Monday, June 28, 2010

Unpro and Sis Present: White Girl Problems

Ah, to be a rich Caucasian female with money to burn and nothing to lose.  That's the concept behind the hilarious Twitter feed White Girl Problems.  Think Stuff White People Like with a designer bag and without a book deal (yet).

In the spirit of satire, Sister Unpro (who has started her own fun fashion blog) and I decided to compose some White Girl Problems of our own.  

Disclaimer: this is SATIRE ONLY.  Just for fun.  No soapboxes in the comments, please.  What I'd love to see in the comments?  Your own take on white girl/first world problems!

Fashion (aka Label Whoredom)

This poetry book is weighing down my leather tote.

I have to wake up at 2 a.m. for the Anthropologie sale.

This season's sunglasses suck.

My heels are sinking into the grass.

These shoes were not made for walking around the mall.

My boyfriend says Brooks Brothers is poorly made.

This bag is cute, but it's not a Coach.

Mind, Body and (No) Soul

I seriously don't know how I lost this weight.

My back is peeling.

Cheap shampoo makes my scalp itch.

My therapist says you're full of shit.

I put on two pounds.


All I want is to go back to England.

I'm so over the Hamptons.

I'm so over Martha's Vineyard.

I'm so over Nantucket.

What do you mean, you don't speak French?


You erased So You Think You Can Dance from the DVR.

Facebook is down.

My iPod earbuds are too big for my ears.


This organic banana is bullshit.

This brie is bullshit.

This cupcake is bullshit.

This hummus is bullshit.

These Kalamata olives are bullshit.

Sports and Recreation

I'm hot, but you're ugly, so this club won't let us in.

When I said "I like independent film," I didn't mean "I want to watch unattractive people with bad teeth reminisce about trees for two and a half hours."

I had one drink and I'm drunk.

My Yorkie hates me.

He likes Dane Cook.

He disappeared into a bar at 7 a.m. the day the World Cup started, and I haven't heard from him since.

No, I will NOT move over my yoga mat.  I got here first.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why the Hell Did I Love "Babies"?

"One for *mumblemrph*, please."

The woman behind the ticket booth cracked up.  "That's the exact same thing everyone has said going in."

I tried to muster a smile, but instead put up the hood of my sweatshirt so no one would recognize me.

Was I at a porn, you ask?  A snuff film?  The new Nightmare on Elm Street revamp piece of garbage?

No, no, and hell no.  On that mild Sunday evening in May, I was at my local arty hipster theatre, gearing up to see . . . Babies.

Look, I am far from a baby person.  That's not to say I don't like kids.  I do.  I taught drama for three summers at a K-8 arts camp.  My friends' spawn are wonderful.  But here's the thing: I'm almost 30, and single.  I have no desire for kids, but random people in the street don't know that.  And one of my biggest fears is that someone will see me cooing over a little one in public, take a look at my unringed left hand (well, unless you count the superbadass turquoise pinky ring from Santa Fe), and, ugh, feel sorry for me.

Don't misinterpret this: I find NOTHING wrong with being a parent or wanting to be.  Hey, it's how the world goes 'round.  If you can go to a children's birthday party and still want to push out your own, God bless you.  I just don't want them for myself.  And while I hate hate hate the fact that I care about what others think, I don't ever want to be perceived as the poor, single, childless chick.  EVER.

And yet . . . I was intrigued by Babies' premise: capturing the first year of life in four different parts of the world (Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo, and San Francisco).  The trailer used a Sufjan Stevens song (marketing suckerdom, I haz it).  And the babies were really, ridiculously cute.

An hour and a half later, I could confidently say that I enjoyed the SHIT out of Babies

I've asked myself over and over: what is it about Babies that had me in the arty hipster theatre along with a flock of childless?  I will say that the film's beautiful scenery (Mongolia's blue skies, Tokyo's sharp clean lines et al) and nearly nonverbal tone gave me much-needed relaxation after a fun but supremely hectic weekend (to put it in context, I saw Babies the evening after Joel McHale's Chicago show).  As someone who works for an organization that provides multi-cultural arts education programs for children, seeing the differences and similarties of child-rearing in four vastly different parts of the globe did pique my interest as well.

But more than anything, I've had to come to terms with the main reason I liked Babies

I just like babies.

This is a difficult revelation for me on many levels.  First, I was a reader at a very young age.  I'm the daughter of two pop culture enthusiasts, one of whom was an English major.  My family quotes entire movies for fun.  I went to college and picked apart plays (both written and performed), dissected roles I portrayed in class and for the public, and devoured books in my spare time.  In my early twenties I endured three years of law school, aka Land of Outlines.  

In other words, I live to be analytical.  It's hard for me to just "like" anything, be it a book, a film or a person.  I have to pick and scan and know the why.

Also, as I've said before, I'm a single woman who has no desire for children.  I am careful to do just the right amount of doting on my friends' kids--it's sincere, but I don't want anyone to think my life is lacking without little ones.  Ditto for smiling at kids in public.  I watch my facial expressions so "longing" will never be part of the equation.

It's a delicate thing to admit you like babies, but you don't want any of your own.  Both of these, for me, are true.

So Babies provided a safe, calm compromise.  In the dark of a movie theatre, I could giggle and squeal to my heart's content.  I could make it okay in my head that I wanted to poke their little tummies and hold their chubby hands.  I could watch in awe as each of the kidlets stood up and mastered their first steps, as Hattie from San Francisco took apart a banana, as Mari from Tokyo figured out her puzzle after a dramatic outburst, as Bayar from Mongolia successfully liberated toilet paper from its roll, as Ponijao from Namibia lifted up a dog's ear.  And from the giggles, squeals, and sighs around me that Sunday night, I wasn't alone.

A few weeks later, a friend was giving me crap: "you love babies, you've loved them since we were in high school, you probably want a million babies, etc etc and so on."  (Said friend enjoys nothing more than yanking my chain.)  

Instead of yelling or getting defensive (my usual m.o. when this topic comes up), I calmly stated, "Nope.  I don't want babies.  I really like them, though."

And as I was saying the words, I realized what I'd always thought was a contradiction, was in fact not a contradiction at all.

If you're all about the cuteness, I suggest you check out this trailer:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Anatomy of a Girlcrush: Zooey Deschanel

Up until this year, I went back and forth on Zooey Deschanel.

Those of you who read my (500) Days of Summer review will recall that I liked her more snarky roles, such as Anita Miller in Almost Famous and Sarah Jessica Parker's bird-hating roommate in Failure to Launch, but was a bit bugged by her performance as Summer and her persona in general.  Could anyone really be that whimsical?  Kind of like Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, whom I hated with a passion, I felt that Zooey/Summer was created out of thin air (or maybe by an L.A. publicist) as the ultimate male fantasy: beautiful, ethereal, just informed enough to keep up with the manboy in question, but just dim enough so he felt more man than boy.

Granted, I felt Summer redeemed herself at the end of the film (plus I agreed with her lackadaisical view on relationships for the movie's first three quarters).  I still wasn't sure about Zooey.

Then I got into the first season of Top Chef Masters (won by none other than Chicago's own Rick Bayless, holla!).  Zooey was featured in a challenge: the cheftestant finalists had to make lunch for her, her mother, and a group of friends . . . however, Zooey was a vegan at the time and had various food sensitivities, including a gluten allergy.  Now I have NO PROBLEM with people with food allergies--I want to make that clear.  If you can't eat something, or you just plain don't want to, that's your prerogative (and if it's an allergy you can't help it!).  However, these were some SERIOUS dietary restrictions, and I snorted to my roommate, "oh my God, could she BE any more of a special snowflake?"

Then the actual lunch party happened, and despite my earlier snarkiness, I couldn't take my eyes off the girl.  No airbrushing, in outdoor lighting (not always friendly, especially in reality-TV land), and just chilling with her friends . . . she was luminous.  Lovely.  And apparently blessed with good genes, as her mom was gorgeous too.

And I couldn't hate her anymore, because she was so pretty.

Dude, I'm a feminist.  Saying I like someone because they are pretty feels like the equivalent of not reading Catcher in the Rye because there are no pictures on the cover.  Judging a book by its cover, in other words.  I mean, yes, I've done my fair share of ogling hot dudes, but it feels different when you're judging your fellow woman, you know?  As a gender, we're supposed to be better than that.

And yet there's something to be said for beauty, whether it's a lovely Degas, the sun going down and the city lights coming up, or seeing an attractive person.  It makes you happy.  And the best kind of beauty doesn't intimidate you.  It just makes you smile.  It makes you want to be better.  Whether it's man made or natural or a combo, it may inspire you to do some creating of your own.

For me, that moment will forever be known as The Zooey Effect.

And then a few months ago, Bob introduced me to a music group, whom I'd vaguely heard of but never checked out for myself.  "They're called She & Him, and they've got sort of an early-seventies sound that you'll love," he enthused over email.  "I know a lot of girls don't like her, but she's got a really sultry voice."  "Who's 'her'?"  I responded.  "Zooey Deschanel," he wrote back.

A week later, I was in love with Volume One.  The lyrics were simple, the melodies true, and the harmonies, well, harmonic.  What I love about sixties and seventies supergroups like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Queen is the sheer emotion of their songs: those guys put it ALL out there.  (If you don't believe me, listen to CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?"  One of the best musical expressions of grief ever composed.)  Zooey and M. Ward not only sounded perfect together, with tunes in my range that I didn't feel embarrassed singing under my breath or out loud to my cat, but their music made me at once happy and sad, content and longing.  Faceted in its simplicity.

At this point, I went from being lukewarm on Zooey to wanting to be Zooey.

Not in a gross, it puts the lotion on its skin way, of course.  But Christ, the girl has a pretty solid acting career.  She met M. Ward on the set of an indie flick and for the first time was inspired to share the songs she'd been writing for years, and a dynamic duo was formed.  Her fashion sense rocks.  Her voice at times reminds me of Loretta Lynn, who I've always loved.  My mom said it best: "it's like she's from another era."  A way cooler, more dreamy retro-chic era where more people strummed guitars and no one got Botox.

I know how the L.A. PR machine works.  I know that Zooey's indie girl image is just as packaged as Megan Fox's overtly sexual one.  However, there's something genuine about Zooey Deschanel that you don't see in most post-millenial stars.  A coworker and I were discussing her appeal the other day: "you just can't hate her," my coworker said, "because it seems like she actually IS that way."  "I know!"  I agreed.  "I know it's part of her image, but it doesn't seem affected.  You get the feeling she just is."

Last week, I was fortunate to see She & Him live at Chicago's Millenium Park.  Live, the songs were both soothing and surprisingly rockin'.  The gaggle of fans, most of whom were dressed like me, all had a grand old time bopping and mouthing along as the sun set and the downtown lights came up.

And Zooey was just lovely.  Clearly happy in her musical world.  She didn't do much talking onstage, but I've read that she's shy, so that's understandable.  And honestly? If musicians aren't comfortable with onstage banter, I prefer they not engage.  Better minimal than forced, ya know?

All in all, it was a wonderful night and when she sang "Home," I felt like I was in the exact right place.

I'll never be Zooey Deschanel, that's for sure.  I do have blue eyes, but they are nowhere near as cornflower.  I'm blonde and bespectacled and argumentative.  My voice is more loud than pretty, and I've never strummed a ukulele in my life.

As Bob has observed, I'm way more Britta on Community: outspoken yet often unsure, with an agenda and an ax to grind, but plenty of awkwardness too.

And you know what?  That's okay.

But I'll always have the divine Ms. D to look at, and look up to.

For some Monday morning smiles, check out this supercute video, where Zooey and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are having too good a time.  (And despite the fact that I am in looove with JGL, I'm not even jealous of her.  Much.)

P.S.  A big fat CONGRATS to LadyJ3000 for winning last week's Deception giveaway!  I will be emailing you soon for your info.  Hope you like the book!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Who You Gonna Call? Deception! (and a GIVEAWAY!)

First off, I know it's been said a million times, but a big "thank you for being a friend" goes out to the divine Ms. Rue McClanahan.  Blanche was always my fave Golden Girl, and real-life Rue was no slouch herself. Hope you're eating cheesecake with other fabulous people in the big condo in the sky.  I'll publicly defend condoms in your honor any day:

So, guess who got another free book in the mail?  The folks at Bloomsbury asked if I'd review a new paranormal YA for them--Deception: a Haunting Emma Novel, by Lee Nichols--and I was happy to oblige ('cause I'm a sucker for all things free).  If you're a fan of my super-awesome reviews, throw your mittens around your kittens and awaaay we go!

For seventeen-year-old Emma Vaile, life has gotten a bit weird of late.  Her antique dealer parents left for an overseas business trip and haven't been heard from since.  Alone in the house, Emma's beginning to experience the very same visions that plagued her as a child, and at school, she finally finds a group of friends . . . only to lose them when a house party goes bad.  Enter her brother's former BFF and Emma's longtime crush, Bennett, who whisks her away to suburban Boston and a fancy private school.  In this brand-new environment, Emma learns just what these visions mean: she and Bennett are ghostkeepers, meaning they can communicate with ghosts.  As Emma's powers grow stronger, she must work with Bennett to track an otherworldly murderer who may be linked to her parents' disappearance--while also balancing school, new friendships, and a budding relationship with a golden-boy quarterback.  Oh, and she's still mad hot for Bennett.

Deception isn't one I'd have picked up while browsing: as a rule, paranormal isn't my preferred subgenre.  To me, the most interesting things happen in the here and now.  That said, Nichols does a great job of integrating the here and now with the ghostly elements of Deception's core plot.  I liked Emma's sassy, sardonic voice, and I believed her tentative navigation of high school's caste system of popularity.  Bennett is every inch the YA dreamboat, the type I want to crush on even though as a grown woman I feel sort of pervy doing it.  The dialogue is snappy, the descriptions tight and vivid, and the pacing just right.  I sped through this book not because I was on a deadline, but because I was genuinely interested in what would happen next.

I did have a couple of issues with the book.  First, this is more my personal taste than a reflection on the writing, but I really don't like long action sequences.  Do what you need to do, characters, but I'm more about reading your verbal and emotional interactions.  Reading fight scenes just doesn't do it for me.

Also, I detected a bit of Bella Swan syndrome in Emma.  Not in her character, per se--for the most part, Emma is strong and witty--but in the way that she is taken in almost immediately by the popular crowd for no real reason.  Nichols tries to explain this away: it's a small school, everyone's known one another forever, and new blood is always welcomed and appreciated.  As someone who went to a small private school, I can acknowledge that this is often the case.  Still . . . here, I didn't quite buy it.  I liked Emma's new friends, and appreciated how the popular kids were nice people underneath their rich-kid facades, but I would have liked a bit more relationship development and a bit less, "boom, you're one of us now."

Overall, however, Deception is a fun read that provides equal parts spook and snark.  In a Bella Swan world, strong female heroines are always welcome, and Emma Vaile fits the bill.  As an added bonus, the book ends on a cliffhanger that promises more ghostly adventure to come.

A'ight, who wants to play Armchair Casting Director?

Emma: Leah Pipes

From the category of Should Have a Better Career, Ms. Pipes has appeared in the little seen girl-power soccer flick Her Best Move and the trashy Audrina Patridge cameo-ing Sorority Row.  Still, I like her.  She's got the acting chops and is beautiful but slightly gawky--make her look a few years younger (and in Hollywood, the teens are almost always played by twentysomethings anyway), and you've got a pretty awesome Emma.

Bennett: Aaron Johnson

Maybe I'm prejudiced because a) I've interviewed the guy, and b) he's already played a Bennett in the film The Greatest.  But the name suits him.  He can pull off New England preppie with secrets (again, The Greatest), he's a Brit but can do a very believable American accent, and he looks older now than he did in Kick-Ass.  Plus, would you look at those peepers?  YUM.

Deception: a Haunting Emma Novel will be in stores tomorrow, June 8.  Lee Nichols is also the author of three adult novels--click here to learn more about her.


Want to win a copy of Deception?  You know you do!  And it couldn't be easier: all you have to do is leave a comment.  Anything remotely enthusiastic or intelligent is cool; no haters please.  Make sure you include your email address.

The contest will be open until end of day Friday, at which time I'll select a commenter at random and email the winner.  You must live in the continental United States to be eligible (publisher's rule, not mine).

What are you waiting for?  Comment away and win!