Another Day, Another Year

What’s an end-of-the year blog without an end-of-the-year list? I’ve tried to fill 2010 with a lot of history—from great trips with my family to intelligent conversations with colleagues in San Francisco, Austin and Portland. At every step I’ve learned a little bit more about life, and a little bit more about myself. Below is a list of my top 3’s for the year. Some, like my music picks, are not necessarily from songs released in this year—but since they were new to me, I’m going to count them anyway. Others on the list you might recognize from other posts on this site.

Top 3 Books
Faithful Place by Tana French
French’s third book in the Dublin murder squad series is gritty and gripping, raw and emotional all at the same time. (Like how I used those adjectives without telling you anything?) Anyway if you like great mysteries that are well written check out this book. While reading In the Woods and The Likeness might be helpful it isn’t 100% necessary.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
History. Science. All with a very clear consequence for every individual in the United States and abroad. And all due to one woman whose life changed forever with her death.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
Like I said some of these picks that are new to me—but after watching the BBC/PBS adaptation I had to read the real thing. Dickens, while always providing a dearth of genius does an amazing job showing the shifts between the rich and the poor—and the circumlocution office is just icing on the cake. Not to mention the vivid detail and characters in all walks of life.

Top 3 History Fun
I wrote a lot about these three experiences on this blog. I learned much about the western immigrant experience in San Francisco, saw how you can tell the story of times past through the remains of ordinary people, and catch a unique vision of America (one that is cleaned, up and brightly colored). For that I choose Angel Island, Written in the Bone, and Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Top 3 Music Picks
Rodrigo y Gabriella: Awesome strains of drifting guitar, rich in melodic sounds and rhythmic beats.

O’ Children by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: This song was featured in the latest Harry Potter movie, but once I downloaded it I found it entirely engrossing in texture as his voice mixed with the chorales.

Wicked Soundtrack: I am a sucker for musicals and while I did love my purchases this year of the latest Green Day CD I found this to be the album that I am in love with the most. Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel’s voices are remarkable and for a show with such a fantastic message you can’t go wrong with a song about fighting gravity.

Top 3 Television Picks
Fringe: How can you go wrong with parallel worlds and creepy X-files like cases. What really brings in this show, however is the phenomenal acting this season by Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv and John Noble. I know many are all about the awesomeness of cable, but sometimes its shows like this that can tell a story within network constraints that I love.

Masterpiece Theatre (Little Dorrit, Wallander, Sherlock): All three of these mini-series were at the highest caliber of storytelling. Little Dorrit, as I mentioned above, is one of the classics; Wallander had gripping mysteries with an awesome soundtrack (and Kenneth Branagh blew it out of the park); and Sherlock which looked at the classic stories with a modern day slant.

Lost Season 6 Finale: I know this was a controversial ending for those who once loved the show, but even now months after the finale I can say I loved the ending for the series. I’ll admit that there were times this last season that it was clunky and could have had a tighter narrative, but it ended just as I would have wanted it to. Most of what I said right after the episode aired still holds here.

Top 3 Movies
My top three movies for the year are all fairly popular ones. The first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was amazing. While the book is still superior, there were elements of the film that had me emotionally involved, not to mention mesmerized (the scene where we are told the story of the Three Brothers). In the same vein Inception proves that you don’t need 3D to tell a story, and to be an excellent entertaining film. The fight in the hotel hallway is probably one of my favorite parts. Lastly, what can we say about Toy Story 3 that others haven’t already said. Any animated movie that can have you at the edge of your seats and cheering has my vote.

Now while this is a top 3 list, I do have to also give props to my favorite Hindi film of the year—3 Idiots which was compelling, and funny at the same time (though some of the songs could have been more memorable), and Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Invictus were excellent.

And the rest….

I’ve also had the chance to see some pretty great theatre. As a season ticket holder for the Shakepeare Theatre I was blown away by The Liar and more recently Candide. I also saw Wicked in early January and as I mentioned with the soundtrack the actual musical was beyond words.

Which brings me to 2011. What are my resolutions for the coming year? Well I hope to work on my two National Novel Writing Month projects—cleaning them up, tightening characters which will in turn help with my overall attempts at fiction writing. I also would really like to try my hand at learning Hindi, a language that I’ve never quite grasped, despite hearing it at home for most of my life. I am also looking forward to working on an exciting archive project not to mention my New Year’s Resolutions for preservation. I’ve also realized that this blog is now over a year old—so happy birthday blog!

Add to the list! Tell me what your best ofs for 2010 are, or what your new years resolutions are.

Farewell Twenty-Ten
I guess I knew you when
And while this year was not great
I’d like to think, not the worst to date
But 2011, here we come
Looking for brighter skies, and then some
With something for the spirit too
After all, I’ve got all of you

Happy New Year!!

LOST…..and Found

Note: Below are spoilers for the entire series of LOST. Specifically the Series Finale “The End.”

Dharma: Performing one’s duty, or the path to enlightenment.


At the end of tonight’s episode there was a window, a fragment of stained glass each with a series of symbols, the iconography/visual culture of spirituality. The icons of faith.

Inside this church, inside the building that, in the real world, housed the Lamppost, waited a Shepherd, Christian who watched for his son so that he could reveal the truth. So that their love could bring, finally, some enlightenment, some answers….that death comes to us all, and with it the ability to move on.

He said:

The most important part of your life was the time you spent with these people. Nobody does it alone. You needed all of them and they needed you.

Which I think is, in the end the ultimate message of the series. That the murder, the anger, the decisions, the choices, the manipulations were real. That evil was evil, but that it had made a choice to be evil, and that choice had consequences. When Desmond finally looked at Jack and said, “Nothing matters,” our consummate man of Science reached out to remind Desmond with newfound faith that “No. All of this matters.” That you have a duty to the people that surround you, that your actions and reactions are all a part of your personal history. Everything is real, and yes ““No shortcuts, no do-overs, what happened, happened.”

Here is what LOST meant to me.

Breaking Barriers

When LOST first started six years ago one of the best things included how it took the time to step beyond the archetypes. We had a murderer, a thief, a conman, an addict, the abusive Asian man, the submissive Asian woman, the terrorist, the spoiled brat, the handsome leading man doctor, the priest,and comedic fat man. You name it, LOST had it.

Of course over the course of the series, those archetypes fell away—sometimes creating new ones, but other time creating competing viewpoints and actions that stretched the imagination. We learned through shared experience that Sun and Jin had once been in love, that their history had pulled them apart after they fought so much to stay together. We read a letter by a little boy to the man who destroyed his life and watched as he shot that man dead, and stood by as our comedic man who never seemed to lose weight became a leader in his own right.

Most of all what this final episode shows is that sometimes what we see is not what we get. That every individual comes with a shared history, and that sometimes we cannot understand how to fix that history until we pass on into another existence….which is all the more reason why we should take care with the time we are given.

Another science fiction show that ended this year claimed, that “everything has happened before, and everything will happen again.” It looked at the flaws of humanity and claimed that the lessons will be learned eventually, but that we live in a continual cycle until that end point is achieved, if ever.

LOST, saw “the end” as a fixed point. That what intrigued us for six years was the story of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Jin, Sun, Hurley, Miles, Lapidus, Claire, Charlie, Mr. Eko, Rose, Bernard, Desmond, Penny, Libby, Hurley, Ana Lucia, Michael, Walt, John Locke, Benjamin Linus and of course Vincent—and that for them those experiences were about trying to make a fresh start, that when faced with an inescapable situation some were able to believe in themselves and break free, while others consciously had to take the bomb and save those who he had come to love in order to find redemption.

While I don’t believe that the sideways world or the island were purgatory per-se, I do see them as weigh stations, one in life and one in death that allowed our castaways to finally be true to themselves and yes….move on.

On Mysteries, Hatches, Whispers and Ghosts

I think out of everything that happened in the 2.5 hour finale, the mysteries are what got short-shrift. We learned about the whispers, we learned about the island, but in the end we, as an audience, were expected to take those solutions on faith. To not ask answers to questions that can only be answered with more questions. While many of our characters were scientists, they lived within a world of coincidences and miracles—each a number on a compass, possible guides to the future of the island.

This is probably what is going to anger many viewers, but I think that I can live without these answers. That a series of events led each of these passengers on Oceanic 815 to the island so that they could remake themselves and pass “through the looking glass,” and into the light.

This confluence of science and science-fiction, faith and religion is, to some extent, a reflection of our actual reality. That we live in a world full of contradictions and hypocrisies. That we can have faith, but be faithless—or believe in the existence of God and Evolution at the same time. That the search for answers to miracles and mysteries can be obstacles to actually looking yourself in the mirror and changing your life.

We saw this with Jack and Locke, time and time again as they became obsessed with pushing a button, hunting down the others, searching for water, food, or some method off the island. In each case these hatches and mysteries which were all pieces of investigation for the Dharma Initiative, were also steps in each heroes journey (to pull from Joseph Campbell) to achieving dharma the path to enlightenment.

Good versus Evil

In all good science fiction and fantasy there is a struggle between dark and light, good and evil. Up until this season good has been personified by our castaways, with ultimate evil coming in the shape of one Henry Gale/Benjamin Linus. I’m going to miss Ben Linus—and while I’m glad that in the end he found his own sort of peace and happiness it is difficult to actually forgive a man so heinous with his actions (don’t forget he in essence committed genocide on the Dharma Initiative). That being said I think he is the key figure in the overall LOST conversation about redemption. That in the end, he chose to wait outside, to wait to atone a little bit longer speaks volumes for Benjamin Linus’ changes over the length of the series.

Of course in the last three seasons that duality was replaced with that of the Man in Black and Jacob, and the island itself—sitting on a well of darkness that if destroyed would let forth all the evil into the universe. Take it, or leave it, but this idea that someone had to protect the island, that someone had to in the end sacrifice their off-island destiny was ultimately “the point” of the entire LOST experience didn’t feel real until Jack leaped towards Flocke on the top of the mountain to finally kill the Man in Black. I keep coming back to other science-fiction tropes that at one point the hero has to descend into the well of darkness to find his way out again. That some come out forever changed, while others become that darkness, they become Darth Vader or even Gollum whose need and greed for the “one ring to rule them all” pushed him over the edge and into Mount Doom. That being said like all mythical “good” figures mistakes were made along the way—and I am convinced that Jacob was a figure of malevolence in his own right. That we had to know his story so that we could understand Jack’s is clear—but I think that Ben stated it quite clearly in “The End” when he told Hurley that in effect they did not have to play by Jacob’s rules any more. They could chart their own destiny their own fate.

This show had it all, it had the overarching evils, mixed in with more personal, realistic choices between right and wrong, good and bad (or in some cases bad-ass). After the darkness follows the light and that’s what we got with the sideways world—which in the end was ultimately about humanity.

Science Fiction: Faith in the Narrative

I am an apologist. Which means I am willing to accept contradictions and things that just don’t seem to make sense (sometimes finding ways to get them to make it work as Tim Gunn likes to say). So it probably won’t surprise many of you that the most important part of this series was the story—that the world building and the emotional joyride we’ve been on for six years was made all the more stronger by the other-worldly environment. That a show about a group of castaways wouldn’t have worked in this day and age without the mysterious, science fiction elements. Now I’m not going to give everything a pass, since there were points where we seemed to veer off course (the temple, which I suppose in hindsight was an integral part of Sayid’s journey to self-realization.) but this story could not have been this story without the polar bears, the hatches, the fantastical methods to push us to look beyond the fabric of reality and see that unexpected things can occur to ordinary people. In doing so the narrative gave us something that I’ve never gotten in any other television series to date—a window into a truer reality one where love, faith and reason trumped death, loss and tragedy. That we could, despite never finding it on Earth find peace together. That we did not have to “live together, and die alone,” because in death we are with those that make us whole.

Reflecting Outward, On History

A few final thoughts, since this is—first and foremost, a history oriented blog. One of the key elements that makes history matter is its relevance to the reader. While we can write large tomes and detailed analysis of actions during a war, or a place in time it is up to the reader, the public writ large, to internalize that piece of the past into their identity. For some history doesn’t mean anything, and bears little relevance to our personal pasts, but for others it is an integral part of who we are and why we exist.

I brought all of you here because I made a mistake. A mistake I made a long time ago.” –Jacob

I didn’t pluck any of out of a happy existence. You were all flawed.” –Jacob

LOST, to some extent did just that. It put us in a place with a group of people who were trying to escape their pasts—to remake their histories so that they could attain a “good” life. Instead of starting a-new in LA they were brought to the island by someone else who was trying to escape his own mistakes, and found “in the place they all made together so they could find each other,” that their histories were more than just the actions they took, but also the people they loved.

Memorable Quotations:

  • I’m real, you’re real. Everything that has ever happened to you is real, all those people in the church are real.
  • Everybody dies sometime. There is no now, here.
  • To remember, and to let go.
  • Hurley to Sayid: “You can’t let others tell you what you are. You have to decide for yourself.”
  • I have a bad feeling about this”
  • He’s worse than Yoda.”

Don’t agree? Comment below!

Pandora, Alderaan, Caprica: The Many Faces of Earth

I’m writing this as a blizzard comes down outside my house and I figured its as good a time as any to write out the last of my movie posts. It will come as no surprise that I have seen James Cameron’s latest blockbuster Avatar, and like most viewers I was blown away by the 3D special effects and just how it transformed the movie experience. I’m also not surprised to hear that a sequel is already in the works.

That being said, at some point I heard some reviewer or the other (probably from Entertainment Weekly) pose the following question: Is Avatar a bigger movie than Star Wars?

It is a hard question to answer. First off are we comparing the first Star Wars movie (the one we know now as Episode IV, A New Hope) or are we comparing the whole series? Are we doing an overall comparison or just a technology to technology comparison? That is are we looking at how transformative the technology in Avatar is to the movie industry in the same vein as how path breaking the technology from a galaxy far, far, away was to special effects? If that’s the case then Avatar has only been out a few short weeks so can we really tell what its impact is, or is it simply amazing since it is the first to truly use 3D technology for the entire movie?

I’ve discussed this with a bunch of friends, some of whom see it as transformative only in the fifteen minutes of fame sense—that is, until the next 3D spectacular film comes out. Others, including me, see a story that pales in the face of even a surface scrutiny, especially sine the plot is reflective of Dances with Wolves and Disney’s Pocahontas put together.

But all of that has been talked about ad nauseum. My favorite thing about science-fiction, and one of the particular aspects of Avatar that I liked the most was the world-building. That is the creation of whole new cultures and histories that are, really, based on actual histories and stories from our world. True, many of them carry the same trophes (all knowing mystical energy that can be felt by a specific group of people), or try and successfully pull their own twists to a previously created tale (the recent Battlestar Galactica).

To some extent we see this process with historical fiction. That which looks at events like the Civil War and asks the infamous “what if” questions to create a new world that is still grounded in reality. Science Fiction, on the other hand, takes that question a step further, masking the harder questions in the cloak of something magical and mystical.

Avatar to some seemed a loose metaphor on our dependence on oil (unobtanium), while Star Wars has clear elements derived from Hitler’s Germany. One of my favorite things about the latest iteration of Battlestar Galactica is how it takes what we as a culture finds abhorrent (suicide bombings) and puts the good guys, the humans in the position of resorting to that violence, and for a moment, just one sliver of a moment you find yourself seeing the world through their eyes. BSG had no qualms about beating us over the head with their historical references, and analogies to the present and in the end just made me think.

It also might be said that these narratives are about the search for Utopia in the face of chaos. Looking for perfection when our own world seems to be rife with environmental destruction and political mistrust. I know one thing though—I think movies and stories like Avatar and Star Wars, and television shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica give us a change in perspective and ultimately let us take a step towards understanding what makes us human.