Daily Prompt: Can’t Stand Me

First of all, what an empathetic title. I’m not sure I approve, really. It sounds a bit too emo-kid for me. However, it does take me right back to Stand By Me.

But I am responding to the Daily Prompt  who asked:

What do you find more unbearable: watching a video of yourself, or listening to a recording of your voice? Why?

I used to find listening to recordings of my own voice quite difficult. My personal idiolect and inflections used to jar so much in my ears. I wanted my voice to be softer, more elegant… perhaps more lyrical.

As I’ve grown older, this is no longer something I worry about. I am more comfortable in my own skin and have grown less sensitive to how others might think of me. A small amount of awareness of your own impact on the lives of strangers is good, but as they say: those who mind, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t mind. I like to think that the people who really appreciate the nuances of my voice are the ones who get to hear it often, whether it is lyrical or not. Hopefully they will Stand By Me. Heh? Heeh? Hah.

 

 

 

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A review in two parts – Girl Most Likely

Mid-way through, exactly 43 minutes into the film:

From the onset, I felt like ringing up Kristen Wiig and ranting at her. Thankfully/ unfortunately, I don’t have her number so I will rant on here instead. I loved Bridesmaids, it was witty, vulgar and even a little bit heart-warming at times. The main plotline was centred on female friendship and it also was a nice little screenshot of austerity era, where the heroine is unemployed and living with her mum (a storyline I personally know rather well) with no real resolution or happy ending on that front. It was the perfect modern comedy.

So I have always looked out for Kristen Wiig and began her movies with an open mind. This is probably why Girl Most Likely made me quite angry. Wiig plays Imogene, which is pronounced as an irritating, toe-curling “Eemojean” a woman who is so distraught by her Dutch boyfriend moving out of their apartment, she loses her job and fakes a suicide attempt, which sets up the premise of her having to move back in with her mum. Wiig pulls off that “suddenly down-and-out” look brilliantly, but I actually object to the comedy of the situation just described. I find that it’s just really, really sad that she pretends to pop pills for a boyfriend who doesn’t even show up to check she’s okay. Worse still, she dreams about him turning up and proposing, which apparently leads to marriage and babies Of course, as a woman, this is all Imogene really wants.

There are illusions to her amazing father and a fairly unsubtle theme of “home” that is forced down our throats pretty much constantly through the first half of the film. The first line is “There’s no place like home” for crying out loud. Her brother has a collection of snails and crabs because he’s jealous of their ability to carry their homes on their backs. The cop who remembers her (before arresting her) had wanted to take her to home-coming when they were teenagers.

Now, I can spot a set-up when I see one. The dodgy, unreasonable and floozy mum has had a tricky time bringing up Imogene and her brother as a single mother. The idealised father is going to turn out to be anything but. The home town isn’t going to be as terrible as she remembers it. Perhaps she’s going to pull some gusto out of her arse that she never even knew she had and a write an award-winning screen play. Almost definitely, she’s going to have a bit of a fling with that much younger, hunky lodger from Glee.

Now I’ve made my predictions, let’s see if I’m correct…

 

The end. Credits roll. Funky music is played:

Of course there is redemption. And I truthfully don’t mind that. I actually don’t want to haul out the spoilers so I’m not going to comment on what actually does happen in the second half. It didn’t surprise me, but I did end up quite enjoying it.

There are some splendid moments. I really appreciated the little witty details that really made up the film; Imogene having to dress in her eighties teenager clothes throughout; her brother’s obsession with crabs and the puns that arise from them; her face during the Backstreet Boys tribute act and the little echoes of this that follow later in the film.

I suppose by setting up the film with such an appalling premise, it provides room for it to be disproved. The heroine does get her happy ending, but it’s not the happy ending that she imagines for herself during her fake suicide fantasy. Good for her.

*****

I have never written a review in two parts before and it does actually seem to be quite an interesting thing to do. By stopping in the middle to write this, I really managed to analyse the attitudes that I had at the beginning of the film and how they then developed. Obviously, I had a completely different impression of the movie half way through as I did at the end; it’s fascinating to see how a story can take you with it and in a way, provide you with a happy ending too (even if it is just not a negative opinion of what I’d just spent the last two hours of my life doing!)

I haven’t changed anything I wrote in the first half, apart from the normal proofread, so the predictions are those that were made at the time and I have not confirmed how they went either way. So feel free to watch it and see for yourself. 

Istanbul, flats and Modern Art

Istanbul is a lovely city. Whenever I try and think of ways to describe it, “balmy”, “atmospheric” and “bustling” pop into my head every time. It truly is each of these things, but it is also very touristy. We did stay in Sultanahmet though so didn’t really wander into the city proper. The streets of Sultanahmet are windy and hilly and full of shops selling Turkish delight and restaurants serving Mezze and kebap. It’s not a place of hidden wonders, mainly due to it having rather large wonders directly on display. The blue mosque hogs the skyline as does the Haghia Sofia (definitely the more interesting of the two!) and everywhere you go, you’re offered boat trips on the Bosphorus.

I pride myself on being a light packer, so when I eventually caught up with the girls (after an incident where we all waited at Aksaray for varying amounts of time to meet up, to discover later we were on opposite sides of the road) I boasted that my luggage only weighed 8 kilos.

“Look at me!” I said. “I am surely the proficiando of packers, a practical contortionist of luggage making and my suitcase is as light and airy as I am not.” (NB: Is proficiando a word?)

“Well,” my friends replied. “That’s very impressive.” *Cue good-natured eye-rolling*

But yes, I was very proud. Especially in limiting myself to two pairs of shoes. On my solo adventure to the apartment, I soon discovered that the shoes I had worn on the flight were not going to be suitable at all. I love them and wear them religiously in the UK, but then in the UK I’m not constantly walking up and down hills throughout the day. It’s also not incredibly hot and therefore I’m not tortured by foot sweat that causes this particular pair of shoes to rub and cut into my feet in cruel and imaginative ways. Well, good on me for having spontaneously bought a pair of sandals the day before the holiday, the only thing I actually bought to purpose. They were flat and had minimum straps so logically, would rub minimally. Definitely a plus!

No. Flat shoes? Just no. Istanbul is one of the hilliest, slopiest, up-and-down-iest cities I have ever visited. By the end of the first whole day, my ankles were physically screaming so loud that I’m sure passers-by were beginning to hear them. My heels burnt like I was balancing my entire body weight on top a pile of burning coals. But my pride? My pride hurt most of all.

For of course, if one boasts about one’s amazing packing skills and then realises that one must eat one’s words before the first day was out, it is sure to point out that one is a bit of a plonker.

Not wanting to let the girls down by whining constantly (I managed intermittently instead) and unwilling to buy a cheap pair of shoes at tourist prices, I soldiered on.

This did lead to a rather amusing incident later on. After a day of walking, we finished our sightseeing at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Now, I quite like modern art. (Not contemporary modern, mind you, but classic modern… I’m getting a bit confused with my own definitives but I’m sure you understand my meaning.) We went the wrong way and were subjected to the modern-modern-modern art first. This included a lot of wacky sculptures and video exhibitions amongst the expected plethora of canvas and such. I soon began to look out for the videos because they would take place in darkened nooks that were sectioned off with heavy red curtains away from the rest of the gallery. It was enough to put up with the “art” behind those curtains just to sit on the comfy seats and afford my heels a temporary feeling of weightlessness. I kept an eye out for the curtain and at every opportunity, I would dash behind it, seemingly an avid fan of the video concept art. It was so lovely; to sit in comfort in the cool, dim darkness; to curl up and feel my eyes grow heavy…

Yes, dear reader, I fell asleep.

Inappropriate Laughter

So I’m playing about with prose writing. Let’s see how much alliteration, unusual ad/verbs and bizarre similes I can throw into a shortie. 

***

The dusty, red road rolled beneath them. Windows open, hair streaming, car lurching; they rocketed on. A few hours before they were in the air; falling and tumbling in a wholly different way, waiting for that sharp, chest jolting yank that would suddenly halt their descent. There they would be, as if hanging from an invisible thread or perhaps, at the end of a yoyo, legs dangling and arms scrambling through the safety measures before the open ground below loomed too close.

On the road to Seville (seemingly bare of orange trees) the wind rushed by, blasting in through the windows and tossing the hair of the passengers as they were being tossed in their seats. The driver was driving too fast, and the car, unused to such treatment on roads barely more than dirt tracks, bumped up and down in a far too energetic manner. The backseat was occupied by three young women, high on left over adrenaline, expectations and speed. They would have been bouncing even if the road had been as smooth and safe as the face of a prepubescent boy.

Encouraged by the laughter and energy behind him, the driver accelerated more, so the passengers occasionally felt weightless. Only held in place by their seatbelts, they would crash back down after every jolt. Faster and faster they went, and the car shuddered and skidded accordingly. The dust splashed up like ocean spray beneath the tyres as they slipped and suddenly, they were off the road and heading towards an innocent (not-an-orange) tree. Everyone was screaming, bar one girl who took it upon herself to laugh. The sort of laugh that was high pitched, adrenaline fuelled, completely out of control and loving it. The sort of laugh that would have caused everyone else to question her sanity, if they hadn’t been busy screaming (as they would later.) It was over in less than thirty seconds. The car had skidded off the road, narrowly missed the tree and almost rolled before being pulled to a refreshingly sharp stop. The screams halted when the engine did and became mingled with sighs of a relief and the be-stilling of too quickly beating hearts. Not the laughter. The laughter continued and echoed down the road as the rest of the passengers trudged back towards the tree, searching for missing bits of bumper.

To Snap(or-not-to)chat

Cybersex aside *cough cough*, Snapchat seems a bit pointless to me. Maybe it’s just that I’m one year too old or something, but it appears that a lot of my friends and I have missed out on this particular craze.

Is it just an exception? Based on our particular social backgrounds, level of education and career standing? Or is it just that we’re getting over the hill and we’re no longer going to be keeping up with the trends.

I personally suspect that it’s a combination of the two, although I quite enjoy pulling stupid faces at my bestie, seeing as she lives an hour or so away and I don’t want her to forget what my stupid face looks like. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve been going on Snapchat a little more frequently due to one thing. Online dating.

Now I have mentioned before that I am on Tinder, the casual dating app that’s all the range right now (I’m at least up to scratch with that trend!) I was originally quite wary about giving out my details to the guys I came into contact with on there but as I have grown in confidence, I have also slacked off in keeping aloof and secure. Snapchat seemed like a good way to gingerly step up the communication. It was a level up from tindering but a level down from long emails or meeting face to face, seeing as you’re limited to a few characters or 14 seconds of video. It was a good way to see what the other person looked like behind those carefully selected profile pictures as well as if they could offer up any good one liners.

I still think that Snapchat is an acceptable mode for this pre-communication malarkey, but now I think that after you’ve met them, it should be put to bed until you’ve literally gone to bed with them.

Afterall, Snapchat is basically a way of giving your recipient a quick glance at your face or whatever is in front of you. When you’re at that middle stage where you still want to compose your face into attractiveness or have a meaningful conversation, it’s not the thing to use. Snapchat is for taking pictures of your cups of tea with the comment “Jealous?” attached, or pulling the most horrendous expressions imaginable. Otherwise, it is not an acceptable form of communication and it is certainly not the place to have a proper conversation.

I found myself going on several dates with a guy last month who seemed to think that it was a good idea to make conversation on Snapchat. What I realised about this was that it was really quite boring. We went from quite long messages on Facebook to limiting ourselves to a sentence or less with a photo attached. It just felt a little backwards to me and it became apparent that it must have been because we had very little to say to each other. Inevitably, it did not work out. *PHEW*. 

Roaring Laughter… in Istanbul

On Saturday, I got back from a week long holiday to Istanbul  with three friends from university. It was a holiday like I’ve never taken before, specifically because I have not been working.

The last seven months have been incredibly hard for me, not in a my-life-is-over kind of way, but more to do with how difficult it is to remain upbeat and maintain your sense of self when you are out of work. It was my own decision to come back from Vietnam in December. I planned the month so that I could spend Christmas with my family after not being able to do so the year before and I was fully aware of the problems I might face in finding a job in my parent’s area. It was also my choice to stay local and I have very little doubt that things would have been different if I had packed up and moved to a city immediately after the Christmas holidays were over, but I didn’t and so I struggled. 

My three friends mentioned the holiday in January-ish time and I was a little bit wary about saying I would go without a source of income lined up. In March, it was time to book the flights so I thought “what the hell” and went with it, never considering that I might still be unemployed when July rolled around. 

Unfortunately, my gamble did not completely pay off and I will be deliberately vague about this as this post is supposed to be about laughter (http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/roaring-laughter/)

So I jetted off to join my friends with the knowledge that I was being impractical and partaking of a luxury, which I can not afford currently. 

However, I am immensely glad that I went. It was fantastic to spend a prolonged period of time with my friends and wear out our feet whilst drinking copious amounts of tea and getting mysterious patches of sun burn. On the last night, after a day at the Grand Bazaar buying lamps and Turkish delight, we ended up heading down from the roof to bed. But for some reason, we ended up taking tons of extremely silly photographs while one of us shouted out a pose (such as: “You’re a tiger! You’re a hipster! You’ve just let Jack slip off the door frame and sink into the deep, black Atlantic Ocean…” It was hilarious and exhilaratingly funny in a way that only doing something incredibly silly can be. 

Sometimes it’s necessary to put practicality aside and do things that will make you feel better. I definitely needed some carefree time in the sun, laughing about red pandas and snow leopards (sorry, inside joke.) Logically, unemployment can’t last forever, especially if you’re a reasonably clever graduate with a thimble full of drive, but whole weeks of silliness and sightseeing only occur every so often. And now for the soppy part: I have a lot of love for those girls. I’m already looking forward to the next time we share some silly giggles. 

Expat Lit: Snowdrops vs The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul

Having been an expat myself, I do quite enjoy a good piece of literature that focuses on the subject. I’m a massive, raving Graham Greene fan and I always think of him when I consider what makes a good expat book. He weaves a gritty, witty tale, and my favourite: The Quite American, is set in Saigon, which is also where I spent my own period of exile as an expat. I am going to save my analysis of that particular novel for another day because for now I would really like to focus on two novels of the expat genre that I just happened to read consecutively (also, while on holiday!) and my thoughts of them.

First, I took up Snowdrops by A.D Miller, which my mum thrust on me when she realised that she had accidentally returned the book I was planning on taking with me on the plane to the library. I feel that it is necessary to point out that I didn’t choose this book after having been swayed by the blurb, the cover or the quotes from good reviews. One in particular stood out: ‘Reads like Graham Greene on steroids.’ Yes, indeed, I do love Graham Greene! The steroids part I was less sure about but I assume they meant that the writing is a bit more muscled and good at lifting weights. Interesting wording but it was taken from a Daily Mail review so what can you do.

Snowdrops centres on Nick, a lawyer who lived in Moscow and did a few suspect things after being seduced by the young and sexy Masha. Nick is 38 to Masha’s 24/5 and their relationship is the main theme to the novel. I quite liked that it is structured as if being a confession to Nick’s new fiancé but overall I found that the story itself did not live up to its promise, and I found the end quite underwhelming. Miller is a great writer of description, but his characters fall a bit flat and I would not dare to say that his writing is comparable to Greene’s. Like in The Quite American, the aging expat man falls for a much younger, stunningly beautiful ‘native’ woman who offers up her body eagerly while she remains emotionally mysterious and unknown. Maybe it’s because I have spent some time observing this sort of relationship in Vietnam, but I find this distasteful. As a young woman myself, I do not actually like being privy to a man’s psyche when it comes to this sort of thing, as it suggests that men are so weak that they can be manipulated completely by the promise of sex and despite lots of things, I don’t actually want to think the worst of men. The scene where Nick and Masha consummate their relationship for the first time, I found particularly jarring. During a dinner date, where they are accompanied by Masha’s friend Katya, they refer to a trip the girls had taken to Odessa. They offer to show Nick the pictures, which incidentally happen to be on Katya’s phone.

“The next was just Masha. It showed her taking a picture of her reflection in a wardrobe mirror: she was standing with one hand on her hip, the other hand holding the phone so it obscured a quarter of her face. In the mirror she was wearing red bikini knickers and nothing else.

I sat back in my chair and asked whether they’d like to come to my apartment for some tea.”

Urgh. I will not criticise the writing style for this episode, it’s effective and concise. But damn, it makes me feel uncomfortable. It screams about the visual power of appearance that a lot of us women try and deny, and shrinks the man down to a slave of his libido (possibly the whole point of the narrative.) The rest of the plot comes secondary to the representation of sexual power play in their relationship, which is why I found the actual point of Nick’s confession underwhelming.

Moving on, the second book that I attacked during my holiday was Deborah Rodriguez’s The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul. Set in Afghanistan, it centres around five women: two Americans, two Afghans and one Brit. The main protagonist is Sunny, a woman from a backwater town in the US, who had originally moved to Kabul with her boyfriend and then started up a coffee shop. Halajan is the owner of the building, Yazmina is a victimised widow who is rescued from destitution by Sunny, Candace is an ex-wife of an ambassador and a fundraiser, and Isabelle is a freelance journalist. Each woman plays a different role in the story, and the way they are linked together can be at times, both endearing and frustrating. The Little Coffee Shop is nothing like The Quiet American. It is not a thriller, does not have one central protagonist and does not depict a central interracial relationship. However, it does have a key theme of romance, where several of the characters get their happy endings, although it is offset by a tablespoon of tragedy.

I had a quick look on Goodreads (my 2014 reading target is 60 books. I’m 25 in. Just thought you’d like to know…) and I was surprised by the cutting reviews that Rodriguez received. Most of the criticisms were that it was a bit twee, read like chic lit and was not as good as Khaled Husseini’s own depictions of Afghanistan. I will go ahead and say that I partially agree with all those claims but I would go further and suggest that they do not make it a bad book. I always wonder how much the fact that the author is female affects the editing and marketing of the book. The Little Coffee Shop has certainly been put up as chic-lit, just based on the title and the front cover, which has a similar style to lots of other pieces of chic-lit that are out there. It also shares the theme of female friendship and has a happy ending involving weddings and reunions.

NOTE: Now, I will be an interactive narrator and admit that I just had to fight the urge to start my next sentence with: “Despite this…” What’s wrong with happy endings and stories about friendships? I feel that we almost always dismiss these themes as non-serious, but what makes them not as effective as thrillers that are marketed as being very serious. A question for another day.

The Little Coffee Shop also delves into the darker world of the constant threat of terrorism and how it affects the lives of the normal Afghan people and foreigners who are stalwartly and determined to survive. There is a strand that exposes the shame and violence inflicted on women who dare to be different or break the rules and another strand that looks into the attitudes of the older Afghan generation who have had to adapt to the surging levels of religious extremism of the pre and post-Taliban years.

***************

Why have I chosen to discuss these two novels in the same breath, resulting in two rather vague and spacey semi-reviews? The reason for the vagueness is due to not wanting to put any spoilers in as this is not an academic essay. The reason for the comparison is down to the fact that they both are about a foreigner living away from their home country, much like I did. I was struck by the different levels of enjoyment that I experienced while reading them despite the common theme. Snowdrops is arguably the better written and structured, despite the disappointing climax (pun intended) and The Little Coffee Shop is splattered with clichés and rather stereotypical characterisations. However, I actually enjoyed the latter more. I liked the optimism and the sensitive treatment of the Afghan culture. Rodriguez does go into the negativities of life in Kabul but by far the most heart-warming (even if flawed) parts of the novel are focused on Yazmina, Halajan and the other Afghan characters; their attitudes towards trying to live their lives and celebrate their small victories. The narrative might be a bit basic and the foreign characters a little bit contrived, but the overall message is optimistic and relatively positive towards Afghanistan. Snowdrops on the other hand is a cold novel, cold as the easy metaphor of snow covering Moscow for the duration of the major action of the plot (the metaphor being that it blankets the city like Masha covers Nick’s eyes to the truth.) It is a thriller so this is not all that surprising and it is by no means the worse thriller I’ve ever read, but it is just a bit samey. I’ve read about lonely, middle-aged men falling for young, beautiful women before and getting their arses bitten and I don’t feel that this added anything new to the formula. I have also mentioned that I was disappointed by the ending, so it wasn’t saved by a good plot twist. Snowdrops is a novel that strives to depict a general atmosphere of seediness, corruption and negativity and for summarising’s sake, I actually think it needed a little bit of light, like in The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul.