Beauty in Ordinary Things

Wow. So, out of context, that sounds super cliche. Platitudes at the end of books or Nicholas Sparks movies that are meant to sum up the lesson meant to be learned by the reader/viewer bug the heck out of me. But this is different. This is a quote from Pam during the series finale of The Office, which has been one of my all-time favorite TV shows. A couple of weeks ago, the sitcom aired its last episode, and now I’ll have to find another show with which to become emotionally involved. Its a little hard to get attached to Jeopardy since Alex Trebek doesn’t have that great mustache anymore. (Ok… he hasn’t had it since 2001. Whatever.)

Sure, there are other great comedies out there, like Parks and Recreation and Modern Family, but The Office has always held a special place in my heart. The only other show I really actually hated to see go was Boston Legal, staring William Shatner and David Spader, and I ended up missing the series finale because of a certain not-awesome roommate’s boyfriend. I watched The Office on and off when it first started, and it took a couple of seasons to finally find it’s groove. When I didn’t have evening classes or organization meetings, I would watch it back at my dorm room. During the summer between my undergraduate and graduate classes, I decided to watch the entire series, and I haven’t missed an episode since then.

A lot of people have said since Michael Scott left, the show hasn’t been the same, but how could it be? He was annoying, overbearing, and just a touch icky (just like Dean Pelton from Community), but Michael always meant well. No two characters could run the Dundler Mifflin Scranton branch the same way, but when the management story line was lacking, it gave secondary characters, like Nellie and Darrell, a chance to shine. After Michael left, I loved how they developed some of the other friendships within the office, like Phyllis and Stanley, and Oscar and Angela (and their “love” triangle with Robert, the senator). Of course, there were several episodes that made me wonder how this could possibly be an efficient business, considering they spent so much on-the-clock time doing non-businessy things, like a paper airplane contest, or almost any of the meetings in the conference room. Towards the end of the final season, I had mixed emotions about the documentary film crew becoming part of the show. I especially didn’t care for the the way the writers decided to throw a kink into my most perfect television romance. I know I wasn’t the only person that was upset with the Jim-Pam-Brian the film crew boom operator story line.

Pam and Jim’s relationship is the one by which I measure all other TV and movie relationships for two reasons: 1) it’s a fairly realistic evolution of a romance between two people; and 2) all of those sweet, thoughtful things Jim and Pam have said about and to each other never sounded scripted. You know? It never sounded like something a young adult romance author would have concocted, setting up 14 year old girls with false expectations of what love is. (See Edward Cullen.) No. Jim and Pam, through all of the awkwardness, the friend-zoning, and the unrequited love, and then finally marrying your best friend and building a family, are about as real as two TV characters can get. It doesn’t hurt that Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) is gorgeous. But it wasn’t just this relationship that was believable. All of the characters are relatable. Who hasn’t worked with a Stanley, or a Kevin, or, to varying degrees, a Dwight?

Since it ran for nine seasons, I can be comforted by the fact that it will be always be in syndication somewhere, and Hulu Plus has the entire series. The Office is like comfort food for me, but not in a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of way. (Do they still make those?) I always know where I can find it, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and good about people and love when I need a little pick-me-up. Well, great — putting it that way, it sounds just like a Chicken Soup book. Not what I intended. Buzzfeed made a list of 59 Reasons We’re Going to Miss The Office, and it basically sums up exactly how I feel about the show. There’s not much else I can say about my favorite former TV staple, so I guess I just want to say…

 

Source: The Office Tally. A lot of other fans wanted to say thanks, too.

“It’s like a long book you never want to end. And you’re fine with that, because you just never ever want to leave it.” – Pam Halpert (Take that, Stephanie Meyer!)

Why Imperfection and Silliness Are Valuable or What I Learned from Reading Fifty Shades of Grey

I’ve noticed a trend in my reading life. There are all these books that I discount when I first hear about them, thinking that I have no interest in reading them and that I never will. Often, this rule of thumb remains true. But, every once in a while, I break this rule and decide suddenly to give into the reading trend and read the popular book(s) that I initially thought I wouldn’t like.

This happened with The Hunger Games, and anyone who has read my previous posts knows I am now a big fan of that series. So, when I saw that my local library had a new, shiny, brilliant e-media catalog, I wanted to try it out.

So, this week I read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. All 1,800 pages of it. In four days.

Why, you ask?

Because I could.

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Now, let me just say before you start yelling and laughing that this post is not about how amazing the Fifty Shades of Grey books are. It’s not. Because, the books are not “amazing.”

As a discerning reader, the books have a lot of issues. If I had to read about main character Anastasia Steele’s personified subconscious and inner goddess one more time I might have screamed. I also often found myself wanting to slap some god-forsaken sense into Christian Grey’s skull. But, I have to admit — the books were entertaining, and whole hell of a lot of other things too (If you’ve read them, you’ll know what I mean).

But they weren’t literary gold.

And that’s okay. They don’t have to be

But that’s just the point that I want to make.

We live in a world that is often obsessed with merits. We are a population of critics. Movies and TV shows bomb because they aren’t “critically acclaimed.” Books and their authors are lambasted for bad writing, predictable plots, and unrealistic depictions. We constantly criticize ourselves and judge others for not fitting into a pre-determined mold.

The Fifty Shades of Grey books and their author, E L James are no stranger to this idea. Fifty Shades has been a phenomenon. Started as a Twilight-centric fan fiction homage and then reworked and self published in print, the trilogy gained immense attention. That attention and popularity grew so great that the trilogy was picked up by Vintage Books and published professionally. According to Amazon UK, the trilogy’s first book has outsold the combined sales of the Harry Potter series on their website.

So what’s my point?

The Fifty Shades of Grey series, regardless of how you feel about it, is an important of example of how perfection and value are not the same thing.

Level of success does not always correspond with level of talent.

Value is everywhere. You just have to drown out the critics to find it.

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Do What You Want

Life is short. Do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what others think or whether you think they’ll judge you. Embrace this idea in your everyday life, but also embrace it in your passions, in your dreams, and in your goals.

Want to travel the world? Make it happen. Want to be the next E L James and write steamy, NC-17 novels? Go right ahead. Want to be a book critic that points out all of the trilogy’s flaws? Do that instead.

I am a strong proponent of the idea that everything is a learning experience. Every single thing you do teaches you something, even if the lesson is to never do it again. When it comes to books, for example, no one has ever become stupider by ingesting information. The more you know, the more nuanced your perspective.

What you do has value. Whether it is silly, intellectual, crazy, world-changing, fun, or intensely creative. Value exists in all things.

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Never Underestimate Your Ability, Never Discount That Others May Admire It

Everyone is talented. We may not see immediately recognize our own talents, but they are there. Think about it. Do you waste time drawing instead of taking notes? Do you love to cook, but could care less about proper business accounting procedures? Your talent resides in what you inherently love. It lies in how you waste your time.

Tap into that. It could be a goldmine (and I don’t just mean monetarily).

E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series may have many flaws, but it is still entertaining. Those flaws and issues do not render its value moot. Even some of the most critically panned things are still feats of creativity in their own way. While James may have not suceeded in creating the perfect novel, she did create something that kept people (including myself) turning pages. And this did not only involve the books’ extremely naughty natures.

Don’t think that you are talentless. Don’t worry that because what you do is not the “absolute best” that it is worthless. Perfection isn’t a guarantee of anything. Think I’m kidding? Ask the Admissions offices of Harvard and Yale how many applicants with perfect SAT or ACT scores are NOT accepted every year.

Don’t think that something you create, something you enjoy has no value. Others may see immense value where you perceive none.

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So What If It’s A Silly Idea, Who Cares?

When I downloaded Fifty Shades of Grey earlier in the week, I said to myself, “This is so stupid. I really can’t believe I’m reading this.” But then, another part of me said, “So what? Read the damn book. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do like it, finish it.” So I did. And I did enjoy the book. I enjoyed all three of them. And yes, they are kind of silly, and a little weird, and definitely have A LOT more sex and profanity than I have ever encountered in reading material. But, so what?

Reading Fifty Shades of Grey may have been silly, but it got me thinking. It made me think about the how flaws do not negate value. It made me think enough to write this post.

The bottom line is that you never know what will make you think. The silliest, craziest, most random things can change your perspective or give new life to your thoughts. Never underestimate the value of doing something for fun.

Look at the Dames Who Dish blog. It wouldn’t be here if us four girls hadn’t decided to do something that we originally perceived as silly, and a little bit crazy, and a whole lot of fun.

So…

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A Few of My Favorite Things

You kids need to get out of my room.... you're all up in my personal space.

You kids need to get out of my room…. you’re all up in my personal space.

I’m not entirely sure how it’s December already. Summer doesn’t seem like it was so very long ago, and I can’t remember having a distinct “fall” season this year. I’m sure no one needs to tell you that all of this means that the holiday season is well under way. Christmas trees were on sale before Halloween, and radio stations started playing every version of “The Christmas Song” the week before Thanksgiving. To the Targets, Macy’s, Wal-Marts, and other retail stores of the world, I simply say,

Stop it. Just staaahp, please.

One of the songs I’ve noticed on the radio is “My Favorite Things,” which I had never actually considered to be a Christmas song. I just thought it was the song Maria sang when the Von Trapp kids were afraid of the rain. My cousin’s daughter is in love with The Sound of Music, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it. I recently read that Carrie Underwood will be playing the part of the rebellious nun-turned governess in NBC’s remake of The Sound of Music, which is scheduled to air sometime during the holiday season in 2013. (I think I’ll pass on that version.) The song made me think about a few of my favorite things, whether they’re cool products I’ve seen in stores, shows, holiday traditions, or other items… that rhyme with “things.” 😉

Bath & Body Work’s French Baguette Candle

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This candle is nothing short of amazing. It *literally* smells just like fresh-baked bread. Brian and my sister, Carmen, both make fun of me for my need to smell all the candles I see. I think it’s a tactile+smell thing; the act of picking up the candle and smelling it are soothing for me during a trip to a crowded mall. I’m sure you’ve smelled at least one candle in your life and thought to yourself, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living in between that space between the wax and the lid…” No? That’s just me? Ok, nevermind. Anyway, search for this one next time you’re in Bath & Body Works. You won’t be disappointed.

Adventure Time

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Is it weirdly animated? Yes. Is it aimed at young boys? Probably. But, over the past summer, I’ve become hooked on this cartoon. It’s about a boy named Finn and his magical dog, Jake, who encounter many strange adventures with plenty of odd characters in the Land of Ooo. Finn and Jake serve as the doers of good in Ooo, performing various knight-like tasks and protecting the citizens of Candy Kingdom, which is ruled by Princess Bubblegum. If my sister was a cartoon character, she would be Lumpy Space Princess.

Watching White Christmas

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White Christmas is one of the only holiday movies I actually enjoy watching. I remember my dad teaching me the song when I was little. Later on, one of my uncles introduced me to Bing Crosby, and I grew to appreciate the jazz standards. There’s something about the “Hey kids! Lets put on a show!” mentality that always seemed fun to me. When we were growing up, my sister and I would participate in “productions” with our cousins whenever they’d visit. They grew up on the other side of the world, so it was always a big event whenever they were here. One year, we performed our version of “The Nutcracker,” and I starred as Clara. White Christmas is a classic (and hello! Rosemary Clooney!), with so many great songs, including this one…

History Channel Series

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I’m fascinated by History Channel’s original programming, and this year, they really stepped up the game with Hatfields & McCoys, The Men Who Built America, and Mankind: The Story of All of Us. Hatfields & McCoys spurred my search this past summer into my family’s genealogy, since my mother’s family came from the same area in southern West Virginia where several events of this story unfolded. I really like how politicians, entrepreneurs and businessmen, news figures (like my manfriend, Brian Williams), and other public figures are used throughout the other series to help tell the story of the birth of America, the great wars, and the innovations that would change the world. Reruns of these shows are still better than new episodes of a lot of other shows.

Being Engaged!

my ring

I know, it’s on the wrong finger, we’re going to take it to get resized soon. I just really wanted to take it home to show my momma.

Yep, I’m engaged! The night before Thanksgiving, Brian made me a very happy gal and asked me to marry him. Two days before he asked me, I had interviewed for a part-time bridal consultant position, and after the interview, I met him for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. His fortune cookie wasn’t that great, but mine read “A good message is on it’s way to you.” Not twenty minutes later, I received a call from the store manager, offering me the position. I think my fortune cookie was extra-strength, since it held out for another few days. I’m beyond excited to spend the rest of my life with Brian, and I can’t wait to start planning, but first, I want to spend some time getting settled into my new job. Until then, I plan to start putting together my own wedding blog since I don’t want to overwhelm this blog with all of my wedding-related posts. (It’s a good thing I’ll be working at a place where I’ll be talking about weddings all the time.) Whenever that’s ready, I’ll share the link. I’m so happy that I’ll have my Dames by my side, too, along with my sister and best friend since pre-school, who is also in the process of planning her wedding. (All this wedding business makes that separate blog really necessary.) But anyway, yay!

What are some of your favorite things of the season? 

What Disney’s Buyout of Lucasfilm Means To Me

I can’t take the Dark Side seriously like this.

As I’m sure nearly everyone reading this has already heard, Disney has bought Lucasfilm from George Lucas for $4 billion, with plans to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015. I learned about the buyout this afternoon while I was listening to NPR. This was my immediate reaction:

I’ve seen some mixed reactions about this acquisition on Facebook, and while both sides make decent arguments, I’m firmly in the “this is a terrible idea” category. Let me explain why…

You see, the Star Wars franchise has always been something kind of sacred to me, as I’m sure it has been for countless other fans. I can vividly recall watching Episodes IV, V, and VI with my dad when I was five or six years old. (I also remember watching the Holyfield-Tyson fight with him. Having DirecTV had its advantages.) They set the standard for what “epic movie” meant to me. All of the quotable quotes, the instantly recognizable John Williams score, the Jim Henson-crafted characters… Even then, I knew that there was something important about these movies.

Han Solo was one of my first crushes. In fact, I even had a life-size cardboard cut out of him in my bedroom when I was in elementary school. However, Han isn’t the only good-looking, rugged character in the Lucas universe played by Harrison Ford. I can’t imagine what the Indiana Jones trilogy would have been like if Lucas and Spielberg had been able to hold on to Tom Selleck to play the bad boy professor/archaeologist, but CBS had him locked down for a TV show at the time. (Who would my mom have drooled over on Magnum P.I.?!) Dr. Jones probably definitely had a strong influence on 2nd grade me wanting to be an archaeologist. RaidersTemple of Doom (scary as it was for a little kid), and Last Crusade were all very important to me growing up, too.

The originals will always be classics for me, and I’m sure a lot of other fans understand what makes both of these franchises special. Personally, I hated the Star Wars prequels; they felt sort of… icky. (Jar Jar Binks, anyone?) I don’t know anyone who prefers Episodes I-III over IV-VI. However, I don’t have any opposition to Ewan McGregor as the younger version of Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. That worked just fine. Of course, there are all of the video games and animated shows and books that go along with Star Wars, but I feel, if anything, the video games and the animated shows get kids interested in the larger story. Brian has read a few of the books based on the movies, and it seems like they generally revere the original story line, staying true to the plot and characters. In 2008, another chapter was added to the Indy Jones story: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I only watched this because I felt obligated to do so, but I knew it was going to be terrible. I just didn’t know how terrible it was going to be. While several critics gave it good reviews, the film garnered a largely negative reaction from fans, earning it the 2008 Razzie Award for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off, or Sequel. Trey Parker and Matt Stone even shared their opinion of it in South Park‘s mid-12th season premiere with “The China Problem.” For those of you who aren’t fans of the show, I’ll just say that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were not very nice to Indiana Jones. Not nice at all.

Am I the only person who gets the idea of leaving well enough alone? The Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies clearly stood the test of time; studio execs know that fans will continue to throw money at the franchise regardless of how lame any of the sequels and prequels turn out to be. When does it stop? Disney should not have made Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I love the other three, but the fourth one was just bad. Almost all of the Disney “classics” I loved to watch when I was growing up have at least one straight-to-video sequel, but why? I think my disappointment over Disney’s buyout of Lucasfilms boils down to this: I don’t want to see Han Solo become a caricature of who he was to me when I was a kid. That’s exactly what happened with Jack Sparrow in the Pirates movies — he’s a joke. I’ve heard the argument about how Disney has done great things for the Marvel franchise, and I can agree with it, to a point. The Avengers was the second-best movie of the summer, behind The Dark Knight Rises, but were all of the others that (very quickly) led up to it (Thor, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk) really that great? It seemed like it was a “let’s get these back stories out as quickly as possible so we can release a summer blockbuster opposite Batman” situation. I have a hard time judging Iron Man, because, well… Robert Downey, Jr.

I know there’s no stopping the machine that is Disney. If they must, though, make more sequels, I hope they will take these 15 “do’s and don’ts” into consideration, especially the idea of bringing nerd king Joss Whedon into the mix and getting John Williams into a recording studio as soon as possible. Maybe, like this article from The Atlantic argues, Star Wars will survive whatever silly things Disney does to it. However, I can see one positive to Disney’s new purchase:

Disney will finally have a princess who can really kick some Stormtrooper keesteralthough as far as strong princesses go, Brave‘s Merida , Disney/Pixar’s latest princess, is still my favorite. (Even for a practical, liberated princess, I would still recommend having a tissue handy for this movie.) Besides, who knows? We may even get a follow-up to another Lucasfilm classic:

Ask Abbie, Part 1: Whatever You Do, Don’t Wear a Red Shirt; and, Keeping Up With the Cardassians

Last month, I reached out to my Facebook friends, asking for ideas for posts. It could be a topic they’d like me to discuss, or a question they might have for me. A few of my friends took me up on my challenge, and now, I’d like to weigh in on their questions.

Question from Marie M.: Will our future match up with Star Trek? Although, we already missed the Eugenics War, there could be a huge nuclear war in 2033.

Interesting thought! I love writing about topics that make me do in-depth research, and I’ve found a few things along the way that have made this question really enjoyable for me to consider. Let me answer your question with a question: When considering the current global political and social climate, would you consider yourself more optimistic or pessimistic about the future? Even if you don’t pay a whole lot of attention to politics, everyone has an opinion about it. But, if you’re asking me, my answer would be: No. It would be wicked cool, but no — although I can easily imagine a world transformed by a nuclear war. However, that nuclear war would have to cause a lot of social and political reform. Let me explain…

In my Googling for thoughts and evidence to support my position, I ran across an article on (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) Fox News that made perfect sense to me in this case. It discusses Bruce Willis’s new film, Looper, and what it tells us about the future. In it, the author, James Pinkerton, compares two possibilities for the future of America: the one of Star Trek and the one of Blade Runner. While we could look at the timeline of the franchise, starting with Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) since it is set closest to our own time, beginning in 2151, and find comparisons or probabilities for the future, to really answer the original question, we have to consider the existence of the franchise, period.

Existentialist Kirk wonders about his true essence… and also the location of his pants.

Created by Gene Roddenberry in 1964 and airing from 1966-1969, Star Trek came on the heels of JFK’s challenge to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. All that was space-y was in en vogue… just look at the fashions, home decor, and concept cars. It only makes sense that TV networks would want in on the action, too. (Lost in Space and The Jetsons, anyone?) The 1960s was obviously harbored plenty of optimism and general “Team America” spirit. The  space program enjoyed a great deal of support, which was fueled by a race against the Ruskies to reach the moon amid Cold War fears. Roddenberry, as Pinkerton points out, constructed a not-so-distant future where “the world would be safe and prosperous,” and Earth would join with other worlds in the United Federation of Planets. Several people who prefer more of an isolationist-style of foreign policy would liken this to a large scale, futuristic United Nations, and there’s the first point where all hopes of having a Star Trek future are dashed. Since William Shatner first uttered those immortal opening lines at the beginning of the original series, the world has witnessed several wars and acts of terrorism, leading one to believe, as Pinkerton states, that Earth just isn’t ready to lead a federation like that. Also, while we have recently seen excitement over space exploration with the landing of the Mars Curiosity rover earlier this summer, NASA will be faced with huge budgetary cuts through the next several years. 

Would you just look at those eyebrows?!

The other reason why our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren won’t be marrying Vulcans or Klingons in the future is that the United States, as a whole, isn’t that great at math and science. According to the National Science and Math Initiative, “U.S. students recently finished 25th in math and 17th in science in the ranking of 31 countries by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.” Issues of funding plague all levels of education, from elementary schools all the way through colleges and universities. American students have a hard time competing globally when text books are outdated and materials and equipment are either scarce or in serious need of upgrades. Young girls and women need more encouragement to explore the sciences; when more people are able to contribute to innovations in the STEM fields, I believe we’ll see our global rankings go up. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration announced the “creation of a new, national STEM Master Teacher Corps comprised of some of the nation’s finest educators in STEM subjects.” The growing career fields that will spur American innovation in the future will require the knowledge and skills gained from studying the sciences. Heralding this commitment to STEM education, President Obama said “If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible. Teachers matter, and great teachers deserve our support.” If, someday, we can crack the top ten in those rankings, we may have a shot at making Star Trek a reality.

I will use any excuse to include a picture of Captain Kirk.

So there’s my argument. While it might be really cool to explore the galaxies on a ship three times the length (height?) of the Eiffel Tower, I just don’t know that it will happen. I don’t entirely agree with his underlying sentiment, but Pinkerton thoroughly sums it up at the end of his article:

And yet at a time when politics seems like a downer and the popular culture seems even more down-bound, it will take more than hope to change the future to a better course for America and for humanity.  Each and every optimist will have to stand up and do something positive and constructive toward that better course.   To borrow a phrase from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” we will all have to do our part to “make it so.”

While doing my research, I came across a few entertaining bits, including an analysis of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy triad as the Ego, Super Ego, and Id. Having minored in psychology in college and being particularly fond of Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, I thought it was great. (I always felt that Kirk was more of the Id, considering he romanced a life form on almost every planet.) However, while studying the highly detailed timeline that intertwines each series, down to the episode, I came across a species with which I was unfamiliar. Admittedly, I’ve only watched The Original Series because I’m a huge fan of William Shatner and I love the 60s kitsch of it all, so I’m not familiar with other crews. The species I encountered was the Cardassians, and, you guessed it… my mind went immediately to “Kardashian.” Therefore, I will from now on imagine this is what the Kardashians must look like without their makeup:

Next, on Keeping Up With the Cardassians…

But reading about this extra-terrestrial species, there are some similarities. Compared to many other humanoid Star Trek races, Cardassians prefer warmer and darker climates. I like to assume the Kardashian equivalent is being in “da club,” as it were. Cardassians tend to be predatory in nature, like wolves always seeking a dominant position in social gatherings. In normal courting behavior, Cardassian couples routinely act bitter and snap at each other. (Five minutes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians will back this up.) I’ll never be able to listen to that show for background noise the same way ever again.

How’s my argument of why our descendants will probably never get to wear cadet uniforms? Agree? Disagree? I want to hear your thoughts! If you have a topic you’d like for me to discuss, or even have a question you’d like to ask, leave it in the comment section.