Summer Binge Watching Suggestions: Netflix Edition

b0a348e6c08dc46d8d4428ecc73743360d204ee3I love my dark and tortured shows, especially with a strong lean towards science fiction and fantasy. But of late I’ve wanted more light and goofy escapism, meaningful and in-depth social criticism, and I’m always game for period drama when it’s well done. So, basically, I like what I like. Keep that in mind with this ultimate, perfect, no-way-to-contradict-it list of summer binge suggestions. Most of these are definitely NSFW or children.

Chewing Gum: Light and Goofy, with an edge. There are two seasons of this supremely funny and painfully awkward series centers on Tracey (Michaela Coel) who just wants to lose her virginity. It’s raunchy, in the most innocently stumbling way possible. It’s squirm-in-your-seat uncomfortable, which might remind you of the discomfort in watching the British version of The Office. And you will fall in love with Tracey even while you’re unsure you want to ever hang out with her in the long-term. The second season expands attention to her circle of friends, and her sister becomes a driving force as well. Seriously, it has lifted the dark cloud of misery from my mood on more than one occasion. More details here: NYT review.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Light and Goofy, with a dark but subtle edge. Kimmy is like a more innocent, less focused Tracey. The series and its cast are the perfect brain candy for 2017. As with Chewing Gum, you may want to binge on several episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt despite not wanting to spend more than 20 minutes with the main character. And the supporting characters are the perfect foils and friends for Kimmy. Everyone is flawed in the most disturbingly beautiful ways, and you’ll end up feeling better about whatever has you in the dumps. More details: New Yorker review.

img_3844Sense8: Intense, hopeful, lots of skin and sex. If you don’t mind being confused for a while in a show, and you love sharp turns and sudden starts in your narrative, check out Sense8 for a wicked good time. You may also need to remember that suspension of disbelief is a handy tool as well. Sense8 begins in violence, and continues in violence mixed with longing, desperation, love, and vulnerability. You can’t help but fall in love with these characters, just as they all fall in love with each other. It’s both visually and thematically gorgeous and hopeful, despite the consistent dark and violent episodes. Trust me on this one if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy. It’s an antidote to a lot of the rhetoric floating around these days. There are two seasons, and (thankfully!) a holiday special coming. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

Black Mirror: Dark, squirmy, self-critical, and sometimes funny social commentary. If you can make it through the discomfort of the first episode, you’ll be fine. And if you don’t recognize some of your own vices in the first season, you’re lying. Some of the episodes are harsh criticisms, while others are kinder, gentler lectures. You’ll reel back in horror, weep in frustration, and deny you’d ever behave in the same way. Good for you, there are many, many episodes to catch up on. (Don’t miss the San Junipero episode if you need a positive break.) Eventually you’ll admit that yeah, okay, you recognize yourself in some episodes. More details: Hollywood Reporter review.

The Crown: Slow, precise, more recent period drama. Considering that the subject of this drama is still the Queen, it feels odd to call this a period drama, but it is. As someone who  is peripherally interested in the modern monarchy, this was instructive and, well, calming. It’s beautifully made, and in these times without respect for norms and “the way things are done,” it can dispel some anxiety. It’s basically a family drama in which the decisions seem both silly and immensely heavy. There is scandal, political intrigue, and personal turmoil, all with a muted veil of decorum. The Crown is good after a particularly stressful week. More details: Vanity Fair’s review.

Dear White People: Get over yourself. It’s not a lecture; it’s a really well-made show. Go see the film on Amazon or iTunes or whatever, and then check out the first season of the series on Netflix. The characters of the series pick up from the film, but the series really delves into issues that the film introduces. Topics addressed include hypocrisy, privilege within the Black community, LGBTQ issues, peer and family pressure, obliviousness of different groups to each other, language, and in a stunning pair of episodes about Reggie, police brutality and the after effects. Each episode (or pair of episodes) focuses on one character, and each will humanize the audience further. Seriously, it’s really good. More details: NYT review.

Do you have additional must-sees on Netflix? I can already tick off a few more suggestions in my head. Share in comments!

 

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Glad I Saw It: Signs of Inclusion & Resistance

Just over six months ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Women’s March in Washington D.C. Just as I felt compelled to attend the March for Women’s Lives in April of 1992, I felt a real pull to go to D.C. over NYC for this event. I must have taken over 100 photos of different signs. Here are a few of my favorites.

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Since that  January day, I’ve attended various smaller rallies and marches for immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, reproductive rights, and science/climate issues. But I’ve also noticed a weariness setting in around me. It’s not complacence, necessarily, but a helpless, exhausted, despairing apathy brought on by the onslaught of “this is not normal.”

Please join me in continuing to speak out and call representatives and support those who are most vulnerable in our society. And don’t forget to practice self-care. Then come back and continue on!

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Glad I Saw It: Reading Workout

I love when I see my exact thoughts echoed in the wild. In this case, “The Wild” is Watchung Booksellers, and the sentiment is obvious.

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In case you missed my latest reading recommendations, click here. And #ReadMore!

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New Jersey Day Trip: Hacklebarney State Park

The New Jersey State Parks are open (again) for business! My 8-year old and I wanted to take a hike this week, so I looked up various parks within an hour’s drive, and we settled on Hacklebarney State Park in Morris County, NJ. If you’re looking for a moderate hike with just enough amenities to remind you you’re close to civilization, take a day to hike Hacklebarney State Park.

hacklebarneyWe took the Riverside Trail to the Windy Ridge Trail to the remainder of the Main Trail back to the parking area for a total of about 2.5 miles. The trails vary in ease. Some are paved or mainly paved, while others basically include a path of roots and rocks. Most are good for sure-footed kids of elementary age or over. Anything off the paved paths is definitely unfriendly to strollers or anyone with mobility challenges. Only the parking lot and nearby rest rooms are wheelchair accessible. The paths, paved or not, have benches along the way for a rest, and the Riverside Trail has many areas for rock sitting and river contemplating.

IMG_3214The paths also have picnic tables and grills scattered throughout. This is one of the manmade rustic aspects of the park as many of the tables are in some form of disrepair or covered with moss. Even so, we saw evidence of cookouts and picnickers along the way. Be warned that Hacklebarney Park is BEAR COUNTRY, so make sure to take all your leftovers and trash (including dog poo bags!) with you. Carry In, Carry Out. 

The restrooms by the parking lot are functioning, and while my 8-year old said they are “stinky”and gross, they served their purpose. (They were kind of stinky and gross, but we chalked it up to roughing it.) Some guides say there is potable water along the paths, but we didn’t see any working stations other than the rest room building.

 

Caveats: Dogs are supposed to be leashed, but on our mid-week hike we ran into three unleashed dogs and saw LOTS of dog poo bags along the path. Watch out for fishhooks! There are also anglers fishing from the shore and sometimes from inside the river. We saw one intrepid teen swimming next to where his friend was fishing. I’m not sure that’s the smartest move ever, but he seemed to be enjoying it. Don’t count on the playground (off the Main and Playground Trails). When we passed by, there was a large pile of random garbage in the middle of the play area, and the equipment looked half-heartedly kept up. The garbage could be a result of the recent shutdown, and we didn’t see any park staff in the more than two hours we spent hiking. Finally, keep the bear warnings in mind. The chances are pretty low, but knowledge is power after all. There are information cards detailing what to do in case of a bear sighting. We neglected to pick one up when we started, but found one along the path. IMG_3221

Our hike was satisfying, hilly, rocky, beautiful, and rejuvenating. We brought lunch and ate it before starting our hike, but there are also many farms and casual eateries if you plan on eating at a restaurant.

For more ideas for Garden State hiking, check out Best Hikes in NJ!

 

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Glad I Saw It: Fog and Sunlight

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Sunday morning started early with a dog that wanted to get outside and a daughter who decided reading in bed was better than sleeping late. I decided to walk to the bagel store instead of drive, and happily my 8-year old wanted to join the adventure.

We cut through the nearby park, and it was lovely and perfect. When I pointed out a particularly breathtaking view to my daughter, she responded, “Ooohhh, beautiful! It’s really just fog and sunlight, you know.”

Yeah, I know.

 

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HardCore Summer Reading Suggestions

fdc_book_trainwreckNothing against romance novels and more traditional beach reads, but I like to use my downtime to get deep and dirty into books that take me aback and encourage me to evolve without mindfulness and meditation. Here are a few of my summer reading recommendations.

—> Are you attracted to celebrity culture, but want to be more Ava DuVernay amplifying Jessica Chastain’s commentary about women in film than a self-flagellating narcissist like a Kardashian? (*) Or maybe you have leftover angry baggage about the denial of sexism’s role in the 2016 election season to infinity? Well then, Sady Doyle’s Trainwreck is your next summer read.

This non-fiction gem is a feminist history lesson that holds up a mirror to our own attitudes towards women who crash and burn. Doyle takes us from the Brontes to Amy Winehouse to Billie Holiday to Britney Spears to Hillary Clinton to Whitney Houston to Mary Wollstonecraft and back to Britney Spears, all the while giving context to their public spirals into “trainwreck” territory. The chapters are easily digestible anecdote-filled morsels that analyze both the subjects’ and the readers’ behavior. Trainwreck will entertain, educate, and make you stop and think about your own responses to celebrity.

(*) I fully understand the irony of calling out The Kardashians to open a mini-review/suggestion to read a book about celebrity trainwrecks.

51769957—> Reading Ada Calhoun’s Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give is a lot less expensive and a lot more fun than couples therapy. At least I imagine so. At once funny and sad and contemplative and honest, Calhoun nudges us to reevaluate and appreciate our own relationships. Each essay has a different filter and focus, but it never feels forced or manufactured.

Throughout the collection, Calhoun’s voice is like the friend you rely on to tell you the truth about what an idiot you’re being, but over a glass of your favorite beverage at sunset. The personal stories walk the line of TMI, but never cross it. We get to know her family without feeling like we’ve invaded their personal space too much. Best suited to couples who have been together for a while; you’ll probably recommend your partner reads the book as well.

elle-2017-books-difficult-women-roxane-gay—> I have to throw in a repeated recommendation for Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women. It’s just so good. This collection of short stories has something to suit any mood and any variation on summer weather. Read my full review here: Difficult Women. Gay’s new book, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, is focused on food, weight, and self-image, and it’s sure to become the must-read of 2017. But I haven’t read it yet, so let me know what you think.

For my past recommendations see this post or this post or this kinda-sorta review, but definitely a summer suggestion here.

Leave YOUR suggestions for summer reading in comments!

 

 

 

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Wonder Woman: I love this movie

34718360706_344feb2e0d_bI don’t usually see many blockbuster superhero movies, but when I do see them, I enjoy them for the mindless, escapist entertainment they are meant to be. I’m also a laid-back and forgiving movie-goer. However, after seeing the previews of Wonder Woman and getting very excited about having a genuine female-centered superhero story, I had high expectations. WONDER WOMAN needs no hedging, no equivocating. It was amazing. Truly. Bear with me as I quickly get through a few things.

  • I got weepy a few times. First when Wonder Woman flipped a tank during a fire fight. Other times were split between feelings of gratitude that the big screen featured this fantastic character and moments when I simply appreciated the message.
  • There are typical superhero movie tropes throughout. As with Superman, Wonder Woman only knows part of her background and heritage, and she gets a crash course just before discovering her full power.
  • Also, with a touch of Superman’s innocence and belief that humanity deserves assistance, Diana of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, is repeatedly dismayed and perplexed at the war suffering she witnesses. At one moment she becomes disgusted, perhaps better described as betrayed, by the lack of purity in humans. The central message of the film is summed up when she realizes that purity tests don’t work.
  • There are a lot of slow motion action sequences. And they are gorgeous.
  • Somehow, Wonder Woman manages to get into her superhero uniform with ease, no matter the circumstances.

There were also several moments that both moved me and felt fresh in a superhero film.

  • The first time Diana, still on her home island, consciously tests her super-human abilities, there is a thrill that emanates from the character. It seems much more inwardly than outwardly focused.
  • Every time Diana is sincerely puzzled by behavior we take for granted. i.e.: Walking past suffering, lying politicians, having difficulty choosing the right thing to do.
  • Characters with matter-of-fact statements and assumptions that sweep across gender inequality with the confidence of never having felt gender inequality.

Diana’s back story, which is a not quite fully-detailed origin story, is well-paced and satisfying. The Amazon scenes could be a short film unto themselves; they are stunning and exciting and inspirational. Robin Wright as General Antiope is a badass. I wanted to hear about HER story. Tell me more about that shoulder scar, General. Despite a dearth of details relating to how Diana has “more power than she knows” (as she is told several times), her development makes sense and feels authentic. It’s an organic coming-of-age story.

I also liked that while Wonder Woman showed Diana as empathetic and caring, she wasn’t painted as incapacitated by emotion. Whereas Superman goes off to his ice castle to mope and lick his wounds, and Batman is continually hanging on to misery, Wonder Woman suffers loss and then picks herself up and gets to work. This seems a lot more female than fainting couches or snarling defensiveness.

I’ve said a couple of times that Superman feels like the best comparison in the superhero world. And an homage hunch that I had during the movie was realized when I saw this meme that confirmed my suspicions about allusion to eyeglasses, buttoned up “disguise,” and gender reversal of saving the sidekick. That doesn’t happen by accident. Nicely done,  Patty Jenkins!wonder-woman-superman-homage

The film’s shortcoming is with the bad guys. Several short scenes showing WWI era Germans creating toxic gas that kills in seconds seemed unnecessary and overly developed. A female evil scientist was perhaps included to 1) have another female character (of which there are really only three post-Amazon world) and 2) to show that it’s not only men but all humanity that is capable of evil. Still, the scenes between the two main baddies felt as close to gratuitous as is humanly possible. (See what I did there?) I mean, it’s clear that the real bad guy in the film is war itself, and Diana consistently fights against that throughout the film.

That criticism out of the way, I loved this film. I can’t wait to see it again. I finally understand why men like these superhero movies so much; when I left the theater, I felt like I could kick serious ass. I felt like there was justice within reach, and that I could contribute to it. It’s possible that I turned up the music too loud and sung fiercely off-key on my way home. Hey, I’m even excited to see Justice League because it has Wonder Woman in it. And it had better not screw up Diana of Themyscira’s character.

Bonus: Then there’s this tweet. Which, I will fully admit, made me weepy. And damn it, I needed that. My whole generation needed that.

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Glad I Saw It: Raindrops on Roses

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The post-thunderstorm morning today was irresistible, so I took the dog and headed to Brookdale Park. If you heard someone singing a poorly tuned version of “My Favorite Things” in the Essex County Community Rose Garden, that was me.

There were a lot of bees, too. They were too busy to sting. We could all learn from them.

Linking to the YeahWrite Weekend Showcase.

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Readings On Grief

Museum of GoodByeAmy and Maya at The Creativity Caravan partnered with Apryl of the Halfway There reading series to present Readings on Grieving.  Seven local writers presented pieces centered around grief and letting go. What follows is the piece I read for the event.


The Death of My Father

My father died on a street in Camden, Maine. We were walking up a hill and he stopped, again and again, waving his grandchildren ahead. “Don’t wait for me. I’ll be there soon.” Shallow breaths forced him to lean heavily on the stone wall, my mother hovering nervously at his side.

My father died in a hospital bed after a heart attack. There were dozens of dangers and warnings and maybes and precautions before he could be put under anesthesia for a common and simple procedure. I smiled and waved off the dangers and said we’d see him in recovery. But we all knew, he knew especially, that he might not make it to recovery. He said he wanted The Battle Hymn of the Republic played at his funeral. We laughed, and then we made mental notes. Just in case.

My father died in church, unable to stand or sing or pray out loud. I sang a little louder and held his hand, but the notes were off and my throat felt sore. His voice had always been in tune and powerful and filled with the belief I no longer had.

My father died in the specialist’s office, sitting between my mother and me, one hand on the ever-present oxygen tank. The pulmonologist killed him with her gentle but firm words, “Your fibrosis won’t respond to this treatment.” That was the moment he gave up on trying to fight off death.

My father died falling out of bed. He hit his head and hurt his body and bruised his pride on the way down. He never left the bed after that. He was more afraid of falling once more than lying in bed forever.

My father died hearing my mother and me snap and argue and gripe at each other over what was best for him. “Please be patient with your mother, Kristin,” he pleaded. I tried. I couldn’t do it well enough. Not even for the weekends. Not even for him.

My father died in hospice, two hundred miles away, whispering “I love you, too” as my mother held the phone to his mouth. Sitting in my car outside my children’s school, I flooded his ear with as many of the ways his grandchildren loved him and how lucky they were to have him for as long as they did and how they’d always remember him as strong and loving and vital and necessary. He knew “they” really meant me.

My father died when I hung up the phone, releasing the sobs that I’d tried so hard to hold back during the call. I cried because I wasn’t with him and because others were. I cried because I hadn’t said enough. I cried because the inevitable was so near. I cried because my father had been dying for so very long. I cried because he was ready. I cried because I was not.

My father died after many almosts and close-calls during two decades of stolen years in which he raised children to adulthood, married off two daughters, eventually retired, and met and loved his grandchildren. And was so loved in return.

Years later, in surprising and sudden bursts, I still weep when I hear his favorite songs and know he’d like to sing them once more. Years from now, I will still sing a little louder for him, off pitch and with joy.

 

 

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I don’t belong here

imposter-syndrome-comicOnce in a while, not a long while, but a short while, I feel completely outpaced by those around me. I look around and realize that I am unqualified to breathe the same air as others. (Basically, the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect we see playing out in national politics.) Don’t bother arguing with “We are all equal” and “You’re underselling yourself” and all that. I know I’m correct in my feeling of worthlessness and I just want to wallow in it. So there. Maybe it comes from shyness. Maybe it’s rooted in constant comparison to others as a child. It doesn’t matter, really. It’s there, it exists, and I’m dealing.

In the past, that feeling might have talked me out of participation. But what I’ve done more recently is give the other party an out. Just today I wrote an email that included, “I truly don’t feel qualified to be seated on a panel with these two people!” What’s the goal with a comment like that? To have the organizer say, “You’re right, I rescind the invitation”? Because I’d be pissed; the sitter is already booked. I think that it’s a signal to the other end of the email exchange that I know what I suspect they know: I’m not as (smart, qualified, accomplished, talented, professional) as the others. It’s a warped humility. A grownup version of “These jeans make me look fat.” It’s a hope that you’ll be disputed and reassured. It’s fishing for compliments. Ick. I need to stop that.

With another “I’m a total fraud” event coming up this week, I was heartened by a Neil Gaiman post about Impostor Syndrome. Besides recommending Amy Cuddy’s book, Presencewhich deals with feeling like an impostor, Gaiman relates an anecdote about himself and an American hero both feeling like impostors despite storied and pages-long resumes. If Neil Gaiman feels like an impostor sometimes, I guess we all do. Maybe it’s even healthy to feel like we are the least qualified in a group on occasion as long as it doesn’t paralyze us into inaction. If so, I’m super healthy.

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by Bradford Veley http://bradveley.com/

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