Chick flicks are sort of like Shakespearean dramas… sort of.

When Elizabethans went out on the town for one of Shakespeare’s plays, they knew more or less what to expect. His tragedies end with deaths, and his comedies end with weddings or betrothals.

And when today’s audiences sit down to watch a chick flick, they know in the backs of their minds what to expect. A chick flick almost always goes like this:

  1. She is probably a publisher, designer or architect.
  2. He has an impeccably clean and stylish house…somehow.
  3. They meet in an “unconventional” way. A bus stop? A friend’s wedding? Who would have thought of that?
  4. The actors that play their parents look way younger than their characters are supposed to be, and the actors who play their teenage siblings look way older than their characters are supposed to be.
  5. Only the trendiest soundtrack with a few 80s classics or oldies sprinkled in. You know, for quirkiness.
  6. Unnecessary sex or make-out scene. Maybe two for good measure.
  7. Product placement, including fancy SUVs and shiny cell phones.
  8. Suddenly, tragedy. One conversation, one misunderstanding, ten minutes of sappy music and…everything changes. Will their relationship survive?!
  9. Her father dishes out some quirky advice and she follows it, because she’s daddy’s little girl.
  10. He realizes he can’t live without her and runs, drives, sails or flies to “get her back,” because that’s what men do.
  11. Dramatic makeup scene complete with inclement weather and declarations of eternal love.
  12. Wedding dance montage! All conflicts are suddenly resolved! Fade or freeze-frame to credits!

I guess if a certain formula works (by some people’s standards), why change it?

Dying(?) towns

According to the sign just outside Chandlerville, Ill., the town’s population is about 700 people. That must be an outdated count. According to the 2011 census, the city is only home to 553. That’s a 21.4 percent drop since 2000.

And as we drove around town (a short jaunt since it’s less than one square mile), I could see it, too. The town is dying, or at the very least shrinking. We passed empty storefronts, countless “for sale or rent” signs, many abandoned lots and more than a few homes in need of a new roof or coat of paint.

Chandler Cemetery in Chandlerville, Ill. Photo by me.

Chandler Cemetery in Chandlerville, Ill. Photo by me.

We stopped in a gas station convenience store–the only one in town–for a snack and my grandfather found a man who had lived in Chandlerville for over 70 years. My grandfather asked about the people and places he used to know.

Everyone he asked about had died, and many of the buildings were torn down or left abandoned in the 20 years since my grandfather’s last visit. The old family home is now the site of a double-wide trailer with an impressive satellite dish.

But my grandfather had come to Chandlerville to find life, so we explored on.

He had spent many boyhood summers in the town, visiting favorite relatives and exploring then thriving farms. He came back decades later to relive old memories, look at old graves and share memories of that life with my mother and me.

For him, it was not difficult to find what he was looking for. As we drove he pointed out his neighbors’ homes, whether they were still in tact or not. As we plodded through the old graveyard he told lively stories of the deceased.

He could see that many of the objects of his memories were gone, but he wasn’t daunted or disappointed. It was all still there and in tact; he could feel its presence. For him, that dying town will never die.

Awkwards and awesomes

Awkward:

-Driving through my neighborhood. They’re laying new concrete, and they’ve scraped the old surface away so we drive on gavel and mud. I don’t want to ruin my tires, so I put-put up the hill at 10 miles per hour, cringing as rocks and pieces of who-knows-what hit the bottom of my car.

-Not drinking tea this morning and making a wrong turn, putting me about 15 minutes out of the way from my original destination. Let’s just say I got to visit a side of town I don’t normally see.

-While having blood work done, hearing the technician say, “I remember you. I think I helped you last time.” Does this mean I’ve become a regular?

-After aforementioned blood work, never knowing exactly when it was okay to take the bandage off and worrying about removing it to early for fear of opening the floodgates.

Awesome (the simple things, mostly):

-Savoring a pumpkin muffy from St. Louis Bread Co. for breakfast, which we got for free yesterday on my mom’s reward card.

-Chatting it up with an elderly lady at the shoe store. I love how the boredom of waiting in lines encourages people to open up to one another. As she was leaving she even wished me good luck with my new orthotics and shoes…how sweet!

-Finding a new dress that fits marvelously and matches my new shoes for under $30. Enough said.

-Expanding my fashion horizons. That dress is, for once, not a solid color. Baby steps!

-This article from NPR.

You are who you are on the Internet

You are who your social media profiles say you are. One veteran anchorman with St. Louis’ KMOV-TV has recently brought that fact to light.

Larry Connors, longtime anchorman with “News 4 St. Louis,” posted on his Facebook page May 13 claiming that the IRS had been targeting him following his April 2012 interview with President Barak Obama.

In the post, now removed from the page and quoted in an article on stltoday.com, Connors stated, “I don’t accept ‘conspiracy theories,’ but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me…What I don’t like to even consider … is that because of the Obama interview … the IRS put a target on me.

Can I prove it? At this time, no. But it is a fact that since that April 2012 interview … the IRS has been pressuring me.”

On Tuesday Connors backed off the comment during KMOV’s evening newscast, saying, “To be fair, I should disclose that my issues with the IRS preceded that interview (with Obama) by several years.”

And now Connors is facing the consequences. He is off the air until further notice and was scheduled to meet with KMOV executives today to discuss his future.

He is a reporter using a Facebook page with his name on it to report the news. His speculations, which Connors himself later admitted were inaccurate, hint at paranoia and bias against the Obama administration and the IRS. They have no place on that page or anywhere in Connors’ reporting. He should have kept them private instead of broadcasting them to his followers who rely on him for news coverage.

The fiasco is not only embarrassing for Connors and KMOV, but it provides keen insight into the ambiguity of the use of social media.

If Connors wasn’t a reporter, he could post those comments on the page without jeopardizing his professional reputation. But reporters take on the responsibility of being fair, unbiassed and accurate; therefore, as a reporter, Connors has forfeited the privilege of writing whatever he wants on social media.

Because our personal profiles are supposed to represent who we are to anyone viewing them, social media makes it easy for anyone, not just reporters, to embarrass or even incriminate themselves.

For instance, it would be unwise for a corrections officer to post photos of themselves participating in illegal activities online.  That officer would gain the reputation as an unprofessional representative of his profession, just as Larry Connors’ statement has led many to believe him an unprofessional journalist.

Our roles and responsibilities in society determine our roles and responsibilities on social media. Some professionals must forfeit certain privileges and keep certain aspects of their life private to preserve their professional reputations.

That time I had to watch a French film

Last semester I had to choose a French movie to watch for an assignment in French 102. I selected “Entre Les Murs” (“In Between the Walls”), which I’d heard described as the French version of the “Freedom Writers.” The documentary-within-a-movie follows a young French teacher as he spends a school year struggling to connect with students in a diverse, inner-city Paris neighborhood.

Cover of

But when I finished the movie, all I could do was sit open-mouthed and wonder what exactly had happened. Throughout the two-hour movie M. Marin had tried his hardest to teach the students French grammar and creative writing, sometimes becoming losing his temper or making short-lived breakthroughs, but all for nothing.

The movie’s ending wasn’t tragic, but it was far from happy and left lots of loose ends to try to sort through. There was no explanation about what happened to any of the students after the end of the school year, and it was clear that M. Marin had failed to connect with most of them.

What was the point? I was almost offended, wishing I hadn’t wasted my time.

Luckily our class discussion and some of my own research made me understand exactly what I’d watched.

Ambiguous endings like these are left over from the La Nouvelle Vague, or the New Wave movement. These filmmakers had grown tired of the tidy, formulaic movies of previous generations. Inspired by the tragic realities of living in occupied France during World War II, they began to focus on realism, using location filming, discontinuous editing and non-linear story lines.

While “Entre Les Murs” did not exhibit all the hallmarks of this style, its unresolved conflicts and open ending served as a vivid example.

I’m used to American films, where even if the ending isn’t happy, tensions are resolved and the audience can easily predict what will happen to the characters. The style of “Entre Les Murs” isn’t bad or wrong; it’s simply rooted in realism in a way that most American movies aren’t. Sometimes life itself is open-ended without clear answers, and the endings of French films tend to illustrate that.

This experience was one of those liberal arts moments. I often get frustrated having to spend time studying subjects like ethics, statistics and French. The assignment to watch a French film seemed straight forward enough, but I was grateful I ended up finding a new appreciation for something I’d never expected to learn about.

Seven stereotypes I’m guilty of

As unique as I like to think I am, there are some qualities I just can’t escape.

  1. Missourian: I have been known to slip up and say “farty” instead of “forty,” even occasionally uttering the quintessential “warshington.”
  2. Cat person: If I don’t want to leave my room, I won’t. I don’t care if you invited friends over. (But thankfully, I’m not as bad as this guy.)
  3. Liberal arts student: I learned about eight track tapes in Mass Media, David Hume in Logic and Nature and where to find a dead rat’s bladder in Biology. All in the same academic year.
  4. Catholic: The Rosary around my rearview mirror almost hit me in the face once while I made a sharp turn.
  5. St. Louisan: I, too, ask that big question.
  6. English major: Reading Chrétien de Troyes in a coffee shop. It happens.
  7. Mass communications major: Whenever I hear friends talking about what they heard in the news: “Who reported that??” 

Luhrmann’s Gatsby: Well-woven and not altogether disappointing

I’m a bit of a literary purist, so I can’t help but be disappointed by some of the details of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. However, I’m not totally disappointed by the film as a whole. It could have been a lot worse, but Luhrmann could have been more true to the story.

I understand why Luhrmann made the changes he did, but at times I felt he was spoon-feeding information to those who’ve never read the novel.

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...

The cover of the first edition of The Great Gatsby (1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the film, Tom tells Wilson that Gatsby owned the car that killed Myrtle, whereas in the book Wilson finds out through his own detective work and kills Gatsby assuming him to be the man Myrtle was seeing. I assume Luhrmann made that change to help viewers understand how Wilson came to suspect and murder Gatsby, but it takes away quite a bit of the drama surrounding the murders. It also places some guilt on Tom’s shoulders, making him at least partially responsible for Gatsby’s murder; that element simply does not exist in the book and holds no place in the story.

Equally disappointing were the changes made to Gatsby’s funeral. Nick tells the audience directly in his narration how many people he had called to invite to the funeral, but I wished Luhrmann would have showed the calls and the refusals to attend in order to create a greater emotional impact. Contrary to what the film showed, one person did show up at the funeral: his father. His appearance illustrated that Gatsby could not escape his unexceptional roots and the poverty of his past, and leaving it out left a loose end that could have been tied up.

Despite what Luhrmann left out, he did seamlessly blend some of the other significant points of the novel into the film. He exceeded my expectations with Myrtle’s death. Fitzgerald describes each gory detail in the novel, and Luhrmann echoed that drama by showing us the gore. Again, and again, and again. I’d worried that Luhrmann would soften the scene or completely chicken out, showing no more than a dead limb or flash of light. But he showed the injuries and emotions described in the book to the utmost detail.

Luhrmann also showed no hesitation to introduce the audience to Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. I’d suspected that Luhrmann would skip all the religious symbolism to avoid offending anyone, but he made it clear that the billboard’s presence mirrored that of God.

As for the music, the more modern music matched the tempo and intensity of the party scenes. Surprisingly, it was the instrumental music which outright offended me. At certain points, such as when Gatsby and Daisy met at Nick’s, the music was too cutesy and intrusive. The actors held their own, and the music was not necessary to portray their emotions.

Luhrmann crafted the film with the intention of pleasing all audiences. He knew that most had not read the novel (at least not since high school or college) but acknowledged the picky Gatsby fans like me. He included certain specific details (such as the dancing twins in yellow dresses) for die-hards, but also made the essential plot elements easy to understand for the others.

Penmanship: a necessary art

Studies show that cursive instruction has been declining in U.S. classrooms since the 1970s, according to a recent report from the Washington Post. Common Core Standards, which 45 states have adopted since 2010, don’t require cursive instruction but let states and districts decide whether it should be included.

According to the article, while some districts require teachers to teach cursive, few actually devote the time to do so. They choose to spend more classroom time for technology and standardized test preparation.

While I rarely write in cursive anymore (and the cursive I do use leaves much to be desired), learning it did teach me the importance of having options and slowing down.

The English alphabet, both upper and lower cas...

The English alphabet, both upper and lower case letters, written in D’Nealian cursive. The grey arrows indicate the starting position for each letter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not entirely sure how old I was when I learned cursive. (Obviously cursive instruction had quite the impact on my life.) But I do remember that my classmates and I felt like we were under pressure trying to learn it. We had to learn one very specific way to write each letter, and for little, impatient hands, perfection is simply too much to ask. (And it’s not just me. Billy Madison thought so, too.)

We were told that we would be expected to use cursive for the rest of our lives because no one would take the time to read our printing. But once I entered the next grade the teachers asked us to never use it because they themselves had trouble reading it. So most of us dropped it and forgot most of our instruction, except for a small number of my peers who perfected the art and used it by their own choice.

Keyboarding, of course, is a different story. My parents forced me to take some kind of keyboarding or technology elective every year in middle school. At the time, keyboarding bored me to death and I hated the pressure of constantly pushing my speed. But as more of my teachers required only typewritten compositions, I thanked my parents for placing me in those computer classes.

Since I’ve learned print, cursive and keyboarding, I have options for note-taking, a huge advantage as a journalism student. When taking notes at a speech or interview, I can choose to type out quotes and notes or take notes by hand with the help of audio recordings. The methods I use depend on the person (or people) I’m interviewing and the type of story I’m writing.

But speed isn’t everything. Though cursive as a script may be dying away, the need for good penmanship (even in block print) never will.

When learning to write, teachers ought to encourage students to slow down and carefully consider each character. This will teach them from a young age to consider each word they write and, later, each idea they construct. That’s why I’m thankful for all the meticulous and varied writing instruction I’ve received. Going slow builds better writers, no matter the script they use.

Retail tales

For the last three summers I worked at a shoe store in a local mall. Whenever I would tell people I worked in retail, they would look at me with pity, assuming that I had a terrible job.

“Oh, I’ll bet you have stories,” they’d say. Or, “Well, I bet you really earn every paycheck you get.”

I’ve worked three back-to-school seasons, two Black Fridays, two holiday seasons, and countless buy-one-get-one sales. So yes, I do have stories. I have something of a treasure trove of stories.

I’ve had to tell children to stop running headlong into our wall mirrors. I’ve thwarted (and been thwarted by) my fair share of shoplifters. I’ve dealt with crazy coupon ladies. I’ve witnessed two kids walk out of our store with two handfuls each of our miniature plastic shoehorns.

But for every story of frustration, there are many more of satisfaction and fulfillment.

I see customer service as an opportunity to create. When a tired mother toting three toddlers would enter the store with a tired scowl, I’d have the chance to create a happy end to her day. When a rushed businessman would come in on his lunch break, I’d have the opportunity to create a quick, get-in, get-out shopping experience.

The most challenging experiences were also usually the most rewarding. When a woman would come in with a very uniquely colored dress–say, rust or chartreuse–it would be my job to create her outfit by helping her find just the right shoes to top off the look. For some strange reason it is thrilling to end a shift thinking things like, “I found shoes to match a purple-and-gold paisley cocktail dress.”

Each customer presented a unique challenge. I know I’ve met that challenge when a customer walked out of their store with a smile on his or her face. In those moments, each crazy retail story seemed a little more insignificant.

Fitzgerald’s legacy: more than the movie

An artist’s legacy leads not only to devotion, but to more art.

F. Scott Fitzgerald* died over 70 years ago, but fans still pour over his writing and other artists still build and create off of his ideas. This is Fitzgerald’s legacy, and it’s still alive and kicking.

Since the release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, more and more fans have made the pilgrimage to Rockville, Md. to visit the grave Fitzgerald shares with his wife Zelda. In fact, according Rev. Monsignor Robert Amey of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the number of visitors to the site has nearly tripled in the last couple of weeks.

St. Mary’s Cemetary, the couple’s final resting place, is surrounded by strip malls and busy streets, and it’s easy to pass up, according to the Washington Post article.

English: Black-and-white photographic portrait...

English: Black-and-white photographic portrait of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and wife Zelda at Dellwood, one month before daughter Scottie’s birth. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But visitors still come to pay their respects and read the inscription on the large stone, the famous last line of The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Some leave notes or even liquor, which I’m sure Fitzgerald appreciates. 

And many artists still incorporate Fitzgerald’s work into their own. One of my favorite examples is Benjamin Gibbard’s song “Bigger than Love,” based on selections from a collection of love letters written by Fitzgerald and Zelda.

Featured on his 2012 album “Former Lives,” the song covers different phases of the couple’s marriage while subtly hinting at its troubled undertones. Gibbard did not add his own commentary to bring the relationship to life. He needed only to let the bits of the letters speak for themselves.

Now a new generation of readers is discovering the story. It sits atop a permanent pedestal in the American literature canon and currently holds the second-highest spot on Amazon’s Best Sellers. 

We can expect to see this generation go on to carry out Fitzgerald’s legacy–to let his writing affect them, thrill them and rouse them to create more works for future generations.

*Note: My review of the movie is the last Fitzgerald post I’ll write. (Probably.)

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