Word Power

So I attended an open mic for the first time in a long time. I’d forgotten how invigorating it is to be surrounded by folks who share a passion for words. A lot of awesome, important things were said tonight. The topics ranged far and wide, from silly to serious, from football to Ferguson. Just being in the presence of such raw feeling… it’s impossible to not feel alive and electrified.

The open mic started with what we call the Five Word Challenge. The host solicits five random words from the audience, and then we’re given fifteen-ish minutes to come up with a piece that incorporates those five words. The winner is determined by the very scientific Applause-O-Meter, and the recipient of the most applause wins an on-the-house drink from the coffee house that generously hosts the event (shout out to Second Wind Coffee House) and the knowledge that they won poetry forever.

Tonight, the words were as follows: veneer, celestial, cheesecake, wallaby, and moon bounce (never mind that that last one is two words). At past open mics, I’ve ground my brain-cogs over each word in turn, focusing on the words in the order they were spoken aloud.

Tonight, though, I decided to free-associate, and, miraculously, actually came up with something coherent. Here it is:

Too often, I have to remind myself
That I am a celestial being
Composed of light and stardust
That everything in the universe and me
Is me
All the same stuff

If you peel back the thin veneer
Of social anxieties and cheap makeup
You’ll find a person unperturbed by
The thought of her changing form

Her mind and body that will be
Sanded down by time
Her mind slowing from wallaby hops
To slow beetle crawls
Her edges softening
And sharpening again

I remind myself the thing about the stars again
And my moon bounce belly quivers
Because my guts
Are star guts
So, in the grand scheme of it all
In this vast, unfolding universe
What’s one more slice of cheesecake?

I ended up winning this here Five Word Challenge and got myself my favorite drink at Second Wind. The hot version is called a Dante’s Inferno (it has seven ingredients, one of which is cayenne pepper), but it was a warm night, so I got it chilled and blended (a Hell Frozen Over).

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The victory drink.

Also, at every open mic, we have a featured poet recite some of their material. Tonight, the guest of honor was Candace Liger, whom I can only describe as a badass. She opened with the disclaimer that she isn’t much for love poems, and then proceeded to deliver one of the most heartfelt, luscious, moving love poems I’ve heard. She then moved to a rousing number about Ferguson and closed with a tearful piece about her father, who instilled in her a love of poetry.

After it was done, I hugged her and told her I wished I could spit words like she could. I’m comfortable with crafting sentences and presenting them to a reader I can’t see, but when I step behind a mic, my voice wavers and my hands visibly shake. She shook her head and said that years ago, she opened her cabinet and drank the last expired cans of Give-A-Fuck she found there and that’s how she got to where she is today.

Words to live by.

-Alyssa

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Peep jousting: A Holiday Bloodbath

Some coworkers and I jousted Peeps. I got a bit melodramatic about it.

We colored one side of the plate blue and the other red, then armed our marshmallowy warriors with toothpick spears. My heart went with the red soldier– his standard bore the red of blood, of passion, of victory! Once the plate was set inside the microwave arena, there was no turning back from the glory that awaited.

I nodded at my companion, who pressed the button to send an electronic beep blaring across the field of battle.

It had begun.

 

Embattled foes-- who will emerge victorious?

Embattled foes– who will emerge victorious?


Soon, the fighters were awash in radiation, their bodies swelling like fish rotting in the sun. A burnt, sugary stench filled the air. My heart stopped as I saw my red soldier topple over to one side. My companion, who’d bet on blue, was quick to declare her own knight the victor. She moved to open the microwave door, but I stayed her hand.

A closer look and we saw it– immediately after my champion had fallen, hers had done the same, perhaps thinking that it was safe to lay down his arms while his foe rested. Such was not the case, as the red warrior’s apparent fall from grace was merely a feint to lure his foe into complacency. As soon as the blue knight lowered his spear, my red champion went in for the killing stroke. He puffed to an enormous size and thrust his spear forward.

We gasped in awe as we watched the red Peep’s spear rend his foe in twain. The once-proud blue warrior collapsed in a heap of bubbly ruin. The battle was done, the victor clear. 

We drew the plate from the microwave and bore witness to the carnage we’d wrought: blackened sugar and wizened marshmallow bodies littered the field of conquest. Bloodlust slaked, we knew in our hearts that such a spectacle would not grace our eyes for another turning of the seasons. Easter, that blessed day which fans man’s barbarous thirst for feats of sugary daring to an unquenchable flame, was over.

 

-Alyssa

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Thoughts on The Lego Movie

The LEGO MovieOkay, this movie’s been out long enough for me to have seen it three times in theaters. I figure it’s high time I say a few words about it, as it turns out I have a lot of feelings about this flick. Warning: the following is very spoilery, highly personal, and only thematically related to the movie itself.

Rightly or wrongly, many have named my generation the “self-esteem” generation. Millennials are sensitive, self-absorbed, and in constant need of coddling and praise in order to function. Like any reasonable person, I’m aware of the negative impact of showering someone with excessive praise. The baddie of The Lego Movie—Lord Business—speaks to this idea during his sneering confrontation of the protagonist, Emmet (who has been designated as the Special—the one destined to save the world). “No one ever told me I was special!” Lord Business scoffs. “I never got a trophy just for showing up!” Lord Business rightfully addresses the absurdity of excessive praise, but he also cuts to the heart of why external affirmation is so important.

In a pivotal scene near the film’s end, Vitruvius (a wizard and mentor figure voiced by Morgan Freeman) tells Emmet that he wasn’t chosen by some ancient prophecy (in fact, Vitruvius made all that up). All Emmet needed to be the Special was to believe that he was the Special (it’s worth noting that the film is too self-aware to let such a hackneyed piece of advice go unaddressed; Vitruvius admits that this advice “sounds like a cat poster”).

LEGO

Rather than feeling immediately empowered by Vitruvius’ revelation, Emmet finds himself at a loss. “How can I just believe that I’m special,” he asks helplessly, “when I’m not?”

Emmet’s response struck a chord with me. At some point or another, we’ve all had this feeling. We’ve seen others outperform us, we’ve failed at something that we’ve given our all, or we’ve just felt unsatisfied with ourselves. There are times when, no matter how hard we try, we cannot see our own potential. Oftentimes, we need an outside observer to see the good qualities in ourselves that we’d otherwise discount or overlook.

In his final showdown with Lord Business, Emmet finally understands Vitruvius’ revelation and what it means to be the Special. He repeats the words of the prophecy back to Lord Business.

LEGO

“You are the most talented, most interesting, and most extraordinary person in the universe,” Emmet tells him. “And you are capable of amazing things. Because you are the Special. And so am I. And so is everyone. The prophecy is made up, but it’s also true. It’s about all of us. Right now, it’s about you.”

I could go into how this moment in the film spoke to me really personally, but I’ll probably start crying and no one needs to see that. What I would like to touch on is how the film speaks to the importance of vocalizing good qualities in others, and the dramatically positive impact this simple act can have.

lego2

We’ve all experienced how words can hurt or heal us. Not long ago, I found myself deeply sad without knowing why I was sad, and that experience left me doubting the validity of my feelings. How could I justify feeling this way when I had nothing solid to base them on? Having feelings that were baseless made me feel worse about having those feelings. I felt that I didn’t deserve them.

I brought this up to some friends and they immediately shut down that way of thinking. “Your feelings are valid because they are YOURS,” they told me. I was amazed to find that, just like that, I was healed. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear, and they helped me move forward from a period of emotional uncertainty and self-doubt.

the-lego-movie-still-batman-emmet

The final confrontation between Emmet and Lord Business is a perfect example of how words can heal and instigate personal growth. Emmet tells Lord Business exactly what he needs to hear—something he’s needed to hear for a long time—and bridges the ideological gap between them. It’s Emmet’s words that help Lord Business realize that he is just as capable of greatness as anyone else.

I believe that’s what’s at the heart of the “self-esteem” generation: the idea that great people and great ideas can come from anywhere—and that sometimes, we need others to recognize that greatness in us before we can recognize it in ourselves. So thanks, movie, for being clever, heartfelt, and thought-provoking—in other words, better than any movie bearing the title “The Lego Movie” has any right to be.

-Alyssa

(Everything is awesome.)

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Valentine’s writings!

Hello all, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Writing news!
I’m proud to say I’ve teamed up with two talented writers to help form the Paper Animals Collective! There’s three of us as of now, and we’re using this collective as a platform to publish poems, short stories, and novels together!

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For our debut piece, we’ve released a collection of three short stories called Perspectives on Love. Each of us explores a different theme– Kyle did “love and loss,” I did “unexpected love,” and Aneesh did “young love.” It’s available now on Kindle, and will be released to iBooks as well. Click here to check it out!

Novel update: It’s close, oh so close. The goal was to get it to you by the end of 2013, but the end of 2013 was a crazy time. Keep your beautiful eyes peeled– I promise you’ll be seeing it soon.

Stray observation: Teen Girl Squad is still funny. What time is it? It’s Valentimes.

-Alyssa

For more updates on our writer’s collective, you can like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!

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It’s a Wonderful Life: An Ever-Changing Perspective

movie posterA while back, I wrote a post about It’s a Wonderful Life. Because this movie is important to me, I’d like to talk about it again, but this time, from a more personal perspective.

One thing that sets this film apart from all the other Christmas specials I watched growing up is that it takes place in an adult world. Unlike Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman, It’s a Wonderful Life is pretty firmly grounded in reality. Its characters face social and economic problems, ones that many if not all of us face at some point in our lives. Because the film takes place in a very real world, it imparts some mature lessons and some unpleasant truths. And, as a film that shines such a revealing light on humanity, it can be a bit startling for children who, up until that point, had only been exposed to gentler tales.

When my father was around five years old, he wandered into his living room while It’s a Wonderful Life was playing on his family’s black-and-white TV. He only saw one scene and was disturbed by what he saw. The scene he happened upon featured the druggist, Mr. Gower, flying into a drunken, grief-fueled rage and repeatedly smacking young George Bailey about the head.  My young father watched in horror as an adult—someone who was supposed to be a caretaker, a guardian—beat a young boy until blood trickled from his injured ear. This scene conveys harsh truths: adults are not the infallible idols we make them out to be as kids, nor do they guarantee safety and stability.

young george and maryThe scene that stuck with me as a kid changed the way I thought about family and my place in mine. This scene comes later in the film, when a weary, troubled George comes home on Christmas Eve. The gloom of possible bankruptcy and arrest looms over him as he wades through what should be an idyllic domestic scene: chipper, well-behaved kids, Christmas decorations, festive tunes played on the piano. However, George’s anger and fear bubble over in an exchange with his wife. When she asks him what’s wrong, he snaps back, “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?”

While the comment is half made in passing, and is mostly a product of his preoccupied mind, it bothered me all the same. Like most normal kids, I thought I was the center of my parents’ universe. Right or wrong, this scene planted in my brain the idea that kids were an intrusion in the adult world—an interruption of what would have been a happy relationship between two people. This scene forced me to consider the possibility that parents could be happier without their children (a frightening idea to any child).

george & maryOnce the initial shock of this notion wore off, I began to look at families in a different light. I began to understand that contrary to what many of the kid-centric Christmas specials would have me believe, parents were more than just the people who raised their kids. There was love and life B.C.—before children. While that seems like an obvious observation, it was an important one for me as a young child—one that helped me step outside of myself and consider family in a broader, less self-centered sense.

I think one mark of a great movie (or song or book or any medium) is that it speaks to you in different ways over the course of your life. I find that now, as an adult in my early 20s, certain scenes speak to me in ways they never have before. The moments that stood out to me during this year’s viewing were the moments when George excitedly describes his career plans to his father or when he gazes at travel brochures with pained longing. As a young adult standing on the cusp of my professional life, I know those feelings of uncertainty, elation, and unease all too well. I feel the weight of my decisions all the more now because they are my decisions, not my parent’s or anyone else’s. I feel for George as he forecasts the consequences of his actions that ripple out into an uncertain future. And while much is uncertain, I know that I’ll continue to glean new insight from this film as I continue to grow and change. It’s a wonderful life, and I can’t wait to see where it leads.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

-Alyssa

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Why I’m pumped for Godzilla (2014)

I’m gonna do my best to translate my unintelligible screeches of excitement into coherent thought.

First off, this film is going to be a spectacle. We have arrived at the point, technologically, where we can finally do justice to the fearsome creature that has captured the imaginations of moviegoers for decades. Judging by the glimpses we see of the monster, the visual effects crew has put their all into truly bringing the iconic character to life.

But what’s excited me most thus far is the overall tone of the film. Not long ago, a Comic-Con trailer for Godzilla leaked onto the web (Warner Brothers promptly removed it). This first teaser featured a voice-over from J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American physicist instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb. His haunting words, when paired with the stark images of catastrophic destruction, both chilled and thrilled me. It was a sign that, above all else, this incarnation of Godzilla was taking itself seriously. (And why shouldn’t it? The idea for the creature was born of the nuclear devastation Japan experienced in World War II.)

With this new teaser, we get a confirmation that director Gareth Edwards is treating the Godzilla character and story with respect. We see parachutists bleeding out of the sky, dwarfed by the decimated cityscape and the staggering scale of the beast. We hear the unearthly quavering of a chorus cut suddenly to deafening silence, then filled with the monster’s unmistakable scream-bellow. In two short minutes, this trailer creates a palpable, mounting sense of dread. If it can do all that in two minutes, imagine what it could do with two hours.

-Alyssa

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The War of the Worlds, 75 years later

It’s All Hallow’s Eve Eve, and a special one at that. Today marks the 75th anniversary of the fateful evening when a 23-year-old managed to stir radio listeners into a panicked frenzy over a fictitious alien invasion. I am, of course, referring to Orson Welles and his now famous (and infamous) adaptation of “The War of the Worlds.”

A young Orson Welles at the mic

A young Orson Welles at the mic

As you very well may know, Orson Welles’ broadcast is an adaptation of the famous sci-fi tale by British author H.G. Wells. In adapting the story, Orson decided to make a few changes. He set the story in rural New Jersey instead of the English countryside, and he told the story in the form of breaking news bulletins, rather than as a traditional first-person narrative. The result was incredibly potent, powerful storytelling that actually managed to convince some listeners that what they were hearing was, in fact, real.

To today’s cynical audience, wondering how people could be so easily duped, let me remind you of a few things:

  • This is 1938—pre-television and pre-Internet. It was much more difficult back then for people to find out if what they were hearing was actually happening.
  • The U.S. was on the brink of World War II and the threat of German invasion weighed heavy on minds of the American people.
  • People have put on this radio show again and again, and it still manages to fool people into thinking it’s real.
A taste of the imagery from the famous science fiction tale

A taste of the imagery from the famous science fiction tale

Four years ago, I decided to finally give the famous broadcast a listen. Let me tell you, I sat engrossed in front of my computer for that tense hour, eyes wide as the incredible levels of description pulled me into the narrative. The structure of the broadcast is as brilliant as its content. There are moments of dead air after we lose contact with our intrepid reporter—long, uncomfortable silences hastily filled with studio orchestra music until a broadcaster comes back on the air, apologizing for the complications. If you haven’t listened to it, I highly recommend sitting down and feasting your ears and imagination on the terrifying tableau as painted by the masterful storyteller, Mr. Orson Welles.

Happy Halloween!

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