Film Review: Blue My Mind

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Going through puberty can be scary. One’s body undergoes so many changes, from hair showing up in unexpected areas, strange dreams, and weird odors, it’s no secret that many people find that time of their life to be both traumatic and off-putting. But what happens when your body begins to change in ways that are completely unexpected? What can you do when your toes begin to fuse together, you grow scales, and suddenly have an explicable urge to devour raw fish? Lisa Brühlmann explores how a young girl’s body drastically changes in Blue My Mind, the moment she has her first period and is navigating a new high school. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a strange fascination for body horror movies or books that embrace a coming of age tale (much like in Teeth and Ginger Snaps). It’s probably why my coming of age feminist horror story, Good Sister, Bad Sister also features body horror.

The film opens with scenes of a little girl near the sea, quickly evoking to the aquatic atmosphere that will be in the background throughout the whole film till it takes center stage in the final closing scenes. The film takes place in modern Switzerland, mostly centered around a high school. Mia (Luna Wedler) is a new student and is quickly drawn to queen bee Gianna (Zoë Pastelle Holthuizen) and her group of friends. But these new friends have dangerous pastimes which include shoplifting, recreational drugs, and meaningless sex.

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Mia struggles to fit in putting herself in dangerous situations all while she is dealing with her body changing in unexpected ways. Her parents, although clueless to her inner turmoil, do sense that something is wrong with her and decide to send her back to therapy. While Mia is more preoccupied with her physical malaise and decides to seek a doctor, only to run out during her visit when she feels like the doctor is unable to provide her the answers she’s seeking. Much like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Mia’s change occurs without a rational explanation (at least in Ginger Snaps, Ginger is bitten by a werewolf and in Teeth, Dawn’s mutation was something she had since birth).

Mia’s isolation is palpable, and it’s fitting that the only one to have her back is Gianna (her mother left her to live in the U.S. with a new love and her dad doesn’t give her the time of day). The movie centers around their friendship which at times seems to resonate with queerness (there are several instances where it seems like the two girls are going to kiss). Both girls save each other from perils (Mia saves Gianna from drowning while Gianna saves Mia from a group of young men who have nefarious intentions). So, when Mia’s transformation is complete, it’s no surprise that the only person she thinks about calling in her time of need is Gianna.

Some of the themes explored in the film are self-harm (instances where we see Mia drinking salt water, which bulimics use as a way to induce vomiting and cutting away the freakish parts of her body with manicure scissors), alienation (the more Mia changes, the lonelier she feels), and body dysmorphia (where feeling like a freak, much like Kafka’s Metamorphosis, ultimately enables you to physically become a freak).

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In some respects, this film is also a feminist horror. The film often sees the males that Mia encounters to be self-serving creeps who have no regard for her feelings and only see her as a sexual object. But Mia isn’t a victim, because her changes allow her to grow in physical strength despite the fact that she’s emotionally breaking down.

As the film reaches its harrowing end, we’re left with the feeling that perhaps the only way to be true to oneself is to not run away from what you truly are on the inside. Even if revealing your true self will potentially isolate you from the rest of society. But is anyone really in need of half-assed relationships when there are better fish in the sea?

Recommended for fans of The Little Mermaid with a dark, Brother Grimm’s coming of age twist.

Watch the trailer.

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Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess

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None of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Order On Amazon

Price: $11.12 (paperback)

Publisher: North Star Editions

Plot Summary:

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

Grade: A

Review:

From the acknowledgments, the reader soon learns that the author herself, much like her character Victoria, was put into Foster Care in Nevada (although unlike her character she was much younger, at 12 yrs. old). I think this is why she’s capable of giving one of the best and authentic novelizations about how the foster care system works and how the kids who end up in them are treated by their foster parents and social workers. Unlike other books that I’ve read about foster care, the protagonist Victoria doesn’t end up in it due to an unexpected death, but rather because her own father delivers a lie about her to cover up a very scary truth about himself and what he did to his daughter. Some of you may imagine what that ugly truth could possibly be, but I’d rather keep this review spoiler free, besides, Victoria doesn’t fully reveal all the details of that fateful night till almost halfway through the novel.

Victoria’s journey was very heartbreaking, but I loved how the friendships in this novel were top-notch. I’m kind of over novels or films always depicting female friendships as being petty and mean, and I love how Christina was so full of love for Victoria and stuck by her through thick and thin. Even her boyfriend, Kale, was a gem, who truly loved her despite the odds being against them. What I loved about this book is that all the characters were layered so even people you may have perceived as awful when you first encountered them, turned out to be better people, and those that seemed okay at first were revealed to not be so. Again, this book isn’t for the faint of heart because of the subject matter that is very trigger-worthy so tread lightly if you’re someone who’s easily triggered by the following topics: sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and self-harm, as those, are only a few things that are mentioned and played out throughout the novel.

But despite the dark winding tunnel that we find ourselves in with Victoria, there’s some light at the end. And that light, that hope, is what makes this novel absolutely stunning.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Top 5 Mental Health Awareness Movies

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Since 1949, May has become synonymous with Mental Health Awareness Month. This topic is very dear to me as several friends, family members, and exes have struggled with mental health. And yes, at certain times in my life, even I have struggled with it to some extent. For many years there’s been so much stigma attributed to mental health and has led to many people who have struggled with it to not speak up, making them feel alone.

Throughout the years it has become much more common for movies to highlight mental health conditions. Since mental illness affects millions of Americans, it’s a very timely and relatable topic. Often though, these movies depict mental illness in a way that’s inaccurate or further propels the stigmatization of this condition.

But sometimes some movies get it right and are able to realistically depict mental illness in all its different forms. These 5 movies are my top picks for how accurate the characteristics of the mental illness depicted was as well as not creating stigma towards the condition.

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Welcome To Me (2015)

A mentally unbalanced lottery winner, Alice (Kristen Wiig) goes off her medication for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), buys a talk show and uses it as a platform to broadcast her bizarre opinions on a wide variety of topics. Despite this film being a dramatic comedy, Alice shows a plethora of BPD traits, which include mood swings and unstable relationships. As her behavior slowly pushes away the people closest to her, Alice begins to take her condition far more seriously and struggled to keep her loved ones in her life. This movie brilliantly falsifies the myth that a person with BPD is selfish.

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The Skeleton Twins (2014)

Following the many years of estrangement, twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) have an unexpected reunion after both have attempted suicide. The situation forces them to confront how their lives became so broken. For Maggie, it means examining why she’s so unhappy in a marriage to a loving husband. For Milo, it means meeting with his first love to see if their romance can reignite. Eventually, they learn that living truthfully and accepting each other is the only way to move forward. This film accurately expresses what it’s like to go through a depression.

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange. This film expertly represents the various ranges of emotion that often occur when living with bipolar disorder.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Socially awkward teen Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a wallflower, always watching life from the sidelines until two charismatic students become his mentors. Free-spirited Sam (Emma Watson) and her stepbrother Patrick (Ezra Miller) help Charlie discover the joys of friendship, first love, music, and more, while a teacher sparks Charlie’s dreams of becoming a writer. However, as his new friends prepare to leave for college, Charlie’s inner sadness threatens to shatter his newfound confidence. This movie genuinely depicts all the highs and lows of living with a mental illness.

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A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A human drama inspired by events in the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., and in part based on the biography “A Beautiful Mind,” by Sylvia Nasar. From the heights of notoriety to the depths of depravity, John Forbes Nash Jr. experienced it all. A mathematical genius, he made an astonishing discovery early in his career and stood on the brink of international acclaim. But the handsome and arrogant Nash soon found himself on a painful and harrowing journey of self-discovery.

I truly hope that Hollywood continues to make movies about mental illness, especially when the condition is depicted in a realistic and empathetic way. Which movies would you add to the list?

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Book Review: The Stillwater Girls by Minka Kent

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Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why.

Release Date: April 9, 2019

Order on Amazon

Price: $15.99 (hardcover)

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Plot Summary:

Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.
As the months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.

To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.

Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.

Grade: B-

Review:

I devoured half of the book in one day, that’s just how fast-paced and easy to read this novel is. The premise was truly alluring about sisters living off the grid with a mother who bailed on them in search of medicines for the younger sister. I never truly warmed up to the character of Nicolette, because in Kent’s previous novel, The Thinnest Air, she had another similar character (pretty rich girl with a husband acting suspiciously). I’m sure it’s fun to write about rich people, but I always feel a bit disconnected when books only focus on wealthy people who have closets that are the size of a living room.

My only gripe about the book was the twist in the middle. I think the book could’ve done without the twist or at least made a twist that was less far-fetched. I wish to keep this review spoiler-free, but the twist involved a serious mental health issue that seemed to be taken lightly.

The writing in the book is somewhat simplistic which means that it’s an easy read (not saying it’s a bad thing). But it only took me a couple of days to be done because it was a really quick read (lengthwise and ease of word choice). It wasn’t overly descriptive or flowery, but the excessive foreshadowing grew tiresome at times.

The book had too much of a happy ending for me, which seemed a bit unrealistic, but I guess that’s what readers expect so maybe many won’t mind. Overall, it was an enjoyable read that kept me interested and had me invested in the characters, so I will def check out other books by this author.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Jason Allen: Book Blog Tour Spotlight & Author Interview

I’m very excited to be hosting a spotlight and author interview on The Inkblotters with Jason Allen for his blog tour. This is the first time that I am hosting a blog tour stop so I’m incredibly thrilled to share this new amazing literary novel with all of you!

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A tragic accident threatens to unravel two families in this gripping novel of suspense and culture clash set in the Hamptons.

Purchase the novel on Amazon!

Plot Summary:

Corey Halpern, a local high schooler with a troubled home life, is desperate to leave the Hamptons and start anew somewhere else. His last summer before college, he settles for the escapism he finds in sneaking into neighboring mansions.

One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate, where he and his mother, Gina, work. Under the cover of darkness, Leo Sheffield—a billionaire CEO, patriarch and the owner of the vast lakeside manor—arrives unexpectedly with a companion. After a shocking poolside accident, everything depends on Leo burying the truth before his family and friends arrive for the holiday weekend. Unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened, as did other eyes in the shadows.

Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path in this spectacular debut. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina and Leo approach a common breaking point. With an ending as explosive as the Memorial Day fireworks on the island, The East End welcomes a bright new voice in fiction.

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How would you describe your writing process? (Do you write at night? During the day? Alone or out in public at a cafe?)

On the best of days, I’m a marathon writer. I’m always most productive when I can devote an entire day to novel pages, ideally starting the moment I wake up, or right after the coffee is in the cup anyway, and then working until at least dinner time. I used to write very late at night, sometimes all night until the sun had risen and the birds reminded me I should finally sleep, but in the past few years, I’m more a morning writer overall. I also teach at a university and have a heavy teaching load, so some days I can only spend an hour or so working on my writing before grading papers or heading to campus. I’ve found that I can’t work on a novel in public. I have to be in total solitude and quiet, at least when working on a novel. For shorter pieces, especially essays or poems, I sometimes like the energy in a coffee shop or a diner because it can spark a new thread of strange associative thoughts or odd metaphors, but as far as the novels go, I need to be a hermit for large blocks of time in order to stay immersed in the prolonged dream of the fictional world.

What physical settings do you find most conducive to writing?  Where did you write the bulk of this novel?

I wrote a lot of the early draft of The East End while living in Upstate New York, mostly while on my old couch, looking out the window throughout a few full cycles of the seasons and many days while the snow was falling. I revised it while living in Atlanta and renting a first-floor apartment in an old decrepit house that had a porch. I usually brought my laptop outside to the couch that was on the porch. During the hottest, most humid, most mosquito-thick parts of the year in Atlanta, I worked way more at night when it was cooler and less buggy and quieter.

How did writing a novel compare to your previous experience writing poetry?

Writing poems is much more spontaneous for me than the novel writing process. The scale is also so dramatically different. A poem is a distillation of image and emotion, sort of like carving and polishing a figurine of a baby elephant from a palm-size piece of limestone, while writing a novel takes years of chiseling marble slabs, and then rearranging and questioning how all the animals in an acre of the African savannah should be positioned to tell their larger interconnected story. Most of the poems in my collection A Meditation on Fire connect to personal experience, the initial drafts written with a sense of urgency. The East End was a constant process of exploration until the characters felt so real to me that I truly cared about each of them.

What I love about writing poetry is that I can spend one day on a first draft and feel I have something that is at least close to finished. What I love about novel writing is that I can only plan so much, and at a certain point during the years it takes to reach the end, there is sure to be at least a hundred ah-ha moments, so many surprises, and overall it’s so satisfying to complete a work that took hundreds of days, sometimes thousands of hours, and to discover something about the characters’ journeys that makes me think more deeply about my own experience in this world. Whether it’s through the short form with poems or essays or short stories, or the long form with novels, I can’t consider a piece finished in any form until I feel the same sense of emptiness—and I mean that in a good way. Each medium allows me to empty my consciousness to a certain extent, to empty out the static of daily life that we all cope with in our own ways.

What inspired you to write THE EAST END?

Initially, I mainly wanted to illuminate the inner lives of the working class people of the Hamptons. I grew up there, and as a working class person in a seasonal resort area that attracts the wealthiest of the wealthy, as the Hamptons does, it’s impossible not to compare what “they” have versus what “we” have. I’d always been fascinated by just how extreme the disparity was between the multi-millionaire visitors and those of us who scraped by year after year, and that tension played out in so many ways each summer season. So I wanted to explore class, but also addiction, secrecy, obsession, and to do my best to write a complex story that highlights that tension among the disparate classes of people in the Hamptons. What I found over time, after delving into the depths of each character’s psyche, is that I truly believe that we are all more than the assumptions others might impose upon us.

What are some of the main themes in the book or some of the key takeaways?

The main themes are class (specifically class-divide), alcoholism and addiction, secrecy, obsession, loneliness and longing, and identity (including sexual orientation/ identification). The key takeaway, I hope, is that we should try our best not to judge any book by its cover. I had an easy time empathizing with the teenaged character, Corey, even as he starts breaking into houses, and also for his mother, Gina, even as she’s hitting bottom with alcohol and pills and is relatively absent from her two sons’ daily lives. I was surprised to find how much I cared about the billionaire character, Leo Sheffield, when in the past I could have easily written him off as just another greed-driven destroyer of the world, someone who deserves no empathy—but it was gratifying to care about them all, despite their flaws and bad decisions.

What are the commonalities you discovered between the elite and the middle-class characters?

Everyone suffers. Everyone loves. Everyone longs for something or someone. We’re all so flawed, all bumbling along through our lives; we’re all having a human experience, no matter our socioeconomic status. It just so happens that it will always be a bit harder for working class people in general—hardest of all for the poorest of the poor.

What was the hardest part about writing your debut book?

Maintaining relationships, maybe? It’s understandable that it might not be easy for most people to be in a relationship with someone who wants to spend days off from work in their pajama pants, shut away in a room for hours at a time. The work itself, I honestly love it—even when it feels like hard work. It’s incredible that after many years of writing, now I get to work on my next novels as others are reading The East End. I guess the hardest part is what happens after the writing is finished. I want everyone to like it… haha.

Your author bio says you grew up in the Hamptons and worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners.  How much did you draw from personal experience when writing this book?

I mined lots of lived experience for both the setting of the novel and the characters. My mother worked for a millionaire family at their summer estate in Southampton for more than a decade, and while the plot and characters are fictional, the setting is closely based on the estate where she worked (and where I worked with her for one summer). I also worked for the mega-rich in the Hamptons as a pool guy, a carpenter’s helper, lots of labor jobs in my teens and twenties.

What is your favorite genre to read?  Have any authors you’ve read influenced your work?

Literary fiction is definitely my favorite, but all of the best genre fiction always transcends its genre, so I love discovering an especially strange novel with magical realism elements, or one that introduces a dystopian world in a new and fascinating way (think the original Twilight Zone episodes, Rod Serling’s brilliant social commentary through sci-fi). Whatever the genre, the characters will always matter most to me, but also I find that I’m most grateful when an author obviously took the time to pull me through the story with relatively constant plot complications and tension—all the books I love, all the ones I just couldn’t down, have so much character complexity and tension throughout. I’m sure that every author I’ve read has influenced my work to varying degrees, and I’m always looking for that next book that will trick me into forgetting that I’m reading—the best novels always achieve this seemingly impossible magic trick.

What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR (to be read) list?

I’m currently reading an advanced reader copy of a debut novel called The Tenth Girl, by Sara Faring, which is a brilliant, funny, twisted gothic story that takes place in a haunted girls’ prep school in Argentina, and at the same time I’m in the midst of another advanced copy of a wonderful literary debut novel Goodnight Stranger, by Miciah Bay Gault. I’ve also just finished Winter Loon, by Susan Bernhard, and loved it for its rich characters and the author’s bravery to show the true struggles of working-class characters. Some other recent favorites include: The Boat Runner, by Devin Murphy (if you haven’t read that yet, buy it immediately—it’s amazing); Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh (so unique, both dark and funny in all the most interesting ways); and I just reread All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, which I can only describe as a masterpiece, a novel in my top two or three of all-time.

Do you have plans to write more novels in the future?

Yes, absolutely. I plan to finish my second novel this summer. It’s a story set mostly in Portland, Oregon, where I also lived for ten years. It takes place during the winter of 2008, during the start of the Great Recession and the Housing Crisis, also during an especially cold winter. The characters are all down-and-outers, with addiction and family and desperation as the central themes. I’m also looking forward to revising my first memoir manuscript, as well as my first feature-length screenplay, and in the next year or so I will begin fleshing out my third novel. I have the novel-writing bug and realize now that I always have. I’m not hoping for a cure, either.

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Review: L’Oreal Infallible Full Wear Concealer

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When it comes to concealer I usually don’t stray away from my long-trusted Lancome waterproof one that I’ve been using faithfully since 2011. Now, being someone who started to wear concealer at the age of 13 (ironically not to conceal blemishes but rather to finally find a way to eliminate my hereditary dark circles, the bane of my existence), you better bet that I’ve tried all kinds concealers over the years. I’ve attempted stick formulas, powder, liquid…you name it, I’ve tried it! So when I first saw this at Target, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it, because time and time again, I’ve always returned to my trusted Lancome concealer. But I figured for the price, I might as well give it a try.

What It Is: Full coverage concealer

Distinguishing Factors: Waterproof & long-lasting

Verdict: First of all, this L’Oreal range tried to be inclusive, providing 25 shades (although it still kinda seems like 15 of the shades are for different variations of white). I, of course, was thrilled to see that their version of Porcelain was actually my shade of pale (cause when you’re ghost white as myself almost any foundation or concealer always comes off as either too pink or too yellow). This one, luckily was closer to my skin tone, albeit not a perfect match as my Lancome shade (but maybe it just means I need to try another shade of pale they have to offer).

One thing that I noticed right away though when I applied this concealer is that a little goes a LOOOONG way, meaning that the usual amount I tend to use with other brands ended up being TOO much for this product as it seems that with one tiny swipe it magically conceals everything! Yes, this product is hella thick, but it doesn’t feel heavy or cakey, and it DOES NOT CREASE. Nor is it drying. I blended the product out using a damp tiny Beauty Blender and it seems to be the best way to apply it. I set it using Makeup Forever’s foundation powder.

This is AMAZING…it instantly conceals and brightens in less than a second! Dare I say that it’s better than Tarte’s Shape Tape? I THINK IT IS. I highly recommend this product and at the price, it’s at, it’s A STEAL! So snatch a tube for yourself and next time you see yourself in the mirror, you might very well utter, “Who dis?”

Price: 12.99

Where To Buy It: L’Oreal website

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Notre Dame: When a Burning Building Brings Back Memories

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The first time I visited Notre Dame I was eighteen and four days into my relationship with my soulmate. We had gotten together earlier that week in London and when he invited me to a notable party which back then such a gesture would be equivalent to becoming “Instagram official.” Our love was passionate and raced at a speed that would make even Lewis Hamilton a little motion sick. I had been to Paris before because I have relatives that live there but never taken the time to actually visit the city. Besides, isn’t visiting Paris with a romantic partner the epitome of Romance?

So when last Monday I heard the news that Notre Dame was burning I was filled with a sickening sense of dread. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the flames engulfing the building on TV, I didn’t want to think about all the art that was at risk at being lost, at the building itself collapsing. It was simply too much. I couldn’t imagine Paris without Notre Dame. As someone having a degree in Classical Letters, Victor Hugo’s iconic protagonist Quasimodo lived in the cathedral and was tasked with ringing the bell, and it horrified me to think that this literary location would only become a distant memory, conjured when reading the pages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As my phone exploded with Twitter updates, I couldn’t bring myself to read them. I was too afraid of any of them confirming my fears. I was fraught with anxiety, almost feeling like someone who had been informed that a loved one had been critically hurt and you’re miles away and can’t do anything to help. Finally, on the point of despair and tears, I texted my ex, the one whom I had visited the Cathedral and stated, “Have you seen the news about Notre Dame? I’m in tears.”

I didn’t consider at the time that he may be sleeping, seeing the time difference, me being in California and him in London. But despite that, it wasn’t too long before he replied back with, “I did. I’ve been crying all night.”

And suddenly it dawned on me why this building out of any other building meant so much to me. It’s a building that had witnessed the beginning of my love story with my soulmate and seeing it burn only made the fact that our own love had gone up in flames hurt even more. As if reading my mind, my ex sent another text, “Remember when we visited it together?”

How could I ever forget? Pieces of ourselves had somehow fused within that Gothic structure because the pain was so visceral, so raw, so real.

“I remember. We were infinite.” I texted back.

“Don’t be said,” he replied. “It’ll survive. Nothing that beautiful will ever truly die.”

I couldn’t bring myself to ask him if he had meant the building or if he had meant the ghost of our younger selves, huddled against the cold Parisian wind in a long-ago February standing on the Bell Tower and thinking that anything was possible.

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Throwback Thursday: Dr. Jones – Aqua

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For someone who’s a self-proclaimed connoisseur of rock music, it’s probably very perplexing to understand why I’d enjoy a pop band like Aqua. Sure, I tried to resist this Danish-Norwegian band with their earworm music and bubbly demeanor. When Barbie Girl became popular, I resisted, they weren’t going to have me! But when Dr. Jones was released I could no longer resist and caved into the bubblicious world of lightness that was Aqua. Perpetually happy and poppy, the band sang about notorious icons such as Barbie and Indiana Jones. Mattel notoriously tried to sue them but a judge dismissed the case in 2002 allegedly stating, “The parties are advised to chill.”

The song though didn’t really have that many Indiana Jones references, the lyrics were more about a summer love (think Grease). But the music video was genius campiness to the max. I also truly loved the female lead singer Lene Nystrom, she was a breath of fresh air, because she dared to defy the busty 90’s gals that had been helped by silicone. Lene had a badass attitude wearing crop tops that read, “No Silicone Added.”

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But much like the heyday of the ’90s, even Aqua’s eternal optimism fizzled with the oncoming of the new millennia. And so, for awhile Lene tried a solo career, becoming one of those many busty gals singing suggestive songs that she used to mock. When the band reunited in 2009 and did a cover of Abba’s My Mamma Said, we immediately knew that this band wasn’t the same anymore. The music video was one of the most visually darkest moments for the band, as you see them reunited around a table, dressed in black as they were being served the strangest foods as roaches walked all over the table. Even their voices had lost their signature cheerfulness and instead had turned more morose. It was official: the once happy pop band had turned dark.

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There had also been a shift in the band dynamics. Before, at the height of their popularity, Lene was dating the male lead singer in the band, Renee. But then she later got married to another Aqua member, drummer, Soren, and the two were married for sixteen years before divorcing in 2017 (the couple has two children together).

So what did I learn from re-listening and rewatching a video I hadn’t seen since 1997? Well, I’m thoroughly confused as to why the cannibals were speaking French, but other than that, the light campiness of Dr. Jones is just as infectious now as it was in 1997. Although now, when I listen to it I’m taken back to a place where my teenage problems seemed so trivial to the real-life troubles that one only understands once you reach adulthood. Nowadays, I relate more to the Aqua members in My Mamma Said, disillusioned and nostalgic for their lightness but now consumed by the darkness.

And despite all those books and movies about how much light wins over the dark, the last two decades have proven that darkness has been prevailing and we’re all left longing for that time in our lives when we used to enjoy light pop songs like Dr. Jones.

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As Lene sings, “Dr. Jones, Dr. Jones wake up now,” I wonder if we’ve all been sleeping and that the past two decades have simply been one prolonged nightmare. Who isn’t ready to wake up now? I know I am.

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Poetry: Tonight, Tonight

*April is National Poetry Month, and thus I decided to share one of my poems from Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken. 99% of the poems collected in the book were written during the ages of 13-22 years old, so if anything reads too tragic or overdramatic, now you know why. And rather to censor or edit my poems with adult hindsight, I left them raw, obsessive, and dark.

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Tonight, tonight, you’re falling so behind

I see you trembling—

Feeling left on the side.

Tonight, tonight, you’re crying all your tears

I feel your pain—

Drowning in your despair.

Tonight, tonight, you’re growing so distant

I see you shriveling away from me—

Scorning my stoned affection.

Tonight, tonight, you’re scrapping at the floor

I sense your frustration—

Slapping me across the face.

Tonight, tonight, you’re running out of time

I see you walking out—

Letting go of any part that belongs to me.

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Film Review: US

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After seeing the trailer for Jordan Peele’s new film, I was left with this strange sense of unease. Something was off. I know, it’s a horror movie. It’s supposed to set an atmosphere of mental discomfort. But this was a subtle unease, like walking into your house and knowing something is amiss but you can’t put your finger on it. Then I saw the movie and realized the skewed detail I’d gotten hung up on was during the car scene where the Wilson family is listening to Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It.” The mother, Adelaide, tells her son to “get into rhythm,” and then proceeds to snap her fingers…off beat.

Huh?

At first, I thought it was just me but after reading up on it online, I realized it was actually a thing; a harbinger of truth pointing to Adelaide’s disturbing past. And that’s the beauty of “Us”. It’s going to toy with you, give you a few fake-outs and distractive ploys. Then it’s going to sock you in the gut with an intelligent sucker punch but for hours and days and weeks afterward, you’ll realize you actually got hit in the brainpan.

First, a brief synopsis: Adelaide Wilson takes a beach vacation to Santa Cruz with her husband, Gabe, and their two children. Haunted by a childhood trauma that occurred in a mirrored funhouse on the carnival pier, Adelaide begins to take notice of strange coincidences. She sees an odd vagrant with the sign, “Jeremiah 11:11”. Clocks read 11:11. A rogue Frisbee lands beside her, perfectly aligned with a polka dot on the towel pattern.

That night, four trespassers show up on their driveway. After a tense invasion of the Wilson’s beach house, Adelaide and her family come face to face with their doppelgangers, each a dark, deranged version of themselves dressed in matching red jumpsuits. Adelaide’s double, Red, reveals they were the subjects of an inhumane and failed experiment of clones forced to play out every action of their above-ground counterparts. Armed with a dagger-sharp pair of golden scissors, she aims to free herself and her demented family as second-class shadow-people by killing the Wilsons and taking their place above ground. Thus, the “untethering” begins. Snip, snip.

As with his debut film “Get Out”, Peele is wedging open the door on a new subgenre: societal horror. The fear surrounding social issues that plague the public today is over-ripe for exactly this kind of creative commentary. These are the subjects that privileged society would like to sweep under the rug: topics including mental illness, racism, unconscious biases, and discrimination. These are not well understood and what’s worse, they are not well-accepted. 

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People lean on belief systems to help them make choices. These are personal life lessons, religious teachings, parental guidance, peer pressures to assimilate. All these experiences act as a moral barometer. Now show those belief systems from an opposite perspective and those same people are left feeling totally confused, attacked, angry, defensive, helpless and desperate. They target the catalyst that brought the issue forward and not the issue itself. And usually, this translates into immense pressure being put upon the victims to become “normal” in order to be accepted into society again. It’s now their responsibility to stifle their hurt so the rest of the world feels comfortable. Translation: fix yourself. And if you can’t fix yourself, please have the courtesy not to talk about it. 

Herein lies another hidden beauty about “Us”. It is the catalyst. It shows the basic human fear of accepting our own duality. It presents a stark and uncomfortable contrast of black and white, right and wrong, good and evil…our shadow selves versus the masks we show to the world. And how we react when there is a critical imbalance of this light and dark power: rejection, jealousy, suspicion, paranoia, anger, violence. These knee-jerk emotions drive the need to delineate the status of “us” versus “them”.

Peele records these primal fears places them in the hearts of seemingly normal characters and plays it back in a distorted, reflective environment. Indeed, mirrors and reflections play a key visual element. There’s the presence of a “twin concept”, especially in the number eleven as it pops up on television, the time on clocks, in Bible verse, sports scores, even in abstract shadows. While this doubling can be consumed quite literally, it is best appreciated after you’ve seen the movie and had time to reflect on the multi-faceted meanings. And I’m not just trying to be punny here. These coincidences lead the characters to discover how their actions have helped or harmed others despite their intent, even how their actions have contributed to their own entrapment.

In addition to the psychology of duality, there is the theme of the American dream. The “haves” and “have nots”. Class structures and, in the constant strive to keep up with the Jones’, society’s inability to appreciate what they do have in their lives. There is a moral price for naivety and social complacency and this transaction plays out between the Wilson family and their tethered family of clones (but with more melodrama and excessive blood spray, of course).

Refreshingly, a talented, diverse cast takes the main stage. I am not a POC but I can attest that the amount of stories I’ve watched about white people has fatigued my appreciation for an intriguing plot. Presented here is a unique, well-told story about characters of color even though the story isn’t specifically about race. “Us” allows a brilliant opportunity for discussion of Hollywood’s lack of diversity without pandering to the audience. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is spell-binding, especially in her disturbing portrayal of Red. She files her voice to a raspy, jagged husk and moves like a caged but confident animal who has conquered the laboratory labyrinth. Winston Duke deserves praise as well for bringing humanity and humor to the father figure trying to protect his family.

As a writer, my brain is always in “plot & character” mode. I tend to be severely critical of books and movies that lack logic or at least a moderate attempt at believability. Plot holes, if small enough, are forgivable. Give me a good story and I’ll give appropriate credit for the effort.

But don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

A good story doesn’t have to be airtight. In fact, if a movie is too clean this can be a bit condescending to the audience, as if the writer has said, “Here, I’ve done all the thinking for you in case you couldn’t figure it out.” Nor does a good story leave glaringly large voids that prevent the story from making reasonable sense. A smart writer knows how to leave just enough mystery without compromising a satisfying ending.

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So with that said, are there plot holes in “Us”? Yes. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this post-spoiler-free for those who have not seen the movie yet but just know that when the credits roll, you will have questions. Normally plot holes signal sloppy plotting and rushed production but in this instance, it is apparent that Peele has too much respect for the craft and his audience to have done this inadvertently. Go online to any of the numerous “Us” discussion boards or YouTube videos and you’ll find that deconstructing all the Easter eggs in this movie is half the fun. Personally, I feel the gaps are present on purpose. Maybe these plot holes give room for interpretation of the figurative gaps in society. Gaps in opportunity for individuals of lesser means. Gaps in understanding on common social issues. Gaps in memory due to trauma. The important takeaway is the ending gives closure while opening a Pandora’s box to a harsh new reality.

There’s plenty of action and gore to satisfy any terror junkie but “Us” goes beyond the blood spatter and gets cerebral. It touches on something more subtle in the human psyche. Darkness is not always evil. We must consider all the catalysts that trigger our fear and ask the simple question, “Why?” Does this emotion really stem from something out in the world or is it inside? And if it is inside, are we brave enough to face it? Ignorance can trap us in our own mirror house of horror for as long as we choose. We can close our eyes if we’re scared. But our reflections are still there. The shadow selves will wait until we’re ready to see what they have to teach us. And when that day comes, who will do the untethering? Snip, snip.

By: Erica Ruhe

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