watching a funny/sweet/sad film with subtitles, Wetlands is for you.

TV — If I’m good at anything, it’s watching TV. Though I’m still keeping up with a handful of TV shows this summer, I’m anxiously awaiting the return of real TV in a few weeks (I really need more “Empire” in my life). My favorite show of the summer was Lifetime’s UnREAL,” which sadly ended a few weeks ago. If you’re looking for some high drama binge-worthy TV, devote yourself to a day of “UnREAL.” You won’t be disappointed. I’m still keeping up with MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and “Scream: The TV Series” as well as NBC’s “Hannibal” and “Hollywood Game Night.” I’m wishing I was more interested in these final episodes of “Hannibal,” but mostly I’m just hoping for a satisfying conclusion at this point.

My TV-streaming life still consists of powering through “Frasier,” of which I’m proud to say I’ve watched 206 episodes so far. I had no expectation I’d get this far before starting back to school, but I definitely expect to finish the series sometime in September. Though I’ll feel accomplished in finishing such a big series, I’ll certainly be sad to say goodbye to such a thoroughly entertaining show.

While I’ve spent most of the summer watching only “Frasier,” I added a second streaming project on a whim last week, and so far I’m pleased with my decision. On Tuesday I started season 1 of the Sundance Channel’s Rectifyvia Netflix and I’m really liking it so far. The show is dark (it tells the story of a man who’s just been released from prison after 19 years on death row and his extended family) but it’s got a good balance of drama and humor to keep it from seeming to heavy. I’ve heard and read good things about the show in the past, so I’m glad I’ve started. There are only 16 episodes of the show on Netflix since its third season just finished airing, so I expect to finish watching it all pretty quickly.


All right world, now is the moment of truth. I have to face the reality that soon my time won’t always be my own, which sadly means I won’t have so many chances to fill my life with good books and movies. What are you watching and reading in these last weeks of summer? If nothing else, I hope your lives keep you entertained.

John Green’s Paper Towns and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

In honor of this week’s release of the film adaptation of John Green’s book, I decided the reward myself with a reread of Paper Towns before committing to academic reading as the semester’s beginning looms closer and closer. As it turns out, the experience has given me plenty to think about in reference to my master’s thesis project, so it was really a win-win situation.

Let’s back up a bit. I’m not sure if I’ve written about my MA thesis topic on my blog, so here’s a crash course: I’m writing about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope in independent film (click the link for a quick virtual journey to Wikipedia if you don’t know the term). I read recently that John Green said he wrote Paper Towns to debunk the MPDG trope, so I was intrigued to read the book with that idea in mind.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is the book’s MPDG in question, at least in the eyes of her life-long neighbor and the book’s narrator, Quentin Jacobsen. Quentin has been hopelessly in love with Margo since childhood, so when she sneaks into his room late one night and recruits him for an evening of escapades around their hometown, he hopes that there’s a chance of romance. Until Margo vanishes the next day, that is.

Here’s the thing about John Green trying to dismantle any perceptions we have of MPDGs: I don’t think a MPDG is necessarily a bad thing for a character to be. When the term’s creator, Nathan Rabin, first mentioned it in a review of the movie Elizabethtown in 2007 (a movie that is, coincidentally, named for my hometown), he criticized the trope as representative of a specific type of male fantasy, one whose two-dimensional existence works only to help a male character have some personal revelation, and then her purpose has been served. By his definition, MPDGs are “bad,” and I whole heartedly agree that this is a false, fantastical representation of what a female can and should be on screen (if you’re looking for a good example of this, I’d point to Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State, a movie I find rather repulsive).

But this version of the MPDG, in my opinion, is only the basis of the character. It is a foundational archetype, one who can exist in this capacity only, or one who can grow in complexity and depth. This second version (one I’ve been loosely calling the “MPDG 2.0” in early drafts of my thesis work) is the one I’m most interested in, because she is more than a stereotype, though she can certainly embody many of the same basic characteristics.

This is where I see Margo Roth Spiegelman fitting in. Early in the novel, Quentin sees Margo as he chooses to see her; not as a real human girl, but as a projected fantasy that he’s imagined for years. It’s only Margo’s disappearance that makes Quentin start to realize everyone has a different perception of the Margo they know. She is much more than Quentin’s imaginings ever allowed.

It becomes most clear at the book’s conclusion what Green is trying to say about MPDGs when Quentin comes to realize how “dangerous” and “treacherous” it is to think of a person as an idea. Margo sees the same thing in herself, saying she’s a “paper girl” who everyone loves because they can mold her into a different person for their own pleasure. We realize that Margo is more than Quentin imagined, because she is human and exists as something more than the fantastical daydreams of those around her.

So, after lots of thoughts that I hope are somewhat sensical, I have to say this: I think Margo is a MPDG, but she’s a good one. On the surface she’s seemingly perfect and daring and exciting, at least in Quentin’s eyes. In reality, though, she’s human, flawed and insecure like the rest of us. For this fact I thank John Green. If he keeps creating characters like Margo, a pixie grounded in reality, then I’d say young readers are in safe hands.

Ah, Summer

In the merest of blinks, I have somehow already completed my first year of graduate school. Actually, I’ve been done for almost two weeks now. How could that possibly have happened?

Maybe I haven’t really processed it because I haven’t finished any books since the semester ended (this is tragic and unusual for me, and a real sign that I’m spending my time strangely). But that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle, exactly. Actually, I’ve been finishing up at work and managed to squeeze in a quick jaunt to New York last week. Weird.

Anyway, here are some of the things that have been happening in my life.

  1. School ended and many of my friends graduated. Hooray for them! The distance between me and undergrad life grows every day (but, like, it really does. That’s how time works). While they celebrate freedom, I find myself thinking more and more about how I’ll have students of my own come January. What a weird thing to be true.
  2. New York, what? I flew in for a quick visit last Thursday, meeting my dad and stepmom there. We had a fun whirlwind of a trip, but one that was long enough for me to catch up with them and spend a lovely afternoon with some super cool people. Also, this lady sat next to me in the airport with a carry-on bag which she promptly unzipped to reveal a mannequin head wearing a wig. Then she zipped it back up and walked away and I pretended I hadn’t jumped at the sight of it. Things can get pretty weird at Laguardia.
  3. Literarily speaking, I’ve felt kind of stagnant, but that’s actually not the case. I’ve been working my way through Outlander, but that is a long book, you guys. I’m close to finishing, but I just never seem to make as much progress as a expect. My goal is to finish by the end of this weekend. I’m also still inching along through Flannery O’Connor’s complete short story collection. My goal is to read one story a day, which works sometimes. This is bound to be my long-term summer reading project.
  4. As for TV, I’ve been a bit of a lost soul (pun kind of intended) since finishing Lost. This often happens to me after long TV projects; I spend so much time with one thing that I don’t know where to go. After toying with a few ideas, I ended up starting the HBO miniseries John Adams, of which I have watched three of the seven episodes. I’m really enjoying it, but it’s not a project I feel the need to speed through. I’ve also been watching Wayward Pines since summer TV is such a draught, and it’s fun enough to maintain my interest.
  5. I’ve not been doing much movie-watching, but EX MACHINA IS GREAT, YOU GUYS. Like, crazy-amazing-wonderful-I can’t stop thinking about it great. My thesis advisor recommended it to me because of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl presence, and that was really the only expectation I had going into it. I sat in the theater by myself in awe. Now I just need a friend to see it so I can discuss it.
  6. Friday is my last day in my current job, then I get to head home for the weekend before my mom and I head out on a pretty crazy road trip en route to Austin, TX for the ATX Television Festival and I AM SO EXCITED. The TV fest is our reason for traveling, obviously, but we’re going to make it interesting by heading to Graceland and finding reasons to drive through Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

All right, summer, you seem pretty cool.